How Often Should We Service Our Machines?

Sending a machine out for service can be nerve wracking. At least it is for me! I miss my girls when they are gone and am seized by the need to use them, even when I plan for their absence. I worry a bit and wonder how they are doing away from home for so long. There is a tendency to procrastinate and put off what we know needs to be done.

The question remains about how often, really, do we need to send our babies out for service? Some of us send them out annually like clockwork. Others wait until there is A PROBLEM. Some of us have machines that have never been professionally serviced. So I wondered, how often is often enough?

I did some research and the answer is…it depends. How often do you sew? Daily, weekly, monthly? Is it a newer machine with lots of electronics? Is it a vintage machine with simple mechanics? Is it a serger? Or a sit down quilter? What does the manufacturer say? Some manufacturers go by hours of use…100, 300…for those of who sew daily, that could add up to a lot of service trips!

Cost can be a factor, too. If the budget is tight, a machine service can be a major budget item. The days of the repairman in the tiny shop who did wonderful work cheaply are largely gone. And if you live in a relatively expensive area like me, the price escalates. A simple serivice on a domestic machine has gone from $59 to $249 in the past 30 years. ( I checked and $59 in 1990 is equivalent to $136 today, but prices do not escalate equally on all consumer products and services.) I recently had my sit down quilter serviced and the cost was $369.

Makers of modern machines tend to recommend annual service. I follow the annual recommendation for my newer domestic Berninas. I use these machines almost every day. My 41/2 yr old 480 SE has 2.3 million stitches on it! I am very dependent upon her operation, and want to make sure she is in peak condition.

My crown jewel, Ms Peacock! Annual service without fail.

My shop offers service contracts that give you 4 yrs of service for the current cost of three. This is a good deal, locking in the cost today for future years, getting a “free” service, and it also means that I can bring in a contract machine in between annual services if I need to with no labor charge. It also means that I don’t miss a service, because I have already put the money out and heaven forbid that I don’t use it! It is worthwhile to check and see if your shop offers service contracts.

My serger, however, is used sporadically. Clothing alterations, or making a couple tops here and there. I clean lint between uses as sergers get very linty, I take her in every two or three years, which makes it cheaper to just pay the cost of the service at the time.

My Tiara 1 sit down quilter is a relatively simple machine and they recommend service every 5 million stitches. She has been serviced 3 times in 8 years. Twice for a regular service (she has just under 10 million stitches) and once because I threw the timing out hitting a quilting pin.

Which leads us to the “X factor”, caring for and maintaining your machine. If you can’t afford regular service, or live far from a service shop, or simply want your machine to stay in top form, regular oiling and cleaning is essential. Be sure to oil according to the manual. A machine can get into trouble if you miss an oiling point, oil too much, use the wrong oil, or put oil where it doesn’t belong.

Cleaning lint out regularly will increase the function and life span of your machine. if you sew with cotton thread, be extra vigilant as cottons produce much more lint. Lint in strange places (under the bobbin tongue or between the tension discs, for example) can ruin your stitching, cause thread snaps or shredding, and make you spend hours troubleshooting your machine.

Do NOT use canned air to clean your machine. It drives lint further into your machine! Use a lint brush and tweezers to remove fluff. I also like use a Q-tip with a drop of oil to clean lint from surfaces.
Old lint, oily lint, thread bits, yuck! Deferring cleaning is a big and unnecessary risk. Just because you can’t see, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Changing needles frequently will also keep your machine running better and for longer. I have said it before, and I will say it again! You may feel that “needles aren’t cheap”, but a service due to a bent needle and throwing out the timing is vastly more expensive.

Thread has snaked in and become tangled around a motor mechanism. Be carefull about thread cones and spools standing right next to the machine. I once had a cone of purple quilting thread that snaked up the belt and wound itself around the interior handwheel of a vintage Bernina. I had to take the machine apart (yikes) and spend about two hours of labor to clean out the thread and put her back together again.

Cover your machines when not in use to protect them from dust. Store unused machines in a dry area, particularly if you live in a damp climate like I do. Take out stored machines occasionally and run them to prevent the internal lubricants from seizing; oil them. I recently sold a vintage Bernina that I hadn’t used in three years; she deserves to used. The gal that bought her sews regalia/costumes for horse shoes. It made me so happy to have her go to a good home.

Are you sewing heavy fabrics like canvas or denim? Using webbing? Perhaps just a tiny bit of leather? Do you have thick seams? Are there multiple layers and media in your project? Use the appropiate needle size and type, reduce your foot pressure and go slowly. Don’t hestitate to go up a needle size. If I have tough sewing job, I tend to use my vintage Singer. It can handle these jobs better than my electronic Berninas. If you use a machine for jobs that it isn’t built to handle, you will spend more money on service and risk losing your machine. I used my Bernina 350 repeatedly for heavy sewing and suffered the consequence of having her spend almost 3 months in the shop. She had to be sent from the local shop repair to the home factory for intensive repair. Fortunately, I had a service contract on her and all the work was covered. But a lesson was learned! Now I treat her with more respect.

What is the longest a machine of mine has gone without service? Blush 😳. That would be the White that I bought in the early 70’s and retired 40 years later. It was serviced 3 times in its long and productive life. I sewed childrens clothing, costumes, prom dresses, swim suits, wedding dresses, curtains, pillows, quilts, men’s jackets, denim piecework, wools, chiffon, silks; everything really. I had a house full of kids and little cash, but I did care for it very well and it was strictly a mechanical machine.

If you use a vintage machine, it will need more frequent oiling, but a lot fewer service visits. I can dismantle my Singer 15 entirely and put it back together. As long as I don’t throw out the timing, I can service it myself. The machine was free and hadn’t been used since the 60’s!

Betty was born in 1948 (older than me!) and I bet that she will be sewing for many decades to come.

If you have a modern electronic machine, expect to service it more often and to spend more on service. I love my modern machines, but they do require more frequent and more expensive care. Older, simpler machines will often go much further with fewer services. I figure if the day arrives when I can not afford to service my Berninas, it is time to switch to my old workhorse Singer 15 for everyday sewing!

Looking for a new machine? Take service costs into consideration, and remember that just as your vehicle needs care, maintenance and service to work well and last a long time, so do your machines.

Care for your sewing machines, oil and clean them, change needles frequently, and they will take care of your stitching for millions of stitches and decades of use.

Happy sewing! Lennea


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