Troubleshooting Thread Issues

Sep 3, 2018

If you're an avid sewer, wether it be by machine or by hand, I'm sure you've ran into your fair share of  issues. Am I right? Over the years I've learned quite a bit about troubleshooting these issues myself and checking things that I honestly fail to realize may be an issue at first.

Below are some troubleshooting tips and tricks for not just machine sewing but also a common hand sewing issue. If you have anything to add, I'd LOVE to hear it! Please comment below with your own suggestions :)

Left: small spool holder, Right: large spool holder.

Nope, it doesn't, I swear! When I first started using Aurifil 50 wt with my Janome 3160 QDC I had tons of issues. I did a lot of research and quickly realized I was using the wrong spool holder! I was using the basic large spool holder that came with my machine, which is great for Coats and Clark spools,  but I needed a small version for Aurifil. You'll notice some thread brands come with large gaping spools (Coats and  Clark), or small skinny spools (Aurifil, Connecting Threads). The spools are different and so naturally the spool holders need to be different too! 

The fix is easy and so cheap - you can grab a 2-pack of small spool holders from Sewing Parts Online for $5.99 (shown in photo above). *Great for horizontal or vertical spool holders! Can also be used with Craftsy and Connecting Threads brand spools. It was an inexpensive fix that allows me to use Aurifil, and other threads with the same style of spool, without issues. Whenever I may use a thread with a larger spool I simply switch back to the holder that came with my machine.

Aurifil 40 wt. variegated thread in Marrakesh, using the correct size spool holder.

If you're getting frequent skipped top stitches or big bunched up "bird nests" with your bobbin thread there are a few areas you can check to rule out the problem. All of these troubleshooting steps can apply to thread breakage as well. Try them ALL until the issue is fixed!
  1. Is your needle bent or dull? It may not always be obvious, but the best way to check is to remove it from the machine and lay it on a rotary mat against one of the lines. If there is any bend at all, replace it. If the tip doesn't seem as sharp as a brand new one, replace it. You should be replacing them after a few hours of stitching anyway :) I like to do so at the start of every new big project.
  2. Are you using the right needle? Not all machine needles are compatible with every thread weight. Depending on what thread or fabric you're using, do a little research and find out what size machine needle is best and use that. If you've got multiple layers of thick fabrics when sewing bags, use a heavy duty denim needle. If you're sewing with knits, use a knits needle, so on and so forth.
  3. Are you using the right spool holder? This is what we just talked about. It can cause huge tension issues. Make sure you have the correct one!
  4. Is your bobbin wound correctly? Yes, there's a right and wrong way to wind a bobbin and if the tension is off when winding it can totally affect you're stitches. Checkout this video for winding a bobbin correctly every time.
  5. Is your machine threaded correctly? It happens to the best of us, sometimes you just don't thread the machine right and don't even realize it. Take it out and start over just to be sure if you're still having issues. Make sure the foot is lifted in the "up" position, this is super important when threading a machine!
  6. Check the tension. The best way to correct tension for the particular thread weight you're using is to simply experiment. Grab a couple pieces of scrap fabric and some batting, sandwich them together and stitch straight lines, adjusting the tension for each line until you get the right setting. If your bobbin thread is showing on top or your top thread is showing on bobbin, you've got tension problems!
  7. Clean your machine! You should be cleaning your machine, changing needles, and re-threading after every completed quilt (or a several small projects). It sounds excessive but you really do need to do basic maintenance that often. I like to pick a day of the week, we'll say Sunday, and designate that as machine cleaning day. Built up lint and thread bits will definitely effect the way your machine operates and can cause skipped stitches, or worse, a broken machine!

This is something I've encountered quite a bit since I do some form of hand stitching or English Paper  Piecing nearly every day of the week. In order to seriously cut down on any knots while I'm hand stitching, I first and foremost will begin by running my length of thread through a thread wax before I sew. You need the static and waxy coating that the thread conditioners provide in order to keep your thread strands stuck together - it's when they come apart that they begin to tangle and knot during sewing.

My thread wax preference is Thread Heaven, but they've since gone out of business. However, there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of large and small brands selling thread waxes on the internet now. If you'd like to buy from an actual quilter or small business, try Etsy!

A second tip is to make sure you're not using a length of thread that is way too long, I like to use one the length of my forearm (finger tips to elbow) or shorter. The longer the thread, the more chances it will twist and knot during sewing. You need a good workable length.

Wrapping it up...

I hope this guide troubleshooting guide was extensive enough and helped you if you were having issues. Feel free to comment below with any questions or comments! I will help any way I can.

Have an awesome day and Happy Labor Day to all my U.S. readers!


  1. I also recently learned (maybe from Karen @theDIYaddict??) that when hand-stitching if you thread the needle before trimming the thread from the spool (and keep the leading end by your needle) you can be sure that the thread is sewing in the right direction and you'll have far fewer knots. Amazing!

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