Your sewing machine is a wonderfully useful machine when working
properly, a frustrating, confusing monster when it's not. Oddly,
a vast majority of machines sent to repair shops for repairs,
could be repaired at home with little or no technical knowledge.
The first thing to remember is not to panic! Don't let your
frustration get in the way of your good sense. Depending on
the type of problem you're having, the following suggestions
may be of immediate help to you.
TENSION: As you change projects and start sewing on different
weight materials, you should test stitch on a piece of scrap
material of the same weight before beginning the actual project
so you can adjust your upper tension to that particular fabric.
As an example, if you're changing from a denim type fabric to
a silky fabric, you would definitely want to make sure the
tension is correct and the stitching looks right before you
start to sew the garment.
To determine whether the upper tension is too tight or too
loose for the fabric you're wanting to use, try the following
test. Take a small scrap of the fabric, fold it, and stitch
a line ON THE BIAS of the fabric, using different colors of
thread in the bobbin and on top. Grasp the bias line of
stitching between the thumb and the index finger. Space the
hands about 3 inches apart and pull with an even, quick force
until one thread breaks. If the broken thread is the color
of the thread in the needle, it means that the upper tension
is too tight. If the broken thread is the color of the
bobbin thread, the upper tension is too loose. If both
threads break together and take more force to break, it
means that the tensions are balanced.
BOBBIN: The most probable cause of the lower thread breaking
is an improperly wound bobbin. Regardless of where you wind
the bobbin, inside the machine, on the top of the handwheel
or on the front side near the hand wheel, the basic "bobbin"
** Always start with an empty bobbin. Never wind one color
over another color.
** Don't wind the bobbin so full that it would be tight and
hard to insert into the bobbin case. Most machines have an
automatic "shut off" when the bobbin gets full, but if yours
does not, be careful not to fill it too full.
** Wind the bobbin evenly across and in level layers.
** Never mix different sizes of thread in the bobbin and on
the spool, unless you're doing sewing machine embroidery or
some specialty type of sewing. Using different weights of
thread on the spool and in the bobbin for general sewing
will cause ragged stitches as well as other stitching
NEEDLE: Probably 25% of machine repair jobs I go out on,
the only problem was that the needle was put in backwards.
I know you're probably saying "I've been sewing most of my
life and I know how to put the needle in the machine";
however many times a seamstress will get in a hurry and not
give the needle a second thought when putting a new one in
the machine. If your machine will not pick up the bottom
thread or skips stitches badly, in most cases it's because
the needle is in wrong.
Each sewing machine requires that the "flat" side of the
needle be put in a specific way - facing the front, the
back, etc., depending on your particular make and model. If
you have a sewing machine that takes a needle that doesn't
have a flat side, you'll notice that each needle has a
groove in it where the thread lays as it penetrates the
fabric. Depending on whether your machine shuttle system
faces to the front or to the left, the groove of the needle
will also face front or left.
MACHINE THREADING: An additional area to check for stitching
problems is whether the sewing machine is threaded properly.
Each machine has a certain sequence for threading, and it
only takes one missed step in the sequence to cause your
machine to skip stitches. If you're in doubt, take the
top thread completely out and start all over again.
Many times it's the small things that cause frustration and
loss of sewing time. Taking just a few minutes before
starting a project to make sure everything is in order can
save hours of "down" time, not to mention frayed nerves and
the possibility of having to take the machine to the repair
Reuben O. Doyle, a sewing machine repairman for over 25 years
has written four sewing machine, serger and treadle repair
manuals. For additional repair information and help, visit
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