Sewing and embroidery machines are some of the most expensive appliances to be found in any household, and for good reason. They are miracles of technology and far more mechanically complex than virtually any other appliance. Thankfully the introduction of computerized machines has both simplified the operation and made them more reliable. But there is still a lot of mechanisms needed to make them do all the amazing things they do.
With that comes the need for preventative maintenance. Just like a car, sewing machines have moving metal parts that run at speed and will eventually wear out. How long they last depends on how you maintain them. Let’s take an in depth look at what is needed to keep your machine in top condition. Regardless of how advanced or how good the quality is, all machinery needs preventative maintenance at some stage. So let’s start with the easy questions.
How often should it be serviced?
This is a always a topic of debate and there is no absolute answer. But generally it would wise to have your machine serviced every 12 months under normal usage conditions. In fact, a machine left unused for months can suffer badly from lack of use as the lubricants dry up.
Who should you trust to service it?
This is also a hard one to answer because in Australia there is no legal requirement for a sewing machine technician to be qualified at all. In fact, to the best of our knowledge there is no government-accredited course available. However, you should at the very least ask to see if the technician has had some form of training. Almost all sewing machine manufacturers will issue a training certificate when a technician
completes training on various machines.
A Solid Work Table
A solid work table is the best investment – the arch enemy of anything mechanical is vibration. Make sure your machine is not bouncing or vibrating too much. If it is, get a better, more stable work surface.
Too high or too low humidity
Can mean your machine needs more regular servicing. Excessive humidity will cause moisture buildup on internal parts which can lead to corrosion. On the other hand, a dry climate will speed up the natural tendency for lubricants to dry up
Avoid direct sunlight and heat
It can discolour and even warp the plastic housings. Excessive heat on LCD screens can damage the screen.
Cover your machine
Cover your machine to prevent dust and other contaminants. If you have pets that shed hair, it is important to prevent hair settling in or around the machine. We have seen machines become very tight because of an accumulation of pet hair.
Sometimes it is hard to avoid but insects, particularly cockroaches, are like poison to sewing machines. They leave corrosive droppings and cause damage to circuit boards. The will even eat away some nonmetal components. Keep them away with simple measures like baits and repellants.
These guys are even harder to control but generally if there are no insects, the geckos will leave. Geckos are notoriously bad for shorting out electronics.
If you have a high-quality machine, you should not use low-quality supplies. All the good maintenance in the world won’t prevent some of the problems that are created by horrible thread, cheap and nasty needles or poor-quality backings. This is easily fixed – use quality notions.
What should you do?
These days there is less maintenance required by you, the operator. Most machines now don’t even allow you to oil the machine and with good reason. Oiling in the wrong spot or too much oil can cause lots of problems.
I’ve even seen people oil machines with vegetable oil – DON’T DO THAT!
However, there are some regular things you should do.
- Keep the bobbin race area clean and lint free. This is probably the most important area and the easiest part of your preventative maintenance plan. At least every 3 or 4 times you use your machine, take the bobbin cover off and use a soft, long bristle brush and tweezers to gently remove all the lint and fluff that has accumulated.
- Never use the “air in a can” as it tends to blow much of the lint and fluff back into the machine where it then builds up in gears and belts.
- The exception is the PR machines – you can use the air in a can for these machines.
If you have a mini vacuum cleaner, that is also a great option.
- Once every month take the actual needle plate off the machine and clean out the slots between the feed teeth (if present). The lint compresses in this area and can even damage the needle plate if left unchecked.
- Inspect the needle hole for burs and dags. If you ever have a needle breakage it will often damage the needle hole, and this in turn can contribute to thread breakage and poor quality stitching. Sometimes damage to the needle hole will require the machine to be taken to a technician, but with a little care and a fine piece of “wet and dry” sandpaper, you can often remove small burs yourself.
- Check and clean in between the bobbin case tension spring. Lint, fluff and even a wax-like residue can build up in this area preventing tension being applied to the bobbin thread. This results in your bobbin thread showing on top of the stitching.
Note: Never pull thread back through the machine. When changing spools always cut your thread at the spool and pull the waste thread forward through the machine. There are two reasons for this:
- Winding thread back on the spools takes the twist out of the thread. When you next use this thread it will not form a correct thread loop, resulting in the thread breaking or simply coming out of the needle.
- All machines have what is called a thread check spring. It’s a very important part of the stitching mechanism but is quite a delicate little spring. By forcibly pulling thread backwards through the machine you can easily damage this spring, particularly if the there is a knot or a frayed end on the thread. Unfortunately, replacing a check spring is usually not an easy job.
Removing thread broken near the take-up lever
This can be a frustrating problem. When thread shreds (which can happen for any number of reasons) there is often no tail of thread left to grab and pull back down to the needle. It has somehow gotten caught up in the take up area. As we mentioned in the previous point, you should never forcibly pull the thread backwards through the machine for fear of damaging the check spring. It can also cause a knot of thread to jam in the tension assembly which will cause stitching problems.
The best option is to un-thread the machine backwards – in other words, remove the thread in the same order that you would normally thread. Usually this will release any jammed thread and you’ll be good to go.
What does a service cost?
There is no fixed service fee that covers every make or model as there are so many variables. Most technicians or stores try to establish a standard fee but when you consider the following variables you’ll understand why you should be a little sceptical if you are quoted a very low fixed service rate.
- How old is the machine and has it been maintained well?
- Is the machine presenting with a specific problem or is it running well and just needing regular maintenance?
- How many stitches has it done? There are parts that will need replacing due to normal wear and tear.
- Is it a sewing and embroidery machine or one or the other? A combo machine takes longer to service.
- The more advanced the machine is, the more mandatory tests have to be done in service mode to ensure all settings are correct.
- All machines should be thoroughly test sewn before going back to their owner. Obviously this takes longer on combination machines.
- The cost of a service will vary widely, but most stores bill the service rates at around $90 to $120 per hour – the typical rate of a specialist technician in most fields. A simple $500 sewing machine can usually be serviced within an hour. But a full service on a very well-used
- high-end machine can take several hours without shortcuts – and we don’t think there should be shortcuts.
The best thing to do is ask for a quote and request that if an additional expense is required you are contacted first for approval. Most importantly, remember that a cheap quote is not always a good quote.
If your machine is failing outside of its normal servicing schedule, remember that modern machines are very reliable and problems are usually a result of one the ingredients not being right: thread, needles, backings, designs, environment and the operator. Check all of these before rushing off to the repairman.
A Guide to Surge Protection
What does a surge protector actually do?
It limits (or “clamps”) the power to a maximum safe level, preventing damaging spikes from reaching sensitive equipment.
So what is a UPS?
A. Uninterruptible Power Supply. It has a large battery which can kick in to supply power if mains fails. This can be caused by large appliances or airconditioners switching on, even if they’re next door! The resulting “brownout” could be for a fraction of a second, not even long enough for your lights to flicker. All UPS units also have surge protection built-in.
Why are power fluctuations bad?
For surges, the answer is simple. Most electronics runs at 5 volts (”volts” is a measure of electricity). Beyond about 6 volts damage can occur. The average lightning strike is over ten million volts. Seriously! For brownouts, the problem is more subtle. Sewing and embroidery machines are complex systems, with many interlinked parts. When power droops low, some parts switch off or reset before others. It’s like a symphony orchestra when the conductor disappears – the musicians keep playing, but they’re in a mess!
Why are some UPSs so cheap and others expensive?
There are three different types of UPS:
- Off-line (cheap): Act only as a backup for total power failure – can’t top-up power “droops”. Designed mainly for computers – not suitable for sewing machines.
- Line-Interactive (mid-priced): Continuously monitor the power and step in when needed – limiting surge spikes and topping up brownouts. Great for general purpose use.
- On-line (expensive): These units actually “make” the power, guaranteeing perfectly smooth power even in the worst situations. Best for very sensitive equipment or unreliable power supply – particularly houses “off grid” using solar panels or generators.
Why buy a Belkin?
Belkin are one of the best options for power protection, and the reason isn’t technical – it’s actually in the fine print. To paraphrase the legalese:
Belkin will repair or replace any equipment which is damaged by a voltage surge or lightning strike while connected through a Belkin Surge Protector
In other words, if a lightning strike hits which is so large it blows up your surge protector and your embroidery machine, Belkin will repair or replace it for free. With Belkin you’re buying more than just a surge protector – you’re buying an insurance policy.