My first job in the embroidery industry was as a machine technician. More specifically, I was a phone support (or Help Desk) technician. Some of the toughest calls I would get were from people dealing with thread break issues with their machines.

That sounds like it would be an easy call, but there are so many things that can cause the thread to break that it is tough to narrow it down in just a phone call, especially if the person on the other end hasn’t really paid attention to when it is breaking or why. To complicate matters, often it is not the machine that is the problem but either the operator or the design.

Here are a few tips to help track down the source of thread breaks. They should lead you to the problem. If they don’t, they will get you close so when you do call a technician, you can give him enough information to help you.

Observe and Report (Paul Blart’s Motto)
The key to trouble shooting is observation. Use your senses to observe the machine. What was the machine doing right before the thread broke? When did the problem start? Is it making any unusual sounds when it breaks thread?

Other things to observe would be is if the problem occurs on just one needle or all the needles of the sewing head. If it is a multihead machine, which head is breaking the most? It is highly unusual to have all the heads of a multihead machine breaking thread at the same time, so you can figure out which specific head(s) is the problem.

Divide and Conquer
Once you have gathered the facts of when and where it is breaking thread, use this information to narrow down the cause. For instance, if the thread breaks are limited to one particular needle on a sewing head, you can rule out things that are common to all the needles on the head. That would eliminate the sewing hook, the bobbin, the needle plate and the reciprocator (the thing that makes the needle bar go up and down).

It would also mean you would focus on things that are specific to the one needle that is breaking. This would include the way it is threaded, the needle, the presser feet or the needle bar.

We don’t have space here to go into all the different scenarios of narrowing the problem down, but most of them are as simple as the previous illustration. This is all troubleshooting is anyway, narrowing down the possibilities.

Process of Elimination
You can continue narrowing down the possibilities by eliminating possible causes. For example, if you observed that the problem started when the design was changed over, you would have narrowed down the possibilities to things common to the design changeover. Those would be things like the design itself (which is the case more often than you would think), the thread or the garment set up. You can eliminate different possibilities by, in this case, sewing a design you know is good using the same thread. That would eliminate faulty design and possibly the thread itself. If you suspect it is the thread, swap out a cone for a different one and see if the problem goes away.

As I mentioned earlier, this is, in essence, what troubleshooting is: a process of elimination. You keep eliminating possible problems until you find where the trouble is. By following these steps, you will find your problem more often than not. If you can’t resolve the problem…well at least you can talk intelligently when you do call tech support and save time by eliminating all the things that aren’t the problem.

Steven Batts, a consultant with 17 years experience in the embroidery industry, owns Righteous Threads, Greensboro, N.C., which offers digitizing, embroidery and machine maintenance services. Steven regularly leads seminars at ISS shows and is an industry speaker and consultant. For more information or to comment on Steven’s article, e-mail