Machine Embroidery Troubleshooting Guide: Problems & Solutions
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There’s nothing more annoying than being in the middle of an embroidery project when your machine starts acting up!
My Luminaire recently started messing up when I was (last-minute) finishing a quilt for entry into an upcoming show. Thankfully, the issue turned out to be a worn-out bobbin case, and I was able to replace it and finish my quilt in time.
However, not all embroidery problems are so easy to fix.
Thus, here are tips for troubleshooting an embroidery machine! I’ll first list general troubleshooting steps and later focus on more detailed steps for specific problems.
Machine Embroidery Troubleshooting Steps
Below, I’ve put together my step-by-step process of troubleshooting embroidery machine problems to help those of you who are new to home embroidery machine troubleshooting.
To note, these are more applicable to single-needle home embroidery machines made by Brother, Baby Lock, Bernina, Janome, etc., rather than commercial embroidery machines.
1. Simulate Stitching With the Handwheel, and Observe.
Rather than starting your machine and watching the problem happen quickly over and over again, set everything up and instead slowly turn the handwheel on the right of the machine to advance the needle stitch by stitch.
This way, you can watch and see what happens with each stitch and pinpoint the location and timing of your stitching problems.
If the issue isn’t apparent and easily fixed, continue troubleshooting below.
2. Evaluate the Upper Thread Path.
Clean your upper thread path using a small brush where accessible. You can also run a piece of UNWAXED dental floss through as if you’re threading your machine. Lots of little threads can get stuck in the innards of your machine, causing issues.
Then, rethread your embroidery machine with the presser foot up. As you thread, properly hit the thread guides, tension discs, and take-up lever. Thread the needle from front to back.
Next, evaluate thread as it comes off the spool, ensuring at no point it gets hung up. If using a thread stopper, pick the correct size. Use a thread net if thread pools at the base of the spool.
After threading, pull the thread through the machine with your fingers, and make sure it flows easily. If not, check your upper thread path again.
If you are using a new thread, switch to a spool of thread you know your machine has not had issues with in the past. You can also try switching thread orientation (vertical to horizontal or vice versa) or using a thread stand.
(For the record, if it’s easy to remove your embroidery machine’s top cover or side door, you can clean better. Only do this if you know what you are doing, though!)
3. Check the Needle.
Replace your needle to rule out a burred, dull, or bent needle.
Then, make sure you have the correct needle size and type. You may need to increase or decrease the size or switch point types. (Learn more about how to choose an embroidery needle.)
If you are using a sewing needle instead of a dedicated embroidery needle, try an embroidery needle.
Last, always ensure the needle is secured in the correct direction in the needle clamp.
4. Address Possible Bobbin and Needle Plate Issues.
Remove the machine throat plate, and clean the bobbin case with a small brush and mini vacuum. Then, remove the bobbin case and clean as much of the area as you can reach.
Make sure to clean between the feed dogs also.
Then, inspect the bobbin case and hook for burrs. I always have a spare, new bobbin case to use when troubleshooting embroidery machine issues. This allows me to rule out problems with my existing bobbin case, which can get worn or dinged over time.
Next, use only embroidery bobbin thread compatible with your machine, and select the correct bobbin size.
Try switching to a different brand of bobbin thread and winding your own bobbins if using pre-wound bobbins. Always cut the bobbin thread tail before placing the bobbin in the case.
Set up the bobbin correctly, ensuring you pass the thread through the tension spring; have your bobbin oriented in the correct direction also.
Lastly, inspect the needle plate for nicks or burrs. Sometimes they hide underneath the needle plate, so turn it over!
5. Restart Your Machine.
Computerized embroidery machines sometimes need a restart. Turn off your machine, and turn it back on to see if the issues resolve. (This is almost always the problem if my automatic needle threader is not working and I’ve ruled out obvious reasons.)
You can also reset higher-end embroidery machines to factory settings, which can fix some technical issues.
Other times, higher-end machines might also need a software update. Always make sure to update via USB rather than updating wirelessly.
6. Pick a Different Embroidery Design.
Try a new embroidery design to see if the issue persists. Sometimes issues are with the design’s digitizing rather than your machine. You can also use embroidery software to edit problematic portions of designs.
7. Adjust Tension.
While not a likely cause of most embroidery issues, adjusting the top thread tension or the bobbin thread tension may help.
8. Check Your Materials and Techniques.
Make sure you choose the best stabilizer for your embroidery project (under-stabilization is more common than over-stabilization). The wrong embroidery thread type can also cause embroidery machine issues.
Also, verify that you’ve hooped your fabric appropriately (don’t stretch fabric while hooping, but also don’t leave fabric too loose.)
9. Decrease Stitching Speed
Decreasing your machine’s stitch speed can help you catch issues earlier.
Also, if you’re using finicky threads like metallics, a slower speed decreases the likelihood of shredding at the needle tip or inside the tension discs.
10. Evaluate Presser Foot Issues
You need to use the embroidery presser foot; some sewing feet (like a spring action quilting foot) may look like an embroidery foot, but they will not work for embroidery.
Make sure your presser foot is attached fully by tightening the screw.
Inspect for any presser foot damage.
If you’re troubleshooting a Brother or Baby Lock embroidery machine, check your #6 thread guide. Sometimes I’ll find that little metal piece has been knocked below the bigger guide, and this causes my thread to shed.
Lastly, sometimes having the presser foot height set too high on my machine can cause issues like skipped stitches. Ensure the presser foot height is set to default or an appropriate value for your embroidery blank.
11. Take Your Machine for Repair.
Contact your embroidery machine manufacturer for specific hints if you aren’t ready to jump the gun on servicing. For instance, the best Brother embroidery troubleshooting source is Brother!
However, I won’t adjust my embroidery machine’s timing myself, and sometimes my machines have issues I can’t figure out or can’t fix myself.
Unfortunately, this means I have to take my machine in for servicing. If you’re also in this boat, I’ve listed links for where to find embroidery machine maintenance technicians and authorized dealers for your machine.
Common Machine Embroidery Problems & Troubleshooting Steps
Now, here’s a list of common issues with a few essential solutions and links to helpful articles that address the issues with a more exhaustive list of causes.
1. Embroidery Thread Shredding or Breaking
When troubleshooting embroidery thread breaks, ensure the thread flows freely from the spool through the machine. Replace the needle, making sure the eye is large enough, examine and clean the bobbin case and under the needle plate, and rethread the machine.
2. Embroidery Bobbin Thread Showing on the Top
To fix the bobbin thread showing on top of embroidery, try steps like rethreading your machine, cleaning the upper thread path and bobbin area, changing your needle, top thread, and upper thread, and adjusting tension.
3. Skipped Embroidery Stitches
Try a new needle of the correct size and type to fix an embroidery machine skipping stitches. Then, rethread your machine, clean the top and bottom areas, and examine the thread paths.
4. Embroidery Needle Breaking
If your embroidery needle keeps breaking, verify that the needle is not hitting anything when moving and that thread is not being obstructed along its path.
Also, ensure the needle is inserted correctly, and consider a new or bigger, sharper needle.
5. Birds Nesting or Thread Loops on Back of Fabric
Rethread with the presser foot up, passing correctly through the tension discs and take-up lever, clean the top thread path, check the bobbin case for damage, try a different thread, or increase the top tension.
Learn more tips from Colman and Company.
6. Embroidery Fabric Puckering
Once embroidery fabric puckers, you may be able to press out minor puckers by pressing the back of embroidery with an iron.
However, most puckers must be prevented and cannot be fixed. Steps to take to prevent wrinkles and puckers include:
- Hooping fabric properly (not stretched or too loose)
- Using a basting box to secure fabric when floating to decrease movement
- Choosing a better-suited stabilizer for your fabric type
- Decreasing top thread tension, especially if you notice tunneling.
- Rethreading the top of the machine and cleaning the tension discs to ensure the thread is feeding well
- Picking the correct needle for your fabric, and changing to a new needle
- Changing to a thinner thread that better suits the fabric
Madeira has a helpful PDF tutorial you can also use to troubleshoot.
7. Needle Holes Large and Visible Around An Embroidery Design
If you notice large holes around your embroidery design stitches, try a new needle with a sharper point, use a smaller needle, and pick a more stable fabric with a tighter weave. Decrease design density in that specific design area, or choose a thinner thread.
8. Thread Cutter Not Working on Embroidery Machine
If your thread cutter is dulled, you may need to replace it if you notice your embroidery machine is not cutting jump stitches.
However, in many circumstances, all you need to do is remove the needle plate and gently clean the area around the thread cutter with a brush. (You might need tweezers for crammed thread pieces.)
Metallic threads can dull thread cutters, and other super thick and thin threads can also evade thread cutting. (My machine doesn’t seem to be able to trim the clear nylon monofilament thread no matter what I do.)
9. Embroidery Bobbin Sensor Not Working
If your machine does not warn you that the bobbin is running low, first clean the bobbin area and sensor to make sure lint or small thread pieces are not obstructing the sensor.
Then, try a different bobbin. Sometimes pre-wound bobbins don’t work as well with the sensor on my machine.
Of course, you may need your sensor replaced.
10. Hoop Marks Left on Blank
Hoop burn, aka the marks left by a tight hoop on a delicate embroidery blank, can be avoided by floating embroidery projects or using magnetic embroidery hoops.
However, you can try to remove marks with a trip to the washer, Magic Spray Sizing, or even steaming the fabric with a hot iron.
Check out some other tips from OML Embroidery for removing hoop burn.
11. Itchy, Scratchy Embroidery Backs
If you embroider clothing or other items touching the skin, adding an embroidery backing like Sulky Tender Touch will cover the rough stitches, making wearing embroidered clothing much more pleasant!
12. Fabric Is Too Thick To Hoop Or Keeps Popping Out
The easiest solution is not to hoop your fabric and float it instead. (Read: how to float fabric for embroidery).
Another method is to use a magnetic embroidery hoop, which can accommodate thicker fabrics. Magnetic hoops are helpful to have in your embroidery supplies.
Machine Embroidery Troubleshooting: Final Notes
While this is not an exhaustive list of embroidery machine problems and how to fix embroidery machine issues, this should be enough to get you started!
Once you get comfortable with your embroidery machine and how it works, you’ll learn your most common issues and what to look for first when starting to fix your embroidery machine.
Let me know if you have other suggestions or if I missed covering something!
I have tried trouble shooting my machine — ?? 🙈☹️— thread balls up, underside of my fabric , making a big mess , and sometimes , a hole in the fabric —— a few times, my thread breaks ,too —
Have you cleaned out your top thread path really well to make sure nothing is stuck in the tension discs? Same with the bobbin case?
My machine will randomly stop stitching and act like it was just turned on…”message to raise presser foot” and “carriage will move”. Design is gone. I have to resend design and advance to last stitched section of the design.
That sounds like a problem with the machine’s computer. Do you have an option to reset the machine to factory settings to see if that irons out the bug?