Troubleshooting Embroidery Thread Problems

In commercial embroidery, one thing is inevitable—thread problems will arise.

Quickly taking care of the occasional embroidery thread problem will keep a minor setback from affecting your profits.

Embroidery thread is designed for strength, durability and performance. However, no matter how careful you are, the occasional problem can occur.


Addressing embroidery thread problems early is essential, to reduce waste and keep your customers happy. Thread failure can happen in many ways, from fraying and snapping to balling and “birdnesting.”

The occasional setback is a fact that all commercial embroiderers must endure; however, by understanding the cause of common thread problems, true professionals do not let them get in the way of making money!

For each thread issue, there are a number of possible factors, but improper tension is the cause of a majority of common problems. The good news is that all it takes is a few adjustments to get you back on track and minimize unnecessary production delays.

How to troubleshoot common problems with embroidery threads:


For frayed embroidery threads:

  • Check to see if you are using the appropriate needle size. The needle may be too small for the thread weight.
  • Worn needles can cause fraying. The needle may need to be changed.
  • Thread tension might be too tight. Excess friction will fray embroidery thread.
  • Changing the cone might help; a defective cone can cause complications.

Excessive thread breaks

Polyester embroidery threads are strong and resistant to snapping, but breaks can still occur. For threads that frequently break:

  • Check the top tension of the bobbin, the tension could be a little too tight.
  • Clean any dirt or buildup from behind the plates of the machine.
  • Again, check the thread cone; you may have a bad cone.
  • Improper timing. When the timing is off, it can cause more than just thread breaks, including broken needles, poor stitching or missed stitches.


Embroidery thread  bunches up

Another common problem is the thread balling up under the embroidery, the throat plate or both. For thread that clumps up frequently:

  • Make sure to thread your embroidery machine through the tension bars properly.
  • The bobbin is not inserted, or not inserted properly.
  • Check for loose tension.
  • Make sure both top and bottom tensions are about the same. Too loose on one and too tight on the other will cause problems.
  • Make sure the thread is free of both the bobbin and hook area.


Birdnesting is a term that describes a thread that gathers between the fabric and needle plate. The name comes from the buildup that resembles a bird’s nest. Birdnesting prevents the free movement of the fabric, usually caused by inadequate tension in the top thread.

When embroidery thread starts birdnesting:

  • Adjust for proper tension, if the tension is unbalanced, it could cause birdnesting.
  • Make sure to hoop the fabric tightly with the proper Durkee Hoops, leaving no significant gap between the sewing arm and the hoop assembly.

False starts or skipped stitches

False starts are another common problem with embroidery thread, which means that the stitching does not pick up at the beginning of a stitch pattern or stitches skip in the middle of the pattern. Either way, production slows down, as the process must start over.

The right equipment, supplies and support can keep embroidery thread troubles from holding you back!

With false starts, check the back of the design to determine the ratio of top thread to bobbin thread evident in the back of the design. If there is only a small amount of bobbin thread showing, then your bobbin is either too tight or the top tension is loose. You need about 1” to 1 ½” drop to the bobbin.

If the bobbin drop test looks right, tighten up the top tension. Turn both small and the larger tension knobs to provide a good balance and get the right look. In addition, check the threading of the machine, to determine if it is threaded correctly.

To get great commercial embroidery, you need the right equipment, threads, supplies, training and support! Colman and Company is the perfect place to get the best information, tips and troubleshooting to keep your commercial embroidery business making money!  For more information, visit today or call 800-891-1094.

Do you have tips on troubleshooting embroidery thread problems? We would love to hear them! Join the conversation in the comments below.