Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Clean Your Sewing Machine

Whenever I teach, I'm often amazed at the number of quilters who have trouble with the sewing machines they bring to class, right before they start to sew. Skipped stitches, thread breakage, tension problems, etc. It's always difficult to watch some of them become frustrated and struggle with their machine during class when all they really want to do is sew and get on with what everyone else in the class is doing. I cannot always stop the class so they can clean their machine and get it going before we go on to the next step. Do yourself, your teacher and your machine a favor. If you're thinking of taking a class, here are a few things you can do beforehand to make your experience pleasant and productive, not frustrating. This also goes for everyone else in general who sews, not just class takers. These things should be done on a regular basis if you quilt at all.

Number 1 - CHANGE YOUR NEEDLE. It matters, so do it often. Dull, bent or broken needles can definitely affect your sewing. If you sew frequently, then your needle goes in and out of the fabric thousands of times. I was originally taught to use an 80/12 needle, but now I go with a 75/11 or 70/10 needle. Try a finer needle. You may find that it makes your piecing much easier and your blocks will look better, particularly if you make small quilts. Some quilters go by the rule of changing the needle every time they begin a new project. That's not always practical if you're mostly making small quilts but it's still good advice to do it often.

Number 2 - Try a different thread. I can't remember now but I am grateful to the person in one of my classes many years ago who told me about using Aurifil 50 wt cotton thread. It's wonderful - thin but strong and takes up less space in the seams (so your seams lie flatter). I like a nice neutral tan for sewing with both light and dark fabrics.

Number 3 - Do your machine another big favor - take that little brush that came with it and clean out the bobbin casing and all around and underneath the plate or anywhere else you see lint. Do this often and your machine will thank you. I take off the plate and clean out the lint from around the bobbin case every time I change my bobbin. Every single time. I'm not lying. It takes me about 5-10 minutes tops and is so worth it. Before this became a habit, I would start to notice problems when I forgot so now I take the time and do it automatically when I put in a fresh bobbin. And I'm still always amazed at all the crap that accumulates in there even though I do it so often. (Tweezers help get the big clumps).

Although Aurifil thread generates much less lint you will still get lint from working with certain fabrics or batting. One time I noticed a student was having a lot of problems with her machine before class so I suggested that she clean her bobbin case to see if that made a difference. Oh my Lord - I wish I had taken a picture. It was so full of thick, smashed down lint that the bobbin could barely move. So, if you haven't looked in there and cleaned it in awhile, be brave - go clean out your bobbin case. Now.  (If it looks really bad, take a picture for me!)

Oh, and make sure to keep your sewing machine manual handy in case you forget how it put it all back together! 

Don't be a chicken. Just do it.

Once you've done these things, especially if it's been awhile, you'll be amazed at how much better your machine runs. Try it and tell me what happens. I'll bet sewing will be a breeze after that and you won't have to waste your precious time fussing with a machine that's crying out for some TLC. You'll have more time to make pretty things!


Pam said...

I support every word, I sew almost every day, sometimes for 6 hours or more. I have been known to change the needle every day, but it is changed at least twice a week. I too clean the bobbin case after every change, it is what I was taught and I have always done it. I also have my machines serviced every year, they cost plenty so I look after them. Good quality thread is a must and I use different weights for different tasks. Happy sewing.

Samplings from Spring Creek said...

Great advice. I use canned air (like for computers) to blow out lint in bobbin area

Mary Burns said...

Thank you for the wonderful tips!!

Mary Burns said...

Thank you for the wonderful tips!!

Gypsy Quilter said...

I know exactly what you mean. Back when I was teaching in 3 different shops, I finally put on the supply list that machine had to be cleaned and well oiled before coming to class. I was tired of fixing other people's machines!

jane nj/wi said...

I have to post a response to using canned air to clean lint from bobbin or any place on your machine. It blows lint deeper and if you have any moisture in your sewing area the canned air helps create felted dust and debris even deeper in your machine where you can't see or get to it. A professional will have to take your machine apart to get it clean and running again.

Most repair people will confirm it is a bad idea. A small vacuum with a nylon over the suction end is very effective as is careful brushing. I have a lambs wool fuzzy tool designed for grabbing threads and debris off and out if your sewing or serger machines. ....always amazed how much it grabs. Go Kathy!!!! our machines are our tools and like a car you need to keep them cleaned and oiled and consider the needles new tires.....varoommm love your machine and it will love you back

Jane Wi/FL

Kleine Vingers said...

Thanks for the tips, I should change the needle more often, but I do clean the bobbin house every time I have to replace the bobbin. And out come some lint every time. Afterwards the machine runs more easy.

Audrey said...

Great tips and I'd like to add that it doesn't hurt to have it professionally cleaned once a year by your dealer.

Ann in PA said...

Kathy, Thank you for all the helpful hints plus the reminder to keep our sewing machines clean & change the needle. As I read the post, I couldn't help drooling over those beautiful fabrics in your leaf blocks. Love the cute little chicken, too.

Jennifer M said...

Wonderful helpful post, we all need reminded of these tasks. I know I don't do as good of a job keeping mine clean or changing my needle. I am going to get those smaller needles and Aurifil thread, I keep meaning to and just keep forgetting!

Kathy I LOVE, LOVE your Dear Jane blocks!!!!! Just absolutely gorgeous! Yes, I did read your entire post, even with the viewing of those splendid blocks! Your Maple leaf blocks are beautiful too, beautiful fabrics. I must make me that little chicken pincushion with the sweet as ever yoyo wing!

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the cleaning. I don't change needles as often as I should, but I hate Aurifil Thread. It lints my machine and frays up. I prefer Presencia.

Barbara Cissne

Cathryn in Corvallis said...

Great tips, Kathy! As we hustle from one project to another, it is so easy to pass by these essential steps!
Just one word of caution about using canned air to blow out the bobbin case. It can blow the lint into the other working parts and the motor!! I use the narrow crevice cleaning attachment on my vacuum to suck out the lint, and it works just fine.
Cathryn in Corvallis

Heartsdesire said...

Thanks for the great tips, Cathy. I'm afraid I don't change my needle as often as I should, but I do clean my bobbin case regularly. It's amazing how much lint can accumulate even with a small amount of sewing. I do use Aurifil thread, and I'm going to try the 70/10 needle.

Judy said...

Great tips all around! I've been trying to change my sewing machine needles more often and it really does help. It's amazing how much lint gathers in the bobbin area.


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