Stitching Problems On Sewing Machines (21 Solutions)

Once and a while, the sewing machine stitches will have errors. It can do irregular stitches, not to stitch at all or simply just cause stitching problems.

In this article, we will Cover some of the most common problems with stitches and we would also list the solution for the problems.

Tip: You can use the table of content below here, to select the type of problem you have and jumped right into the solution.


Sewing machine problems with stitches

They are probably as many sewing machines as there are stitches. This means that we can’t possibly cover all the problems you can experience with your sewing machine stitches.

But we will try to cover all of the most common problems and we will list easy solutions so you can quickly move on with your project.

If the sewing machine doesn’t stitch at all

If the sewing machine doesn’t stitch at all here’s what you check:

  1. first, you need to make sure that the handwheel is tightened. Maybe you loosened it in order to wind thread on the spool.
  2. Next, you need to make sure you have pulled enough fret to the back of the machine before you start sewing. If this is the case, the needle will simply unthread itself as soon as you hit the pedal and you will not have a stitch made at all.
  3. Other than that just rethread the machine.
    Both upper thread and the bobbin thread. This is always the first thing to check whenever you have trouble with your sewing machine.

If the motor keeps running and the sewing machine is not stitching at this point you probably need to take it to the shop.

Stitch length problem (too long/short)

Most sewing machines will have you adjusting the stitches from zero to five. Zero will be the shortest stitch you can do and five will be the longest stitch on the machine.

You would normally use a stitch length around 3 to 4, but if you want a really strong stitch you can go all the way down till zero.

When you are sewing two pieces of fabric together temporarily, you will use a long stitch. This makes it easier to remove the stitches as they are fewer and longer. By doing so you won’t notice the stitches as much afterward. Remember you can’t remove stitches if you’re working with leather all vinyl.

Also be aware that the shorter the stitch the stronger your seams will be. It will take forever to sew a long piece of fabric with really short stitches. So consider how strong you need the stitches to be before you choose your stitch length.

If the machine doesn’t respond properly to the stitch length setting you might have to take it to the shop. But first, you need to make sure it won’t stitch the buttonhole correctly as well. If it won’t do that or any other advanced stitching techniques you should take it to the shop.

If you can’t do advanced stitches and you also can do buttonholes You might have an electronic problem with the machine.

How to adjust the thread tension

The upper thread

The tension of the upper thread can almost always be adjusted with a little wheel on top of the machine.

This would be how to do it on the Bernina, Singer, Brother, Kenmore, and most other sewing machine brands. You simply turn the little wheel up or down to change it from between zero till five. The higher the number the higher the thread tension will eventually be.

If you have the right thread tension setting but it still doesn’t work or it is too tight, make sure you have threatened your machine correctly. Remember, we always advise that you start by the re-threading your machine whenever you have a problem with the thread or stitches.

The bobbin

You rarely want to change the tension of the bobbin thread. It should stay the same for almost any sewing project. If you have to change the tension you can do so by turning that little screw mounted on the bobbin case:

Tension screw on the bobbin case

But first, you need to make sure that this is actually the problem. All this you can read more about how to test out in the link below.

We have written a separate article about everything regarding the bobbin. Including how to change the tension of the bobbin.

Skipping stitches

If your sewing machine is skipping stitches, the first thing to check s the needle.

Check the needles isn’t bent

Make sure the needle is installed correctly. It might be bent or damaged without you noticing it. Even if you cannot see any burr on the needle try to exchange it for brand-new needle before you move on at this point.

This can sometimes happen if the needle hit the bobbin case. It can also happen if you were using the wrong needle size. The machine can also bend the needle if it really needs a good cleaning. If you haven’t cleaned it in a long time, open the bobbin case to give it a good clean and a tiny bit of oil.

Either way, this should always be the first thing you test before you move on. As soon as you have checked this off the list you can move onto the next part.

Check the needle size

If you are using the wrong needle for your machine (or the project) it might not catch the bobbin thread below and it might be skipping stitches.

You can check this by lifting the footer and manually turning the handwheels towards you.

As you do this, you should be able to see the needle go down and grab the bobbin thread and pull it up to form a nice stitch. If this doesn’t happen, you should rethread your machine. Both the top thread and the bottom thread (bobbin).

Let the machine pull the fabric at its own speed

You should always make sure you are feeding the machine at the correct speed.

If you are holding the fabric too tight or you are trying to feed it too quickly you might cause the machine to skip stitches. It needs to “eat” the fabric at its own speed without you forcing it.

This is a lot easier to do if you have a table in front of you. This way you can lay out the fabric flat and make sure the tension is just right for the machine to sew. If you fail to do so you might also have problems with the needle breaking too often. If the tension is not right it will skip stitches because the two threads might not meet at the correct tension and speed. To take-up lever needs to tighten the stitches at its own pace.

Use a table to catch the fabric

Use a table behind the machine so the fabric won’t just fall down on the floor.

If you’re not using a table to catch the fabric behind the machine, it might add too much pull-tension unto the fabric and cause it to skip stitches. This is extra important when you work with heavy-duty fabrics like canvas, vinyl, denim etc. The added weight of the fabric will create too much pull.

Take your time to organize the fabric behind the machine before you continue and make sure to have enough table space for your project.

Needle and thread must match

Make sure the eye of the needle and the thread thickness match each other.

If you are using a heavy duty thread with a tiny needle it might go wrong on the stitches. The same thing can happen if you’re using a thin thread with a heavy duty needle.

These problems can also occur if you are using low-quality thread. Check the thread for knots and unevenness and make sure it will not get stuck in the eye of the needle. You should never choose a low-quality thread. It’s simply not worth saving a few dollars here. It will only leave you with a bad sewing experience and you might be quitting the project altogether out of frustration.

Check the timing of the machine

If you still experience problems it might be a problem with the timing of the machine.

Everything needs to be in perfect sync in order for the needle to meet the bobbin at the right time and catch the bobbin thread. The sewing machine is an advanced piece of equipment, and if this basic mechanism doesn’t work 100% you have to get it fixed.

Unfortunately, this is not something you can fix yourself and do you have to take the machine to a repair shop.

Jammed stitches (birdnesting)

A common reason for jammed stitches (also known as birdnesting) is that people failed to thread the machine properly.

If you’re not absolutely sure if it’s the upper or lower thread that causes trouble here’s what you can do:

Choose one color for the upper thread and another color for the bottom thread. By doing so you can quickly see what color the birdnest has. Now you know where the problem is happening.

Could we have a pretty good guess that it will be that upper thread 😉

If you forget to put the thread through the take-up lever, you will have birdnesting every time you start sewing. Instead of forming nice stitches, the machine will simply place all of the stitches in the same spot. And of course, this looks like a big messy bunch of jammed stitches.

The problem with birdnesting and jammed stitches is typically caused by the machine not being threaded correctly. Especially around the take-up lever, you need to make sure it goes the right way around.

You could also experience bird nesting because you were threading your machine with the footer down.

You always need to take up the footer before you start threading your machine. Otherwise, you will definitely have a huge birdnest underneath your fabric in no time.

Loose stitches on the bottom of the fabric

This problem normally has to do with the bobbin thread.

But not always as will see below.

Whenever the bottom thread is loose or the machine isn’t stitching (or forming loops etc.) you should start by rethreading your bobbin thread.

The problem here can also be the tension of your upper thread. You might have it set too low. Let’s say your upper thread tension is set to zero. Now you will definitely be experiencing loose stitches on the back of the fabric. Always make sure to start out with a medium thread tension for a good result. Then you can change it up or down (one step!) if you have to.

Many people get confused over this.

Most people will attribute loose stitches on the back of the fabric to the tension settings on the bobbin thread. But if the upper tension is set too low it can cost the same problems. It will primarily show on the back of the fabric.

This happens because the upper thread will not be able to grab the lower thread tightly enough to make everything nice and tight. We simply need enough tension on the upper thread in order for the machine to tie everything together inside each stitch.

Whenever the take-up lever reaches it’s top position it will tie the stitch. But it needs good tension in order to do so.

If this doesn’t solve the problem you might have to change the tension of the bobbin thread. But this is not the typical problem as we almost never adjust the tension of the bobbin thread.

Stitch with loops

This is normally a problem with the bobbin thread or the tension of the needle thread. It the tension is not set right the take-up lever will not be able to tie each stitch correctly and you will get loops on the back of the fabric.

So the first thing to check here is a tension of the upper thread. Always start out around 3-4 and work up one step if you have to.

See this post for more problems with bobbin thread loops.

Problems with specific types of stitches

Zig-zag stitch problems

If the machine will not do a zigzag stitching you might be using the wrong presser foot.

This can also cause the needle to break every time you start sewing. Simply because you need the presser foot to have a wider hole in order for the needle to do the zig-zag movement (without breaking). But even if the needle doesn’t hit the footer it can still cause you trouble with the wrong footer size.

Click the release lever for the footer in order to change it.

It’s very important to always check this before you start doing zig-zag stitches. Because you can easily break the machine or get shattered needle parts thrown into the sewing machine (not good!), if you are using the wrong foot.

You can adjust the stitch width in order to have a broader stitch or a more narrow stitch width.

Always make sure that the width of the zig-zag stitch will actually work with the presser foot before you start sewing. The wider the stitch, the broader the hole needs to be on the presser foot.

Decorative stitches not working

Many decorative stitches will only work with specific settings on the machine.

Make sure to check the manual before you use special stitches. These settings differ from machine to machine and brand to brand so always check with the manual before you start. Many newer sewing machines have a ton of stitches to choose from and you need to make sure you have the right settings before you start.

You might find that you need to change a few settings (like the stitching length and width) before you carry-on.

The machine will only sew backward

Sometimes we experience reverse stitch problems with mechanical machines.

If your sewing machine with only sew in reverse this should be the first thing to check:

Check the buttonhole knob and make sure it isn’t stuck in reverse. This can happen when kids are playing around with the sewing machine. Always keep your machine locked away in a closet when you aren’t using it.

You need to check that the buttonhole knob hasn’t been taken off and put back on the machine in the wrong position. Check that it isn’t loose or hasn’t been tangled with.  It might appear like the machine is set to sew forward, while in reality it is actually set to sew backwards.

So instead of pulling the fabric away from you when you sew, it will start pushing it towards you.

If this doesn’t seem to be the case you should probably take it to the repair shop.

Stitches for stretchy fabric

When we are sewing with stretchy fabrics such as jersey, lycra, and spandex, we have to avoid the straight stitches.

In order to stretch the fabric and have it work as it should, we need a zigzag stitch. Otherwise, the fabric would not be able to stretch when you are finished sewing.

The other option for a good strong stitch for stretchy fabric is a twin needle stitch. We often choose this stitch when we are working with very visible sewing seems like hems. We also see these stitches on underwear as they are very strong and durable.

You don’t need a special type of machine to work with the twin needles. You can actually use it with every type of machine as long as you have the option to use two upper threads (two spools).

If none of these tips helped, try this…

So you came this far and you’re still having a problem with your stitches.

This is frustrating.

You need to check your thread for inconsistencies. Make sure to always use a high-quality thread for the machine. Both for the upper thread and the bobbin.

Many people will try to save a few bucks on the thread only to experience a long list of troubles and problems while sewing. This is obviously a bad idea.

You should never try to save a few bucks when you are buying thread for your machine. It’s not that it will damage the machine it will just make sewing much harder and cost trouble with the stitches.