Keep Your Sewing Machine Running Smoothly

About 20 years ago I bought a used sewing machine. It was a Singer from the 1960's and had been used in a high school home economics classroom. It was sturdy, all metal, and made a perfect straight stitch. Over time, though, it seemed to loose it's oomph.

Frustrated by the wobbly stitching and skipping, I decided the machine was a dud so I gave it away. But the machine wasn't at fault, I was. I knew NOTHING about caring for a sewing machine. During the 10 years I owned that old Singer, I had never once cleaned it, replaced a needle, oiled it, or had it tuned up. Looking back on this makes me cringe. Learn from my mistakes. Here's a basic guide to caring for and cleaning your sewing machine.

Clean Machine/New Needle
If you want your machine to perform, you need to keep it clean. Keep your sewing machine covered when it's not in use. This keeps dust out of the working parts inside the machine. And after every major sewing project, do two things:
  1. throw away the sewing needle (a needle's life is over after 6-8 hours of sewing unless it's a titanium-coated needle)
  2. clean your machine
Why do you need to clean your sewing machine? Both the fabric and thread running through your machine are constantly leaving bits of fluff and lint. This builds up over time in your feed dogs and in the bobbin mechanisms, impacting performance.

Check your manual for directions on how to clean your machine. When you buy a new sewing machine ask the dealer to show you exactly how to clean it. If you don't have a manual or if you're unsure how to go about the task, ask a sewing machine repair person to walk you through the process. It's far better to ask than to avoid the task altogether.

How to Clean a Sewing Machine
I'm going to show you how I clean my beloved little Janome with a drop-in bobbin. This is just an example, though, so please see your own manual for the proper method for cleaning your sewing machine. Here's what I'll be using to clean my machine, including a micrfiber dust cloth not pictured:

Compressed air, a lint brush, tweezers, special screwdriver for removing the needle plate, and a pack of fresh needles.

Note: never blow into your machine to remove the lint as your breath will introduce unwanted moisture into the machine.

1. Turn off and unplug your machine.

2. Remove the foot and the needle.

3. Use a screwdriver or whatever special little tool came with your machine to remove the screw that holds the needle plate in place.

4. Remove the needle plate.

5. Lift out the bobbin and the bobbin holder.

Gross! I can't believe I just cleaned this machine a couple weeks ago.

6. Use the lint brush to clean out the inside of the machine, especially around the hook race (the metal hook that catches the thread). Move the hand wheel around slowly in order to clean all the way around. Get into every little nook and cranny.

7. Dig the lint brush around the outside the bobbin area to capture the lint hanging out along the sides and near the bottom of the inside of the machine. Use tweezers to get into tough spots.

8. Use the lint brush or a pair of tweezers to clean out the built up lint in the feed dogs.

9. Wipe out the inside of the hook race area with a microfiber cloth or other clean cloth.

10. Carefully use compressed air or a vacuum to clean around the needle clamp and the foot holder. Make sure the air is blowing away from the machine and not into it.

11. Remove the dust and lint from the inside and outside of the bobbin holder (don't forget the bottom side, too). Once it's clean, insert the bobbin holder back into the machine. Make sure it's seated properly.


12. Replace the needle plate and screw it back into place. Put your bobbin back in, or just return the bobbin cover to its place.

13. Put a fresh needle in the machine and put the foot back on.


Tune Ups
Keeping your machine clean is important, but so are regular tuneups. To find a good repair person, ask around, make phone calls, ask questions.

Plan on getting your machine serviced at least once a year if you put a lot of hours on it. If you sew infrequently, you can stretch it out to 1.5 to 2 years between tuneups.

Local prices vary from $50 to more $100 for a basic tune up. Wait time also varies from one day to up to several weeks. If you don't want to wait forever, consider taking your machine in during a slower time of year, like January or during the summer. Repair people are typically busiest between Halloween and Christmas. A busy time of year for sewists! Some repair people are willing to negotiate if you're absolutely desperate to get your machine back sooner rather than later. Remember, call first and ask questions!

Here's a list of some of the sewing machine repair centers/people around town:

Dr. Willy (rotates around the various Mill Ends Textiles stores) - (763) 546.4816
Gratz Sewing - (763) 595-0610
Valley West Sewing Center - (952) 881-0300
Creative Sewing Centers - (763) 513-9822

If you know of other service providers in the area please feel free to leave their contact information in a comment. 

 If your machine is acting up, do these three things:
  1. Rethread the machine. Incorrect threading can cause major troubles.
  2. Check the bobbin. Is it threaded in the machine properly? Did the bobbin wind properly or is the thread crossed and knotted?
  3. Make sure the needle has been inserted properly and is tight. Replace the needle if it's dull.
If these three steps don't fix your problem, consult your sewing machine manual. Do not take your sewing machine apart. Do take it a trusted service professional.

A Word About Oil 
Most sewing machines made these days (but not all) are self oiling. If your manual doesn't include instructions on how to oil, personally, I don't think you should do it. This is all the more reason to bring your machine in a for regular tune ups - let the professionals worry about the oiling.

I interviewed Dr. Willy for this blog post. One common mistake he sees is over oiling. After asking a few more questions, I discovered that I, too, have been over oiling my new mechanical machine, even though the manual tells me to oil it every 5 minutes (this is an exaggeration, of course, but they do suggest oiling with every use). From personal experience, all this oil has made a real mess. Oil has dripped out of the machine onto my fabric - aargh! And all that oil has blended with the lint to make a gooey mess in the bottom of machine. The moral of the story is to find a trusted professional to get good advice about caring for your sewing machine and to have it serviced regularly. 

Happy sewing!




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