Prolonging the Life of Your Machine – 1

If you are like most sewing, embroidery, and quilting enthusiasts, when you bought your first top-of-line machine you were certain it would be the last one you would ever need. Now you are on your second, third, fourth, or more machine update. The high end machines of today cost as much as a good used car and it’s natural to want to get as many useful years from them as you possibly can. Even if you trade in your machines every few years, keeping a machine in good condition results in a higher trade-in value.

Most Janome machines use a rotary hook system, with a bobbin case that sits in a metal hook race under the needle plate. As you almost certainly know, lint accumulates under that bobbin case. At some point, when the buildup has reached the critical point, stitching will be affected. Make it a habit to take off the needle plate, remove the bobbin case, and clean out the accumulated lint. Do this every 10 hours or so of sewing. For some this will be once a week, while others may need to do it daily. If you clean it frequently there will be very little lint falling down inside the free arm, where it can cause premature wear on moving parts. You may be tempted to use canned “air” (which isn’t actually air, but a potentially hazardous fluorocarbon) to blow out the lint. That’s bad for two reasons: First, when you spray from a new can there’s a good chance that some liquid will come out. It’s not water, and it evaporates quickly, but when it does it chills the metal parts. Water from the air in the room can then condense in the machine, and you really don’t want it there. Secondly the act of blowing the lint may actually force some of it down into the free arm, which is what we’re trying to prevent. Use a brush or soft cloth to wipe out the lint. There are after-market kits that can be attached to vacuum cleaners. Those work well to suck out the lint, without creating so much suction that machine parts are at risk.

Of equal importance to cleaning is needles. Needles become dull with use and a dull needle can lead to big problems. As one of the least expensive components in the sewing process, needles should be replaced often, not just when they seem to be making popping sounds going through the fabric. This is especially important with needles that are coated with metals like titanium and chrome. The coating makes the needle stronger, allowing it to be used longer than conventional needles. However that doesn’t mean they last forever. An overly dull needle going through heavy fabric can break, often into multiple fragments that can cause injury or machine damage.

Always look for the pieces of a broken needle. Sometimes the tip will wind up under the bobbin case, attracted by the magnet that holds the case in place.

Broken needles are one of the leading causes of machine problems. A needle breaks when it cannot go through what is under it. That might mean a dull needle that cannot penetrate the fabric any longer, but it more frequently is a needle that was pulled out of position by thread that was caught or piled up under the needle plate due to coming out of the take-up lever. Modern polyester threads are strong, so much so that a caught thread will bend a needle. Most of the time when this happens the needle will hit the presser foot, the bobbin case, or the hook race that the bobbin case rides on.

A hit on the top of a metal presser foot is not fatal, as it usually just leaves a small pit. Since the top of the foot does not contact the fabric, this doesn’t cause a problem. If the foot is plastic, though, it may be broken or cracked. If that happens get a new foot. Broken or cracked feet will catch threads, leading to more broken needles and bigger problems.

A needle hitting the bobbin case is much more serious. Sometimes a piece of the broken needle will be embedded in the case. Other times it will pierce the edge of the case, leaving a hole. Most of the time when the bobbin case is hit it should be replaced. The rough edges left by the strike will cause stitching problems, which could lead to even more damage. The best course of action is to replace the case. In rare cases you can buff out the damage with an emory board, but that should be a last resort, “final project on Christmas Eve” strategy.

The worst possible needle break is when it hits the aluminum hook race that the bobbin case sits on. This will always cause some damage. In some cases it just leaves a pit in the metal, but the raised edges of that pit will catch the threads going around the case. That can lead to “jumping” bobbins, noisy bobbins, or even the dreaded “bird nest” that itself can lead to more damage. Janome provides dealers with a tool to smooth this type of damage. It’s a simple process for a technician. Any time you break a needle use a strong light, possibly with magnification, to check the hook race for damage. If any is found, take your machine in for service. Continued use will eventually cause more damage, and if the damage is excessive it may require that the hook race be replaced.

In the next post we will examine some other things you can, and should, do to prolong the life of your machine.

Thread – Part 1

Aside from fabric, the next most important component for sewing is thread. There are many varieties from multiple manufacturers, but the importance of thread is not always appreciated. Good quality thread can make your sewing easy and enjoyable, but poor quality, cheap thread can not only be a nightmare to sew with, it can cause machine problems.

Perhaps the most popular variety of thread is cotton. Quilters value it above other types because it is made from natural fiber that works well with cotton fabrics and batting. Egyptian cotton is prized for thread, due to the fact that the fibers are longer. This makes for a smoother thread, with less lint. Unfortunately once it’s made into thread it is difficult to discover the source of the cotton and a label of “Egyptian Cotton” is not a guarantee that what your getting is really that. An easy way to judge the quality of cotton thread is to pull a foot or so off the spool and examine it closely. Good quality thread will be smooth with very few “whiskers” showing along its length. If you see a lot of fibers or lumps of fiber along the thread you should give it a pass. Lots of loose fiber on cotton thread tends to shed and build up in the machine. When used in the bobbin, these fibers will ball up behind the tension spring in the bobbin case, forcing it out to the point that tension is reduced.

Some technicians will simply tighten the bobbin tension to overcome the problem, sometimes to the point that the tension screw is fully tight against the spring. If you find that you are suddenly getting bobbin thread pulled up to the top, look very carefully at the bobbin case, around the 8 o’clock position. If you see a small bit of fluff there you can gently tease it out with a small needle. That will restore normal tension. If you have had your tension “fixed” by a technician, without having the thread ball removed, you can usually set it back to where it was by looking at the slotted tension adjustment screw on the bobbin case. At the factory this screw is secured by red paint, so it doesn’t change while you are sewing. To put the tension back to factory settings just turn the screw so the broken edges of the paint line up again.

When I was growing up my mother would always use Coats & Clark thread because of the quality. Sadly, like so many other industries, Coats & Clark is now made offshore and the quality has dropped badly. We refused to carry it in our store. However even C & C is better than the Walmart branded thread sold by the store of the same name. It’s very cheap, and in my opinion, very bad.

Your thread choices from local sources may be limited, but thread is not a good place to try to economize. If a project is worth doing, it’s worth spending a little extra to get good thread that will last a long time, and be good for your machine. While you may not have good choices available locally, you can buy just about any thread online.

While we are not affiliated in any way, we like Superior thread. They deserve the name, as their thread is top quality. Superior also has some very informative web pages that provide everything you could ever want to know about thread. If your local dealer does not stock their thread you can order it online.

Recently we polled readers of our Janome list on for their favorite thread brands. The results of that poll are available here. We will address other types of thread in future posts.