Why Your Sewing Machine Is Birdnesting (Plus Troubleshooting Tips!)

sewing machine thread birdnesting

Why Is Your Sewing Machine Birdnesting?

You’re happily sewing along to the rhythm of your sewing machine when you notice it’s not sewing the top thread in the seam. The machine has done this before, but you don’t know what “this” is or how to fix it. It’s actually quite simple, and you can fix it in no time.

The parts of the sewing machine that concern us in dealing with birdnesting are the bobbin and the needle. One of them is out of whack, so we’ll examine each one to discover how it messes up the thread that way. Go ahead and cut off that wild thatch of thread, and we’ll tell you what’s going on.

What Is Birdnesting?

Thread bunching up beneath the needle plate causes broken thread, tension, and the loss of stitches. The thread looks like those old pictures of women spinning yarn on ancient looms to make sewing thread. That bunchy thread is called birdnesting.

What Causes Birdnesting?

Threading a sewing machine involves several mechanisms that both advance the thread and keep it steady at the same time. If the thread had no guides, the material would have no seam. So the first thing we need to look at is if the upper portion of the machine is threaded properly.


Make sure the spool of thread is locked in place, with the thread going through every single guide that’s on the machine. Missing one means the rest of the guides can’t work to keep the thread straight. This messes up the tension. That means messed up stitches or bunching of the thread.

Top Tension

If the top tension isn’t tight enough, then the bobbin thread can’t be caught with the top thread to make a stitch. The thread will bunch up beneath the needle plate. Increase the top tension just a little. Adjust it as you go along until you have the perfect top and bobbin tension. Voila! No birdnesting!

Presser Foot

Make sure this little guy is in the “up” position when you’re threading your machine. If it’s down, the machine thinks it needs tension while sewing a seam. Conversely, in the up position, the machine knows it’s being threaded. 

The Needle

If you’ve done all this, and the thread still bunches up like a birdnest, then check the needle. If you’ve been pulling the material through the feeder, instead of letting the feeder do the work, then you might have bent the needle slightly. Don’t panic. They’re cheap. You still need to make sure you have the proper needle for the material you’re using, so change your needle if necessary.

The Bobbin

The first thing every single seamstress thinks of is the bobbin. She’ll lift the plate, lift the arm on the bobbin, and rip it out, only to find that there’s nothing wrong with it. Well, maybe yes, maybe no, so let’s examine bobbins.

Using A Bobbin

There’s not a chance for anything to get messed up when winding a bobbin. It’s when you try to put it in the machine that problems arise. The first thing to know is how to put the bobbin in the machine:

    • First, pull the thread loose so that one piece of thread is hanging from the bobbin. Now, hold the arm on top of the bobbin case open. Slip the bobbin into the bobbin case. Let the arm on top of the bobbin case close. 
    • Next, take the loose piece of thread and thread it through the slit on the side of the bobbin case. This piece of the thread must hang out of the bobbin correctly, or it won’t be pulled up by the needle to make a stitch. 

    • Snap the bobbin into place. There will be a notch where you load the bobbin, and when it’s in the right place, it will snap.

    • With the presser foot up, use the hand crank to advance the needle. It will go down beneath the plate. There, it will pull up the bobbin thread, so that you’ll have two threads going through the needle. Once the thread is caught, pull it out behind the presser foot and leave it there. You’ll trim it later. 

The Bobbin Case

When you’ve done all the above, but the thread still bunches up, check your bobbin case. It might not be properly settled into its place:

    • It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes the bobbin will part company with its case. The actual bobbin will just spin without result. The case sometimes rattles about.

    • The thread will come un-threaded from the slit in the bobbin case. The needle can no longer pick it up, so missed stitches happen. Bunching thread happens,  too.

Bobbin Tension

If the thread still bunches up beneath the needle plate, then take out the bobbin case. Its tension could be a little loose. There’s a screw on the bobbin case. Turn it a quarter clockwise to increase the tension just a little bit.

Clean The Machine

If you’ve threaded the machine properly, got the bobbin all squared away, and the thread still bunches up beneath the plate, then you might want to clean your machine. Lift the needle plate. If there’s dust, snippets of thread, or dirt of any kind around the bobbin, then clean it out. 

Check the top of your machine. If there’s dust in some of the guides through which the thread goes on its way to the needle, then clean it. Oil your sewing machine. Whatever maintenance steps are recommended in your machine’s owner’s manual, do what they describe. A clean machine just plain works better.

Final Thoughts

Birdnesting is when thread bunches up beneath a sewing machine’s needle plate. It’s caused by different things, all having to do with how the thread is properly in its place, both bottom and top. It only takes the thread coming loose from its guides in one place to mess everything up completely.

Making sure your machine is properly threaded, the bobbin thread is securely in its own place, and the tension on both the top and bobbin properly set is key to preventing birdnesting. Let us know if you’ve found a way to prevent birdnesting; we’d love to hear all about it.

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