Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How To Maintain Your Sewing Machine

Getting a new sewing machine is exciting and we just can't wait to give it a whirl. If you're like me, the last thing you want to do is read a manual. But it will tell you how to maintain your machine. My mom was a stickler for machine maintenance and insisted that part of every sewing project was the clean-up. It'll keep your machine working well and extend it's life. Now I'm here to tell you the same things, and it's really not all that hard to do.

Sewing makes an huge amount of lint.

Fig. 1 (lint build-up in serger)

Clean up involves not only tidying up your sewing area, but more importantly, readying your machine for your next project. It's really not all that washing the dishes after a meal...and your machine probably came with everything you need. The equipment: your manual, a good brush or two, a small screwdriver, and a good quality lightweight oil.

Fig. 2 (cleaning tools)

Let's talk about the oil. Often you get a small bottle of oil with your machine. Use it. This is a nice light-weight oil, and is not the popular 3 in 1 Oil you buy at the supermarket. That is much too viscous (thick) for the fine mechanisms in the newer machines. It'll get gummy with time and slow down the workings. Invest in a good quality oil that your favorite sewing shop carries. A quality light-weight oil is not all that much more money, just a few cents more, and it's less expensive than having your machine serviced more often than necessary.

The first step is lint removal. Lint removal is pretty straight-forward; just brush off the shaft, the foot, the bed, and the housing. Now here's where you must refer to your manual. Most manufacturers allow you to remove the sole plate to access the feed dogs, and the bobbin case and it's race. You may need to unscrew a screw or two, but this is really easy -- just place those screws where they won't get lost for the next couple of minutes. After you dismantle the bobbin casing and the sole plate, brush the lint out of the nooks and crannies. Let it fall down to the bottom of the housing, that's fine, it's just important to get it out of the mechanisms that move. If you have a small vacuum, use that to suck out that lint as much as possible, but if you don't, just letting it lie in the bottom won't hurt.

Fig. 3 (disassembling bobbin case)

Note that I didn't mention canned air in your equipment list. It's really not a good idea to blow the lint into your machine, and that's exactly what canned air will do. Use the brush instead. Don't blow the lint out. Doing so will just push it back into the mechanisms you can't reach, and then you'll need to have a technician service it, and that's expensive. Plus, if you have any electronic components, you are likely to create static which may ruin your circuitry. This is a quick way to end your machine's life. Don't take the chance.

Figs. 4 and 5 (brushing out the feed dogs and the needle shaft)

The next step is to oil your machine. Again, refer to your manual for the exact placement of oil. However, as a general guideline, place a drop of oil on any joint you see. Turn the flywheel slowly and watch what moves. Oil where two bars join and move in different planes. You'll most likely see a bolt or cam at the joint. Most manuals call for a drop in the bobbin chase as well. Some old machines allow you to take part of the upper housing off so you can oil the shaft, but most newer machines don't require or allow the removal of the upper housing. That's where the electronics are housed as well as the shaft, and will often nullify your warranty if you remove it. Make sure to refer to your manual to see what the manufacturer recommends.

Fig. 6 (oiling bobbin chase)

The final step is to replace the bobbin casing pieces, and the sole plate. Then take a soft, lint-free cloth to the housing. Place your cover on, and now you're all set for your next project.

Figs. 7 and 8 (reassembled machine and covered machines)


  1. Good advice on maintenance! Thanks for coming over to my blog. As you might have gathered, I had my battle with breast cancer this winter so we have lots in common! Hang in there - I am!

  2. Thank you! I just inherited Grandma's sewing machine and it's been sitting for years. I'll heed the advice!

  3. Julia, I didn't realize you've been fighting the fight, too. I just started following your site, so I haven't seen your discussing the cancer. Thanks for the encouragement, and the same to you!

  4. Great advice there. Now if only I could use my sewing amchine for longer than an hour without the thread tangling up on me....

  5. Yeah, I really hate when that happens. Took me a long time to find out why...ended up being a burr on my bobbin chase....go figure.

  6. I will eventually master the preventive maintenance. Thanks for the walk-through.


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