Spring cleaning your tools
Ugh! You should see my sewing room. It’s a disaster. I’m just not great at upkeep, and the cold months didn’t inspire cleaning. But winter has given way to tulips, daffodils, and all the traditional signs of spring. Dust bunnies and dirty quilting tools are not part of that tradition, so I’m
putting my sewing room at the top of my spring cleaning “to do” list. Heaven help me!
Now, being a man, I don’t follow directions too often (meaning I have to scrap half my projects because I’m way off track, and I’ll drive for hours before stopping for help), but I didn’t want to trash my stash stuff out of upkeep ignorance. So I asked the experts how to best clean and care for some of our hardworking sewing tools.
Keep your machine clean and mean
My friend Jeanne Delpit, director of national events for Bernina of America, along with her team of technical experts at Bernina, offered some tips on the care and feeding of one of our best quilting friends—our sewing machine (or machines, in my case). For starters, she says, machines used on a regular basis need an annual professional checkup. How will you remember when it’s time to have your machine serviced? Make a routine of dropping it off before you go on vacation, or tie it in with a special time of year, such as your birthday. I take my machines on the same day I change the batteries in my smoke alarms: when daylight savings time begins each spring. In the meantime, follow these TLC (Tender Loving Cleaning ) tips to help keep your machine in top sewing form. And always remember Mom’s rule: Begin any appliance cleaning project by unplugging the machine first, or you’ll end up with a sizzling, frizzy permanent!
Sew change your needle already Sewing-machine needles need to be changed for every 4 to 8 hours of actual machine use. Sewing with a dull needle can damage your fabric (which isn’t quite as bad as sewing next to a dull guild member at a class) and give you poor stitch quality. A bent needle can damage your machine. New needles are cheap insurance for improving your work. (Is it just me, or are there others out there . . . I’ll throw away thousands of bucks on quilting stuff I don’t need but will not change my needle.)
Another time you should replace your needle is at the start of a new project (unless you’ve recently changed it). Not sure when you last changed the needle or what needle is in your machine? Keep a notepad by your machine to record the size, type of needle, and date you changed it.
Then post this info near your machine. If the needle has been used only a short time and you need to switch it for a different project, attach
the needle to the same note so you’ll have it handy when you want it again.
My suggestion for a good spring cleaning is to toss all the used needles that have been stuck in pincushions during the last year.
Bob bob bobbin along
Like a good needle, a good bobbin is essential to stitch quality. Some sewing machines have very specific bobbin requirements, so be sure to use only the type of bobbin recommended for your machine. Check your bobbins before you rewind them. Be sure they are clean and oil free, have no nicks or burrs around the outside edges, and are free of lint and rust. I have been known to toss my metal bobbins into the dishwasher occasionally.
Toss dead thread
Now, while everyone likes to save money, those spools that you pick up in the “so many for $1” bin are not really a bargain. Often those off-brand spools of thread are made from very short fibers. These result in a weaker thread that can create a greater buildup of lint in your machine. Short-fiber threads tend to have more slubs or thick and thin places along the thread length, contributing to poor stitch quality and tension problems. Higher-quality thread ma cost more per spool, but the better stitches and hardier finished product make it cheaper in the long run.
Thread stored out in the open gets dusty. When possible, keep it in a covered spot, away from temperature and humidity changes, light, dust, and dirt. You can vacuum dusty thread—just be sure to stretch a piece of nylon stocking (or something similar) over the wand opening of your brush attachment so you don’t suck the spool into the vacuum cleaner.
Now’s the time to organize threads by type and color, then soc them away in a protective box. I always toss a new dryer sheet into my thread
box to keep my threads smelling nice. I like getting very faint hits of scent while I sew.
Cut to the chase
Scissors can be wiped down with a soft, lint-free cloth. It is important to oil the blades, edges, and screw with a light coat of clear
household or machine oil (never use cooking oil!). After oiling your scissors, wipe them well with a clean, soft cloth and make several cuts in
a piece of scrap fabric to remove all oil residue before cutting into your next project.
Keep your scissors in good condition by getting them professionally sharpened. Do it at the next daylight savings clock change, when quilting season winds down for the summer. Blades become dull over time and can develop nicks and burrs from pins. Dull blades can damage fabric and can be dangerous if you are trying to force a dull pair of scissors through your fabric or, in my case, a box of Hostess cupcakes.
The rotary club
Debra Green, the director of education at Olfa, gave me the scoop on caring for rotary cutters, cutting mats, and rulers. To clean a rotary cutter blade, carefully remove the blade from the handle. With a soft, clean cloth, wipe the blade from the center to the outside edge. Replace a blade at the beginning of a new project or when your current blade begins to show signs of wear. Note that cutting heavyweight fabrics or fleece will dull a blade quicker. Save old blades for paper or other craft projects. I also flip my blade over and put a drop of oil between the actual cutter and the blade. I find that oil makes the blade rotate more smoothly, and flipping it takes care of any nicks in the blade caused by hitting my ruler
or pins, giving me almost twice the use from one blade. Again, be sure your blade is free of oil residue before cutting your good fabric.
Mat, heal thyself
Clean your self-healing rotary-cutting mats with a soft cloth and mild soap. Do not use solvents or abrasive cleaners. A soft brush, like the small kitchen brush you use to clean mushrooms, or an art gum eraser, are helpful for cleaning mats, particularly if you’ve been cutting fleece or velvet. Be sure to store your mats flat, and don’t expose them to hot or cold temperatures. To prolong the life of a
mat, don’t always cut in the same spot. You can also flip the mat over and cut on the other side. While mats generally have a long life cycle—
anywhere from five to ten years—they do get worn over time. But don’t throw out that old mat; you can recycle it by cutting it into your favorite template shapes. By the way, if you happen to be a maverick like me, and quilt outside in milder weather, please don’t leave your mat in the sun. I did, and it got all wavy and gnarly and I had to toss it.
Clean acrylic rulers with a soft cloth and a mild soap-and-water solution. Don’t use solvents, abrasives, or alcohols to clean rulers as they may damage the acrylic or fade the ruler markings. Some of my rulers get a used-tape residue because I highlight certain measurement marks with tape. For these, I squirt dish soap directly on the stickiness and allow it to sit for a half hour or so, then I rinse it off under warm water while I rub the area with my fingertips. It works like a charm.
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