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Sewing machine bobbin problems and solutions

This is a list of most common problems encountered with a sewing machine bobbin. In each case I will attempt to list common solutions, most of the time from experience. However my sewing machines keep amazing me, I keep finding new problems almost constantly so this is not a complete list. Far from it!

Do you have sewing machine bobbin problems like bobbin winder not working or bobbin thread bunching up? Check out these solutions to common problems. Sewing machine repair, sewing 101, sewing machine tension problems.

Table of Contents

Bobbin winder stopped working  (bobbin winder not working, bobbin not winding, bobbin stopped winding)

This is a common problem with computerized machines, it seems. If you are experiencing problems with your bobbin not winding, follow the steps below to resolve this issue.

bobbin winder not working
Bobbin winder on my Janome
  1. Verify that you are using the correct size bobbins.
  2. Check if you aligned the groove in the bobbin with the spring on the bobbin winder shaft and pressed down on the bobbin until it snapped into place.
  3. Check if the thread is passed through the bobbin winding guide correctly.
  4. Check if there are scratches or other defects on the bobbin.  Replace the bobbin if in doubt.
  1. Make sure that the bobbin winder is engaged.
  2. Check under the small bobbin pin. It can be hard to see under there, so a small flashlight helps. Maybe you have gotten some thread wrapped around the pin that holds the bobbin. This could keep the bobbin winder from spinning. You can clean out the thread very carefully with tweezers (carefully unwind, just don’t cut this thread so it will not fall inside of the machine).
  3. Something could be loose or broken inside, some dirt or particles that have made the winder stuck with friction. In this case, the machine needs to be serviced. Newer computerized machines are made (by the manufacturer) so they are difficult to take apart except by technicians.

Once I tried to wind a bobbin with an invisible thread to make a blind hem – hems are looking awesome with this thread! It is really invisible. But after this, my bobbin winder stopped working so I had to go to a sewing repair shop because I was unable to successfully fix the issue. So here is another problem:

  1. The thread might be so tightly wound on the bobbin as to prevent its removal from the winder. Unwind the bobbin if you can not remove it from the winder

But in the meantime, I bought a stand alone bobbin winder called Sidewinder. I like it. It works with batteries or a power supply. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t wind bobbins evenly sometimes but still, I wind bunches of bobbins and have them ready ahead of time. A much better alternative to use my beloved (and expensive) Janome 6600P.

Using Sidewinder

Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means I will receive a commission if you order a product through one of my links. I only recommend products I believe in and use myself. 

Here is a link to Amazon for Sidewinder, the models might be slightly different than the one I am using.

Bobbin winds unevenly

If the bobbin is loosely wound or the threads crisscross it will cause uneven tension, resulting in stitch irregularity, thread jams and even thread break.

There could be a couple of reasons why your bobbin is winding unevenly.

  1. First of all – use the correct bobbin for your machine.
  2. If the thread gets caught or tangled while you are winding the bobbin, the bobbin could be wound unevenly.
  3. When winding the bobbin, feed the thread through the winding tension disks so the thread has proper tension and the threads lie next to each other.
  4. If everything is correct but you still have a glob in the center or tapered ends you can use your finger to help the bobbin fill evenly.
Using the finger to help wind the bobbin evenly

Sewing machine not picking up the bobbin thread

  1. First, check if you used a bobbin that has been designed for your machine.
  2. Make sure the bobbin-winding spindle has been pushed back to initial position for sewing after the bobbin was winded. If it is not in the correct position, the needle will not go down and pick-up your bobbin thread.
  3. Verify that your needle is set in the slot properly, all the way up into the needle shaft, with the flat side of the needle toward the rear of the machine.  Or maybe your needle is too big, too small, or defective? Sometimes a needle can get bent. Try to change the needle for a new one. If you have a correct new needle you automatically exclude it as a reason the machine won’t pick up the bobbin thread. Re-threading the needle is also something you should do right off.
  4. Be sure the bobbin thread is reasonably long (about 3-4 inches).

The below video will show the process of inserting the bobbin into its location in the sewing machine. This is a top loading sewing machine which does not have an extra bobbin case, most modern sewing machines are like this.

Inserting the bobbin into the sewing machine
  1. The bobbin thread & top thread need to be pulled to the back before starting sewing (for most sewing machines).
  2. Also, make sure your bobbin is inserted correctly (couterclockwise),  you might have the bobbin turned the wrong direction.
  3. Check the bobbin case under the bobbin. For example, I found once a piece of a broken needle in there. Use a special brush to remove any accumulated lint and dirt. I love to use this brush because its angled point fits into tight spots. Or use a small but powerful handheld vacuum cleaner. It works really great.

I have an older vacuum model, corded; there are cordless alternatives now, they are much easier to use.

My mini vacuum
Using a vacuum cleaner

If your machine still doesn’t pick up the thread, you may need to have it repaired for timing in a sewing service center. If the timing is out, the needle thread is not meeting the bobbin thread in time to form a stitch.

Thread bunching up, looping and tangling.

This is often called “birdnesting” when the thread bunches up on the top or on the underside of your fabric like in this image. The causes can unfortunately be multiple.

birdnesting

Sometimes we have tangles and bunches of thread in the bobbin area and the sewing machine locks up and you hear a rattling noise. Stop the machine immediately but don’t panic.

First, cut through all the extra thread to get your fabric free. Try not to cut the fabric.  It may be quite difficult. Be patient and don’t pull the fabric out with a big force, otherwise, you can damage your sewing machine. Remove all the cut thread bits, open the bobbin holder cover making sure nothing is left in the bobbin case or around it.

If you want to find out the problem consider the following.

1.  The most common reason for birdnesting is the needle tension. Your upper thread tension may be too loose if you are getting thread bunching under your fabric. So check if the thread is properly going through the tension disks. If everything is right try tightening the upper tension to solve the problem. Only move your tension a little at a time.

2.  Verify if your needle is threaded correctly. Does it go through the thread guide? Through the tension disks? Rethread the machine to see if it solves your problem.

3.  Verify if your bobbin is threaded and inserted correctly.

4.  Birdnesting may happen also if you are using different types of threads in the needle and in the bobbin. It’s perfectly normal to do so but if the difference in thread weight and fiber is too big it may be the reason for thread bunching.  

5.  Use good quality thread. If the thread has knots and loose fibers coming out change the thread.

6.  Don’t sew with the presser foot up. Everybody does this from time to time, especially with heavy fabric. Make sure to always put your presser foot down to avoid bunching.

7.  Make sure you are using the proper needle for the fabric you are using.

8.  Also, double-check that the needle is not bent.  If you pull the fabric instead of guiding it through the feed dogs as you sew then the needle can bend leading to all sorts of sewing machine problems.

9.  Frequent cleaning and dusting will prevent many problems. Make sure to dust underneath the throat plate, in the bobbin case, and along the thread path. Proper maintenance takes only minutes and can save you a multitude of headaches.

10.  Your feed dogs are down: if your fabric is not feeding through your machine, you will get bunched up thread under your fabric. There is a lever on your sewing machine to disengage the feed dogs for quilting and free motion sewing, so make sure that your feed dogs are up if you have lowered them recently for other purposes.

11.  Your thread tails are too short: if the thread tails coming out of your bobbin and needle are less than two inches long, they may get pulled into your sewing machine when you begin to sew, causing thread bunching. To avoid this problem, you can either hold the thread ends until you have sewn a couple of stitches or always make sure that your thread tails are at least three inches long before you begin sewing.

12.  You’re not using a spool cap: spool caps keep your spool of thread from getting out of control. If you don’t use one, your thread spool may spin too quickly or the thread might snag. So, always use a spool cap, especially if you have a horizontal spool pin to avoid bunching or looping thread. Check out the following video from Christopher Nejman channel on YouTube.

Sometimes birdnesting happens not at the beginning but in the middle of stitching. One minute, the machine is sewing just fine, and the next, your machine has locked up and you see thread bunching under your fabric.

In this case, you don’t have threading or tension problems – you don’t change anything during stitching, right? The most likely reason for thread bunching, in this case, is lint, that built up inside your sewing machine.

Proper cleaning and dusting can prevent thread bunching. Clean the bobbin case, underneath the throat plate, along the thread path. Use a special brush or a small (but powerful) vacuum cleaner to remove the tiny bits of lint. Don’t simly blow compressed air to clean inside of your sewing machine because it can drive dust and lint further into the mechanism. The dust is supposed to go outside, not further inside the machine.

Bobbin keeps popping out

There could be several reasons why your bobbin and the bobbin case will not stay in the machine (if you have a top-loaded machine).

1.  Make sure you are using the correct bobbin for your machine.

2.  It can happen when the bobbin case is not properly/securely placed. Sometimes this happens after you’ve taken it all apart to clean or clear a jam.

3.  Remove the plastic bobbin case and see if it has any rough chips or needle holes in it. If it does replace it.

4.  Look at your plastic bobbin if it has some kind of crack or damage in it or if it is out of proper round shape. If the thread catches a rough edge it can pop the bobbin out. Don’t use bent or broken bobbins.  Try a different bobbin with new thread and see if that helps.

5.  Also, make sure the bobbin was properly inserted. Re-install the bobbin if necessary.

6.  Verify if the bobbin has been wound correctly and not too tight.

7.  You can have a broken needle tip somewhere in the bobbin area. It can even end up under the bobbin case. So clean your machine regularly and thoroughly.

8.  If the upper thread tension is too tight then the thread may loop around the shuttle case and pop it off.

9.  Try a different thread, low quality thread can do that as well.

Did you find this tutorial helpful? If so, save this pin (see below) on your sewing board so you can come to this tutorial later when you are have sewing machine bobbin problems and need to find a solution, and follow me on Pinterest for more tips, tutorials, and inspiration!

sewing machine bobbin problems and solutions

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