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Looking after your

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A well-made sewing machine—new or old, used often or only occasionally—will sew perfectly for many years if it is given proper care. It may need to be adjusted or a part may need to be replaced, but a sewing machine that is given proper maintenance and cleaned regularly seldom actually “wears out.”  Sewing machines generally require basic maintenance of cleaning, oiling, and lubricating. 

Getting at the Problem
When you have trouble with your sewing machine, a good rule to follow is “clean it first.” Many problems are caused by dust, lint, or thread ends that have collected on the working parts of the machine.

Simply brushing lint and dust from the machine each time it is used is a good way to prevent many problems. Use the soft nylon brush that comes with the machine or  a narrow paint brush to dust away lint in the bobbin case, under the needle plate, and around the feed dog. A needle or tweezers can be used to remove pieces of thread or lint that cannot be brushed away. 

In time, lint and dust that are allowed to accumulate in a sewing machine can become soaked with oil and/ or lubricant and interfere with the operation of the machine.  When this gummy grime is removed, the ma-chine will work more freely, and adjustment may not be necessary. Removing this unwanted buildup requires more care and time than everyday maintenance.

The following procedures do not apply to all manual and electric machines–specifically those with bearings packed in grease and chain-stitch machines. They do apply to older models of electric lock-stitch machines and treadle machines. Check your machine instruction booklet if you have one to determine the procedure recommended to clean it, then use this guide along with your booklet.

Supplies and Equipment
It is really helpful if you can find a few tools to use.  You need the following equipment and supplies for the job:
•    Pie or cake pan for soaking parts in cleaning fluid
•    Small screwdriver
•    Large screwdriver
•    Small adjustable wrench
•    Hammer (optional)
•    Small oil can (clean) for cleaning fluid
•    Cleaning brush (narrow, nylon)
•    Paring knife (or pocket knife)
•    Long needle or small crochet hook
•    Tweezers
•    Cleaning cloths
•    Fabric to test stitching
•    Can of sewing machine oil (check your machine instruction booklet for the type recommended)
•    Tube of sewing machine lubricant (check your machine instruction booklet for the type recommended)
•    Small bottle or can of cleaning solvent that will not flash flame at temperatures below 120°F. It is usually available at gasoline stations or cleaning establishments. Never use gasoline; it is highly flammable. 

After assembling all supplies and equipment, unplug and move the machine to a cleaning area that is well lit. Protect the floor and table top with newspapers. A good floor or table lamp to light the work area from over your shoulder will be helpful. A flashlight is also helpful for adding light in hard-to-see areas.


General Cleaning

As you clean the machine, it is best to clean one area at a time. Remove only the parts that are involved and be sure to note where each part is from, its position, and which side is top.

When removing parts, remember that “left is loose and right is tight” on practically all screws and bolts. When using a screwdriver, put the pressure on the push, not on the twist. If a screw will not loosen easily, soak it with cleaning fluid. Then set the screwdriver in the slot and tap sharply with a hammer before attempting to loosen. The screwdriver blade should be as wide as the slot in the screw is long. Always use a wrench—not pliers—on bolts.

First, remove the needle, presser foot, slide plate, throat plate, bobbin case, and the face plate. Put them in a pan and cover with cleaning fluid. Set aside to soak while cleaning other areas.

Next, wrap the motor (if necessary) and wire with plastic wrap to protect them from oil and cleaning sol- vent. Be sure the machine has been unplugged!

Now, it is time to begin work to clean the machine head. With a sharp pointed tool, clean out all oil holes. Then, with your hand, turn the hand wheel to run the machine. At the same time, squirt cleaning fluid into all the oil holes, on all bearings, and on all other places where one part rubs against or turns within another.


If the machine begins to run hard, it is a sign that dirt or lint has jammed inside a bearing. Continue running the machine and flushing with cleaning fluid until the dirt and gummed oil are washed from the bearing. When the machine runs easily again, tip the head and flush the parts underneath the machine—all oil holes, bearings, and places that rub against or within one an- other. Continue running the machine by hand until it functions smoothly.

To remove any remaining dirt and oil, dip a cloth or brush in cleaning fluid and scrub all parts of the ma- chine that can be reached. Use a needle, knife, or other pointed instrument to dig or scrape away any remaining gummed dirt or lint in the feed dog, around the bobbin case, and in other areas.

Check the lower tension of the bobbin case and the upper thread tension discs. Pull a thread under the tension of the bobbin to remove dirt. Pull a piece of cloth soaked in cleaning fluid back and forth between the discs of the upper tension. Repeat with a dry cloth to be sure no lint or thread is caught between them.


Areas Needing Attention

In addition to general cleaning, three areas need special attention: the hand wheel bearing and the clutch assembly, the needle bar and presser foot, and the hook and bobbin area assemblies. When the hand wheel assembly gets gummy and dirty, it must be cleaned for the clutch to work properly. The clutch disengages the needle bar when winding a bobbin.

Some newer sewing machines refill the bobbin in its regular position and a clutch is not necessary. In such machines, it is often not necessary to remove the hand- wheel to clean this area.

Bobbin and Hook Area

Lint is the primary offender in this area. The bobbin  case can be removed on all makes of machines. Use a dry brush to clean out all lint. Remove any thread that may be wound up around the hook shaft. On many machines, the hook assembly can also be removed for more complete cleaning. Place one drop of oil on the exterior perimeter of the hook and the bobbin race (the ledge that the hook sits on) to lubricate it after cleaning.

The face plate on most machines is held in place with one or two screws. By removing these, the plate can be easily removed for cleaning both the needle and presser foot bars. On some newer machines, the face plate is a part of a housing that is mounted on hinges, which


makes it easy to move the entire housing away from the bars and mechanisms behind it. No other parts need

to be removed for cleaning in this area. First use a dry brush to clean out all lint and other foreign material. A small piece of cloth with a little solvent on it can be used to clean the needle bar and presser bar of any gummy grease.

After thoroughly cleaning, place a drop or two of oil on each shaft where it slides through the housing. Oil all other moving parts according to your instruction book before replacing the face plate.


To remove the clutch and hand wheel, loosen the small screw in the face of the lock nut (the lock nut is the part that is turned to the left to release the clutch for operating the bobbin winder. Next, unscrew the lock nut and remove the washer and hand wheel.  Most machines will have a washer that looks like one of the three shown. Some machine models will be slightly different. Notice the position of the washer so you can put it back in the same position. You may want to make a small scratch to identify the side that goes “out.”

The hand wheel should slide off the shaft easily. If the machine is driven by an external belt, this belt will have to be removed before the hand wheel will come off. If  the machine has an internal drive belt or the wheel obviously will not come off, do not remove the hand wheel. Replace the parts you have removed and skip this area. Gear-driven machines will have a gear on the inside of the hand wheel.

Clean the hand wheel, washer, and shaft. Lubricate the shaft with two drops of oil and place a small amount of grease on all gears. Reassemble the hand wheel and clutch. If the clutch fails to operate, either because it will not hold or fails to release, remove the lock nut again and turn the washer one half turn (180°) and reassemble. The clutch should then work properly.


After thoroughly cleaning these areas, reassemble the machine and run it by hand. It should run smoothly if all parts have been replaced correctly.

Do not plug the machine in until all the cleaning fluid is dry.


Oiling  and  Lubricating  the  Machine Allow the machine to stand overnight so excess cleaning fluid can evaporate before oiling and lubricating it. Check your machine instruction booklet to determine the type of oil lubricant to use and where to use it.

Some machines have bearings that are nylon or graphite-impregnated bronze and do not require oil or lubricant. Also, some machines do not need

Care of the Motor

Lubricate the electric motor of your sewing machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Several newer machines have electric motors with sealed bearings that never need oiling. Lubricate motors that require oil or grease once a year. One or two drops per bearing is sufficient; over-oiling may ruin the mo- tor. A sewing machine company oil or a good-quality light oil is satisfactory to use. If you select a lightweight household oil, be sure it says “non-gum forming” and “non-corrosive” on the container. On a grease-fitted


Short Groove bearing, fill the grease cups once a year.

Check to see that all electric connections to the mo- tor control and motor are tight. If the cord covering is not in good condition, tape it with good-quality electrical tape or replace the cord. The belt that connects the motor to the hand wheel should have just enough tension to keep it from slipping. On some machines, the belt can be adjusted by slightly shifting the position of the motor.

Take good care of the rubber driving ring or wheel on motors that drives machines by friction contact with the hand wheel. If this driving ring or wheel has become flat-sided or unevenly worn, causing excessive vibration, replace it with a new one. Keep the hand wheel clean and dry, and the driving ring adjusted firmly to the hand wheel and in line, so the machine will run with a minimum of vibration.


Adjusting the Machine

Next, thread the machine and sew (using scraps of fabric) to test the stitching.


  1. First, be sure the needle is the proper length. Use the needle length or number recommended in your manual.

  2. Second, use a needle with a diameter that is suitable for the fabric and thread size you intend to sew on. Charts in your operator’s manual, in a sewing machine centre, or reputable online websites give the recommended size for sewing with different thread sizes. Using a larger diameter needle results in an unattractive stitch with larger than necessary needle holes in the fabric.

  3. Third, be sure the needle is straight and does not have a dull point or burr.

  4. Fourth, choose needles for sewing special fabrics, such as a ballpoint needle for knits and a wedge needle for leather The needle should be inserted in the needle bar clamp with the long groove of the needle facing the side from which you thread the needle. It should be inserted all the way into the clamp until it hits the stop pin. On machines with an adjustable needle bar housing, adjust the position of the needle bar until the needle goes through the centre of the needle hole in the needle plate

Needle Plate (Throat Plate)

Manufacturers of some machines recommend using the needle plate with the round hole for straight stitching and the elongated hole for the zig-zag stitch. Unless you use the proper needle plate, you may experience skipped stitches when making a straight stitch. This is especially true when sewing some synthetic fabrics. Check the needle (throat) plate for rough places and remove them with an emery paper or cloth.


Feed Dog

The teeth on the feed dog should project above the needle plate so that the bottom of the teeth, or serrations, are level with the top of the needle plate when the dog moves the material before the next stitch is made by the needle.

A good general setting is one that results in 10 to 12 stitches per inch of seam. On very thin and fine mate- rial, it may be necessary to use a shorter stitch such as 14 to 16 stitches per inch of seam. On leather or vinyl, a longer stitch may be more desirable, such as 6 to 10 stitches per inch of seam.



Presser Foot

There should be just enough pressure on the presser  foot to hold the fabric on the feed dog so that a uniform length of stitch is made. As a general rule, heavy fabrics require light pressure. Pressure may be increased by pushing down on an inner pin, or decreased by releasing an outer ring. Some machines may have a thumb screw or a dial to regulate pressure. Check your machine booklet for instructions on how to adjust the presser foot of your machine.

On slippery fabrics, loosely knit fabrics, vinyl, or velvet a roller-type presser foot may produce better feeding than the standard presser foot.

When darning, either reduce the pressure on the presser foot or lower the feed dog on machines with a drop feed button, or use a cover plate.


Thread Tension

Upper and lower tension must be balanced to produce a perfect stitch. The upper tension is located differently on different machines. It may be on the face plate, on the face of the needle bar housing, on the front of the needle bar housing, or on the upper arm of the machine head.

The lower tension, located on the shuttle or bobbin case, is adjusted by a screw. If two screws fasten the lower tension spring to the bobbin case, adjust by turning the screw nearest the centre of the spring—not the screw on the end.

If, during the cleaning, the lower tension spring has been removed or its adjustment changed, the adjusting procedure is the same as in the ordinary use of the machine. That is, assume the lower tension to be correct until proved wrong. Make all adjustments on the upper tension first.


If the lower tension has been disturbed, set both lower and upper tension so there will be a slight drag on each thread. Use the same size thread on both bobbin and spool. After adjusting the tension, take a look at  the stitching the machine makes. To help you to see the stitches clearly, use contrasting colours of thread on the spool and in the bobbin. Set the stitch-length control for a medium stitch length. Fold a 6- to 8-inch square of sheeting or average weight cloth and stitch diagonally across it at an angle of about 45°.

Now inspect the stitching.  In a perfect stitch, threads are locked in the centre, midway between the two layers of cloth, with no loops on the top or bot- tom of the seam and no puckers in the cloth.

If loops of the bobbin thread show on the top side of the seam and the top thread is straight, the upper tension is tighter than the lower. In this case, loosen the top tension.

If loops of the spool thread show on the underside of the seam and the lower thread is straight, the upper tension is looser than the lower and should be tightened.