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The quick guide to 12 common sewing machine problems

Imagine this: You come up with an exciting sewing project idea and get started quickly to realize the concept, only to find that your sewing machine is not working! If this is the case, fret not and read on—we’ve got the the 12 common sewing machine problems explained.

Thread bunching under fabric is a common sewing machine problem | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

Thread bunches under the fabric

If you are a beginner in sewing, you will be easily get stuck in this annoying situation. When you find the upper thread forms straight stitch but the bobbin thread forms loops under the fabric, you should check if the upper thread is threaded correctly. Remove the loops under the fabric gently, and re-thread the machine. When threading, position the needle at the highest point by turning the hand wheel towards yourself and lift the presser foot to let the thread slip into the thread tension plate.

Skipped stitches on fabric | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

Skipped stitches

Stitch skipping is another common sewing problem. There are mainly four factors that cause skipped stitches, i.e. damaged bobbin/hook, incorrectly inserted needle, damaged needle, and wrong size of needle/thickness of thread. If there is any skipped stitch, you can check if the bobbin and hook are in good condition, the needle is inserted correctly (the flat side of needle facing the back, no space in the shaft after inserting the needle, the needle being fixed firmly) and without any damage, and whether the size of needle matches the thickness of thread in use. Then replace the machine accessories as needed.

Upper thread breaks when sewing is another common problem.  | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

The upper thread breaks

A broken upper thread means the sewing machine does not operate correctly. While there are various factors that lead to the issue, ranging from incorrect threading, thread tension being too high, high needle temperature affecting the synthetic threads, thread being too thick, knots in thread tension plate, incorrectly inserted or damaged needle, to thread being wound around the spool holder pin. Incorrect threading and incorrectly inserted needle are the more common reasons. You need to remove the thread, then re-thread or re-insert the needle according to the instruction manual. While there is slight difference in steps among different machine models, make sure the needle is at the highest position and the presser feet is raised when threading. The thread should pass through all parts of the thread guide and take-up lever, pass through the hook in front of the needle and then thread into the needle eye. The lower thread should also be brought up.

Along with threading in the correct way, using needles that suits the thickness of the upper thread, cleaning the tension plate and sewing with a right tension help prevent the thread from breaking.

Lower thread breaks when sewing. | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

The lower thread breaks

Similar to upper thread, an incorrectly threaded/inserted bobbin case and tension level being too high make the lower thread prone to breakage. If you find that the issue lies in the threading of bobbin case after checking the machine, you need to re-thread it or remove and re-insert the bobbin. If threaded correctly, the lower thread should come out from the thread side slot and can be easily brought up to the needle eye. You may also lower the thread tension to prevent it from breaking due to accumulated strain.

Loose stitches affect the quality of sewing deliverables. | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

Loose stitches

Loose stitch is another issue that weakens seam strength apart from the skipped stitch. The problem stems from wrong threading method, combination of needle/fabric/thread and tension. If you have any problem with threading, you can re-thread according to the user manual of the specific machine model. The upper thread should pass through all parts of thread guide, take-up lever and needle eye, and the lower thread should be brought up to the needle eye smoothly from the thread side slot of the bobbin case.

You may also work with needles, thread and tension which suit the fabric you are working with to avoid loose stitches.

Bursting of weave threads leaves the fabric sewn damaged. | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

The weave threads burst

Bursting of weave threads means the threads of the fabric is damaged when being sewn. Needles and fabric type are the main reasons for the issue. Sewing with a needle that is too thick will make fabric, especially the densely woven ones, undergo great strain. Moreover, if the material sewn is tough, densely weaved, or elastic, or delicate, friction builds up easily during sewing if it is not lubricated.

Seam gathering/puckering is also a common sewing machine problem. | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

Seams gather or pucker

When seams gather or pucker, the fabric does not appear as smooth as it should be, which affects the appeal of the finished product. If there is excessive friction between layers of fabrics, the speed of material passing through the sewing machine and that of the needle will be different, leading to seam puckering/gathering. Moreover, the problem will arise if you sew with a thread/ needle that is too thick, since this will push the weave threads aside. Also, difference in degree of stretching between thread and fabric, the thread not being of low shrinkage nature, wrong stitch length, and high tension could also be the crux of the problem. You may consider using threads made of similar material to the fabric or of low shrinkage nature when sewing, and change presser foot if necessary.

Uneven stitch and uneven feed. | sewing tutorial  © Singer® Hong Kong

Uneven stitch and uneven feed

Uneven stitch and feed makes the form of a working product distort and fabrics not sewn firmly. If you have used thread of low quality, threaded the machine incorrectly, or pulled the fabric when trying to make it pass through the presser foot, it is likely that the issue will occur. To avoid the unwanted situation, choose a thread that is durable, of low shrinkage nature and does not form lint easily, thread the bobbin case according to the user manual, and instead of pulling the fabric when sewing, let the feed dog pull it under the presser foot.

The sewing machine cannot sew the fabric. | sewing tutorial © Singer® Hong Kong

The machine cannot sew the fabric

When you have found that the machine cannot sew a specific type of fabric, it is likely that the issue is related to the material itself. If you work with thick, elastic, napped, or delicate fabrics, you need to pay special attention to them by utilizing different sizes of needles, types of threads, and/or presser feet, which help you operate the machine smoothly and utilize it.

If you work with thick fabrics, you can sew with cotton/polyester thread and a walking/even-feed foot, which help sew the fabric evenly. When it comes to leather, elastic or laminated fabric, it is recommended that you use polyester thread and Teflon foot or walking/even-feed foot, which feeds the sticky fabric smoothly. The machine works better with roller foot when sewing uneven fabrics, as the foot can pass the uneven and heavy fabrics through the machine efficiently. Finally, if you need to use delicate materials in you project, opt for fine needles and threads, and a knit foot or walking/even-feed foot to keep the fabric from slippage and ripples.

The machine needle breaks when sewing. | sewing tutorial  © Singer® Hong Kong

The needle breaks

If the needle breaks when sewing, chances are that the needle is already damaged, it is inserted incorrectly, or a wrong presser foot is used, which causes repeated striking and great strain. To insert the needle in the right way, place the needle with the flat side back to you, leave no space after it is inserted into the needle shaft, then screw the needle clamp tightly.

If you have replaced the damaged accessories with the new ones but the problem still persists, you should check if the size of the needle suits the fabric to be sewn. The density of toughness of the fabric affects the choice of the needle, so change needles accordingly when sewing various materials.

Noisy sewing machine. | sewing tutorial  © Singer® Hong Kong

The machine is noisy

A noisy sewing machine may mean that it is time for you to clean the lint or oil collected on the hook or needle bar. It may also be a sign of needle damage, so check the needle for any damage and replace if needed.

A jammed sewing machine. | sewing tutorial  © Singer® Hong Kong

The machine jams

If the fabric is jammed in the sewing machine, it may be a sign of the thread getting caught in the hook. To resume sewing, gently remove the jammed fabric, upper thread and bobbin first, then turn the handwheel backwards and forwards by hand and remove the thread.

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