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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #12

Pardon for the lull in posting. We are on our way back home from down south and visiting on the way. Tonight we wrap up three nights spent in the driveway of my son's in-laws and our good friends in Bethesda. We have had a wonderful time en route.

I am also finishing up a course, last class, online, will begin shortly.

I have been thinking about what I should do next and decided some general information on sewing machines. I have lots of random stuff in my head and will only start this now, but as I think of something else on this subject I will just do another post.

First up, two things sewers tend to neglect, but make a huge difference - oiling and needles.

The first principle of oiling a machine is that when dealing with metal parts is that they get hot when they move a lot. This means the metal expands. This means that without a lubricant to create a barrier layer the warm metal surfaces will wear away at each other. This is why older, not really well -maintained, machines often rattle and begin to stitch/behave imprecisely.

A dealer or your owner's manual will be able to tell you where to oil, and there will be some places that internally you may need periodic greasing (which is heavier and put on things like some gears - you need to know how to take the machine apart, or at least remove the lid to find those).

The general rules for the kind of regular oiling you need to do yourself are:

  • Only use a light, clear fine sewing machine oil. Good machine oils evaporate in air over time, which is why a machine needs to be regularly re-oiled, and is clear, not yellow or thick. You want the evaporation factor because all purpose oils just sit there and coagulate and gum up your machine. You probably can get the right oil online easier than at some repair places who in the worst cases can be self-educated and use general oils.
  • Rule of thumb anywhere where you see metal moving on metal can use a bit of oil. Open the side of the machine and have a look while you turn the wheel.
  • In machines with metal bobbin cases inside the rotating or oscillating rotary hook regularly put a drop of oil in there. 
  • Now I realize that most sewers are leery of oiling their machines because they fear getting oil on the fabric. 
  • Fair enough but the key here is tiny amounts of oil often rather than a lot all at once. It is also important to run the machine hard for a good  five minutes to get the oil into all the surfaces, after which you can wipe off excess with paper towel. Also remember that if you are using a good clear oil any black stuff that comes up really is lint that has floated out with the oil. A sewing machine technician I knew used to leave the bobbin case out of the machine, the door of the bobbin area open with paper towel in front of it and watch the lint fly out. He called it “washing the hook” hook being the rotary hook.
  •  Needles are also super important. Of course change them more often than you admit to me, or I would admit to you, about 5 hours of sewing or so, depending on the fabric. How many of you have noticed when doing buttonholes, the last sewing job you do, that a few of the zig zag stitches skip? This is because you have that same needle in that has sewn the garment and by the buttonhole stage, is blunt a bit and has trouble piercing the fabric every time and picking up the bobbin thread. A really smart sewer I knew used to change his needle, put a new one in, just before he started his shirt buttonholes, and then leave that needle in for the next project. His buttonholes were always perfect.
  • The other really, really important thing I want to say about needles is, I have to share The Big Rule, which is use the smallest needle possible that will still do the job. So what size?
  • O.K. there are three different classes of needle points, and the needle point is the most hardworking and important part of the needle, the one that makes the connection with the bobbin thread and makes the stitch. The three categories are sharp (pointest point) that gets through the fabric because it is just so sharp, the ball point, which is what it sounds like, which works in fabrics like knits (I am going to write lots more as we go along on knits) by spreading the fibers rather than punctuating them, and the universal.
  • Got to say I don’t have a lot of time for universal needles which are not really pointy and not really ballpoint. Kind of reminds me of my dad who sometimes served rose because he figured he would keep both the red wine and the white wine drinkers happy. Didn’t really work with either group.
  • So back to the finest needle you can use. As it was once explained to me if you were going to hang a picture what would you find easier to get into the plaster – a small sharp nail or a big old wood dowel? Same works for fabric.
  • Denim for example (and denim needles are the sharpest of the sharp needles) sews easiest with a sharp finer needle rather than the big 100 or 16 in most cases. In fact the primo of all needles for sewing woven fabrics is a size 70 denim needle. Fine and sharp and makes the nicest stitch.

Clearly I have more on machines than I can write in one post, will have to follow up. As soon as I leave NYC (going to the garment district tomorrow and then time with the kid and best daughter-in-law).

But I will leave you with one thought.

I used to know a successful sewing machine dealer who always used to change the needle on a machine he was demoing to a denim 70 because it made the stitch looked nicest.

And I know another dealer/service man, of the generation who believed you could tell a housewife anything, joke once that his  $70 “tune-up service” entailed a new needle, a bit of oil and a spray of Fantastic.

This much you can do yourself.

More on machine, so file this blog under, to be continued.


Pat Voyce said...

Thanks Barbara for these great needle tips. I'll stop buying universal and use the fine needles in future. Please keep the tips coming. I already know some, but then, Wham, I never thought of that!
Safe travels

Anne said...

I'm about to be sewing silk for my daughter's wedding dress. I know to use a fine needle but I've seen both a ballpoint and a microtex/sharp recommended. Obviously, I'll test but wonder what you think? I've bought some 60s sharps but will also order some 60s ballpoints.
I'm enjoying your tips.

Barbara said...

Anne I would think a 60 sharp would be best because the silk is a woven - I only use ballpoint for knits. You might try to shorten your stitch length a little too (test) to reduce any puckering at the seams.

Teri on the left coast said...

Can you recommend a supplier for the 70/10 denim needles? (In Canada if possible, US if not)
They don't appear to be readily available at my local shop(s). On-line I try for 70/10 but websites seem to want to sell 100/16 or 110/18. Is this a specialty item?
Any idea if one could substitute a microtex of same size?

Lucille said...

Now if you have a newer machine, you shouldn't oil unless your manual tells you to. Their joints are designed differently. If you have a real oldie (and they are the best) look for tiny wads of felt - usually red. They are meant to be oiled and then they distribute oil. My treadle has one for the bobbin. They often go missing, so if your manual refers to one you may need to create one from some wool riving.

Barbara said...

Teri you can order the 70 denims online from Fabricville in Canada, here is the link http://fabricville.com/en/sewing/sewing-notions/pins-needles/machine-needles/schmetz-pour-denim-needles-70-10-carded-5-pieces.html

Anne said...

Thank you, Barbara. To confuse matters further, Sandra Bernina recommends 70/10 HM for 2 ply and 80/12 HJ for 3 or 4 ply sandwashed silk! I certainly hadn't considered a jeans needle. Given the layers I'll have (sandwashed silk outer nice weight no idea what ply as not sold that way in UK, silk habotai backing and then silk charmeuse lining), maybe a 60 is too fine. I'll be testing. I will order some more sharps.

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating, I have never had the nerve to do more than poke around with the cleaning brush that came with my inexpensive new a few years ago machine.....will have to consider an oil experiment when I'm between projects (when is that? ) AND I just dug out my last "fine wovens" needle and put it in, WHAT an improvement! Must order some more.......

Have a good trip home - you are hitting some chilly weather in Maryland!


Anonymous said...

I was at a very experienced dealeship who has done all the school maintenance for years and he advised using a soft, fine paintbrush to
place the oil just where it was needed. Also to use a vacuum to suck the lint out. I cover my nozzle with one of my silk ironing clothes and it works brilliantly. Christine

freshcityfarm said...

Were you in Savannah last week? On Saturday the 2nd?

Barbara said...

Hi Freshcityfarm. We drove through Savannah on Friday the 1st but were gone on the Saturday. As I write this we are in still frozen Nova Scotia zeroing in on home. Love home and the family but Savannah sounds pretty good now too.

freshcityfarm said...

Oh wow...we almost crossed paths. I'll have to aim better next time I swing through there around when you will be there! When do you head back south?

Barbara said...

We will be back down South end of January to beginning of April next year, maybe see you then!

Frenie Agbayani said...

Your sewing patterns looks fabulous! I have the same fabric that I am planning to use.

Frenie Agbayani said...

AMAZING work and, as always, fabulousclothing patterns and styling.

باترون مفصل لسروال مدور said...

beautifu .. thank you so much for shairing your post