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I am a mother, a 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 book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was 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.