Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Quilting 101: Machine Maintenance

When I bought my first sewing machine years ago, I had no idea what I needed to do to take care of it. It had a 90-day warranty for any problem whatsoever. After about two months it started acting up. I took it back to the store, and they checked it out. It seems I failed to ever clean my machine. I didn't even know I needed to or how to do it. Growing up I sewed on my mom's machine, and she did all the maintenance. I never paid attention. The clerk showed me basic tips on how to take care of my machine, and I can say I've done a much better job since that time.

Here are a few tips on taking care of your machine. Remember that each machine is different. Check the manual or check with the shop before doing maintenance on your own machine.

General Tips:
  • Change the needle regularly and use a needle appropriate for the fabric.
  • Clean the lint out regularly. I clean mine before and after I FMQ or work on any large project. I also clean it whenever it starts acting up, or when I know it's simply been a while.
  • Cover the machine when not in use. (This tip is a bit pointless for me since I sew nearly every day, but for those who aren't as crazy as me, keep it covered. That keeps out the excess dust.)
  • Learn which threads work in your machine and which don't. If you have frequent breakage with a particular thread, throw it out. Even if another quilter raves about a certain thread brand, but your machine hates it, don't use it. 

Here is my bobbin case after it's been a while. It's not terrible, but definitely ready for a cleaning.

These are my tools for cleaning my machine.

First lift out all visible lint while vacuuming with a small vacuum. Don't blow into the machine as this simply blows the dust and lint in deeper.

I use canned air to blow out the thread track. Notice how the nozzle is pointing down. I only want to blow the dust out, not inside the machine. When I'm doing a very thorough cleaning, I will take the side cover off to remove even more dust.

Oil the machine (if recommended for your model). I bought this bottle approximately 10 years ago. I oil my machine regularly and have only used this small amount. Use 1-2 drops. No more.

For my machine the oil goes in that metal ring to lubricate the bobbin mechanism. Before adding more oil, I always wipe that area with a microfiber, lint-free cloth to remove any sticky fibers or old oil.

After wiping the needle stem, I also add one drop at the very top and move the needle up and down a few times with the hand wheel.

Put everything back together, and you're good to go!

Make sure to discard of needles and broken pins appropriately. Don't simply throw them in the garbage. Years ago, I got into the habit of sticking them in an old baby food jar. This is my collection over the years. One of these days I'll discard this and begin a new collection.

Have a great day!


  1. Great reminder about the importance of maintaining our quilting partners! Don't know why I never thought about putting old needles and pins in a jar - I wrap them all up in masking tape so no one can get hurt, then wrap that in more paper - but your way is much, much better! Thanks!

  2. My machine thanks you as she is seriously in need of a clean, and will be getting one tomorrow evening having read your tips!

  3. mmmm, I think I've cleaned my machine twice in the last 2 years. Time to change that! Thanks for the good advice Kati.

  4. I have a brother machine too....this will be great!
    PS: I struggle with free motion on mine (I can't get stitch length to 0...lowest is 0.2) Do you have any tips? Thanks!

  5. Thanks! Great tips! Love the canned air and the baby jar ideas :)

  6. .Thanks for sharing. I shared this info on my Facebook page Quilting and Sewing also

  7. My Big Brother just went in for its first service after 2 1/2 years! I clean it regularly, so I didn't get told off for that, but I did get told that they recommend a service every 100 hours of sewing. I managed not to laugh, but pointed out they didn't have that much time per year to service it ;o)

  8. The guy that cleans my machine..said it should be thoroughly cleaned about every 200 hours of use... I have it done every 6 months...I sew almost every day. I clean the lint after each big project. I do need to change my needle more often though.

  9. My newish Bernina totally stops when its time to oil.
    When it happened the other week I had to run to You Tube to find out what to do! My old Husqvarna never needed new oil EVER.

  10. I have a Brother machine similar to the one in the pictures. My manual doesn't say anything about oiling any areas. Is this something you started doing to help out the machine?

  11. I really like the baby food jar idea, that's a good one that I hadn't thought of. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I never thought of using a baby food jar. I actually use an old prescription bottle. I punch a hole in the lid with an awl that is big enough for a needle to go thru but I still have to take the lid off for pins.

  13. good tips-- time to clean up my machine too!

  14. Oh great, finally also someone with a Brother Machine. Thank you so much for your tipps on cleaning and oiling the machine. I was never quite sure if I was doing it right. Especially the oiling. My mechanic guy told me to oil my machine after about three hours of sewing. This seems quite often to me, but my machine has been running better since.

  15. Just curious, what style is the Brother used in this tutorial? Thanks.