Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Care and Feeding of the Domestic Sewing Machine

Many thanks to Sam Hunter for inviting me to participate in the Back to School Blog Hop! I decided to join in with something from a side project I've been working on. Enjoy!


It would be ever so lovely if the expensive mechanical equipment in our lives would just perpetually work without any special interference from us, but I’m afraid that’s not the case, and particularly so with sewing machines. The act of sewing produces friction and heat in various parts of the machine, plus wear on the needle and oodles of lint, all eventually requiring some form of attention.

As with anything pertaining to your sewing machine: read your manual to determine exactly what your model requires. There are some machines out there the manufacturers say should not be oiled, or which have parts made inaccessible to anyone but a professional, so before you go attacking your baby with a screwdriver and a bottle of sewing machine oil, READ THE MANUAL. If, after reading the maintenance instructions in your manual, the things outlined below make sense and seem safe, then carry on.

The following is a general list of what should be done (and how often you should do it) to clean and maintain your machine.

Unplug it and cover it.

Yes, that’s it. Why? Oh, well, I suppose that would help, wouldn’t it? Unplugging your machine when it’s not in use is a good idea for several reasons. An unplugged machine can’t be turned on, at least not without more manual dexterity and effort than a curious animal or child might expend. And lightning strikes and power surges can fry a computerized machine’s internal circuits. Get a surge protector too, but unplug it anyway.

Your machine may have come with a cover, and often that cover latches on to the machine and has a handle for carrying. But even if it is just a loose plastic sheath, the cover keeps dust, dirt, and hair out of the delicate inner workings. If your machine didn’t come with one, make one! There are lots of fun patterns for sewing machine covers out there, often easily adaptable to different size models. And if yours came with a boring, hard plastic one, well, that’s what stickers and paint and Mod Podge were made for.

Change the needle. It may not seem thrifty, but sewing machine needles get a lot of action and can get slightly nicked, bent, or dulled in the process. Quite often, a sudden problem with your stitching can be attributed to a worn needle—and just as easily fixed by replacing it. Some people recommend changing your needle every four hours of sewing (some say eight), but who keeps track? If you load up a nice, new needle every time you start a new project, you’ll do just fine. For those who do a number of small projects in between quilts, you can change your needle every 5 to 10 projects, depending on their size and potentially needle-dulling materials.

And here’s where we get down to the really fun stuff, depending of course on your personal definition of “fun”. To clean and oil your machine you may need:
 • Sewing machine oil (use only sewing machine oil, which can be purchased any place you get sewing notions)
• Small brush (one often comes with your machine, but these can also be purchased)
• Small screwdriver or coin
• Can of compressed air
• Clean piece of muslin
• Needle-nose tweezers
• Cotton swabs
• A stiff drink

Turn off and unplug your machine and raise the presser foot. Fold the muslin in half and gently slide the folded edge in between the tension disks. (You won’t be able to do this if the presser foot is lowered.) Very gently slide the fabric back and forth a couple times, and then remove it.

Then, take your can of compressed air, with its little plastic straw attached and blow air between the disks from the back of the machine out through the front.

Remove the foot and needle from the machine and remove or open the needle plate according to the manual for your machine. (This is where you may need a coin for loosening screws and your machine may require lowering the feed dogs as well.) This area, which contains the feed dogs, can get pretty gobbed up with lint. Use the small brush to loosen it and your compressed air to puff it out. If you are concerned about the compressed air blowing bits further down into the machine, a small pair of needle-nose tweezers can help pull some of it out.

Cotton swabs can also get into some hard-to-reach places.

If your machine has a top-loading bobbin, open the cover for it, and take out the bobbin. Carefully use your brush and tweezers to remove dust, lint, and errant threads. Many people also use the compressed air here, but others feel there is more danger of pushing dirt farther back into the workings of the machine where you can’t get to it. If you can, you can also remove the bobbin case and clean it as well. (Remember, machines are all different as to what you can access and remove yourself, so your experience may vary.) You can fix yourself a cocktail at this point if taking apart your expensive baby is starting to make you nervous.

Front loading bobbins tend to give you a bit more access. Open that cover and remove the bobbin, the bobbin case, and the hook. Use your brush, swabs, and/or tweezers to remove visible lint.

 As for oil, be sure to check your manual. Some manufacturers specifically state in the manual not to use oil inside the machine, while others will give specific instructions for how and where to oil. In general, when you oil, you will only use a drop or two, in specific places, and you will want to run some scrap material through the machine after oiling to pick up any extra oil that may have gotten to parts that touch your fabrics.

Now you get to find out if you can get all those parts you took out back together the right way! Hope you still have some of that margarita mix left!

You should plan to take your machine in to a professional once a year for a thorough cleaning and tune-up. A professional sewing machine technician doesn’t actually need a bracing drink to get him or her through the removal and cleaning of your machine’s sensitive bits, and can take more things apart and get a better, deeper clean than you can. He or she can check all the belts and hoses (there are hoses, right?) and make sure nothing is cracked or scratched, and if it is, can get and replace the necessary part for you. Many quilt and fabric shops, especially those that sell machines, have technicians available, and you don’t have to own a machine from their shop to use them. Also look for vacuum/fan/sewing machine shops (what I like to call Suck, Blow, and Sew) as they usually do repairs and tune-ups as well. Even some of the big box fabric shops will have a technician available on certain days. You should expect to pay somewhere in the range of $50–$150 for a basic cleaning and adjustment, more if your machine actually needs repair or a new part. You may possibly have to leave your machine for a few days, so be prepared to do without for a short time.

Remember: this is a general list, and you should always read your manual to determine exactly what your machine's manufacturer recommends. And if your manufacturer recommends a good margarita recipe, you know you got a good machine.

Please be sure to visit all the other stops on the hop. (And if this is your first time here and you feel inclined to read further back in the archives, please read my About Me page first to get acquainted with what you'll find here.)

Sept 1: Peta Minerof-Bartos of PetaQuilts – So, Does that Diagonal Method for a Pieced Backing Really Work
Sept 2: Cheryl Sleboda of – The Quilter’s Knot
Sept 3: Teresa Coates of Crinkle Dreams – The Importance of Pressing
Sept 4: Cath Hall of Wombat Quilts – Color Coding for Paper-piecing
Sept 5: Sam Hunter of Hunter’s Design Studio – How to Calculate and Cut Bias Binding
Sept 6: Melanie McNeil of Catbird Quilt Studio – Credit where Credit is Due
Sept 7: Mandy Leins of Mandalei Quilts – How to Keep a Perfect 1/4” Seam Between Different Machines
Sept 8: Rose Hughes of Rose Hughes – Fast Pieced Applique
Sept 9: Megan Dougherty of The Bitchy Stitcher – The Care and Feeding of the Domestic Sewing Machine
Sept 10: Lynn Krawczyk of Smudged Design Studio – Make a Mobile Art Kit
Sept 11: Susan Beal of West Coast Crafty – Log Cabin 101
Sept 12: Sarah Lawson of Sew Sweetness – Zipper Tips
Sept 13: Jane Victoria of Jolly and Delilah – Matching Seams
Sept 14: Jemelia Hilfiger of Je’s Bend – Garment Making Tips and Tricks
Sept 15: Ebony Love of LoveBug Studios – Curved Piecing Without Pins
Sept 16: Misty Cole of Daily Design Wall – Types of Basting
Sept 17: Kim Lapacek of Persimon Dreams – Setting your Seams
Sept 18: Christina Cameli of A Few Scraps – Joining Quilted Pieces by Machine
Sept 19: Bill Volckening of WonkyWorld – The Importance of Labels
Sept 20: Jessica Darling of Jessica Darling – How to Make a Quilt Back
Sept 21: Debbie Kleve Birkebile of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures – Perfectly Sized No-Wave Quilt Borders
Sept 22: Heather Kinion of Heather K is a Quilter – Baby Quilts for Baby Steps
Sept 23: Michelle Freedman of Design Camp PDX – TNT: Thread, Needle, Tension
Sept 24: Kathy Mathews of Chicago Now Quilting Sewing Creation – Button Holes
Sept 25: Jane Shallala Davidson of Quilt Jane – Corner Triangle Methods
Sept 27: Cristy Fincher of Purple Daisies Quilting – The Power of Glue Basting
Sept 28: Catherine Redford of Catherine Redford – Change the Needle!
Sept 29: Amalia Teresa Parra Morusiewicz of Fun From A to Z – French Knots, – ooh la la!
Sept 30: Victoria Findlay Wolfe of Victoria Findlay Wolfe Quilts – How to Align Your Fabrics for Dog Ears
October 1: Tracy Mooney of 3LittleBrds – Teaching Kiddos to Sew on a Sewing Machine
October 2: Trish Frankland, guest posting on Persimon Dreams – The Straight Stitch Throat Plate
October 3: Flaun Cline of I Plead Quilty – Lining Strips Up

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