Sewing Machine Thread Bunching Up? Here’s Why!

The dreaded “bird nesting” syndrome is a common sewing machine problem many of us have experienced at one time or another while sewing, either on the top or underneath the fabric. There are lots of reasons for sewing machine thread bunching up, and luckily, many of the solutions are easy and do not require a trip to your favorite sewing machine mechanic.

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Anytime the sewing machine thread is bunching up, or bird nesting, on the top of your fabric, the culprit has something to do with your bobbin. Here are some things to check before calling sewing repair 911:

1. Is your bobbin threaded correctly?

If your machine uses a bobbin case, take the bobbin completely out of the case and re-thread it. Be careful to follow the instructions for your machine, and make sure you have the bobbin thread engaged in the bobbin tension. A good test for this is to hold onto the bobbin thread with one hand. If the bobbin drops all the way to the floor, you missed the tension spring in the bobbin case.

2. Is your bobbin case tension too loose?

If you have loosened the screw on your bobbin case to accommodate thicker threads for surface design work, you might not have re-adjusted it correctly for regular thread. After correctly threading the bobbin case, tug gently on the bobbin thread. You should feel some resistance, but the thread should move freely. If you have not made any changes to this tension setting, it is likely not to be the cause of any thread bunches, as it is set correctly at the factory. If you do adjust it, be sure to do so in small increments to avoid dislodging the entire screw.

Conversely, the reasons that thread can bunch up underneath your fabric have all to do with your needle tension.

1. Is the needle thread threaded correctly?

Cut the thread a few inches from the spool, and pull it through the needle. Re-thread, taking care to engage the upper thread completely in the tension discs. I always suggest to my students that they hold the thread on either side of the tension disc, and slide it back and forth a bit between the plates with a flossing motion. The tension discs need to “grasp” the thread snugly.

2. Is the presser foot up?

Duh. We’ve all done it!

3.  Is your machine clean?

Frequent dusting underneath the throat plate and along the thread path will prevent all sorts of stitching and machine problems. Of course, good quality thread, a new, sharp sewing machine needle, and the correct bobbins for your make and model of sewing machine are basic requirements for producing good quality stitches. Frequent dusting, cleaning and oiling will also prevent these and many other stitching problems you might encounter.

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71 Comments

Carolyn Williamson

I have three Berninas and a Babylock. No nesting problems .

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Diana

My Bernina is giving me a lot of grief. Bad stitches, stitches not locking together to form a true stitch, and strangely my top spool is throwing the thread out an inch or so every few seconds, like a jump rope. Help please.

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Carolyn Williamson

I have three Berninas and a Babylock. No nesting problems .

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M Michelle Welch

how often should a sewing needle be changed, apart from the obvious broken one?

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Graceful Sewing

The textbook answer is every time you start a new sewing project. I’ve been sewing since 1965 and just learned that answer this year. So, with all the garments I’ve sewn, I’ve never inserted a new needle just because I was starting a new project. It’s too expensive for me. I own a great machine, take really good care of it and don’t sew over pins. Now that I know more, I will do better, I will probably change needles at least every four garment and any time I begin to have stitch problems that could be traced back to my needle (such as skipped stitches). I hope this is helpful.

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Joyce

the first quilting class I took, I was told that different fabrics do best with different size needles.. For example, fine fabrics can be sewn easier and less damage to material, with smaller needles. Makes sense to me! But it is a hard concept to carry out frequent needle changes.

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Granny Rio

I always try and sharpen my needle with steel wool it gets rid of the burrs. Also makevsure if you have picked orvripped out a seam which all is guilty of having to do check to make sure no loose pieces of threads they will throw skipped and birds nests

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Loryn Rennie

After every garment. Also use different sized needles for different weights of fabrics. Needles do get blunt

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Polly Woolly

Bird nesting….what a lovely term for a really frustrating thing! 😉

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Jeanie

What am I doing wrong.I have this nesting on back of fabric. Need help I an a novice

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Sarah Hines

Also, check to see if your needle is inserted into the machine in the right direction. There is only one right way!

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Brenda LeBlanc Holland

Aww, sorry to hear your dissatisfaction. I have two Bernina’s, an Elna and two Viking Huskvarna’s. I LOVE them all!

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Reenmau

I’ll try rethreading my Baby Lock Esante. I have had bird nesting problems ever since I got it 2 years ago. This machine does beautiful embroidery but as far as sewing the underneath thread bunches, it skips stitches, especially on fancier stitches, but on regular stitches also. I have been sewing for many years, never had this bird nesting till I spent more money than I should have on this Baby Lock. I know I don’t know everything, but I can’t believe a machine as expensive as this is so tempermental with threading. It does so many things, I surprised it doesn’t thread itself. Then bird nesting would just an annoying memory.

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Graceful Sewing

That must be frustrating after spending so much on a machine. I find that if I sink my needle by hand into the fabric before starting a row of stitching and then grab both threads and hold them taut before I put my foot on the pedal, and continue holding taut until the machine has taken at least 3-4 stitches, I don’t get bird nesting. I have the advent of “embroidery machines”, a 28 yr old Pfaff that I recently discovered has held it’s value so well it is selling for the exact price I paid for it on eBay so I’m not familiar with a Baby Lock. I truly hope you can solve your issue with your Baby Lock and it becomes a machine like mine, one you paid dearly for and are delighted with the value you received.

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EiSweet

Hi! I as well have a Pfaff machine! It was my moms when she was in high school or college (70’s). It an AWSOME machine but I keep having the issue of nesting underneath the fabric. Help!

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Bea

I feel the same way about my Elna. I began sewing on my mother’s old Singer and never, ever had a birdnesting problem. Had to take the Elna in for it, and was told it was probably due to my pushing or pulling the fabric, instead of letting the machine take it up. So, I’ve been very careful never to do that, since; but, again, in about the same amount of time, the problem has returned. It mainly seems to happen when I’m dealing with odd fabrics. I make a lot of dog diapers out of PUL, and it can do it with some of those; also, I just changed thread to a black one, the bobbin and top thread are both the same, but it’s a bit thicker than the cheap one I had been using for the last project – It’s a Gutterman, so good quality.

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Bea

I just tried “Graceful Sewing’s” suggestion below, and it worked!

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Lourrainne

Hello to Everyone!
First sorry for any language error. My primary language is Spanish.

I have a sewer and embroidery machine. Singer Futura CE150. I bough it back in 2009. Few years ago I was sewing and I was doing it fast.

The machine jump, the cloth get stock, the machine when out of time. Was crazy.

I just fix the time.

However the zit zag and any kind of sew that need to be done beside straight line, is not doing it correctly.

I means if I do a zit zag everything on the left side stay on the left as a straight line and the right side is not holding the thread.

Any idea of why is doing that and how to fix it my self.

The place I called want to charge me 90.00 for put it on time and I already did it myself :)

I can not afford 90 fixing now another thing.

Please help.

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Nicola

I too have had bird nest issues. We were given an old Brother VX2061 , we spent over $70 to get it serviced and fixed. It hasn’t fixes the problem and the service man wants to part of it says its fine. Grrr.
I have to find a manual online and will try find the issue for my machine. (sews for hours with no issues, then it decides to have issues :( )
See if someone you know can recommend a friend who is skilled with machines, or ask for an obligation free quote

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Beth

When you are threading your machine make sure that the pressure foot is up. Birdnesting comes from the top thread. After threading but before threading the needle put the pressure foot down and tug lightly on the thread. You should feel resistance and the thread should not move. If it does it either is not in the upper tension unit or your tension is off. That is normally the problem.

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Graceful Sewing

I’m sorry you are having problems with bird nesting. I have sewn with a number of different machines over the years, both domestic and commercial, and I find that if I sink my needle, usinig the handwheel (sometimes labeled flywheel), into the fabric before starting a row of stitching and then grab both threads holding them taut before I put my foot on the pedal, and continue holding taut until the machine has taken at least 3-4 stitches, I don’t get bird nesting. It may not work for you, but it’s certainly worth a try if you don’t do that now. This method controls how much thread feeds from each side of the cloth until the row of stitching has begin and is well-formed.

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Clare

When I tried this the bobbin thread was extremely tight. This was my last try as I have cleaned under the plate twice. I have rethreaded numerous times.I have tried every tension with no luck. The stitches keep bunching. Please help!

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Lynn

That was exactly the way I was taught to sew. Happens occasionally when I forget to hold the threads taut when I start, or if the bobbin has been wound loosely….Everything has to be just right to prevent birdnesting…..

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Pam

Lourrainne, I have a Futura CE200, and have had LOTS of problems too. Here are the 2 things I have found to solve most of my problems.
1. Make sure you are using the right bobbins. I was using the wrong ones for the longest time, and it worked but not well. Class 15J.
2. Don’t use Coats and Clark thread. I’m not sure what you have available to you, but these machines do NOT like cheap thread. I’ve had good luck with Mettler and Gutterman, particularly when embroidering.

We have a great support group on Facebook, very helpful and talkative. Come find us. https://www.facebook.com/groups/FuturaEmbroideryJIM/

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roberta

i have a juki computerised sewing machine that all of a sudden has a nesting problem. had a guy who works on sewing machines and wasn’t too clear what was wrong. all he did was clean it and said it sewed fine. well it doesn’t and when I tried ti sew in it I got a huge birds nest. any suggestions in fixing it myself? I do have it in the shop but the guy hasn’t had time to get to it. any suggestions I would appreciate it. thanks Roberta

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Valerie

I never leave convent’s but felt i needed to in this case. I’m a very basic seamstress, and have very basic knowledge of my machine. When I started having “bird nesting” (never heard of that by the way) issues I was on the verge of throwing my machine against a wall. I looked to my owners manual but it was zero help. This post saved my life, and the life of my machine. Thanks for the very informative and down to earth instruction. You rock.

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rebecca

mine started doing the same thing in the middle of a throw blanket i was making for my daughter… I got soo mad i had my son take my sewing machine out of my living room before i lost it and threw the machine into a wall… i watched video’s on tension and such no help… talked it through with my father in law and tada we remembered i was using a new plastic bobbin instead of the metal And cheap thread.. bought new metal bobbins and good thread and it fixed it. Now its doing it again with the good thread and bobbin so i am back to the drawing board.. glad to read someone else gets as frustrated as me when it happens.

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Jewels

Worked like a charm. Ur a doll. It was the top tension that got bumped or something but it made the bird nest under the fab. Life saver gal u.. :)

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Anjela

My Mother-in-law just bought me a second hand Singer EsteemII, because my singer has quit. It looks like it’s hardly been used but the top thread keeps tangling below the material. The only time it does not do this is when the tension is set all the way to 9, the highest it can go. I have adjusted the tension on both the upper thread and the bobbin, cleaned and oiled the machine, and changed my needle. I have tried adjusting the stitching length. Any suggestions?

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kim heffernan

My singer is doing the same! Ive had it for a few years without a problem and for the past few weeks I’ve had to bump up the tension to 9. But now that’s not even working! I have orders that need to be shipped and are not completed I feel like throwing it out the window! Lol. I have cleaned the machine, checked that its threaded properly. But no avail. I’m pulling out my hair!

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Helen Rhodes

I have a Bernina 950 which is a semi industrial machine, all the flexibility of a Domestic straight and zigzag machine with an industrial motor. This morning I was sewing piping and decided to change the needle position 1 stop over as the fabric was a little bulky, needle thread tension went to pot! looked fine on the top, wasn’t till I removed 3metres of piped trim that I realised the underneath was a complete mess!

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Mary Jo Sminkey

I’m using my mother’s Viking Designer sewing machine and it’s unusable right now due to this bird’s nest issue, it does appear to be a bobbin issue, you can even see the thread going wrong inside the bobbin area when I try to sew but not sure what I am doing wrong. Never had a problem before, and am hoping I didn’t break her machine! I have made sure multiple times that I threaded the bobbin correctly, and checked the tension, cleaned it all out, etc. to no avail. You can hear a clicking noise when it starts to bunch up, does that tell me anything more?

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D Roach

are you sure you have the bobbin in the right way? I too have a Husqvarna Viking and it doesn’t show which way the bobbin goes in.

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Anna

Same here,

I think something is wrong with the bobbin holder. I can hear the noises too before its nesting… must be a mating ritual or something… I will try to use a different needle anyway, everything else is covered.

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Diane Williams

Not getting your needle thread between the tension discs will make your stitches look loose & sloppy, but actual “nesting” or thread jamming into a mess under the plate is because the thread didn’t get into the Take-Up Lever, you know, that bar that goes up & down. When it’s down, there’s enough thread available to wrap around the bobbin to make the stitch. When it moves back up it “takes up” all the extra thread so the stitch is tight. Thread not in the take-lever means the needle keeps bringing more thread into the bobbin case & with to mechanism to bring it out you get this mess underneath.

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Priya

I have brother bb370 sewing machine. I am a beginner to sewing. Straight stitch works fine. Bird nesting happens when zigzag stitching. I did everything said here. But it did not work. When I set the top thread tension to 0 Zig zag stitch works fine. I am using wonder invisible thread and cotton quilting fabric. Is something wrong with my tension discs. Should I take it to a repair shop??

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Renee

Does it do the same with normal thread? Just curious, as I have issues with invisible thread, but normal thread works fine…..

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Marjorie

Hang on to your threads when starting to sew, or sew into a scrap of fabric when you finish a line of stitching, leave it in the machine and finish sewing on the scrap and then feed in the next pieces to sew. Leaving your threads hanging. Without hanging on to them will cause the birds nest, as the thread is too loose when you are starting to sew.

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Ada Galli

I have been sewing for years (decades actually) and only found out a couple of years ago that there are 2 sizes of bobbins! You can barely tell by looking at them, but read your manual and be SURE you have the correct size.

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Kate Mackey

what about holding your threads? I have a Bernina B750 and find that if I don’t pull out a bit if thread after the cutting tool works, I get a bird nest.

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Ellen

Using old thread will also cause the birdnesting. That lovely box of old thread you inherited from your Grandmother can cause many headaches. Best not to use old thread.

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Melody Lema

I have a 40 year old Singer Athena 2000. I don’t have any bobbin problems. The problem I am having is the electronic board is going out, and just to have it looked at is 350 dollars. I am seriously considering a Singer XL 550 Futura. Any advice? My darling wonderful husband will get me what I want, and I am a Singer devotee. I have sewn on one since I was 5, first Grandma’s, then Mom’s, now mine. Any and all help is gratefully accepted.

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Lucy Lu

Hi All

I have recently inherited an old sewing machine – Singer 9018… I have never used a sewing machine before so I have followed the instructions by the book … with a little help from YouTube :) … however I am losing the will…

Every time a try and sew its bunching up underneath AND the bottom thread isn’t doing anything, you can see that its just pulling through and not being sewn (does that make sense?) its like the thread is just there underneath the ‘birds nest’ in a line no sewing involved, if I got a needle I could pick it and pull it out in one go? I can see its doing this as I used 2 colour threads eventually so I could get a better look as to what was happen with the threads.

I have managed to get it to sew properly once so I know it can do it but I’m stumped (and totally fed up) as to what to do next? Can any shed any light please?

Thanks all in advance…

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Janet

It sounds like a tension problem. Try tightening the tension on the upper thread so it will catch the bobbin thread and pull it up. Ideally, both top and bottom threads should meet in the middle of the fabric.

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Annabelle

Mine sews a bit then it tugs and starts birdnest on bottom thread. I just got it back from servicing. I was able to sew a few items but it won’t do uniform jersey or denim.. It’s a singer professional. Did great for several years then it went out of time. I had another finger with the fancy stitshes and that goes out of time alot. Seems singer isn’t living up to its name.

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Robyn

Greetings Ladies,
Sewing newbie here. Kinda. I used to see when my kids were young with a 1920’s singer. Now they’re in college and my husband bought me a singer touch tronic 2010. I’m at a mental loss with this thing. I replaced the gears, cleaned and oiled but still having problem. The tension has to be set at 7 just to get rid of the nesting but my needle thread keeps breaking. I’m starting to think I shouldn’t use a complicated machine. Any advice is appreciated.
Sincerely, feeling like a idiot

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Ava

I suggest going to the Fedora Lounge forums and asking in the sewing subforum. Since that site is dedicated to vintage lifestyle, you’ll find someone who knows that machine.

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Tippi

Please help me every time time I sew it ll keeps gathering and makes one thing of loads of cotton at each stich and so on how to solve this I have tried all the above ????? ^^

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Emily

Hey strangers,

I have a CE110PRW from Brother that is lovely but just started birdnesting like crazy. I was doing a line of stitches when it suddenly jammed up, made a godawful noise, and an error message started flashing.

Usually when it does this it’s an easy fix, but I’ve been trying for the past hour with no luck. The black part that holds the bobbin on the inside feels very loose and comes out easily, could this be the issue?

The people at my local repair shop are pretty rude so I’m trying to avoid going. Help!!!!!

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Sally-Ann

My mother brought me a AVR Mini Sewing Machine for Christmas. I have used them before so i’m not new to sewing, however I’ve been using it for 10 minutes max and its very very loopy so much that the bobbin thread isn’t even going through the material.
I’ve completely re-threaded the top thread and the bobbin thread about a dozen times, reading through the manual thoroughly as I do so, I’ve made sure there’s not lint or dust inside and I’ve tried every tension setting yet nothings stopping it completely looping up.
I’ve searching through forums and YouTube yet everyone’s just saying it’s not threaded right, there’s lint/dust or I need to check the tension. I’ve been cleaning, re-threading and trying tensions for an hour now, can anyone help?
(I’ve been using 100% polyester thread and plain cotton material).

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joyce

I was told to not use anything but Coats and Clark thread,, no cheap thread from Wal Mart, as polyester tends to stretch and will throw off our tension. I have an old Singer Fashion Mate and we have a man near where I live that checked it out and made any necessary repairs and it’s off and running… and I don’t change after each garment.. I can tel by the sound when it needs a new needle or if the type of fabric changes I may have to change needles..

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Sandra

One thing I’ve discovered very recently, is about filling the bobbin which may be one factor. I tend to start very slowly and try a build up speed. However occasionally it’s wound on very loosely in parts. So that could affect the tension while stitching. I read somewhere – again very recently, to try and fill the bobbin at the same speed you normally stitch at. I haven’t seen very much lately due to overdoing it on Christmas decorations, but am going to try this. Also will try holding the threads as Grace suggested. It makes a lot of sense.

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john

can some one help I was bought a Janome m145 mini for xmas, the top thread wont catch the bobbing thread at all it made a terrible grinding noise and stopped working I took the bobbing out de bunked it its working but wont sew.

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Audrey Benavides

I have been a seamstress since I was a teenager. I learned from my Grandmother. I had my own business called Audrey’s Stitchery out of rooms in my house. I also made my neicies wedding dress & the 6 bridesmaids dresses.

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Cinda Tygart

There are basically 3 types of sewing machine needles. You will find the information on the back of each package. Here is the information in case you don’t have the package your needles were attached to.
1. Standard Point – woven fabric
2. Ball Point – knit fabric
3. Denim/Jeans
For best results select needle size according to fabric weight being sewn.
Fabric – Lightweight – Needle size – 9 or 11
Fabric – Medium – Needle size – 11 or 14
Fabric – Heavy – Needle size 14, 16 or 18
I used to have the problem of using a needle and forgetting which of the 3 types I used last; then I don’t get it put back in the right little container they came in. Now I roll a piece of tape and put it one the back of the container and then press it down on an out of the way area of my machine to remind me what needle I used last. Those containers show the size of the needles also. Hope this helps. Best wishes.

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ally

The above are a very good start, and yes, they will fix about 90% of the problems you might encounter with hen’s nests. I have worked on a number of machines, from numerous home machines to sergers to industrial machines. If you have threaded the machine correctly, both top and bottom thread, are using a new needle, are using an appropriate thread for your project and not mixing weights of thread beyond what the machine can handle, and are clearing the thread ends and pulling them away from the needle as you begin sewing so they do not get sucked into the bobbin housing, you should do fine most of the time. Some uncommon problems I have run into:
1.) Installing the needle backwards. If you feel the needle, you will notice a groove along one side. The thread channels into this slot and through the eye. The groove faces toward you if the bobbin mounts from the front of the machine or if it is a toploader, or to your left if the bobbin mounts from the side of the machine. I have seen a machine where the groove faces away from you when the needle is properly installed, but only so far on an industrial buttonhole machine.
2.) Bobbin case not properly installed. It should click in without wobbling or wanting to turn to one side or the other. If it falls out mid stitch, you’ll be picking thread ends out of your machine for a while.
3.) Using the wrong type of needle. Hopefully we all know to use heavier needles on heavier fabrics and narrower needles on lightweight fabrics. By and large, though, home machines use the standard needles that you can buy at almost any fabric and craft store. Industrial machines might use one of dozens of different needle systems, or two different needles on the same machine. Some needles are shorter than others, some have longer shanks, some are curved. You can look up parts lists for industrial machines online, usually for free. I use a sharpie to write the needle system on the machine so I don’t forget. Again, if your machine is a typical domestic or home machine, you shouldn’t have a problem with this.
4.) Burr or other defect on the hook. This has happened to me on two separate machines; Be very careful sewing over pins and on particularly thick fabrics, or those that don’t feed through the machine very well (things that stick to the sole plate like vinyl). If you sew into a pin and it gets caught in the bobbin housing and you have to fish it out, or you force fabric through the machine and bend/break the needle into the housing it can scratch or mar the hook. I had this happen to my 60’s Viking once; fortunately the mechanic was able to buff out the metal hook good as new. It also happened on a shiny new $7000 Babylock embroidery machine (needle went right into the plastic hook/housing arrangement). Three stitches and the nest was so thick the machine jammed up and broke the needle. The new part cost $50. We were just fortunate that the local store up the street had one and that it was still half an hour before close on a Friday!
Occasionally I can’t figure out what’s wrong. I have learned that, at those times, I need to turn the machine off and walk away for a while. If it’s still doing it when I come back, it needs a professional overhaul.

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Steve Wood

Thanks for your helpful comment. My Kenmore 158 sews like a dream, but not lately. Will polish on the hook and see if helps.

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Margaret Makewell

I rarely have nesting problems so was surprised when it happened to me consecutively 3 times in a row.
I did get the mechanic out and he rang me the next day saying that it was the motherboard that was the problem and I needed a new one which he managed to procure. After that arrived and he had put it into the machine., that one turned out to be faulty. There was not another board in Australia so he sent for one from the country of origin, which happened to be Sweden.
Long story short, it took 3 months in total for my machine to finally be fixed,but now it works perfectly again.

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Shannon

Thank you so much! I googled ‘why does my bobbin thread clump up’ and up came this post and my problem was solved in 30 seconds! Just needed a stopper on my top spool so it stayed snug!

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gailllc

Another major cause for new sewists on older machines, especially — not anchoring the thread tails for the first few stitches.

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PennyGoodmanBennettWaddington

I own a Jamone and I love it. We went t buy a singer and the store brought out about 6 and tried them and none worked so I went to the Stitchery and bought the Janome. I just love it

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Charles Peterson

My problem was a dull needle! This was helpful though. Thank You!

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