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Nestled in 5 acres of gardens and natural bushland in the leafy, rural community of Red Hill ...

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Hi, I'm Tina Whiteley and Kurrara Designs Studio is where I create and teach textile art ...

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Textile Talk

Welcome to Textile Talk, where I’ll be regularly posting information related to textiles or fibre ...

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Tina's tips:

Some of the most common sewing machine problems that I’ve been asked about over the years are skipped or bunched stitches, thread breakages and noisy sewing. If you have ever encountered any of these, you will be pleased to know that all are usually easily fixed by taking a few moments to do basic checks and maintenance each time you sew. Here are the first of my quick and easy tips for stress-free sewing:

Sewing Tip #1 - Clean Your Machine

When you’ve finished a sewing project, I’d recommend that you clean out the bobbin holder and hook race in your machine, as this will make for smoother sewing next time. Lint or loose thread build-up can affect the timing of the machine, cause tension problems, lead to skipped stitches and bunched up thread, all of which will drive you nuts! So a few minutes spent cleaning today, will save you a lot of heartache tomorrow. Refer to your machine manual for specific care and maintenance instructions, in particular, cleaning the hook race and feed dogs.

Sewing Tip #2 - Replace Needles Regularly

Needles should be replaced regularly because blunt or bent needles can shred your thread, affect the quality of your stitching, cause damage to the needle plate and, more seriously, could also throw out the timing. Choose the correct needle for your project and ensure it is correctly orientated and fully inserted into the needle clamp – refer to your manual for needle selection and insertion instructions. I usually change my needles when I start a new project and may change them more than once if the project is a long one.

Sewing Tip #3 - Thread Your Machine Correctly

Always refer to your manual when threading up your machine, with regard to the tension disks, take-up lever, needle threading and direction of thread coming off your spool. Make sure the presser foot is up during threading. Incorrect threading will cause thread bunching problems under your fabric.

Sewing Tip #4 - Choose a Good Sewing Thread

The quality of the thread may well affect the performance of your machine. Generally speaking, the better quality thread you use, the better quality your stitching will be. Threads, such as rayon, can deteriorate over time and become brittle, which may lead to thread breakage or snagging, if used as top threads. However, rather than discard them, they can be used successfully in the bobbin. Refer to your machine manual for more guidance on thread selection.

Sewing Tip #5 - Successful Sewing With Metallic Threads

Having trouble sewing with metallic thread? Here are a few common problems that you might experience if new to using them:

  • Thread shredding or breaking
  • Fabric puckering
  • Thread knots on the back of the fabric
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there and it can be very frustrating when the thread just won’t do what you want it to. Once you know how to manage metallic thread, then you can have lots of fun, trying out all sorts of effects to bring lots of bling, shimmer and shine to your work. There are 3 main areas to consider:


You can use a large eye metallic needle, but I’d recommend using a new topstitch needle for each project, which has an even larger eye to allow the metallic thread to pass through easily, when it heats up and expands, due to the friction of stitching. I use either a number 80 (12) or 90(14) depending on the size of the thread and fabric. The higher the number, the larger the diameter of the eye of the needle i.e. 80 = 0.8mm or 90 = 0.9mm.

Metallic thread will slowly wear away a groove in the needle, depending on how long the needle is used, so be aware that a different thickness or brand of thread, might catch if you use it through the same needle, as it will not necessarily fit snugly in that worn groove.


Use a good quality brand of metallic thread – there is a variety out there, but I like to use Madeira or King Star gold threads (see supplier: Embroidery Source).

Use bobbin thread that is recommended for your machine by the manufacturer. I’ve experimented with my Janome, but I always have the best results when using Janome bobbin thread.

Use a solid-based and fairly weighty upright thread holder, so that the thread spool stands vertical, rather than horizontal, which helps the thread unwind more smoothly, with less kinks and knots.

machine settings

Loosen the top thread tension if the thread is pulling or puckering the fabric. - Check your manual for optimum settings – sometimes a small turn of the dial is all that’s needed.

As metallic thread is more delicate than regular embroidery thread, try reducing your sewing speed settings to allow for more control and give you more time to eyeball the thread feeding into your needle. When you start to sew, ensure top and bobbin threads are held out of the way and slightly taut, behind the presser foot, to minimise knotting and avoid snagging underneath the fabric.

Sewing Tip #6 - Stabilising Your Embroidery

When doing free motion embroidery on sheer or slippery fabrics for creative or decorative work, using a water soluble stabiliser underneath and over the top of your fabric can work wonders in keeping the fabric taut and your stitches even. Using it can eliminate the need to keep re-hooping your fabric and lessens the strain or tension on your hands as you guide your fabric under the needle.

varying the stiffness of your embroidery

As water soluble stabilisers dissolve they leave a sticky residue on the sewn fabric, which you can use to your advantage if you want to make 3D stitched structures, as they can be moulded to shape when wet and will stiffen up when dry. For soft drapey or lace fabrics, make sure you completely rinse out that sticky residue.

storing your stabilisers

If you are storing your stabilisers before you start using them on your projects, make sure they are well-labelled as they can easily be confused with other vinyls or vilene interfacings.

Always store your stabilisers in a cool dry place and avoid using the plastic vinyl types on humid days, as they can often stick on the machine and leave a residue on the needle.

testing your stabilisers

Always test a sample piece before stitching, so you know how it will react when you soak it away.

Sewing Tip #7 - Cleaning Sticky Residue

When using sticky washaway to sew lace or stabilise fabrics, you will sometimes find it leaves a sticky residue on the inside of your bobbin case and also on your needle. This will attract dust and other little thread fibres, which will cause difficulties with sewing. Use a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton bud and carefully wipe away the sticky residue. The alcohol evaporates quickly so the metal surfaces will dry more easily and you can carry on sewing.

Sewing Tip #8 - Rewinding Your Spool Threads

This is a handy little tip for when you’re wanting to rewind all your spool threads after using them on the machine and don’t want to leave the ends loose. Pull on the top or bottom piece of the spool and it may pop out. If it does, wind on your thread, tuck the lose end into the gap on the end of the spool and pop the end back in to hold all the thread secure until you’re ready to use it again.

Sewing Tip #9 - Save Your Scrap Threads

Keep a little tray or basket next to your sewing machine so that you can save up all the thread ends that you snip off when you start and end your stitching. It's amazing how quickly you can build up a stash of threads that you can recycle in another project. The November 2020 newsletter and the Christmas Bauble Bling tutorial explain how you can recycle these threads to make 3D leaves and free hanging Christmas decorations.

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