Why Are My Stitches Looping?

Looping stitches is another irritating problem that can occur with machine embroidery and cause an unsightly result.

For this article, we’ll focus on looping on the top side. For looping underneath, refer the articles on birdnests.

What Causes Looping?

While you might like to blame it on the design, chances are there is another cause.
 
Primary causes of looping are:
  • Incorrectly threaded machine
  • Incorrectly tensioned machine
  • Damaged, dull or wrong needle (size or type)
  • Thread type and construction
  • Hoop or fabric bouncing, known as flagging
  • Design is too dense for the fabric
  • Designs with really long stitches in runs or fills are more likely to loop than the same stitch length in a satin column.

Solutions

For some of these causes, the solution is apparent:
  • Rethread your machine, both top and bottom. Make sure to thread with the presser foot up so that the needle thread will be properly seated between the tension discs.
  • Adjust your tensions. Looping on top generally means the needle tension is too loose.
  • Change your needle. The golden rule for needle selection is to use the smallest sharpest needle that can carry the thread through the fabric without damage to the thread, fabric, or needle.
  • Change your thread. Use a quality brand designed for machine embroidery. Some specialty threads, such as metallics, have a tendency to loop more and will stitch better in designs with slightly longer stitches and less density.
 
Of course, some common sense solutions that improve any project are:
  • Proper machine maintenance (cleaning, any oiling if required)
  • Proper hooping and stabilizing

Become an Embroidery Detective

To know what’s causing looping, you need to pay attention to your machine. If you stay and watch your designs sew, you’ll learn more about why things happen when they do.
 
Sometimes the machine will just throw off a loop of thread from the spool and momentarily causing loose tension that can create a loop. In this case, you’ll see random loops here and there. A thread net can help tame those issues.

Troubleshooting

Try to determine a pattern:
  • Is it happening with a certain thread color?
  • Is it happening with a certain type or weight of thread?
  • Is it happening in certain areas?
  • How long are the stitches where the looping occurs?
  • Did it just start after a thread or bobbin change?
  • Did it just start after a needle change? 
  • Did you switch to a different type or size needle?
  • Are you using a sticky backing?
  • Is your hoop bouncing?
  • Is your fabric “sticking” to the needle and pulling the hoop up with it?
  • Does it occur more above or below a certain speed setting?
  • Watch how the thread feeds off the spool to see if any big loops come off before looping occurs

Thread Issues

Some specialty threads, such as metallics, have a tendency to loop more and will stitch better in designs with slightly longer stitches and less density.
 
Always use a quality thread brand designed for machine embroidery; cheap thread is not a good economy. 
 
How a thread is constructed—the amount of twist and stretch—affects how likely the thread is to loop (or not). Historically, Rayon caused less looping than polyester threads but today’s polyesters are much better.
Cone of embroidery thread
Thread age, storage humidity and temperature can have a major affect on the tensile strength of the thread, and how it was wrapped around the spool can influence how consistently it unwinds when you use it.
 
Threads wound on little skinny spools may not de-kink before getting to the first thread guide and can disrupt the smooth flow of thread through the machine.
 

Thread color can also create variations in consistency, since mistakes in dying dark colors are sometimes rescued by redying to make black, and similar mistakes with light colors can be saved by mild bleaching.

 
Don’t forget the bobbin, which is also thread and subject to the same variations as top thread. Pre-wound bobbins tend to be more consistent than those you wind yourself, but their age and storage conditions can cause variations in the design.

Needle Issues

Organ & Schmetz Embroidery Needles
Use quality needles designed for embroidery folliowing the golden rule listed above.
 
A dull needle can be the cause of stitches looping on the top, flagging in the hoop (fabric bouncing up and down with the needle), as well as loose bobbin stitches and bird nesting. 
 
Learn all about needles in The Embroidery Recipe: How Your Ingredients Affect Your Results.

Design Issues

It is possible that the design is contributing to looping. Check the stitch length where you’re experiencing looping.
 
Longer stitches tend to be fluffier and are more likely to loop (some machines are worse at controlling looping than others). Short stitches tend to be pulled more tightly into the fabric and are also more likely to pull the bobbin to the top.
 
Excess stitch density could also cause  looping because it can contribute to flagging.
 
Another design issue can be found in quilting and redwork designs, or any design on a thick, spongy fabric that is a multi-pass run.
As the first pass stitches out, it will compress the fabric slightly and then as the second pass travels back over it, the fabric can compress a bit more cause looping from the first pass. 
 
Using a backstitch, triple stitch, or a bean stitch can prevent that type of looping.

How To Correct Loops After Stitching

Loops on finished embroidery are not only unsightly, they’re a hazard because they’re more likely to catch and snag on something.
 
You may be able to salvage a project using a tool like Dritz brand Snag Nab-It to pull the loop through the back side. A little tab of seam sealant can secure it there.

What If Nothing Works?

Then you need to schedule some servicing. Your machine should be serviced on a regular schedule by a qualified technician. Uncontrollable looping could be a timing issue.

How to Become a Better Embroiderer Faster!

As you've probably figured out by now, machine embroidery is more than throwing something in a hoop, attaching it to your machine, and pushing a few buttons!

You'll learn more about embroidery if you sew a wide range of designs, on a wide range of fabrics while watching your machine stitch.

Taking lots of classes, reading lots of articles, attending a variety of events to talk with other embroiderers and educators helps too.

Of course, that takes time and $$ but guess what? I've been doing all that for over 25 years and I've compiled my experience into an ebook that you can download immediately. It's the closest thing you can get to doing a Vulcan mind meld with me!

Read more about this book here: The Embroidery Recipe: How Your Ingredients Affect Your Results

If you're ready for more advanced material, get under the hood of an embroidery design with Anatomy of a Design: How to Think Like a Digitizer & Become a Better Embroiderer.

Better yet, just download your copy now and get a jumpstart!