In a former career as a Singer salesman  many years ago, it was my unenviable task to visit sewing enthusiasts like you, in their homes, listen to their tales of woe and tend to their wants and needs. Sadly from the clients point of view I was under orders to sell them the most expensive new sewing machine that I could, failing which, the most expensive second hand machine that I could. If I failed miserably at this (which I all too often did), I was to offer full reconditioning of their machine which, although it was considerable amount, was none the less a fraction of the cost of a new machine. If all else failed I was to repair the machine in the customers home and charge a modest fee.The problem was, that Singers were so robustly made that they just lasted too long and we frequently came across machines that were 50 or 60 years old and still going strong. It amuses me today (some 40 years later) that many of these machines are still thriving and with a little care, will last another lifetime.

The following information relates to Singer machines but the general principles can usually be applied to almost any make.

The first order of business is to get the old plastic oil can that came with the machine and fill it with good quality lubricating oil, failing which a can of “Three in One” or similar oil will do quite nicely. If you think back far enough you will recall that your machine came with a little brush not unlike a pastry brush, you will need to round this up. The next thing to do is to take the sewing thread off the machine and remove the bobbin and give the machine a good clean with the brush. If you can’t find the original don’t worry any old pastry brush will do. You will be amazed at the amount of fluff and lint that can accumulated around the bobin and under the bed of the machine. The actual method of getting to grips with the muck under the bed of the machine will depend on what type of machine you have. They can briefly be categorised as hand powered, treadle powered or electrically powered. It may surprise you to learn that some electricaly powered machines and hand powered machines started life as treadle machines taken in in part exchange. The treadle part was broken up and disposed of and the old machine given a wipe over with an oily rag to give it a bit of a clean and shine up and the put into a new case with either an external electric motor or a hand crank fitted in the shop. These were then sold as reconditioned machines.

If you have a hand machine things are easy, all you do is turn the little catch that overlaps the bed of the machine and then tilt the machine backwards on the two lugs that are hinged to the case. BE PREPARED TO SUPPORT THE MACHINE’S WEIGHT as it is very easy to tilt the body of the machine backwards and have the now very light weight base/case shoot forward towards you. As long as you anticipate this change of the centre of gravity you will be alright. The procedure for a treadle machine is much the same but you must first slip the hide belt that transmits the drive from the treadle to the actual machine off or you will not be able to tilt the machine back. Please note too that although from quite early models these hinges were locked in place under the bed of the machine by grub screws, one for each hinge, these may not always be tightened and in some circumstances the body of the machine can slide off the hinges if care is not taken.


If you machine has an external electric motor things are a bit easier and for most purposes  you can treat the machines as a hand machine except that it is that much heavier again and you need to take even more care as you tilt it back on it’s hinges. If your machine has an internal motor it is likely that it also comes in some kind of external case/lid usually plastic. Remove the machine from this and turn it on it’s side. This will reveal the underside of the machine. In the centre of the underside of the machine you will see a threaded stud protruding through the base of the machine with a funny threaded washer holding the base plate onto the machine. Unscrew this screw to reveal the underside of the actual machine. You will doubtless at this point be horrified at the accumulated fluff and mess and you will not be able to resist the urge to clean this. Once you have laid about with your little brush and perhaps even a bit of rag the next order of business is to apply a drop of oil to all of the pivots and bearing that you can see taking care to keep well away from the electrics of the machine. Be sparing with the oil, a little goes a long way, and too much oil and expensive fabric do not go together well. the merest smear on the bobbin case will help things along enormously.

Return the machine to an upright position and now turn your attention to the top of the machine. On older machines on careful inspection you will see a series of holes on the top of the machine which are intended to enable you to lubricate the bearings underneath. Just a drop or two in each of these holes will make a tremendous difference to the smooth running of your machine. On newer machines with internal electric motors all these lubricating holes are hidden inside the machine. Take the bigger of the two little screwdrivers that came with the machine and undo the two large recess screws on the top of the machine. Once you have freed up the screws you can lift the whole top off, screws and all. This exposes the main drive shaft and you be able to see at once where the oil holes are on each of the bearings. You may also spot the cams that provide the zig-zag mechanism and a little judicious lubrication on the cam follows wouldn’t go amiss. Once you have done this replace the top and turn your attention to the business end of the machine, the area above the needle. On most Singers you will find a knurled know that holds a cover plate in place, if you remove this it will expose the mechanism that drives the needle up and down, taking great care not to overdo it, lubricate all those areas where the moving parts rub against each other and replace the cover-plate. I can’t stress enough how sparing you should be with the oil in this area as any surplus is likely to flow down the needle holder and onto your fabric, make sure you wipe up any surplus oil before replacing the cover.

And that is more or less it. In less time that it has taken me to tell you can make your machine run so much smoother and save your self a fair bit of money as well.

David – DesignerRemnants’ Dad