Why Your Sewing Machine Is Shredding Thread (Tips and Solutions)

sewing machine shredding thread

Shredding your strings is great for a guitarist, but it’s extra work for a tailor. An occasional broken thread is part of the process, but a machine that’s consistently eating through thread must be tamed. You can solve many shredding issues at home with minor changes to your usage or maintenance of your machine.

Causes and Fixes for Thread Shredding

Damage or Defects in the Needle

bent sewing machine needle

You will be replacing the needle in your sewing machine almost as often as the thread, if not more. The thread and needle rub against each other as the sewing machine works, so any bends or irregularities in the needle’s surface can snag the thread. The tip of the needle will end up dulled or bent as it gets used, and the occasional needle comes with defects from the manufacturing process.

Replacement needles are relatively inexpensive, although the quality of the needle can make the unit price vary. The short time and low cost of regularly swapping needles will vastly improve your sewing experience, including a reduction in shredding. Be careful to correctly install the needle, as improper seating can continue to cause shredding despite a fresh reload.

Clean the Sewing Machine

dirty sewing machines shred thread

Bits of fabric, dust, and thread can collect in the less visible portions of a sewing machine. Give your sewing machine a thorough cleaning, including looking into the bobbin case and under the throat plate.

While needle damage is one of the most common causes of shredding, cleaning out the excess gunk might not be the source of the shredding. If it wasn’t, your machine would still work better thanks to your efforts.

Improper Threading

improper threading can break thread

Sewing machines expect the thread to behave in a very particular way, so any variations will cause issues. With a fresh needle in place, you’ll also want to take a look at your thread’s configuration.

Different machines use different setups, but most will run the thread from the top spool, through the tension plate apparatus and thread guides, into the front of the needle’s eye, then under the exposed bobbin thread. For more details, consult the user manual for your specific model of sewing machine.

Improper Tension Levels on the Thread

improper tension can break sewing machine thread

A good tension level is necessary for a sewing machine to function, but a taut string is easier to cut than a loose one. Setting the tension too high can cause problems like shredding and unthreading, and it’s possible for the prodding hands of a young child to find the biggest number on the dial while you’re not looking. Tweaking the tension level is a simple task on sewing machines that you should make part of your setup process.

On basic sewing machines, you should see a tension adjuster with a range of numbers. Higher numbers equal higher tension, so try running the machine at a lower setting to see if shredding continues. Smart sewing machines may have computer-assisted tension adjustment, so consult the user manual for instructions on how to manually override those settings. Be wary of lowering the tension too much, or you’ll run into other issues.

Scratches or Damage on Contact Points

sewing machine shredding thread

Aside from the needle, other parts of the sewing machine may have damage that cuts into the thread as they pass it along. If the shredding is bad enough to cause a full break, you may be lucky enough to get a precise indication of where the thread is getting damaged. Prime contact points include the pressure footer, thread guides, bobbin case, and throat plate.

If you do find damage to one of these components, replacement parts are fairly cheap, though a bit more expensive than a new needle. A new pressure footer will cost a few bucks at most, and the same goes for thread guides. The DIY difficulty varies some with the model, but it’s overall a manageable task for anyone who can operate a sewing machine.

Poor Quality, Tangled, or Damaged Thread

old thread can easily shred and break

Over time, old thread that’s sitting in humid and hot conditions will start to develop damage, especially if they’ve been kept in loose containers exposed to more of the elements. Tangles and bunching may have been hidden deeper in the spool. Even a new spool of thread may have existing damage that’s spread throughout its length. When these defects pass through metal components of the sewing machine, the friction amplifies the damage into visible shredding.

Spotting the damage can be difficult through eyesight alone. Run your fingers over a large length of the thread to feel for any damage. Even if it seems minor, every tangible irregularity can cause problems. If you’re not invested in that particular thread, you can swap it without testing as a precautionary measure.

Wrong Needle and Thread Pairing

wrong needle can shred sewing thread

The needle and thread work together to stitch your garments. Like any tool, seemingly minor changes to the size of these components will impact their performance. Selecting the right thread and needle for a sewing job is worthy of a full article in its own right, but the user guide for your machine will likely have recommendations. As a general guideline, use bigger tools for thicker materials, and match big needles to big thread.

Thread that is too light for the job will suffer damage as it passes through tough materials. Even if it doesn’t cause a full break, the stitching will be weaker. Don’t force a thick thread through a small needle, either. A little bit of wiggle room keeps the friction lowered. When you jam it through the eye, the machine continuously forces the thread and eye to rub against each other, leading to damage.

Using the Wrong Bobbin

wrong bobbin can break sewing thread

Sewing machines can be fussy about the size and style of their bobbin. Shredding is one potential symptom of using the wrong bobbin, but you’re more likely to see other issues along with it. It doesn’t hurt to peek at your bobbin to make sure it’s the right fit and still doing its job.

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