How to care for your sewing machine
I know, I know. Sewing machine maintenance isn't exactly the sexiest sewing topic. I mean, we could be talking about other exciting stuff like how to sew flat-felled seams or the best way to hem a skirt...
But we're not. Today we're talking about what you need to do to look after your sewing machine and make sure it's in tip-top shape.
After all, we owe a lot to this mechanical masterpiece that enables us to express ourselves through this wonderful craft we know as sewing, and we're only doing OURSELVES a disservice by not maintaining it appropriately.
Why you need to care for your sewing machine
The insides of a sewing machine are FULL of moving parts that must all be functioning correctly in order to do the thing it's meant to do. So, as I know you can appreciate, if one part isn't working how it should be, this impacts how other parts of the machine work. Which, in the end, means the machine won't work at all, or you'll experience problems like unbalanced thread tension or thread breaks (which is just the start!).
As good sewing machine owners our role is to limit the potential for things to go wrong. Unfortunately, the simple act of USING your sewing machine is THE MAIN REASON things go wrong. Fluff and dust and thread from all the fabric we've cut up and sewn together builds up and stops the moving parts from doing what they're supposed to.
6 steps to keep your sewing machine in tip top condition
Caring for your sewing machine doesn't have to be an onerous chore that you begrudgingly do simply because you HAVE TO (read: your machine stops working so you don't have a choice anymore).
Here's how we maintain our sewing machine in 6 easy steps!
Step 1: Remove the stitch plate and bobbin case.
These days, most sewing machines come with a little kit that includes various tools to use with your sewing machine, such as feet, brushes, bobbins and, for this situation, a screwdriver! Use the screwdriver to remove the bobbin plate.
This might be an opportunity to refresh yourself on how to do this for your particular sewing machine model by having a read through your machine's manual. (By the way, I recommend doing this as soon as you get a new sewing machine. It's a great way of familiarise yourself with how it works and the functions it has.)
The photo above is a great example of what it looks like inside a sewing machine that is well-used. Lots of moving parts that love to collect lots of dust.
Step 2: Use a fluffy brush to collect dust and lint.
You don't need any expensive tools to keep your sewing machine in good order.
Just take a quick trip to the make-up section in your grocery store and choose a brush that's soft and fluffy. You might even have one at home already! Brushes with longer bristles, like those on a blush brush, give you a bit more access between all the parts inside the machine and help you get into spaces your fingers can't.
So give this area a gentle once-over with your fluffy brush. You'll be amazed at how much dust sticks to it! Every now and then, give the brush a clean and go back for more.
I should mention, when you're looking down into 'a situation' like you see above, you will absolutely be tempted to give it a bit of a blow, because that's what you do with dust, right?
Never try to blow the dust away, with your mouth or using canned air, as you are more likely to push the dirt further into the machine, which will cause bigger (and more expensive) problems that you definitely won't be able to fix.
Step 3: Use a pair of tweezers to remove built up lint around the mechanisms.
You'll probably have a pair of tweezers in your make-up bag too, but I recommend you buy a pair of tweezers for your sewing kit too. They are a very useful tool to have and once they're in your kit you'll be amazed how often you reach for them! My preference is an angled tweezer which I find very useful for getting into hard-to-reach places, but needle-nose tweezers would also be useful.
Once you've started the cleaning process you'll notice how dust accumulates and almost 'felts' in certain areas. Use your tweezers to pull the clumps out. (By the way, doing this is very weirdly satisfying. Trust me when I say you're going to love it.)
I want to mention here that the intention is not to get it spotless. That's actually impossible because you simply won't be able to get in between all the mechanisms to remove all the dust. Just do the best you can and do it regularly.
Depending on your machine, you may also like to add a drop of oil to the bobbin case (and anywhere else your manual recommends) while you've got the machine open. A lot of modern machines don't require this, so make sure to check your manual!
Once you've finished giving the inside of the sewing machine a good going over, replace the bobbin case and stitch plate.
Step 4: Insert a new needle and give the exterior of a once over.
Replacing the sewing needle is one of those things that often gets overlooked, but this is another really important part of having a sewing machine that works smoothly.
Ideally, you should be replacing your sewing machine every 8 to 12 hours of sewing.
Think about how many hours you spend sewing a week and change accordingly. If it's 2 hours a week, change it once a month. If it's 4 hours a week, change it every fortnight. If it's 8 hours a week... well, that one's obvious (also, lucky you!).
Now, give the outside of the sewing machine a clean. You can use the brush to get into air vents and areas around the spool. Cotton tips can also be handy too!
Use a damp cloth to wipe off any grubby marks so that your beloved machine sparkles like it should ;)
Step 5: Set yourself a reminder to clean your machine regularly.
If I don't set myself a calendar reminder, the thing will not happen. Do whatever works for you and do it regularly.
Let me be clear though - sewing machine maintenance is NOT something you do once a year!
(Now, I don't wanna go all 'sewing police' on you, but I will if I have to. *wink wink* But I promise it's for a good cause and not because you're breaking some pretend sewing rule made up by Nobody Knows-Who.)
Maintaining your sewing machine should be something you do regularly. And regularly will depend on how much and how often you sew. If you sew a lot, regularly might be once a week or fortnight. It might be once a month. The point is, don't NOT do it at all. That will be very bad for your sewing machine, your craft AND your back pocket. Servicing costs are likely to be higher if your machine isn't cleaned regularly and there's more chance you'll do serious damage.
If you only pull your sewing machine out once every six months, give it a good clean before you put it back in the cupboard.
Step 6: Book your machine in for a service every two years, at least!
This one really depends on how often you use your machine. But, the general rule of thumb is every two years, unless you pump out the projects. In which case get it serviced it annually.
If you sew sporadically (meaning your machine sits in the cupboard most of the year and reading sewing blogs is your actual hobby), remember that your sewing machine is full of moving parts, and moving parts need love and attention even when they're not moving. Sorry, but you STILL need to get your machine serviced! (At least every two years.)
Most sewists I know HATE putting their machine in for a service because it means they can't use it. But the benefits (a machine that does exactly what it's supposed to and being able to sew!) FAR outweigh the negatives (having a machine that doesn't do what it's supposed to, frustration, grief, loss of sewjo, ruined garments, need I go on?).
I like to book my machine in for it's annual service when I'm going on holidays so that I am distracted from the separation anxiety I experience for the time it's not with me. When I get home from my holiday I can usually pick it up immediately. DO NOT plan to book your machine in for a service at Christmas time because that's when EVERYONE thinks to do it. You will regret it (and possibly not see your machine for many weeks).
If you don't have a servicer yet, pop into your local fabric store and they will be able to recommend one to you.
One thing you should NEVER do when caring for your machine
Never ever remove more than the cover plate and bobbin case when cleaning your machine. Doing this may void your warranty, which would be very bad/sad and we definitely don't want that to happen!
Caring for your tools of our craft (in this case our sewing machines) is a really important part of making of sewing and I hope this inspires you to get it done!