How to repair your own sewing machine


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If you’ve dug up your sewing machine for some quarantine crafting, now is a terrible time to have to haul it to a repair shop if something goes wrong. Fortunately, many common sewing machine problems are issues that you can fix on your own in a matter of minutes.

I like this checklist from the blog She’s a Sewing Machine Mechanic; as a seasoned craftsman, I can attest that I have encountered many of these problems, and these suggestions often work. Read this list for more information, but here are the main takeaways:

Adjusting the thread and bobbin tension

If the thread continues to wind or if the seam just looks wrong, chances are, something is too tight. A standard sewing machine uses two threads: one that unwinds from a spool on top of the machine and passes through the needle, and one that comes from a small spool below. When the machine is properly set, these two threads wrap around each other to create each stitch.

If one of these threads is tighter than the other, it can mess up the resulting stitch. For example, if the bottom of your fabric looks like a tight thread with a bunch of small, loose loops around it, either your bobbin thread is too tight or your top thread is too loose.

So check the two wires. Did you pass the upper thread through all the places it is supposed to go when threading the machine? Did you load the bobbin correctly? If these two look good, check the tension settings of both wires. The upper thread will have a tension selector—often a button on the front of the machine. The tension of the bobbin thread is usually adjusted with a screw on the bobbin case (right-tight, left-loose).

Check your needle

Needle should be straight, sharp (usually) and installed correctly if you want it to do its job. Check that it is not folded and replace it if you can’t remember the last time you changed it. One side of the needle is flat where you attach it to the machine; usually this side should be towards the back, but it depends on your machine. If in doubt, consult the manual.

Different fabrics require different needles, so be sure to use the correct one. Machine needles come in different sizes, and some are sharp while others are ball. It’s hard to tell just by looking if you are unfamiliar, then check the packaging. If the machine does not stop skipping stitches, there is a good chance that you are using the wrong needle. Here is a guide to choosing the right one.

Make sure the settings will allow you to sew

If the machine doesn’t sew at all, you probably forgot to flip a switch somewhere. First, check the obvious things: is it on? Is the pedal connected? Is the presser foot lowered?

If the machine purrs and purrs but the needle does not move, your bobbin winder may be turned on. This is a function that allows the machine motor to wind a spool for you, and it turns off the entire sewing device while you are doing this. Look for a switch. On an older machine, turn the handwheel which is inside the handwheel on the side of the machine.

If the needle moves but the fabric does not, check the feed dogs. These are the spiky bars under the needle that move to slide the fabric as you sew it. There is a switch that turns them off; you might have accidentally touched it, so turn it back on.

Actually clean up the damn thing

There are a few other things to check in the guide, but we’ve covered the most important ones.. One last thing againstusernameuh: If the machine performs more or less well, but just acts a little weird sometimes, clean it! Open the bobbin case and any other reasonably accessible area, brush off the lint and apply a few drops of machine oil as the manual says. It is mineral oil; it’s not WD-40.

If all else fails, you may eventually need to call a repair shop or dig deeper into the YouTube sewing machine repair videos. But in most cases, a machine that behaves badly will do its job just fine once you verify that everything is set up correctly.


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