Those who sew know the value of a reliable sewing machine. Much like your home is to your life, your machine is the cornerstone of your sewing practice. If your faucet is leaking, you can probably fix it yourself by reading a book or watching a video on YouTube, but if your roof is leaking, it’s definitely better to call a professional! The same goes for maintaining your sewing machine, the most significant investment related to your hobby. Read on for tips on what to do to keep your sewing machine in the best possible shape...and when you should put down the screwdriver/hammer/blowtorch, back away slowly, and bring it to an expert.
Reading is FUNdamental
We first want to start by urging you to read your machine’s manual, preferably before you have an issue! You want to follow the manufacturer's guidance on any preventative maintenance they recommend for your specific model to avoid as many issues as possible.
That said, any advice given here is intended to be pretty general and should ONLY be done if it is compatible with what is suggested in your machine’s manual.
Always make sure that your machine is unplugged or turned off before performing any maintenance on it. The only shock you should receive in this process is the pure delight of seeing how wonderfully your machine runs after it’s cleaned!
The Squeaky Wheel (Sometimes) Gets the Grease
Many sewists wonder if and how they should oil their machines. Bear with us since we will sound a bit like a broken record here, but this is absolutely a question that should be answered by your manual! Many manufactures recommend that users DO NOT oil their machines at all.
If your machine IS NOT among those, ensure that you only use high-quality oil meant for sewing machines. It is not the time to reach for that Extra Virgin Olive oil sitting on your kitchen counter! When in doubt, take it to a professional.
The Threads That Bind...Up Your Machine
All thread is not created equal. The highest quality thread, such as Gutermann (our favorite), can make all the difference in your garment as well as your sewing machine. Lower quality thread can be extremely linty, causing a buildup of fibers within your machine, making it run less smoothly. It can also break easily, potentially causing even more significant issues.
Sew Smart! Never use waxed or glazed thread in your machine—even if it is labeled as being safe for machine sewing. It can cause chaos within your machine with the residue it leaves behind and is better used only for hand-sewn projects.
Dull or bent needles can wreak havoc on your projects and your machine. To set yourself up for success, we recommend always using a quality brand of sewing machine needles, such as Schmetz.
The next question is, how often do you change your needle? Though there is no hard and fast rule on when to switch it out, the common guidelines are every eight hours of sewing or whenever you begin a new project. If you are stitching a few quick seams or sewing up a basic t-shirt, you may be able to get away with every two or three projects, but for anything larger, a new needle is in order!
Also, be sure to avoid sewing over pins whenever possible and check to make sure that you won’t hit the foot or needle plate when sewing zig-zag stitches to help prevent additional needle breakage.
Dust and Fuzz and Thread (Oh My!)
Almost nothing brings a sewing machine (and your project) to a screeching halt as much as the accumulation of lint that occurs during regular sewing machine usage. This interruption can be easily be avoided with a commitment to regular cleaning the “guts'' of your machine.
Once again, we advise that you refer to the manufacturer’s instructions specific to your machine, but a general rule is to clean the easy to access areas where the needle and thread travel, such as under the needle plate, around the bobbin case, and between the tension disks and feed dogs. This should be done with a soft nylon brush, though a pipe cleaner can be very helpful for some of the smallest areas.
We DO NOT recommend using compressed air, as it can actually push some of the lint even deeper into your machine’s crevices and can also introduce moisture into your machine.
Sew Smart! Take a quick snapshot of where everything goes in your machine before removing any parts for cleaning. That way, you have a reference to make sure everything is put back the same way when you’re done!
Take (Dust) Cover
Protecting your machine with a dust cover may be among the simplest forms of preventative maintenance there is. You can use the one provided by the manufacturer that came with your machine or make your own from one of the many patterns and tutorials available online!
Sew Smart! Another important reason to cover up is if you have feline friends at home. The many threads of your serger could look like quite a tempting toy for them to get their curious little paws on. Not only can this pose quite a danger to them, but you will also have to rethread your serger!
When To Go Pro
Generally, a professional should service your machine every 2-3 years. This may vary depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations, how often you use your machine, and whether or not you are experiencing a problem that can't be resolved.
Common indicators it's time to see the experts include:
- Continued tension issues or needles breaking
- Persistent skipped stitches
- Extreme machine settings
- Strange noises
Even if you aren't experiencing any of these issues, it is still a good idea to take your machine in every couple of years for a good deep cleaning and tune-up. Again, check your manual for recommendations about your specific brand and model.
We also recommend you do your research before selecting where you will take one of your most prized possessions! It is a leap of trust at first, so asking fellow sewers in your area where they bring their machines or looking for local dealers of your brand are both great places to start.
Vacuuming or getting an oil change isn't exactly our idea of a fun way to spend our time, but we know that these activities help maintain our homes and cars to extend their lives, and the same goes for sewing machines! A little bit of time committed on a regular basis will help you avoid the frustration and added expense of a machine that puts out lower-quality garments, is consistently unreliable, or locks up on you altogether!