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Why is your sewing machine skipping stitches?

When sewing, we all face common problems, but one of the most annoying instances is skipped stitches, which can’t always be fixed by simply re-threading the machine.

This post will provide a better understanding of what skipped stitches are, what causes them, and how to prevent them from happening.

Some basics first to ease into the topic:

1. What are skipped stitches?

Skipped stitches are areas in a row of stitches where the needle and thread have not made a complete and consistent stitch pattern, creating a bald spot. If your stitch length is set at 2.5 - which means 2.5mm - and it has skipped a single stitch then you might see a stitch length of 5mm.

2. What do skipped stitches look like?

Thread Check: Is your machine threaded correctly?

  • At the first sign of skipped stitches, re-thread the machine following all of the thread guides, making sure that the presser foot is up each time you thread the needle.

Are you using high-quality thread?

  • When selecting thread for your machine, it’s important to pick a high-quality thread, like Gutermann or Madeira Thread. A thread that has minimal extra fuzz, has been wound properly with consistent colour, and is free of any damaged spots will be less likely to break or create issues when sewing.

Do your needle size and thread match?

  • You must use the right size needle and thread for your fabric to get the best results when sewing; both the needle and thread should complement one another.

Machine Check:

Are you pulling the fabric too tight or moving too quickly?

  • If you find that your machine is skipping stitches, try to loosen your grip or slow down and see if this simple fix could solve your problem. Pulling your fabric in the back of the machine, means you are working with the sewing direction and the feed dog which can cause longer stitches.

Is your bobbin wound correctly?

  • Check that your bobbin is tightly and neatly wound around its spool - just like the bought thread spool. A loosely wound bobbin won’t perform its best and could cause skipped stitches.

When was the last time you cleaned your machine?

  • Using fabrics and thread created lint. Dust and lint can live in your machine and also add to the annoyance of skipped stitches. Find the little dust brush, or use an old make-up brush, and open the bottom of your machine using a screw driver. Give your machine a good clean.

  • Don't use 'air in a can' that blows the lint and dust further into the plastic cover. If you have a little keyboard vacuum, that can also help to suck out any dust and lint inside your sewing machine.

Is the tension appropriate for the fabric you are using?

  • Your tension could be too high, resulting in skipped stitches. Experiment by adjusting your tension dial on your machine to see if that’s the root of the problem. Adjust the tension on your bobbin case, too, if needed.

One thing, we have noticed during our classes is that one of our 'light-weight' machines, Brother FS70, can't seem to handle thick layers when sewing bags and aprons. The settings of our other machines, the thread and the needle are exactly the same but this is the one machine that struggles with multiple layers and skips stitches most of the time. Our other machines, being a little heavier, they have no issue.

Needle Check: Is your needle in good condition (is it bent)?

  • A dull, bent, or nicked needle can cause skipped stitches. You may not see visible issues with your needle, but try replacing the needle to see if your skipped stitches subside.

Is your needle the correct one for the fabric you are sewing?

  • Selecting the right needle for the job can be the difference between skipped stitches or complete ones. Needles come in different sizes and levels of sharpness, check out this IGTV we created to help you find the right needle for your project.

Here are a few needle-to-fabric pairings to help you get started: When sewing knits (ex. jersey, spandex, ribbing, fleece):

  • Use a ballpoint sewing needle, which has a medium tip that allows it to gently slide past the fabric so no damage occurs to the fabric

When sewing woven fabrics (ex. cotton, rayon, linen):

  • Use a universal needle for cotton fabrics. Depending on the weight of the fabric, choose the correct size. Keep in mind, the finer the fabric, the smaller the needle size.

  • Use a Microtex needle to pierce through fine fabric with ease without damaging the fabric.

When sewing heavy wovens or layers (denim, duck, canvas):

  • Use a denim needle, which is strong and equipped with a sharp tip, to sew through heavy wovens.

Did the needle hit a pin?

  • If your needles hits a pin while sewing, it may create skipped stitches. Try not to sew over your pins, take them out when the pin is close to the presser foot. Replace the needle if it looks broken.

Is your needle all the way in and tightened correctly?

  • Your needle may cause skipped stitches if it isn’t properly tightened in place. Simply loosen the screw and reposition the needle as needed to see if that solves the problem.

If you’ve checked all of the above and are still having issues then it may be time for a machine service.

How to prevent skipped Stitches:

  1. Change your needle after about 8 hours of use.

  2. Clean your machine regularly, especially after fabrics that shed a lot of lint and fibres.

  3. Take your machine in for service annually.

  4. Refer to your manual when you have questions about how something on your personal machine is done.

  5. Pay attention to which needle and thread works with your project.

  6. Remember: when in doubt, re-thread your machine THEN test other methods if your machine is still producing skipped stitches.

There’s no denying that skipped stitches are a pain but there’s no need to let them continue. Most cases can be solved using our tips, so don’t let skipped stitches delay your project. Now you can identify the problem and get back to sewing.

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