If you like to sew, you have no doubt experienced that moment when your machine jams up and refuses to stitch. Tangled threads and other common sewing machine problems can happen when something goes wrong with the bobbin. Check out this guide to thirteen sewing machine bobbin problems and solutions to learn how to fix these problems!
Common bobbin problems in a sewing machine include the needle not catching the lower thread, thread tangling, or the bobbin not winding. These issues can occur because of a misaligned bobbin or case, the wrong size of the bobbin, or even the wrong type of needle. In rare cases, the bobbin may refuse to spin because of a bobbin case tension issue.
In this article, you will find out how a bobbin works in a sewing machine. You will learn solutions to the thirteen most common bobbin problems. Finally, you will find tips for how to fix bobbin issues in Singer, Janome, and Brother models.
- What is a Bobbin in a Sewing Machine?
- 13 Common Sewing Machine Bobbin Problems And Solutions
- Why is My Sewing Machine Not Grabbing the Bobbin Thread?
- Why is My Bobbin Thread Bunching Underneath?
- How Do I Know if My Bobbin Case is Damaged?
- Why are Multiple Threads Coming from the Bobbin?
- Bobbin Problems for Singer, Janome, and Brother Sewing Machines
What is a Bobbin in a Sewing Machine?
A bobbin supplies the lower thread in the two-thread pattern, which creates a lockstitch in a sewing machine. The thread around this small cylinder supplies half of every stitch made by your machine. This makes the bobbin one of the most important moving parts in any sewing machine!
As the machine sews, it drives the needle down, carrying the upper thread. This upper thread catches the lower thread and the bobbin case spins around, hooking the lower thread into place. The lower thread keeps the upper thread locked in place on the reverse side of the fabric, where the term “lockstitch” comes from.
What does a bobbin look like? It always forms a small cylinder or spool, though machines do use varying sizes of bobbins that may have different heights and bigger or smaller circumferences. You can also find bobbins made out of metal or out of plastic.
In your machine, the bobbin will fit inside a bobbin case. You can find this in front of the needle plate for drop-in bobbins or behind a latched door at the left front of the machine for front-loading bobbins. The case provides tension to help the lower thread unwind at the proper rate.
Another key bobbin-related element on your sewing machine is the bobbin winder. Different sewing machine models place the winder in various places on the machine, but almost all modern machines include this feature. It looks like a small metal pin and allows the machine to quickly fill the bobbin with thread so that you do not have to wind it by hand!
13 Common Sewing Machine Bobbin Problems And Solutions
Because the bobbin plays such an essential role in your sewing machine, you will want to know all the basic ways to troubleshoot bobbin problems.
1. Upper Thread Path
Many bobbins problems stem from trouble with the upper thread. The good news is that 90% of the time, you can solve these problems by removing the upper thread and rethreading it.
As a pro tip, check your sewing machine owner’s manual to see how to thread your machine. This is a great resource that will illustrate each part of the machine the thread should touch.
- Raise the presser foot on your machine. This opens the tension discs for the upper thread.
- Starting at the spool near the top of your machine, weave the thread through each thread guide. Most machines have three hooks or guides, though this does depend on the individual model.
- Thread the needle. You need to put the thread into the eye of the needle in the correct direction. This varies from one brand of sewing machine to another, so check your manual!
- Draw about six inches of a thread tail out to the back of the machine behind the needle.
- Use the handwheel to bring the needle down and back up. It should carry the lower thread up with it.
2. Bent Needle
Another common reason that a bobbin won’t spin or keeps jamming is a bent or chipped needle. If the needle does not go up and down in the right spot, the bobbin case can’t interact with it properly and your machine will not sew neat stitches. It may not sew at all, in fact!
To replace a damaged needle:
- Remove the presser foot to give yourself better access to the needle.
- Use the handwheel to raise the needle to its highest position.
- Turn the needle-set screw to the left to loosen it. On most sewing machines, you will need a small flathead screwdriver to insert into the indentation on the head of the screw.
- Catch the old needle as it drops free. Set it aside.
- Slot the new needle into the needle bar. Most machines take a needle with one rounded side and one flat side to help with alignment.
- You will need to hold the needle in place with one hand as you tighten the screw using the screwdriver again.
3. Bobbin Size
If your bobbin won’t turn or makes a rattling noise, you might need to use a different size. Bobbins come in several different standard sizes. Your sewing machine manual will tell you which type to use.
- Many sewing machines use a Class 15 bobbin that measures about the same circumference as a nickel. You may also see this style called a universal bobbin, which is a bit misleading since it does not fit all sewing machines! These bobbins can come in plastic or metal and often have small holes punched out of the top and bottom of the spool.
- L-style bobbins also have a circumference similar to nickel, but they have a more narrow shape and always have a solid flat top and bottom of the spool. They come in plastic or metal and can even have a magna-glide core in some cases.
- An M-Style bobbin looks much larger and has the size of a quarter. Many industrial or heavy-duty domestic sewing machines use this bobbin. Some quilting machines do as well, as the larger bobbin can hold more thread.
- You can also find a variety of specialty bobbins, such as the Singer 8228, that old treadle machines used, but most modern machines use one of the three models listed above.
4. Bobbin Alignment
If you set up your sewing machine in a hurry, you may not have correctly aligned the bobbin inside the bobbin case. This can cause multiple problems like a bobbin that won’t turn, tangled thread beneath the fabric as you sew, or a lower thread that won’t catch on the needle. In the worst-case scenario, this can even break your needle if it comes down and hits a part of the bobbin or bobbin casing it should not have encountered!
The good news is that you can easily fix this problem by taking out the bobbin and re-inserting it correctly.
For front-loading models:
- Turn off your machine and then open the area of the machine that houses the bobbin casing. You can find this behind a portion of the machine casing that comes and behind a hinged door or flap that opens up.
- Take out the bobbin case. Note that it has a small metal extension or horn sticking out from it.
- Hold the bobbin so that the thread wraps around it counterclockwise. If it is easier, hold the bobbin so that the bobbin and thread tail make the shape of the letter “q,” with the tail on the right side of the spool.
- Slide the bobbin into the bobbin case.
- Slot the thread tail through the slit in the case. Make sure the thread tail hangs to the right of the bobbin case’s metal horn.
- Next, align the bobbin case into the machine, keeping the metal horn at a 12:00 position.
- Finally, use the handwheel on your machine to take the needle down and up, and see if the lower thread catches and goes back up with the needle!
For a top-loading model:
- Find the bobbin in front of the needle plate. Usually, a transparent plastic lid covers this area.
- Use the latch beside this cover to open the tiny trapdoor.
- Hold the bobbin so the thread unwinds to the left or counterclockwise. Set it down into the round depression beneath the cover you just removed.
- Wind the thread tail through the slot in the needle plate. This may look like a sideways “S.”
- Use it if your machine has a bobbin thread cutter at the end of this slit. If not, just pull out a 6″ thread tail. Tug the tail toward the back of the machine.
- Slide the cover back over the bobbin.
5. Bobbin Thread Direction
As you may have noticed in the instructions for how to load a bobbin, the direction in which the thread unwinds makes a big difference. If you put a bobbin into the case backward so that the thread unwinds in the wrong direction, the needle will not pick it up correctly. This means your machine either will not sew, will sew but only with the top thread, or may sew but form loose and messy stitches.
In most sewing machine models, the thread should unwind counterclockwise or to the left. If in doubt, check your sewing machine manual!
6. Bobbin Lint
Bobbin cases collect tiny bits of fluff off of the lower thread as it unwinds rapidly when you sew. This fluff, or lint, can accumulate around the case and eventually begin to stop things up. When it gets bad enough, lint build-up can make your sewing machine jam and refuse to sew or mess with the tension on the lower thread.
To clean the bobbin area:
- Start by removing the needle plate. This small, flat metal plate lies beneath the needle and usually has several screws holding it in place.
- Take out the bobbin and the bobbin case.
- Use a soft cloth and a soft-bristled brush to remove any fuzz on the bobbin and case.
- Use the brush again to clear the lint out of the bobbin area in the machine. You may also need tweezers to puck out any stray sections of thread lurking around in there.
- Do not use a vacuum to get the lint out! It might speed things up, but it can also misalign key parts in your machine.
- In some rare cases, your sewing machine manual will instruct you to add a drop of sewing machine lubricant to the bobbin case. Only do this if the manual tells you to! Many modern machines do not require oil.
7. Clunking Noise
Your bobbin could make a clunking noise because lint build-up is preventing the needle from coming down, because you have the wrong size bobbin inside the case, or because you have used the wrong size needle.
Bobbins can also jam up and make a grinding-type noise if you have an issue with the upper thread, which often creates a thread tangle and prevent the bobbin from spinning easily.
The bottom line is that if your machine sounds weird, stop sewing! Rethread the upper thread, take out the bobbin and slot it back into place. This should fix the issue.
The only exception to this rule is the needle. In rare cases, you may have placed a too-large or strangely shaped needle into your machine. If it does not mesh with the shape of the bobbin case, your machine will not sew.
8. Bobbin Not Winding/Winding Unevenly
One of the most common problems new sewers face when dealing with a bobbin is that it does not wind or does not wind evenly. All of these issues can cause a bobbin to wind wrong:
- You let go of the thread tail too soon while running the bobbin winder. Some fancy machines have a slot to stick the thread tail into, but most of the time, you have to hold onto that tail yourself! Don’t let go until you see the bobbin’s core covered in thread.
- If the winder refuses to move, you probably have thread choking the winding pin itself. Use tweezers to pry this free and then try again with a new bobbin.
- Like the upper thread path, the bobbin winder has a thread guide path that builds tension on the thread as it winds. Make sure you secure the thread around these key checkpoints before you begin winding.
- On some machines, you have to manually push the winding pin and lock it into place before you begin. If it does not fully lock, it may wind slowly, unevenly, or not at all.
- Once in a while, a bobbin might warp, bend, chip, or otherwise get damaged. This can prevent it from spinning around the winding pin.
Bird’s-nesting is a term sewers use to describe a tangle of thread on the reverse side of the fabric that jams up the sewing machine. This issue can happen for several reasons, like an unevenly wound bobbin or an incorrectly wound upper thread path. But you always follow the same steps to fix it:
- Start by removing the jammed fabric from your machine. To do this, you may need to use small embroidery scissors to cut away the tangled thread. If possible, removing the presser foot can also help.
- Cut the upper thread by the spool. Take hold of it just above the needle, and pull it down to draw it out of the machine. You should always unthread your machine by pulling the thread down rather than up.
- Rethread the upper thread path and the needle.
- Next, turn your attention to the bobbin casing area. You can probably still see tangles of thread in there! Take a moment to clean out all the thread and lint, using tweezers if necessary.
- Take out the bobbin and wind a new, empty bobbin with thread.
- Insert the new bobbin and use the handwheel to bring the needle up and down. Check to see if it moves smoothly this time with no odd noises or hesitation.
The lower thread in your sewing machine can get jammed or stuck for several reasons.
- The most common reason (especially for front-loading bobbins) is that the bobbin and/or its case has not latched firmly into the machine. All you need to do to fix this is open up the bobbin area, take out the bobbin case, and re-insert it, making sure it clicks into place this time.
- Another common reason your bobbin thread jams up is tension on the upper thread. If the tension on the upper thread is too high, it will not lock with the lower thread properly. Try sewing a few sets of sample stitches on a scrap of fabric as you lower the upper thread tension one number at a time.
- This does not happen as often, but sometimes if you put your needle in backward or it is not secured in place, the needle malfunction can also cause the lower thread to jam.
11. Bobbin Case Stuck
If the bobbin case in your machine gets stuck, chances are pretty good that you need to clean it. It may have lint, grease, or a bit of thread cementing it in place!
If you have removed the area that houses the bobbin case, you could also have put a part back into place slightly ajar. Check your manual to make sure all the parts look like the diagram provided in the booklet.
If you have cleaned and re-aligned everything and the case is still stuck, you may need to go to a professional sewing machine technician.
12. Bobbin Not Spinning
If you sit down to sew, step on the foot pedal, and hear an odd noise, you may find that the bobbin refuses to spin inside its case.
- This often happens if the bobbin is wound unevenly. If you take it out and see loops of thread loosely circling the bobbin, it wound unevenly and thus cannot spin evenly inside the bobbin case. The only way to fix this is to unwind the bobbin and start over, or just discard that one and use a new bobbin.
- Another common reason for a bobbin not spinning inside its case is that you need to clean the case! Even a bit of lint can prevent the bobbin from spinning smoothly.
- Finally, the bobbin can also spin too slowly or not at all if your machine has an incorrect bobbin tension setting, as you will see in the next section.
13. Bobbin Tension
Sewing machines have dials or buttons you can use to set the tension on the upper thread, but the tension on the lower thread depends on one tiny screw inside the bobbin case. You do not usually need to adjust the tension on the bobbin case. Most sewing machines come with a pre-set tension that holds the lower thread at just the right tension.
If you have tried the other 12 solutions listed above and still find that the lower thread jams up or the bobbin does not spin properly, you could have an issue with the bobbin tension.
To test this, slot a bobbin into the case. Hold the thread tail in one hand and the bobbin case in the other. Let go of the case, but hold onto the thread.
The case should drop slowly from your hand like a yo-yo unwinding. It shouldn’t spiral down super quickly or refuse to fall at all.
If it falls too fast or too slowly, turn the screw a tiny fraction, and try again. Repeat this test until the bobbin case descends smoothly from your hand.
Why is My Sewing Machine Not Grabbing the Bobbin Thread?
The main reasons a sewing machine needle does not grab the bobbin thread and draw it up to form stitches is that something is wrong with the upper thread or something is wrong with the needle.
You can find guidelines for how to fix both the upper thread and the needle earlier in this article!
In rare cases, the issue could stem from a wrong-sized part in your machine. If you insert the wrong shape of a bobbin or the wrong size of a needle, the upper and lower threads will not lock together properly as you sew.
Why is My Bobbin Thread Bunching Underneath?
Bobbin thread can bunch underneath a bobbin winder if you let go of the thread tail too soon during the winding process. If the bobbin thread bunches underneath the bobbin itself as you sew, try turning off your machine, rethreading the upper thread, and replacing the bobbin. Then try again and see if it sews without the bunched thread.
How Do I Know if My Bobbin Case is Damaged?
Your sewing machine will make a clicking or grating noise if the bobbin case is damaged. You can also visually inspect the case for any obvious bent edges or dings. The good news is that you can easily buy a replacement part for most sewing machine models.
Why are Multiple Threads Coming from the Bobbin?
Multiple threads can come from the bobbin if it is wound unevenly or the tension on the lower thread is wrong. You can learn how to wind a bobbin properly and how to fix the tension on your bobbin case earlier in this article.
Another reason you could have two threads sticking out of a bobbin is if you held onto the thread tail too long while winding the bobbin and did not let go to allow the tail to get sucked into the bobbin as it spun on the winder.
Bobbin Problems for Singer, Janome, and Brother Sewing Machines
Now that you know the 13 most common bobbin problems and how to troubleshoot them, check out some tips for dealing with Singer, Janome, and Brother bobbins!
How to Fix Bobbin Winder on Singer Sewing Machine
You can often fix bobbin winder issues on a Singer sewing machine by rethreading the winder.
- Make sure the spool and spool cap rests securely on the spoon pin.
- Follow all the thread guides leading the thread from the spool to the bobbin winder
- Check to see if any old thread has wrapped itself around the winding pin, and clean it up
If you try these easy solutions and the winder still does not spin, you may need to see a professional. An internal part that moves the pin may have worn out.
Janome Sewing Machine Bobbin Problems
Janome sewing machines have good-quality parts that all slot together precisely, so they do not have bobbin issues super often. That said, every sewing machine requires regular cleaning of the bobbin area, so make sure you stay on top of that! You could also run into issues with a Janome bobbin if you do not align it properly in its case, so always take it out and put it back in before each new sewing project.
Brother Sewing Machine Bobbin Winder Not Spinning
If the bobbin winder on your Brother sewing machine will not spin, you may need to rethread the winding mechanism.
If this does not work, make sure you have manually set the machine to a “bobbin winding” setting. Sometimes, you do this by sliding the pin to the left or right.
The bobbin in a sewing machine holds the lower thread, which allows the machine to form two-thread stitches. This very important piece of the machine can cause problems on occasion, including jams, thread tangles, or messy stitches. The good news is that you can almost always solve these issues by unthreading the machine, removing the bobbin, and then putting everything back together correctly.
If rethreading does not work, you may need to clean your sewing machine. Adjusting the tension setting for the upper or lower thread can solve some bobbin problems. Finally, make sure you have a new, undamaged needle in place as you sew.