Fail Friday: Sewing Machine Maintenance (or lack thereof)

I have a confession to make: I am a BAD BAD BAD sewing machine owner. I haven’t maintained my machine properly in over three years. Aside from some occasional dusting and a few forays into the bobbin case with my lint brush, I haven’t oiled her, cleaned her, or taken her in for professional maintenance. In general, I’m a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of girl. Or at least, I was. Consider me a convert to sewing machine maintenance. Here’s how it went down:

Two weeks ago, in the middle of 7 pattern tests and projects, my machine went belly up. Refused to sew a stitch without making a horrible sound, and creating a nest a small bird could lay eggs in below my fabric. I panicked. We live in a small town, and there is only one decent sewing machine repair shop, and they’re often booked for months. Of course, I called the next morning and BEGGED, literally, for them to take a look and fixitdammit ASAP.

I brought it in, and the guy looked at me, in all my desperation, with a mix of pity and disgust. He basically told me, it served me right, and they’d get to it when they could, unless I was willing to pay a rush fee. Which of course, I was. I swallowed my pride, admitted my failures, and forked over the extra cash.

A kind friend let me borrow her machine, but it was quite different from what I was used to, and I struggled, coming to appreciate my old machine even more. In a rather pathetic mixture of prayer, negotiation with the sewing gods, and academic vigor, I vowed to learn all I could about caring properly for my machine. And, like the newly converted sewing machine owner I am, I also promised to share my new knowledge with all of you.

And guess what? It’s really not all that hard!

There are a few tools that will come in handy:

1)Lint Brush (I like this little repair kit- it contains the brush and a few other cool tools), or you can just buy the brush here.

2) Compressed Air

Edit: Several readers let me know that they’ve been discouraged from using compressed air to clean their machines. I found a great article on why this is not always a good idea HERE. Always ask your manufacturer or defer to your manual if in doubt!

3) Sewing Machine Oil

Ready for some maintenance? Here are some tips:

  • Keep your machine covered. There are quite a few patterns for a cute sewing machine cover, or just throw a little blanket over it if you don’t have the cover it came with anymore. The idea is to keep out extra dust, which can really wreak havoc with your machine.
  • Change your needle regularly. I know we all want to save a buck, but changing your needle regularly is important. That little sucker works hard and needs to be in tip top condition.
  • Clean out your bobbin case and under your presser foot. This is where the compressed air and lint brush come in handy. I was SHOCKED by how much build up I had under there. No wonder the guy looked like he wanted to report me to sewing machine CPS. Edit: See note above about compressed air- it is not always recommended.
  • Oil it! This blog post from Colette gives some good tips! Each machine has different guidelines (some aren’t supposed to be oiled at all), so read your manual.
  • Use good quality thread. Better quality thread (I like Gutermann or Mettler) will shed less and cause less lint build up in your machine.
  • Professional Maintenance– This is where I really screwed up. It turns out, my bobbin case had little burrs caused by long term use and lack of alignment, that resulted in thread nests. I never wanted to take a “break” from sewing and give up my machine, but I could have bought myself a backup with what I paid in my rush fee. Do yourself a favor and bite the bullet and just do it!

Are you more of a visual person? This video goes over it all in detail (plus, her name is Sarah, so I have to like her)

I’ve finally got my machine back, purring happily, and I’m appreciating (and treating) her like never before. Don’t make my same mistakes!

Ok- your turn! When was the last time you oiled and maintained YOUR machine?!

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  1. Victoria on August 11, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Ahhh! This is just ANOTHER reminder for me to bite the bullet and get my sewing machine and serger serviced. It’s been a very, very long time. I’m almost ashamed to say how long! It’s just so hard to get there and find a place that services them (it’s 45+ minutes away! That’s crazy.) Thanks for the tips. I know I’ll definitely use them!

  2. Auschick on August 11, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    I really need to take my machine in. I’m going on vacation so my plan was to drop it off today before I go but I want to still sew all the things before I go lol

  3. Blt205 on August 11, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Please don’t use compressed air it pushes the dust farther into you machine rather than getting it out.

    • Sarah on August 11, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      Oh no! That would be bad- thanks for letting me know!

  4. Amanda on August 11, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    I just yesterday, trouble shooted my 30 yr old machine that I bought second hand, researched utube videos and mom (more experienced than i) and I dove in and tore it apart! Man was it dirty and prolly the reason that the tension was never correct. Cleaned out liked up, and even had to be greased up (my dad who tinkers has the grease and does most of our small machine repairs greased it up) after hearing that my mom’s friends mom took her machine in to be serviced which turns out the guy that did it had managed to screw up 30 machines to which they still don’t run right and or store is trying to get them to trade in for one that works…ill stick to utube, and my daddy for minor servicing and repairs!

    • Sarah on August 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Yay! A true DIY success!

  5. Tara on August 11, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    I know professional servicing will probably save me money in the long run but the $85 service fee (which only goes up if it needs anything more than basic care) really keeps me from taking my machines in unless they are doing something truly questionable 🙁 I try to remember to do the maintenance you mention above but I confess that I don’t do it nearly often enough.. Case in point: finding knots of heavy duty thread under my bobbin case last night when I finally pulled my sewing machine apart because the tesion would Not co’operate. Hmmmmm, I wonder why that was…*rolls eyes at self* I can’t even remember when I would have used that heavy thread. It is happy now though! I guess I should clean out the serger too 😉

  6. Laila on November 1, 2017 at 10:46 am

    There is a vacuum cleaner attachment kit called ‘Micro Vacuum Attachment Kit’ and it consists of an assortment of cleaning brushes and nozzles that, with the included adapter, fits on the end of a vacuum cleaner hose. It may have been intended initially to clean computers and keyboards but it is perfect for getting into sewing machine innards, sergers, cover pros, and sucking out all that lint and thread bits. I got mine at a cleaning supply store and it cost $20.00. I use it after every sewing project and more often if I’m sewing fleece.

    • Sarah on November 1, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      I’ll check that out! Thanks!

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