Ask Sewing School – You Asked, We Answered

Posted in: Ask Sewing School — By on March 7, 2013 2:13 PM

Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance

We get a lot of questions on our website and over email. We do our best to answer them all, but can’t always get to every one of them.

Here’s a collection of questions we’ve been asked in the past and our answers. If you have a better answer to any of these, we’d love to hear them – Leave us a comment below and help a sewist out!

Kelly writes:

Hi. I have a new sewing machine and have been sewing fleece, making a Hulk costume for my son. Everything was going fine then my machine stopped stitching. I re-threaded the top and bottom, but then when I tried raising the bobbin, the needle wouldn’t pick up the bottom thread. I’m new to sewing so I’m not sure what else to try. I don’t know why the machine just stopped stitching all of a sudden when it was working so well.

Sewing School says:

Have you tried cleaning the machine? Fleece is really fluffy and linty and can gunk up the machine – especially the feed dogs. Check out our post on cleaning your sewing machine here: Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance.

Hope writes:

I was wondering after you thread and place your bobbin in how do you start to sew?

Sewing School says:

After you thread your machine and place your bobbin, depending on your machine, what you usually do is hold the thread out a few inches from the needle and turn the hand wheel so that the needle goes down. Keep turning until the needle comes back up. Gently pull the top thread. It should bring the bobbin thread up with it. Then pull both threads to the back of the machine under your presser foot and you’re ready to sew. While you make your first stitches, hold the thread at the back.

We’ve done a video about threading your machine:

Check out the end, around 2:50 – it might be helpful.

Lee writes:

Hi there! Can you please tell me what color zipper I should use at the side of a dress which has a different coloured top than bottom? The bodice of the dress is a light cream/gold metallic thread guipure lace, while the dress skirt is a fuchsia silk underlay with gold metallic georgette overlay.
I would certainly welcome any advice you may have!

Sewing School says:

If I were you, I would bring the fabrics into the fabric store and pick a zipper that goes well with both fabrics. If you’re working with an invisible zipper, the colour shouldn’t really show through. But there must be a colour that goes well with both fabrics.

Julie writes:

When cutting a pattern, what do you do with pieces that are in a box that says cut on fold.  I have never seen this before.  The box says cut on fold, but has 4 other pattern pieces inside it?

Sewing School says:

Usually when you have pattern pieces like that you place the pattern piece on the fold of the fabric where indicated so that your cut fabric will be twice as big as the pattern piece when unfolded.

I’m not sure about why there would be 4 other pattern pieces inside. They could be other sizes of the same pattern piece? Or perhaps you just measure the box onto your fabric and cut the other pieces out of the paper pattern. Maybe the manufacturer did this to save space.

Julie writes:

I am looking at buying a new sewing machine. I want to learn how to sew. Last year I learned how to crochet and knit and now I want to learn to make quilts and little baby dresses. So I have been looking at various options out there and I am confused! Should I buy a basic machine ? Or a computerized one? One that I liked so far is brother cs6000i. This seemed to have a free arm to make quilts, a foot pedal if I don’t want the computerized option.

I asked my friends, but they all told me it all depends on what I want to do. The main tasks that I would like to do on a sewing machine is , mending, make dresses, and quilts. Can you please suggest a good machine for these purposes ? Or maybe give me few options to choose from . I think that would be easier than to choose from hundreds of options out there!.

I don’t mind spending $100 on a machine. Please do let me know what you think.

Sewing School says:

I find that sewing machine brands don’t matter much. Everyone has their favourite brand and there are lots of them out there! I started sewing on a Kenmore that was a hand me down, but I now have a Bernina and a Brother that I love.

Your friends are right – which machine you buy totally depends on what you’d like to do. It sounds like you don’t need a fancy computerized machine with a bunch of features you’ll never use. Your $100 budget won’t get you the best computerized machine anyway, so I’d look for something sturdy.

Check out our article on buying your first sewing machine here:

There’s also this article in case you’re thinking of buying a used machine:

Do your research and buy a machine that will have the features that you need. I suggest going to a sewing shop that might even give you a free lesson with the purchase of your machine. They might have some insight as to what you need as well.

Wendy writes:

Hope you can help.  While sewing, my top thread keeps coming loose from the “thread-take-up” and don’t know why it’s doing this. Thanks for your help.

Sewing School says:

It could be a number of things including tension or improper threading.

If you’ve tried rethreading and adjusting the tension and it still jumps out of the take up lever, you can always use a little cheat: put a small piece of tape over the opening. It’s not glamourous, but it should stop the thread from popping out.

Suzanne writes:

Hello, I hope you can help me. I broke my left needle while serging some pants. I changed the needle and rethreaded the machine. when I press the pedal it sounds like the machine is in neutral and will not engage the needles. I can turn the wheel on the side of the machine and the needles will go up and down. Do you have any ideas for me. Thanks so much.

Sewing School says:

I tried to look up a solution to your problem. I’m not sure that I came up with anything good.

I’m sure you’ve tried turning it off, unplugging and plugging it back in? I think it’s a good sign that you can move the needles with the hand wheel. Check to see that the hand wheel is not disengaged.

Otherwise, you might want to take it in somewhere to have it looked at.

I hope this helped even a little bit!

Suzanne writes back:

Thank you so much for replying to my problem. Another gal thought it might be a belt that has come off. Guess what???   that was the problem. I removed some screws and cover. It was so simple to pop the band back in place. At the same time I was able to see all of the inside of my Bernina Bernette Funlock 004, I was so impressed, everything was metal and not plastic. I am hoping this machine will last me a long time.
Thanks again so much.

Amanda writes:

I just had a question on how to leave a raw edge on fabrics without it fraying. I don’t want it to look “finshed” so to speak. I want sort of a rougher look for example when people leave the hem on denim shorts and if its only certain fabrics? My current project I would like to make a motif with frayed edges. Any help would be very appreciated. Thank you.

 Sewing School says:

You’ll want to be using a woven fabric. How much it will fray will depend on the fabric iteself. A tightly woven fabric will not fray as easily as a loosely woven fabric. Usually you can just pull out a few threads on the edge of the fabric lengthwise and the fabric will fray.

Faith writes:

I was wondering if you have a solution for a specific problem. When ever i use my zig zag stitch on the normal setting it works fine but when i increase the width of the stitch at all the fabric will actually start to bunch up length wise through out the whole entire stitch. Here is a photo of that the fabric is doing. If you have any tips please let me know!

 Sewing School says:

This seems like a tension issue. Try adjusting the top thread tension and see how that affects your stitches. It could also be that the fabric you are stitching with is very thin and might require some stabilizer behind it. You can use interfacing or I’ve even heard of people using a piece of paper behind the stitch. Then rip it away when you’re done.

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  1. Terri says:

    We are cleaning out my great aunt’s house and ran across a sewing item and we are not sure what it is used for. Is there a way I can send you the picture? It was found inside a box of sewing bobbins/threads etc. It is really long and very sharp on the end with a plastic handle. There is no place to put thread through either end. She has now passed and we are stumped. Thank you.

  2. Cindy says:

    Is there a name for the distance between the bottom of a foot to the throat plate?

  3. Georgia Fortner says:

    I have a Singer Featherweight 2 118. All of a sudden it started messing up. It appears the top thread is wrapping around the bobbin case! And then it gets all balled up !

  4. casey says:

    I have a problem with my machine. Trying to sew levi material. The machine makes a dozen or so stitches then the needle stops as if it is hitting something solid. The underside of the material has huge loops of top thread totally snarled. I have adjusted the tensions with no effect. What am I doing wrong?

  5. chris says:

    Will you be doing a sequel to the more advanced machine feet?

  6. Judy Sealey says:

    How do you make buttonholes on fleece? I am an experienced sewer but I’m struggling with this. I’m trying to make a sleeping bag for my grandson but cannot master the buttonholes

  7. ladan says:

    when i have loosen my sewing machine handle to fill the bobbin needle still moving what i should do


  8. Ashley Britt says:

    I’m getting ready to make my first quilt, but I am working on a machine that seems to have a problem, and I’m not sure whether I should fix it first, or if it is fine.

    Every stitch selection works except for straight stitch. When I go to do a straight stitch, it does a zig zag stitch instead. Any suggestions?

  9. Natalie Martin says:

    Hi please please can you help!
    I let a friend use my new sewing machine and she cant remember what she changed with the needle settings etc so I used it not knowing she had sewed I think it was a zip!? Cut a long story short the needle jammed got stuck and the handle is jammed now, there is also thread stuck where I put the bobbin but I cant open up the machine as ive no idea what im doing :( please help

  10. Kitty says:

    Help! I own a Singer Touch and Sew Model 645 bought it new back in 1970. While working on a dress for my grand-niece (for a party this Friday!!!) My bobbin case stopped “turning”, which means I cannot make a bobbin or stitch a stitch, because the needle does not pick up the thread from the bobbin. Could anyone tell me what to do, right now my neighbor gave me her Kenmore so that I can finish the dress….but, I would love to know how it could go from stitching a seam…to not working.

  11. arooj says:

    Hi, I visited your website.and got some information about the different sewing threads. My question is how can I differentiate between the cotton thread and polyester thread and all pupose thread,when buyying spools from any shop, because it is not mentioned on many thread spools, in that case it bocomes very hard to find out whether it’s the cotton thread, polyester thread or all purpose thread. Can you please let me know, how to find out. Thanks

  12. Nicole Hollis says:

    I’m having trouble with thread bunching under my fabric. I’ve rethreaded several times, changed thread, and played with the tension. None of it seems to help. It’s a brand new machine, semco T30B, basic beginner machine. I haven’t used one since I was a teenager. Any suggestions?

  13. Laura says:

    Hi i have a brother xr1355 and for some reason something went wrong with the bobbin holder (its a top loader) i took it apart and reassembled it as per the instructions with the manual. But now it is just punching holes in my fabric instead of actually sewing. I even watched tutorials to make sure I installed the bobbin holder correctly. Please help this machine isn’t even 3 years old and i’m halfway through my quilt and at wits end with this!
    thank you!

  14. Fran Bean says:

    First inch of stitches are loose on bobbin side then rest is ok.changed everything,retreaded how do I fix this?help!!!

  15. Caroline Whitley says:

    I need to make the armhole larger on my pattern. I can do this but do you have any tips on how to enlarge the sleeve to fit?

  16. Rita says:

    When I lower the needle to pull up the bobbin thread it becomes tangled and will not pull up the thread, I have tried rethreading the top and bottom threads and it still will not work it is a new machine.

  17. muritala says:

    I just bought a fairly used sewing matchine which is malfunctioning as follows :-
    At times it fold thread in the bobbing assembly while sewing
    At times it hang while sewng that the wheel will stop rolling

  18. Sheila says:

    I am using a Brother CS770, pretty new to this and learning as I go. I am having a problem with the stitch selections. Many of the ones I choose result in stitches that are not uniform in length. I have tried adjusting the tension, changing the needle, and rethreading and I am stumped. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  19. Anne Marie says:

    Hello I am trouble with my needle going up and down, it feels like it goes half way up, the eye of the needle does not come up.

    what can I do?

    I have my machine for about 8 years now, and this is the first time that my machine is acting up.

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