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How to Prevent “Bird Nesting” While Embroidering

Spring has sprung. Embroidery projects, designs, and inspiration from the season abound. But sometimes there are issues on the road to a masterpiece. We’re talking thread nests, not pretty bird nests. This is between you and your machine.

Bird nesting is a tangled mess of bunched-up thread that can accidentally form on one side of your design during machine embroidery.

It’s happened to all of us, but bird nesting doesn’t have to get ugly. Here is how you can prevent bird nesting while embroidering.

Before you begin, your thread, needle, fabric, and embroidery density need to match up. For example, a dense project requires the right needle to repeatedly penetrate without getting stuck or pulling the fabric up.

The Causes

What’s up with that pile of thread which has suddenly amassed between the fabric and the throat plate? The bird’s nest, or looping, will persist if you do not stop to address it. It can even hold the fabric, preventing it from moving with the hoop, eventually resulting in the fabric popping out of the hoop.

bird nesting

The most common answer has to do with your bobbin. Oh, that bobbin…

bird nesting

Common troublemakers with your bobbin are tension or an unclean machine.

Tension: Not too tight and not too loose. Like Goldilocks’ preference for Momma Bear’s chair, bowl of porridge, and bed – the bobbin tension should be “just right”. Your top thread adjustment should interact with the bobbin adjustment to produce the correct tension.

1.Top tension that’s too loose can allow the top thread to flow to the underside of the fabric, creating a cluster of top thread.
2. Bobbin tension that’s too tight can tug the top thread beneath the fabric surface. Excess thread on the underside of the fabric can result in the dreaded bird’s nest.

Unclean Machine: Run clean, work clean. Lint, from thread, fabric, or backing will bog down your machine. Sometimes you can clear and clean with your fingers. A Q-tip with sewing oil may also work. You can clear debris from beneath the tension plate of your bobbin case using dental floss or the edge of business card.
Another reason for bird nesting in your embroidery is flagging. Make sure that your fabric is hooped nice and tight to prevent it from flapping in an up-and-down motion. It is believed that this is called flagging because it resembles the waving action of a flag.


Note: Commercial embroidery machines can and will make a bird’s nest if certain components are out of adjustment. Your machine can experience trimming malfunctions, as well as hook timing and positioning issues. Stop that machine the moment unusual sounds begin. Be sure to check that your thread is threaded through the take-up lever. If you spot a bird’s nest, remove the bobbin case and gently cut the nest free with a long knife or scalpel.

On the Bottom

A bird’s nest is usually not visible from the top of the fabric. The easiest way to detect bird nesting is by noting failure of the fabric to move freely. If you peek under the hoop and see that the thread is clustered, check these items.

  • Check your top thread path
  • Re-thread the embroidery machine and try again
  • Check your needle for a burr and replace as necessary

Note: The thread cluster can get forced into the hole in the needle plate. When this happens, it’s likely that the item may become unhooped when you are freeing the nest. That’s okay. It’s better to take your time and work it loose gradually than to cut it free prematurely, possibly cutting the garment as well as the nest.

Remember that it’s ok to have a bird’s nest. Take your time to free your bird’s nest and you will learn something as well as save your embroidery project.

bird nesting

Watching a bird build a nest in nature is beautiful. Letting an embroidery bird nest loop into a mess is not so pretty. Hopefully our tips will help you avoid bird nesting in the future. Happy embroidering!

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