Tuesday, May 14, 2013

ToolBox Tuesday: Caring For Your Sewing Machine

Probably the most important thing you can have in your ToolBox if you sew is knowledge of how to properly care for your machine.  I got my first sewing machine when I was pregnant with Eli (now 12).  I was so shocked and surprised.  My mother-in-law and Grandmother went in together to buy me a White brand sewing machine.  They both knew that I loved to sew pretty thick things, like Halloween costumes full of stuffing and blankets made with denim.  They chose the White brand machine because it came highly recommended by a seamstress friend of theirs that owned some 5 or 6 machines.  She said that she had fancier models and brands, but she always seemed to come back to the White machines because they were dependable and heavy duty.

Long story short, I ran that thing into the ground in about 3 years.  For the next 3 years I pleaded with my husband on a regular basis to fix the machine so I could do miscellaneous projects here and there. Ir wasn't until about this time that I learned you were supposed to clean your machine!  Not only that, but you are supposed to oil it and change the needles regularly.  Finally, after taking my poor, abused sewing machine in two different times to licensed machine repair shops ($80 each time), I finally determined it was not fixable and we buried the thing in the back yard.  
At this point in my life, Emmalee was just 3 months old and I was dying to get sewing little pink skirts and flowery burp cloths for my little dolly of a girl.  I scrapped up all the pennies I could find for a new machine.  I scoured the Internet and finally settled on a Singer machine.  It was something like $199 online.  By that time I had thoroughly learned the rules of machine care and was determined to make it last.  Other than a factory defect I had to have repaired four months in, that cheap little machine has been a real trooper!  I really didn't expect the little singer to hold up more than a year with all I put it through, but now, almost 5 years later, we are still sewing together.

I took a couple pictures the last time I cleaned out my machine so you could see a little of what to expect.
My machine has a top loading bobbin.  I unscrew the two screws holding on the plate, then remove the plate to expose the mess below.  You can see fuzzies all over the place, especially on the left side where the light is shining off the fuzz. 
***Note*** I do believe you should do this unplugged 
{I tell you that just to cover myself, however I never unplug mine- I like the extra light while cleaning...this is me washing my hands of any weird tragedies that may befall due to not unplugging during cleaning :0}   

Use your little brush to sweep up the fuzz.  It is recommended you DO NOT USE CANNED AIR to clean your machine.  You can push the fuzz further into the machine.  The brush that comes with your machine works great.  If you can't find yours, they sell them at Joanns or any other sewing store.  A few years ago I found an attachment set on Amazon that fit on my vacuum.  They are tiny little heads that are made for cleaning electronics.  When I purchased my set it said the set was discontinued, but you might be able to find them now.  Also, those tiny vacuums they sell just for vacuuming your computers and such will also work for the sewing machine.  

Again, the free little brush works just as well to clean the machine, but the vacuuming options are there too.

So anyway, sweep away the fuzzies on top...

Then remove the bobbin case and clean out under there.  If you are having your needle thread getting caught in the bobbin area of the machine, it is very likely that you are due for a cleaning.

I also like to get down in the spaces on the sides of the bobbin case to try and get any extra overflow of dust.

Ummm...GROSS!  The type of fabric you are sewing will make a difference in how linty your machine gets.  Something that has more loft, like terrycloth or fuzzy fleece for instance, will fill up the bobbin area with lint pretty fast and you may have to clean the area out a lot more often.

How often should you clean out your machine???  Well, one sweet old lady at the quilt store told me once that you should clean out your machine every time you sew long enough to empty a bobbin.  Not at all as often as you clean out your sewing machine?!?  It is OK   We can take an oath TODAY to take better care and start making a difference :0}  

One good thing about cleaning more often, you will have less to do.  Basically, when I change a bobbin, I just use the brush and clean out the bobbin case, and not the deep clean of taking the plate off.  Then, maybe once a month, or when my machine is starting to act up, I take the plate off and do the deep clean.

ALSO, using CHEAP THREAD will cause extra fuzz and can, in fact, cause many issues when you sew.  I was using a certain brand from Walmart and had the thread breaking all the time.  Finally, I found out from the same old lady that I needed to be using a quality thread if I wanted my machine to last.  I do now and I have to say, even though I hate spending extra money, there is a difference!  I only buy Gutermann from Joanns.  The huge spool is $8 regularly, but with a coupon it is less than $5.  That huge spool lasts me months too, and I SEW TONS!

Now, put your plate back on, but don't touch that foot pedal yet!  We need to oil the sewing machine!!!

This is super important.  When I purchased this Singer years ago, the add said it was self-lubricating.  This does not mean you are free from oiling the basic spots {as I found out}.  

OK, see the oil bottle above???
The sewing machine oil bottles usually have this cool double tube spout so you can reach the hard to get places.  First, pull that tube out, but not all the way that it comes out completely.  I am guessing it would be rather hard to get back in the bottle.

With a semi-newer machine, you will oil the spots on the plate that have a hole.  I think my old machine had little red dots on the inside places that needed oiling.  Regardless, your manual should show you exactly where the oil is needed.  Be sure you do not get oil on any belts.  The oil will cause them to fail over time and be quite a headache {$$$} to fix.  I do this basic oiling maybe once a month, or when I think the machine sounds like it is having to work to function.  That is usually the first sign that oil is needed.  

Have never oiled your machine???
Go get oil!!!
It is time to start :0)

Now, maybe every three months or so I take the cover off the upper arm of the machine and oil the joints.  BE SURE TO UNPLUG FOR THIS!!!  Exposed live wires are never a fun thing.

If I were to move the needle up and down using the wheel on the right end of the machine, you would be able to see a couple levers moving up and down in this area.  I like to add a drop or two of oil in the joints moving those metal levers to help things run more smoothly.  

Just hold the oil hose over the joint and squeeze the bottle.  You only need one or two drops to keep things running smoothly for a while.

OK, now the important part....put the cap on the hose...
Then push the hose back into the bottle.

Perfect!  A clean, freshly oiled machine is so fabulous!

Be sure to grab a scrap piece of fabric and sew back and forth a time or two to soak up any oil drips that might be hovering around the needle area and you are good to go :0}

OK, couple more tips to keep your machine sewing for years...

Change your needle after three hours of sewing time or more often.  If you are sewing with a dull needle, it will make your machine have to work harder and can mess up your timing.  You would be surprised how often the needle is the cause of the thread getting caught or issues with zig-zag stitches and whatnot.  

NEVER pull the fabric through your machine.  When you sew, your fabric is pulled through the needle area by the presser foot and feed dogs {or whatever they are called}.  When you pull your fabric through the machine yourself, {like you have your hand behind the machine and are pulling the fabric out back there} you mess with the timing of the needle.  It is possible to pull your needle timing out of sink by that one action.  It will cost $40-80 or more to have the timing repaired.  
The one time it is OK to pull the fabric through is when machine quilting, but first you need a machine that can do it, walking feet, and the ability to drop the feed dogs so they are not getting caught on the fabric.
If your fabric is not moving through the needle as it should, you may have too much fabric you are trying to sew, or you might need to adjust the pressure of your pressure foot.  Sadly, I see fewer and fewer machines these days with an adjustable pressure foot, so watch for that when buying a machine.  It is a fabulous feature.

OK, So let's recap:
1- sweep out your machine every time you empty a bobbin, deep clean once a month.

2. Use quality thread.  I HIGHLY recommend Gutermann.

3. Oil!  Once a month, then a deeper job of it once ever three months.

4.  Change your needle often, at least after every three hours of sewing, but also use the right needle for the fabric you are using.

5. Let the machine do the work.  Don't pull your fabric through, just guide it as it approaches the needle.

Hopefully I have not left anything out.  I am sure I did and I am sure it will hit me later when I am far away from the computer, but for now, this is your list.

When you are having issues with your machine, here are the trouble checking steps I would follow in order...
1- re-thread the machine to ensure it has not come un-threaded anywhere.  

2- Take the bobbin out of the bobbin case and re-insert/thread it to ensure that no extra threads are hanging out there causing a mess.

3. Still having problems?  Open up the bobbin area, the whole thing by removing the plate, and clean out the lint

4.  Still problems, Change the needle.

Hopefully that will do something.  There are many other areas that need adjusting, like thread tension and such, but those 4 things are the most common problems I know of when operating a sewing machine.  

If I were at home I would add a ton of pictures of things I have sewn, but I am not at home and having terrible withdrawals being away from my stuff so long.  The kids finish school this Friday and we will finally be able to go to our new house in Minnesota!!!  Yes!  Only three more days!!!!!!

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