she's a sewing machine mechanic
May 6, 2020 10:42 PM   Subscribe


The shops aren’t so fast right now, either. I’ve already gone four screws farther into my machine than ever before with the help of a YouTube technician.
posted by clew at 11:19 PM on May 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ooh! Now do one for overlock/coverstich/serger machines as well! I think those run on black magic.
posted by Harald74 at 11:21 PM on May 6, 2020 [8 favorites]

This is so great. I fear the cheap machine in the attic is broken beyond repair, but maybe I should get it down. The kids are starting to need fancy dress costumes...
posted by alasdair at 12:03 AM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think those run on black magic.

My serger is ruled by Satan.
posted by bendy at 12:13 AM on May 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thank you for this!
posted by medusa at 3:37 AM on May 7, 2020

There is some serger/overlocker content on the blog too, Harald74!

This is very relevant to my present needs, and I am laughing that she says customers blame every machine problem on tension because I am currently battling a tension issue on my machine and am absolutely sure I've done everything to mitigate it. I'll go through the list again.

(If anyone has any more resource suggestions, I'd love them - I really want to know more about machine repair)
posted by carbide at 3:57 AM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

A few months ago, I was looking around for a repair shop. I was convinced my machine was out of adjustment, but I looked on YouTube.
Turns out it was #1 in her list. Sews fine now.

Sewing humor: Many years back, my friend was crafting batik shirts, and I wanted one. She had some people doing some of the sewing for her.
She emailed me that it would take some time to get it to me because her sewers were backed up.
It looks a lot different in writing than it would have sounded if she'd phoned me.
posted by MtDewd at 4:02 AM on May 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Got a "broken" machine for $10 on craigslist that was just slightly out of adjustment. But not being particularly experienced it took a lot of patience, finding the manual, viewing a bunch of videos, replacing needles, bit'o verbal commentary... to tweak the setting, get the threading right, spent hours turning the bobbin around and around before realizing it's not all that tricky to put it in the right direction :-)

It's just a machine, it's probably not broken.

Wow, I really wish I'd found that blog a year ago.

Take off the needle & thread, remove the bobbin, does it turn? Not broken. (probably, omg, that last point, who knows)
posted by sammyo at 4:06 AM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think those run on black magic

My girlfriend’s serger is named Cthulhu. She’s pretty great with machine maintenance, and has helped a few of her friends get their machines up in running condition for crafting/mask making during the pandemic.
posted by brand-gnu at 4:13 AM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

My machine (a freebie from a friend) works fine EXCEPT the stitch selector display is off - what it shows is the stitch I have selected is not the stitch it sews. I'm a complete n00b and that feels like something I shouldn't try to fix, right? I've managed to make a couple face masks despite this through trial and error...
posted by misskaz at 4:33 AM on May 7, 2020

YouTube videos are what I use for trouble-shooting as well.

I've also picked up a lot of tips from Male Pattern Boldness over the years. He's primarily a sewist, but does blog about sewing machine rehab as well.

misskaz - is the stitch selector an electronic display? If so, it's likely something gone wrong in the electronic guts of the machine and yeah, not an easy fix. If the stitch mis-alignment is at least consistent over time, I'd put together a list of what it says vs. what stitch comes out and just use it that way.
posted by pie ninja at 4:37 AM on May 7, 2020

When I took my low-end Brother machine to the repair shop, it was in fact broken. Some part of the timing mechanism was bent, likely because of me trying to force something it wasn't robust enough to do, like hemming jeans. It would cost more to repair than buying a new machine, so I left with a Janome New Home, which has held up well.

I have never attempted to adjust bobbin tension; the upper-tension adjustment has been adequate, on the Jenome.

My mother was an accomplished seamstress, but I didn't get that gene. I inherited her fancy high-end machine, which she got a couple of years before she lost the ability to thread its needle. I haven't tried to use it yet.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:21 AM on May 7, 2020

I spent $100 or so not long ago to get my vintage Nelco serviced - it was my grandmother's, and mostly I was doing it for sentimental reasons but boy howdy! now that it's tuned up and all the niggling little problems fixed, that thing is a magnificent workhorse. I was a little unhappy about that because honestly I wanted an excuse to splash out on a fancy modern machine, but I got over it by getting a serger instead.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:23 AM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Immediately sent the link to my wife. She has been nursing along a White "Jeans Machine" that was second-hand when she got it in 1985. Recently fired up again for face mask duty...
posted by jim in austin at 7:37 AM on May 7, 2020

Oh, thank you. This solves a whole slew of problems that I once knew how to solve from experience, but then I stopped sewing for a long time.
posted by Peach at 7:54 AM on May 7, 2020

I got my machine serviced, but when I went to use it, I found I could not use my hands and eyes well enough to thread it. Horrible arthritis in my right hand, and neuropathy to make things confusing.
posted by Goofyy at 8:04 AM on May 7, 2020

pie ninja - No, it's an analog display (Husqvarna Viking 250) - there are little windows next to each stitch on the front of the machine and as you turn the dial a green thing moves up/down to indicate which stitch I've selected. It's why I'm sliiiightly tempted to open it up and see if it's just a misalignment, but of course afraid to make things worse. I'm also missing the front of the dial (which is also what you push in to reverse direction). Ironically I just searched for an image of the model I have and the machine in this picture is missing the same part. That bottom dial should look like the top one does.
posted by misskaz at 8:12 AM on May 7, 2020

Ahhh, got you. The good news is, if it is mechanical, that's probably fixable once sewing machine repair shops aren't completely overwhelmed. (Bad circuit boards technically can be replaced as well, but they're often so pricy as to be a lost cause, even assuming you can still get the board.)

& the manual is still available online, although the trouble-shooting section is pretty limited:
posted by pie ninja at 9:45 AM on May 7, 2020

Should any of you ever find yourselves in south London, do make a detour to the London Sewing Machine Museum, which is every bit as charming and eccentric as the name suggests. Sadly, even once the current unpleasantness is over, it is only open for three hours a day on the first Saturday of each month.
posted by Hogshead at 2:00 PM on May 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Serendipitously, I took my machine in for service about six months ago. When the shop owner checked my customer record then looked over her eyeglasses at me and said "Looks like you haven't brought it in since... 2012?" I felt more guilt about shirking routine cleaning and maintenance than any dentist has managed to make me feel about my ignoring my own darn teeth.

(Note, I feel strong affection for the shop owner and was amused that my weak "...I guess that means I haven't been using it enough?" didn't get me off the hook. Heh.)
posted by Lexica at 2:47 PM on May 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, I needed this so badly. I have three sewing machines that don't work right, and no repair shop remaining within a two-hour drive. One is missing the power cord, but I may use this to work on the other two.
posted by Miss Cellania at 8:13 PM on May 7, 2020

But who am I kidding? Once ONE machine works, I will stop there.
posted by Miss Cellania at 8:13 PM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I mess around with sewing machines for fun (I'm part of a sewing bee, and people donate old sewing machines regularly). It's not a bad list, but ignore #3 unless you've got a very slight tension issue, it only makes a teeny difference and doesn't generally change itself spontaneously.

Most "my sewing machine suddenly stopped working" issues are "whatever I just did, I did it wrong" (rethreaded, new bobbin, new needles, changed settings), or "It needs a clean/oil or a new needle". Sometimes things do actually break, but it's not common. For machines that haven't been used it awhile, the issues are odder (cockroach nest, for example), but a clean/oil, correct threading (!!!) and a new needle solve the bulk of them. Most Singer manuals are available on their website, and others can be googled too.
posted by kjs4 at 9:28 PM on May 7, 2020

misskaz, I scrambled a Janome machines stitch indicator trying to work out why the reverse wasn't working (turns out the mechanism isn't behind the stitch dials, oops). I disconnected it trying to remove the front panel, from memory. If you take the access panels off, you might be able to see what's what.

Youtube can be very helpful - I have more luck searching through youtube than Google. In fact, I just found you can take the knobs off that model, or one very like it, from the front. You might then be able to put it back in the right position.
posted by kjs4 at 9:51 PM on May 7, 2020

5. Clean and oil the bobbin and feed dog area about every 2 to 4 hours of sewing time.

posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:04 AM on May 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I always wonder, when sewing time is mentioned, how to measure that, because surely it means the actual amount of time your machine is working (as opposed to the amount of time you are working), right?

I oil mine if I haven't used the machine in a while, and then maybe every few days if I'm in the middle of using it intensively (because it's not continuously running or anything). I clean it out a lot though, because stuff getting stuck in the bobbin area causes annoying problems.
posted by trig at 10:06 PM on May 8, 2020

Oil? Into the machine? I am definitely at least the third generation of woman in my family who has never oiled the sewing machine... 75+ years (I’m currently using my grandma’s last machine that she bought 30 yrs could it possibly still be working?)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:34 PM on May 8, 2020

I think climate conditions and so forth can affect how likely a machine is to start jamming up. Also some machines are self-oiling. (And even in the ones that aren't you usually do the most frequent oiling in the bobbin area, which might also depend on what kind of bobbin mechanism you have.) I think it's usually more about maintenance than critical necessity.

I kind of doubt that the people who owned my machines before me ever oiled them, but they still worked when I got them. They did run a bit smoother after a few drops though.
posted by trig at 11:51 PM on May 8, 2020

/r/talesfromtechsupport has an occasional poster who does good stories about doing sewing machine tech support.
posted by inkyz at 10:30 AM on May 9, 2020

Same, trig. I’ve been imagining a really slow egg-timer that only runs while the pedal was down, to tell me the working time. Counting off in ten thousands of stitches, maybe.

My sweetie and I cut a chunk out of an old table top so now I have a drop-in sewing machine! Getting used to the different ergonomics. He remembered that we had five four-inch carriage bolts, so the platform is suspended. V slightly wiggly. Good so far.

The old table top is on an older table base that is — a Singer treadle base, so the crossbar is plenty low, because it was made for this . I should have done it years ago and when I can get to a hardware store I hope I will do it better.
posted by clew at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2020

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