Demystifying Sewing Machines: Quick Fixes

by Austin Allan February 04, 2016

Why Is My Machine Not Working!?

Things to check:

  • Needle
  • Top Thread
  • Bobbin


A needle that is not in perfect or near perfect condition can cause you all sorts of headaches even though upon visual inspection every thing looks in order. Your needle should be changed every 10-15 machine hours depending on material, thicker material will necessitate a needle change sooner. A new needle can make a huge difference on the overall quality of your stitches but is often overlooked as the culprit to many common issues.  

  • Is your needle straight? A slight bend in your needle can cause erratic and uneven stitching and you will experience seams that are not laying tight and flat to your fabric. 
  • Is your needle dull? Feel around the tip of the needle not just the very point of it. If the area right above the point feels rough and not smooth it’s time to change your needle, even if the point still feels sharp. 
  • Is your needle facing the right direction? If you have recently replaced your needle be sure that the indent on the needle is facing the right direction. If your needle is installed facing the wrong direction your thread will be breaking constantly or the seams will be very loopy and loose.


Top Thread/ Bobbin Issues

If your needle checks out but you are still having issues with your seams they will most likely be caused from top thread or bobbin issues. Bad seams work opposite of the problem; a thread bunch on the bottom will be caused from a top thread issue while loose top seams will arise from bobbin issues. 


Top Thread


  • Is your machine properly threaded? Cut your thread and start the machine threading process from the beginning, missing one loop on your machine can detrimental to your seam quality. If you are using a thread cone make sure that the thread is not going directly from the cone to the machine, it should go through an arm or loop that sits above the thread to allow for the thread to unwind appropriately.
  • Is your thread all the way around your tension discs? I suggest flossing your thread through the disc to ensure that the thread gets fully seated. If the thread is not fully seated you will a thread bunch almost immediately on the bottom of your fabric. 
  • Do you need to adjust the spring on your tension discs? With the thread properly seated on the tension discs pull a couple of feet of the thread through. There should be resistance from the discs, not too tight that its difficult to pull or your thread is breaking. Improper disc tension will cause loose bottom seams and no disc tension will cause thread bunching on the bottom of your fabric. 




  • Is your bobbin appropriately threaded? Just as with rethreading your machine remove your bobbin from the case and rethread it from the beginning. Each machine uses a different bobbin style so refer to your owners manual to ensure that you are threading it correctly. 


  • Is your bobbin thread loose? Remove your bobbin from the case and hold the bobbing between your fingers so it will not move and pull the thread around to ensure that it’s tightly wound around the bobbin. Some times when cutting the thread after finishing a seam the bobbin can free spin within the case causing the thread to loosen.
  • Is your bobbin case clean and oiled? A can of air duster does wonders in cleaning the bottom half of your machine. Lint gather up very quickly under there and it will not allow the bobbin to properly function. Refer to your owners manual to see where oil should be applied to ensure that the bobbin can spin freely within its case. Much of the contact on the lower half of the machine is metal on metal so proper lubrication is a must! (Only sewing machine oil should be used on your machine)
  • Is your bobbin tension correct? On some machines you can adjust the tension of your bobbin thread on the bobbin case with a very small flat head screw driver. Like your disc tension there should be resistance when pulling the thread through your bobbin case but it should pull through freely. If there is little to no tension that can cause loose top seams while sewing your fabric. 


If none of these solutions can solve your sewing woes it could be a machine timing issues. The timing is the when the needle and the hook pass each at the correct moment and two threads interlock to ensure a nice tight seam. Timing a machine is a very difficult task and I suggest you take your machine to your local sewing shop for assistance. Larger fabric stores tend to have information for local machine mechanics as well if you are not near a sewing machine shop.

Austin Allan
Austin Allan


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