Thread Nests, Wads, Bunches, Knots, Loops & Tangles Under the Fabric in the Bobbin Area- How to fix it

Troubleshooting Thread Nests, Wads, Knots, Loops & Tangles on the Bottom of your Fabric & in the Bobbin area - What's wrong with the sewing machine!? 

This is soooo frustrating!!  But, it's usually  not a major issue with the machine.  A simple, step by step approach will probably have you and your machine getting along fine in no time. 

Thread nests on the underside of your fabric are almost always the direct result of improper threading or a problem in the thread path or upper tension.

Let's first look at what is actually happening in the stitch formation process to cause these wads of thread.  Ideally, the thread should form a neat coil (stitch) in the "center" of your fabric. When you get these thread wads on the underside, that is telling you that for some reason, the upper thread is NOT  pulling up the bobbin thread and forming that snug, balanced stitch.

Here is the recommended check list for solving this problem:

  1. Unthread everything
  2. Clean out the bobbin area, and feed dogs of all fuzz, thread and lint . Inspect your bobbin for burrs and defects and make certain that it is wound evenly.  
  3. Put in a fresh needle that is correct for the thread and fabric you are sewing. Make sure that the needle is inserted correctly- double check you manual.
  4. Get out your manual.
  5. Reset your upper tension to the default setting for your machine (usually 3 or 4).
  6. Carefully and meticulously re-thread the entire machine. When threading the upper portion, MAKE SURE THE PRESSER FOOT IS UP until you get to threading the needle. If the foot is down when you thread, the upper thread will not seat properly in the tension discs, and you will get those dreaded thread nests/wads. 
  7. Be very careful to thread and install your bobbin correctly.  Make certain that you do NOT have too much bobbin tension.
  8. When beginning your sewing, hold on the thread tails for the first couple of stitches.


If you still have problems


      1. Clean or floss your upper tension assembly.  Lift your presser foot and try and have a look beteeen the discs.  Sometimes a stray thread or lint build up will jam up the works and prevent the tension from operating properly.  Page three of This Sewing Machine Maintainance Booklet has instructins for cleaning the upper tension discs.
      2. Change your needle to a new one. If your are sewing with heavier thread be certain to use either a topstitching needle or a large size needle. Thicker thread requires a needle with a larger eye.
      3. Watch to see if your upper thread is coming out of the take up lever while you sew.  Some models with the slotted take up levers (arm thingy that is near the tension and swings up & down) are more prone to this than others.  A small piece of tape will adress the issue if this keeps happning.  
      4. Try a different spool of thread.  Sometimes there are burrs on the edge of the spool that can cause headaches, and at this point it's worth a try.

Hmmm.....not fixed yet? Perform the following test:

Unthread the needle. With your presser foot up, gently pull on the upper thread. Now put the presser foot down and gently pull on the thread. You should feel more resistance with the foot down. If you don't then either your tension release mechanism is stuck. and will need to be repaired or, more likely, the thread is still not seated properly in the discs. Also your upper tension may be set much too low. Refer to your machine's manual for how to test and adjust your tension balance.


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  • Thursday, January 01. 2009 Marilyn wrote:
    Thanks for this information.
    This is exactly the problem I've been dealing with (and giving up on) over and over for a decade. I love my 201-2; had it repaired once (lugged it up and downstairs to take in--won't do that again). It worked on about five "patch" jobs, and then the thread wads, nests and loops started. I've worked endless hours to fix it to no avail. Tried to use it again a couple of days ago, no luck, so went to the web and found this site (THANKS!)
    After reading, I followed every step, but still no improvement. Then I noticed the wads/nests are on the bobbin side, BUT they are from the spool thread. I tightened the spool thread tension as tight as it will go--definite improvement, but still not perfect. I cannot tighten the bobbin--the screw is at its maximum. Everything is better, and I can mend what I need to.
    The bobbin thread comes off very loosely, very smoothly, so it seems illogical to loosen it up, but maybe that's what I need to do.
    Can you tell just by "pulling" whether it's the right tension? When "pulling," should both the top and bobbin threads have the same tension "resistance"?
    Thanks again for having this website; I feel there is hope for revival and all the mending jobs I have stacked up for when I get it working again!
    1. Thursday, January 01. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:

      Thread type?? fabric type?? Needle size and type??

      I've never had to set both the upper and lower tension at max on a 201, and I use one alot with all types of screwball threads. If you are using heavier thread, then you will need a large eyed needle, more upper tension and less lower tension.  Apart from that, it's pretty hard for me to feel the tesnion on your machine from all the way over here <smiles>  Good luck sorting it out.
  • Saturday, April 25. 2009 christina wrote:
    hi there! i love the illustration you used up above with the stitching from the upper thread and the bobbin in regards to sewing on fabric. it made me understand or at least i can kind of visualize how the stitching is supposed to work.
    i too am having problems with the bobbin thread stitching very loose and loopy. i am going to try adjusting the upper thread tension and see if that works.
    but i do have a question for you. i just inherited an old "singer" sewing machine from my aunt who passed away. how can i tell what kind of "singer" sewing machine it is??? it is the old black kind with the gold designs around the bottom.
    another question regarding this old "singer" sewing machine; how do i oil this sewing machine. my other aunts told me to be sure to oil it since it's been sitting for so long in the garage without being used.
    so, please let me know what and how to oil an old "singer" sewing machine and how to tell what kind of "singer" sewing machine i have. and if it's possible, like how old it is or from what year or decade.
    please get back to me and let me know.
    thank you for your time. i look forward to hearing from you real soon.
    sincerely, christina :o)
    1. Sunday, April 26. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      You can look us the serial number of your machine on the Singer website.

      Oiling instructions will be in the manual.  If your machine is one of the models for which there is a review on the Sew-Classic blog, you will find a free PDF version of the manual at the bottom of most of the reviews.

      I also have some general cleaning and oiling information in the Sewing machine repair section of this blog- just poke around and help yourself!

  • Thursday, June 04. 2009 Arica wrote:
    I have a Singer 1120 that I've been using for about a week. It worked great for two days and the last five or so, I've been screwing with it trying to make it run again. It sews smoothly for about one inch. Then the needle jams and it makes a grinding kinda sound. It won't move at all, even when I manually turn the handwheel. When I look at the underside of the fabric, there are tons of loops, and lots of broken bits of thread tangled in with the loops. I have:

    rethreaded multiple times
    cleaned and looked for lint, hairs etc multiple times.
    checked the upper and lower tension multiple times settings
    changed the needle three times
    tried two different threads

    and read through this whole page multiple times, trying every suggestion.

    The bobbin loads from the side. When I have the door open, and I manually turn the handwheel, I can see that the upper thread is getting stuck around the shuttle.

    Halp! I'm so frustrated. I have a few things I've been working on and I'm almost at my breaking point with this!

    Any suggestions would be so appreciated. Thanks!!
    1. Thursday, June 04. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Walk away from it for a while.  When you get back, make certain that the hook and bobbin case are inserted correctly (remove and reinsert) and do the test with the presser foot up and down to see if the upper tension is engaging correctly when the foot is down.  After that, if it still isn't right, you'll have little choice but to take  it in to your local tech.
  • Wednesday, June 10. 2009 Arica wrote:
    THANK YOU!! I did just that and when I tried it out, I realized that I let go of the upper thread. I probably was doing that the whole time, and it was getting caught. Maybe. Either way, it's working now so thank you so much! I really appreciate your help.
  • Tuesday, August 11. 2009 raul segura wrote:
    I just picked up a singer 15 # AL581751 
    I'm having trouble comparing it to the 201 / 15-91 as I have not found information as abundant as with the other two. How would it compare in these animals ?
    1. Tuesday, August 11. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      If look look at the left hand column onthis blog, you will see a listing of article categories and a search function.  Using these will lead to the exact info you are seeking.

      Under the "Sewing Machine Review" section, you will find an article, "Comparing the Singer 15-91 and the 201-2 Sewing Machines"
  • Friday, October 09. 2009 Katie wrote:
    I am wondering if some of the thread nesting/wadding etc problems could be due to using the newer type of thread spools such as gutermann which are wound in a cone style rather than the "normal" winding such as coats&clark. I don't mean the composition of the thread but rather the way newer all purpose threads are wound on the spools. I have an elna air elecronic in addition to my singer 15-91 and 401a and nothing so far has helped the nesting and i suspect it might be the thread itself. am trying thread nets and a separate spool holder with an arm like a serger's. any thoughts/experience with this? thanks so much for all your time helping us!
    1. Friday, October 09. 2009 Katie wrote:
      I neglected to say that my problem is with the elna, not with either of the singers. I guess i am wondering if the cone style spools affect machine tension in a different way than standard-wound spools. thanks!
  • Thursday, October 29. 2009 Shannon wrote:
    I own a singer prelude, and everytime I sew the bottom of the fabric's stitches get jammed up like crazy! I've switched needles threads oiled it cleaned it everything you can think of and yet nothing has helped. I honestly think the machine is just a piece of junk.
    1. Thursday, December 31. 2009 Alex wrote:
      I am having this exact same problem! It worked for the first couple of minutes but then it started making a million threads under the fabric. This machine is driving me crazy. If this was not a gift it would've been returned by now.
  • Friday, January 01. 2010 raul wrote:
    Finished refurbishing my singer 15 -J
    Lots of trouble with nesting tried many things along with having to buff out any thread contacts and re-tension points. Finally went to thinner thread,(was using thread for upholstery etc). dint solve problem with thicker thread even with proper needle,but got it working.It seemed to be miss the thread hooking at bottom .
  • Monday, January 18. 2010 Robyn wrote:
    My kenmore is skipping stitches but only when it's in zig zag mode and I am going a little faster. If I sew really slow it's okay. It does not skip if I'm sewing straight stitches.
    1. Tuesday, January 19. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Either the wrong needle type for the fabric being sewn or the hook timing is slightly off.
  • Saturday, February 06. 2010 Richard wrote:
    I have inherited a Singer 403 and am trying to learn how to thread it. I follow the illistration and do fine until I get to the tension discs. Which 'gap' do I use? There seems to be several places to put the thread. The picture shows the thread going to the left to something that I can't duplicate, and then upward at a slight angle through the guide at side of machine. I just have a "U" shaped loop. Will this be okay? Thanks for your help!
    1. Saturday, February 06. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:

      First- LIFT the presser foot UP when threading the upper  tension.  There are actually 3 tension discs, just get the thread between any two of them.

      As for the rest of what you say...I just don't understand the difficulty.  Perhaps you know someone that is more familiar than yourself when it comes to threading sewing machines that can help you in person.

  • Sunday, February 07. 2010 Annie Burkepile wrote:
    I am looking for educational materials and easy sewing projects for our Home School Coop. Thank for your time and trouble. Annie
  • Thursday, February 18. 2010 AliCat wrote:
    Nests on the underside on my 510! Finally I think I will be able to rectify it myself! I thiugth it was the bottom tension but I think I threaded with the pressure foot down! Will try all suggestions above! Thank you for your expertise! Now my 7yr old can have a go at making a wheat bag!
  • Sunday, April 11. 2010 Christina Thompson wrote:
    I just purchased a used Singer Prelude-but it wont work. When I press down on the foot the machine just makes noise and the needle doesn't move at all- its difficult to turn the handle...what do I do?
    1. Tuesday, April 13. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Take it back or take it in to the shop.  That is one of those cheap, plastic, made in China discount store machines. Sorry
  • Thursday, June 24. 2010 Lindielee wrote:
    See photo of bobbin this page right side it shows the bobbin case. On my 403A Slant o Matic there are 2 screws where you show one. I'm missing the one you have as an empty space and I'm wondering if that's the reason my bobbin thread is bunching up? Trying to trouble shoot here. Can you help?
    Love you site. Wish you could sit with me and teach me about my machine.
    1. Friday, June 25. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      There are two screws on the bobbin case tension spring of the Singer 403.  One screw secures the spring to the case, and the other screw is for adjusting the tension. 
      1. Friday, June 25. 2010 Lindielee wrote:
        Right - My question was if one of them is missing is it critical to the operation? I think I'm having a Needle Hook timing problem but could the missing screw be the root of the problem? Looking at the photo on the Right above, the screw on the right is missing. Which operation does this screw use?
        1. Friday, June 25. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
          both screws are needed for the tension spring and bobbin thread tension to function correctly.  If either one is missing it can result in tangles, knots, wads, snags and all manner of poor stitching  issues.
  • Sunday, July 11. 2010 Will Branch wrote:
    Hi. Newbie sewer here wanting to make messenger type bags. I just got a Singer 99k-66 that looks almost unused and has a sticker on it saying that it was serviced. After threading I tested the tension on fabric that I plan to make my first bag out of... Collar from a wool herringbone overcoat, so it was two layers of fabric with interfacing on each layer. When I frist ran a stitch the top stitch looked fine, but the bottom stitch was slightly loose. I tried adjusting the tension of needle and bobbin thread and also replaced the needle and used a #16 as I am using heavy duty thread. All this made it worse and I just get a much worse bottom stitch.
    I removed the bobbin and couldn't see is threads or lint that could be a problem. BUT I did notice that when I pull the bobbing thread after the needle thread has pulled it up from under the feed dogs that regardless of the amount of bobbin tension it is jerky. So there is something causing resistance after the thread comes from the bobbin, just pulling the thread from the bobbin it pulls smooth and I can feel different levels of tension after adjusting it.

    I cannot find a service manual online that will tell me how to deal with this problem myself, so unless you can help I am going to have to have it serviced. I tried sewing on a sewing machine before and the tension issues always drove me crazy. Seriously thinking about getting a Janome with computer stitching and auto tension. I would have bought a new machine, but I was told that these Singers were what I needed for heavy duty sewing of bags.

    Anyway, sorry for my frustration, but I was up late trying to get this figured out. Hope you can help!
    1. Tuesday, July 13. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Service manuals don't generally have much in the way of diagnostics.  Make sure the needle is inserted properly (flat side to the right), and check over the tension spring on the bobbin case.  It could easily be bent, damaged or have old caked up crud underneath it.   
  • Tuesday, July 13. 2010 BeeBee wrote:
    Hi, Jenny. I want to butt in here and add one suggestion before hauling the machine to the repair shop or dump. Ensure that your needle is inserted correctly. If you're used to a newer machine that uses the needle with the flat to the back, it's really easy (ask me how I know) to put it in an old Singer this way. Doesn't work so well and will cause loops, loose stitches and jamming. Check the manual and the needle to be sure you're doing it correctly before you panic.
    1. Tuesday, July 13. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Good idea...see step number 3.......
  • Wednesday, July 28. 2010 Jenny F. wrote:
    The old singer treadle machine that I picked up at a garage sale works well when stiching forward, but the thead jams up in the bobbin area whenever I do a backstitch. Do you know any way to fix this?
    1. Friday, July 30. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Most (not all)  of the treadle machines didn't even have a back stitch ability.  If you try to sew backwards by turning the hand wheel the opposite direction, you will get knots.  Try just holding the fabric and prevent it from advancing while you do a couple of stitches in place to secure your seams.
  • Saturday, July 31. 2010 Robyn wrote:
    I submitted a question months ago and someone suggested the needle might be in wrong which was not the problem however, It gave me the idea that it was a maybe a bad needle. And...That was the problem THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!
  • Monday, August 09. 2010 teodora wrote:
    I would like to know why the thread from above that connects to the needle keeps breaking.If anyone could help me please.I have tried everything but I can't get it to work.
    1. Wednesday, August 11. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      "I have tried everything but I can't get it to work"

      Well, no sense in anyone sugessting've already tried everything
  • Monday, August 30. 2010 kelly wrote:
    i have a New Home model 641. i just got it maintained and it ran fine for him, but now the thread on the bobbin is getting very loose and nested. this is after i have wound it and it looks fine on the bobbin spool. as you can imagine it causes the machine to bind and the top thread to snap. what do i do?????
    1. Wednesday, September 01. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      You culd start by readding this blog artcile on which you are commenting.  It gives a step by step troubleshooting guide.
  • Wednesday, September 08. 2010 Jess wrote:
    I have a huskey C20 and I am having a problem with the bobbin or nesting. I've tried multiple bobbins, threads, needles and cleaning with no luck... Any help?
  • Tuesday, September 21. 2010 Peggy Bowes wrote:
    I am repairing a Singer 99K sewing machine. It is missing the "hook lubricating felt" (by the bobbin). Is there a way to put new felt in there? If so, what size and exactly where should it be placed? (The felt was missing when I got it, so I don't have a reference for what it should look like or how it is attached). Thanks for ANY help!
    1. Thursday, September 23. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      You will find the information here.
  • Thursday, September 23. 2010 Marilyn wrote:
    Interesting; the great photo description for the bobbin refurbishing (66 and 69) shows the threading as being opposite what is shown on my Singer 201-2 owners' manual. I can send anyone who wishes a scanned copy of that page. I was hoping that maybe my thread "nests+bunching" was caused by my threading it incorrectly, but it appears each machine may be different!
  • Wednesday, October 13. 2010 veronica wrote:
    i am looking for a motor to a 201-2 singer electric sewing machine, manufactured in 1951, can any one help?

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