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Sewing machine repair: Hook timing

Hook timing is a fairly common problem that sends many sewers running to the repair shop. When it happened the first time on my older Kenmore, I decided to try to repair it myself first. My thinking was, since it’s a mechanical machine with mostly metal parts, as long as I was careful, I couldn’t really hurt anything. I probably would have thought twice before attempting it on a computerized machine.

All machines are a little different, so what worked on mine may not work on yours. Something I recommend to everyone who wants to work on their own sewing machine, is getting a copy of the service manual. Honestly, I still need to do this. There’s tons of info online, but having the actual service manual is even better. You should have an owner’s manual on hand, too. It  covers basic care and maintenance. For repairs, though, the service manual will give you technical instructions and confidence. 

Hook Timing?

Before taking things apart, determine if hook timing is causing the problem. If the needle (top) thread isn’t picking up the bobbin (bottom) thread, hook timing is a prime suspect. It’s always a good idea to rule out simple problems first, though. Try swapping the needle, rethread the machine and sew on some scrap fabric. If it’s been a while since you’ve dusted the lint out of the bobbin case or you’ve been sewing on linty material, give it a good cleaning.

Once you’ve tried the easy fixes, if it still isn’t working right, look at how the needle and the bobbin hook intersect. This page, https://tv-sewingcenter.com/general/sewing-machine-timing-hook-timing, has illustrations, photos and descriptions for where they should meet on both rotary and oscillating machines. 

Taking a look at my oscillating hook.

My machine is an oscillating machine, so the hook tip should pass just above the eye of the needle. Mine was passing below the needle’s eye, so clearly the hook timing needed adjustment.

Open it up

The first and honestly the hardest step was figuring out where all the screws were that I needed to remove to take off the casing. (Actually, the first step was to turn off and unplug the machine. If you’re attempting this at home, do not skip this step!) On my Kenmore, I have to take off the side by the hand wheel, a plate on the bottom, and the front panel. 

More cleaning

While I have my machine open, I like to take the opportunity to clean it out and oil it. Oiling a linty machine, using the wrong oil or putting it in the wrong places can cause tons of problems, though, so if you’re not sure, stick to dusting only.

Find and adjust

Next, I tilted the machine on to it’s back so I could get a good look at the mechanism that rotates the hook. Once I had isolated that, I found a hex head set screw. Loosening that allowed me to gently adjust the hook position so that the tip passed just above the needle’s eye.

About in the middle, just above the motor is a silver piece with a round, black screw near the top. That is the set screw I loosened to adjust the hook timing.

When I was sure I had it properly positioned, I tightened the set screw. I turned the hand wheel a few more times, making sure everything still looked good before I put the casing back. A quick test run showed everything was working properly again.

Done!

It’s so satisfying to be able to make simple repairs to my machines myself, especially when most repair shops start around $75 and go up from there, depending on what needs to be done. 


Hook timing
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Sewing Chores: Tips to maximize sewing time

Even if you love sewing, there’s some parts that can be a chore. Ignoring those tasks or leaving them for later can result in wasted sewing time and money. Here’s a list of chores I try to tackle when I have a few minutes so that my real sewing time is spent actually sewing.

Bobbin winding

If you have a Side Winder, bobbin thread running out mid-project might not be a big hassle. If you rely on your machine to wind bobbins, though, running out means stopping your work, re-threading your machine to wind a bobbin and then setting it back up to sew. To prevent this headache, when you have a few spare moments, wind a few bobbins in your most commonly used colors. If you have a project in mind, wind a couple of bobbins in the needed colors. Keep extra bobbins on hand and wind at least one for every different thread color you have. 

Pre-winding extra bobbins makes this notice less annoying.

Clean your machine

Lint, threads and dust build up over time and can cause poor stitch quality or even damage your machine. It’s a good idea to make a habit of brushing the debris out at the end of each project, or during projects with linty fabrics.

If the inside of your machine looks like this, you should probably clean it more often.

Periodically you’ll want to vacuum out your machine to really clean it. Vacuum attachments made for cleaning computers work well for this. Some people use canned air, but that’s not recommended. It pushes some of the debris deeper into your machine.

Oil your machine

Once your machine is thoroughly clean, take a moment to oil it according to your manual. This will keep it running smoothly and reduce the need for costly repairs. If you don’t have the manual, you can usually find one online. 

After oiling, always sew a few rows on scrap fabric to soak up excess oil. That way, you won’t risk ruining a project with oil spots. 

Tidy up

The best practice is to put away tools and excess fabric as you go. It’s easy to get distracted and forget, though. Taking a moment here and there to run through your sewing area to tidy up when you aren’t working on a project can save sewing time later.

Keep a shopping list

Nothing is more annoying than having to stop work because you ran out of a necessary supply. Make note of supplies that are low or that have run out on a notepad to take on your next shopping trip.

Prewash fabric

Unless you know your final project will never be washed, you should always prewash your fabric. One way to make sure this happens is to wash it as soon as you bring it home from the store. You could also work it into your usual laundry schedule. Having a prewashing routine prevents delaying a project or worse, giving in to the temptation to make something and have your final product ruined in the wash.

Tip: Serging or zig-zag stitching the cut edges will prevent excess fraying in the wash.https://subearthancottage.com/random-sewing-tip-painless-prewash

These are the chores that, for me, are the biggest sewing time-wasters when neglected. Please share your dreaded sewing chores and tips to keep them from becoming time-wasters in the comments.

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Sewing Machines

I’m a bit of a sewing machine hoarder. If you don’t count the one that is Finn’s, I have four. That includes my sewing and embroidery machine combo, but not my two sergers. Also not including the knitting machine, because it knits.

While I’m certainly not an expert, I do have my preferences. I would take a well-built, old metal machine over a new machine any day. Mainly because when they break, I tend to do this:

That is my first sewing machine. It is a Montgomery Ward’s Signature sewing machine from the 60s, I think. I got it from my mom who got it from my grandma. I can’t remember what was wrong with it that time, but it sews nicely now.

The Signatures at that time were made by a Japanese company that specialized in industrial machines, I think for sewing feed sacks. That translates to a heavy duty, domestic sewing machine that will sew through anything. It also has a set of cams. Cams are interchangeable disks that allow it to sew pretty embroidery stitches.

My next sewing machine is another, slightly older Montgomery Ward’s Signature. This one was rescued from a lot of machines that were destined for the junk heap.

I love the blue color! It reminds me of cars from that era.

Like the other Signature, it uses cams. You can see them in the little accessory box. I actually like this one a little better than the other. It sews the prettiest straight stitch out of all my machines and has a cam that stitches a row of teeny tiny hearts!

I’ve never actually made anything on it, though. Unlike the other, this one is in a portable case, which is hilarious. I carry/wrestle a 31 lb. two year old every day and lifting that machine is a struggle. Since I don’t have a dedicated place for it, I don’t have the motivation to lug it out.

My workhorse is a 90s model Kenmore, made by Janome. The case is plastic, but all the internal workings are metal. I know, because I had to open it up when my walking foot vibrated the needle loose and messed up the timing. Photographic evidence on Instagram.

That is the best photo I could find of it. I love that machine because it isn’t as quirky as the Signatures. It also tells me how to thread it right on the machine, and when it comes to sewing machines, threading is half the battle.

My final machine is the Brother SE400 embroidery combo. I keep it set up as an embroidery machine because I have three other sewing machines. Also, it scares me, so I want to risk messing it up as little as possible. I haven’t had it opened up beyond the bobbin area, but I’m guessing there’s some plastic, and I know there is scary electronic components. With the other machines, I am freer to play because I know that if something happens, it’s not likely to be catastrophic. With this, something like a timing issue would definitely mean a big repair bill.

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Playing with fonts on my new toy.

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But, it makes pretty embroidery, has loads of decorative and utility stitches as a sewing machine, and has the most awesome needle threader I have ever seen. Seriously. Finn’s machine has a needle threader that I will never use, because it is complicated and I stabbed myself with it one time. Brother’s needle threader is like magic. It is especially handy when embroidering with multiple colors. Color changes take mere seconds.

Just to show I’m not as much of a hoarder as I could be, here is a photo of the White machine I couldn’t get working and sold on craigslist.

Then, while I was waiting for the buyers to show up, I decided to play with it a bit and figured out what was wrong. I hope they love it, or at least open it up to look at from time to time. Sigh.