Greetings, sewing friend! Are you here because you’ve asked yourself for the umpteenth time,
“Why is my sewing machine skipping stitches?”
First, I’m sorry that something as small as a stitch — A STITCH! — is causing you stress and drama.
Second, take a deep breath and exhale; you’re in the right place. We’ll getcha fixed up in no time.
There are many reasons (as you will see) as to why stitches skip. And, there are almost as many ways to resolve this short-term annoyance.
This article will help you understand what is a skipped stitch, why they happen, and what remedies for stitch skips you can try.
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What are Skipped Stitches?
A skipped stitch is when the upper (needle) thread and lower (bobbin) thread fail to make a complete stitch.
This GIF does a great job illustrating how a stitch is formed.
The upper thread drops down. The upper thread loops around the bobbin thread. The bobbin thread holds the upper thread in place, forming a stitch.
Here’s what different skipped stitches look like from the upper-thread view. You can see how the bobbin thread and upper thread fail to make a love connection.
Why are Skipped Stitches Bad?
You want to avoid skipping stitches because they are weaker than completed stitches. Incomplete or skipped stitches are more likely to come apart vs. completed stitches, which are locked in place.
What’s more, skipped stitches don’t look nice (especially on topstitching).
Ew. We like handmade, not homemade, fashion. Skipped stitches are not the look.
Why is My Sewing Machine Skipping Stitches?
Let’s chat about possible reasons why stitches may be skipping:
- Needle issues
- Poor technique
- Machine fails
- Material fails
The No. 1 Source of Skipped Stitches: The Needle
If stitches are skipping, more often than not, it’s a needle issue. Here’s what might be happening.
1.) Old Needle
Sewing machine needles have a finite life. Over time they get bent, dulled, and scratched, which impairs their ability to form a proper stitch.
2.) Wrong Needle
The incorrect needle also will fail to form a complete stitch. For example, knit fabrics call for stretch or jersey or ball point needles; heavyweight fabrics call for larger needles, usually 90/14 and up.
RELATED: Sewing Stretchy Fabric without a Serger: Stretch Stitch Settings and More
3.) Needle Inserted Incorrectly
Insert the butt of the needle into the needle clamp until you can no longer push it upward. A needle that’s not inserted all the way into the clamp will be too low as the sewing machine tries to create a stitch. A needle that’s too low could strike (and damage) the bobbin assembly and throw off your machine’s timing.
Poor Stitching Technique
The way you sew could be causing skipped stitches.
1.) Sewing Too Fast
The presser foot and feed dogs work together to move fabric at a steady pace. Sometimes, however, these itty-bitty moving mechanisms struggle to evenly push fabric under the needle; this is common with thick fabrics. Sewing too fast causes the presser foot and feed dogs to slip as they move material, and stitches can’t stay even in slipping fabric.
2.) Pulling Fabric
Similar to sewing too fast, pulling on fabric interrupts the timing needed to make even stitches. Remember, sewing machines are calibrated to the millimeter — even small tugs are big movements to a sewing machine.
Sewing Machine Failures
Sometimes the machine rages against you.
1.) Dirty Machine
Dust and lint build up in your machine over time, especially around the bobbin assembly. This fuzz can, believe it or not, cause stitches to skip.
2.) Unbalanced Tension
The upper thread and bobbin thread should be in balance — wherein you don’t see bobbin thread peeking through on top or upper thread peeking through on bottom. If tension is unbalanced, stitches could fail to form properly because one thread is pulling harder on the other.
3.) Presser Foot Issue
The presser foot might not be attached correctly or it could be the incorrect foot for the fabric. (For example, leather or vinyl likely need a non-stick “Teflon” presser foot.) In both cases, the foot might drag on the fabric and cause stitches to be unevenly formed or not formed at all.
The materials you use can contribute to skipped stitches.
Lightweight and heavyweight fabrics sometimes need extra help to form proper stitches. It can be difficult to keep some fabrics moving evenly under the needle.
Not all thread is created equal; there’s some real junk out there that breaks all too easily. Also, the wrong thread for the project — for example, denim thread on handkerchief-weight linen (extreme, but you get the idea) — also could cause stitches to skip.
If Your Stitches Skip: Remedies to Test
When my sewing machine skips stitches, the following is how I troubleshoot the problem. Each subsequent step is an escalation from the previous step.
When troubleshooting skipped stitch remedies, I strongly recommend taking notes on what you try and how it turns out. This is critical information for your future self, and it’s helpful to share your experiments and outcomes when you’re looking for advice from other sewists and maintenance pros.
1.) Rethread Sewing Machine
So many issues can be resolved by rethreading your machine (it’s analogous to restarting your computer).
Clip the upper thread at the spool, and pull through the machine and needle eye until it’s free. (It’s best practice to move elements forward through a sewing machine vs. backward.)
Bring the needle to its highest point. Lift the presser foot — to release the tension discs (VERY IMPORTANT) — and slowly rethread the machine, making sure you complete every step.
2.) Remove Bobbin
If rethreading doesn’t help with skipped stitches, try removing the bobbin and reloading it (or reloading a different bobbin altogether). Make sure you’re hitting all the correct points on the bobbin-loading path.
3.) Reinstall Needle
If reloading the bobbin doesn’t help, try taking out the needle and reinserting it. Make sure the butt of the needle is against a stopper or other physical barrier, so you know the needle is inserted in the clamp as high as it will go.
Tighten the needle clamp with a screwdriver to make sure it’s secure and won’t vibrate loose.
4.) Change Needle
If you reinserted the needle and you’re still skipping stitches, it’s time to replace the needle.
Nine times out of ten, a new needle will fix your stitches. (This is why it’s recommended that you use a new needle with every project.)
Choose a needle that’s the correct type and size for the fabric.
5.) Clean Sewing Machine
If a new needle doesn’t do the trick, try cleaning the sewing machine.
Remove the throat plate and bobbin assembly and get rid of all the dust and fuzz that’s accumulated inside the machine. A lint brush works well for this, as do vacuum cleaner attachments. I have a vacuum micro attachments kit, and it’s P-E-R-F-E-C-T for cleaning machine(s) and is extremely satisfying to use.
I do not recommend compressed (canned) air for blasting away dust. You could blow it deeper into your sewing machine, which is no bueno.
RELATED: Sewing Machine Cleaning: 5 Maintenance Questions Answered
6.) Experiment with Tension
If de-fuzzing your machine doesn’t work, it’s time to experiment with thread tension.
The upper and bobbin threads should be balanced. You should not see the upper thread on the bobbin side or the bobbin thread on the upper-thread side.
The weight of fabric and thread weights/thicknesses/types can disrupt tension balance. For example, I’ve had a heck of a time balancing topstitching thread in the needle with all-purpose poly thread in the bobbin.
To balance tension, start with adjusting the upper-thread tension. If trials of shifting the tension up and down don’t balance the stitches, you can try to adjust the bobbin-thread tension.
Adjusting the bobbin thread tension is dicier, and many sewing machine manuals don’t even talk about how to do it. In other words, they’re telling you to fiddle at your own risk.
The bobbin-thread tension is adjusted by turning a screw on the bobbin case (righty tighty, lefty loosey).
Before you adjust the bobbin-thread tension, mark the original position of the screw on the bobbin case — use a marker, nail polish, tape, etc.
From there, I suggest testing quarter-turn intervals of the screw. Keep track of the number of turns; you always want to know how to return to the original tension setting.
7.) Experiment with Stitches
If futzing with the tension doesn’t work, try futzing with the stitch width, stitch length, and stitch type. (Let’s assume up to this point you were realistic with stitch settings, i.e., you were using a stretch/lateral stitch for knit fabrics, etc.)
Longer stitches are better than shorter stitches, because the presser foot and feed dogs have more time to move the fabric along.
Be sure to test on the same type of fabric and the same number of layers of fabric. This includes interfacing. So, if your stitches are skipping on two layers of interfaced fabric, you’ll need to re-create this setup for testing.
8.) Experiment with Fabric
If stitch experiments come up short, try playing with the fabric itself.
For example, if the fabric on which the stitches are skipping is lightweight, maybe try a stabilizer. If the fabric is heavyweight, you might want to try flattening it with a hammer before stitching or using a walking presser foot.
When testing fabric variations to resolve skipped stitches, be mindful of how you handle the fabric. As mentioned, don’t pull the fabric. And, keep the fabric parallel to the ground; don’t let it drag (which would give the same effect as pulling on it).
9.) Ask the Sewing Hive Mind
Post your issue on a sewing forum — PatternReview.com, The Self-Sewn Wardrobe Facebook Group, or reddit.com/r/sewhelp. Be sure to explain everything you’re tried so far — which is why it’s important to keep notes on your experiments! — to unskip your stitches. And, photos and videos often are better problem explainers than words.
10.) Call a Professional
If nothing to this point has worked, I suggest professional help. The timing of your machine’s stitch creation may need to be reset, the needle bar may be too high or too low, or any other number of things could be going sideways.
Remember how your machine is calibrated to the millimeter? Sometimes you gotta turn it over for service to get it back to the precision you know and love.
OK, my smart (human) sewing machines: What is your No. 1 remedy for skipped stitches? Share it in the comments for the benefit of your sewing sibs. Thanks for reading and dropping wisdom on us all.
Most commonly for me is the wrong needle for the fabric or an old needle that needs to be changed.
Yup, Diane. Same for me. Switching to a new or different needle solves the issue nine times out of 10.
Thanks for reading!
Wow, this is such a good article. I love the detail on the mechanics and the reasons for doing things in the order you recommend. Very logical. I usually go straight to the end of the list and try adjusting the tension (my first two machines were pretty cheaply made and tension was always an issue, so I always assume it’s the tension). Now I look forward to having a better plan of attack for the future. Thanks so much!
Hi, Barbara! Thanks for reading. I’m so glad I can help you better troubleshoot skipped stitches. Yeah, most of the time it’s the needle.
For me I find that reloading the bobbin assembly often seems to fix it. I suspect my bobbin case mustn’t quite fit as snugly as it should…
Good point, Penny. A funky bobbin assembly definitely could make stitches skip.
If the needle isn’t aligned, it can strike the bobbin assembly and damage it. Could it be that at one point you had a misaligned needle that scratched the bobbin business? Maybe a needle that broke?
Should you find yourself un/reloading the bobbin assembly a lot, you might want to take your machine to the shop.
Thanks for reading!