Ideally, your top thread and bobbin thread (the bottom thread) work together to create interlocking stitches that hold your seams securely in place. But from time to time, you may notice that your top thread is somehow wrapping around the bobbin when you try to sew. This should not happen.
But find some comfort in the fact that it happens to everyone and some time or another, to sewing professionals and novices alike. While it may seem catastrophic when you realize there’s a nest of tangled threads underneath your fabric, or worse — wound around your bobbin — the fix is usually a pretty easy one.
Reasons Why Your Top Thread Gets Wrapped Around The Bobbin
Check Your Presser Foot
This is usually my problem. I get in a hurry and do not realize my presser foot is still up until I discover the tangling in my bobbin. Because the foot is not down, the fabric does not feed through correctly and the needle has simply sewn over and over in the same spot until I realize it is not moving. If the fabric is not moving under the needle, you can bet your thread is knotting underneath it! The presser foot is part of the tension dynamic of your sewing machine. The top thread must be the right tension. The bobbin must be the right tension, and the fabric must also operate as part of that tension process. If the presser foot is down, check your top threading.
Check Your Top Threading
The first thing to check when you find that your top thread is wrapping around your bobbin is the sewing machine’s threading. If the machine is not properly threaded, the top thread will not be pulled back up as tightly as it should be. That means it will remain under the fabric and wrap around the bobbin instead. The solution is as easy as rethreading your machine. After a test run, if the problem is not resolved, check your bobbin tension.
When you check your top threading, make sure you did not skip a step in the threading process. Most machines have guides marked on the sewing machines to help direct your top threading.
If your bobbin tension is too loose, it will not release at the right time. That means you’ll have extra bobbin thread that is not being hooked by the top thread. It can all mat together to form quite a mess around the bobbin. If your sewing machine top thread is correctly threaded, try adjusting your bobbin tension. For most machines, tension is adjusted by turning the tiny screw on your bobbin case. Tighten it by turning it clockwise. If it is too tight and the bobbin isn’t releasing any thread at all, turn it counterclockwise. Make small adjustments. All you usually need is just a quarter turn of that little screw, maybe even less. Check your sewing machine’s manual for specific instructions or how to adjust your machine if you have a drop-in bobbin with the built-in case style. If your top thread is still wrapping around the bobbin, it is time to examine your needle type.
Are you using a good needle? A needle that is bent or dull can impact your machine’s sewing performance and could lead to your top thread wrapping around your bobbin. Also, make sure you are using the right needle for the type of fabric you are working on. Using the wrong needle can impact the timing of the stitch, which can lead to loose threads getting tangled around the bobbin or nesting underneath the fabric. A quick glance at your sewing machine manual can help you determine which size needle should be used for specific fabrics. If your needle type is right, and all of the other boxes are checked, it is time to check your type of thread.
Bobbin Thread Type
I am guilty of this — I grab a pre-wound bobbin and go with it. Most of the time it happens to be the same weight as my top thread, or close enough. If it is not, the threads will pull at different rates and cause bunching and knotting around the bobbin if you do not catch it soon enough. An easy fix to this is to simply make a bobbin using the same thread you are using as the top thread. It’s that easy (but sometimes I’m just that lazy). Using the same thread insures that both the top and bottom thread are the same weight and will pull tightly at the same time.
If your top thread has wrapped around your bobbin casing, you have some cleanup to do. Start by unplugging your sewing machine. I know you will be tempted to just start reaching in and pulling threads or tweezing them out, but it really is best to unplug the machine before starting that process. Manually raise your needle by rotating the wheel and lift your presser foot. If your fabric is knotted into the stitch plate, use a craft knife to carefully cut the threads that are above the stitch plate on the top side of the fabric. Then, gently raise the fabric and cut the threads that are connecting the fabric to the bobbin. Use extra caution not to cut through the fabric on which you have been sewing.
You may have to pick threads from the bobbin in order to remove the bobbin case. Use a thin pair of tweezers if necessary. I have even had to use a pair of needle-nose embroidery scissors to snip the threads enough to be able to tweeze them out! It is a messy chore, but trust me when I say that you have not broken your machine. It just takes a little time and a lot of patience to clean up.
Once you have picked all the threads from the bobbin case and enclosure, use the small brush that came with your sewing machine kit to gently sweep out any remaining lint or fibers. At that point, you are ready to start again!