Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting


Our sewing machines need some basic TLC to keep them in good running order. 

While it is good to get them serviced regularly by a proper technician, there are several basic things that you can and should be doing at home!


When not in use, you should keep your machine covered to keep dust off it. When left uncovered, dust will settle on the machine and can get into parts like the tension disks. 

Depending on how regularly you use your machine, you will also need to open it up regularly to clean inside it. 

All Sewing machines:

Wipe the machine down all over the outer case to clean off any dust and grime build up. 

If the dirt is stubborn use a damp cloth.

Un thread the machine

Open or unscrew the side panel of the machine. 

With a brush or tweezers, clean out as much of the lint build up that you can.

You can also use a vacuum cleaner with a straw attached to the end through a piece of cardboard if you can’t get all of the build up out with just a brush and tweezers.

NOTE: a plastic straw with a bendy end works better than the metal one we used for these images, however it was all we had and worked ok. 

You can use compressed air to blow out the lint - but be warned it can make a mess (!)  and best not to do so when the machine covers are still on as this will just push the lint further into the machine and compact it, causing more issues in the long term. 


Check your user manual. It should tell you any oiling points.

If not then the rule of thumb is to put a small drop of oil on any metal on metal moving parts. Do not use oil on plastic or synthetic parts (these take a special silicone like lubricant). 

These moving parts need to slide past each other. If they are too dry the machine can seize up or struggle to run properly.

Make sure you always use sewing machine oil, never use WD40, 3 in one, or anything like that. These can dry and leave a residue buildup on the parts.

Close the side panel back up.

With a clean piece of thin cloth or a tissue, clean out the tension disk. 

To do this, fold the cloth or tissue in half, insert it between the tension disk at the top and pull down through the disks, do this a couple of times to clean out iny lint build up.

Some tension disks are easier to see/get to than others, try as best you can to clean them out but if you're not having tension issues it should be ok if you can’t get in there. 

Put in a new needle.

Top loading bobbin machines:

Unscrew and lift off the needle plate.

Take out the bobbin case. Take note of how it is inserted, you may want to take a photo to make sure it is put back correctly. 

NEED MORE INFO ABOUT THIS…...point out the little knobby bit that should rest up against the counter spring. Emphasis that if it is not put back correctly the needle arm will jam and you can do damage to the mechanism...

Clean out any lint build up with a brush, tweezers or vacuum cleaner like above. 

Check the point of the hook for any damage or burrs… polish out if there are any (do not blunt the actual point of the hook). (ADD PHOTO INDICATING THE POINT OF THE HOOK)

Brush any lint off the bobbin case before you put it back in. 

Assemble the parts you have removed.

Front loading bobbin machines:

Unscrew and lift off the needle plate.

Open up the front and take out the bobbin case. 

Unclip the side clips and remove the hook retaining ring. Then take out the hook. Take note of how each part sits, you may want to take a photo to make sure it is put back correctly. 

Clean out any lint build up with a brush, tweezers or vacuum cleaner like above. 

Brush any lint off the retaining clip and the Hook.

Check the hook for any damage or rough burrs around the point of the hook. Polish out with emery tape or very fine sandpaper if there is any damage. Do not blunt the actual point of the hook.

And oil on the points specified below before you put it back in.

Reassemble the parts you have removed.

Your machine is now nice and clean and will thank you for it, by behaving nicely while you sew! 

If you are still having any issues with your machine, work through the troubleshooting tips below and if problems persist, take your machine to a technician for a service. 

Most problems can be fixed by simply un-threading then re-threading your entire machine

including re-inserting the bobbin. Something as simple as missing a thread guide can throw

the whole machine off.


Blunt needles are usually the top cause of skipped stitches, closely followed by needles not inserted correctly, and the wrong type of needle for your fabric.

You should be changing the needles for your sewing machine and yes overlocker, roughly every 8-10 sewing hours. Also you should be matching the needle type and size to your fabric you  are sewing. (see more info on this in our sewing tools post here) It is a good habit to insert a new needle for each sewing project.

Most domestic sewing machines take a HAx1 needle, which has a shank that is rounded on one side and flat on the other. And most of the machines that take these needles, the needle is inserted with the flat part facing the back of the machine. Make sure you push the needle up until it won’t go any further.

Please check your manual to make sure that you are inserting the needle correctly. 


Loose stitching or looping underneath. 

Usually this is caused by the top thread being too loose not the bobbin thread.

Check that your machine is threaded properly, with the thread going through the tensión disks correctly. Make sure your presser foot is UP when threading the machine as this opens the tension disks and allows the thread to get pulled between them properly. Thread the machine with the presser foot down and the thread will just ride on the outside of the disks - not between them. If the thread does not go between the disks there will be no tension and hence loose stitches….. 

Some tension issues can be caused by the bobbin, but most of the time it is the upper thread.
Make sure your bobbin is wound nice and tight, if the thread feels spongy when pushed on it is too loose. It will not feed off the bobbin evenly and can cause tension issues. 

Re-wind your bobbin. Check as you wind it that it is winding on nice and firmly. If not then check it is going around the tension device properly and / or add extra tension to make sure it winds tight and even.

When you put your bobbin back into the bobbincase make sure the thread is going through the tension point of the bobbincase correctly. Especially top loading bobbins. Sometimes when you put the bobbin in and pull the thread through you can miss the proper threading point which will mean no tension on the thread. If in doubt do it again….then pull gently on the thread and make sure you can feel some tension/resistance as the thread runs through. 

Top loading machines - when threaded correctly and after you have pulled the lower thread up to join with the upper thread, the lower thread will run across the top of the bobbin and towards the needle area.If you can’t see it doing this then it is possibly not threaded correctly.

If the tension problem still persists after checking both top tension and bobbin tension then slowly tighten your upper tension bit by bit until you get a balanced stitch.

If this doesn’t help then there is probably a more serious problem and you may need to have it serviced by a service person. 


Stop immediately! Re-thread the machine and re-insert the bobbin. Check the needle isn’t blunt, doesn’t have a burr on the point or is bent. If the problem persists, take your machine in for a service.


Stop immediately! Gently remove the fabric from the machine by clipping the threads. You

may need to jiggle the hand wheel back and forth while pulling gently on the fabric to get it

loose enough to clip the threads. Pull out all the extra threads and re-thread the machine and

re-insert the bobbin.


Check that the machine is threaded correctly. Make sure you are using good quality thread as

poor thread is prone to breaking. 

Is the thread caught somewhere? 

Change the needle.Make sure you are using the correct size and type of needle for the thread you are using and the fabric you are sewing.

Check for burrs on the opening in the stitchplate (from needle stab marks) or on the point of the hook or anywhere else that the thread runs past. These can catch and shred the thread.

Check you have the correct tension settings. Normally the tension dial is sitting on number 4 or 5 (ie., half way in the range of adjustment it has from 0 to 10).

If none of the above helps then try loosening the tension slightly by turning the dial to a lower number.

If the problem persists then you may have to take it in for a service.


Did you remember to lower the presser foot before sewing (this is very common, especially

if your fabric is very thick)? 

Also check that the feed dogs actually are working by removing your work out of the way and hand-turning the handwheel to bring the needle up and down - observing the teeth of the feed dog come up through the stitchplate and then move backwards before dropping back down to do it all over again...when they are up run your finger over them and check they have definitely raised above the level of the stitchplate (if they don’t they will not grab the material and feed it past the needle).

If not then the feed dogs might be in the lowered position. A lot of machines have a switch to mechanically set the feed dogs down and disengage (this is for freeform embroidery type stitching). Check the switch is in the correct position. If you move the switch you need to rotate the needle up and down atleast one full cycle to engage the feeddog mechanism.

 Occasionally on older machines the  feeddog mechanism will seize up and will need to be cleaned out and re-lubricated. Mainly a job for a service person


Most common cause is pulling on the fabric as it feeds through the machine. Guide the fabric - don’t pull on it. Let the machine do the feeding, you are there to assist and guide. The feeding mechanism on the machine is specially timed to move the fabric between each needle up down movement. You pull on the fabric and you upset this timing motion.

You might be sewing on too many layers. 

Try using a thicker needle or walking the machine over the troublesome area using the hand wheel. If the needle has trouble penetrating the material it will slightly deflect as it pushes through and comes out on an angle which will cause the point to hit something. Slow down when you approach a change in thickness like when stepping up and over a seam.

Also check that the needle is correctly aligned for the presser foot you are using to prevent it from hitting the foot or needle plate.

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