Sewing Machine Keeps Jamming | 7 Common Issues

You’ve probably been here before: needle threaded, bobbin loaded, fabric secured under the presser foot, foot on the foot pedal, and ready to sew away.

So you step on the foot pedal and then… nothing happens.

What could be the problem? You step on the foot pedal again. Nothing. You disconnect and then connect from power and try to give the foot pedal another go—still nothing. 

It’s your worst nightmare: your sewing machine is jammed.

Here are seven common issues and how this can be resolved:

1. My Sewing Machine Jams in Reverse

It can sure be frustrating when you’re trying to get a stitch done, but it just keeps turning on you.

This is when your sewing machine is stuck in reverse.

You don’t know what’s going on, so you resort to pulling your fabric in the right direction or hitting your machine, none of which is helpful. The best thing to do in this kind of scenario is to refer to your user’s manual.

If your sewing machine is stuck in reverse right now, you might be thinking you’ve accidentally damaged it beyond repair, even though you’re not sure how. You might be considering getting a replacement.

What to Check Out on Your Machine?

Before making decisions out of desperation, it might help to check on your manual buttonhole knob.

This is especially vital if your machine seems to be in good condition, your stitches are coming out nicely, but just not in the right direction.

If you work at a tailoring shop, a curious customer might have fiddled with the different dials. If you sew from home, a child or pet might have been fascinated with the several switches on your sewing machine and decided to play around with them.

These could have happened if, at any point, you left your machine on display in your work area. Still, let’s not discount the possibility that you might have absentmindedly messed with your manual buttonhole knob.

Don’t worry! The situation might not be as sticky as you think it is.

What to do Next?

After reading through your user’s manual, determine the original setting for the buttonhole knob, and see if you accidentally altered it.

Once you set it back to the original setting, you should be ready to resume with your stitching. If the manual buttonhole knob doesn’t do the trick, carefully reference the user manual to try and identify your problem before pulling your machine apart.

When it comes to this, there’s no shame in asking your machine’s supplier for some assistance.

That would be better than damaging your parts by accident.

2. My Bobbin Thread Keeps Jamming

Your bobbin is where the bottom thread for your lockstitch sewing machine comes from.

It needs to be nicely accommodated in the bobbin compartment so that you can properly do your work.

The question now is: how well-accommodated is your bobbin?

There could be a number of problems it’s facing if it is not well-accommodated, including, but not limited to:

Uneven Winding:

Has your bobbin been properly threaded?

You might have threaded your bobbin in the past, thinking it doesn’t really matter how well you thread it. It’s small compared to your machine’s other parts, after all.

This isn’t true, though. It’s of utmost importance that your bobbin thread is evenly wound all throughout. If it’s not, you ought to take time to rethread it.

A bobbin that’s jammed with thread in one area but vacant in another is sure to cause you problems with your sewing machine.

Not Enough Thread:

Also, make sure that you have enough bobbin thread.

Check on your bobbin from time to time. Unless you have a transparent top-loading bobbin, you’re less likely to see just how much thread you have left on your bobbin.

This just makes it even more important to keep track of the thread on your bobbin.

Remember to change your bobbin when it runs out of thread!

Trying to sew with just 5 inches of thread could get your thread reeled into the machine, causing a disaster on your fabric.

To make things easier for you, of course, always have a properly wound bobbin at hand. When your bobbin thread runs out, you can simply switch it for a new one.

Bobbin Tension:

Next, take into account the tension on your bobbin.

You might find that it is too tight or even too loose—experiment with loosening it or tightening it slightly.

Put it back in and try sewing!

Rust, Lint, or Dents:

Lots of craftsmen and craftswomen have a trusty machine they’ve been sewing with for years.

As time goes by, however, a machine performs poorer than it used to. This is normal since things do decay over time, but you can slow down the process if you take good care of it.

Even three months after buying a new sewing machine, it seems that problems can start sprouting up everywhere when you don’t maintain your machine at all.

The same goes for the individual parts of your sewing machine. Is your bobbin dusty? Wipe it down.

Is it full of lint?  Is it rusted or chipped? Is your bobbin case deformed or broken?

If that’s the case, you will have to clean, repair, or replace parts of your machine.

3. The Sewing Machine is Jamming the Needle

You need to pay extra attention to your needle if you don’t want problems with your projects.

A needle could get stuck in your machine, or worse, lost. A sewing machine jam caused by the needle is not uncommon.

The needle is arguably the star of your sewing machine, but because it’s so small, it can be difficult to remember to keep it in good condition.

Have you ever used your machine for an entire day, sewing and working on many projects all at once?

Some people will start sewing at the break of dawn and go all the way until evening. They might be fine, but their sewing machine doesn’t seem to be. It gives up on them, and they wonder why it’s malfunctioning all of a sudden.

It’s highly likely that with all that hustle, they ignored the little needle.

Is Your Needle Bent? Check it Out!

It might not be obvious, but it’s possible that your needle is bent. To determine this, lay your needle flat on the table.

When your needle is attached to the machine, it could look like your needle is in good form.

This is why you need to detach it and put it on a flat surface.

If it turns out that your needle is bent, even if just a little, you should replace it immediately, but whether you see that your needle is bent or not, you should still make a habit of replacing it after an entire day of use.

Is Your Needle the Right One?

You may also be using the wrong needle.

You should be able to find the right kind of needle for the fabric for your project, depending on how thick or thin your fabric is and what it is made of.

But most importantly, make sure the needle is fit for your machine. If it doesn’t match your machine, then expect little to no progress.

Avoid forcing needles that aren’t meant for your sewing machine.

Be sure you’re using the right needle with our article: Sewing Machine Needles | Numbers and colors explained!

4. The Machine Jams When Working With Thick Fabric

After some time practicing on simple pillowcases, you might have decided to take on a more advanced level of upholstery.

You could be shooting your shot at quilting when midway through your project, your motor gives up on you.

As mentioned in the last point, you need to make sure you’re well-equipped for the kind of project you’re going to take on. When working with thick fabric, whether denim, canvas, linen, or leather, make sure that you’ve got the right tools.

Where to Start?

  • First, assess your needle.

If you’re working with a thick fabric but are using a thin needle, you’re guaranteed to run into trouble.

It’s of utmost importance that your thread is thick enough too. See to it that both your upper thread and bottom thread aren’t too thin for the kind of fabric you’re using.

  • Don’t forget about the presser foot that you’re using.

Use a presser foot that you know can accommodate layers of thick fabric underneath it.

The presser foot, however, can be adjusted. This means that the one you have at present can be adjusted to different heights to occupy thicker fabrics.

Another important factor that comes into play is whether or not the presser foot has been leveled. Take a proper look at your presser foot before inserting any fabric below it.

After inserting fabric, take another look to see if the presser foot isn’t at an awkward angle. If it is, your feed dogs are highly unlikely to get a move on.

  • Don’t start sewing at the very edge of your fabric.

This could cause a hard time feeding your fabric into the machine.

Of course, though, if you’re using a mini sewing machine, don’t push it past its limits.

Try to find a heavy-duty sewing machine for those tougher sewing endeavors.

5. The Handwheel is Jammed and Will Not Turn Properly

Your handwheel controls the takeup lever and the needle. If it’s not working right, it’s important not to forcefully turn it. This might only do more harm than good.

Try turning the knob that is within your handwheel. This is especially important if you’re using an older machine. It’s positioning might be obstructing your handwheel’s movement.

You can instead remove the bobbin compartment. Check the bobbin and its case for any lint or dust that may have gathered. Oil it or use a compressed air spray to clean it up.

With the bobbin compartment still detached, attempt to gently turn your handwheel. If it turns, then that’s great!

Now, carefully reinstall the bobbin compartment. Turn the handwheel again, and if it doesn’t come to a halt, you’re all set.

6. The Top Thread is Stuck on my Machine

A jam caused by the top thread is not uncommon.

If you have an electric sewing machine, your first course of action should be to switch it off. Check to see which area of your machine is getting jammed by the top thread.

You should take your top thread’s spool and detach from it the part that is stuck using a pair of scissors. It’s best not to forcefully remove it if you don’t want the problem to get bigger.

After doing so, try gently tugging on the thread. Ease it out of the thread guide if that’s where it is stuck.

Now you’ve got it out of your machine! After that, you need to assess how it got stuck in there in the first place. To prevent the thread from getting stuck again, see how it got all jumbled up.

Before any other possible issues like thread quality and tension, it’s possible that the top thread just might not have followed the thread guide correctly.

7. The Needle is Not Moving on my Machine

Before you get too worried, first see if the sewing machine you’re dealing with is electric.

If it is, see if it’s plugged in, and you have the power on. Unless your electric sewing machine is connected to power, none of its parts will do their job.

If you’ve got your machine plugged in and powered up, but your needle still isn’t moving, you might want to check on your top thread.

Your threadless spool could be the culprit.

What Else May Be The Problem?

If you’re using a certain kind of machine, you could be dealing with a mechanism that won’t let your needle move up or down unless it’s been threaded.

This usually comes with a disabling option in case you need to use your machine for a project that doesn’t necessarily involve stitching.

It’s also possible that the bobbin winder has been left engaged from the last use. Although the winder may have been left in a winding position allowing the bobbin winder to turn, the auto de-clutch mechanism would stop the drive to the need bar shaft.

In this situation, move the bobbin winder device back to the left or back to sewing mode.

Finally, Check For Sounds:

If everything else is in place, but your needle still won’t move, try to listen for any distress signals from your sewing machine.

Something could have gotten broken somewhere you can’t see or reach.

Listen to where the sound is coming from in your machine and disassemble the part if you’re an expert at your machine’s inner workings. Knowledge of your machine should come from thoroughly reading your user’s manual.

By determining the problem, you could get your machine running smoothly without jamming.

If you’re not 101% sure of what you’re doing, though, give your machine a break and ask a professional to step in and fix it up for you.