Common Machine Stitch Issues

Common Machine Stitch Issues
Now that the holidays have arrived as we sew gifts for others in a harried time frame, we may have left our sewing areas in utter chaos. Once neatly arranged fabric stashes may lie in a disordered stack along with their inevitable fabric scrap leftovers in a jumbled pile visually beckoning for organization; scissors, rotary cutters, needles and pins, measuring rulers everywhere, decorative ribbon, lace and button trappings yet to be corralled, sewing machine(s) surrounded by colorful thread spools and bobbins awaiting decisions as to their ultimate resting fate and the omnipresent iron and ironing board still up and patiently awaiting the next heated task – all an organization challenge.

Along with a need for holiday sewing tidying comes the realization that not all sewing projects went as smoothly as desired. Perhaps not all threads, needles, and bobbins behaved in perfect synchronization producing a nicely balanced stitch, not all fabrics and fabric scraps moved in harmony between sewing machine presser foot and feed dogs, and not all buttons, ribbons and embellishments were attached securely as expected.

Time for stitch analysis once one or many sewing projects are recently completed.

Occasional skipped stitches – a few steps can be taken to minimize this from happening, sew at an even speed and let the presser foot and feed dogs move the fabric along. Try not to pull the fabric as the machine sews. Guiding the fabric with slight hand tension on the fabric in front of and behind the needle during stitching helps to steady the fabric and prevent the fabric from wandering as the needle and bobbin work together to form the stitch. Slippery fabric types and heavily textured fabrics tend to move or slide some under the presser foot.

Bird nest (thread jam) under the fabric/bunching of threads at beginning of seam. Hold onto both needle thread tail and bobbin thread tail behind the needle when beginning stitching, then let go. Applying slight hand tension to these held threads just at the beginning of stitching allows both threads to evenly form the first stitches.

Check to see that the bobbin is wound evenly. Bobbins should be wound slowly to produce an even tension wind. At times, an empty bobbin in the process of being wound will form a small loop or loose threading seen close to either side of the bobbin’s inner side walls. This can interfere with stitch formation as the needle takes up the bobbin thread at that particular point of thread feeding as the needle uptakes thread.

Check for a bent needle. It may be difficult to see even if the needle is laid on a flat surface. Replace with a new needle. Use the correct needle type for the type of fabric. Generally, a sharp needle for wovens, ball point for knits. Smaller needle size for lightweight fabrics and higher needle size for dense or bulky fabrics. It may be difficult to determine if a needle has become somewhat blunt. If a needle has been exposed to many hours of sewing change the needle.

Straight stitch plate vs zigzag plate. The straight stitch throat plate with a single hole allows the needle’s up and down movement into the bobbin compartment. Useful to prevent some fabrics from being pushed into the small hole. Only straight stitching is possible though. The zig zag throat plate has a wider oblong hole for the needle to pass through allowing for the back and forth horizonal movement of the needle. If only a straight stitch is to be used, changing from the zig zag throat plate to the straight stitch throat plate with its small hole size aids in preventing the fabric from potentially dipping down pass the feed dogs and distorting the desired straight stitch.

Thread quality. Debate continues on the use of vintage thread vs. newly manufactured thread. Vintage thread may still be useful however, examine the thread carefully to see if any slubs or fuzziness is visible. At times, lower quality thread may not be smoothly wound on the spool throughout its length.

Check for proper machine threading through all threading guides. A missed threading guide decreases smooth tension on stitch formation and eventually will cause loop formation or thread jamming.

All sewing machines will have the manufacturer’s recommendation for routine service by a professional technician. Servicing depends on how extensively the machine is used or if the machine has remained unused for many years. Servicing can improve stitch quality.

Do not use canned air to blow out thread lint from a machine with electronic components. Use a thin soft brush as recommended. A folded cloth can be slid through the thread guides and thread path. Canned compressed air can be used on mechanical component machines to blow out lint and thread pieces from under the needle plate, bobbin area and thread path.

Sewing machines are essentially precision power tools with thread!

Sew happy, sew inspired.




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This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.