Seven Sewing Machine Issues You Can Spot and Fix Yourself

Posted by Joseph Park on

A stressed-out seamstress leaning her head over her sewing machine.

Learning something new can be very challenging. This is true for when you’re discovering how to use the sewing machine as it is with most other crafts. You have to acquaint yourself with the different skills required to create perfect garments and accessories, but you should also know that making mistakes is unavoidable. It’s all part of the learning curve, so you just have to deal with it.

When it comes to using sewing machines, bad days are really inevitable. Even skilled tailors and seamstresses with years of experience behind them can encounter problems occasionally. This can be brought about by human error and also because the machines and the tools they use are not exactly 100% foolproof themselves. In this article, you’ll learn about the quick-fix methods for some of these common sewing machine issues

The fabric is moving around – Make sure that the presser foot is holding the fabric in place in order to avoid wayward stitching. This is a very simple problem, but believe it or not, a lot of people often find themselves at a loss as to why this is happening. Take note that the presser bar tension can be adjusted on the majority of all sewing machines.

Skipping or uneven stitches – If you’re the type who uses needles repeatedly for many days, you’ve probably experienced this problem before. More often than not, when you notice your sewing machine doing uneven stitches or skipping stitches entirely, it’s because of a blunt or bent needle. Needles are best replaced when they have been used for 8 to 16 hours of stitching.

This problem may also be caused by using the wrong type of needle for your project or because of incorrect machine threading. Another possible cause is that you could pulling the fabric while it is running through the machine. This practice that can put your stitches out of whack, and it can even damage your sewing machine. Make sure you are just guiding the fabric when you are sewing and not applying unnecessary force.

If the problem continues the timing on the rotary hook (lockstitch) or looper timing (chainstitch) may need adjustment or will need to be replaced due to needle damage or wear and tear.

A woman holding a damaged pair of jeans she is sewing and looking shocked.


Breaking needles – If your needles are breaking constantly, you should again check whether or not you have selected the correct type of needle for the fabric you are using. Basically, the heavier or thicker the fabric is, the larger the needle you’ll need.

An important thing to remember when going for higher or lower needle size(s) is that the machine will quite possibly need a timing adjustment or additional parts may be needed to be installed to accommodate the new needle size.

The thread is bunching up on top of the fabric - This problem usually has something to do with incorrect bobbin settings. First, you should make sure that your bobbin is correctly threaded by following your machine manufacturer’s guidelines. Secondly, also make certain that the bobbin case tension is adjusted to the correct looseness. If you had adjusted it previously to hold a heavier or lighter thread, you could have forgotten to set it back to its original setting. To avoid this, buy extra bobbins which you can use when you need other types of threads. This way, you don’t have to re-adjust the only bobbin you have every time.

The thread is bunching up beneath the fabric – If, on the other hand, the thread is bunching up underneath the fabric, you should raise the presser foot and re-thread the needle, making sure that it engages the tension discs correctly. You also need to ensure that the throat plate is clean all the time, because lint and other impurities can affect the quality of the stitches. Furthermore, try adjusting the main tension assembly to a tighter setting, clockwise.

The stitching is tight on top of the fabric – You might notice that the thread tension is too tight on the top thread. If you are sure that your machine is threaded correctly, that it is clean, and that you are using the right thread and needles, then the problem could be with the tension settings.

To test if the top tension is too tight, get two differently colored threads and use one as the top thread and the other as the bobbin thread. Run a stitch on a sample piece of fabric. If you can see parts of the bobbin thread being pulled to the side where the top thread should be, then you need to loosen the top tension using the thread tension dial.

The stitching is loose on top of the fabric – Conversely, if you feel that the top thread is too loose, perform the same two-thread test. If you can see the top thread being pulled beneath the fabric, then the top tension is, indeed, too loose. Tighten it by turning the thread tension dial appropriately.

You should always adjust the top tension first whenever possible. Under normal circumstances, you won’t usually adjust the bobbin tension setting unless you’re using a thicker or thinner thread than usual. Most of the time, the problem can be fixed just by adjusting the tension of the top thread.

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