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Top 10 Sewing Machine Troubleshooting Tips

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It never fails.

Sewing machines act up ONLY when you are using them. (Kind of like finding things in the last place you look…)

But seriously, when a sewing machine acts up, what are the first things to check?

HERE are 10 most common trouble areas of a sewing machine:

1. Change the Needle
Needles are the easiest and cheapest part of a sewing machine to change yet is makes up 50% of seam. Without a new needle a sewing machine can not work correctly. End of discussion.

2. Clean the Machine
Sewing machines need weekly if not daily removable of lint and fluff from underneath the throat plate. First, remove the throat plate and bobbin case to expose areas that lint gathers. Using a brush or a Q-tip, remove all visible lint and dust bunnies. If the machine requires oil, add a drop of oil after cleaning. Do not use canned air. 

We found this FREE Craftsy class Sew Ready: Machine Basics with Amy Alan to be extra helpful for new sewers.

Don’t let broken needles or skipped stitches ruin your sewing! Learn how to fix common sewing machine problems in this free Craftsy class.

3. Check the Top Threading
If there are huge loops on the back of the fabric, the problem is that the top thread is not in the tension disks. Be sure to thread the machine with PURPOSE. No wimpy threading! Firmly seat the thread in each groove and guide of the machine. If the machine is not threaded correctly it will not sew.

4. Quality Thread
Sewing machines like good thread. How can you tell if thread is good? Thread that is from Grandma’s sewing box from the 1950’s is old. Thread that is 2/$1.00 is not great thread. Purchase thread from a quilt store or a store that sells sewing machines to be sure it is quality thread. Sewing machines can run on low quality thread, but remember, thread makes up the other 50% of the seam. Are you sure it’s going to hold together after a few washings? Don’t take the chance. Always use good quality thread. Your sewing machine will thank you and you will have less headaches.

5. Bobbin thread not in the bobbin tension 
The bobbin too has its own tension. If the bobbin thread is not in the its tension, the stitch will look unbalanced. Be sure the bobbin thread “clicks” into bobbin tension. 

6. Not having your machine cleaned annually
Just like cars, sewing machines need regular tune-ups. Having a local sewing machine center professionally clean your sewing machine will help with many troublesome issues. Sewing machine technicians know how to keep all those moving parts perfectly aligned for precision stitching. If you want your sewing machine to last, have it serviced on an annual basis.

7. Wrong bobbin
With so many different brands of sewing machines all taking a difference size of bobbin, it is easy to accidentally be using the wrong size. Just because a bobbin is plastic does not mean it will fit your sewing machine. If you are unsure if you are using the right size of bobbins for your machine, take the sewing machine to a local sewing machine service center. They will be happy to confirm that you are using the correct size. If you have not had your machine serviced within the last year or two, have them service it while it is there.

8. Needle not high enough
Sounds simple but not getting the needle all the way up into position will make stitches not form correctly. This problem is often hard to spot. Loosen the needle screw and gently lift the needle up. Another way to check is by using the built-in needle threader. If the needle threader does not line up with the needle’s eye, the needle is not high enough.

9. Needle too small for thread 
Thicker thread must go through a bigger needle. A needle’s groove down the front of the needle must fit the thread size. Small needles and thick thread are a bad combination. 

10. Nicks in the throat plate 
Check the sewing machine’s throat plate opening for needle strikes or small rough nicks. If you have been breaking needles lately, there may be small burrs on the throat plate. Thread can get caught on these rough areas which leads to thread breaks or uneven stitching. A sewing machine technician can usually file these rough spots out. 

These ten troubleshooting suggestions usually can fix the common sewing machine problems. Beyond these simple fixes it might be time to call a professional. Sewing machine service technicians are trained to spot common problems. They see sick machines every day.

If your sewing machine has reached the end of its life, say a short prayer and than SMILE…you get to go shopping for a NEW sewing machine!

Check out a variety of sewing machine and embroidery machine videos on SewingMastery to find which features are a must-have on your future machine.

39 Comments
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  2. Pat says:

    Oh, how I wish SD and FL were closer together!

    You have the very most helpful and professionally run business I have EVER encountered. Even as far apart as we are, what all of you do and how you do it makes my sewing life grand. Thank you for accepting long distance students and customers.

    My Husqvarna and Ihave been promised a visit this coming summer. Crossed fingers.

  3. Kassandra says:

    I have broken every needle I have bought. I will double check for the hight and the burs, etc., but is it possible (as a serious novice) I bent or shifted something in the needle mechanism?

    1. Sara says:

      Hi, If you are breaking needles all the time it is time to have your local sewing machine service center realign your machine.

  4. Barbara says:

    I’m very new at this and I was trying to embroider a 100 x 100 hoop and a message popped up that said to be sure I had the right size hoop, which I did, and to make sure the hoop was in the machine, which it was. What can I do?

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Barbara, Can you tell us which brand and model of embroidery machine you are using? We are happy to help. Thanks, Sara

  5. jennifer says:

    I got issues..like its really giving me a hard time..my stitch keeps bobbing up thread at the back of my stitches… please what can I do?

    1. Sara says:

      Watch this video and see if this helps. All tension works the same on all machines so don’t mind that this is not your exact machine. Let us know if this helps. https://youtu.be/-JyoFweWGnw

  6. Busayo says:

    I have a new home machine I have been trying to fix it for sometimes now but it not yielding. It not making any stitches and sometimes it won’t pick up thread. Please can you help me with this

    1. Sara says:

      Sounds like it’s time to consult a professional. Contact a local sewing machine store in your area. Most stores can repair Janome/New Home sewing machines even if they do not sell the brand.

  7. Kaye Jackson says:

    The feed feet on my machine are not moving. How do I fix it. Thanks

    1. Sara says:

      You can check to make sure the stitch length is set to 2.0 or longer. Be sure all the lint is cleaned out beneath the throat plate and if this does not help, it is time to ask your local sewing machine store to check it out. We recommend annual full services on all sewing machines to keep them running smooth.

  8. Brooklyn Johnson says:

    Thank you for stating that you should make sure you’re using quality thread when sewing. My sewing machine has been having issues and I don’t know why. I will definitely keep all of your great tips and information in mind when trying to fix my sewing machine.

  9. Patricia says:

    When pressing my presser foot my sewing machine sometimes doesn’t go. What is going on, help.

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Patricia,

      When foot pedals are not fully functioning, it is best to have a local sewing machine service center look at it. If you have not had your machine serviced within the past year, have them service the entire machine as well.

  10. Spring says:

    I just got a sewing machine and everything seems to work just fine except for my reverse stitch. I would push down the lever but it would just keep sewing forward.

    1. Sara says:

      Hi, This problem needs to be checked out by a local sewing machine service person. Thanks.

  11. Mrs S Storey says:

    Thank you I was having trouble with my sewing machine and I read all your advice and amazing results it’s now working. I had just put a new needle in, so made sure it was as high as possible and altered the tension like you said and hey presto. Thank you

    1. Sara says:

      You are welcome!

  12. Abby says:

    It will be sewing perfectly then it just balls up.

    1. Sara says:

      When this happens the thread is coming out of the TOP tension. It might be time for a cleaning at your local sewing machine service center. Those tension disks do get dirty over time and they need to be cleaned out.

  13. Brian Hardy says:

    My wife bought a new Brother sewing machine two years ago in a local promotion.
    To date, the machine has sewn exactly nothing. It appears to require a genius to make it sew properly.
    We have on many occasions jointly watched the manufacturer’s video and followed the recommended threading and tensioning procedures but without a single success.
    My wife is an extremely versatile lady, and I spent a lifetime as an engineer, but we both admit to being beaten by this unforgiving little beast.
    So Monday the metal fiend is off to the charity shop and we are back to our local, and very expensive, alterations lady.
    It seem that sewing is not for everyone.

  14. Ronnie says:

    When I’m sewing, if I hit the reverse button, it leaves giant bubbles in the fabric on the top part of the stitch, from the bobbin thread. My regular stitches have the bubbles but they aren’t as large. The stitches are loose enough that if I pull the thread, the top thread actually pulls out and the stich comes undone. I’ve changed needles, I’ve rethreaded and tried different thread in the bobbin…None of the settings have been touched as I sew the same things with the same types of fabric consistently. It just started doing this, as I’ve never had any issues before. I’ve cleaned it. I’ve oiled it. I’m out of ideas.

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Ronnie, We do not have any extra insight into this problem for you. Please have the store you had it serviced at check it out for you.

  15. Myrtle berdin says:

    My machine has been stored away I got it out and it sounds like a new machine but it doesn’t have a needle in it will have to get one but the place where needle goes doesn’t move up and down is that because of no needle.

    1. Hi Myrtle, You will want to get that checked out by your local sewing machine service center.

  16. Catherine says:

    Sara. My needle is not picking the bobbin thread. What’s the reason for this and is there any solution for it.

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Catherine,
      When a needle does not pick up a bobbin thread it can be a couple things:

      1. The needle is bent or is not high enough in the holder at the top.
      2. The bobbin area needs to cleaned out.
      3. The machines timing is off.

      If it is the third option, it is time for the machine to have a full cleaning.

  17. Doris says:

    Hi. Thread keeps winding the thread take up lever.🤨

    1. Sara says:

      This problem may need some professional help. Please contact your local sewing machine store for assistance.

  18. Marie says:

    Bonjour,
    Ma machine ne fais plus avancer le tissus, il reste sur place, est-ce que vous pourriez m’indiquer ce que je dois faire ?
    Merci à l’avance ! 😀

    1. Sara says:

      Assurez-vous que les dents d’alimentation sont en place. Nettoyez les peluches de dessous la plaque. Si la machine n’a pas été réparée au cours des deux dernières années, il est temps de procéder à un nettoyage professionnel.

  19. Leah says:

    Hi how i’m i supposed know that the machines timing is off

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Leah,

      If the needle can not bring up the bobbin thread when a stitch it taken, the time is off. Your local sewing machine store can help with this problem.

  20. Temmy says:

    Hi my machine the bobbin is not stay inside is used to make sound and it we see rougly

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Temmy,

      We are not sure exactly what is going on. It would be best to have a sewing machine store look at your machine.

  21. Sherry says:

    Hi,
    My question is what would cause my Viking 1100 to make a loud noise when I am sewing? It sews fine and I checked everything in your list. Cleaned it and it still makes a noise thar wasnt there before.Thank you.

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Sherry,

      It sounds like it is time for a professional cleaning on your Viking 1100.

  22. Denise Greyling says:

    Hi
    Got me a brother nv800e embroidery machine but second hand, works perfect, but see there is a service sticth count and sticth count both have the same number. Wil the machine just stop working for tgd reason of the service stitch count
    Denise

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Denise,

      The machine will not stop working, it is just a gentle reminder to have the machine service on a regular basis. We recommend once a year.

      Sara Snuggerud

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