How to Identify and Fix Common Sewing Machine Problems

If you spend any amount of time using a sewing machine, you will eventually come across common sewing machine problems you need to fix. Whether you use a modern computerized machine or a vintage mechanical one, things can go haywire sometimes.

There is, however, a way to prevent unnecessary stress. Most of the issues a sewing machine faces are easy to solve. Which is great news for you and your wallet.

This article will tell you how to identify and fix the common sewing machine problems you’ll come across. Allowing you to get right back to your project.

Check Your Manual

Before you do anything else, check your manual. It’s included with your sewing machine and should always be kept close by.

This little instruction booklet is an underrated gem. Not only does it tell you what your sewing machine can do, it also hosts a treasure trove of helpful tips on caring for your particular brand.

While sewing machines tend to be modeled after the class 15 and are all similar, some brands and models may have slight differences. These variations are what you need to watch out for.

The manual should be your best friend when it comes to troubleshooting sewing machine problems. It’ll tell you what you can and can’t do and contain a list of common issues so you know what to expect.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

If you can’t find your manual or you brought your machine second hand and it doesn’t have one, there are other options. Ideally, you should replace it. There are PDF versions for various sewing machine brands online. You can also contact the company who made your sewing machine.

For quick, easy and generic fixes however, here’s a list of common problems. Let’s take a look at the issues and causes first. We’ll cover the solutions at the end of the article.

Why Does My Thread Keep Breaking?

If your thread keeps breaking while you’re sewing, it could be due to several reasons. Remember there are two types of threads with your sewing machine. The needle thread and the bobbin thread. Both have a tendency to break.

  • Incorrectly threaded machine
  • Thread tension is too tight
  • Incorrectly installed, bent or broken needle
  • The threads weren’t under the presser foot when you started sewing
  • The thread is too thick or fine for the needle
  • Incorrectly threaded bobbin
  • Lint build-up
  • Damaged bobbin
  • Old thread

Why Does My Needle Keep Breaking?

Like the thread, the needle in your machine is prone to breaking under certain circumstances. Unlike the thread, however, a broken needle can cause a lot more damage. To both you and your sewing machine.

Here are a few reasons why your needle might break:

  • Incorrectly inserted needle
  • Loose needle clamp screw
  • The threads weren’t under the presser foot, or behind the sewing machine when you started sewing
  • The needle doesn’t match the fabric
  • Old, blunt or bent needle

A final reason your needle could be breaking, is because of the pins holding your seam together while you sew. Make sure you take the pins out before they go under your needle. Two pieces of metal hitting at speed is never going to end well.

Why Is My Sewing Machine Skipping Stitches?

If you’re in the middle of a project, realizing your sewing machine is skipping stitches can be devastating. Luckily for us sewists, this issue is caused by some familiar problems.

  • Incorrectly inserted, bent or broken needle
  • The needle and thread don’t match the project
  • Incorrectly threaded needle
  • The needle is poor quality

Why Is My Seam Puckering?

Seams are supposed to be flat and unnoticeable, unless they’re a featured part of your project. Whether they’re decorative or not though, puckers are an unwanted addition. Wrinkles and creases in the middle of your seams can be a blow to your sewing mojo.

By now, some of these issues should be familiar to you:

  • The thread tension is too tight
  • Incorrectly threaded needle
  • Heavy needle and a light fabric
  • Incorrect stitch length

Why Does My Fabric Keep Catching?

Sewing machines are designed to make sewing easy. With all those moving parts though, things are bound to snag at some point. Your fabric catching as you work can make an easy sewing task a disaster waiting to happen.

Here are a few reasons why your fabric snags:

  • There’s a build-up of lint in the feed dogs
  • After free-motion sewing, the feed dogs weren’t raised back into place
  • Incorrect stitch length
  • Fabric layers are too thick for the space under your sewing machine foot

Why Are My Stitches Making Knotted Messes?

Also known as ‘bird nests’, these irritating and messy stitches are caused by a few things. Most commonly is two we’ve mentioned already:

  • Thread tension is too loose
  • The needle doesn’t match the fabric

Why Is My Machine Not Working?

When you sit down to sew, there’s nothing worse than your machine just not wanting to work. Especially when it’s been working fine every other time you’ve used it. A few reasons why this problem occurs, are as follows:

  • The sewing machine isn’t plugged in
  • Thread is caught in the hook race
  • The sewing machine is set to wind a bobbin

Why Is My Buttonhole Not Sewing Correctly?

Most modern machines have an inbuilt, automatic buttonhole. They’re super easy to use and make our lives so much better, until they don’t work. The reasons the buttonholes aren’t sewing correctly, aren’t as perplexing as you first think:

  • Incorrect stitch selected for the fabric being sewn
  • Not lowering the buttonhole lever
  • Using the wrong sewing machine foot
  • Interfacing wasn’t used for stretch or synthetic fabrics

Why Is My Sewing Machine So Noisy?

Sewing machines always make some level of noise. The familiar rat-tat of our favorite machine making stitches is the best soundtrack to our sewing hobby. Anything that clunks though should definitely be questioned.

  • Thread is caught in the hook race
  • The sewing machine is clogged with lint

Solutions to Common Sewing Machine Problems

Now you’ve had a chance to figure out what your sewing machine’s problem is, it’s time to fix it. Here’s a list of some easy solutions to the common problems mentioned previously.

For safety, unplug your sewing machine before attempting any of these fixes.

Incorrectly Inserted, Bent, or Broken Needle

Sewing machine needles have a flat side on their shaft. The flat side can either be inserted so it faces to the back of the machine. Or the flat side goes to the right, facing towards the hand wheel. Check your manual to find out which way yours goes.

Make sure the needle is properly in place. It needs to be pushed as far as it will go.

Following on from this, make sure you tighten the needle clamp screw properly. You might fit your needle perfectly but if it’s not secured into place, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Incorrectly Threaded Needle or Bobbin

To make sure you’ve threaded your sewing machine correctly, it’s always a good idea to start from scratch. Take the thread back to the spool and start over.

Most brands of sewing machine have thread guides printed on the machine itself. They include arrows and pictures to help you properly thread your needle.

You can also find detailed diagrams on the lid of some sewing machines, and in your manual. Read the directions carefully to make sure your thread is in the right place.

In the same way, the bobbin also has specific directions for accurate threading.

Follow the bobbin thread guides, or the instructions in your manual, to wind your bobbin. Make sure the thread is wound tightly and doesn’t flop loosely on the bobbin.

Depending on whether you have a top or front loading bobbin, the way the bobbin sits in the bobbin race changes. Your manual will give you more detailed instructions as to which version your sewing machine is, but here’s a brief look at the differences.

Top loading, or drop-in, bobbins should be placed in the machines so the thread turns counter-clockwise. Make sure the thread goes through the little slot and you pull it to the left to leave a tail.

Front and side loading bobbins sit in a metal bobbin case. They spin clockwise and have a little metal arm that should point upward when you insert it into the bobbin race. Make sure the metal arm clicks into the grove at the top of the bobbin race. Leave a tail of thread outside the bobbin case.

The Needle or Threads Don’t Match the Project

Sewing machines have a variety of needles for all sorts of tasks. Not all of them handle every fabric you need to use, particularly if you have a fine needle but a thick material.

Take leather, for example. It’s a thick fabric and needs a specialized, wedge shaped, needle. One sharp enough to handle the strain of sewing leather. If you use a needle designed for jersey fabric, it could break.

Make sure you double-check your needle matches your fabric.

Adjusting the Thread Tension

Depending on your project, you may find the thread tension is making your life harder than it needs to be. If you change the thickness of your fabric, for example, it may throw the tension out of alignment. Don’t panic though, it’s an easy fix.

Find your sewing machine’s tension disc. It’ll be a numbered dial somewhere on the thread guide, most likely on the top of your machine. Your manual will help you locate it if you’re not sure where it is.

Here’s how to adjust your thread tension:

Step 1

Grab a scrap piece of fabric. Preferably, the same type as the one you’re using in your project. Two contrasting threads will help too, one for the needle thread and one for the bobbin.

Step 2

Make several stitches, remove the fabric and check over your work.

Step 3

If you can see the bobbin thread on the right side of the fabric, your tension is too tight. To loosen it, adjust the tension dial to a lower number. If the needle thread shows through on the wrong side of the fabric, your tension is too loose. Turn the tension dial to a higher number to tighten it.

Step 4

Repeat until your stitches are back to normal.

The Threads Weren’t Under the Presser Foot When You Started Sewing

It might not seem like a big thing but the placement of the bobbin and needle threads when you’re sewing is important. Always make sure your threads are to the back of your sewing machine and you hold onto them for the first few stitches.

This ensures they don’t get dragged under the needle and shoved down into the bobbin race. Not only can the threads break but the build-up of fiber causes a blockage. One that can both stop your sewing machine working and break the needle.

Clean Your Sewing Machine

The more often you use your sewing machine, the more the inner workings get clogged with scrap thread and bits of fabric. All of this causes blockages and, eventually, causes issues like breaking bobbin threads and worrying noises.

Regularly check common problem areas, like the bobbin race, for lint. You can clean the dust away with a soft toothbrush or small paintbrush, or even a pair of tweezers.

A good oiling, provided your sewing machine requires it, never goes amiss either. Check your manual to make sure your machine needs oil and where to put it.

Old Needle or Thread

Neither needles or thread age well. While threads become more delicate with age, making their ability to hold stitches much weaker, needles are under a lot of stress and become blunt, bent or even broken.

While threads are a little more durable, provided you’re using a new spool, needles should be changed every 8 – 10 hours of sewing time. Or after every sewing project, especially when you change the type of fabric you’re using.

Blunt needles won’t penetrate the fabric. Not only will they damage your fabric and create unsightly seams, they can break under the extra strain.

Changing Stitch Length and Density

Modern sewing machines come with all sorts of handy tricks and buttons. Adjusting the stitch length and density, is as simple as pushing a few buttons or turning a dial.

Whether your machine uses buttons or a dial, you can always find the stitch adjusters in easy reach. Usually, they’re on the right side of your sewing machine, on the front of the pillar.

Your manual will give you more detailed instructions for your particular sewing machine.


The first reaction when things go wrong with your sewing machine is panic. Most of the issues you face while sewing however, are easily fixed.

Remember, the majority of problems and their solutions are mentioned in your manual. Keep it close at hand and you’ll be back to sewing in no time at all.

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