How To Avoid Bird Nests on a Sewing Machine !

Bird Nests on a sewing machine happen more often than we wish for. Even if it's the first time you hear of "bird nests" in relation to sewing or quilting, you probably do know how you get a knot of threads under your fabric.... that rattling noise, your sewing machine locks and you can’t continue sewing and your fabric is stuck under the needle. You try to peek under the fabric and the only thing you see is tangled threads. You can’t move your fabric in any direction. You try to peek under the fabric and the only thing you see is tangled threads. You can’t move your fabric in any direction.

What now? Why did this happen? What can you do without ruining your fabric?

This article gives an answer to these questions.

I’ll start by

  • explaining birds nests,
  • the common problems,
  • the possible causes,
  • some useful tips on how to solve them,

and in the end I’ll present you with a brand new tool to help you untangle a bird nest without ruining your fabric.

What is a Bird Nest on a Sewing Machine?

A bird nest is a giant knot of thread when you are sewing, quilting or doing embroidery designs with a sewing machine. It occurs when the bobbin and top thread get tangled together and create a giant knot of thread at the wrong side of your fabric. Bird nesting can even pull your fabric into the opening where the bobbin is released from the needle plate. This can cost you money, because it may create a hole in your garment.


When Does a Bird Nest occur?

Bird nests occur when thread bunches up underneath the needle plate, causing broken threads, skipped stitches, or uneven tension. This is typically caused by the top thread not being threaded correctly or a sewing machine tension issue.

10 Causes for Thread Bunching and Tangling. How to Easily Troubleshoot.

    1. Most people immediately think it’s a bobbin problem, but most of the time it has nothing to do with the bobbin. If your bobbin is smoothly and evenly wound, and inserted in the bobbin case correctly, then the bobbin is not the problem. 
    2. If the top thread isn’t threaded correctly, the upper thread that passed through the fabric cannot be firmly pulled up and the upper thread becomes tangled in the bobbin case, causing a rattling noise. The thread can also get caught around the spool holder, next to your spool. Turn off your machine, and remove the tangled thread. Check for threads that are left in the bobbin case. If possible, don’t cut the thread. Remove the upper thread and thread the machine again. Make sure the thread is in the take-up lever!
    3. If the bobbin tension is too loose: Extra thread may unwind from the bobbin, which causes a buildup of thread underneath the needle plate. Try tightening the bobbin tension by turning the tension screw on the bobbin case a quarter turn clockwise. Tighten it in bits, and test it until you get the desired results. Follow the instructions in your sewing machine’s manual. Also, always make sure to use the correct bobbins for your machine's make and model.
    4. If the top tension is too loose: If your top tension is too loose, you will see excess thread build up under the needle plate. To remedy this, increase your top tension in small increments.
    5. If you haven't changed to a new needle in a while, do it. A damaged needle can be the cause of many sewing problems. Also make sure you are using the proper needle for your machine, the fabric you are sewing, and the job at hand. The needle is part of the upper threading. A needle that is too thin for your fabric and thread is more likely to jam than a thicker needle.
    6. If the bird nesting always happens at the beginning of a line of stitching, then make sure to bring the bobbin thread to the top before you start stitching and leave a decent amount of thread (tails) both on the bobbin and upper thread. If you sew with short threads, it will get pulled back into the machine. Leave a tail of at least 6 inch (15 cm) of thread. To apply a bit of tension, hold onto the threads as you start to sew. Don’t start sewing at the very edge of your fabric, the thread will easily form knots and jam.
    7. Did you forget to put your presser foot down? Yes, this happens to everyone once in a while, especially when you have a very thick fabric underneath the foot, when you have pressure from the foot but the lever is still up.
    8. Are you using good quality thread?
    9. In case of thin fabrics, be careful with securing stitches or back stitches. They can sometimes lead to the fabric being pulled down in the needle plate.
    10. A good machine cleaning can also solve your thread bunchings. Remove dust underneath the throat plate and along the thread path frequently to avoid buildup. Check your sewing machine’s manual for guidelines on cleaning and maintenance.

Make sure to try one solution at a time from this list to find the exact cause of your bird nests. If all this isn’t giving the desired results, or the same problem keeps on occurring, have it checked by a professional :-)

We have another tutorial on the MadamSew Sewing and Quilting Blog about solving problems with thread tension on your sewing machine. Our blog about 'how a sewing machine works' is also a good start. When you know your machine, you will be able to troubleshoot it faster and run into less problems.

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The Bird Nest Toolkit = the First Aid Kit for Tangled Threads.

Next to all these useful sewing machine tips, we now have a brand new toolkit that is made for bird nest problems– the Bird Nest Toolkit. This is a kit to help you when the thread bunching is so bad that you can’t move your fabric any more. Cutting those threads is the only way to get out of this mess, but you don’t want to ruin your expensive fabric or your project that you already worked on for hours!

These tools won’t solve sewing machine problems, but you can’t leave your project attached to your sewing machine, right? The long handles and fine design of the knife and hook will help you free your project from your sewing machine.

With the thread hook, you can reach above or below your fabric or your embroidery hoop, pull the threads, and create a bit of space between the needle plate and your fabric.

untangling a bird's nest

With the thread knife, you can then safely cut the tangled threads and free the project from your machine without damaging your project.

cutting thread knot on a sewing machine

Don’t forget to remove all the little thread ends in and around the bobbin case and under the needle plate!

With this sewing tool you can troubleshoot some thread issues, just like a seam ripper does when you made a sewing mistake.

Interested in the BIRD NEST TOOLKIT?

Check out our great Bird Nest Toolkit deal on the MadamSew webstore

Any questions? Don't hesistate to send me an email

Happy sewing!




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