Since my hands don’t like doing handwork much anymore, I couldn’t live without my sewing machines. I’m guessing many of you are the same, even if you like to do hand work. Since I’m old (especially according to my grands and children :0)), I’ve seen machines change over the years. Even with lots of technology added, the basics of the machines haven’t changed much at all.
First of all, make sure you have a copy of your owner’s manual for your machine. Be sure you know where you keep it. If you don’t know where it is, then you can most likely download one from the internet. You need to know the make and model number/name of your machine. Here are a couple of places to look for your manual: ISMACS International or go to your brand's webpage. i.e. If you have a Singer Featherweight – go to the Singer site and search by machine.
ALERT – I’m going to use the names of sewing machine parts. If you don’t understand what piece I’m talking about, look up the pictures in the owner’s manual that labels parts.
Most machines thread the same. They have a place to go through that governs the upper thread tension, there is an arm that pulls the thread up, and the needle is the last to be threaded. The needle hole can face one of two positions and that determines how you thread the needle. There is a dial or screen setting that sets the thread tension. There are places to select your stitch length and a reverse button or lever somewhere. Your owner’s manual will show how to thread the machine. With newer machines, the directions are on the machine as you thread it.
Bobbins load two ways – 1) perpendicular to the needle and usually in a bobbin case you insert underneath or 2) flat on the top. Check your owner’s manual to see which way the thread winds around the bobbin before you put it in the case or machine. Usually, bobbins that go in a case you insert wind clockwise. Bobbins that lay flat wind counterclockwise. (We’ll talk more about bobbins next week.)
Sewing machines wrap the top thread and bobbin around each other and should have even tension so the twist ends up in the middle. If the top tension it too high the bobbin will be pulled up and you will see little bumps on the top. These bumps are the bobbin thread showing. The same is for the tension being too low, the bumps will be on the bottom from the top thread being pulled down by the bobbin. You will need to adjust the tension manually for most machines. The size of your thread, the thickness of your fabrics, your stitch length can all affect your tension. Do a test sew if you are doing a major change of any of these. Again, your sewing manual should help you change your tension setting. Sometimes bobbin casings need to be adjusted too. The casings that you insert manually have a little screw that can be adjusted. If you aren’t comfortable doing this yourself, take the machine for a “spa day.” The repair people will clean and oil everything for you and can check the bobbin case tension. Some people have more than one bobbin case. The cases are set to different tensions for different size threads.
Let’s talk about “spa days” and what you can do at home for keeping your machines running smoothly. If you sew a lot, quilt your own quilts, or use fuzzy fabric; you should take your machine in to be cleaned yearly. The “spa” treatment will clean out every nook and cranny of your machine innards, oil/grease/lube where it needs it, check the tension settings, and repair anything else you want repaired. For example, the needle threader on my machine had broken off the piece that went through the needle hole. Not a must, but nice to have. They fixed it during one of my machine’s spa days. If you don’t sew that much, watch for signs of needing to be cleaned. Thread breaking often, even if you have a new needle; tension really off no matter what you do, hunks of fuzz coming up with the thread from below. This will keep your machine working for a long time. It’s just like getting the oil changed in your car. If you buy or inherit a machine, take it to get serviced first thing (even if they say I just had it done).
There are also cleaning things you can do on a regular basis (This is in addition to a spa day). You need to take out the bobbin housing and clean all of that. You also need to pop the throat plate up and clean around the feed dogs. You need to get in behind or below the bobbin works and feed dogs. A vacuum with a small nozzle, wands, small pipe cleaners will work to get out the fuzz. I do this after every project and/or after finishing a quilt. If I can see fuzz building up on my machine foot, I may do a cleaning in the middle of a project too.
If you want to learn more, we have a couple of good books:
Sewing Machine Reference Tool and You and Your Sewing Machine
Need the wands to clean your machine? We have those too.
New Kaffe Fassett Collective fabrics showed up this week. Several spring florals also arrived. New patterns are on their way plus the next installment of the Aurifil 40wt Thread Subscription. The sea turtle foundation paper pieced pattern is available with the three shades of green thread.
Enjoy the warm weather this week. Watch for the crocus and star magnolias blooms this week too.
Phyllis and the QA staff