Sewing Machine Shuttle Problems | 5 Common Problems

The sewing machine is a great piece of machinery that can greatly increase your efficiency when you need to sew something together.

However, a sewing machine is not a simple device and can be quite complicated due to its many parts.

A lot of sewers know the basics of their machine, and how to perform basic troubleshooting, but the more you know about your machine, the more you can fix on your own when issues do come up.

One of the lesser-known parts in a sewing machine is the shuttle.

In this article, we will discuss the shuttle and how important it is to your machine, as well as how to fix it should it have an issue!

What is a Shuttle?

If you are working with a lockstitch sewing machine, you need a shuttle to drive the bobbin.

This helps the bobbin create the necessary lockstitch that will create your seam for you.

There are a few different types of shuttles that you could see in your machine, depending on the age of your machine or the type of machine that you are using.

Transverse Shuttle (Longitudinal Shuttle):

Transverse shuttles are shaped like a boat and carry the bobbin in a straight and horizontal shaft.

This design was created in 1846 and became obsolete when other designs were developed. This type of shuttle only moves side-to-side or front-to-back.

This shuttle type is sometimes mistaken for the oscillating shuttle because of the motion that it makes, but this is incorrect.

Vibrating Shuttle:

Like the Transverse Shuttle, the vibrating shuttle also takes the shape of a boat, but later designs of this type were shaped like bullets.

Vibrating shuttles move their bobbin using vibrations, and the shuttles travel in a short arc.

These shuttles were designed in 1850 and are commonly found in antique sewing machines.

Rotary Hook:

The rotary hook is one of the first designs that are similar to what is currently used today.

These shuttles are circular, and they hold their bobbin completely stationary while sewing.

The design was created in 1851. This shuttle operates by continuously rotating the thread hook around the bobbin instead of moving the bobbin like the previous examples.

Oscillating Shuttle:

Not to be confused with the transverse shuttle, the oscillating shuttle is completely different.

This shuttle works by mounting their bobbin on a hook while reciprocating the hood through an arc motion. These shuttles are also round like the previous example and were created in 1877.

There is also a version of this shuttle that lays horizontally right under the needle plate.

How Do I Know if My Sewing Machine Has a Shuttle?

Depending on your sewing machine, the two types of shuttles you would most likely run into are either the rotary hook or the oscillating shuttle/hook.

If you are looking into purchasing a new sewing machine, your machine’s specifications will list the type of shuttle that you have. If you already have a machine, an easy way to tell would be to look at your manual and see if it is listed there.

If you do not know where your manual is, or you need another way to tell, determining what your sewing machine has is not difficult.

The easiest way to tell what type of shuttle your machine has is to remove your bobbin from the machine and to watch how your shuttle moves when you turn the balance wheel by hand.

If the hook on your shuttle makes a full circle, it is a rotary hook.

However, if the motion hook changed directions while moving, then it is an oscillating hook.

There are pros and cons to both types of shuttle hooks, and you can make a decision depending on what works best for you.

Rotary Hook vs. Oscillating Hook

So which type of shuttle should you get?

This is largely based on personal preference, as there are pros and cons to both options.

Rotary machines are made to be very precise and work very well when the tension is set properly. This type will need to have the timing adjusted more often.

It does, however, run more smoothly at higher speeds, is generally quieter, and has less frequent thread jams.

Oscillating hooks are more simple and are usually more affordable than rotary hook machines. These machines are generally easier when it comes to maintaining their timing.

These machines are better when it comes to using heavier threads, whereas rotary machines are not good when it comes to heavier threads.

How Do I Know if the Shuttle Timing is Correct?

In sewing, timing can be everything.

Unless you know how your machine runs, you might not pay too much attention to the timing of the machine.

However, when you are making sure your shuttle is working and is timed properly, you will need to pay close attention.

Timing should be easy to adjust no matter what type of machine you have, but if you need a more detailed fix that involves removing, replacing, or other fixes to do with the parts, you will need to get help from someone who is familiar with your specific machine.

Timing Test:

One thing that you need to do to check your timing is a timing test.

To do this, you need to pay close attention to the needle and the shuttle hook.

Looking at how they relate to each other can help you to know whether or not you need to make a timing adjustment.

To run a timing test, you will need to:

  1. Remove switchplate, base cover, and bobbin case.
  2. Keep your needle threaded.
  3. Turn the handwheel slowly while you watch the motion of the needle.
  4. Check to see if the shuttle hook is smoothly catching the thread.

If your shuttle hook is not catching the thread, you could need a timing adjustment.

What Happens When the Shuttle is Not Working Properly?

When the shuttle is not working properly, your machine will not sew properly, and you will not be able to create a proper seam for you.

It is imperative that your machine’s shuttle is working properly so that your machine functions properly.

A broken shuttle is not something you can live without.

The Shuttle is Not Catching the Thread:

The main issue that can come from the shuttle is that it is not catching the thread.

This means that you will not be able to make a seam because your bobbin thread and top thread are not working together.

1. Timing Issue:

If your timing is off, your shuttle will not catch the top thread properly. This can make your machine practically useless.

If you have determined from the above timing test that your timing is off, you will need to work on your machine to fix the timing issue. How to change your hook timing can vary depending on your machine and the manufacturer.

Check out your machine’s manual for more information!

If you are uncomfortable attempting to fix this issue yourself, you might want to consider contacting someone who specializes in your specific machine.

2. Dirty Shuttle:

If your shuttle or the area surrounding your shuttle is dirty, then you could have an issue where your shuttle is not picking up the thread like it is supposed to.

Cleaning the area and then rethreading the machine is a good place to start when diagnosing this issue.

3. Shuttle Out of Place:

If your shuttle is not in the proper place, you could have an issue with your shuttle not picking up your thread.

If you removed your shuttle for any reason, such as cleaning, you could have placed it back in, improperly.

This can also cause an issue with your shuttle picking up the top thread and can stop you from being able to properly make a stitch.

4. Needle Issue:

Needle issues could also be your problem.

Even though this isn’t technically a shuttle issue, this can prevent your shuttle from picking up the top thread. A dull or bent needle will mean that your needle and shuttle will not work in harmony.

This can cause issues in stitch creation and other potential issues such as fabric knotting and other issues.

5. The Thread is Bunching Up:

Another very irritating issue that can happen when sewing is thread bunching and knotting up, and this problem can happen in many different areas throughout your machine.

One of these potential places for bunching up is in your shuttle or bobbin area.

When thread collects near your shuttle, it is likely to create a small bunched up ball of thread, dust, fabric, and other debris.

This can cause your shuttle to stop working properly and can create a bigger mess.

If you are having this issue, you should clean out your machine and the area under the needle plate. Keeping this area clean and cleaning it regularly is a good way to keep your machine running well and extending its life.


If you are unfamiliar with your shuttle, you will want to make sure you get to know what you have and how it works so that you know when it stops working.

It is also ideal to know what type of shuttle works best for you if you ever want to invest in a new machine in the future and want to make sure you get the shuttle with the benefits that you prefer.