Out of the nest – Ditching the Thread nests part 2

In the last post, we talked about ways that thread nests can be solved from a user point of view.  Today, I’m getting into the slightly more technical ways that the nests happen and how to deal with them, or when to take it in for service.

Category 2: Possibly user fixable or take it in – Depending on skill and comfort level

Reason #4: There be fuzzies (and dried oil and other grunge) between those disks!

A natural byproduct of sewing, especially with cotton thread is lint. Take a really close look at your thread. You’ll notice that it’s a little frizzy. There’s the main body of the thread and then there are short little lint sized protrusions all over.


As your thread passes through the tension, a lot of these protrusions are yanked off and left behind in the tensioner. When they all gang up together they can push the tension disks apart, simulating the action of the presser foot lever and that “pin” we talked about earlier.

Solution: I’ve heard of people “flossing” their tensioners to remove the lint, and I’ve even recommended it in the past. Dental Floss and serger chains have been known to work well in some situations here.

In some cases this can help – in others it will compact the lint further in – compounding the issue. The other thing that is a risk with the serger chain is that there is a possibility that the serger thread can break inside the tensioner, also compounding the issue. This may have happened recently in a machine that hit my bench for a “no tension” problem. When I disassembled the tensioner, I found a 12″ piece of thread all wound up in between the tension disks. It was all one piece, so I can’t tell if it was a piece of the chain or part of the preexisting problem, but as a result, I don’t recommend the serger chain anymore.


Truly, the only “surefire” way to make sure all fuzzies and grunge are evicted is with dis-assembly.

The last 3 reasons are things that you may need to take a machine to the spa for.

Please be honest when evaluating your skill and comfort level when deciding if you want to do this or take it in to be repaired. Few service people I know – both the hobbyists and professionals alike – enjoy receiving a baggie of parts and a machine someone else has tried to fix prior to bringing it to them to reassemble.

Reason #5: The tensioner is mis-assembled or missing pieces (and thus also mis-assembled)

In some cases, this is obvious (visibly missing pieces or something sitting off kilter) but I’m assuming that in the case that brought you to this post, it’s not obvious. 🙂

Solution: Disassemble, clean (at the very least) all surfaces that touch the thread and reassemble the tensioner.
In the case of a vintage machine, you might be able to use one of the disassembly and reassembly videos that I posted here on YouTube a couple of months ago:

On Machine Disassembly and Reassembly of a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Tensioner

Disassemble and Reassemble a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Tensioner

Additionally, this TFSR.org document is quite useful for the same machines2016-10-21 The manuals from TFSR are offline at this time.  They can still be found at: https://web.archive.org/web/20160901183756/http:/www.tfsr.org:80/publications/technical_information/sewing_machine_manual/

In the case of the newer machines, computerized ones especially, the tensioner units are controlled by pulse motors and electronically “set”, so these are best to take to a qualified repair person to fix.

Category 3:  Strongly consider taking it in or only for the advanced repair hobbyist.

Reason #6 -On some machines, there’s an adjustment that needs to be done for the thread clearance at the hook.

This problem typically manifests on a machine after a thread nest has occurred, and we’ve been a little too rough removing the thread.  When I say we, I mean as sewists, not as repair persons. 🙂

At the hook on some vertical hook machines, there’s a “finger” that holds the hook race from rotating too much.  Its job is to hold that there, but it needs to be far enough away from the race to let the thread pass behind it.


Sometimes when we get frustrated by another nest, or delay or whatever, and we yank the thread out by the material, we can bend that finger or pull or push it out of adjustment, causing a clearance problem.  This usually begets more nests, causing more frustration…. and on it goes until we want to throw the machine out the window.

On some machines, this is fairly difficult to get to, on others it’s reasonably easy, but in most cases, I would suggest that someone who’s got access to the specs and possibly who’s been trained to do this work should fix your machine.

The machine you see in that photo has had a clearance problem since the day I bought it (used).  After I did these last 2 posts for you, I finally got around to making the adjustment.  Seriously.  I lived with it for 2 ½ years like this.  I just did my best not to end up with nests to deal with. 😉   It really can be true what they say: Mechanics have the worst running cars, sewing machine technicians have the worst running sewing machines.   Good thing so many sewing techs don’t sew, eh?

*video for “safer thread jam clearing” to be inserted here once I reshoot it.  I just didn’t like how it turned out. 😉  When it’s here, I will update the title of this post with “(Updated with video)”

Reason #7 – This last reason is by far the least common reason for nests (it usually causes other issues we’ll talk about later in the series), but it’s a valid reason, so if you’ve exhausted the other reasons, this may be the issue. This one I STRONGLY recommend be remedied by someone experienced with this sort of repair.

In some cases, a needle strike on some surface in the hook area can cause a burr. This little furrow of metal can catch the needle thread as it travels around the hook area and not let it go.

It’s a relatively easy situation to test but delicate to repair correctly –  depending on the location of the burr – without causing more damage.

Due to the very real possibility of causing more damage, I am not going to cover how to repair that on this post but just mention that it can be a cause of nests and suggest ways to find them.

Needle plates and various parts of the rotating parts of the hook can catch the thread.

The best way to test this is to set your machine up as if to sew: thread it put fabric under the presser foot, set your tension appropriately, insert a bobbin in the case and the case into the machine (if applicable), drop the presser foot.

Here’s where it changes a little.   Make sure that you can see the hook mechanism clearly.  This may mean leaving a slide plate open, or a panel so that you can see the hook and bobbin area.  With the bobbin case and the bobbin in place – rotate the handwheel for 3 or so revolutions and see if the thread looks like it’s catching somewhere. If it catches, a close look at that area will likely reveal the burr or other issue.

This is a good thing to point out to your repair person so they know where to concentrate their efforts.



9 thoughts on “Out of the nest – Ditching the Thread nests part 2”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this thorough essay-of-a-blog-post! I recently bought a 1956 Singer 15-125, and it was nesting and jamming up under the throat plate. I went through each of your steps, and managed to determine that it was not any of them. 🙂

    After further searching, I finally realized the curved part of the bobbin case’s latch was snagging the thread. The bobbin case is new (probably made in China), since the original was missing when I bought it. With some pliers and a little elbow grease, I was able to bend it down so it doesn’t snag the thread anymore. It’s been going two days with no problems. Here’s a picture of the thread getting snagged:


    Thank you for helping me to eliminate all of the other possibilities it could have been (now I know a lot more about thread tension!), and thank you for sharing your wisdom with the world!

    1. Thanks Nate,
      Yes, my post assumed that the machine is capable of working prior to troubleshooting.
      Many of the bobbin cases you get will be from china – including the high quality cases. https://archaicarcane.com/china-girl-its-time-to-stop-blaming-china-for-quality-issues/ The problem however is when people look for the cheapest case and expect quality. The shops often stock the cheapest cases because people are so unwilling to pay more for parts. Of course, this doesn’t help because they don’t work.

  2. Thank you so much for the posts about thread nests! They explained a lot.

    The very first sewing machine of my own had this problem. Got it for $12 at second hand. Many thread nests, two $85 bills for cleaning and oiling, and still more thread nests latter, I got rid of it!

    Having read your articles on thread nests, I think it was likely either lint build up between the disks or I unknowingly put the thread on the tensioner wrong. (Or there was something deeper wrong with the and he didn’t fix it.) I would have really, REALLY liked it if the repair shop had at least told me what the likely issues where so I could keep an eye out for them, or better yet showed me how to better thread my machine or clean the tensioner myself, rather than just shoving two $85 bills at me. And that was 2001 money, too. Yes it still upsets me. Bad repair man: he didn’t fix the real problem. *sad headshake*

    1. You are very welcome! Nests and tension in general were my big bugaboo when I started sewing too. (That was way before 2001 too, so no Google Oracle to consult!) It’s probably why I talk about tension so much – that and it’s the number one problem I see with machines.

      I got rid of a lovely White (brand) clone for the same reasons. I wish I still had it now that I know it was me causing the issues with it. There are few reasons for a machine to have tension problems that can’t be resolved in a proper service – other than the carbon-based life form introduced problems. If he didn’t fix it right, he shouldn’t have been charging you. If it was education needed, that should have been done. I always try to go through the forensics with people because I like challenging machines or ones needing a proper service – not ones I have to seat the thread in the disks and turn the knob up from 0 and I certainly don’t charge for that! Unfortunately, there are people in every type of business that give businesses a bad name. I’m a recovering IT professional. The stories I could tell….

      1. It is sad. My first machine, cheap plastic though it was, was probably a perfectly acceptable machine. I’ll never know though. Wish we’d had the internet back then, I could have fixed it.

        Oh yes, tension is a bugaboo. I just got a Pfaff 130 for free because the previous owners said she was broken. So far the only thing I found wrong is the upper tension was tighten far past the markings and the thread broke the first time I tried picking up the bottom thread. Cranked the tension down and now she stitches wonderfully!

        1. I think at the end of the day, a lot of people who get serious alone time with vintage machines could probably make even the cheap plastic wonders work acceptably. I just wish they were better tuned out of the box because so many people use those as their first foray into sewing and think it’s them. It’s not. It’s really really not.

          I’ve gotten machines out of the buy and sell around here for free too because of “tension” problems. I’m a little sad when it happens because they usually tell me they bought a new machine because of it and I know chances are the new machine will have the same “problem” down the road. A Pfaff 130 for free is an awesome score! 🙂

  3. I’ve been reading your blog the past weeks, and this is the best I’ve ever come across regarding sewing machines. When I watch your videos, and actually understand how you think about it, it sort of sticks much better a more technical manual :- )

    1. I’m so happy to hear that!

      I find that a technical manual doesn’t work for most people because they won’t read it. I learned this when I had to write technical documentation in my computer career.

      What you describe is exactly what I was aiming for. 🙂 Thank you!

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