What’s that noise?

Every sewing machine has its own particular set of noises that you hear while using the various functions. When we operated a sewing machine dealership we chose Janome because they made some of the quietest machines on the market. What sounds they do make tends to stay relatively constant through the years of operation. Most owners become used to the normal sounds and are alerted whenever the sound changes. Those who do machine embroidery sometimes employ baby monitors so they can leave the room during a long embroidery. When the sound changes it’s a sign something is wrong and they can hopefully get back in time to prevent a tragedy.

The most common abnormal sound is the one that occurs when the thread is either out of the take-up lever, or there is no tension. Every stitch that wraps around the bobbin case will stay ender the needle plate. This creates the dreaded “bird’s nest” effect. The sound is a loud chunk-chunk-chunk as each stitch further inhibits the hook from making more. If the machine is stopped quickly, damage is usually limited to cutting off the excess thread and rethreading. Unfortunately if more than a few stitches are taken in this mode, the accumulated thread and powerful motor of the machine can lift the bobbin case out of its resting place in the hook race. That allows it to spin past the stopper. At that point it can be impaled by the hook, which usually stops the machine with a “Stopped for safety” message. It also will seriously damage the bobbin case, leaving a deep gouge on the bottom. Often when the bobbin case spins out it will be stabbed by the needle, often completely through the case. This type of damage can also damage the hook race itself, which leads to other noises.

After a bobbin case incident you may hear a rhythmic clicking as you sew. This click is often caused by a hole that was put through the bobbin case by the needle. It creates a small bump on the bottom of the case, and each stitch will catch briefly, causing the click.  If the bobbin case is undamaged, a burr on the hook race can also cause a clicking. This type of damage is hard to see without a strong light and magnification. Your dealer should have the tools to remove minor burrs and scratches (#OILSTONE), but in severe cases a new hook race may be needed.

Bobbin rattling is a common complaint. As you sew the bobbin seems to jump around and rattle in the case. Often this is because the wrong bobbin is being used. Many people have old Singer class 66 bobbins inherited from old machines. They are the right diameter, but they are shorter than the standard Janome class 15 bobbin. That gives them extra room to bounce around. Another place that can induce rattles is the white plastic disc that is in the hook race under the bobbin case. A needle that is not tightened sufficiently can fall out and make nasty gouges in the disc. Every stitch has to pass over it, so if it is damaged it will cause a lot of jerking and bouncing of the bobbin. I’ve worked on machines where that disc was so damaged that it was in pieces. It’s inexpensive and easy to replace.

I’ve already mentioned the hook race as a noise source. If you have noise, but cannot find the source, it’s very likely to be the hook race. One really insidious problem that took me a long time to find is needle strikes on the rim of the hook race, the little “shelf” that the bobbin case rides on. If a needle hits that area it can make a pit with raised edges. Those edges act like a file, slowly grinding off a very fine dust from the bottom of the bobbin case. That dust causes a lot of extra friction. In sufficient quantities it can cause the machine to emit a very loud squawking sound. It can be silence for a short while with a drop of oil, though that can stain fabric, so use caution. In the long term the hook race must be polished or replaced. With this problem the bottom of the bobbin case will have a telltale white or gray line around the edge where the burr was grinding on it.

New embroidery machine owners sometimes complain about a squeaking while the machine is stitching out a design. This is usually not a problem, but is due to the belts of the embroidery mechanism settling in and adjusting to the parts they are attached to. In this problem the squeak is usually more prominent in one direction of embroidery than the other, for example left-right as opposed to front-back. It will diminish greatly over time as the parts settle in.

The last noise I will address is another tough-to-diagnose one. As you are sewing the machine makes a noise that sounds like a chirping bird. Inside the machine there is a pulley that is used to adjust the tension of the timing belt, which joins the upper shaft to the lower shaft for synchronous operation. Over a period of years and/or hard use, the bracket that the pulley is mounted on may slowly bend a little. This can cause the timing belt to drift away from its normal position so that it rubs on the bobbin winder clutch. That rubber-on-plastic rubbing makes the sound of a bird chirp. Your technician can fix it by replacing the pulley mounting bracket, though I have often been able to just bend the bracket a bit to make it line up again.

After you have had your machine long enough to know what it normally sounds like, you will notice if it starts to sound differently. In that case you should take it to your dealer, sooner rather than later. This post may serve as a guide to help you isolate the problem with the technician so you can restore it to its former silent glory.


To better focus our video-making efforts, I recently posted three questions on our email list:

  1. What is the biggest problem you have with your machine?
  2. What is the biggest problem you have with the Windows software that came with your machine?
  3. What is the biggest problem you have with the software on your iPad? (This applies mainly to the Memory Craft 15000, though the Skyline S9 also has iPad software.)

The replies were varied, particularly with machine problems. We’ll address those another time. Responses regarding the Windows software were also varied, but the majority came down to how to use the software, as well as fear of doing something wrong. This is not surprising, as most Windows programs have a lot of features with different menus and icons. Gone are the days of a thick printed manual accompanying software. These days you might get an electronic manual in the form of a PDF document, but usually it’s just a greatly abbreviated Help file. To make matters worse, most of the Windows software is written by engineers who don’t sew. These programs are built with attention paid to ease of writing, which does not always translate to ease of use. To make matters worse, nearly everyone has heard a horror story about someone who hit the wrong key at the wrong time and wiped out their entire computer. Most of these stories are more myth than fact, but nearly everyone has experienced a crash of some sort while using Windows. Microsoft has created a wealth of software tools for programmers to use, but there is no established set of standards for how those tools are used. Consequently even common tasks are done differently in different programs and there are usually many ways to do the same thing, not all of which are obvious. As Windows has evolved, it has added many more features, further increasing the complexity of using it. This won’t change, so most people will stop upgrading once they’ve mastered using a particular set of software. We will continue to make helpful videos with each new release, but we don’t expect to see much change in the ease of use of Windows software.

While Apple’s iPhone was the first touch-operated device, they actually were working on what became the iPad. Making the decision to change gears and release a phone first has proven to be a brilliant choice. The iOS operating system has, like Windows, evolved over the years, but unlike Windows, it’s more focused on ease of use. Steve Jobs characterized it as “the computer for the rest of us”, meaning those without technical skills and experience. Toward that goal, Apple has spent a lot of time and money on usability. Programmers have a very broad array of tools to use, but Apple also maintains a set of “human interface” guidelines to ensure that apps use those tools as they were intended. Every app must be approved before it goes into the App Store, and attention is paid to how easy an app is to use.

The result is that you can hand an iPad to a 2-year-old grandchild and within minutes they will be happily using it. Why, then, is it so hard for fully mature adults to use iPads? I think the primary reason is fear. The grandchild has no idea how much the device cost or what could go wrong. She just tries things without regard to what will happen, learning as she goes. Adults are afraid of “crashing” the iPad, or making a mistake that will cause all their work to disappear. Much of this fear stems from using desktop computers. Unlike a desktop, each app on an iPad is restricted to its own space. While it is still possible for a poorly written app to crash, it won’t take other apps, or the iPad itself, down with it. Well designed apps not only have built-in help, they often provide hints for what to do as they are used. By making the operating system stable and resilient, hard crashes are extremely rare, and even those can be recovered from quickly. Backup has been built into the devices, so it takes place automatically. It’s even possible to have the backups stored remotely, protecting the data from just about anything.

So what’s the lesson here? It’s simple, really. When approaching a touch-enabled device like the iPad, just release your inner child. Touch things to see what happens. Try things. Get to know the standard icons, like Search (search.jpg), Share (share.jpg), or Delete (delete.png). Well-written apps will use standard icons to clearly present common functions. While some apps will still be more complex than necessary (I’m looking at you AcuDesign!), most will separate features for simplicity. Don’t let your fear of technology stop you from learning how to use the tools it provides. If you find yourself using the often-repeated phrase “I don’t do computers!” you are really hiding. In these times we have to keep learning, just to get through day to day activities. It’s worth the time and effort to learn the tools, and you will probably enjoy the process. And, yes, we will continue to make videos to ease your journey!