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Topic: How to Service Your Sewing Machine: A Tutorial  (Read 18930 times)
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« on: September 08, 2015 09:32:28 PM »

Hello There!

I taught sewing lessons at The Tin Thimble in Loomis, CA for 5+ years. At the end of one of my favorite classes "Get to Know Your Sewing Machine" I would show my students how to maintain their sewing machines. I always loved that little end segment, and I never felt that I had enough time to really dive into it. My sewing machine is used several times every week, for hours on end, and I take it to be professionally tuned about once a year. As long as the belts, power cords and tension stay in good condition, I can service it myself. I do what I'm about to show you once a month, to ensure my machine stays in good working order. Some of you may find that servicing your machine yourself solves problems such as skipped stitches, pulling, tucking, slightly-off tension and will greatly increase the longevity of your machine.

Your manual can be a crucial resource to assist you in this process. Look for the sections labeled "maintenance" or "troubleshooting". The manual will also have helpful diagrams of your machine that you can reference throughout this tutorial. If you don't have a manual, most can be found online to download, or on sites such as Ebay or Etsy to purchase.

I would like to say that these instructions are best for older machines. By older I mean most machines from the late 90's and older. Most brand new machines don't leave you the option to service them this thoroughly, and therefore you'd have to take them to a sewing machine repair shop.

There is a slightly more thorough version of this tutorial on my blog here: http://palindromedrygoods.blogspot.com/2015/09/service-your-sewing-machine-yourself.html

What You'll Need:
• Screwdrivers in many sizes. You can purchase a kit of small screw drivers from most fabric stores & sewing machine repair stores. You can also use the screwdrivers that come in your eyeglass repair kit. You'll also need a regular sized one that you use around the house.
• A knitting needle
• A rag or towel that can get (very) dirty.
• Sewing machine lubricant. Also available for sale at most fabric stores & sewing machine repair shops. I recommend the singer brand that comes in a tube. I don't recommend the very liquid-y stuff that comes in a squirt-type bottle, but to each their own.
• Several brushes. I use old makeup brushes and paint brushes, but you can also purchase a cleaning brush for your machine at the aforementioned stores. You may also use a toothbrush.

To Begin:
Remove all thread spools, the bobbin, the bobbin case and the needle. Set them aside, somewhere safe.

Remove the screws from the top of your sewing machine. Mine in particular has 3, yours may have more or less. Some machines don't have any screws at top, but instead have a hinged lid that opens.

Note if there are washers with the screws and that they may be different sizes. Be sure to make a note of which screw fits in which opening. I recommend using a piece of paper to place your screws on, and to write where they go. Something that looks like the photo below:

Next, remove the top cover. Some machines have a metal bracket underneath that keeps the lid on tight, you may have to push the lid back (away from you), or forward (toward yourself) to get the bracket to unhook.

And then you'll see this! The inner workings of your machine. Take a moment to appreciate all the work it does for you Smiley Turn your hand wheel towards you and take a look at everything that moves in there.

Cleaning the Top of the Machine:
You're now going to take a rag and clean out all the old, nasty, dirty grease. A knitting needle tucked inside a rag becomes a handy tool for reaching those smaller spaces. A toothbrush may come in handy during this step as well. I wouldn't advise using your soft brushes for removing grease, they're better for lint removal later on.

• Be gentle: Use kid gloves when cleaning your machine. It doesn't require a lot of force or pressure to get your machine nice and clean. No sharp jabbing! Being too rough will greatly increase your chances of bumping springs, and dislodging crucial pieces.

• Watch out for springs! These little babies are sensitive, fragile and will screw up the entire function of your machine if they're dislodged or broken. See the photo below for examples of placement. If they are covered in lint, use a soft brush (like a makeup brush, or the sewing machine-specific cleaning brush) to brush it off. If they are coated in dirty grease, use the rag to gently wipe it off.

Below are pictures of the gross stuff you may encounter in your machine. Hunks of dried grease, dirty grease, lint, threads, etc. all needs to come out! Be sure to clean each place, then turn the hand wheel 1/4 turn so that you can see and clean all sides of the wheels, cogs, etc.

You'll also want to turn your stitch selector, stitch width, and stitch length knobs (depending on where they're placed on your machine) to make sure that you clean all sides of their mechanisms. The photo below shows the built up grease on my stitch selector knob. To get it all clean, I turned the knob through each stitch to clean entirely around the cog.

Oiling the Top of the Machine:
Once you've thoroughly cleaned the top part of your machine, we need to replace all the grease we just removed. Oil helps to keep all the parts and pieces moving smoothly, and prevents excess wear, friction, heat and noise.

We are going to grease any two parts that move against one another.

Below I have pointed to the places I put oil. Your machine may have more or less moving parts.

What not to do:
• Don't grease the belts. I am pointing to the drive belt in my sewing machine in the picture below. If any of the belts looks frayed, or cracked, take your sewing machine to a professional to have it replaced.

• Don't over oil. Too much oil can cause the pieces to slip and malfunction. If you're using the liquid oil, it only takes a drop or two per part. If you're using the thick stuff, a half-pea sized will be more than enough.

Cleaning the Left Side and the Bobbin Housing:
Now, open the left side panel on your machine. Mine has a hinged door that opens, yours may have screws. If it has screws, be sure to add them to your paper sheet and label them so that you don't forget where they go! It's also a good time to brush any lint off of the tension knob (if that's where yours is placed), and the thread guides along the front of the machine.

Next remove the foot, and the needle if you haven't already. Take a soft brush and clean the dogfeed (those are the little teeth that stick up from the bottom of your machine).

Now remove the needle plate (also known as the throat plate). Mine has screws (see below), some have a bracket underneath so that you can slide the plate off by pulling it towards you.

Remove the lint that builds up underneath the needle plate. Below, you can see that mine was so dirty, I used a small screwdriver to gently push out large pieces of lint. Here's a good time to use your soft brushes & grease-free toothbrush as well.

Removing the Bobbin Housing:
Taking apart the bobbin mechanism can be a little intimidating, but follow along and you shouldn't have a problem. If you have a top loading bobbin, you do not need to follow these steps. Because I don't currently have a top loading machine in my possession, you may want to see what you can find on YouTube, and I will add pictures of that process as soon as I can!

For a front loading bobbin: you should see two small arms on either side of the bottom of the bobbin mechanism. Gently push those arms away from the case. See the photo below.

You can then remove the first metal piece (known as the 'race'). See below.

You will then be able to remove the second metal piece (known as the 'hook'.)

Gently brush out the entire bobbin mechanism. Brush over the hook and race and collect all the lint you find. Mine is below. Gross.

Oiling the Left Side and the Bobbin Housing:
Again, turn your hand wheel and watch what moves inside the left side panel. Place a drop of oil anyplace where two mechanical pieces move against one another.

Be sure to place a small amount on the needle bar (the cylindrical piece of metal that moves the needle up and down).  

For the bobbin mechanism, be sure to place a small amount behind the part that swings back and forth (move the hand wheel in full rotations to find this part). See the photo below.

Cleaning the Underside of the Machine:

My machine has a small plastic arm at the side that holds the machine into it's bottom case.Whether your machine is in a case like mine, in a table, or not in any kind of housing, you'll need to tip it back so that you can look underneath it. I rested mine on a stack of books, but you could also lay a towel down on your workspace and set it in on it's back.

Take your soft cloth and gently wipe down the underside as well as the bottom of the case, if the machine is in one.

Oiling the Underside of the Machine:
Once more, turn your hand wheel and watch what moves underneath the machine. Place a drop of oil anyplace where two mechanical pieces move against one another. Look for very small movements at the underside of your machine, not all parts here make drastic movements.

Reassembling the Bobbin Housing:
Firstly, turn your hand wheel until the inner crescent moon shaped piece in the housing is on the right.

Secondly, pop the 'hook' into the housing, it will only fit in all the way if the crescent-moon shaped piece is in the right place. You may have to adjust it's position using the handwheel.

Third, place the 'race' over the top of the hook and the crescent-moon shaped piece. See that itty-bitty notch at the bottom of the housing between the two black arms? That notch helps align the 'race' to the rest of the housing.

Lastly, pop the little black arms over the little metal buttons on the housing. Be sure that the dogfeed lever to the right of the housing (it usually has little red arrows on it), is in it's upright position.

To Finish Up:
Lastly, replace all the screws in your machine (top, side and bobbin), and give the machine one last good wipe down. My machine gets especially dusty on the back side and in the grooves of the case.

Then, replace the needle, and using a piece of fabric that you don't care about (you could even use the rag you've used through this whole process), run the machine at full speed, without any thread in it. This moves the oil throughout the machine and allows any excess oil to work it's way out. You may see oil on the fabric, and that's OK. Continue using the machine without any thread until you don't see oil on the fabric anymore. Then, using thread you don't care about, thread the bobbin and the top of the machine and sew some more. You may see that the thread is greasy (either on the top or the bottom), and this is OK too.

So, phew, there it is! I think it looks a lot more daunting in pictures than it is in real life. When I service my machine it only takes about 15 minutes.

What did I forget? I'd be happy to add pictures and descriptions to anything. (You can check the blog post for a few extra pictures too!)

What questions do you have?

Would you guys be interested in a tutorial on fixing the tension on your machine?

Comment below and let me know!

Happy sewing, thanks for reading.

« Last Edit: September 15, 2015 08:47:06 PM by hannnahmaree » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2015 10:39:55 PM »

That is awesome and very clear! Thanks so much!

I'll be cleaning my machine this weekend.  Cheesy
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2015 06:18:13 AM »

Thanks for the reminder that a little maintenance will improve your sewing enjoyment and keep you machine running for years!

I have been doing this for years and am proud to say that one of my machines is about 80 years old (inherited from my grandmother!) and still running great!

Do you have any additional tips for the new computerized machines?

Thanks for the excellent pictures...I see a few spots that I did not know needed oil...excellent tutorial...

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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2015 06:21:50 AM »

Woah, thank you SO much!  This is insanely helpful.

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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2015 06:52:25 AM »

This rocks so much!  Thank you for taking the time to post it here.
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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2015 06:57:30 AM »

You just saved me money! Great instructions, and thank you for sharing the comprehensive details. Smiley

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« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2015 07:02:15 AM »

Wow! Thanks for the information. My machine is probably long over due for a cleaning.
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« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2015 08:22:30 AM »

Thank you so much for this informative and easy to follow tutorial. I know my sewing machine thanks you also.

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« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2015 10:15:08 AM »

This is soooo bookmark-worthy!! What a great resource. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge.

« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2015 10:37:44 AM »

Thanks for the reminder that a little maintenance will improve your sewing enjoyment and keep you machine running for years!

I have been doing this for years and am proud to say that one of my machines is about 80 years old (inherited from my grandmother!) and still running great!

Do you have any additional tips for the new computerized machines?

Thanks for the excellent pictures...I see a few spots that I did not know needed oil...excellent tutorial...

Good question! 

I do have some tips. Newer computerized sewing machines should still allow you to oil the left side panel. There is (typically) a small plastic circle on the left hand side that pops out to reveal a screw. You should always be able to oil the needle bar, but I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule.

Compressed air will also be your friend with fancy new machines. Be sure to always blow the air from the back of the machine to the front, so that you can collect the dust, as opposed to it flying back into your machine.

You can also use a soft, clean cloth (preferably something with very little lint residue) and slide it between the thread uptake lever (the little thing that's shaped like the top of an S with a hole in it, that moves up and down when you sew), and the metal housing to the left.

For most new machines, I would recommend referencing their factory manual. There should be a section (no matter how small) that tells you where you can place oil and what panels of the machine can be removed to see the inside. Older & newer machines sometimes have small holes on the exterior called zerks that signal where the machine can be oiled. If your machine has these zerks, you can squeeze (or drop) oil through them without having to remove any of the machine's housing. Keep in mind that those zerks are not helpful when you need to clean your machine.

I hope that's slightly helpful!

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