Sewing Machine Maintenance

Sewing Machine Maintenance

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
  1. Taking your sewing machine in for maintenance is like going in for a yearly doctor checkup even when you’re not sick. Some people/machines can get away without it and still lead long, happy, productive lives. Other times, you discover something big before it’s too late. Or else you can clear up a small problem you’ve had so long you don’t even notice it anymore until it’s gone.

    Non-mechanical folks

    If you’re one of those people who, after all these years, still thinks your computer will either explode or shut down permanently if you so much as update software without the Geek Squad, you’re probably never going to work up the nerve to maintain your sewing machine yourself. In this case, it’s recommended to take your machine in approximately every 6 months to a year, depending on how much you sew. However, no one does this. Every year or every couple years is probably okay, depending on how much you use it, how your climate or fabrics affect the oil and moving parts, and your machine’s personal quirks.

    Everyone else

    For the rest of us, doing your own maintenance is not nearly as hard as you might think. Never ever, ever, ever attempt to perform serious repairs, such as changing out broken gears, adjusting the alignment, or banging out a bent part. Cleaning, oiling, and lubing your machine can often clear up problems, and if this doesn’t solve an issue, do not attempt to fix it yourself. Gear teeth look like they can go together any which way, but they cannot. Since repairmen work with many models of machines, they’ll often base a replacement in part on where the old broken one was. If you take it out, they have to start from scratch. Furthermore, you can have a domino effect on other aspects of your machine that will now have to be fixed. Jumping in yourself is like a mistress calling the wife to try to repair the marriage.

    With the disclaimers out of the way…

    Many problems with your machine can be cleared up by opening it up, adding oil, cleaning out the dust, and just generally letting it feel like you care. Regardless of your model, it’s basically the same steps. As far as maintenance (as opposed to repairs) is concerned, the differences are all details.

    Step 1

    Remove as much of the body/case as you can or as you need to. Some brands hide screws all over the place and it takes forever to find them all. Some have just a couple. You can probably count the screws on one hand for an older, metal model. With my new Kenmore, I could probably open a hardware store if I just didn’t reassemble it.

    Many machines have half a dozen or more TYPES of screw, as well, and they each have a specific home when you’re putting them back, even if they look like they could be interchangeable. When pulling a machine apart, you may start with the best intentions to keep the screws separate, and then they wind up in a big pile. Generally, the screws that go on the bottom are a different color than the ones on the sides/top. Sometimes the inside screws are different again.

    The ultra-prepared who also own a digital camera can take pictures as they go along to remember where each screw goes. This will also speed up the process the next time you perform maintenance; it doesn’t have to be the same Easter egg hunt every time.

    Once the screws are off, there is often some kind of catch holding the parts together. Sometimes kind of like the latch keeping the hood closed on your car, sometimes just a little plastic lip that fits over an indent on the neighboring piece. The way to get it open is with a good, hard yank. There’s usually a CREAKING, snapping noise, and depending on the machine model, it may sound like you broke something. You didn’t. (Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean rip it apart with your mighty thews. This means pull it apart with some care: with strength but intelligence. The plastic is tougher than you probably think it is, but it isn’t indestructible.)

    Step 2

    Clean out the lint, dust, debris, tangled threads. You can use a can of air or an air compressor with the blow-gun attachment. Wipe or scrape off old grease/lube; when it’s fresh, it goes on clear, yellow, or white. If it’s black or dark, that’s because it’s filthy.

    Step 3

    Locate the moving parts. If you have a good understanding of machines or once you get experience, there are some key places that you’ll locate easily. Turn the hand knob back and forth: if it moves, it needs to be oiled. The best oil to use is Zoom Spout–the long nozzle allows you to get into very tight areas. If you find a cheaper oil, it should work just fine also; you can put it into a Zoom Spout bottle.

    Only use one or two drops of oil on every moving joint; over-oiling isn’t quite as bad as letting your machine run dry, but it’s still not good for it. And it makes a terrible mess. Plus, when you do take your machine in to a repairman, they’ll judge you based on your machine’s condition. If your car’s motor was covered in oil and was dripping oil all over the place, not because there was a leak, but because you had sloshed it everywhere, a mechanic would not take you seriously as a capable vehicle owner. Lack of care or sloppiness says something about what kind of owner you are, and some places may treat your machine accordingly.

    The needle bar (the long vertical rod with the needle at the bottom end) needs to be oiled in several places, but be careful not to get too much oil at the bottom that will drip onto the needle. Also be careful in the bobbin area to avoid getting oil in the bobbin casing.

    The motor also needs oil. On either side, there are cut outs that form a shape like a flower. Squeeze some oil in through one of the ‘petals.’

    The general rule is if it’s metal, it needs sewing machine oil; if it’s Teflon/plastic it needs lube/grease. This pretty much means the cams and the gears. Most machines now have Teflon gears–technically, they’re not "plastic," though if you get your machine somewhere like Wal-Mart, where they specifically request poorer quality merchandise to keep the price down, the gears may be pretty much plastic. Put some grease in the middle of where the gears meet and turn the knob a few times to spread it around.

    If you don’t have grease, you can make do with oiling the parts that should be greased. It doesn’t work as well, but a lot of people don’t generally have grease on hand.

    When you have finished lubricating all the parts that move via the side knob, flip the stitch and width selectors/knobs back and forth. Look for moving parts that could use a drop of oil there, too.

    On a side note, there are often small holes in various places around your machine. These are for putting in a drop of oil  in the most important spots without having to disassemble the whole thing.

    Step 4

    At this point, you might plug your machine in and make a few stitches on a scrap of fabric. Especially if you decided to perform this maintenance to see if it would help clear up a problem.

    Step 5

    Replace all the casings around your machine, making sure any lips and catches are in the right place. Put the screws back on in the order you took them off; remember some go on in the guts of the machine, under the casing.

    It’s not uncommon to wind up with an extra screw or two. Try to retrace your steps to locate where they go. Some screws aren’t terribly important, some are absolutely necessary and certain parts will move overmuch or experience strain. If the screw is important, and you can’t locate its place, it’ll likely become apparent after sewing for a little while.

    Step 6

    The needle plate may get some dings on it from when you bend a needle and the machine still sews a couple stitches, slamming the needle into the plate. The larger scuffs can give you sharp edges that might catch on fabrics. You can sand these down, using an attachment or accessory from a dremel. Use a fine degree, not too abrasive. Do it very lightly BY HAND. Do not use the dremel. Do not attempt to sand other parts (like the loopers on a serger; the upper looper sometimes needs it on the tip, but don’t try this at home).

    Step 7

    Replace the needle and re-thread it. A dull or bent needle or a needle that is not all the way in place will affect your sewing. After you’ve gone to all this trouble, go ahead and put in a new needle.

    Make a few stitches on a scrap fabric to ensure that no oil is going to get on your thread or fabric before sewing something for real.

    As you get more familiar with your machine, you may start wondering if you’re missing something. This really isn’t all that hard and not terribly time-consuming. When you do it yourself, it doesn’t have the same magic as when you get it back from the repairman. Part of this is the mystery of someone else who Knows More Than You, part of this is how well they tend to scrub the outside so your machine looks shinier than you ever remember seeing it. But seriously, folks, this is what a repairman does to your machine when it doesn’t need any repairs. They’ll check it over for other issues that can be repaired at no extra charge: thread tension, alignment, presser foot tension. If you have a good understanding of your machine, you can get an idea of which of these might be a problem, and you can limit your maintenance visits to times when these things need to be taken care of. If it’s all oiled and clean, and you have a good idea of what needs expert attention, some repairmen might be willing to fix it at a reduced rate.

Leave a Reply