23 September 2014

Five Common Sewing Machine Mistakes + How to Fix Them

Common sewing machine mistakes + how to fix them

When you first start using a sewing machine, it’s inevitable that you make mistakes. It’s easy to forget – or just not realise – all the little things that can cause your machine to throw a tantrum if you’re not careful. This weekend I taught 240 people to use a sewing machine in a series of 12 workshops at the Handmade Fair. When you’re showing lots of people how to do the same thing again and again, it becomes increasingly clear which are the most common mistakes that we make when starting to use a sewing machine. The good news is that these problems are super easy to solve – hooray! Here’s how…

Common sewing machine problems + fixes

1) The needle unthreads itself when you start sewing
You only just threaded the needle and as soon as you put your foot down on the pedal the thread decides to come out of the needle. Rats! Simple to solve though – firstly, make sure you have a few inches of thread pulled through the needle and out towards the back of the machine before you begin. Secondly – and this is something it took me a little while to discover when I first began sewing – check your needle is at the highest position before you start stitching. How can you tell if your needle is fully up? Check you can see the silver hook – or take up lever – at the top of your machine. If you can’t, simply turn the handwheel towards you until it emerges (or press the up-down button if your machine has one).

Common sewing machine problems + fixes

2) The fabric is jiggling around like crazy
Lower your presser foot! The presser foot holds the fabric in place so you can stitch neatly, not freestyle.

Common sewing machine problems + fixes

3) The stitching is really uneven
If the stitching looks loopy on one side and tight on the other, your first reaction might be to blame the thread tension setting on your machine. Sometimes you’d be right – in which case, try adjusting the tension dial and test sew on a scrap of fabric until the stitching looks even on both sides of the fabric. Yet often it’s not the tension dial that needs changing – it’s the way you’ve threaded the bobbin, which also affects the tension. Take your bobbin out of the case and double check you’ve inserted it the right way round – usually with the thread unwinding anticlockwise, but do check your machine’s manual in case it’s different - and that the thread is pulled through the grooves in the bobbin case.

Common sewing machine problems + fixes

4) Your stitching is crazy tight on the top side
Again, this could mean you need to adjust the tension dial, but before you go doing that, just check that your spool thread isn’t caught on the little silver tension discs on top of the machine. You would have put the thread here earlier to wind the bobbin, but when you thread the machine you need to take it off otherwise it creates too much tension in the spool – and thus super tight stitches.

Common sewing machine problems + fixes

5) The threads are knotting up together
This is another really common issue – that your threads knot up either on your fabric, or worse, they get jammed in the machine and you have to yank them out or even unscrew the needle plate to get them out. Firstly, before you start sewing, check that both spool and bobbin threads are sticking out towards the back of the machine – otherwise they can get twisted up in the stitching. Secondly, start sewing a few mm in rather than right on the edge of the fabric (then backtack a bit so you don't leave any gaps in the stitching). If there’s not enough fabric under the needle when you begin stitching, the spool thread will get tangled up with the bobbin thread underneath it and cause knots. Sometimes the needle will push the edge of the fabric down into the bottom of the machine to join them in one big awkward mess. Yikes! For the same reason, when I finish a line of stitching at the end of a piece of fabric, I always backtack a few mm before the edge (and then stitch off the end so I don’t leave any holes) – otherwise, if you stitch off the end and then try to backtack over the end, your threads will get tangled.

So those are some of the most common sewing machine mistakes and easy ways to solve them. I hope you found it useful! Is there a mistake that you kept making when you started sewing, and if so what do you do to fix it? Do share your own tips in the comments!

And if you want some more help starting sewing, take a look at my book or come along to one of our workshops :)

55 comments:

  1. Great post! I had an erratic stitching problem when I first started sewing, I tracked it down in the end to a tiny piece of fluff stuck inside the bobbin casing. Maddening!

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  2. Yes, I learnt all these along the way but one I would add for knotty, eratic stitching is cleaning out the fluff in the bobbin case.

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  3. Recently, I've had a growing problem with my spool thread shredding at it passes through the needle, so that eventually it breaks -- really annoying. It seems to have nothing to do with the age of my needle -- yesterday it happened with a brand new needle, and my needle is inserted properly. I always use what I think is good quality thread (Gutermann polyester, or Mettler). Has anyone else experienced this problem?? I'm trying to pinpoint whether it's a machine, needle, or thread issue.

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    1. Your needle might be too small or there is too much friction due to the fabric properties. If you're using a needle size 70 or smaller, use specialty thin thread. If you are using a size 80 needle already, try switching to a topstitching needle because they have larger eyes.

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  4. Hi Tilly,
    Thanks for this great reminder how to fix these problems! :)
    Ingrid xx
    http://myfunkycrochet.blogspot.be

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  5. Clean your machine! I got mine for my birthday so every year I celebrate with a glass if wine and get rid of all the fluffy bits in the machine! Also a needle change can work wonders ! X

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  6. The last time my machine suffered from erratic tension was due to a chip on the underside of the plastic bobbin snagging the thread! I felt so stupid as I had been driving myself nuts re-checking the tension dial and making sure the machine was threaded up correctly. A massive relief to know it was something simple though.

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    1. I am going to check this on my machine. Thanks for the suggestion. My bobbin thread is sewing funny.

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  7. Replying to SMP - this happens to me when my needle is too small for my thread.

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  8. Great tips and easy to follow, superhelpful thank you :)

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  9. I'm definitely guilty of the last one... my threads are always tangling (still!), especially on slinky fabrics. Great tip on starting a little ways inward! I'll have to remember that one...

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  10. Very helpful tips for a beginner tips for a beginner. My needle is always coming unthreaded, now I'm going to remember to check that it's in the highest position.

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  11. I would add two things. 1. that it's a good thing to read the sewing machine manual (available online if original one is missing) and 2. pulling through the bobbin thread and holding both threads as you start to sew - although it's not always recommended or even possible if your machine auto cuts on previous stitching. This is particularly important at the start.
    I had a problem with the machine I was giving to my daughter with loose tangly thread on the underside. Did 'everything' - turned out the needle had worked slightly down. On this same machine (for classes), the tension dial moved as it was being transported causing horrible stitching as I hadn't checked - so I always needed to check the dial position; on another journey, I lost the bobbin cover but did find it on floor of car.
    I hope my daughter find a class suitable for her - one like yours would be great. She needs to learn from absolute zero.

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    1. I am having the same problem. Going to check my needle. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  12. Agreed; this a great post for beginners. And I'm now all of a sudden worried I have my bobbin in the wrong way round, I'll have to check when I get home! Oh and I still don't really know how to use the automatic needle threader on my Janome so I just thread it by hand. I really should rectify that!

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  13. Great post for beginners. I used to start as close to the edge as possible but always made that big fabric/thread mess. Now, my only real problem is forgetting to check the bobbin thread before sewing a long line of something like curtains, only to end up ghost sewing for a while. Womp womp :(

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    1. Hello girls! So glad i found this page!
      Aaahhhh, gggrrrrr, great expression, Ghost sewing, so appropriate, But infuriating!
      I'm here for advice, and I usually fix hiccups that I encounter, I am going to clean up the fluff, with a small eyebrow brush. V cos, I won't use it again for eyeshadow!

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  14. Lots of good tips. I was having problems with my new machine, and it turned out the top thread had jumped out of the metal loop thingy at the top.

    My best tip would be, if you are having trouble with threads tangling or weird tension, totally unthread your machine (top and bottom) and rethread it. It seems to fix most of my problems.

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  15. These are great tips! I am just starting to learn how to sew.

    www.FashionSnag.com

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  16. Excellent tips. Number 5 has still been happening to me on occasions, lovely bunch of threads at the back of my otherwise beautiful work. Will make sure I follow this tip.
    Love the way your nails are coordinating with your studio! X

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  17. ahh some of these are so good to read again. all of these things happen to me, but i just fix it and move on. you never think to remember to tell new sewers about all these little quirks of sewing. My problem is with jamming - i never know why it happens and there is always a huge bunch of thread on the underside of the fabric. I'm sure there a way to avoid it, but i usually just unpick and keep going.

    Someone else mentioned it and i am going to reiterate it, read the machine manual! I have a good read of mine every now and again and remind myself of the feet that my machine has and all the cool stitches it can do!

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    1. holding the threadS with your hand as you begin to sew the seam help alleviate that problem, threads being caught in the bobbin area ... they are being caught up in mass/mess and brought into the bobbin area and becoming tangled ... also starting to sew on a bit of scrap held next to the *real* fabric/project also helps stop that problem, too .... makes for very frustrating sewing and sewing should be fun and satisfying ... darlene

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  18. Super useful tips! Thank you for sharing. Machine problems take away all the fun from sewing.

    www.nedoux.wordpress.com



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  19. These aren't the issues I have with a sewing machine. Mine are all along the lines of "these stupid things suck at handling curves." So, if I want a good outcome, I simply don't use a sewing machine! Sewing by hand is easier, more relaxing, and much less error prone. All that it means for a sewing machine to be able to put down more stitches faster is that it can put down more stitches in the wrong direction that you then have to seam rip.

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  20. This was so helpful! I continuly struggle with 1,3,4, and 5. I've been sewing for 40 plus years, now I finally know how prevent these problems. Thanks.

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  21. I do a lot of quilting where backtacking is not usually done. I start on a scrap piece of folded fabric and stitch directly from it to the quilting fabric. Backtacking is a must in garment seam sewing so the advice of starting a bit in is great. I always get in trouble when I don't.

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  22. Mackenzie, slow down on curves and use a smaller stitch length. Also try putting your finger down and letting the machine pivot the fabric around your finger, this takes practice. But if you're happy sewing by hand, why not continue? After all that's all they did before the machine was invented.

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  23. This is so helpful! Thank you! :)

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  24. Thank you when my mom gave me her machine the only thing that I had an issue with is that I am constantly retreating the needle I am so happy I read your tips . Thank you

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  25. Does anyone have any idea why the outer wheel on my Silverline machine would jam meaning my needle can now not go up or down. The inner wheel works fine and I can fill my bobbins. I have checked for threads, dust etc in the bobbin area and under the needle plate but nothing. Thanks, Sam

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    1. On some machines you pull out that wheel (or push a button or switch on it) to thread your bobbins, then push it back in to see again.

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    2. On some machines you pull out that wheel (or push a button or switch on it) to thread your bobbins, then push it back in to see again.

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  26. My fancy stitches appear on the underside of my fabric instead of the top, tried rethreading the machine.

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    1. Diane this is happening to a friend. Did you solve it? What model is your machine? A Janome by chance?

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    2. Hi Diane turned out it was related to threading. Seems unbelievable but threading even slightly wrong can impact so many things but still allow sewing. This was on a Janome Skyline 5s. You've probably already figured out your issue😀

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    3. Im having this problem with an old janome i picked up. It's quite frustrating. Wussy was the solution to this?

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  27. Hi, Can anyone answer a problem i have with my Jones sewing machine. It's sews fine when it's set to a small stitch (2 or less on the dial), but if i turn it to a bigger stitch, i get the loops on the bottom of the fabric, which indicates the tension is wrong............am i supposed to adjust the tension when i adjust the stitch length? Sorry if it's a stupid question, i'm very new to this

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  28. My sewing machine is running well without jamming or tangled. But the threads are not knotting together. Ultimately there is no stich on the cloth. Some one answer my question please.

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    1. i would re-thread and change the needle ... then try it ... if it's still not knotting together, maybe it's time to take it in for a tune-up .... which should be done once a year, if you are a sewist and use the machine a lot ....

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  29. i would also like to add, the machine needs cleaning after every few projects, surly more often than once a year ... LOL .... and change the needle after every few projects ... you would be shocked, surprised and pleased at how well your machine handles EVERYTHING with a clean underside, all dust, thread removed AND a new needle every few projects ... smooth as silk and so easy to use ... it will become your friend ... darlene, sewing for 45 years .....

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  30. Thank you for an extremely helpful pin. Like someone else I have a problem with the needle threader on my Janome machine. At first I thought it had broken so I requested a replacement, but the problem persists. The plastic piece on the end of the threader keeps falling off and there doesn't appear to be any way to stop this happening. Does anyone out there have any helpful suggestions please?

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  31. My Bernina 1031 stays in reverse mode with stitch length control in the up position; which does not change with turning either direction. Changing needle or to decorative stitch, changing feed dog, passing thru buttonhole mode, rethreading, nothing makes a difference. What am I missing? I hadn’t used it but sporadically to repair items over the past 2 ½ years due to vision problems and eye surgery on both eyes, and repaired a straight seam for my husband about 2 weeks ago, but it is stuck in reverse now and I have another repair to make. I had a professional cleaning and tune up just a few months before my eye problems started and had not done much true sewing after this. I used to avidly piece quilts and sew clothing.

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    1. Mine too! Any help out there? And bring to service repair shop not a choice since must drive 2 hours to get to service shop.

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  32. This post was a great help! I solved my problem. Thanks so much!

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  33. I am trying to sew satin ribbon and the thread is tangling inside the machine and I am unsure what to do. I tried sewing with regular cotton fabric and it did the same thing and the fabric even got stuck in the thread. it gets so tight that it prevents the needle from moving.

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  34. I have cleaned the bobbin area twice. I have rethreaded a number of times. I have tried all the different tensions on the machine and there are still loops under the fabric. I am lost with what to do now. I am a novice and the machine had been used 3 times when this first started. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

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    1. Did you loosen the tension on the bobbin holder? It's quite simple, a small screwdriver on the tiny screw that holds the tension thingie (not sure what its called, but its pretty obvious). You screw it in to tighten and out to loosen, Your's might be too tight.

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  35. Hi, i have a newly bought janome re1712, it was stuck for so long by a friend so i decided to acquire it, unfortunately, the handwheel wont turn and so the needle doesn't move up and down, please help.

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    1. Have you checked that the handwheel is pushed in properly? Also, try completely rethreading?

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  36. Help! My spool thread is really stiff to come through the machine - almost bends the needle as I pull away the fabric - used to be fine particularly if I ensured the needle was a third of the way down (I have a janome 7025) Thanks!

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  37. Thank you so much! Every time I had to thread the bobbin my stitching would get off. I'd adjust the tension settings every which way, but nothing helped. Your the first place I've found that had other suggestions, and it worked! My thread was stuck in the discs. Thank you a million times!

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  38. Hi ... !!
    My machine's needle holder is not taking the needle in as I tried zig zag treading with jeans needle, the needle came off itself and after that I tried hard to insert the needle into the holder but in vain , please help me!!!

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  39. My Janome Txl607 keeps jamming on the first stitch and the fabric won't move forward especially when using small pieces of fabric in quilting. Any suggestions?

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