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How Often Do You Clean Your Sewing Machine? Hint: It’s Probably Not Often Enough!

There I was, merrily sewing away on my latest project—a cute Halloween pillow cover/cushion that I just felt the urge to make on a whim. Never mind that I should have been packing up the house for an impending move. Suddenly, I hit a snag… or, rather, my fabric did.

Apparently, I'm a slow learner because I'm afraid to admit this isn't the first time I've run into this particular problem. My needle became frozen, and no amount of jiggling could free the fabric from the base of my machine. After some fine, dexterous work with tweezers and a pair of thread snips, I finally freed the fabric from my machine, along with a nested thread at the back and a piece of stray thread, which I initially assumed was the culprit. Re-threading my machine, I attempted to start sewing again, only for my fabric to snag… again. It was like a horror movie, complete with a suspenseful soundtrack. The spider quilt block I was creating, now jammed worse than the first time, was so trapped that the only way to get it out was to cut it up. Who knew that quilt blocks could be the stars of a horror movie! There was no way to recover it with the fabric I had left, so the block was destined for the trash.

The first time this occurred was way back when I was using my grandmother’s (almost antique) Bernina. This time, I was using my much newer and flashier Janome Memory Craft 9450. The thing about this machine is it tries to tell you what’s wrong. So, when it got stuck, it gave me some options to consider:

  • Was the fabric too thick? No.
  • Is the needle bent? No. (But I replaced it just to be sure.)

But here’s what it didn’t tell me… CLEAN YOUR MACHINE!

(Warning: If dirt and dust makes you squeamish - look away!)

Yes, folks, I use my sewing machine a lot and will freely admit I do not clean it enough. So, I set to work. I removed the needle plate, and what I saw was not a pretty sight: dust, thread fragments, and various other debris clogging up my sewing machine. I removed the bobbin casing, and it got worse:

Dirt and fluff can get trapped in behind the bobbin casing. You should take it apart and clean it out frequently to avoid problems with your sewing machine.

It took me half an hour of tweezers and (gentle) vacuuming to remove all the dirt and dust that had collected over the past year and a half since I had owned this new machine. But once it was cleaned, with the needle plate and bobbin casing replaced, I re-threaded the machine and started sewing again. Just like magic, she was sewing like a dream again.

This is the dirt and dust that I took out from my sewing machine after it jammed. I need to remember to clean it more frequently.

So, what tips can you glean from my tales of woe?

First, get to know your sewing machine. Crack the binding on that manual you have stashed in the drawer and work out how to take off the needle plate, remove your bobbin casing, and even where the oiling points are on your machine.

Next, go and clean out your machine—remove all the bits you can and get in there, give it a deep clean. Do it NOW! Don’t delay until it has a build-up of debris the size of the local rubbish dump.

Under the needle plate of a Janome Memory Craft 9450 QCP after it has been cleaned and put back together.

Next, set a reminder on your phone or write it in your diary to give it another clean next month. That’s right, folks, turns out you should be cleaning your machine thoroughly at least once per month even if you are only an occasional sewer (in fact, some people recommend once per week!). You should probably also get your machine professionally serviced every so often, but by learning to clean it out and oil it yourself, you will most certainly have a better-maintained machine and a better sewing experience.

As for me, I now have a monthly reminder set in my phone to clean my sewing machine to avoid losing any more of my sewing projects to the directors of a B-grade made for TV horror movie. Here’s to smooth sewing from now on!

Happy Quilting, Rachel