You’re growling, cursing, and maybe beating on your sewing machine with one hand while jerking on the fabric with the other. Why? Because the machine just ate your fabric…again!
What’s the problem? You’re suddenly spending more time trying to remove stuck fabric than actually sewing seams. Here are some reasons–and what you can do about them. Then you can go back to being the happy seamstress you normally are.
Wait! Don’t jerk on that fabric!
Before we begin our list of reasons for the issue, I want to encourage you to be careful about how you remove that stuck fabric. Begin by cutting all accessible threads. If your needle is stuck down there with the thread and you can’t raise it, loosen the screw, turn the handwheel to pull the needle loose from the machine, and then work it loose from the fabric.
It’s a good idea to turn off the machine and work the fabric out carefully to avoid damaging it or your machine. You can use a seam ripper to push from underneath if possible. I have gone so far as to remove the faceplate to get at the fabric from beneath. I know it’s a pain, but it’s better than ending up with ripped fabric or bent machine parts.
Now, take a break. Eat chocolate. Take a walk. Read your emails. Do whatever works best to help you regain your equilibrium. Are you ready? Good. Now, for that list of reasons.
- 10 Reasons Why Your Sewing Machine Keeps Bunching Thread
- 7 Reasons Why Your Sewing Machine is Not Moving Fabric
Why Fabric Gets Stuck In Your Sewing Machine
1. Wrong Needle
As a person who does a lot of sewing, I have to say that I sometimes tend to expect my machine to keep performing forever with minimum attention. And one of the most frequently neglected needs of any machine is a new needle. In fact, needles should be changed much more often than you think.
You should probably replace your needle after every major sewing project. It’s also necessary to change it when moving between different fabrics, such as sturdy cotton and stretchy polyester. Or from a heavier fabric to a lightweight one.
If your needle is too heavy for your fabric, natural tension will cause it to push the fabric downward before slipping between the weave. So use a fine needle (size 60/8 or 70/10) for lightweight fabric. There are also needles made specifically for stretchy fabric that will help alleviate sticking and uneven stitches.
Needles can also become dull or damaged. Remove the needle and inspect it closely. If you’re not sure and your needle hasn’t been changed in a while, it still couldn’t hurt to replace it with a new one.
2. Stretchy, Slippery, or Very Fine Fabric
Using the correct needle can go a long way toward solving your issues, but it may not be enough for some fabrics. If the problem persists, you need to take additional measures. It may help to avoid sewing too close to the edge. Stitching at a slower speed can also help.
Your machine may have a choice of presser feet that could provide greater stability for thin or slippery fabrics. A straight-stitch or quilting foot may help to a point but will not completely keep these fabrics from being pushed down into the machine.
3. Flimsy Edges
Difficult fabrics will most often become jammed at the beginning edge, especially if you try to backstitch to knot the thread. There are ways to prevent this from happening. Here are a few I have tried over the years.
- Start in the middle of the seam and sew toward the edge. Then turn and sew from that same place in the middle to the other edge.
- Use tissue paper such as you’d wrap around a gift or stuff in a gift bag. Place a piece of this paper behind the fabric to stabilize it. You can easily tear the paper off afterward.
- Abutt another piece of fabric to the leading edge of the piece, like train cars or links in a chain. The machine will sew from one piece to the other, and then you can snip them apart. This works okay with stretchy fabric, but I’ve not found it as effective with a very thin cloth.
- If the fabric’s not too flimsy, you can hold the needle and bobbin thread taut on top and beneath to anchor it in place as you begin sewing.
4. Stitch Length
Trying to use too short a stitch length can cause some fabrics to bunch and become caught beneath the presser foot and from there become jammed into the machine. Use a fabric scrap to adjust your stitch length, starting your test stitching from the middle of the fabric.
5. Incorrect Threading
If your machine is not threaded correctly, it can cause all manner of problems. Completely pull the thread loose and re-thread the machine. Again, you may want to try a test seam on a fabric scrap to ensure the machine is sewing as it should.
Inspect the fabric’s underside to see if the thread is bunching or looping. Take the bobbin case out, remove the bobbin, and rethread it for proper bobbin tension. Make sure there are no threads stuck in the bobbin area.
6. Feed Dogs Down
If you have been recently quilting a free-flowing stitch, or if you’ve been machine sewing buttons on a piece, you may have forgotten to raise the feed dogs afterward. This can cause the fabric not to move or get stuck beneath the needle.
In some machines, the feed dogs may become loose and have to be physically tightened periodically. Raise your presser foot and turn the handwheel while observing the feed dogs. If they are not rising as high as they should, check your machine’s handbook for suggestions or contact customer service.
7. Large Hole Plate Cover
Sometimes it seems like the plate cover hole is just too big for the thin fabric you’re sewing. Changing to a different presser foot may help, but the needle can still push the delicate fabric below the plate.
Some machines have the option of using a straight stitch plate, which has a small hole rather than an elongated one. The small hole will not allow the fabric to be drawn beneath the plate. This can be a real boon when working with thin or stretchy fabrics.
Remember, though, that this plate can only be used for straight stitches. If you want to zigzag or use a decorative stitch, you must change to a normal plate, or you’ll break your needle.
I haven’t tried this suggestion, but it looks interesting. If you don’t have the option of a straight stitch place, place a small piece of tape over the place hole. Make sure it doesn’t interfere with the feed dogs. Turn the handwheel to make a hole for the needle in the tape. Now you can sew, and only the needle should be able to go beneath the plate.
I can see this working with ultra-thin fabrics. But I fear heavier fabrics would simply push down the tape along with the fabric.
8. Dirty Machine
It may not be the fabric that’s causing the issue at all. If your machine becomes clogged with lint or becomes sluggish from lack of lubrication, it could cause inaccurate stitching and clogging.
Take your bobbin compartment completely apart and remove all lint and debris. Then oil according to machine instructions. Remove upper thread and oil any places in the machine indicated in the instruction manual. Run several seams with scrap material to ensure no oil will stain your fabric. Do this maintenance regularly to keep your machine running in top form.