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!

And if you want some more help starting sewing, take a look at my online workshop Make Friends with a Sewing Machine.

Make Friends with a Sewing Machine - online workshop