When everything is working correctly, you might not take much notice of your sewing machine’s needle plate. This flat plate covers the stitching area of your machine and provides a space for the needle and bobbin thread to pass through smoothly.
However, needle plate problems can cause the fabric to get sucked into your machine or for your needles to become stuck, bent, or even broken.
Let’s look at the most common issues surrounding needle plates and what you can do to fix these problems:
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1. Needle Keeps Hitting the Needle Plate
A common issue you might encounter is your needle striking the needle plate. This can cause serious damage to your needle, not to mention you won’t be able to make any sewing progress.
Your needle needs to be perfectly lined up with the designated hole in the needle plate. When it isn’t properly calibrated in the machine, it won’t be able to line up with the hole in the needle plate.
When this happens, and the needle is lowered, it will hit the metal surface surrounding the plate’s hole instead of successfully passing through the hole into the stitching area.
If you are using your handwheel at this point, there won’t be too much momentum forcing your needle down. However, if you step on the pedal when your needle isn’t calibrated, you can damage your needle as it slams against the metal plate.
To avoid creating a bent, broken, or unusable needle, it’s important to calibrate and align your machine before you start sewing.
How to Calibrate:
To start the calibration process, make sure you have a Phillips screwdriver handy that will fit the screws of your machine.
Raise your needle all the way and then turn your machine around, so you are looking at its backside. You should see a single screw in the body of the machine. It will be located right above where the needle and related parts connect with the machine for many models.
If you’re unsure where this screw is on your particular model, check the owner’s manual that came with your sewing machine. It should be able to show you which screw corresponds with needle placement.
Now, use your screwdriver to turn this screw. Tightening or loosening this screw will directly guide your needle to where it needs to be.
If you turn your screwdriver to the right or clockwise, it will move the needle toward the back of the machine.
When you turn your screwdriver to the left or counterclockwise, it will move the needle toward the front of the machine.
Slowly turn your screwdriver according to the misalignment of your needle. You can test its new position by slowly lowering the needle down with your handwheel. The needle should pass through the hole exactly in the middle.
When the needle easily passes through this middle part of the hole in the needle plate, you have finished the calibration process. Now you should be able to sew without making contact with the top surface of the needle plate.
Check For a Bent Needle:
It’s possible that nothing is wrong with your calibration, but your needle still can’t pass through the hole in the needle plate. This is usually the case when the needle is bent.
A bent needle can have enough of a curve to it to miss the hole in the needle plate completely. If you notice that your needle is bent, you will need to immediately change it for a new one.
You can change the needle yourself, even if you’re new to using a sewing machine.
To get started, find the hand screw usually located to the right of the needle bar. By slowly turning this knob with your fingers, you will be able to loosen the mechanism that holds the needle in place.
Use one hand to turn the knob and the other to hold onto the needle. Slowly remove the needle when it is loose enough. If you loosen the mechanism too quickly without holding the needle, it can drop right into the machine and be a challenge to retrieve.
Now it’s time to install a new, straight needle. Examine the new needle and find its flat side at the base. This side should face the back of your machine when installed.
Insert the new needle into the hole. Make sure you push it up as far as possible into the machine for it to be in the right place. Once you’re confident in its position, begin turning the screw in the opposite direction to secure it snugly.
If the needle isn’t placed far enough in the machine or you fail to tighten the screw enough, you risk the needle dropping out of place while sewing. Double-check your work to ensure the needle is perfectly tight and in the right place.
For a step by step tutorial on changing a needle, you can check out this informative video on YouTube:
Be Gentle With Heavy Materials:
Once you have calibrated your machine and have a sharp, straight needle in place, you will want to take care not to cause another misalignment. Sewing carelessly or with too much force can cause the needle to become misaligned again.
If you are sewing with heavier materials, like denim, pushing them through with too much force can cause enough pressure to move the needle out of place.
If you consistently sew in this way, it can cause the needle to bend or become misaligned.
If you have identified a bent needle and replaced it properly, you will want this new needle to last as long as possible. Be especially careful when sewing with strong materials and try not to rush through any part of the sewing process.
If you plan to sew with a new kind of material, check the guides that came with your sewing machine for any relevant tips. Some fabrics will require special settings or thread combinations.
The more you know about the fabric you are working with, the more you will be able to use this new fabric with your machine successfully.
2. Fabric Disappears Into the Machine
Misaligned needles aren’t the only issues associated with needle plates.
You may have had the frustrating experience where you start sewing only to see your fabric get sucked into your machine.
When your fabric disappears, it might be due to a problem with your needle plate. Some fabrics and stitches respond differently to the type of needle plate you are currently using.
Needle plates come in different styles and varieties. There are standard needle plates as well as straight stitch needle plates.
A standard needle plate features a wide hole for the needle to land in as it goes up and down. It can perform many different kinds of stitches, including larger zig-zag and side-to-side stitches.
A straight stitch needle plate only provides a small hole for the needle to pass through. It limits the needle’s possible movements, which can help the fabric pass through more smoothly.
This smaller hole provides more stability for your fabric, helping it not get sucked away inside your machine as you sew.
You can use your straight stitch needle plate anytime a side-to-side or zig-zag stitch is unnecessary. This is the best plate to use, especially when using light, delicate fabrics.
Delicate fabrics can be especially prone to getting sucked into the machine with a standard needle plate. For extra protection, you can use a straight stitch foot while you use a straight stitch needle plate. This combination can make sewing delicate, specialty fabrics much smoother and easier.
For some higher-end machines, they can mechanically recognize what needle plate you are currently using. The machine will automatically disable any kinds of stitching incompatible with the current plate.
If your machine doesn’t have this kind of technology, choose a compatible stitch for the needle plate you have installed. If you attempt a zig-zag stitch in a straight stitch needle plate, your needle is in danger of damage.
3. Broken Needle Plates
In addition to the above issues, your needle plate may be broken. If your needle plate is old, has been repeatedly struck by a misaligned needle, or faced other sewing wear and tear, it might need to be replaced.
Needle plates are commonly made of metal or plastic. Metal ones can become worn down over time, and plastic ones can even break. Keep an eye on your needle plate and find a replacement if you notice any serious damage.
If you think it’s time to replace your needle plate, make sure you purchase one that will be compatible with the make and model of your sewing machine.
Be sure to choose the right style as well. If you want to replace your standard needle plate, you might be unpleasantly surprised if you accidentally purchase a straight stitch needle plate.
Check with your sewing machine’s manual to install a new needle plate. It is usually a straightforward task to release the old plate and install the new one. Check the manual to find out where the release mechanism is located.
If you are having trouble with your needle hitting your needle plate or with your material getting sucked into the machine, you might have a needle plate issue on your hands.
Reinstalling or realigning your needle can help guide it directly to the hole in your needle plate. Replacing bent needles is a must here as well.
Finally, consider changing the type of needle plate you are using if the standard one is causing unnecessary headaches for your type of sewing project.