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How to Fix a Broken Sewing Machine: Troubleshooting Guide

Jamie loves writing about DIY projects, decorating on a budget, craft ideas, and creative ways to reuse and upcycle products.

Singer Ingenuity Sewing Machine

Singer Ingenuity Sewing Machine

Through my recent experience of dealing with what seemed like a problematic sewing machine, I want to help others who may be having similar problems with their machines. It can be frustrating to have a sewing machine that one minute is working fine and the next minute about as useful as a pile of plastic and scrap metal.

I purchased a used Singer Ingenuity that was, according to the owner, in great running condition. I got it home and tried it out and it seemed to work just fine. After that it sat for a few months (typical me) until I was working on a particular craft and I needed it. I dusted it off, plugged it in and start sewing. It started out fine—but not for long.

In my case, it was one kind of big problem and then many smaller ones to follow that turned out to be more me than the machine. Luckily, I was able to figure it out and didn't have to actually take it in to the shop. Since I purchased this machine used, I definitely should have taken it in to begin with to make sure everything was in running order. It is definitely going to the shop soon for a check-up.

Below are the problems I encountered and what I did to fix each problem. I have to admit, it really wasn't the sewing machine that was causing most of the problems. I was actually the one causing the problems because I wasn't doing things correctly. Sometimes that's all it takes for the machine to seem broken. I am still learning how everything works with this particular machine; it seems very finicky but on top of that, I haven't used a sewing machine in years!

Thread up take was stuck in a wrong position.

Thread up take was stuck in a wrong position.

Sewing Machine Is Locked Up

So I was sewing along—and all of a sudden I hear a loud "clunk", three beeps, a humming sound, and then the needle stopped moving. It was positioned almost all the way down. I gently pushed the foot pedal again and nothing, just a loud hum.

It seemed it may have been something below in the bobbin area but the first thing I did was turn the hand wheel both forward and backward slightly and somehow that loosened it and it became unstuck. I didn't know what happened, but I was happy that I had apparently fixed the problem so I started sewing again. About one minute of perfect stitches later, I hear the loud "clunk", three beeps, a hum and the needle stopped moving. So, I turn the hand wheel again—but no luck. It was completely stuck this time.

After I saw it was not going to budge, I wanted to look under where the bobbin was but since the needle was stuck close to the bobbin case, I had to take it out in order to get under where the bobbin was. I took the bobbin out and everything was fine there—no tangles and everything was in place. I put the bobbin back in and examined the needle; it was fine. I checked the instruction manual for the sewing machine and looked for solutions online but any solutions I found were not the solution to this problem. I knew I had to take the cover off.

I took the cover off. While looking inside the machine at all the moving parts, I turned the hand wheel forward and backwards, as I had done before when I had unlocked it the first time. Right away, I noticed that the "thread take up" was not in its normal position. It was positioned back, inside the motor, stuck somehow. I carefully worked with it, turning the hand wheel at times, and eventually freed it and got it back to its normal position which freed the sewing machine again. I still didn't know if it was truly fixed but I went ahead and re-threaded the machine and to my surprise, it worked fine. I went ahead and left the cover off, just so that I could see how things worked inside during the sewing process.

Looking inside this machine, I was completely amazed by all of its moving parts! I realized how important it is for all of these things to work in sync and just how easy it may be to knock it off balance. I also understand much better now why it is important to keep sewing machines oiled and why that helps them to run better. Although, the machine was sewing okay since the thread take up was freed, I felt apprehensive because I knew something had to be going on for that to happen in the first place—so I proceeded with caution.

Bobbin was not threaded correctly. There is even a small diagram on the machine, showing how to do it.

Bobbin was not threaded correctly. There is even a small diagram on the machine, showing how to do it.

Bobbin threading diagram on the machine.

Bobbin threading diagram on the machine.

Bobbin Won't Wind Correctly

As I was sitting there sewing and thinking about how glad I was that the machine was not locked up anymore, I knew the bobbin would need to be wound with new thread soon. After sewing for a bit, I stopped and took the bobbin out and put it on the bobbin winder shaft to wind some more thread onto it. I did everything I did before except when I was winding it this time the thread was very messy and loose around the bobbin. When I did it before, the thread wound onto the bobbin very neat. I tried it a couple more times but it was still messy, I became discouraged because it wasn't working right and I was wasting so much thread.

I eventually figured out that I had not threaded the bobbin correctly. Duh! I felt so silly. Instead of putting the thread around the guides so it would have the proper tension to wind correctly, I was winding it straight from the spool. Not a good way to do it. Once I threaded it correctly, it worked great again. The bobbin was neatly full.

I forgot to push the winder shaft back over.

I forgot to push the winder shaft back over.

Machine Is Going But Needle Won't Move

Now that I had the bobbin full again and after re-threading the needle and all that jazz, I was ready to start sewing again. I got my material in place, put the pressure foot down, went to push the foot petal and—nothing. The needle would not move!

The machine was going, and everything was moving internally, but the needle and feeder were not moving at all. I took the pressure foot up and back down again, re-adjusted things, tinkered with the hand wheel, but it just would not move. I was about ready to pull my hair out when it occurred to me that after I was finished winding the bobbin, I did not move the bobbin winder shaft back to its normal position, which was back to the left. Problem fixed—but my nerves were frayed. It was time to retire the machine for the day.

I was incorrectly running thread under this metal part.

I was incorrectly running thread under this metal part.

On top of that, this metal part was pushed down

On top of that, this metal part was pushed down

Thread is supposed to run behind  this metal part.  Apparently, this part is only for winding the bobbin.

Thread is supposed to run behind this metal part. Apparently, this part is only for winding the bobbin.

Thread Keeps Breaking and Coming Out of the Needle

The next day, I was cautiously optimistic. I sat down at the machine to sew. Everything was threaded and ready to go. I started to sew and everything seemed to be going fine until I checked my work and there was no stitch, even though the needle was moving.

I saw that the thread had come out of the needle and I also noticed some thread was tangled around in the bobbin area. I didn't know what happened but I re-threaded the needle and bobbin and told myself I needed to pay more attention. I really thought it was just a fluke until soon after, I noticed there was no thread in the needle again!

It was then that I realized the thread was breaking and there was a problem somewhere. I finally figured out that I had it threaded wrong, It was a minor detail but it was enough to cause the thread to break. I also noticed this particular metal part I was running the thread around needed to be up and it was pushed down. In the manual, it did not indicate it was supposed to be in that down position so I tightened the screw and the metal part stayed in place. So I re-threaded the needle and everything seemed to work fine from there.

Getting Used to My Machine

After this couple of days, I wondered if it was meant for me to sew with this machine. After those initial problems, it seems to be doing okay but I still do not know exactly why the thread take up got stuck inside the machine. To be safe, I'm going to take it to a sewing machine shop. I still feel like something is not quite right.

I learned that when it comes to sewing machines (at least this one) if you have anything out of place, it's not going to work properly. You really have to pay attention to the details and do everything the correct way. I think these things could happen with any sewing machine, so I hope that this article is helpful for others.

If your machine isn't working properly, check the small stuff first. It may not be anything major, sometimes it's just a matter of having it properly threaded or pushing a lever to the left or right. If you purchased a used machine, it is a smart move to go and get it checked out before you start sewing with it to make sure everything is in good running condition. I should have done that first thing but better late than never, I guess.

Happy sewing!


janet on May 05, 2020:

my sewing machine doesn't move forward?

Dietrich on January 05, 2019:

Thanks for the help! I got a used Singer with a broken needle. I put a new one in it and got it all setup. Then I found that only the bobbin winder would run. I found your blog and found that the bobbin winder has to be dis-engaged to run the normal function of the machine.

DeLois on November 11, 2018:

When I was changing the needle, the thread guide fell off along with the clamp. I am not sure how to get the thread guide back on along with the clamp. I also cannot tell which side of the clamp goes to the front, the flat side or the side that has curved side. I am having a hard time seeing the spot, but I need help please. DeLois

Connie Cornett on March 16, 2018:

When I go to make a bobbin my machine quits, turn it off then back on it quits again. It's a singer ingenuity and fairly new. Any suggestions. Thank you

Linda on November 08, 2017:

I have my mother's old Morse sewing machine. I turned it on after about 20 years, I guess, and the pedal worked, I could hear the motor, but the needle did not go up and down and the I could turn the round large wheel "whatever it is called". I would just love to use this machine for the most basic needs. Any thoughts?



Deborah McDonald on April 23, 2017:

I have Elna machine and it has started breaking threads and the tension is not working. It will work fine for a while and you think its fix and thread breaks and the tension is so tight you have to pull the thread out by hand. Anyone have the this problem before.

Mindy on October 22, 2016:

OMG....thank you soooo much for your post!!! You saved me so much time and saved me from buying a new sewing machine!!!!

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on April 02, 2016:

grand old lady- Yes, it can be frustrating when the sewing machine breaks! I wish you the best of luck with your machine. Hopefully you can figure out what is going on with it. I am thinking about buying a new one... a simple and inexpensive one. Thank you for your comment!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on April 01, 2016:

All your problems sound so familiar. The difference is, you bothered to analyze the problems one by one and fix them. Seems one needs to be a mechanic to sew well. Maybe one day I'll tackle my old sewing machine which is now on display for posterity (or perhaps, surrender)

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on October 29, 2014:

Linda Pogue- I never knew it could be as simple as a wrong size needle! Thank you for the tip... and thank you so much for dropping by :)

Linda Pogue from Missouri on September 25, 2014:

Sometimes, the fix is as simple as changing the needle. If the needle is the wrong size for the fabric, or if there is a slight burr on the needle, sometimes so small you can't see it, it will cause all kinds of sewing problems. I enjoyed reading your article. I think I will take the cover off my machine and watch it run for a while so that I can get a good idea of all the moving parts and what they should be doing.

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on August 24, 2013:

Terrell Delgado- I know the exact problem you are talking about! Unfortunately, I'm not really sure why it happens...when it happened on my machine, it seemed to get caught on the mechanism surrounding the bobbin... Keep searching, I'm sure you will find the solution. So sorry I couldn't be of more help!

Terrell Delgado on August 19, 2013:

My machine grabs extra bobbin thread and makes a mess... Any hints how to fix that?

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on August 19, 2013:

Good_Morning- Aww... thank you so much! I'm glad be of help :)

Good_Morning on August 12, 2013:

Right now you are just about my favorite person ever! I'm making my baby nephew a quiet book and the stupid machine would not DO anything. I'd been sewing earlier and must have hit the bobbin windy shaft thing by accident, but I thought I'd broken the darn thing. If I hadn't gotten stubborn and wanted to try fixing it myself I don't know that we would ever have noticed the position that piece was in, I was too focused on the fact that the hand winder wouldn't move. Thank you so much, you have saved me from my stupidity :D

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on May 09, 2013:

pinktbirds57- Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed the hub. Oh, I would LOVE to take a sewing machine repair class, that is such a neat idea! I didn't even know they offered them. I may have to check out my local colleges to see if they offer that here.. it would certainly be worth it :)

pinktbird57 on May 07, 2013:

Can always use another how-to info article with pix! I have four sewing machines and two sergers and many years ago, I decided to stop calling the sewing machine repairman (and they're getting to be a rare bird, now) and decided to load up my oldest machine and head for the VoTech for a week long course in DIY sewing machine repair. LOVED it and the instructor was great! I am very much a technical/mechanical/hands-on person, and had already taken an auto mech class at the VT with a really cool (and cute) instructor named Louie. :) The sewing machine instructor not as cute but absolutely super (and patient) in providing us with the "think" tools to troubleshoot the "mind" of a sometimes "wayward" sewing machine. Great hub, Jamie! :)

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on October 21, 2012:

stillwaters707- You are welcome..and thank you for stopping by! I'm glad that you've found this may come in useful for you :)

stillwaters707 from Texas on October 21, 2012:

I'm bookmarking this one. I've had many of those situations myself. Thanks for the informative hub.

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on October 21, 2012:

bridalletter- Thank you for dropping by.. If you don't find the book to your machine, you may be able to find a free downloadable version online. I didn't have the book to mine either since I bought it used but I was able to go to the Singer website and download a free pdf of the user guide. You might check the manufacturer website for your machine to see if a manual for yours is available for download for free.

I have seen those layouts and cards where people have sewn on paper with the different stitches and I think it's super cute! It seems very easy to do as well. I bet you will enjoy it and I'm sure the finished projects will look great! I would like to give that a try myself sometime. Thank you so much for dropping by :)

Brenda Kyle from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA on October 20, 2012:

All very useful. I wish i could find the book to, mine. It has been missing since i moved. I am getting my machine out this winter. I am actually using it with scrapbooking and card making for the first time.

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on September 09, 2012:

Hi Teaches, thank you :) It has been a challenge learning how to use this machine. I figured it was the perfect time to share what I've learned to try to help others. I forgot how darned finicky sewing machines can be! Thank you for dropping by, I hope you are having a nice and relaxing weekend :)

Dianna Mendez on September 09, 2012:

You are just a wealth of information when it comes to sewing and the equipment that goes along with it. I have learned so much from your series. You have made it all simple to understand for even a novice like me.

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on September 08, 2012:

carol- Thank you for the vote up and for sharing :) I was about to pull my hair out with this machine, LOL! I think it's actually a good machine, I just forgot how finicky they can be. Thank you for the positive feedback.. I was hoping this hub would be able to help others too, especially since most the problems were very simple to solve. Enjoy your weekend!

carol stanley from Arizona on September 08, 2012:

I am the most unmechanical person in the world...but I used to be able to fix my sewing machine. These instructions are excellent and you have solved many problems...and not having to take the machine in for repair. Vote Up and sharing.

Jamie Brock (author) from Texas on September 07, 2012:

Hi Lee, I have not heard of that website, that sounds pretty neat. I'm definitely not an expert but I did learn a few things with this machine for sure LOL! Thank you for sharing the link, I'll have to go check it out :)

Lee Tea from Erie, PA on September 07, 2012:

Jamie, do you know about People ask experts questions, and experts get paid to answer them. I see sewing maching problem questions asked all the time - you have the know-how, you should check this out! Be well - Lee @ Lee's Teas