Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday, it's Technical: Troubleshooting your Misbehaving Sewing Machine

More often than I'm willing to admit, I find myself being too hard on my little machine, cussing at it whenever it doesn't do what I want. Let's face it, to a certain degree, every quilter has had that moment of rage when their machine is messing up and they can't figure out why! Lots of times people are very quick to just take it in to be fixed instead of doing a little troubleshooting on their own, which may fix the problem. It's intimidating, especially if you're unfamiliar with your machine, to open it up and figure out what's up. Even those manuals can be a bit vague when you're frustrated and trying to figure out the random "who-the-heck-knows" fit your machine has decided to throw.

General Trouble Shooting
Here are few general steps to go through before doing anything more intricate or taking your machine to a pro.
Rethread. Yes, sometimes it's as simple as rethreading your machine and that's it. Your thread may have slipped out of the tension disks, broke, got caught somewhere or something like that, that you wouldn't necessarily see right away. Rethread your top thread and your bobbin thread. Speaking of bobbins...

Rewind Your Bobbin. Sometimes, if a bobbin isn't wound properly, it causes weird little issues. Be sure to wind your bobbin as per your machine manual's instructions; some wind clockwise, and some counterclockwise, so be sure to be attentive to that. Also, use one continuous piece of thread to wind your bobbin, not several pieces of varying color and length. It seems like a great way to save and use "waste" thread, but in therms of your machine's function, it causes more problems than it solves. Use one piece wound off of one thread spool. And while you're down in the bobbin area...

Clean Your Bobbin Case Area. Your machine probably came with a little, stiff bristled brush for this, but I have found that canned air (yes, canned air like for keyboards) works the best. If you don't have canned air, try a soft paintbrush or makeup brush - their bristles are soft and flexible and get in the crannies better than the stiff plastic bristles of the standard issue machine brush. Dust and lint can really foul things up if a lot has accumulated, and every now and then a wayward thread gets caught in the bobbin case. Brush or blow out that bobbin case area. Carefully remove the throat plate if needed (you know, the metal piece surrounding the feed dogs) with the screwdriver included with yur machine, and clean down around the feed dogs too.

Change Your Needle. It could be that your needle is bent, dull or barbed and snagging on your fabric or thread. It's amazing how much a little needle can mess so much up! Or, you may not be using the right needle for the job; CLICK HERE to learn about the types of machine needles and which works best for the task at hand.

Problem Specific Troubleshooting
Here are a few common problems and how they can be fixed (in most cases)

Help! My bobbin won't go back in! It sounds silly, but is your needle down, or up? If it is down, no amount of trying to shove that thing in there is going to get it in because the needle is blocking where the bobbin goes. Using the handwheel, gently raise your needle and then try again. If that doesn't work, have a look inside. If you have just cleaned your machine, odds are something didn't get put back in properly. Look for loose pieces and put them in again. Your bobbin case should go in just fine.

Help! My bobbin thread is coming through my top thread! It's a tension issue (ha, I know, you can say that again). Your needle tension is too high, high enough that it is pulloing the bobbin thread too hard and that's why it's peeking up through your top thread. Take that puppy down a noth, I mean, half a number at once. If your tension is at 3 when this occurs, drop it to 2.5 and try again.

Help! My top thread is poking through my bobbin thread! Another tension issue (hiii-yo!). Your needle tension is too loose. Tighten it by half a measure. If your tension is at 3 when this occurs, to up to 3.5 and see what happens.

Help! My fabric is puckering when I straight stitch, and I don't want it to! Yep, another tension issue. Look, tension's a bitch, it just is and it get knocked off pretty easy. In this case, both needle and bobbin tensions are too tight. Loosen your needle tension by .5 a measure. Get to your bobbin and take out the bobbin case. See that screw on the side? It needs to be loosened, but only a little!  A little goes a long way with that thing, so try only a quarter turn at a time. Put your bobbin back in and try again. Adjust as needed until it works.

Help! There is smoke coming out of my machine, what did I do?! Well my dear, you might have just burned out your motor. There is nothing you can do to fix this on your own - take it to a pro. They might be able to fix it, but like damage to car consider whether the cost of the repair is greater than the worth of the machine. That might have been that machine's death throes and it might be time for a new one.

Help! My machine is skipping stitches! Unless you haven't had your machine cleaned in ages, this is a needle problem. Use the right needle for the job and change to a new one. It might be bent or barbed.

Help! My bobbin thread is a tangled, loopy nightmare when I sew! First, rethread your bobbin and top thread with the presser foot UP. If it's down, you're in tension mode and that can make the thread sit funny. try sewing again. If that doesn't work, change your needle. If that doesn't work, test with a different bobbin. It could be that your bobbin isn't wound well. If it's not, rewind another bobbin and get to work!

Help! My top thread keeps breaking! Make sure you are using a quality thread. Lower quality threads break much easier. If you're using a metallic, change to a metallic needle and take it slower - metallic threads break much easier than cottons or polyesters. To learn more about thread types and when to use them, CLICK HERE. More than likely it's a needle issue or a threading issue. rethread your machine first and try again. Usually that fixes the problem. If not, change your needle.

Machine Problem Prevention
- Keep your machine clean; get the dust and lint out of there after every project, or midway during a project if you are using fabrics prone to linting.

- Don't stitch using the handwheel. That knocks your machine out of tension and can mess up the timing.

- Unplug your machine and keep it away from little fingers. Children may play with it when you're not around, and when you go to use it everything is off. Most kids know that your sewing machine isn't a toy for them, but all those buttons and knobs and that pedal are awful enticing for little ones.

- Take your machine in for regular cleanings and maitenence by a professional. It's work the money to keep your machine in top shape!

- Be careful not to drop your machine, and if it is on the ground, take care not to knock it or kick it.

As always, DON'T FORCEyour machine if it's stuck and always be gentle when troubleshooting. These tips are handy for sure, but if you're ever in doubt, TAKE YOUR MACHINE TO A PRO. It's always worth it.

Sources and Additional Information
What the Craft
Sewing at

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I welcome all comments and constructive criticism! All I ask is that you keep it clean and keep it kind.