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Top 10 Tips for Sewing Machine Success

One of the most popular classes at Hello Stitch is our Love Your Sewing Machine Class. Every month, we have the pleasure of meeting people who are interested in either renewing their acquaintance with a sewing machine, or have never sewn with one before. They are often nervous, but also excited and it is so much fun to watch that excited spark grow as they become more confident in using their machines.

The mechanics of a sewing machine are pretty simple and haven't changed much since the "old days." Yes, many machines have little computers inside now, and some have hundreds of stitches to choose from, but the reality is that you will primarily use 2 stitches - a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch, so if you have a machine that does that, you're golden!

No matter what sewing machine you have, there are a few rules to follow to ensure success.

1. Read your manual!

Although this may seem like a drag, it's actually very informative to read the manual that comes with your machine. If you don't know where your manual is, you can often find a copy online. If you're lucky enough to have a vintage machine, they often have the most charming manuals!

2. Make sure your machine is threaded correctly.

This is where your machine manual comes in really handy. Double check that your thread path is correct and your thread isn't getting hung up on anything. Another great tip to remember is when threading your machine, always have the presser foot raised. This helps the thread get properly situated. (You can lower it when you're trying to thread the needle.)

3. Make sure your bobbin is unspooling in the correct direction in its case.

Different machines do this differently, some go clockwise, some counter-clockwise, so again, refer to your manual. Getting this right will save you LOTS of headaches!

4. Put in a new needle.

The general rule of thumb is to change your sewing machine needle every 8 hours of sewing. Some people change it for every project. At the studio, we don't keep track of the number of hours a needle has been in use, but if a machine starts acting up we first re-thread the machine top & bottom and then change the needle. This solves 93% of all problems. It's also important to use the correct needle for your project. We usually use a number 80/12 Schmetz Universal needle in our machines. We've found this works for most projects using woven material. If you're working with a stretchy knit fabric, change to a 80/12 Schmetz Knit or Ball Point needle.

5. Use a good quality all-purpose thread.

Older threads, especially cotton ones, can start to break down over time and become brittle. Give your thread a tug - if it snaps easily, it's time to get rid of that spool! Make sure that the thread you're using is not too thick. Threads that say things like "buttonhole" or "quilting" are not made for using with sewing machines. Beware of sewing with monofilament or metallic threads - they're notoriously tricky to use!

6. After re-threading your machine, pull the bobbin thread up through the hole in the needle plate.

Do this by holding the thread that goes through the eye of the needle and turning the hand wheel one full rotation towards you. A loop of the bobbin thread should pop right up through the hole in the needle plate. Tease it out so that you have 2 thread ends and then follow the step in #7.

7. Always start sewing while holding the top and bottom thread

This prevents tangling on the underside of your project and snags inside the bobbin area.

8. Always start and stop your sewing with the take-up lever in the very top position

For non-computerized machines, this tip is VERY IMPORTANT! The take-up lever is the thing that looks like a brontosaurus head on the left side of the machine above the needle. Make sure the lever is raised by always turning the hand-wheel on the right side of the machine towards you. When you consistently stop and start with the lever in the top-most position, you are ensuring that the machine has finished making a stitch. If you try to pull you project out with the lever in another position, it can catch the machine mid-stitch and you'll be pulling what looks like 3-4 threads out of your machine and you'll probably also have a hard time removing your project. If you start sewing without having this lever at the top, you'll often find that your machine comes unthreaded, which can get frustrating really fast!

9. Keep you machine clean and well oiled

Get into the habit of cleaning out the bobbin area of your sewing machine every time you change the bobbin. Just use a little brush to get in there and clean it out. DO NOT use canned air or blow into the machine as this just packs the lint down into the workings. Many modern machines do not need to be oiled, but vintage machines, or machines that have metal on metal bobbins do. Again, here is where that manual comes in very handy! You'll need to refer to it to find out what your machine requires. Only use a high quality sewing machine oil on your machine. If you have been ignoring these steps, you'll be amazed at how happy your machine will be with a little cleaning and oiling!

10. Don't forget to breathe!

Many people don't realize that learning how to sew and learning how to use a sewing machine are actually 2 different skills! It can be easy to get frustrated when learning both of these skills at once. Take it easy on yourself and try not to get too stressed out! If you're struggling with your machine, find someone who knows how to sew to help you or take a class. There are tons of online resources that can also help, but often having someone there with you is the best solution!


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