Keep Your Sewing Machine from Jamming

Sewing can be a very relaxing hobby even for a beginner. Anyone who sews knows the rewards of completing a project and showing it off to family and friends. Most of the time the process is smooth, sometimes however, the sewing machine doesn’t seam to cooperate. It can jam or create what is known as a birds nest, which can be extremely frustrating. Check to be sure you are using the correct tools for the fabric you are using.

Know the type of fabric you are using. Some fabric is very smooth like a silk, while others have a rough texture. Remove any small threads that may be on the fabric before sewing. Trim back frayed ends so they don’t get caught in the machine.

After machine washing and drying the fabric, apply a spray starch and iron with a steam iron. The starch will give the fabric more stability and make a softer fabric easier to handle.

There are many types of fabric stabilizers. Some are tear away, but my favorite is the wash away stabilizer. After the project is finished, machine wash on a gentle cycle to remove. This also is an easy way to remove any markings you may have used on the project.

Different fabrics use specific needles. For example: if you are quilting, you are probably using a fabric that is 100% cotton. This fabric requires a #75/11needle. Needle sizes range from 60/8 to 120/19. The 60/8 is used for lightweight fabrics, while the 120/90 is used for heavier fabrics. Some fabrics are stretchy, so be sure to use a ballpoint needle.

When inserting a new needle, the flat side should be in the back. Always use a fresh needle when starting a new larger project. You can use the same needle for several small projects. Check the needle to be sure it is not bent if the machine starts jamming. Needles can bend or break when they hit pins used to secure the fabric layers together. If the machine starts jamming, check the needle, even if it has only been used for a short time.

Thread is very important. Most threads are made from pieces that have been joined together. This type of thread can get caught on the threads of the fabric because it is not completely smooth. You may be able to feel small bumps if you run your fingers along the thread. This is the most commonly used thread and works well most of the time. There is another type of thread that is one complete piece that works without jamming. It is about twice the price but if your machine is prone to jamming, try this thread.

There are two tension settings on the manual sewing machine (not an embroidery machine). The bobbin has a tension screw which seldom needs any adjustments. The thread, when loaded onto the bobbin should pull easily. The top tension is adjusted accordingly to the fabric and stitches used. Check the owner’s manual for settings. The thread should also pull easily through the needle. If it doesn’t, then the tension should be loosened. When sewing, stitches should lay flat and be smooth with no puckers. The threads should meet in the fabric, not on the top or bottom. If the bobbin tension is much looser than the top thread tension, the bobbin will spin and loops can form in the bobbin and cause a jam.

When you are sewing, let the machine push the fabric under the needle. Be careful to only guide the fabric and not pull or push the fabric.

Machines need to be oiled periodically. After several larger projects, oil machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. Sew on a paper towel or napkin for several passes in case there is some oil that dripped onto the sewing surface. While the machine is open, also check for dust, threads or small pieces of fabric caught in the feed dogs or any moving parts. Use a flashlight and a small paint brush to remove any dust particles or vacuum.

If you hear an odd noise from the machine while sewing, stop right away. Check your stitches especially the bottom, then follow the steps above to correct the problem.

If you have gone through the check list and the machine continues to jam or get a birds next, put in a new needle, especially if you are using a Universal needle. Universal needles are generic and are made to work with a wide variety of machines. The needle may look fine to the eye but could still have a tiny flaw.

Before starting a new project, take a few minutes and go through the list. This should solve most of the problems before they happen. Happy sewing!

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