The topic that I’m focusing on has never before been featured in a library column. The topic may seem dry to some readers. However, I’m passionate about it. The topic is sewing machine maintenance.
Maintenance is essential for many things we own. Examples include homes, vehicles, computers and other devices that make our lives more enjoyable or easier. Sewing machines are at the top of my maintenance priority list. My five sisters and I have sewn since we joined 4-H. That tradition began with my oldest sister, Charlotte, in 1962 and ended with me, the youngest in the family, in 1970. Our family sewing machine was a workhorse that withstood six girls sewing anything from an apron to a wedding gown. We all learned to maintain the machine and we treated it with respect. My sisters would revolt if it were out of commission. Also, by taking care of the machine, we avoided lost time and the expense of paying for repairs.
Bernice Tobisch has been a sewing machine technician for over 42 years. He wrote “You and Your Sewing Machine,” which is a sewer’s guide to troubleshooting, maintenance, tips, and techniques to keep your machine going strong. Things that I have taken for granted learning the past 50 years are explained in clear language with photographs for the novice to clearly see what the author is describing. Whether you need to understand which motor is for you AC (alternating current) which receives power straight from the wall or DC (direct current) which is referred to as power circuit board that allows you to sew with more control and precision, this is the book to check out.
If you are confused about which machine foot to use or not use for different projects, Tobisch has a chapter discussing several feet: patchwork, free-motion or darning, overcast, stitch regulator for free-motion stitching, edgestitch, applique, and the various walking feet. For example, a closed sole walking foot provides downward pressure on fleeces, which stops them from tunneling up into the opening of the foot, versus the open sole walking foot which gives greater visibility for applique or stitching-in-the-ditch. The author’s photos illustrate how to service a walking foot by taking it apart and checking for possible damage, replacing the damaged pieces, and putting it back together again.
Depending on your make and model, you will need to clean and oil/lubricate the machine. This depends on the requirements of a particular machine. Some sewing machines have encased oiled bearings or computer technology which a technician will have to maintain. With the invention of small vacuums and small adaptors for vacuums, we can now suction the dirt out of sewing machines. If you do not have that option, carefully use the small brush that comes with your machine to gently remove fuzz and thread.
Tobisch, technician/author, says it’s important not to needlessly poke into the interior of the machine because there are parts you cannot see such as springs which may be damaged. A damaged machine warrants a visit to the technician. As far as oiling and lubricating goes, most mechanical sewing machines will need lubricated every eight to twelve hours of usage. Using the correct type of oil is a must because some sewing machines require a specific type. Your best bet is to read the manual. Cooking oil and automotive oil, or 3-in-One Oil are not the types of oil used for lubrication. Again, the photos in this publication are excellent in showing what the parts look like and where to place a drop of oil.
I love the idea of doing as much as I can at home to keep my sewing machines working properly. The author has a section on machine tension entitled, “It’s hardly ever the tension.” Tobisch says that a damaged bobbin case or hook could actually be the culprit instead of the tension. If there is a burr on the hook you can use #400 wet and dry sandpaper to smooth out the burr. Or if your bobbin case is tarnished you may be hearing a slight snapping sound with the stitching showing small loops underneath. In this case, he suggests using “The Original Never-Dull Magic Wadding Polish” (by the George Basch Company.) The wadding, infused with chemicals, does a great job. Another possible culprit is a damaged needle plate. Sometimes a needle will hit the plate causing rough spots on the inside of the opening. These blemishes can be polished with fine abrasive cord and the damage on the surface of the plate can be polished with the #400 wet and dry sandpaper. Check this chapter out for other easy fixes.
Having the correct ratio of needle size and weight of thread for a particular fabric is helpful. A smaller needle will not accommodate a thicker thread and vice versa. Using the incorrect needle or thread can make your stitches appear to have been caused by “a tension problem.” For a longer-lasting needle, you should purchase the titanium-coated needles. These are less flexible than regular needles.
One of the most frequently asked questions is about how frequently the needle should be changed. Tobisch explains how to know when it’s time. Indicators include hearing a popping sound as the needle enters the fabric, the machine skipping stitches, changing the weight of thread, changing the type of fabric as from woven to knit and breaking thread. If you have an automatic thread cutter you will need to keep it clean as well. If you don’t, it too will cause what looks like a tension problem. Actually, the cutter’s causing the thread nesting.
If you would enjoy learning more about your sewing machine or want to refresh your memory, the Knox County Public Library has a few titles you’ll enjoy. In addition to the title listed above you’ll find “Sewing Machine Reference Tool” by Bernie Tobisch, “The Sewing Machine Master Guide: from basic to expert” by Clifford L. Blodget, and “Sewing Machine Repair as a Home Business,” by Reuben O. Doyle.