Let’s Talk Sewing Machine Maintenance!

13 Feb

In the spirit of Karen’s series of True Confessions, I think most of us tend to plead guilty when it comes to maintaining our machines and keeping them in tip top sewing shape. Fess up, guys! Are you guilty of:
– Using the same needle for months at a time?
– Sewing over pins?
– Going far too long between regular tune-ups?
– Letting the lint build up to epic proportions?
– Forgetting to oil your machine?

Let me be the first to say that I definitely hit some of those categories myself. Oops! I’m very vigilant about keeping the lint to a minimum (I clean my machine with that tiny brush every time I wind my bobbin; yes, I get freaky like that), but I regularly forget to change my needle until it breaks from the sheer pressure of existing. I also didn’t realize you were supposed to oil a computerized machine. I thought that was only something you did with the manual ones. No wonder my stitches were looking like shit! Hello!!

Part of my problem is that I just never had anyone tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Yes, you should refer to your owner’s manual for upkeep on your machine – but how many of us actually read that? (if you have a Featherweight and you’ve read it like a book, you’re exempt from this question. We all read our Featherweight manuals like a book, because it’s fucking fascinating and the pictures are amazing). So today, let’s talk about those little basics that should be second nature but totally are not. It’s ok, we’re all in this together, y’all.

Changing your needle
We all know to change the needle when it’s broken – you can’t sew anything otherwise ๐Ÿ™‚ But did you know that you actually should be changing the needle far more frequently than that? Not just when there’s an issue. It is recommended that the needle is changed after 8 hours of sewing, which comes out to every 1-2 projects (depending on the project, of course). Waiting longer to change your needle causes it to get dull and loose the sharp point, which can result in wonky or skipped stitches (and hours of hair-pulling frustration, because ARGH!). I know it can be hard to remember to change your needle out that often – hell, I forget all the time, although I’m trying to be better about it. It helps to keep a stash of needles on hand (I buy a pack every time I go to the fabric store!), so you’re not tempted to try and plow through if the needle is super old but seems “good enough” -it’s probably not. You should also be proactive and change your needle if you ever manage to sew over a pin – it may look fine at a glance, but the tip is likely bent and this can also cause stitch problems. Which brings me to my next point…

Don’t sew over pins
I really hope I’m just preaching to the choir here, but just in case someone doesn’t know any better… DON’T SEW OVER YOUR PINS. Don’t don’t don’t! I cannot stress this enough! Sewing over pins causes all kinds of problems, from bending/breaking the needle (ever thought about where that broken tip might land? How about IN YOUR EYEBALL), to completely fucking up the timing of your machine so that you have to take it to the repair center and pay $ to have it fixed. Lame! Do yourself a big huge favor and pull those pins out before the needle gets anywhere near them. Do it for the sewing machines.

Regular Tune-ups
At the risk of sounding like a big fat sewing machine snob, it makes me cringe when I hear people brag about how their machine works so well and it hasn’t had a tune-up in decades. I understand that it may not be common knowledge that sewing machines need regular maintenance, but hey – that’s not something to brag about! Think about your car (if you don’t have a car, you can think about someone else’s car ;)) – would you let that thing go so long between tune-ups? Hell no! A sewing machine must have very precise timing to function correctly; if one little beat is off, it can wreck the whole output. Getting a tune-up can be a bit of a hassle – here it costs between $50-$90 (computerized machines are on the higher end of the price spectrum), and they hold your machine hostage for 1-2 weeks, depending on how quickly they can get to it. However, it is very important to have this done at regular intervals, as the machine needs benefits from having the timing and tension adjusted back to the factory settings, as well as getting a nice deep clean in all those little nooks & crannies that you can’t get to without actually opening the thing up and taking it apart. What constitutes as a “regular interval” is really a matter of how much you use your machine – I take mine in every year, but I also sew a LOT. You may be able to get away with getting a service every 2 or even 3 years, depending on how much you use the machine.

Taking care of lint build-up
Here’s my confession: I’m a big freak about cleaning my machine. I pull the whole bobbin apart and go to town with the lint brush before every sewing project, usually while the bobbin is winding. I also do this on my serger – I mean, have you seen how linty those things get? Nothing delights me more than getting a good sized ball of lint to marvel at (I also like cleaning the lint screen on my dryer. I’m sorry, is this TMI?). So keeping the lint build-up to a minimum has never been a problem with me. I’m not saying that you need to start digging for gold every single time you have a project – but please, make it a habit to at least keep a regular cleaning schedule. You’ll be amazed at how much better you machine functions when there’s not a big build-up of lint and broken thread lurking under the throatplate.

Oiling your machine
OMG. Until I bought my new Bernina, I never realized you were supposed to oil those things! For some reason, I was under the impression that computerized machines were exempt from regular oiling. My mechanic assures me that neglecting the oil does not necessarily hurt the machine, but it can do some wonky shit to those bobbin stitches since there is too much friction going on down there. If you’re not oiling your machine, take a quick peek at the owner’s manual (or call your local sewing repair place and ask them) and see if it’s necessary to keep things running smoothly. I now oil my machine once a month – and it doesn’t take much! A little dab will do ya.

If the idea of poking around in your machine just sounds too overwhelming and terrifying – well, there’s an app for that! ๐Ÿ™‚
DIY Household Sewing Machine is an app for iPhone and iPad (sorry Droid users ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Maybe soon?) that guides you through three basic steps of maintaining your sewing machine – removing the bobbin case to clean and oil the bobbin area (there are instructions for both top and front-loading bobbins – yeah!), changing the needle, and cleaning the tension units (which is not something I was aware of until, uhm, last night. Eep! Don’t worry, I’ll get a-cleaning as soon as I get home :)). While you shouldn’t necessarily consider this a total replacement for a regular session with an actual sewing machine mechanic, it is a great assistant in keeping things clean and running smoothly in between tune-ups.


What’s interesting about this app is that there are three ways the information is shared – a short animation (which totally reminds me of Money For Nothing and I TOTALLY LOVE IT OMG), a text document, and live-action video. The animation is great if you just need a little refresher on how to do something (you know, for those brainfart moments. I’m not the only one who gets them all the time…?), and I love that everything is spelled out for those of us who are just too impatient to sit through a 2 minute video.

Speaking of the vidoes… they are actually really great. I just mentioned that I’m too impatient to watch videos (it’s true! They are always just too damn slow-moving for my fast paced brain, I guess), but the longest one is only 2.5 minutes long, so it’s not too bad. Everything presented is very easy to see and understand, and there are some good tips about what tools are best for cleaning what parts of the machine. Bonus that dude has a delightful accent. God, I love accents.

The app is not free, but it only costs 99ยข – which is pretty much pocket change as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to have a go-to reference of the text and videos when you need a little hand-holding but don’t want to put your machine’s life in the hands of Google… and bonus, those little animations are fun to watch ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m so easily amused, ha!

What about you? Do you have any confessions about maintaining your machine that you’d like to get off your chest? C’mon, fess up – we’re all friends here ๐Ÿ˜‰

As a side note, I know I’m a few days late to the party but LADIES HAVE YOU SEEN MADALYNNE’S NEW UNDIE PATTERN? From the technical sketch to the gorgeous finished piece – I’m in love!! Must make me some undies, stat!

~*~Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for which I received financial compensation. All opinions on this product are my own, however!