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Sewing Machine Maintenance! Easy Ways to Care for your Sewing Machine

Updated: Mar 22

By Tori McElwain for Quilting with Darla

Before we dive in, it's important to note that the newer machines are meant to be serviced by professionals, so we don't necessarily take them apart. According to most manuals, machines should be serviced once a year; maybe every other year depending on how much you use them. One reason is the oils used to lubricate the machine tend to run dry and in some cases evaporate. The other main reason is lint. It gets everywhere (as you can imagine). This yearly service is done by my local quilt shop and keeps my machine humming beautifully! In between maintenance, there are a lot of things you can do to help your machine run smoothly.

There are four major things you can do to keep your machine happy and healthy.

#1 The Needle

One thing you can do is change your needle between every major project. This will ensure your needle is sharp and not bent, meaning less breakage and less wear and tear on the machine, and better tension! In the best of circumstances, if the needle breaks, you will lose the needle; in the worst of circumstances, you could damage your fabric and the front end of your machine. I've heard horror stories from technicians and you can imagine the chain reaction from a broken needle, up the shaft, to the front end!

Also, having the correct needle for the project you're working on is helpful in avoiding breaking/bending the needle and or even damaging your fabric. There a many helpful resources out there for understanding needles. A good rule of thumb is the larger the numbers the smaller the needle. Also, I always recommend checking out your machine's maker for their recommendations. Your local "sew and vac" or quilt shop is also a great resource!

#2 The Bobbin Case

Clean your bobbin case between each major project or if you're using a fuzzy material, every other bobbin. Flannel fabric lint up my bobbin case and I find myself running into issues unless I clean the bobbin case every other bobbin.
Use a brush to clean the lint out of your bobbin case. Many maintenance professionals do not suggest you use compressed air to clean your bobbin case, because that can actually push the lint deeper into your machine. There are also little vacuum attachments that can go into your bobbin case, which are really handy. I just use an old-fashioned paint brush with a scrap of batting for the lint to stick to!

#3 Remove the Glue

The most helpful tip I have received has to do with the glue residue on the thread holder! You want to take a close look at your thread holder(s), cleaning off the glue from the top of your machine that gets left behind from spools of thread. That glue can really gum up the top of your machine, so make sure you get that glue off is really handy. Using rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover on a cotton ball, q-tip, or rag, should take that glue right off!

#4 Needle Lint

One more place to check for lint is by looking up through your needle, cleaning the area above the needle is a great way to prevent a major lint buildup in the top of your machine. When you change your needle, take a quick look up above the needle in the exposed machinery, drop your pressure foot, and de-fuzz! This an easy-peasy way to slow down the amount of lint entering the top of your machine.

Spa Days!

Our sewing machines are investments, like a car! You don’t want to take a car and experiment with it if you're unsure what you're doing. Making sure a professional gets to see it every once in a while is a great way to make sure everything is running smoothly.

You can maintain your machine yourself, you just need to make sure you're finding the right videos and manuals to help you do so. Keep in mind that newer machines are not made of all-metal parts so they’re very finicky. The older machines are made of metal parts and have gears and belts, which means that they are wonderful at doing 1 or 2 things making their mechanics easier to maintain. They're designed to make perfect stitches nearly every single time (which is awesome!). Newer machines, however, are made with more plastic parts, and more complicated mechanics to create a multitude of different stitches or even embroidery! This helps make the new machines generally lighter and a little less expensive.

Maintaining your machine yourself can be difficult, so I would suggest getting training so you don’t mess up your investments. My machine cost as much as my little beat-up car and I am taking care of it as best I can, while also making sure a professional sees my machine at least once a year (but usually more as I use my machine so frequently).

Vintage machines have manuals that make oiling very easy, and you can usually find those manuals online. Maintaining your newer machines (which are usually more plastic) can be hard because a lot of the oils that can be used to lubricate the machines will erode or gunk up the plastic parts. I saw a machine that came into my local quilt shop that had been fried and melted on the inside. So PLEASE, take those machines to professionals at least once a year! In the meantime, a little maintenance can go a long way!
  • Change the needle

  • Remove the lint in the bobbin case and above the needle

  • Clean the glue from thread holders

  • Take it to a Pro for a spa day!

For reference, I own a Vintage '55 Singer Sewing Machine, a Singer basic machine, and the one I use most often is a Baby Lock Journey combination embroidery and sewing machine (pictured in pieces above!).

Anything you'd like to add? I'd love helpful tips to add!


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