Cleaning · Vertical oscillating hook · Vertical rotary hook · Vibrating shuttle

You rang?

How do you know when it’s time to oil your sewing machine? When they tell you to, of course!

If you listen to the sound your machine makes, you will soon be able to catch the extra noise, the unusual clang, whistle or whine, every type of mechanism speaks with a dufferent voice, and complains differently, too.

Regular maintenance

First of all, it’s best not to wait until the machine actually runs dry, but to oil it regularly. My rule of thumb is to oil the shuttle race every time I change the bobbin, and to clean and oil the whole machine at the end of each project.

Maintenance in between

But of course those are only rules of thumb, and sometimes oiling “out of turn” is required. Ever sewn with linen thread? Don’t. No, seriously, just say no. It says “for machine sewing” on the label, but it is worse than the worst fluffiest cheapest polyester, except it’s a lot thicker and far more expensive. I had to fully disassemble, clean and oil the bobbin assembly literally every hour. It was a big fancy ball gown for a client, and she insisted that everything had to be linen – not just the fabric and the lace, but the thread too. She lived so far away, she had to send everything by post and we only talked on the phone and on the email. All the tailors in her area said no to the linen thread!

But I digress. I knew when it was time to clean and oil my poor machine because it had complained.

Don’t oil without cleaning

Cleaning is just as important, it’s no good to just drop the oil without looking. Well, may be not inside the arm, but certainly all parts that come in contact with thread or fabric have to be cleaned, old oil wiped off, fresh oil applied. An old sewing machine manual actually recommends rather than dropping oil onto the shuttle race, to wipe it with an oiled rag. You really don’t need that much oil there, too much of it will only trap fluff and dirt. If you are getting a lot of gunk and oily lint around the bobbin, try their method, perhaps it’ll help.

So, to clean the bobbin assembly means, obviously, to remove the bobbin and shuttle if you use one (drop-in hooks don’t) and to remove the hook if it comes out, or to loosen it. But it also means to remove the needle plate and clean out the feed dogs!

You won’t believe how much fluff gets trapped in there, and it all interferes with sewing. I once got a machine where the feed dogs could not be submerged because of the layers and layers of dirt underneath. That machine was being sold as broken with “the transport mechanism not working”.

Oscillating hooks

I have so far come across vertical and horizontal oscillating hooks introduced by Singer. The vertical one is our “standard domestic” hook introduced in Singer model 15. It can be forward- or side-facing and has a removable shuttle that holds the bobbin.

The horizontal oscillating hook was introduced in Singer model 66 and used subsequently in many models, notably side-facing in 99K and with a variation in 98K, but also forward-facing like in 401G, etc. This hook has a fixed shuttle, the bobbin is dropped into it. The shuttle is not screwed into place, rather it wobbles a bit in its socket.

Note that not all drop-in mechanisms are oscillating. Some are rotary – see more about them further on.

An oscillating hook normally makes a ticking sound, not unlike a big clock (really big, like a Grandfather’s clock). On a vertical hook, this is because the driver bumps into the hook on each oscillation to get it moving, see a separate post about it. On a horizontal hook, the shuttle bumps into surrounding bits each time the hook changes direction. But the sound is very similar, I find.

When the hook runs dry or gets dirty, the sound not only becomes louder, but also “dirtier” too – instead of the clean single ticks you can now hear additional bangs, and if it’s really dry or something is wrong, you start thinking you’re in blacksmith’s forge!

So I say, when an oscillator wants oiling, it knocks on your door. 🙂

Rotary hooks

I’ve had two machines with a vertical rotary hook: a Lada T132 which I still have, and a Husqvarna Viking 3010 which was my mother’s.

Another example is the Singer 221K Featherweight and Wheeler & Wilson D9, a.k.a. Jones Spool. These hooks differ in details but they all have a removable shuttle that houses the bobbin, with the hook rotating around the shuttle.

Among the horizontal rotary hooks, is the Singer 201K with a side-facing hook, and Singer “Touch and Sew” of the 600 and 700 series with the forward-facing hook, and many others.

Regardless of construction, they all tend to make the same sort of noise: they are humming (perhaps with the exception of Jones Spool where we also get bangs from the shuttle hitting its cage).

When they run dry, the humming turns into whining and hissing, there is now a definite screeching sound mixed into it. I think it comes from the hook rubbing against the shuttle instead of gliding along on an oil film.

So to me, when a rotary wants oiling, it cries.

Vibrating shuttle

vibrating shuttle slides along its race in an arc, with the shuttle resting in a cradle. The combined movement sounds like a train: swish-swoosh-swish-swoosh for sewing, then pffffft for stopping. There is also a light added tingling of a bell – the shuttle vibrating in its cradle.

When the mechanism runs dry, you start hearing the screeching of the brakes (the shuttle scraping along the race), and the increased vibrations make the shuttle hit the cradle harder and more often. It’s no longer a gentle tingling of a bell – it’s a loud ringing!

So, when a vibrating shuttle wants oiling, it rings for service.

Other hooks?

Do you have a machine with a different hook? Does your machine make a different kind of noise? Let us know! 🙂

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