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Common problems and things to check/try to solve them[edit]

Note: These tips are for home sewing machines. They may not be applicable to the industrial machines or the sergers. (In particular, do not rethread the sergers unless you know what you're doing.)

The machine is skipping stitches, making thread snarls below the fabric, or making grunting noises[edit]

Most likely the needle needs to be changed. Also make sure it's the right type of needle for the material you're working with.

If that doesn't fix it, try rethreading the top thread. Make sure to raise the foot before you do that and put the foot back down after.

If that doesn't fix it, see the next section.

The machine isn't making stitches at all[edit]

In ascending order of fix difficulty:

  • Make sure the foot is down. Upper tension is not engaged (upper thread will not feed) when the foot is up. Don't be ashamed; we've all done it!
  • Make sure enough of the lower thread is hanging out for the upper thread to catch. If there's only an inch or less hanging out, pull out a few more inches' worth.
  • Try rethreading the upper thread.
  • Check the bobbin; make sure the lower section is clean and free of snarled threads.
  • Make sure the bobbin is the right type for the machine you're using.
  • Try winding a new bobbin (appropriate for the machine you're using) off of the bobbin you're using.
  • Try replacing the needle.
  • Check the upper thread tension. For most projects it should be on one of the middle few settings.
  • With the needle threaded, bobbin installed, and foot down, turn the handwheel (always towards you) one full cycle to test whether it makes a stitch without fabric.
  • Try the same thing with regular cotton or polyester thread and woven cotton fabric, if that's not what you were already using. If that works without difficulty, your project and its materials might need different settings, a different needle, or a different foot.
  • Unthread the needle, take out the bobbin, and turn the handwheel (always towards you) to check the bobbin timing. For machines with a top drop-in bobbin, the bobbin hook should pass behind the needle about when the needle is descending. (If it's not obviously wrong, it's probably right.)
  • Worst case is bobbin timing or lower tension might need to be adjusted, but those are last resorts. Don't try to do these yourself; alert a maintainer to the problem and go over what you've tried.

The material isn't feeding through[edit]

For thick stacks of fabric (cotton, denim, polyester, etc.), the presser foot pressure may need to be decreased. Remember to set it back to what it was when you're done.

For thin fabrics, the presser foot pressure may need to be increased. (The presser foot presses your workpiece into the feed dogs, so if the fabric is too thin and the pressure too light, the feed dogs may not grip.)

For sticky materials such as leather or (especially) vinyl, you may need a roller foot or a walking foot.

DO NOT attempt to force material into the machine by pushing it with your hands. This is a good way to drive a sewing machine over your finger and have to go to the hospital. Don't pull it from behind, either—as the needle comes down, you'll pull it into the throat plate, where it will at least make a nick (which will damage later materials) and may jam the machine or break the needle. Instead, stop, think, and fix the actual problem.