Welcome to a new installment in our series of Tips from The Tech Shop.
Tech Tip for July
Sewing is supposed to be fun. For many of us it’s a hobby, for some it verges on obsession, but occasionally it can be a source of frustration. Especially if our machines aren’t cooperating with us! In order to keep from getting all steamed and blowing your top, here are some tips to help you avoid being a sewing red-neck.
image from theroguewoman.com
If your thread breaks repeatedly: stop, breathe, and rethread your machine from top to bobbin. Sometimes thread jumps out from where it’s supposed to be, and if you cheat and just rethread the needle, your problem won’t go away. Re-do the whole thing and your frustration will dissipate.
If your bobbin thread breaks: take it out and rethread it. Yes, it is important which way the bobbin turns, so follow the guides on your machine or in your instruction manual. Make sure the thread goes into the slot (this controls the bobbin tension). If your bobbin is wound too loose or too tight, this will affect your stitching and keep the machine from functioning properly.
If you are getting skipped stitches: after rethreading everything and experiencing the same problem, change your needle. You’d be surprised what a difference this makes. (It’s like the angels that sing when you change the blade on your rotary cutter!) Please note that even a brand new needle can be flawed — it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
If you sew over a pin and bend or break it: stop it! Change your needle. There are several reasons why teachers tell you not to sew over pins, and breaking your needle is the least of it. The pins can scratch your needle plate and the bottom of your presser foot, causing undue wear and tear. If you snag either one badly enough, new fabric can get caught on the scratch and cause trouble and imperfect stitching. If you break the pin, pieces of it could get caught down in your machine, where it could etch metal or plastic parts, or plain old jam things up. If you break the pin, but not your needle, it’s still likely that your needle is damaged – bent or burred – and is no longer going to function cleanly. We highly recommend buying a huge box of your favourite needles, just so you don’t hesitate to change it up.
If you are getting thread bunching on the bottom of your work: rethread your machine, and check your upper tension setting. The average/normal settings are between 3 and 5 on most machines. This does not mean that you cannot change it. The fact that you have a numbered dial indicates that you should adjust your tension. 0 is low, and 9 is high.
If you are doing regular, everyday sewing with your tension set at 9 and you’re still getting bunching, we’d recommend a service appointment. Fluff and debris can build up in and around the tension unit and gradually lessen the effect of the tension discs.
If your decorative stitching jams into your machine: check the presserfoot you’re using. If you are just using the regular, multi-purpose zigzag foot, flip it over and look at the bottom. There will be a small slant towards the back of the foot, but it doesn’t go all the way; this is to ensure the foot has good contact with all of the feed dogs. If you are doing satin stitching or other dense, decorative work, get yourself a satin-stitch / embroidery* foot; it has a deep, wide space that goes all the way to the rear of the foot, allowing the thread build-up to travel under the foot without being squashed into the needleplate.
Another thing you might want to try is to place a piece of stabilizer underneath your fabric as you sew. Once your stitching is complete you can tear, cut or wash away the excess (depending on what sort of stabilizer you use).
* Embroidery is the first, original name for decorative stitches, because the first sewing machines only did straight stitch, and everything else was hand-embroidered.
If your needle unthreads when you start: make sure that the take-up lever is in its full upright position (that’s what’s stealing the thread from your needle). The best way to do this is to use the needle up/down button (if you have one) and raise the needle to its highest position. As well, while threading your machine, have the presser foot raised – this releases the tension so that the thread can get in there properly. While threading the needle, try lowering the presser foot down – this will apply tension to the thread, and give you more space to see the eye of the needle.
image from othereveiltwinsister.blogspot.com
If it’s still not working: go have a drink and walk around for a minute. Then, come back and clean out your machine. Unthread it. Take out the needle. Take off the presser foot. Unscrew and remove the needleplate and take out the bobbin case. Use a cotton swab or small paintbrush (even the lint brush that came with your accessories) to pick up and remove all the dust bunnies that you can see. (Including the stuff in and around the feed dogs – there’s no such thing as felt pads there!) Don’t blow the fluff back into your machine — that’s worse, and so is getting your spit on the moving parts — use a small vacuum if you must. Use tweezers to remove any bits of thread.
Take this opportunity to oil the metal bobbin hook, but only if it says so in your instruction manual. If you have a top-loading machine, you should not oil anything (that’s the technician’s job). Gently, slowly and carefully, put everything back together. Treat yourself to a new needle and rethread your machine. We’re willing to bet that it’ll work better now.
It seems repetitive, doesn’t it? But truly, most of the time, these steps are all that’s required to get things going smoothly. Following these simple tips will help you avoid becoming a sewing red-neck, and keep you and your machine stitching happily!
If you would like further tips or instruction, please call The Quilt Store at 905-853-7001 to join a class or book a one-on-one appointment.
* The Tech Shop has moved! We are now across the plaza, behind door #14.