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Solve most thread-jamming issues in your sewing machine

Thread jamming is a common and frustrating problem that sewists of all levels face from time to time. This issue occurs when you end up with a tangled mess of thread, also known as thread nesting or a thread jam, underneath your fabric. If you're new to sewing or even an experienced sewer, this post is for you! We'll discuss the top tips to fix thread jamming and help you get back to sewing smoothly.

Operator Error

I have to be honest, after 15 years in sewing machine service and repair, I can tell you that operator error is usually the number one cause of thread nests and jams.

First, and I cannot stress this enough, be sure you are ONLY turning your handwheel toward you. You know when you stop sewing and you need to turn the handwheel to get the needle back to the top position? No matter where that needle is sitting, you should ONLY turn the handwheel toward you, NEVER away from you. The only exception to this rule is if you are using a vintage White or Domestic brand machine with a direct-drive motor, but that is extremely rare. When you turn the handwheel the wrong way, the upper thread and bobbin thread become very confused and tangled in the bobbin area, so when you go to sew again, this causes thread nesting and jams.

Second, when you thread the machine and insert the bobbin, you should always bring up the bobbin thread before you start sewing. To do this, you should raise the presser foot (the machine should be threaded through the needle), and gently hold the upper thread tail. Turning the handwheel toward you, lower the needle below the thread plate, then keep rotating until the needle rises to the highest position. It should bring up enough of the bobbin thread for you to grab and pull up to the top of the needle plate. Now, when you start sewing, hold tight to both tails until the first few stitches are made. You want full control over both thread tails so that they don't cause any issues on the bottom side of the fabric.

Third, starting at the very edge of the fabric can cause issues. I often have customers call me and tell me that their machine is "sucking" the fabric down into the needle plate and causing jams. The loose threads at the edge of the fabric can easily get caught in the thread path when the machine is trying to form the stitch. Instead, start a few millimeters into the fabric, make a 2-3 stitches going forward, then slowly reverse to the edge of the fabric, and continue in forward stitching. Alternatively, you could also explore the use of "Leaders & Enders", which is my personally preferred method. Check out the video below for a demonstration on how to make Leaders & Enders work for you!

Rethread upper thread

I know... this is the thing literally no one wants to do. But I can tell you from vast experience, you can drive yourself crazy trying other things before simply rethreading and paying attention to your thread path. It's pretty easy for the thread to slip out of the tension discs or one of the thread guides if there is a hiccup in your sewing and you didn't realize it. I consider this the "control-alt-delete" of sewing, it is a bit of a reset.

Unthread your machine completely, and rethread. Before rethreading, be sure your presser foot is UP. Once you thread through the tension discs and take up lever, continue going through the thread guides, and stop just before the needle. Before threading the needle, hold the thread with your left hand, and drop the presser foot with your right hand. If you GENTLY pull on the upper thread, you should feel tension, and you shouldn't be able to pull the thread through easily. If there is no tension, there may be an issue with your tension discs.

Reinsert the Bobbin

I'm a firm believer that if you need to rethread your machine, you should go the entire distance, not just the upper or bobbin thread. Refer to your manual to be sure you are inserting it and threading the bobbin case properly. Sometimes manuals aren't well-written and sometimes they get lost, so I made a video to demonstrate proper bobbin loading on both drop-in and vertical machines.

Use the CORRECT Bobbin

I cannot stress this enough - you MUST use the correct bobbin for your machine. Now, to be fair, the manufacturers have NOT made this easy for you. If you haven't worked with a lot of different machines and bobbins over time, they all tend to look the same, and sadly, many of the differences are not even noticeable to the human eye. Your manual SHOULD tell you what bobbin type to use, but I've noticed over the years many manuals don't tell you this anymore. Here is a blog post I made not too long ago to give you my best hacks and advice to make sure you are using the right bobbin, and if you need more, this is a reliable resource.

Use the Correct Needle

Ugh... yes, believe it or not, using the wrong needle can cause all kinds of problems. For instance, if you are trying to sew a knit or stretch fabric, and you're using a sharp-point needle, sometimes you'll just get skipped stitches, but you commonly will see a thread jam. That's because the needle type doesn't allow the upper thread and bobbin thread to lock the stitch in the appropriate place.

Like bobbins, there are so many different needle types, sizes, and purposes. Schmetz needles offers an AMAZING assortment of needle education, including needle problem solving, references to find the right needle and live Facebook and YouTube sessions once a month. You can find all of their amazing resources here.

Through Sewing Doc Academy, we do our best to educate and offered solutions and information to help you have the most satisfying and efficient sewing experiences - time is limited, and no one wants to spend their time cussing at their machine! We have developed a program called "Troubleshooting like a professional technician", which is based on the exact same procedures used in our professional service shop. It is meant to help you diagnose and resolve common issues that arise in sewing machines.

Let me put it this way: most of the time when sewing machines come in for service, the user thinks it's broken and the timing is off. Guess what? Rarely is that the issue. 90% of machines that come into our shop, yes, need routine service, but rarely need big repairs or timing adjustments. We built this program for you to easily and quickly diagnose issues with your machine so that your machine isn't held hostage for 4 weeks at the shop when it can likely be resolved at home.

For more information about Troubleshooting like a professional technician, watch the short video above, and check out the information page for details and registration.


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