Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sewing machine issues 101

Beginner classes aren't only about learning the basics of sewing a garment or a quilt top, its also an opportunity to learn more about our sewing machine - how to get the most of our machine, thread / tension issues and how to take care of our machine.

I am very fortunate to work with an amazing sewing machine technician who has been repairing machines for over 50 years.  I wish there was some method I could use to download his knowledge into my own brain, so when I can - I try and learn as much as I can.  I understand his frustration when 80% of machine issues that come into the shop (other than requiring a service) are user error (the main issues I list below).  We all do it (me included over the years), when our thread gets tangled in the bobbin race or doesn't appear to be sewing properly - we take it in to get fixed.

 This is the process I follow when I am having issues with my sewing.

1)  How old is you needle in the machine and is it the correct needle for the job?  Needles (apart from titanium ones) last approx. 8 hours of sewing.  If your not sure if you are using the correct needle - check the Schmetz website - they have a full description of the various needles available for the various tasks and fabrics.
I usually replace my needle after I have pieced an entire quilt and another when I have quilted an entire quilt.  Make sure you insert it correctly - flat side to the back and push it up as far as it can go then tighten the screw with a screw driver (otherwise vibration may loosen it and your needle drops into your work).
Use a good quality needle - Schmetz, Janome, Organ, Bernina and Inspire needles are all good quality product.

2)  Rethread your sewing machine.  Quite often the thread jumps out of the "take up lever "  - this can happen  in both mechanical and computerised machines - both old and new.

Take up lever is the metal hook pictured

Make sure your presser foot is up when rethreading your machine.  If it is down your tension disks are closed preventing your thread from sitting between the disks correctly.

3)  Check your bobbin.  Has the thread been wound on evenly?  I sometimes get problems when I am nearly out of bobbin thread.  Take your bobbin out and re-insert it.  Another NO NO - is winding different threads on top of each other.

4) Thread - are you using your grandmothers thread stock - throw it out or just use it for hand work.  Old 100% cotton thread over time becomes weak or rots. 
If you are using a thick thread then don't put it in the bobbin.  Use it on the top with a standard thread in your bobbin.  Domestic sewing machines are not made to use thick thread in the bobbin.
Overlocking thread (thinner) is made for overlockers - not sewing machines.  Lots of people use them as they are cheaper.  Note that they give of a LOT of lint so make sure you are cleaning your machine after every job.  This thread may also snap.
Domestic sewing machines love good quality thread like Gutermann and Mettler - not necessary the supermarket products.
If you are using embroidery thread - make sure you are using the correct machine needle otherwise it will continuously snap.  Embroidery needles have a larger eye and are usually colour coded red.

Machine needle threaders are fantastic however you do need to take care when using them.  This is for all brands of sewing machines that have them.  There is a tiny hook which lines up with the eye of the needle.  This hook can bend or break if you force it into the eye and its not lined up.
For computerised machines press your needle down and up button.  This will position your needle into the correct alignment for the threader hook.  Turning your computerised machine on also lines up your needle.  Needle threaders will not work on needle sizes smaller than 75/11.

Notice the tiny hook poking through the needle eye.
This hook can bend / break  very easily if not used correctly
 When sewing fine fabrics and thin knits like merino you will need to use a ball point needle (blue shaft) and possibly a wash away stabiliser.   I know this sounds odd - however I have seen this in action and it really works especially around neck lines, cuffs and waists - its stops the puckering.
Button holes also require stabilising and most patterns require you to insert interfacing.

When buying a machine from trade me or via and op shop - PLEASE check you have all the correct components.  It happens quite often that machines are sold with incorrect bobbins and feet.  This definitely will cause you sewing problems.  Check your manual - there should be a picture of what your bobbin / feet look like.  Note that the Walking Foot are not interchangeable between various brands.  Some of these feet are very expensive so I recommend that you buy the correct item from a dealer who has access to the correct parts of the brand of machine you are using. 

Thanks for reading through this post.  If you already know this information - then please pass this knowledge to any new sewers.  We want their first sewing experience to be a fantastic one.

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