Sewing machine maintenance

One of the things that can be quite dismaying is when your tools malfunction. Yesterday my sewing machine was cranky and upset, and not doing at all what it needed to do — which was sew two pieces of fabric together nicely and cleanly, so as to make elegant and invisible seams for a quilt.  That was just not happening.

I often have trouble sewing on Tuesdays, so I chalked it up to a private superstition. But today, I got out the manual, and went through all of the maintenance operations necessary to keep the sewing machine in good repair:

  • I opened the bobbin case.
  • I cleaned out the bobbin case, first with a brush and then with a vacuum
  • I rethreaded the bobbin.
  • I replaced the needle
  • I checked the upper tension
  • I sewed test swatches together at tension levels 0-2-3-4-5-6-7 looking for the right setting.
  • I adjusted the stitch length until I found the right length.
  • I tried sewing again.

Success. I think. For now.

Your tools are at least part of the key to your success.  Whether it be a sewing machine or a band saw, whether it’s a 3-D printer or an elegant set of chef’s knives, your tools ought to be viewed as an extension of your self. When they’re not in working order, you’re not in working order. 

Up to a point.

I’m a skilled-enough operator in several ‘zones’ of operation that when the sewing machine is being fussy, I can shift to another area of expertise or production, and work in another modality.  This is the John Updike Rule.

John Updike said, as a writer, that he could not afford writer’s block. Accordingly, he worked in four modes: poetry, essays, short stories, and novels.  He worked in four places: the garden, his office, his house library, his kitchen table.  He worked in four different mediums: in a composition book, on a yellow legal pad, on a computer screen, on typewriter paper.  He worked with four different tools: a pencil, a fountain pen, a typewriter, a word processor.   When he became stuck at some spot in a written work, he changed formats, changed places, changed mediums, AND changed tools.

That is, he’d jump from working on an essay in the library in a composition book with a fountain pen to working on a poem in the garden on a legal pad with a pencil.

And that should be how we treat both our creative gifts and our tools.  We cannot be truly creative if we spend the whole day in one spot, doing one kind of thing. We cannot give our whole lives over to one tool, or one set of tools.  We must be prepared to move between tools even as we take care of them and manage them.  For we achieve little by banging away at our computer keyboards forever working on one thing… and equally little by allowing our machines and tools so little down-time that they break on us.

Move between your tools. Love them and care for them, yes, and keep them in good working order.  But most of all remember that your tools are in a sense an extension of yourself — and allowing yourself to rest between labors and effort is no bad thing … nor is keeping yourself in good working order.

One comment

  1. I love the idea of changing things around, I sometimes feel stuck when trying to do something creative and for whatever reason that clear outline of ‘change tools, locations, etc’ seems like just the thing! I’ll have to write it out and put it up somewhere so I remember it for next time I can’t make any progress on things. Thanks!

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