How to Care for Your Sewing Machine

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Knowing how to care for your sewing machine is essential for both its longevity and the accuracy of its stitches. Learning how to look after your trusty machine takes time, effort, and dedication but the rewards are well worth it.

From knowing which thread to use and the needles that work best to the innermost workings, this article will help you take care of your sewing machine. Ensuring a long and healthy partnership between you and your sewing companion.

Check Your Manual

First things first and, of utmost importance, is check your sewing machine manual. If you buy a new machine, one will be included. But, if your machine is a second hand, or even vintage, the manual may have been lost to time. Fear not though, provided you have the model and brand of the sewing machine, you can download a PDF version online.

To take proper care of your sewing machine, the manual is super important. Not only will it tell you how to maintain your machine, it’ll tell you the biggest problem areas that require the most upkeep.

From cleaning out the bobbin case to making sure you’re using the right needle for the machine, the manual will tell you everything you need to know. Partnered with the machine itself, it’s a sewist’s best friend.

Use the Right Tools!

Sometimes, the attempts we make to protect our sewing machines from wear and tear result in us inadvertently hurting our beloved partners. Harsh chemicals and coarse, dirty rags are the worst culprits for our attempts to clean up.

Vintage machines in particular, with their aged decals and antique beauty, can be irreparably damaged by using the wrong cleaning supplies.

Here is a list of equipment that will help you give your sewing machine the treatment it deserves:

Lint Brush (or a small paintbrush)

Most machines come with a lint brush to help you clean hard to reach areas. They can be easily lost however and if your machine is second hand, there’s a chance it may have been misplaced somewhere. A small paintbrush, or a soft toothbrush, work just as well.

A Clean, Soft Cloth

While a cloth can’t get into those tiny areas that always collect dust, you can’t neglect the main body of your machine. Keep your machine looking shiny and new with a gentle wipe down.

Q-tips

Nobody really knows what Q-tips are for but one thing we can all agree on, is they make good cleaning utensils for those hard to reach areas. They’re soft too, which is great for those delicate, dusty areas of your sewing machine you can’t quite reach.

Pipe Cleaners

Sometimes Q-tips are too short, rigid and they fall apart too easily. Pipe cleaners let you get further into those hard to reach areas and offer a flexibility hard to pass up. Just remember to keep an eye on the wire ends, sometimes they can come a bit sharp.

Tweezers

Let’s face it, even if you have tiny hands, fingers are just too bulky to fit in the innermost workings of our sewing machines. If you try to pull out all the lint by hand, it’ll probably end up shoved deeper into the machine due to clumsy grasping. A pair of tweezers will help you pluck out those nasty chunks of lint with ease.

A Screwdriver

Not all of the places that need a clean are accessible by opening a sliding panel here and there. Sometimes, you have to get a little deeper. This is where a screwdriver comes in handy. Make sure you get one that fits the screws and you’re good to go.

Storage

A great preventative measure is using proper storage, or keeping your sewing machine in its case or a sewing table, when not in use. You can even invest in a simple dust cover if you’re short on space.

While these methods won’t protect your machine from everything, proper storage methods will keep your machine safe from general knocks while you’re taking a break from your projects.

Sewing Machine Oil

Always use sewing machine oil on your machine. This is important! You should never use standard all-purpose machine oil. Not only is sewing machine oil designed solely for, well, sewing machines, it has a low viscosity, meaning it will be gentle on your sewing buddy.

Unlike harsher chemicals like car oil – please don’t use this! – sewing machine oil protects the mechanical workings, the finish of your machine and won’t stain the fabric you use in your next project.

Just remember to check whether your machine is one that needs regular oiling. Many modern, computerized machines don’t require it. The older, mechanical sewing machines, however, need regular doses to lubricate all the parts.

Check the manual to make sure your sewing machine takes oil. It’ll also tell you where to put it for maximum efficiency. Afterward, run the machine without thread or a bobbin to work the oil into all the parts.

Dust Bunny Clean Up

Like all machinery, sewing machines gather dust, along with loose fabric fibers and discarded bits of thread. All of these things get caught in the crevices and, eventually, build up into an irritating blockage.

Focus on one part of the machine at a time so you don’t accidentally misplace screws or other important pieces of your sewing machine.

Remember to unplug the machine before you start and check out this list of places to focus on:

The Bobbin Race

Whether you have a top or front loading sewing machine, the bobbin race is the biggest culprit for gathering lint of all kinds. To keep your machine running smoothly, remember to clean this area frequently.

Since it’s an essential part of your sewing machine, with a lot of intricate, moving parts, having anything unwanted stuck in there is never a good thing.

If you have a bobbin case, particularly for front loading bobbins, remember to clean that too.

Feed Dogs

Beneath the needle plate, you’ll find more lint. You may have to remove the needle and presser foot to get to it, but there’s a bunch of other parts to clean here too. The feed dogs are responsible for moving the fabric through the machine as you sew and it’s no surprise they get a little clogged.

Not only that, but there are a lot of moving parts in the lower part of the sewing machine. Keeping it free of dust and lint is necessary for perfect stitches.

Tension Disks

Dust gets everywhere and, with threads breaking too, the tension disks need regular cleaning as well. While not as fiddly as the bobbin race or the feed dogs, it’s still important to remember the tension disks in your sewing machine’s spa treatment.

Presser Foot

This is the device that holds your fabric down and flat while you’re sewing. Not only can it pick up lint from the material, especially if you’re using fleece or other thick materials, broken threads can get caught up too.

Needles

The needle is under a lot of pressure to create all those perfect stitches, it withstands a lot of tension to do so. It might not be obvious, but regularly changing your needle will help keep your machine running smoothly.

Blunt or bent needles can wreak havoc in your machine. Especially if they break. Not only can the metal cause damage to your fingers but if the broken needle falls into your sewing machine, it can get trapped in all those moving parts.

Thread

There are numerous reasons why the thread you use is important to consider but you should always use new thread during your projects. It’s an investment but an important one. Older threads can fray and send lint into all sorts of parts of your sewing machine.

Broken threads are also a problem. The older the spool, the weaker the thread is and the more likely it will break while you’re sewing. Like the needle, the thread is under a lot of pressure when you work on your project.

Professional Servicing

Sometimes, a DIY clean isn’t enough to get rid of all the dust bunny build-ups and lost threads. There are times when our sewing machines need a trip to the sewist’s equivalent of the local garage. While these don’t need to be done as often, you should take your machine in to be serviced every now and then. At least once a year is recommended for newer machines.

A professional sewing machine technician will be able to clean all the places you can’t get to. Not only will they have the tools required for the job, but they’ll be able to adjust the timing and tension as well.

Consider it a spa treatment for your most trusted sewing companion.

Canned Air = No Go!

It might seem like a great idea to blow lint out of your sewing machine. Why bother plucking all those dust particles out with tweezers when you can grab a trusty can of air and eject the dirt with ease?

The thing is, the practice isn’t as effective as the theory suggests. Pressurized air can, actually, blow the dust deeper into the sewing machine and into crevices you can’t reach. Since you can’t see it, it’ll build up over time and cause problems you can’t fix. Not only that, but in many cases, using canned air can void the warranty on your sewing machine.

Repair shops, admittedly, might use canned air but they also know how to strip your sewing machine into pieces and put it back together again. Qualified technicians can get deep into your sewing machine and offer a thorough cleaning the regular sewist can’t compete with.

Bear in mind, blowing on the machine too adds moisture into the inner workings. With all those mechanical parts, adding damp air into the mix really isn’t a great idea.

Conclusion

Cleaning your sewing machine is a chore, but it’s a worthwhile habit to get into. Not only will spending a few minutes cleaning out the nooks and crannies of your sewing partner keep it running smoothly, it’ll also mean you don’t have to invest in a replacement machine anytime soon.

For the sake of the welfare of your loyal sewing machine, a regular clean is essential.

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