10 reasons for skipped stitches

One common question I get is in regards to seam formation, specifically skipped stitches or breaking threads. So why are stitches skipped? I’ve included the basics below but do feel free to jump in with your experiences (I think Gigi is our resident in-house thread/needle expert so this may end up being a multi-part post). Other places to get help are the thread companies. American and Efird has a nice selection of technical support documents. One such document from their site is Minimizing Thread Breakage & Skipped Stitches which you may find useful; it includes a nice sketch of the basics of seam formation.

Below is my list of the most common reasons for stitch skipping and breaking, organized according to the most common reasons with an eye towards helping you prioritize troubleshooting. The list in order of most common occurrence:

  1. Improper threading.
  2. Poor clamping or insufficient pressure (flagging).
  3. The needle needs replacing.
  4. Wrong size needle.
  5. Wrong type of needle for the material.
  6. Lubrication.
  7. Wrong thread for the application.
  8. Poor quality thread.
  9. Needle size and thread weight are mismatched.
  10. Worn thread guides, paths or eyelets (burrs).

A note regarding 9 and 10: these are most common if the machine has seen a lot of use. If the machine is new, it could mean the above are defective. I’ve rarely found defects like these in new machines and I wouldn’t expect you would find these either unless you’ve bought a home machine from those traveling salesmen who sell out of hotel rooms on weekends. Have you ever bought one of those? I did, a Riccar, many years ago. Ugh.

Item #1, Improper threading is the most common reason for skipped stitches or breaking threads. There are so many factors involved with improper threading that this alone could be it’s own post. In order, these are the most common reasons related to improper threading:

  • The needle is threaded from the wrong side.
  • Machine or bobbin tension is too high.
  • The needle is set incorrectly.
  • The machines needs adjustment.
  • The material is fed improperly, either owing to mechanism, material or operator although the latter is less common.

Feel free to submit your questions and comments so I’ll know what -or whether- to cover next.

10 reasons for skipped stitches pt.2

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15 Comments on "10 reasons for skipped stitches"

4 months 2 days ago

Thanks, Kathleen, for these tips. Had lots of skipped stitches sewing some leather bootees yesterday. I’ll try some of your tips next time round.


La BellaDonna
8 years 7 months ago

JC, thank you; it’s very helpful to me to know what you use on your household machine. Amanada, thank you also; I should apologise, both for not closing the bold, and for the imprecise language; by “weird and wooly,” I actually meant cheap, untried, or off-brand serger thread, as opposed to Wooly Nylon, which I have read about, but not yet used. To my knowledge, there was nothing unusual about that particular serger thread … until it melted. And the fabric being pressed was a metallic brocade, so it wasn’t being pressed at any great heat, either. I didn’t use a presscloth, so perhaps it was a case of my bad, but I didn’t know if I was going to have to use a press cloth every time I used a Guterman thread. I was afraid of using it to tailor wool, going to press it, and having all the thread melt away, like a horrible practical joke. I’d normally use silk or cotton with wool, or, once upon a time, in a pinch, Coats & Clark cotton-covered poly thread. From what you write, though, it seems as if I could proceed with Guterman threads with a little more confidence than I had.

Amanda, I’ve also found my threads get less staticky if I just wipe down the cone with a dryer fabric softener or antistatic sheet (not a bad thing to remember if you run out of spray unexpectedly.

J C Sprowls
8 years 7 months ago

Good call, Amanda. I forgot about static guard. I only saw it used once in the costume shop in college during the dry winter. I’m glad that it worked for you. I’ve added it to my next shopping list.


The overlock thread I use 90% of the time is Gutermann “E” thread. It’s a fine wooly (they call it: texturized) poly, and it’s versatile. I use it to overlock seam allowances on trousers or flatlock/coverstitch underwear. It’s soft on the skin and is a very nice finish.

I do special order “A” thread in a finer tex weight (i.e. 20), when I’m coverstitching sweatshirts simply because I like the appearance of it. But, in my shop, I basically stick with “A”, which is a core spun poly, in 25 tex for general sewing, “E” in 12 tex for overlocking, and “Skala” in 8 tex for blindstitching, felling, and padstitching. I also use Mara in 40 tex for hand-worked buttonholes; but, a heavier weight of “A” (i.e. 30 tex) does just fine for machine-worked buttonholes.

Now, as you mention about some threads with inferior poly or high nylon/dacron content do melt. I had one serger thread (I think it was MaxiLock by Coats & Clark) that did that just that. Fortunately, it happened on a pair of trouser for me, so I didn’t have to risk losing a client over it. But, the Gutermann “E” is rated (I believe) at 400F degrees with less than 2% thermal shrinkage.

I can say with certainty that I’ve never experienced shrinkage or melting of the Gutermann products I have used – which is why I endorse them so heavily. However, this problem is the very reason I stopped using Coats & Clark. Since I iron shirts around the 400F mark, I can attest that Gutermann products hold up to their claims.

I use these threads in my household machine (1300 SPM) and my industrial machines (3500 – 5000 SPM); and, I’ve never had an issue of them melting in the needle due to friction. I suspect the biggest issue might be breakage of a 15 tex core spun in a high-speed coverstitch machine w/out lubricant. But, I’ve had excellent results with 12 tex in a high-speed overlock at darn close to full bore (i.e. 5000 SPM).

Amanda Rodriguez
8 years 7 months ago

We had an interesting discovery during our last production run. We DO use that “wierd and wooly” thread (Wooly Nylon) on our knitwear. WE couldn’t figure out WHAT was happening.. we kept changing needles, using silicone, and any other thing we could think of.. then we figured out it was STATIC ELECTRICITY that was causing out problems! The static was opening the thread and flipping the thread off the loopers. We now keep cans of static guard by the machines. We spray the cones every now and then and it works great!

La BellaDonna
8 years 7 months ago

JC, I’m concerned about the spun polyester thread; I’m afraid that pressing at a high heat will cause the thread to melt. (I actually watched polyester serger thread thread being melted as a seam was being pressed – and the heat wasn’t that durned high, either. It was just ordinary serger thread, too – not something weird and wooly.) There’s also the possibility of the machine heating up enough to melt the thread at the needle, if there’s no cotton wrapping (there’s always a chance I’ll be doing that many stitches per minute). Have you had of those problems with the Guterman spun poly?