It was an Instagram post that inspired me. The dense wavy quilting I saw reminded me of sand blowing in the desert. Even though it was hand quilted, I thought it would be the perfect quilting design for my Camels in the Desert quilt. But I didn’t quite remember the commitment of such dense quilting (the Space Travel quilt was already quilted over a year ago!) until my sewing machine stopped working.
Already hours deep into quilting,there are only so many thing I could try before I needed to throw in the towel. My sewing avoidance turned from days to weeks but it didn’t need to be that way. Now that I’ve fixed my machine and am thoroughly embarrassed by just how easy it was, I want to help you, too. Maybe my story can help you understand why your sewing machine stopped working and have you back to quilting in no time!
Quilting along at full speed on a tiny machine with a very large quilt can mean you need to tug the quilt along to help the machine a bit. Is this good? No. You should be letting your machine do all the pulling (unless you’re free motion quilting). Because if you don’t, things can break–like needles. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
Bending a needle like a ‘J’ is hardly much of a concern. I actually liked to look at it like a blessing in disguise: now, I finally have to change my needle. I don’t do it nearly enough. Changing the needle was a quick fix that didn’t even require me to remove the quilt from the feed dogs. Unscrew, rescrew, rethread and then you can zoom-zoom again!
Except that’s not what happened for me.
When my needle bent, I switched out my old Singer-brand needle for the exact same brand and size and began sewing again. But this time it didn’t work. The top thread wasn’t picking up the bottom thread. In complete denial, I tore out the bad threads and tried quilting the same line again. Of course, that didn’t work. But I’ve been sewing a long time and this isn’t my first broken sewing machine rodeo. One of my first blog posts was a broken sewing machine check list. So, I pulled it up and quickly got to work.
Fixing my sewing machine: rethreading
In my experience, one of the most common things that make your sewing machine stop working is the thread. It’s getting yanked around all the time and can easily be thrown off track. Some machines are more prone to this than others. I have a Singer and a Brother sewing machines. The thread in my Brother machine gets jostled out of place all the time, especially when I’m wrestling around a big quilt. With the Singer it only happens once in a blue moon.
This time, I was using my Singer but was well aware that I had just broken a needle and put a new one in. Rethreading is an easy step, so I quickly swung the top thread and bobbin thread back through the gears. I was even a good quilter and tested the sewing on a scrap piece of fabric. It worked! So, I was good to go, right? I thought so. But back on my quilt, I made it less than 10 stitches before the machine started missing all the stitches again.
Maybe it’s the needle
It’s always a huge disappointment when the first fix you apply to your sewing machine doesn’t fix it. Especially when your sewing worked on scrap fabric. There was only one other obvious fix I knew to try before throwing the checklist gamut at it: the needle. I had just changed the needle. But maybe I didn’t do it right. Did I not put the needle in correctly? Was it too shallow? Did I not tighten the screw enough?
I completely removed the needle and reinserted it, making sure it was securely in place. On top of that, I rethreaded the top thread and bobbin thread again. Then, I not only tested the sewing on a piece of scrap fabric and on a scrap quilt sandwich–which is a great use for batting scraps!
The sewing machine worked well on both scraps. So, I switched over to my quilt. And it worked–kind of. I was able to quilt and get a line of stitches, but it was still skipping some stitches. This means that sometimes the top thread didn’t pick up the bottom thread. I was ready just brush it off and keep sewing, but sometimes my machine was skipping 2 or 3 stitches and making larger and larger gaps. Something was still wrong, and I knew I needed to fix it.
Or maybe it’s the bobbin
I’m not going to lie, at this point, I was super frustrated. I had only tried 2 fixes, but kinda, not really, fixed the problem. I took a few days (weeks?) off from the machine rather than get frustrated at the machine. Frustration just leads to you over looking obvious solutions. When I came back refreshed (or just really wanting my kitchen island back for cooking rather than sewing), I started back down my sewing machine check list.
I had tried rethreading, but if the bobbin thread wasn’t catching, I wondered if there was something wrong with the bobbin. My Singer bobbins are almost 10 years old and have gone through thousands and thousands of yards of thread. They are a bit cracked and don’t work as well anymore. I picked out a new(er) bobbin and wound up some new thread. Of course, I rethreaded everything again and then tested it out. Once again, it was good on all my test scraps, but then I got to the quilt. Ugh, the skipped stitches were back. I double checked the presser foot had been down, which it had. Still, something just wasn’t right.
Yeah, it’s the needle
I was ready to take another hiatus (maybe forever), when I noticed the next step in my broken sewing machine check list was to ‘change your needle’. I had a little epiphany: what if I just had a bad needle. I’m not exactly sure what could be ‘bad’ about it, but I’m also not a needle engineer. Just a few months ago I also bought like 30 new needles of a different, yet internet-loved brand. And what do you know: it worked.
It’s so obvious now that I look back at it — I just needed put in a new needle. Maybe my first through should have been: something is wrong with the needle and I should change it. But even after 10 years of quilting, I’ve never had any troubles with a needle before. Well, besides them bending, breaking, or piercing my finger. Getting a dud wasn’t on my radar. In fact, I was more certain I had put the needle in backwards which isn’t even possible given the shape of the needle.
The take away
A sewing machine that’s stopped working is one of the most difficult things sewers have to work through. It can get more frustrating when your machine works on some scraps but then go completely haywire on a quilt sandwich. It’s important to keep your cool and think about what happened just prior to your machine breaking down. Start by working through the common solutions (again, find my list here). If you get frustrated, take a break! Come back later when you are refreshed and try another idea or two off your list.
Nealy everything that goes wrong with your sewing machine are things you can easily fix. I may be the worst sewing machine mama ever, but I have never (not once in nearly 10 years) ever needed to oil or service my sewing machine. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t either, but chances are there is an easy fix. You just have to be patient enough to find it.