There is nothing worse than sitting down to work on a project, only to find your sewing machine doesn’t want to cooperate! Today, I’d like to cover a few common sewing blunders that you can fix yourself at home.
Tension & Threading Issues
First, I’d like to cover some of the most common issues, which stem from threading.
Bird nesting is a term we use at the shop when you get excessive looping on the bottom of your fabric. This will result in no locked stitches, and can sometimes jam your machine.
The Solution: Re-thread your top thread from the beginning. Double check to make sure the thread is through the tension properly. Once you’ve threaded the needle, put the thread straight back (but not under the presser foot). Keep the presser foot up, and note that the thread should be fairly easy to pull. Put the presser foot down and pull on the thread again – it should look like it will break the needle. If not, the thread is not in the tension, or the tension is not working properly. Check your threading again.
If your thread is catching, you will notice uneven stitching tensions. This normally is more prevalent on the bottom side.
The Solution: If you’re noticing uneven tension on the bottom of the fabric, try slightly increasing your tension. If it does not fix the problem, check your bobbin, bobbin case and needle plate for any sharp edges or anything that could prevent the thread from releasing properly. Gently file any rough spots with emery (sandpaper) tape or a nail file until smooth. If this does not fix the problem, your machine is probably due for a tune-up or repair.
Thread Breaking or Shredding
If the thread is breaking, you won’t be able to stitch much!
The Solution: Check to make sure the spool of thread on the top of your machine isn’t getting stuck. If you have a spool that is loaded into the machine horizontally, make sure the notch to keep thread from unraveling is facing to the right side of the machine. Ensure the spool holder/cap is not too tight against the spool, as well. If the spool sits vertically, make sure the thread is not getting stuck underneath the spool or on a notch. If it is, gently file the notch in the spool until the thread does not catch, or try flipping it.
If you use a cone of thread, make sure the thread comes off the top. If you have a vertical spool pin, you may need to get a thread stand for the spool to unravel correctly.
Machine not Feeding
If you’re machine isn’t feeding, the fabric will not move – you’ll only sew a big knot!
The Solution: There are two solutions to this, depending on your machine. If you have adjustable presser foot pressure, check to make sure it is at “normal” or higher (many machines are a scale of 0-3; use at least a 2 in this case).
If this does not fix the problem, or is not an option, make sure your feed dogs are engaged in the up position! Remove the presser foot and turn the handwheel in the operating direction. If the feed dogs are not higher than the needle plate when the needle is up, they are not engaged. Check your user manual to find where to change this.
Occasionally, feed dogs can become worn or fall out of position. If this is the case, it’s time to bring it in for a repair.
Machine is “Eating” Fabric
We’ve all been there – the machine gets stuck in a spot and starts to wrinkle the fabric – then takes a big old bite out of it!
The Solution: For lightweight fabrics, always stay off the very edge of the fabric. This gives the feed dogs more fabric to grip. As a general guideline, start sewing 1/4″ away from the back edge of your fabric.
If your machine is eating fabric because it cannot feed properly, try using a walking foot. This is especially helpful when sewing multiple layers. Pfaff owners have a built-in “IDT” that serves this same function.
Did I miss a common issue? Let me know below and I’ll be sure to add it!
Jeremy Thompson says
Thanks for the interesting read on how to repair a broken sewing machine! I’m planning to surprise my wife and have her old sewing machine repaired for our anniversary. I’m glad that you mentioned about how re-threading the top of the thread from the beginning can help with resolving bird nesting. I’ll try that out since it seems to be one of its issues. If it still won’t work I’d be sure to bring it to a repair shop since it is a little rusty too. I might even need new parts. Hopefully, this plan goes well.
I hope it goes well for you, Jeremy! Vintage/older model sewing machines (60’s or earlier) are almost always worth repairing! I know some people prefer to have computerized machines with hundreds of stitch options, but the older, simple models will last for generations.