Scrap quilt sandwich for testing.

When my trusty sewing machine starts to misbehave, I know it’s time to change needles. So you might ask why it took me almost a month to get it back in working order recently.

I have a routine of cleaning the bobbin area with a paintbrush every time I drop in a new bobbin. This is just about right if I’m using a lower-quality thread. With King Tut I can go longer between cleanings. It is amazing just how much lint can build up under the throat plate and how it affects the functioning of my machine.

When it comes to changing needles, I generally go by sound or skipped stitches, which means I don’t change them on a regular schedule. So when I started to skip stitches and the tension was off this last time, I went through the routine of cleaning and putting in a new needle. When that didn’t work, I tried slowing down. I’ve found that on some fabrics when I pull the fabric toward me too fast, it can flex the needle and cause problems.

Stitches were still being skipped, and the thread was breaking. Maybe I have a bad needle? So I changed needles again. I had opened a new package with the first needle; now there were three left.

That didn’t help. By this time I was getting frustrated and decided that walking away for a day or so might help. Fussing with it until you want to chuck the whole thing out the studio window is not good.

When I came back to the project, I started from scratch. After cleaning and rethreading both top and bobbin, I put in needle number three. This was a little better but not great, and soon it deteriorated into skipped stitches and broken thread again.

I walked away.

Not willing to believe it could be three bad needles in a row, I started playing around with the tension, another brand of thread, anything I could think of. I finally broke down and put in needle four. No luck.

In frustration I hauled the sewing machine off to my trusty repairman. Ed checked the timing and said it was perfect and that this was the cleanest machine he’d ever seen! He sent me home without charging me and suggested I try it again. I bought more needles before I left.

In went needle five, the last of the package. Like needle number three, it worked marginally for a bit, and then the problems resurfaced.

On the verge of pulling out my hair, I opened the new package of needles I’d bought and put one in the machine.

There was not another skipped stitch until I asked the machine to sew on rusted fabric . . . which is a whole different story.