11 Sewing Machine Stitch Problems & How To Fix Them

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One of the most frustrating things about using sewing machines is having problems with the stitches. Sewing machine stitch problems are very common, but thankfully there are ways to solve each problem, and we’re sharing them with you in this post about the most common sewing machine stitch problems and how to fix them.

How many of these have you experienced:

Sewing machine is jamming

The thread is looping on the either the top or bottom side of your fabric

The thread is bunching up

Stitches are uneven

Your thread keeps breaking

Your machine is skipping stitches

Bobbin thread pulling through to the opposite side of the fabric

11 Sewing Machine Stitch Problems (and how to fix them!)

It’s enough to make you want to quit sewing and put your machine on Facebook Marketplace! Or, it might make you think there’s something wrong with your brand new sewing machine and you contact the retailer in frustration.

Usually, the machine isn’t the problem- it’s the way we’re using it. Making mistakes like not threading the machine correctly, or not using the best type of thread, are usually the cause behind these problems.

Rather than wasting your time getting angry, we’ve put together this list of solutions to make your life easier and to make sewing with a machine more enjoyable.

Afterall, sewing machines exist to make life easier, not harder!

Problem 1: Sewing machine isn’t stitching

If you’re using your sewing machine but there aren’t any stitches, then there’s an issue with the way you have set up the thread that’s causing sewing machine stitch problems.

Not threading a sewing machine correctly is the number one issue when it comes to sewing machine stitch problems.

Many sewing machines have thread guides which help you figure out how to thread properly and if not, you can always check your manual or even head to good ole YouTube- there’s a video tutorial for everything!

Make sure the presser foot is raised when you’re threading your machine, and that the take-up lever is in the up position so that the thread can easily go through it properly. 

Finally, check that the bobbin has been inserted correctly and in the right orientation and that the thread from the bobbin is in the tension mechanism the way it should be.

Problem 2: Poor quality stitches

If you’re noticing poor quality stitches, skipped stitches or uneven stitches, it could be time to replace your sewing machine needle otherwise you’ll continue having sewing machine stitch problems.

The tricky thing about sewing machine needles is that you don’t always know when the needle is blunt. It could appear to be ok, but even a slight bend in the needle can create problems.

If you haven’t changed your needle in a while, definitely swap it and see if this makes a difference.

You should always have a spare stash of sewing machine needles so that you can regularly change them. And the best part is that they’re not expensive at all!

When changing the needle, check that the new needle has been placed in the machine the correct way, with the flat side facing away from you. Incorrectly inserting a new needle can cause all sorts of headaches for your machine, and that’s the last thing you want to deal with!

different colored spools of sewing machine thread and pair of scissors

Problem 3: Wrong needle type

Have you broken a needle? Are you struggling with your stitches?

Use the right sized sewing machine needle for the fabric you’re working with. If you’re working with a tougher fabric, you will need a stronger needle. 

The typical size 80 needle is fine for most sewing projects but when it comes to working with leather and jersey, you need to change the needle to have more luck with the stitches.

Problem 4: Bobbin thread not being picked up by the machine

Bobbin issues are usually caused by using the wrong bobbin type. Yes, believe it or not, every sewing machine has its own bobbin type and not all bobbins are the same.

Use the bobbin that came with your sewing machine to ensure it’s the correct one, and this should solve your bobbin thread problem.

Problem 5: Sewing machine top thread keeps breaking

Cheap quality thread breaks easily, so it’s better to invest in stronger thread even if it costs more. You will have fewer issues with thread breaking and needing to stop your project midway to fix the issue.

Did you know that you should ideally use the same type of thread as the fabric you’re working with? If you’re sewing cotton, use cotton thread; sewing polyester, use polyester thread.

Once you’ve decided on the fabric you’re working with, look for a matching thread. Thread comes in different sizes and is usually either measured by weight or by tex. 

What happens if you use the wrong type of thread? If you use a lightweight thread on a heavier fabric, the thread will break. If you use a heavier thread on a lightweight fabric, the fabric will bunch up or run.

Don’t forget to choose the right needle for the thread and fabric. If you’re using a thicker thread and fabric, choose a stronger needle. 

If all of this sounds too complex and you’re worried about making a mistake, always test on a sample of fabric to see if the needle, thread and tension are correct.

leather fabric and sewing machine

Problem 6: Not the right tension for the fabric

When we talk about sewing machine tension, we’re talking about how much thread is allowed to pass through for the stitch. A stitch that doesn’t use a lot of thread is known as a tight stitch whereas a stitch that uses more thread is called a tight stitch.

It can be tricky working out how much tension to use for a stitch but one way you can tell is by how the fabric reacts. If the fabric starts to bunch up, then the stitch is too tight and you need to loosen the tension. 

A sewing machine uses two threads- the upper and lower thread, with the lower thread coming from the bobbin. A perfect thread tension is when both the upper and lower thread meet in the middle, and there is no bunching or pulling. When the top thread tension is too tight, then the thread forms a straight line rather than a nice stitch. You need to loosen the tension.

The lower thread tension rarely needs to be changed because the bobbin is inserted into the machine and its thread tension is already perfectly adjusted. The only time it would be an issue is if you have tampered with the bobbin and have overridden the factory settings.

Problem 7: Sewing machine is skipping stitches

A sewing machine that is skipping stitches is a sign that the needle is dull and worn out and needs to be replaced. This is because the needle creates friction as the machine moves it through the fabric and so over time, the friction wears out the sharpness of the needle making it dull and causing it to skip stitches.

As mentioned previously, it’s good to change your needles regularly and to have a stash of spare sewing machine needles in your accessories box.

Problem 8: Not feeding the fabric through properly

Helping the fabric feed through the machine is important. If you push the fabric too quickly, it will bunch up and the sewing machine won’t be able to sew properly. If you pull the fabric too tightly, the sewing machine will skip stitches or you could damage the needle.

A sewing machine with a good amount of workspace helps you easily guide the fabric at the right pace and prevent issues of pushing it too slowly or quickly.

Problem 9: Stitches form a birds nest

Have you ever seen thread all bunched up when something goes wrong, almost like a birds nest? This is called birdsnesting, and is a big problem when the upper thread has not been thread properly through the machine.

The best way to resolve this is by rethreading the machine or even replacing the needle. Once you have done this, do a test on a spare piece of fabric to make sure the problem has been resolved before returning to your project.

Problem 10: Decorative stitches not working properly

Trying to do a decorative stitch but it isn’t working? It’s usually a problem with the settings on the machine or you’re using the wrong type of presser foot.

The best way to resolve this is to get out your sewing machine manual. Machines vary in how to set up for different stitches. Find out how to change the settings on your machine and make sure you’re using the correct needle and presser foot for the stitch. You might also need to adjust the stitch length and width.

Problem 11: Stitches for stretchy fabric are not suitable

Working with stretchy fabric? If you’re trying a straight stitch on a stretchy fabric, it will turn into a nightmare! For stretchy fabrics, you need to use a zigzag stitch which prevents the fabric from losing its stretch.

One final tip

This tip is for everyone!

Regularly clean and maintain your sewing machine. Oil your sewing machine every couple of weeks, and if you use your machine each day then ideally you should oil your machine before each new project. Take care not to over-oil otherwise you could end up with oil on your fabric!

Looking after your sewing machine, learning how to thread it properly and how to use the right needle and thread will make sewing a breeze and prevent many of the problems mentioned in this blog.

Remember- most of the time, the issue is caused by us, not the machine. So rather than thinking your new sewing machine is rubbish and needs to be returned, troubleshoot the problem and see if you can resolve it AND still keep your machine.

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