8 Tips to Fix Birdnesting in Embroidery

Birdnesting is when thread bunches in the back side of embroidery. It is more than a simple annoyance; it can reduce productivity or ruin an entire embroidery design!

Birdnesting is when thread bunches in the back side of embroidery. It is more than a simple annoyance; it can reduce productivity or ruin an entire embroidery design!

Birdnesting can have many causes, and there are several ways to repair and prevent it from slowing down your workflow.

Imagine you are running through a significant embroidery order. Things seem to be going smoothly, at least until you spot the telltale wad of thread either on the backside or top of the garment!

You have a problem with birdnesting!

SWF Embroidery Sample - Gray Tee Shirt

Birdnesting is the accumulation of thread caught between an embroidered piece and the needle plate, often catching between the needle plate hole and hook assembly. Birdnesting prevents the free movement of goods. Loops on the surface of embroidery come from top tension or tension problems. Typically either problem occurs when the polyester top thread has been incorrectly tensioned. If bad enough, birdnesting and looping can reduce productivity and possibly ruin the whole embroidery project.

If the embroidery machine is not stopped in time, clusters of thread can ruin the garment, by pulling it slightly through the needle hole in the throat plate. This prevents the product from sliding free, resulting in a garment popping out of the Durkee hoop. Nothing eats up efficiency than an unhooped object with only half of the embroidery design.

On top of the delay, you could have a garment trapped in the throat plate, needing to be cut to be removed.

Common Causes of Birdnesting

The main source of birdnesting or looping is improperly inserted or threaded bobbin or running the embroidery machine with no bobbin. Although operating your system without a bobbin is not strictly birdnesting, it can cause similar problems.

  • Incorrectly threaded upper thread. Check all thread guides. On some home sewing machines birdnesting happens when the line jumps out of the take up lever, which severely reduces tension on the thread, allowing it to be pulled to the bottom of the hoop easily. Unthreaded take-up levers will always cause birdnesting.
  • A tight bobbin tension, together with highly loose needle thread tension, can cause birdnesting.
  • Flagging occurs when the hoop bounces up and down during sewing. If the fabric is hooped too loosely, the fabric can slip or expand in the hoop. Flagging also occurs if the fabric does not release from the needle; it is instead pulled up on the upstroke of the needle. Sewing through adhesives creates a buildup that makes flagging worse.
  • On commercial embroidery machines, trimming malfunctions, hook timing and positioning can also cause birdnesting.

Embrodiery Designs

Eight tips to fix looping and birdnesting problems:

  1. Looping is usually caused by thread tensions that are too loose. It could occur either on the top or bottom of the design. Both bobbin and tensioner could be the culprit. Check if the problem is caused by tensioners by turning tensioner knobs to the right to tighten. This could explain the looping problem. Always check the bobbin for proper tension.
  2. Test the tensioner knobs for slackness on the tensioner post. Tensioner post will be threaded and contains a machined-out slot halfway up the shaft.
  3. If the tensioner knob is too loose, first remove the knob. Carefully insert into the slot a blade of a flathead screwdriver. Gently spread it a little and reinstall the knob. Re-check the tightness of the knob.
  4. Design density may affect both looping and birdnesting. A tight embroidery stitch density and the needle may have difficulty penetrating the fabric. The tightness will cause the thread to be pulled from the needle. Refer to the User Manual for your specific embroidery system for more information on the right design density. Density of small text may also cause problems.
  5. Sewing small letters and words, many manufacturers recommend a 4.2 density as a default. That might be too high for letters smaller than ½”.
  6. The eye size of the needle could also affect birdnesting and looping. With too-high stitch density or excessively elastic fabric, you might want to switch to a larger-eyed needle. For example, if using a 70/10 size needle, consider switching to 75/11 or 80/12 needle. Larger-eyed needles allow for the thread to pass smoothly through the eye of the needle.
  7. The most popular embroidery thread is 40 gauge. If you happen to be using 30 gauge line, you will need to use a larger-eyed needle. Consider an 80/12. Working with Metallic Threads, consider using an 80/12 or 90/14 needle, if your garment permits.
  8. Check to see if you have the most current thread guides, to know the smoothness of movement for specific embroidery threads. Call Colman and Company for more information.

If you experience minor damage to the garment from birdnesting, like a small hole, try a repair by using lightweight fusible cut-away.

Before continuing the embroidery design, back up to several stitches just before the last stitch sewn in the design. Check for proper alignment, so you can successfully complete the design. If the design is not aligned, adjust the hoop or needle position with your system’s control panel.

You can rehoop items successfully, but it is not easy. Rehooping the garment for embroidery, you need to hoop at the exact position and fabric tension that you had prior to stopping production. Any distortion or stretching and success will depend solely on the design you are sewing.

Commercial SWF Embroidery System

Preventing birdnesting and looping:

Of course, it is always best to avoid birdnesting! It is certainly better than recovering after the fact. Four ways to prevent birdnesting:

  • Pay attention to all threading and tension.
  • Adjust any problems with flagging.
  • Watch the embroidery process, looking out for any changes in sewing quality, machine sound or anything unusual. Stop the machine immediately to avoid damaging the garment.
  • Make note of “thread break” messages. It might not be a real thread break, but an early warning of birdnesting.

While you may not be able to avoid every instance of birdnesting, but with attention to detail in the embroidery process, you can certainly prevent it from happening regularly and severely disrupting your production flow.

In commercial embroidery, the best supplies are the key to great results. Colman and Company carries a full line of embroidery supplies for sewing on all substrates. For any questions, visit, or call 800-891-1094.

What are your best tips to avoid birdnesting or looping? Let us know in the comments below.



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