Sew, What’s Your Problem? Keep Your Sewing Machine Out Of The Repair Shop!

Sew, What’s Your Problem?

There never seems to be enough hours in the day to do all that we have to do. The last thing a sewer needs when she sits down at her sewing machine is to have everything go wrong! The needle breaks, thread jams in the bobbin area or keeps skipping stitches or a number of other frustrating problems that keep the project from being completed. These problems happen to the novice sewer as well as the seasoned pro, and while we would like to blame the sewing machine and perhaps “throw it out the window”, there are measures the home sewer can take to correct most problems or even prevent them from happening in the first place. 

The sewing machine needle is probably the number one cause of problems for sewers and crafters. This may sound silly, but the first thing to check when having stitching problems is whether the needle is in backwards. Oh, I know you’re saying “I’ve been sewing most of my life and I know how to put the needle in the machine”, but in about 25% of the sewing machine repair jobs I go out on, the only problem was that the needle was put in backwards. If your machine will not pick up the bottom thread or skips stitches badly, in most cases it’s because your needle is in wrong. 

Each sewing machine requires the “flat” side of the needle be put in a specific way – facing the front, the back, etc., depending on your particular make and model. Sewers in a hurry to get a project done may simply insert the needle and not pay attention to the position of the flat side, and immediately begin having problems. If by chance you have a sewing machine that takes a needle that doesn’t have a flat side, you’ll notice that each needle has a groove in it where the thread lays as it penetrates the fabric. Depending on whether your machine shuttle system faces to the front or to the left, the groove of the needle will also face front or left. 

A needle that is dull, bent, or simply the wrong size or type can cause major sewing problems. Just because the needle “looks good” doesn’t mean that it is good. A small “snag” on the tip of the needle can cause runs in the fabric, and even a slightly bent needle won’t sew properly. A good rule of thumb would be to change the machine needle before each new project, and, because some fabrics and fabric finishes can increase wear on the needle, you may need to change the needle during the project if you notice stitching problems beginning to appear. 

Always use the right size needle for the type of fabric you’re sewing. I’ve seen sewers trying to sew denim with a fine lingerie type needle simply “because the needle was in the machine and still a good needle”, and others trying to sew fine fabrics with needles that are much too large. A needle too fine for heavy fabric can bend or break when it hits the fabric, while too large a needle for the fabric can make puncture holes in the fabric and also cause the thread to pull unevenly while stitching. Do yourself a huge favor and check the machine needle before you begin any new project.  The second thing to check is the thread itself. We have found that “cheap” thread is definitely not a bargain! The fibers of the “bargain” thread splits easily while you’re sewing and can cause knotting of the thread, breakage of the thread and can also cause a build-up of lint in the bobbin area and along the thread line from the spool to the needle. If you hold a length of the bargain thread up to a light you can readily see the frayed edges and roughness of the thread. Stick to a good quality thread and you’ll minimize the potential problems. 

An additional area to check for stitching problems is whether the sewing machine is threaded properly. Each machine has a certain sequence for threading, and it only takes one missed step in the sequence to cause your machine to skip stitches. If you’re in doubt, take the top thread completely out and start all over again. 

Many times it’s the small things that cause much frustration and loss of sewing time. Taking just a few minutes before starting a project to make sure everything is in order can save hours of “down” time, not to mention frayed nerves and the possibility of having to take the machine to a repair shop unnecessarily. 

Reuben Doyle, a sewing machine repairman for over 25 years has written “Sewing Machine Repair for the Home Sewer” ($24.95 + $3.00 P&H) and “Serger Repair for the Home Sewer” ($24.95 + $3.00 P&H) for those who would like to end the frustration of interrupted sewing projects and unnecessary trips to the repair shop. Each book contains problem/solution scenarios, expert tips on maintaining your sewing machine or serger, and information that sewing machine repairs shops don’t want you to know!  Both books are available at