When it comes to sewing machine repairs, adopting the “innocent until proven guilty” principal will serve you well.  If you encounter problems with your machine, it is a good rule of thumb to check the simplest problems first—the quality of your needle, the type of thread you are using, the wads of lint hiding under your needle plate—so that you don’t waste time (and money) on unnecessary repairs. Try the following checklist before you hit the panic button:

Thread on take-up lever
  • Check that your machine is correctly threaded, both on the top and the bobbin threads. Even if you’re sure you did it right, go back and check again.  The machine must be threaded exactly as your instruction manual says, so if you’ve lost your instruction manual, you might be able to find one for download from this list, or you might be able find a free threading diagram here.
Cleaning the bobbin case
  • Remove your needle plate/throat plate and your bobbin case and clean out any lint, threads, doughnut crumbs, or other debris. Even a tiny wad of lint can cause some major problems, especially with the more sensitive computerized machines made today. Another good place to check for thread and lint is the head of your machine, where the take-up lever and light usually is. Sometimes threads get wrapped around the take-up lever and can cause issues, so be sure to clean everything thoroughly.
Bent sewing machine needle
  • Check the condition of your needle. Needles do wear out after the hundreds of thousands of times they pierce your fabric. Also, a needle only needs to be slightly bent to cause all kinds of horrific problems. If in doubt, try a new needle in your machine and see if that fixes the problem.
  • Make sure you are using the right kind of needle and thread for your fabric. Check out this comprehensive needle, thread, and fabric guide to help you decide what you need for your project.
Adjusting the tension dial
  • Check your tension settings and see if you need something different for your particular project. Each fabric is unique, so it’s a good idea to test some stitches on a scrap to find the tension you need.
Checking the timing
  • Before you you blame “timing,” make sure you know what timing really is. Lots of sewers (and even a few mechanics) will blame “timing” for problems that really have other causes. To see if you’re really facing a timing issue, try this five-minute test, and learn a little more about how sewing machines work!
Sew it Works! Guide
ordernowOrder the Sew it Works! manual. If none of these basic steps solve your problem, you may want to purchase our Sew it Works! Essential Guide to Sewing Machine Repair, which can be instantly downloaded here for $19.95. This print-friendly, full color 82-page PDF covers topics such as:

  • Bobbin winding problems
  • Fabric not feeding correctly
  • Fabric puckering or bunching
  • Machine running slow
  • Machine not running at all
  • Machine smells and/or feels hot
  • Machine stopping suddenly
  • Machine not stopping
  • Machine sewing backwards
  • Needle breaking
  • Needle hitting the needle/throat plate, bobbin, or shuttle
  • Needle coming unthreaded
  • Needle not moving
  • Needle not picking up bottom thread
  • Noises
  • Stitching problems (bottom thread bunching/looping; threads pulling out easily; stitches looking wobbly or uneven; skipped stitches; machine making no stitches)
  • Thread breaking (top thread and lower thread breaks)
  • Thread jams
  • Tension problems
  • Timing adjustment
  • Machine maintenance
  • Ordering parts
  • Additional resources for machine repair and care

For more information on the Sew it Works! guide, visit out e-book section.