Sewing machine maintenance is something I like to remind myself and all those within earshot about around the first of every year. It's not glamorous, but it's necessary. Because for some people, their car is their baby. For other people, their baby is their baby. My main squeeze, however, is a bit smaller than a car, but just as powerful. It's heavier than a baby, but just as cuddly.
Have you guessed it? My baby is a sewing machine. A BERNINA 770QE to be exact!
Just as it's important to wash and care for a car/actual human baby, the same is true for caring for your sewing machine. Sewing machine maintenance may not sound all that exciting, but if you really love your sewing machine, you’ll know that it’s more than just cleaning a crafting tool (and if you don’t love your sewing machine, it’s actually a great way to get to know more about its parts, and how they work together (more on that in this blog post - How Sewing Machines Work.)
For more info on buying a sewing machine, check out any of these articles:
Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance
Here are the basics to knowing, loving, and maintaining your sewing machine:
1. Oil ‘Er Up.
If you’re someone who doesn’t pour through the instruction manuals of things you buy (like… everyone?) you may not know that sewing machines need to be oiled regularly. What do I mean by regularly? Well, that depends on how frequently you’re firing that sewing machine up. If you’re an every-day kind of sewist, you should think about oiling your machine once a week, just to keep it running smoothly with that rigorous workload you’re giving it. If you sew less often, maybe once a week, or even less than that, look at oiling your sewing machine every one to three months.
Ahem… where does this oil go? Is it a massage sort of situation?
Good question. To oil your machine, place 2-3 small drops of sewing machine oil in the bobbin case area, on the needle bar, and also where the handwheel meets the side of the machine. Your sewing machine will thank you (probably not with words, but by working properly!) Check your sewing machine manual if you're still unsure about where. There's probably a diagram!
Keep in mind: It’s better to oil too little more often than too much at once. And right after oiling, stitch for a minute on some scrap fabric so you work all of that oil out before getting back to your project.
Here is a video I have found really helpful. If you are not sewing on a BERNINA, look up your specific brand on YouTube. I'm sure there's a video.
Now, I know it’s tempting to take two mighty aerosol cans of air and go at your sewing machine with one in each fist, yelling “WELCOME TO THE REVOLUTION, LINT!” but that may not be the best idea… though it’s probably the most entertaining.
Rumor has it that using air cans on your machine as a whole can do more harm than good by forcing lint and dust even further into the depths of your beloved sewing machine. If you do use canned air at all, make sure you spray the air at an angle so you are always blowing lint OUT of your machine, rather than into it.
More effective tools include:
Before cleaning out your machine, unplug it. I know, I know, you’re not stupid, but I had to say it. Remove your needle (maybe it’s time to replace it, anyway? Keep reading for more about that), and follow your instruction manual to remove the presser foot, the bobbin, the needle plate, and the bobbin case. Now, you’re ready for some cleaning action.
Use your lint brush to GO AT these separate components like a cleaning fiend, making sure you get all of the lint and gunk out before carefully placing them back where they belong.
One more thing NOT to use: your breath. It’s tempting to blow dust and lint out of your machine with your handy, built-in lungs, but your breath actually contains moisture that can cause corrosion in your machine! Who knew you were so dangerous!
This is a biggie. You guys, when you sew, your sewing needle passes through fabric A THOUSAND TIMES PER MINUTE. (possible exaggeration, but I'm sure it's close) That’s why it’s so easy for sewing machine needles to get really dull, really fast. I recommend changing your needle after 4-6 hours of sewing time, since that’s like, a million uses already (don’t check my math, trust me that’s correct.) It’s also smart to use needles that are compatible with the thread you’re using, as well as the fabric.
These Universal needles work on pretty much every machine.
And what will happen if I don’t heed this advice?
I’m glad you asked. SEWING NIGHTMARES like skipped stitches, broken threads, runs and pulls and even (gasp!) machine damage can follow! These are the things that haunt my dreams! Change your needles. A lot. They're cheap! Treat yourself to a few packs so that you always have them on hand.
When you’re using a machine to sew fabric, things are going to get linty. But if you leave your sewing machine out in the open, it can get a lot of other stuff stuck in it as well, like dust and dirt, and even animal hair. (Or, if you have this habit of snacking at your sewing space, all sorts of exotic and delicious materials can find their way onto your machine!)
The best thing you can do for your sewing machine is get it a cozy little cover. You can get a plastic cover from most machine dealers, or you can make one yourself (because you can sew, duh).
5. Get Served.
All brands are different, but no matter what make or style you’re rocking over there at your sewing station, it’s smart to get your sewing machine serviced regularly, about every 12 - 18 months. This is like the annual physical you get (er… forget to get) from your physician. It means carting your machine over to a professional for a good once-over, and some TLC if it needs it.
Now, you know the basics of sewing machine maintenance. Both your sewing machine and I are so proud of you. Any tips or tricks I may have missed? Shoot me a comment below!