Help me finish sewing my pajama pants so I can go to sleep!
June 4, 2010 9:25 PM   Subscribe

My sewing machine is bunching up thread and jamming up. Do I have it set up wrong or is it broken?

I was given an old (from 1993) Singer 4523 sewing machine and set it up according to the directions. When sewing, the thread bunches up on the bottom of the fabric and jams the bobbin. I am not very experienced, so I am not sure if the machine is broken or (more likely) am I doing something wrong?
posted by elvissa to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am a very low talent seamstress, but this sounds like a problem with the tension to me.
Try adjusting the top thread tension one way or the other and see what happens.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:42 PM on June 4, 2010

If this is the type of bunching I sometimes get, then this is what happens to me when I have the bottom bobbin threaded backwards, that is, going in the wrong direction. So try flipping the bobbin inside the metal holder. (Then give it long tails and try it out on a scrap piece, in case that wasn't it and you now have a bigger mess again.)

go to sleep in some other pants - trust me - sleepy sewing is danger sewing!.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:44 PM on June 4, 2010

It sounds like you don't have tension on the bobbin thread which probably means you missed a guide while threading the machine. If you have the manual, that should give you instructions on how to run the thread from the spool to to the needle. If you don't have the manual, these generic instructions for Singer machines might help.
posted by weebil at 9:46 PM on June 4, 2010

It's an old machine and they do need oil and servicing now and then maybe take it to get it serviced.
posted by lavender9 at 9:53 PM on June 4, 2010

Yay! I played around with the tension, flipped the bobbin, and reviewed the manual and think I found my mistakes. Thanks everyone!
posted by elvissa at 10:03 PM on June 4, 2010

FWIW, at the costume shop I used to work in, we called these thread monsters.

And yeah, as you figured out, tension issues.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:30 PM on June 4, 2010

a note on tension: small moves...a little bit of adjustment goes a long way. want to know when you've got it right? load one color of thread in the bobbin and thread the machine with another and sew on a test piece. do you see the bobbin thread on top of the fabric? too much tension. do you see the top thread underneath? not enough. the threads should lock together inside the fabric. still getting the occasional 'thread monster'? make sure you have the right kind of needle for the fabric you're all-purpose needle works fine for most fabrics, but stretch fabric (which you want to use the zigzag stitch on...a straight stitch doesn't stretch) usually needs a stretch needle, and thin/sheer fabrics usu. needs a thinner needle (so it doesn't leave holes)...leather needs a sharp leather needle (though heavy leather is going to be a problem for most home machines)...if you're going to sew leather or vinyl or anything 'plasticy' you're going to need a roller foot (you might have one looks like the normal foot, but has a ridged roller on it so it rolls on the fabric as it passes underneath...

and don't pull the fabric through the machine, just gently guide it or you'll break a needle. if it doesnt want to start just lift the foot and needle and move it a little bit...
posted by sexyrobot at 2:02 AM on June 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

Also, on some machines you HAVE to have the presser foot raised when you thread the machine. When you bring the thread down from the top, it slides in between tension discs, and if the presser foot is down, the thread can't get in there properly.

Whenever I get thread monsters, I generally just pull out the bobbin and upper thread and re-do the whole thing. Takes less time than trying to figure out exactly where the problem is occurring, and usually solves it.
posted by wwartorff at 8:12 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Glad you got the problem sorted. For further reference, in order to avoid thread monsters on the underside of the fabric when starting a seam, it often helps to get hold of the ends of the two threads (bobbin and needle), make sure they go under the presser foot and out behind, and pull gently taut before pressing the foot pedal.
posted by stuck on an island at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2010

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