My family often despairs of the condition of my car, phone and the washing machine (the 3 machines I use continuously everyday) due to my lackadaisical attitude to maintenance. My sewing machine should also be included in this list and will cause me the most worry if something happens to it.
I suppose because of its delicate nature, low maintenance is suicide for a sewing machine. Since it happened to have a glitch sometime back I have been reading and researching about sewing machine maintenance with a vengeance. Let me share what I learned.
As I mentioned in the title in fact it is a 3 step process to the maintenance. Do this and you maynot have to worry about anything else about the sewing machine. A timely maintenance schedule will drastically reduce the chances of your precious machine developing these problems.
Sewing Machine maintenance – Frequency
A good rule to follow is to set up a cleaning and oiling session after 100 hours of use. So if you sew 3 hrs a day, after 30+ days ie once almost every 1 month – That is not too hard.
Step 1 – Regular Maintenance & Care
There are some precautionary measures you should be taking on a day to day basis if you want a long life for the machine. Ensure that these practices are followed on a regular basis
1. Always ( always ) cover the machine when not in use – make a pretty sewing machine cover yourself or use the bland one you got when you bought the machine or use an old scarf to cover it. Whatever you do, make sure that the machine is covered from all the dust in the air which is going to choke the life out of it in time. Keeping the machine out of sunlight is also a good idea.
2. Ensure that you are using the appropriate thread and needle for the fabric. Checkout the post on selecting the appropriate sewing machine needle for your project.
3. Do not make your machine sew fabrics which it shouldn’t be – like that extra thick upholstery fabric with pleats – your home sewing machine may not be up to sewing through such thick layers. It may prove to be too much for the internal parts.
4. Ensure that the power source is good enough for the machine . Always take out the power plug from the outlet when not in use.
5 Read up the sewing machine manual cover to cover. Keep it somewhere safe preferably near your sewing machine. Checkout this post on where to get manuals if you do not have one handy.
6. Before sewing check the bobbin case always every time – the lint which inevitably lands up there can disrupt sewing in a really bad way and also build up fast.
7. Always thread the machine with the presser foot lever in an up position.
8. Do not run the machine backwards unnecessarily.
9. Use the machine at least once a month – even if you are not sewing anything, just run it over a scrap of fabric. Like any electrical equipment, you should operate the sewing machine regularly for it to work. If possible, run the different stitches as well. Sometimes they might get stuck if unused for long.
7. Always thread the machine with the presser foot lever in an up position.
Step 2 –Cleaning your sewing machine
Blow lint and trash everyday from sewing machine surface and hook area.
Dust and lint are the most troublesome problems your sewing machine will have to endure in its whole life. The dust particles and lint from the fabric you sew which sneak inside will fill and clog the insides of your sewing machine. They will make the machine over work.
Many die-hard sewing machine lovers and professionals who value their sewing machine clean lint inside the sewing machine after every project or every 3 hours of sewing – I said this, so that you have a yardstick. You can make your own timeline.
What are the tools you need for cleaning the machine
- Sewing machine manual
- Any brush ( even a makeup brush would do, but a brush with bendable handles would be great; I love to use small paintbrushes for cleaning as it reaches anywhere)
- A tweezer
- A large upholstery needle or any sharp metal thingy
- A cleaning cloth or two – a scrap of cotton muslin/cheese cloth
- Small pieces of paper ( to reach thin spaces)
- Screwdriver ( small and big)
- A pipe cleaner or thin piece of fabric strip 10 inches long and 1/2 inch wide
- Optional tools – A torch light ; magnifying glass ; small vacuum cleaner ( particularly the hand held kind used to clean computers keyboard)
Do not use those small round balloon shaped brush with compressed air ( It will only push dust further inside the machine)
You need a well lit area for your cleaning. If your sewing space is cramped (like mine) bring it out to an open space with plenty of clear area to keep the parts you are going to remove from the machine (you want to miss anything)
Protect the space with an old cloth or newspaper.
Steps to cleaning the sewing machine
1.Switch off the machine and take the plug off the socket. Unplug the pedal from the machine.
2. Take off the bobbin and if there is a bobbin case that one too. Take off the needle.
Learn about the various parts of the sewing machine in this post.
You can remove the throat plate, bobbin case and whatever else you could. But ensure that you keep everything in order. It is a disaster if you forget where everything was. Do not remove anything that you feel you wouldn’t be able to put back. I would take photos of before and after all the time I am doing it. I never rely on my memory for these hardware matters.
(Every expert recommends that you change the sewing machine needle after atleast 15 hours of usage. Some even change them after every project or after 4 hours of use. Once a month can be a good time to change the needle if you are not an always-at-the-sewing-machine girl. A safe average is 8 hours of sewing)
You can unscrew the needle plate screws to remove the needle plate to thoroughly clean the feed dog and bobbin area.
3.Clean the whole machine off lint and dust with the tools you have. Attack all the dirt inside and get it outside. If you have a handheld vacuum use it to suck up all the loosened dirt. Hope you would not find as much dirt as I did.
Main areas to clean are – near Needle bar, Under the needle plate -the bobbin and feed-dog area; if possible remove the top cover and clean there.
You can remove the bobbin case and brush the inside. You can do this with both the sewing machines – one with the vertically inserting bobbin or with top loading bobbin case, with drop in bobbin. For a sewing machine with the vertical bobbin area you can remove the retention ring and the hook assembly and clean.
Use the brush to get the dust off. Use the needle to pry lint off the machine. Use paper pieces on tight thin spaces. Use the cleaning cloth to scrub the dirt off; Use tweezers to pick up lint and loose threads from inside the machine. Usually, there will be threads tangled behind the hook assembly.
Use the pipe cleaner or fabric strip to clean spaces between the tension disc and threader.
If there are any burrs inside the bobbin case or the hook which will interfere with forming of good stitches, use very fine sandpaper to sand them smooth. You have to be very very gentle in this action. If you are over enthusiastic you can cause more trouble than there is.
Another area to clean is in between the tension discs. The right tension is one of the most important thing in your sewing. If something is caught between the tension discs it can make your sewing go all crazy. Pull the presser foot up by pulling the presser foot lever. Use a thin paper or fabric to get anything (cut thread, dust, spider web) caught between the discs.
Step 3 – Oiling the sewing machine
If you check your sewing machine manual for oiling, you maynot find anything -I am talking about the modern home sewing machines. For my machine the manual do not mention oiling at all and manufacturer says do not oil but I do oil and I think my machine works better with it.
The dealer where you got the machine or a sewing machine retailer near your place will have the necessary oil for you. Do not use cooking oil or hair oil – I forbid you.
And do not oil everywhere. A little bit of oil (a drop or two) in the center hole under the bobbin case, and the feed dog joints is going to avoid a lot of sewing machine problems at a later date, like moisturizing your skin.
If you absolutely refuse to oil your machine you can take it to the repair shop every 6 months or so – they will do this for you properly.
At the center of the hook race your machine may have a small piece of felt like thing – it is called an oil wick or a hole. Put your one drop of oil on it. Make sure that you do not put too much oil. A drop from the nozzle will be enough. This cannot be emphasized enough as too much oil can cause more trouble.
I drop this small drop on the underside of the shuttle hook. Then turn the hand wheel so that the oil is spread throughout. (I don’t oil anywhere else but if you have a sewing manual which tells you to oil, that manual will also tell you the spots where you should drop the oil)
Sew with some scraps after you have oiled and you can avoid getting those oil stains on the clothes you will be sewing.
After I have cleaned and oiled, I usually use a fresh cloth to wipe the outside of the machine. Then I will change the needle.
Return all the parts and screw everything up. Replace the needle plate.
Turn the hand wheel to the front and see everything working as it should be.
Plug the machine back to power.
Stitch on a scrap of cloth to see that tension and pressure are alright. If not adjust as needed.
Cover it back till the next sewing session. This cannot be emphasized enough. You need to cover. Here is a very easy sewing tutorial to make a sewing machine cover.
Every year you should be taking the sewing machine back to the manufacturer’s service center for a whole service it deserves for the work it has been doing for you.
I found this wonderful video doing everything that I would be doing.
Sometimes all your care may prove ineffective and your sewing machine may develop structural problems. If there is excessive movement when working the machine, certain alarming sounds, timing problem in stitch formation, worn out and shattered parts inside, things are best left to an expert in sewing machine repair. For small scale DIY repair you can check these post – Sewing machine repair – 10 scenarios. ; Troubleshooting sewing machine problems