Why is my sewing machine pulling loops underneath the fabric?
March 16, 2014 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I've read up on how the top and bottom tensioning is supposed to work, but it hasn't helped. I've got the bobbin adjusted so it lets out about an inch when I bounce it by the thread. Adjusting the top tension from there doesn't seem to make much difference. I always get the loops. The weird thing is that the top thread seems really hard to pull out when I do it by hand. It's so hard that's it sometimes breaks. Why should tension that seems stiff to the hand pull through when the machine sews?

I recently bought an old Dressmaker S-6000 off of Craigslist. It seemed to sew alright, until I got ready to really use it. I did wind a new bobbin. The loops are so far through I can pull the bottom thread straight out!

I set the bobbin tension as suggested here :

The top thread is hard to pull through at the needle, but seems okay if I pull at the take-up arm or one of the front guides. I don't see it catching at the guide on the needle bar or the needle itself. Not sure what's happening there. I know the presser foot has to be up for me to pull thread out.

I've quadruple checked how the machine is threaded. I don't know what else could be wrong. Help!
posted by SirNovember to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I read somewhere that any problems with the bottom thread are related to the needle and any problems with the top thread are because of the bobbin (which could be why your top thread tension is so high). The needle has to be at the highest point when you thread it -- could that be the problem? I've had something similar happen to me.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:48 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: -Check that the threaded bobbin is set in the right way. By that, I mean clockwise vs counter-clockwise. Hopefully you have the manual and it will show you which direction the thread should be wound. If not, you could try flipping the bobbin over.

-Remove all thread and fabric from the machine. Use a different thread, bobbin and fabric. If you have the exact same problem, the machine may have a timing issue.

-When the top thread seems hard to pull, sometimes moving the needle wheel a bit will loosen it, but that won't work if it is always hard to pull.
posted by soelo at 9:51 AM on March 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I used to have a Dressmaker that had the same problem. I was never able to solve it by myself, after hours of internet searches and reading the manual.

If you bought it off of Craigslist, you might consider taking it to a sewing shop to have the tension tuned. I think it runs about $70.

Congrats on having such a workhorse machine!
posted by jilloftrades at 9:55 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that when I have that problem, it usually resolves itself the tenth time I rethread everything. My current sewing machine has a horizontal spool holder and it screws up if the thread is coming out over the top of the spool instead of out from under.
posted by artychoke at 9:57 AM on March 16, 2014

Are you sure you have the right sized bobbin? I had similar problems that improved which I switched to a new model bobbin.

And seconding taking it in to get the timing checked/adjusted. That solved the problem on my other machine, too.
posted by Beti at 10:11 AM on March 16, 2014

I've always read that you're supposed to use the exact same sort of thread in the spool and the bobbin. I've mostly ignored that, with few problems. When I have had tension issues I couldn't resolve in other ways, making the threads the same has often cleared up the problem.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:13 AM on March 16, 2014

Best answer: I used to have an old embroidery sewing machine I also bought I used that needed a lot of TLc and fiddling to get it to work right, so I feel your pain. I still have to coddle my new one a little bit.

Here's what I've learned to try and what troubleshooting helped me:

1. Always start threading with the needle in the upright position. Know that threading guides are not always that clearly written or illustrated.

You could be doing exactly what it seems to be telling you to do, and yet missing just one crucial place where the thread has to be precisely just-so for that tension in the needle to be right.

For example, it might look like you need to just pass the thread through a certain metal holder, when really you have to make sure the thread stays only on the flat side of that metal piece as it goes through or you will not have any tension at all in your thread. This is a really common mistake because the thread can slip through rather than catch.

In your case, you may be erring by catching the thread too tightly instead and thus making the tension too strong just at the needle point.

I am not explaining this well because I can't recall the part names, but if you can find a video online of anyone actually threading the machine, do that!

2. Next, if the the tension feels really tight at the needle level, it might be that the needle itself is screwed in too tight (could have been before you ever got the machine) or is not the right size/style needle for the thread you are using.

3. After you have checked those two things, go on to the tension setting. The top tension generally should fall around 3.5 to 4 in most sewing machines, 5 at the outside limit. If you have it set in that area and the needle feels super tight with the thread, the machine may need to be oiled.

4. Are you using pre-threaded bobbins, store-bought, or did you spin your own? If you spun your own and the thread was maybe a little loose on the bobbin, could be you have thread caught underneath the bobbin housing (not the part that fits over the bobbin and comes off to take the bobbin out, but the part that holds the bobbin down in the well in the first place. Take the bobbin out and peer down into the bobbin casing with a flashlight, see if you can detect any thread down there.

Usually, if you do, you will not need to take out the bobbin housing entirely (though I have done this! And it was scary! But it worked out fine!), but simply use one of the tools that should have come with your machine (probably plastic with a little hook on the end) to fish it out safely.
posted by misha at 12:13 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's called bird-nesting. It's usually caused by incorrect thread tension, incorrect bobbin insertion, or dirty/dusty tension discs. If rethreading the machine, replacing the bobbin, and adjusting tension doesn't work, then you might want to take your machine in to be cleaned/serviced.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:16 PM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might also try blowing the crud out of the bobbin housing area with compressed air, and oiling the machine just for good measure.
posted by jessicapierce at 12:27 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

When my vintage machines have tension issues that are not resolvable usually it means they need to visit the sewing machine man. For a machine you just got off Craigslist, I'd say a good cleaning and adjustment is in order. Be sure to detail the birdsnesting problem you are having so that they can specifically look at that.

There is a great group on Yahoo! -- SewItsForSale -- where I got my beloved Pfaff. If you are looking at CL for machines or decide this one is too much trouble, those ladies are reliable and I feel like it's less risky buying from that group than from CL, personally.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:33 PM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I have that problem, it's often because I forgot to lower the presser foot. I hope you are less scatterbrained. I've also gone through tons of troubleshooting only to find that a fresh needle fixed it. I find with the older machines that I have to hold the thread ends very tightly when starting, but it doesn't sound like that is your problem.

I used to have an old dressmaker, too. I also had a terrible problem with tension. I disassembled the tension assembly and found a cracked part, which the repair place didn't know what to do about. If you get to that stage, watch out for flying springs and draw everything so you can put it back correctly.
posted by SandiBeech at 3:15 PM on March 16, 2014

Response by poster: Lots for me to look into - I'll let you all know when I get a chance to try your suggestions!

A quick note, though. It isn't birdsnesting; at least not what I think of as birdsnesting. The machine sews, but the loop on each stitch is pulled through to the bottom, rather than tightened on both sides. I end up with an orderly row of individual loops, rather than a big, nasty, birdsnest-y mess.
posted by SirNovember at 9:06 PM on March 16, 2014

The machine sews, but the loop on each stitch is pulled through to the bottom, rather than tightened on both sides.

Your bobbin tension is too tight. Try loosening the screw by quarter-turns until it turns out right. Then try the hang-the-bobbin-by-its-thread test and see how it behaves so you know what to look for in the future.

In my own experience, a bobbin that very slowly but steadily keeps unwinding is closer to proper tension than one that only moves when twitched.
posted by fraula at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2014

Response by poster: After trying all your great suggestions... as a final step before taking the machine to be serviced, I put in the spool and bobbin that were in the machine when I got it. They each had just a bit of thread left, but everything worked fine!

I think it was my thread's fault. I've got to sheepishly admit that I got it in a four-pack at IKEA for $2. That'll teach me. I went and got some better stuff, which worked, too.

Thank you one and all!
posted by SirNovember at 9:13 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've used the Ikea thread you linked to, and I've never had a problem with it (neither on the 100+ yr old treadle I restored as a project, nor on the modern brother I borrowed from my mom). I'm with fraula and the others that talked about incorrect bobbin tension/possibly incorrect bobbin size.
posted by yggdrasil at 7:42 PM on April 4, 2014

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