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Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting: Sewing Saturday

Sorry for making you all wait so long for this post!  I know that there are some of you out there who knew the other information and were probably dying to figure out how to fix the problems you’ve been having with your machine.  Well, today is your lucky day, because we’re finally going to go through sewing machine maintenance and troubleshooting issues.  I had asked my mom, Trudy, if she’d be willing to type up something for today, and she helped me out in a big way by writing, well, just about all of this post.  The last two weeks were busier than anticipated, and I just didn’t have enough time to get around to doing more writing on my own.  Next week, I promise, I’ll have another post on hand sewing.  In the meantime, keep working on those skills!  So here’s what she had to say:

Sewing Machine Maintenance

Like a car and household appliances, maintenance of your sewing machine is important to proper running.  Dirt and dust build-up can hinder how well a sewing machine stitches, works, and sounds.  Some machines are louder than others, especially the lesser-expensive ones.  With that said, let’s go over some very basic maintenance tips.Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Some machines will come with a hard plastic cover, others are dropped down into a table. If you have that, great! If not, it’s a good idea to purchase, or make, a cover for your sewing machine.  You can purchase inexpensive plastic ones in most stores where sewing supplies are sold, or you can look online for something sturdier (and prettier), or make your own.  Because I use my machine almost daily, it sits out on my sewing table and I don’t typically cover it.  But the longer I know it will sit, I put the hard plastic cover over mine to keep out the dust and dirt.  It’s also a good idea to use the cover when transporting your machine if you’re taking it elsewhere to sew, such as a friend’s house or sewing classes.

I suggest you do not store your sewing machine in an attic or basement unless you have a temperature-controlled environment. Humidity can rust parts on your machine.

Okay, probably the most important thing you can do to help your machine continually run smoothly is to be sure you clear out any lint regularly. Threads, and sometimes certain fabrics, especially ones like flannel, create a lot of lint in the bobbin area, but it also collects in the housing on the left of your machine where the needle arm is. Most machines will have a cover on the left side that is removable (check your manual if you have one!), or has hinges so it swings open.  If your machine did not come with a small lint brush, you can purchase them wherever you buy sewing supplies.  I have also used those inexpensive paintbrushes with the nylon bristles as well.  Take your brush and carefully remove any obvious bits of lint sitting on machine parts.  You can also use a vacuum cleaner attachment to suck these out.  Be careful to not jam lint into other parts of your machine.  When you’re done with that, check out the bobbin housing area.  This is where the majority of lint collects. Remove your free-arm if you have one, open up the bobbin door and the throat plate (your machine should come with one or two small screwdrivers for this purpose, but you can purchase them as well if you don’t have them).   Same thing here, gently use the brush or vacuum attachment to remove as much lint as you can see.  Some machines will allow you to remove the top of the arm of your sewing machine. If you can do this, it’s a good idea to check this once in awhile.  It doesn’t tend to collect as much lint as the other two areas, but checking it a couple of times a year, if you sew a lot, isn’t a bad idea.

If you have an owner’s manual, it should tell you where to apply oil. Most new machines come with a little bottle of sewing machine oil and even if you have a used machine it still might have that bottle with it. You don’t use a lot, so it lasts really long.  This oil should be clear.  If your machine is computerized, do NOT attempt to oil it yourself.  Bring it to your sewing machine shop and let them do this for you.  The one place I apply oil is in the bobbin housing. Just one or two drops is all you need. You don’t want to over-oil it.  Some machines have tiny little holes on the top of the arm where you also place a drop or two of oil.  Then there is the left side where you place a drop on the needle arm.  You really do not need to do this a lot unless you are constantly sewing.

Once I close the doors on the machine and replace the needle plate, I remove my sewing machine needle and run the machine for a minute or two without a needle or thread in it. This is to help distribute the oil before you begin to sew again.  If you have been sewing a lot, replace your needle with a fresh one at this time.

If you use your machine fairly regularly, schedule a date with your sewing machine dealer once a year and have them go over everything for you.  If they can do it while you are there, ask them to show you some basics on cleaning and oiling so you can do it in between shop visits.  Unless you sew a lot, you really only need to take it in once a year, or when something isn’t working right and you’ve tried everything you can think of to correct the problem. Keeping the bobbin area clean and oiled goes a long way in keeping your machine running smoothly.

Troubleshooting

It happens. You’re sewing your little heart out and suddenly something isn’t right.  Most sewists will find that there are some basic things that impede our sewing adventures, so let’s cover the most basic

Remember this:  TNT   “Thread” “Needle” “Tension” and remember it in that order. Unless it’s really obvious to you what happened while you were sewing, this is normally the order in which you will check to see where the problem lays.

Thread:  Besides actual thread breakage, thread is going to be the one area you will check first. Sometimes while sewing, something just messes up the stitching or your thread breaks. Go back and re-thread the machine.  You’d be surprised at how often this one simple thing will correct the problem.  The machine may not have been properly threaded in the first place, or something may have happened during stitching that caused the thread to pop itself out of the thread path somewhere.  Sometimes you may need to check the bobbin thread underneath.  For various reasons the bobbin thread can come out of the notch on the bobbin case and in turn, it will not sew properly.

Double-check your thread quality. Remember, older thread becomes more brittle over time and can break while sewing, especially going over bulky seams.  Cheap thread is also a no-no.  You don’t have to spend a lot, just don’t use those tiny spools you find in travel sewing kits or buy the 5-for-a-dollar spools at your discount store.  Make sure you’re using the right kind of thread for your sewing project. Most all-purpose threads are adequate for basic sewing purposes. Cotton, polyester, or a cotton-poly blend usually work just fine for most purposes.

Another thing most sewists don’t realize is that humidity can affect how a thread behaves on any given day.  If it’s really humid outside and it’s humid in your house, it will make the thread swell and it can misbehave.  It will behave properly once the humidity level is normal again.

When starting sewing, always leave a long thread tail to hold onto so it doesn’t bunch up like a bird’s nest at the beginning of your seam.  This can actually mess up the thread path and you may have to re-thread

Needle:  Use quality needles and the proper ones for your sewing machine.  A broken needle is obvious and you will have to replace it. If you don’t see the tip that broke off, check in the bobbin area, as often it ends up down there and it can mess up your stitching or jam in your bobbin housing somewhere.

Sometimes even though you are using brand-new needles, you can still get a defective needle, it happens.  Make sure you are using the proper size needle for your sewing project and for the thread you are using.  If your thread is thick and you are using a smaller needle, the thread will fray and break constantly.

After sewing for periods of time, you get accustomed to how the stitching sounds. If your needle is dull, it will start to skip stitches and you will hear sort of a ‘popping’ sound when the needle punctures the fabric. It’s not loud, but you become familiar with it over time if you do enough stitching.

Some people inquire how often should a needle should be changed.  The basic rules are this: 1) if it’s broken 2) if you are using a different size thread 3) if you are sewing on a completely different type of material, such as switching from regular cotton to leather or satin, etc… 4) every time you start a new sewing project. That last one is debatable. Obviously, there are times you will only be sewing for a short time or on a small project, so unless you’re having problems it is most likely not necessary to change the needle.

If you’re working with fusibles, because fusibles can gum up the needle and cause skipped stitches.  You can remove the residue left behind with a little rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and wipe the needle down, but if you’re doing a lot of stitching on or with fusibles, you will need to replace your needle at some point because you will lose stitch quality eventually.

Tension:  Tension adjustment is usually only necessary if you have gone over everything else and are not sure what the problem is. Tension will show up in your stitch quality. A balanced tension while sewing is when the needle thread (top stitch) and bobbin thread (bottom stitch) are balanced properly and you don’t see the opposite one (bobbin thread on top) on the other side.  Take some scrap fabric and slowly adjust your tension knob on the top or front of your machine and do test stitching to see if it corrected the problem.  Typically, the smaller the number on the tension knob, the tighter the tension.  If it’s too tight, the bobbin thread will show little pops of thread on the top.  The higher the number, the looser the tension and if you look on the back of what you are sewing, you will see that the thread almost looks like a straight line instead of individual stitches.

One way to test if you have adequate tension is to sew two pieces of scrap fabric together, then hold one piece in each hand and gently pull. If the tension is good, the fabric shouldn’t pull apart and show a lot of the stitching. You will see the stitches if it’s done right, but you will be able to tell that you can’t just pull the two pieces apart easily.

We hope you have a wonderful Saturday!  If you have any questions… issues you think we did not cover properly or missed altogether, let us know and we can write about it in the future 🙂  Leave your questions and comments below and we’ll try and get back to you ASAP!

Love~ Danielle and Trudy

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Want the whole series?  Here’s what we’ve written so far:

The Basics

Introduction to Sewing: Part 1

Introduction to Sewing: Part 2

Your Sewing Machine

Acquiring a Sewing Machine

Getting To Know Your Sewing Machine

Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Hand Sewing

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

Basic Hand Sewing: Part 1

 

4 thoughts on “Sewing Machine Maintenance and Troubleshooting: Sewing Saturday

  1. I’ve been waiting for this post! I recently replaced my machine because it was giving me so much trouble, but now I realize I probably could have fixed the problems by cleaning inside and replacing the needle more often. Oh well, I really like the new one. 🙂

    1. Well, glad you like the new one! Keeping on top of these issues should really help keep your machine running smoothly, and for longer 🙂 My mom burnt out her first machine because it hadn’t really ever been oiled properly…

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