16 March 2016

Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric

Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons


Have you ever had one of these arrrrggghhh moments - you’re having a lovely time sewing a beautiful voile or delicate chiffon, when suddenly the fabric gets sucked under the needle plate? Arrrrggghhh!!!

Today I want to share five tips to stop this happening. As always, if you have any tricks of your own to add, please share them in the comments – the more, the merrier!

Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

1) Use a fine needle

Before you begin, check that the needle in your sewing machine is fine enough for the fabric that you’re sewing. Too thick and the needle could push the fabric into the hole under the presser foot. For fine fabrics, a needle labelled 60 or 70 on the pack is usually a good option.

Make sure it’s nice and sharp too, as a blunt needle can also be problematic – change it to a new one for your lovely, delicate fabric.

Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

2) Cover the hole

This may sound like an extreme measure, but it’s definitely worth a try if your fabric is particularly fine. Place a small piece of sticky tape over the hole in the needle plate that’s directly under the needle. I mean really small – make sure you don’t tape over the feed dogs (the little grippy tracks that feed the fabric through the machine).

Before you start sewing your real fabric, make a single stitch with the machine to pierce a hole in the tape for the needle to go through. You can use an old needle for this if you’re worried about making it blunt, then switch to a sharp one when you start sewing your fabric.

Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

3) Don’t start sewing on the raw edge

One of the surest ways to lodge fine fabric into the needle plate is to start sewing from the raw edge of the fabric, which can easily fold down into the hole and get stuck. If you’re sewing a pleat, or even a dart, try sewing from the inside towards the edge, rather than the other way round. If you’re sewing a seam, start a little way in from the edge – try 10mm (3/8in) on particularly tricky fabrics.

Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

4) Avoid back tacking at the beginning of the seam

Following on from the last point, don’t back tack when you start sewing a seam. The extra needle and thread action can push fine fabrics inside the machine, particularly at the beginning of a seam.

Instead, once you get to the end of the line of stitching, turn the project over, then sew over the gap you left at the start, overlapping the two lines by a couple of stitches to knot the threads.

As for back tacking at the end of the seam, I find it's usually okay as long as I do it about 5mm before reaching the raw edge.

Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons
Five Tips to Stop Your Sewing Machine Swallowing Fabric - Tilly and the Buttons

5) Try chain stitching

Chain stitching is when you sew from one piece of fabric onto another without stopping and raising and lowering the presser foot in between. It’s a great time-saver when you’re in a hurry – it’s a technique I mentioned in my tips on speedy sewing. It’s also useful for fine fabrics when you want to stop them getting pushed under the needle plate.

Take a scrap of fabric and fold it so it’s about four or five layers thick – slightly thicker than your real seam so the presser foot will be sliding gracefully down onto the real seam. Start sewing around the middle of this piece. Then, just before you reach the end, push your real seam right up against the scrap, edge to edge, so you can feed it straight under the presser foot and sew straight onto it from the scrap. Once you’ve finished, trim the threads to release the scrap.

And that's it!

If you've been struggling with fine fabrics, I hope you find these tips helpful. I'm sure there are plenty more tactics out there to help prevent fine fabrics getting sucked under the needle plate. If you've got any other tips you'd like to share, that'd be great - you can leave a comment below. Thanks!

20 comments:

  1. I've been struggling with this! I didn't know if it was normal or not. To me, it has happened while sewing jersey and interlock. Is that normal? Or should I get my machine checked out?

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  2. Great tips here. I always grab the threads and gently pull them to put tension on the fabric as it starts going under the needle. My other tip is to lay the fabric on top of a tissue (I leave an inch or two sticking out behind the presser foot). It supports the fabric as it starts sewing, and is easily torn out afterwards.

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  3. These are great tips. It seems obvious, but at the end of the seam, make sure the needle and take-up lever are at the upmost position before pulling fabric away. Otherwise, the fabric may stay stuck in the machine. Read more here: http://www.thelostapron.com/2015/10/sewing-my-first-stitch.html

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  4. A reader above mentioned using a tissue, but I find using tissue paper or tear away stabilizer between the fabric and the feed dogs works well for delicate wovens. Sew it right on as you sew your seam, and then tear it away gently.

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  5. I do the thread-pulling thing too but mostly I use pattern-paper underneath my fabric, works like a charm and it's a great way to use up the bits and bobs that are left over from tracing and cutting a pattern :)

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  6. Using tissue is a great tip I've read about it quite abit. Haven't tried it yet but it seems to be a popular choice if you don't have a walking foot.

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  7. I too save scraps of pattern tissue paper and use these between the fabric and feed dogs, usually just a couple of inches behind the presser foot, but sometimes for the length of the seam, with the paper extending under the presser foot to the right. This really helps stabilise the fabric when sewing a narrow seam. The paper tears away really easily when finished. :)

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  8. I hadn't head/seen the tip about covering the hole with tape, that is brilliant!

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  9. Thanks for the tips! I struggle with this.

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  10. @Lisanne, if it's happening with knits I'd guess you're not using a ball point needle. Does it to me every time!

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  11. Great tips! I always have this problem with my fabric

    Vicky
    http://vickysscrapbook.com/

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  12. OK, so if you are sewing a fine fabric, NEVER EVER start a dart from the fine end. The tip about chain stitching is the way to go.

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  13. I use a scrap of tear away vilene under the section where I'm starting to sew (it's also good to have part of the vilene piece hanging out the back) so the feed digs have something to hang onto. As the name suggests you can just tear it away when the seam is sewn.

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  14. Walking foot is your best friend. It solved the problem for me even when sewing thin knits or viscose, along with starting 1 cm from the edge of a fabric.

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  15. Jeeeps I wouldn't have thought of half of these handy tips!! Great stuff!!

    Gemma
    Faded Windmills

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  16. Brilliant tips! I have a walking foot but it hasn't stopped this happening - starting away from the edge, chainstitching and holding the threads when I start sewing are what works for me. I wish I saw this before I ordered a new straight stitch needle plate for my bernina - it's supposed to stop this happening but a) will probably cost me an arm and a leg and b) your sticky tape tip would work just as well!

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  17. Great tips, thank you. I just purchased several pieces of sheer fabric and have been fretting over how to sew them!

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  18. I've cleaned so much dreadful stuff out of my sewing machines over the years, I would be very hesitant to use the tape trick. It's like the line from a recent play I saw, "it's in my nature to adhere".
    The needle plate is worth it (sadly, with Bernina, it probably did cost an arm and an actual leg). As with the zipper foot, remember to switch it out when you're done, for the same reasons.

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  19. I just barely got a new sewing machine, but I keep making it swallow fabric and so I really appreciate your advice about not back tacking. I have always seen others use the back tacking technique and so I thought that was how you should sew. However, I think that I am going to try just leaving a gap and then sewing over it at the end of the project like you said above sand see if that helps me with my issue. http://www.malssewingrepairs.com.au

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  20. Can I hug you?? I was about to throw my machine right out the window!!! Glad I didn't. Thank u for being on Pinterest!

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