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When Good Machines Misbehave: Basic Troubleshooting

We've all been there.  

Our perfect, wonderful, best little sewing machine has started to misbehave.  

Maybe it's tension, maybe it's lint, maybe it's mechanical?  Every quilter has had that moment of frustration when their machine is messing up and they can't figure out why. Here's a few things to look at before throwing in the towel:

General Trouble Shooting
Here are few general steps to go through that might fix what's ailing your machine before you take it in (or chuck it out a window...kidding! Kind of.)

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, or got caught somewhere that you wouldn't necessarily see right away. Rethread your top thread and your bobbin thread nd give it another go. 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.  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 terms of your machine's function, it can cause more problems than it solves. 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 a soft paintbrush or makeup brush works awesomely since their bristles are soft and flexible and get in the crannies better than what the machine came with. Dust and lint can really foul things up if a lot has accumulated.  Brush out that bobbin case area and around the feed dogs. Carefully remove the throat plate if needed.

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 - make sure you're using the one you need.  

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, the needle may be blocking where the bobbin goes. Using the handwheel, gently raise your needle and try again. If that doesn't work, have a look inside. If you 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 - your needle tension is too high and is pulling the bobbin thread too hard; this is what makes it peek up through your top thread. Reduce it half a number at a time, and try again.

Help! My top thread is poking through my bobbin thread! Another tension issue - your needle tension is too loose. Tighten it by half a measure and try again.

Help! My fabric is puckering when I straight stitch (and I don't want it to!) It's yet another tension issue. In this case, both needle and bobbin tensions are too tight. Loosen your needle tension by half 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 -  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?! Whelp, you might have just burned out your motor.  Don't pass Go, take it in for repairs.  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. 

Help! My machine is skipping stitches! This is usually a needle problem. Use the right needle for the job and change to a new one. It might be bent or barbed.  If you change your needle and rethread, and the issue persists, your machine may need cleaning.  Go ahead and clean out the bobbin area and try again. 

Help! My bobbin thread is looping! First, rethread your bobbin and top thread with the presser foot UP. If it's down, you're in tension mode. 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 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; we get busy on projects and forget sometimes how important this is!
  • Don't stitch using the handwheel. That knocks your machine out of tension and can mess up the timing.
  • Take your machine in for regular cleanings and maintenance by a professional.  The regular upkeep is money well spent 
  • As always, DON'T FORCE your machine if it's stuck.  If it wasn't broken then, it will be if you force it to move when it's resisting the movement.  Always be gentle when troubleshooting.
If you're ever in doubt, TAKE YOUR MACHINE TO A PRO. It's always worth it!  If you're not sure who to take it to, give us a call and we can recommend some places...if you're outside the Salem area, give your friendly neighborhood quilt shop a call and they can make some recommendations for your area. 

Do you have some handy tips for troubleshooting your machine?  Leave us your tips in the comments below!

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