Welcome back! Today’s post is on a topic I have wanted to write about for a VERY long time. In fact, I started this post over a year ago. Yes, I admit I’m a bit pokey on these posts, but this is a topic I been determined to finally get out there because I think most new quilters and sewists will find it useful: How to clean and maintain your sewing machine.
Even if you’ve been sewing for a long time, there may be a few tips here on basic sewing machine maintenance that are new to you. In fact, I’ve run into quilters at retreats and sew-ins who’ve been quilting for over 25 years and didn’t know some of these tips. We are all always learning, aren’t we?
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Despite the fact that I had been sewing since I was a child, I really had no idea how to correctly maintain my machine (or even how important it was). I knew that it needed the occasional squirt of oil. And when I bought my Pfaff Ambition, I thought my days of oiling were over, as I was told when I purchased the machine that I was getting a “self-lubricating machine.” All I would need to do is brush away the lint from time to time, and all would be good! (More on that later!)
Some of you may remember that I took a part-time job at a quilt shop back in 2014. The shop also happened to sell and service machines. I actually thought I knew how to clean my machine, but realized early on during a training session that I had not been cleaning my machine correctly. So, to help you avoid the same humiliation, I’m happy to pass along what I learned during my time there.
Note: These instructions are generic. Please consult your machine’s maintenance manual for specific instructions regarding your machine.
In a perfect world, your machine would just take care of itself, right?
We can dream…But the hard reality is that your machine is, in fact, a machine, and it is subject to wear and tear and all the maintenance that goes along with owning a machine. Bummer, I know. If you are fearing the future and an upcoming world ruled by AI (artificial intelligence), this should give you hope!
Owning a sewing machine is very much like owning a car. I’m sure you realize this if you own a higher-end machine, since the prices of those machines are usually comparable to the price of a small car. Oil changes are that little thing that extends the life of your car, and the proper care and maintenance of your sewing machine is no different. It’s annoying to take time out for an oil change, but you know you gotta do it if you want your car to last, right? The same holds true for your sewing machine.
No matter how much money your machine cost you, you will extend the life of your investment (and make your life so much easier) by taking the time to take care of your sewing machine properly. And know this: taking the time to clean and maintain your sewing machine will not take hours out of your schedule. In this post, I show you how to properly maintain your machine, in just a few minutes of your time. And with a little habit training, you’ll be doing this on a regular basis without thinking twice about it.
One other important thing to note before we get into the actual process of how to clean and maintain your sewing machine: Doing routine maintenance does not exclude you from needing to take your machine in for a yearly physical with a technician. Ideally, you should have your dealer or an authorized technician inspect your machine once a year. I’m always amazed at the little improvements I notice when I do this – and it’s the little things that can make a difference – such as a bobbin that is winding just a little bit tighter, or the stitch looking just a bit straighter.
Most of this was probably included in your sewing machine’s accessory box, but there may be a few additional items you should add to the arsenal:
4. A soft cotton or microfiber cloth
5. New Sewing machine needles. Schmetz is a good brand, but I prefer Inspira needles. When I worked at the shop I learned that the Inspira needles are specifically engineered to work better with machines that have needle threaders, and I can confirm that I notice that my needle threader seems to have a harder time working properly when I use a different brand of needle. I could write an entire post on needles, but for now, I will make life simple and say that when sewing patchwork and using 50 wt. cotton thread, you should be using either a 80/12 or 90/14 sharp needle. (I actually prefer the Microtex needles for patchwork.) Buy a bunch of these and always have a stash on hand.
Your needle is the least expensive part in your sewing machine, at about 50 cents each or 20 cents each if you buy them in bulk. If you keep a fresh one in your machine, you can save hundreds of dollars in costly repairs. That is because the main cause of costly damage to machines is from using a damaged needle. Often a needle can be slightly damaged with a burr or be slightly bent from use and it won’t be obvious to the naked eye. I actually put a new needle in once, and then had 15 minutes of frustration. I changed the needle again and all the problems went away. So, it’s possible that even a new needle will have issues. This is why it’s important to really know and pay attention to your machine.
She is talking to you, be sure you listen.
The more you get to know your machine, the easier it will be for you to tell when your machine is needing some love. I can’t stress enough how much your sewing machine will love you for giving her a new needle every time you clean and maintain your sewing machine.
That actually depends on how much you are using your machine. My basic rule is that I do this at the start of every new project. But if I have a project that is extending out over a long period of time, I will often stop and perform maintenance every time I change the bobbin.
You will be able to hear it. There may be a cracking or popping noise. Or the humming sound of your machine may have a slightly different pitch.
You may even be able to see it. You might notice a few skipped or crooked stitches. You may be getting more “bird’s nests” or you may notice that the fabrics are not pulling as well into the feed dogs.
You will just know, just like you know when your kid is getting sick.
Bonus tip: if you collect old machines that are sitting idle in your home, it’s a good idea to pull them out at least once a year. Give them a little basic maintenance, then a little test drive. This will help keep those old parts from locking up.
True story: I didn’t realize that you were actually supposed to take the bobbin case OUT of the machine to clean it. I thought you could just swish the brush around the inside of the bobbin case and you were good. Nope. The first time I took my machine to the quilt shop, the mechanic removed what looked like a very thick felt pad from underneath my bobbin case. Yep. It was jam-packed with lint. I think a bird could have built a nest with the stuff that was below!
So, that’s it!
Please let me know if you have any questions! Until next time…