Sewing Machine Handwheel Problems (6 Common Issues)

Mechanical issues on the sewing machine can be a frustrating experience for any sewer.

A stuck handwheel, in particular, can keep you from making progress on your latest sewing project. 

Let’s look at why you might be experiencing problems with your sewing machine handwheel and what you can do to solve them:

1. Accidentally Using Your Handwheel Backwards

When your handwheel is in good shape, it should turn easily and smoothly without you. As it turns, you should see the needle move up and down.

When using your handwheel, you should always turn it towards you. The handwheel is designed only to be used in this counter-clockwise motion.

Turning it away from you or in a clockwise direction can lead to problems with its operation. 

You might be tempted to turn the handwheel backward since it seems to be raising the needle, just like when you turn it towards you. However, it can create unforeseen issues for you and your machine. 

The handwheel is attached to a shaft that drives the needles up and down on the inside of your machine. When you operate the handwheel, you have the power to operate the machine– just at a much slower speed than if you were using your pedal that is powered by electricity. 

When you turn the handwheel forward, the thread is being made into a stitch. If you continue to turn the handwheel forward, you won’t have any issues with your stitches being created.

However, turning it backward can interrupt the momentum of the stitch already being created. You might have a stitch halfway to completion, and the sudden change in the direction of the mechanics can cause a snag. 

The thread can quickly get caught and create a tangled mess inside your machine when this happens.

This isn’t just an inconvenience. It can cause further damage to your machine if you try to force your machine to keep sewing. 

If you realize you have accidentally just used your handwheel backward, you can do a bit of damage control before a more serious problem occurs. 

What To Do After Using the Handwheel Backwards:

To do this, stop what you’re doing and open up your bobbin compartment.

Remove your bobbin completely and reset it in its proper place. This will clear any potential to create a tangled mess from using your handwheel in the wrong direction.

If you are starting as a sewer and are using a lower-end sewing machine, take extra care to only use your handwheel in the correct direction.

Higher-end machines may have extra features in place to avoid these kinds of snags.

However, if you are using a basic machine, the direction of the handwheel is particularly important since it is more prone to snagging. 

2. Forgetting To Drop Your Pressure Foot

Another common reason sewers experience a completely jammed handwheel is another part of the machine: the pressure foot.

The pressure foot is the part of your machine that you can lower down to apply pressure on the fabric below. It is key in helping your material glide through your machine smoothly and helping the sewing mechanisms function as intended. 

The pressure foot works in combination with the feed dogs. The feed dogs are the conveyor-belt-like mechanisms below your fabric that help move it along while sewing. 

Without the much-needed pressure, your fabric might not catch on the feed dogs and might not move along even though the needle keeps stitching.

If the needle keeps creating stitches in the same place without the fabric moving, the thread can become tangled up like a bird’s nest under your fabric.

This tangled mess can cause your needle and handwheel to become completely immobile. 

You have to remember to lower your pressure foot before starting sewing. This easy fix will keep everything running properly and avoid any jams that will impact your handwheel.

If you have a new machine, you might be in luck. Some newer machines won’t allow you to begin sewing until you have lowered your pressure foot.

This built-in reminder can help you develop good habits and avoid the tangles that impact your needle and handwheel. 

3. Forgetting to Thread the Hook

Anytime you’re experiencing an issue with your machine, it’s always a good idea to see if you have threaded the machine properly. 

If your handwheel is completely stuck, there might be a tangled thread inside that keeps your needle and handwheel from moving freely.

One specific threading issue that can impact your handwheel is missing the hook. The hook at the end of the metal arm visibly moves up and down as you sew. 

Your thread has to catch the hook before you begin sewing. Even after you threaded it correctly, the thread can slip out of the hook.

If the thread isn’t in the hook when you begin, you will have another tangled mess of thread down by the fabric. 

Just like with the pressure foot, this tangle of thread can render the needle completely immobile. When the needle can’t move, the handwheel can’t move freely either. 

Stop what you’re doing and rethread your machine. Pay extra attention after you come up from the s-curve and catch the hook with your thread. 

Slowly begin stitching, ensuring the thread stays securely in the hook as your machine picks up speed.

If you need a refresher on how to rethread your machine for a perfect sewing experience, you can check out this tutorial on Youtube:

4. Using the Wrong Bobbins

Your sewing machine will come with bobbins that are the perfect size.

If you buy additional bobbins, you must get exactly the right size for your machine.

Perfectly sized bobbins are key for a smooth sewing experience. 

You might be able to get another bobbin to fit in the compartment, but if the sizing is slightly off, it can lead you to problems and frustration. Even slightly missed bobbins may not run smoothly and can cause the thread to become tangled. 

As seen with the other issues, a tangled thread can make the needle immobile. When this happens, it will make the handwheel immobile as well. 

If you’re not sure your bobbin is the right size, place it next to one of the original machine bobbins. Examine the height, noting if one of the bobbins is taller or shorter than the other. 

If you can see a size difference, you might be in trouble using this bobbin. 

5. Forgetting to Replace Your Needle

If you use your sewing machine regularly, you will need to remember to change your needle from time to time.

Using the same needle will become duller and might even get bent or damaged with certain fabrics.

An old, worn-out needle has the potential to get stuck and cause tangles. Even though the problem might be in the needle itself, it can easily jam your handwheel.

Experts recommend changing your needle after 8-10 hours of sewing on your machine. If you have a hard time keeping track of hours, change your needle before starting a new sewing project. 

6. Time for a Tune-Up

If you have checked all of the parts and components mentioned above and are still experiencing issues with your sewing machine handwheel, it might be time to visit a professional. 

Sometimes a problem with your handwheel can signify a more serious issue within the machine itself. If your handwheel turns freely but no longer moves the needle up and down, it can signify a deeper mechanical issue.

When the belt breaks inside your machine, the needle and handwheel are no longer connected. This can cause one to move without the other changing position at all.

Unfortunately, the solution is usually a job for professionals. 

If you have recently bought your sewing machine, this type of belt repair may be under warranty. Check the details of your manufacturer’s warranty to see if your machine can be repaired free of charge.

Besides more serious issues like a belt break, your sewing machine might need a tune-up. 

Sewing machines, especially older ones, require regular maintenance from time to time. Some models may have self-lubricating features, while others may require a few drops of oil from an experienced professional. 

There are gears inside the handwheel that might need specialized care. Although this is not the most common reason for a jammed handwheel, it can be the case if no other problem solving helps.

Especially with an older machine, a tune-up and oiling might be the perfect recipe to cure the handwheel jam. 

If you suspect a deeper issue with your machine, it might be time to take it in for a tune-up. If you’re not sure where to go, try asking around at your local fabric store for a repair recommendation. 

Final Thoughts

When your handwheel is jammed, it is most likely because your needle is completely stuck.

This can happen because you turned the handwheel backward, forgot to lower the pressure foot, or missed the hook while threading. 

Should addressing these issues not fix your sewing machine, make sure you use the right bobbin and a sharp, straight needle.

Finally, consider bringing your machine in for a tune-up and professional care. 


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