Tag Archives: Sewing machine maintenance

Making, Not Blogging

Sometimes I feel like a helium balloon, tethered on a very long string. I drift and float and bob along, feeling increasingly disconnected from anything solid. I have to hope the mooring holds, as I’m powerless on my own. I have to hope someone will reel me back.

The busyness of making reins me in, as well as my continuing connection with Jim. Occasionally, like this evening, I hold tight to him. “Am I too close?” I joke, knowing he’ll say “no.” I explain my feeling of disconnect, that it’s harder to listen to him, almost harder to hear him. But the ongoing political farce, and heartbreaking news items, drag me farther and farther away.

The busyness of making. I depend on it. And I’ve been making, not blogging. It’s too hard to write, to form words into sentences that aren’t filled with exclamations, with curses, with lamentations for the meanness of those who would claim to be “good” people, even people of faith.

Making. Today I finished three quilts. Each needed binding, applied and finished by machine. Fast. Too fast? What shall I do next?

Next, clean up. Do you clean up between projects? I do to some extent — I like to vacuum and wipe surfaces — but I’m not always as thorough as I should be at the rest of the job. As I began an experiment this evening, I remembered to change my needle, abused after binding the quilts, as well as longer-than-optimal service with piecing. And with that I decided to clean the lint mess from under the needle plate. Good thing, too, as the space was fuzzier than the slices of bread I discarded recently. (Homemade bread gets moldy quickly.)

fuzzy machine
clean machine

And hey, as long as I was at it, I changed my rotary cutter blade. When I discard needles, pins, and blades, I put them in an old yogurt cup. I’ve had this thing for years and it’s only half full. They don’t take up much space, do they?

sharps cup

As to the experiment, I wanted to try something with a half-square triangle. I used HST to make my Delectable Mountains quilt (blog post still to come, photo in here.) I wondered what would happen if one half had two different fabrics in it. Here is an idea of what that does.

hst sliced rearranged

So, huh. Interesting, I think. Worth pursuing with a bigger idea.

And the projects I finished today? Funny enough, they are of three different formats. One is a strip quilt (blog post to come); one is a block quilt (blog post to come); and one is a medallion. Here are two of the three.
projects on floor

There now, I’ve used up all my words.

Taking Care of Things

Speaking of taking care of things, how long has it been since you’ve

* changed your machine needle?
* changed your rotary cutter blade?
* wiped the lint and gunk off your cutting mat and table?
* wiped down your ironing board?
* cleaned your iron?
* cleaned the lint out from under the machine needle, around the bobbin case?
* had your machine serviced (if it needs that from time to time)?
* wiped off your sewing surface?
* swept or vacuumed for lint, threads, and errant pins?

This is the small stuff of maintenance. I tend to put off changing my rotary cutter blade, but I’m always glad when I go ahead. It is safer and I get better cutting. (See my post on rotary cutters for more information.) 

I love cleaning up to start a new project. Fabric from the last one gets re-stashed, and any odd notions get put away. I wipe the cutting table and vacuum the floors. Usually I wipe off my sewing surface, too, but in truth I don’t always remember. The cleared, cleaned surfaces make me feel good about beginning something new.

As to the needle, when it’s dull it needs to punch its way through fabric layers, making a popping sound. When it is sharp, it doesn’t make that noise. In addition, your machine motor needs to work a little harder with a dull needle, and you may hear the machine laboring.

Experts recommend changing the needle every 8-10 hours of sewing (machine time, not cutting, pressing, and pondering). That may not sound like a lot, but if your machine stitches 1,000 stitches per minute, that’s actually about a HALF MILLION stitches! While you’re stitching, you may sew through several layers of fabric and batting, and occasionally hit pins. (I do!) Your needle takes a lot of abuse.

Take a look at some great photos by Schmetz Needles USA of a needle that looks sharp. Once magnified with increasing power, you can see the burr on the tip. A dull needle doesn’t do your machine or your project any good.

And please dispose of your needles carefully. I use an empty yogurt cup with a hole poked through the lid. When I get rid of needles, bent pins, and dead rotary cutter blades, they go in there. And the cup is always safely out of reach of children!

Does your machine need maintenance? Last summer I had my main DSM serviced for the first time. It cost less than $100 and assured me everything is in good working order. But basic maintenance begins with you and is easy to do. (Consult your machine’s manual. If you don’t have a copy, you may be able to find it online.) As with a dull needle, a dirty machine, clogged with lint, makes the motor work harder. The extra work sounds different. You may not be able to describe the difference, but you can probably hear it.

Maintenance you can and should do includes cleaning the lint out of the works. A soft brush may have come with the machine. If not, small, soft make-up brushes work well. Cotton swabs and tweezers may come in handy, too.

Remove the foot, needle, and face plate. Take out the bobbin. You may want to remove the bobbin case, too. Again, consult your manual. Use the brush to loosen and grab lint around the bobbin case, in the feed dogs, and around other surfaces. The cotton swab and tweezers may help, depending on where and how your mess is lodged. Some manufacturers recommend using compressed air to remove built-up lint gunk. Others warn against it. Please check first.

You may wonder if and how to oil your machine. Many modern machines have self-lubricating parts and don’t need oiling. Others have simple routines recommended for oiling regularly.

Your machine’s manufacturer probably has a recommended cycle for shop maintenance. Consult your manual or dealer for advice.

How often should you clean? That will depend partly on what thread you use (some is lintier than others) and on your fabrics and/or battings. As a quilter, I rarely care what color of bobbin thread I use while piecing, and I sew until it runs out. I clean every 3-5 times I change my bobbin. If I’m changing the bobbin and the mess is evident, I clean.

(A DSM is a domestic sewing machine, as opposed to “commercial” sewing machine or long-arm.) The long-arm bobbin case gets brushed out more often, usually each time I put a fresh bobbin in, and depending on the project more often than that.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Taking care of things now can make your quilting more pleasurable, improve the quality of your projects, and even save you money in the long run. Seems like a pretty good investment to me!

What maintenance routines do you follow? Are there other basic routines you recommend? Let us know in the comments. And don’t be afraid to respond to each other, too. We’re all friendly here! 

Listen!

As quilters we use our senses of vision and touch. You might not think about using your hearing, also. Listen to your machine when it is clean and correctly maintained, with correct tension, a new needle and full bobbin. Listen to it when stitching slowly and when sped up.

Remember the sound. It will help you recognize when attention is needed.

Is your needle dull? If so, it needs to punch its way through fabric layers, making a popping sound. When it is sharp, it doesn’t make that noise. In addition, your machine motor needs to work a little harder with a dull needle, and you may hear the machine laboring.

Experts recommend changing the needle every 8-10 hours of sewing (machine time, not cutting, pressing, and pondering). That may not sound like a lot, but if your machine stitches 1,000 stitches per minute, that’s actually about a HALF MILLION stitches! While you’re stitching, you may sew through several layers of fabric and batting, and occasionally hit pins. (I do!) Your needle takes a lot of abuse.

Take a look at some great photos by Schmetz Needles USA of a needle that looks sharp. Once magnified with increasing power, you can see the burr on the tip. A dull needle doesn’t do your machine or your project any good.

As for me, I don’t pay much attention to how long I sew between needles. Instead I try to pay attention to two things. I change the needle when it sounds dull, or when I’m beginning a new project (or phase of projects, if ya know what I mean.)

And please dispose of your needles carefully. I use an empty yogurt cup with a hole poked through the lid. When I get rid of needles, bent pins, and dead rotary cutter blades, they go in there. And the cup is always safely out of reach of children!

Does your machine need maintenance? That might seem scary or expensive, but basic maintenance begins with you and is easy to do. (Consult your machine’s manual. If you don’t have a copy, you may be able to find it online.) As with a dull needle, a dirty machine, clogged with lint, makes the motor work harder. The extra work sounds different. You may not be able to describe the difference, but you can probably hear it.

Maintenance you can and should do includes cleaning the lint out of the works. A soft brush may have come with the machine. If not, small, soft make-up brushes work well. Cotton swabs and tweezers may come in handy, too.

Remove the foot, needle, and face plate. Take out the bobbin. You may want to remove the bobbin case, too. Again, consult your manual. Use the brush to loosen and grab lint around the bobbin case, in the feed dogs, and around other surfaces. The cotton swab and tweezers may help, depending on where and how your mess is lodged. Some manufacturers recommend using compressed air to remove built-up lint gunk. Others warn against it. Please check first.

How often should you clean? That will depend partly on what thread you use (some is lintier than others) and on your fabrics and/or battings. As a quilter, I rarely care what color of bobbin thread I use while piecing, and I sew until it runs out. I clean every 3-5 times I change my bobbin. If I’m changing the bobbin and the mess is evident, I clean.

You may wonder if and how to oil your machine. Many modern machines have self-lubricating parts and don’t need oiling. Others have simple routines recommended for oiling regularly.

Your machine’s manufacturer probably has a recommended cycle for shop maintenance. Consult your manual or dealer for advice.

Is the bobbin full and wound correctly? Of course, you don’t have a full bobbin most of the time! Fancier bells-and-whistles machines may give you a warning just before the bobbin runs out. Mine does not. But on my machine, it sounds just a little bit different when full than when nearly empty.

Listen…

Be Prepared!

Be prepared… for what? For sewing and quilting, for mishaps and disasters, for the disposition of your stash and equipment when you can’t use it anymore. There are ways to prepare for all of these things.

There are a number of steps to take when preparing to start a new project. Of course you need to choose the project or pattern and decide on fabric. (Actually, for a lot of my projects I decide these things as I go, so I don’t necessarily do them before beginning.)

Prepare your fabric.
I always wash mine when I get it home from the store. I’m sensitive to chemicals and also prefer the feel of washed fabric. When I take care of it right away, it is ready to use from my stash. I use laundry detergent that is free of perfumes and dyes, and I don’t use fabric softeners in the washer or dryer. If you are quilting for anyone with sensitive skin, including infants or sick people, these are sensible steps.

Before cutting, I press carefully with a hot steam iron, because cutting is more accurate on flat fabric. Accurate cutting is the first step to accurate piecing.

Prepare your space and equipment.
When’s the last time you changed your rotary cutter blade? Like knives, rotary cutter blades are less dangerous when they are sharp, because you cut with the correct force. But even when they are “dull,” they cut through flesh (and fingernails) in a hurry. (Ask me how I know…) So change your blades regularly. Think about your cuts before you start, and make sure you know where your fingers are. Consider wearing a “klutz” glove. Emergency room visits are a lot more expensive than simple precautions. (Ask me how I know…)

Wipe the cutting mat to clear lint caught in grooves. This keeps it from transferring to fresh fabrics, and also allows the mat to “heal,” giving a smoother surface and better cuts.

Pay attention to your sewing machine. Change the needle regularly. If it is making a quiet popping sound as it moves through fabric, it is dull and needs to be changed. Check the machine owner manual to see how often the machine needs to be serviced, or whether you should oil it yourself. Many newer machines are self-lubricating, but not all of them. If you no longer have the manual, you may be able to find it online.

Wind bobbins. Clean out the area around and under the bobbin case. Your manual should tell you how, but likely calls for using a soft, small brush, cotton swab, or soft cloth.

Clean your iron. Mine calls for tap water, which is great for saving money, since I don’t buy distilled water. (I iron a lot and go through a lot of water. Tap water is much more convenient for me, too.) Though I use filtered water, it still has a lot of chemical and calcium residue. Frankly, I don’t clean my iron often enough, so I never remember the process. Finally I decided to put the iron’s user instructions on the underside of the ironing board (it wedges up under there nicely), so I can find them easily.

Turn your ironing board. The narrow end is useful when ironing shirts, but you aren’t ironing shirts when you’re quilting. If you turn your ironing board so the broad end is to your left (if you’re right-handed), you’ll have more surface to use when pressing yardage.

Clean up your space. Since I lay projects out on the floor, I always vacuum thoroughly before I start something new. I also wipe off my cutting table and my sewing surface.

You may not need to do these things for each new project, but think about whether they’re needed or not.
– For more preparation tips, click here!>