It happens to everyone. All of us who sew are bound to break a needle at one point or another. It’s something we strive not to do, yet somehow, we think we’re better than the rules.
Starting from the beginning, here are things to check:
1. Is the needle inserted correctly? Most home machines use needles that have a flat back to the upper part of the shank, which means the long groove above the eye will be facing you as you sew. That part may be obvious and easy. Next, make sure the needle has been inserted all the way up, and screwed in firmly (no need to over tighten).
Anatomy of a needle (from schmetzneedles.com)
2. Is the machine threaded properly? Check your instruction manual, and any numbered/illustrated icons on your machine. Forget for a moment that you’ve done this hundreds of times before – sometimes thread can jump out of place, especially following a thread jam or break. Take all your thread out and start from the beginning.
Look at your machine for threading instructions
3. Are you using the right needle? There are two things to consider when choosing a needle to sew: what fabric and what thread will you be using? Heavier threads require a heavier (bigger size & number) needle – the thread needs to fit smoothly into the long groove above the eye, and through the eye without stress or major friction. The fabric you choose affects the type of needle you should use – knits require stretch or ball-point needles, wovens require sharps. Universal needles are not quite sharp and not quite a ball point, and like all season tires they’re pretty good in most situations, but not perfect. Click here for a Needle Primer from Schmetz.
4. How is your thread? Is it seated nicely at the top of your machine? Are you using a spool cap the same size as the end of the spool? If not, the thread could be wrapping itself around the spool pin and eventually bending the needle so it crashes into the presser foot. Thread spools that have a nick in it to hold the tail when you’re not using it can cause similar issues; this nick should be oriented away from the threading path. Try using a thread net to keep unruly spools under control.
Thread nets can help unruly threads (image from quinchat.webs.com)
5. Are you using the correct foot? Keep your wits about you when switching presser feet and when changing stitches. There are feet that are not meant for anything other than a straight stitch – and sometimes it can’t be in the centre position (i.e. zipper feet). Be sure to buy the proper feet for your machine; that way, the open space for the needle will line up properly with the needle plate.
Check your needle position with certain feet (image from april1930s.com)
6. Are you using twin (or triple) needles? Please see above. If your machine has a Twin Needle button, use it. It’s a safety feature that keeps the machine from making the stitch too wide and causing the needle to strike the foot or plate. If you don’t have any fancy features, check your stitch width and needle drop before you sew by turning the handwheel manually, and make sure the needles don’t come anywhere near the presser foot. Adjust your stitch width accordingly.
Check stitch width and needle position when using twin needles
Now, to check how you’re stitching…
6. Don’t sew over pins. Seriously, don’t.
Your technician says: Not funny. (image from midnightcreations.blogspot.com)
7. Are you pulling the fabric? Another no-no. Let the feed dogs do the work – that’s their job. If you drag the fabric from the front, the feed dogs can’t take as much as they want to. If you try to “help” and pull the fabric from behind, you can cause extra wear on the feet and feed dogs, as well as bending the needle, pulling into positions it’s not meant to go. Try using a walking foot for extra feeding assistance.
Try a walking foot for feeding assistance
8. Tackling a thick seam? Yeah, this can be tough on any machine. Sewing through too many layers can cause the needle to deflect (aka “bend”) as it struggles to find its way through the fabric, which means its exit point may not be in the hole, but somewhere else on the needle plate (or worse, bobbin area). Use a sturdier, thicker needle if you’re working with a lot of denim (there are denim needles), and try using a “hump jumper” or compensation plates. Come in and ask us to explain – or check your instruction manual. Stitch slowly, and use the hand wheel if you must.
Go slowly over thick seams (image from thriftyfun.com)
9. Doing freemotion? Good for you! Now, let’s add a little more technique…it’s all about finding your groove: your ideal combination of machine speed and hand movement. You really have to Be The Feed Dogs, and remember that you cannot move the fabric while the needle is in it. Try increasing the speed of the machine to keep up with your hands. You may be surprised to find that you can handle things a little faster.
10. Doing embroidery? Keep those scissors away from the needle! Unless you’re Superman with lightning fast reflexes (and let us remind you: you’re not, and neither are we), you cannot snip that thread faster than your machine can sew. So, stop it. Stop the machine and take a second to safely trim the thread. This will save your needles, your scissors, and likely your fingers, too. Compare this amount of time to how much time and effort it takes to change a broken needle, rethread the machine, and back up your stitches to cover over the boo-boo. No contest!
If you follow these guidelines (rules!) regularly you should be able to avoid breaking needles. If there’s still some gremlins living in your machine, bring it in to The Tech Shop and we can exorcise those sewing demons (there could be a timing issue, or you might need new parts like feed dogs).