How to take care of a pedal sewing machine – mother earth news


Foot-operated sewing machines perform as well as electric models, if not better…. without electricity. They are also inexpensive, $ 10.00 to $ 40.00 (I bought mine for $ 25.00, in good condition). With proper care, they will last almost forever. If you are lucky enough to get one of these sewing devices, some of the tips in this article can help you get Old Faithful to sew again and keep its proper sewing.

First, treat your newly acquired machine with full oiling. Use a good sewing machine lubricant like the Singer brand… not an all-purpose household product that will get gummy. Every point where moving parts rub together needs to be addressed. Look for the oil holes on the head, and don’t forget the lower parts and the pedal mechanism. If the device is difficult to operate or is really dirty, rinse about a quart of kerosene through the oil ports using a burette. Run the machine for a few minutes, wipe it dry completely, and oil it later when the metal has dried. It is very important to lubricate regularly from this point on (once a day if you do a lot of sewing).

Sewing tension

If you are having any of these issues, check your needle. It should be sharp, straight, and the right size for the wire you are using… usually as small as the wire will allow the wire to pass freely through the eye. If that’s not the problem, try adjusting the appropriate controls. The upper tension adjustment is usually a thumbscrew on the head, and the lower adjustment is a screw on the shuttle (see Figures 1 and 21). Turning the regulator clockwise increases the pull on the wire.

If your machine doesn’t sew at all, you will probably need to reset the tensions from scratch. Thread the machine as if you were preparing to sew (see Figure 1)… and make sure to lower the presser foot, because on some models the tension is released when this part is raised. Then pull the thread through the needle, adjusting the upper tension control until the resistance is firm but not too tight. Thread the shuttle and insert it into the machine. Pull out the lower thread and tighten or loosen the screw until the tension is the same as that of the upper thread. After this operation, the machine should sew well enough to allow fine adjustments if necessary.

Photo by Unsplash / Trixie

Other sewing problems

Drive belt : Keep it moderately tight. If it is too loose, cut a section of leather (not too!), drill a new hole and replace the clip.

Upper thread breakage: The possible causes are as follows:

[1] The machine is incorrectly threaded.
[2] The needle is too small for the thread.
[3] The upper tension is too tight.
[4] The eye of the needle is rough.
[5] The tip of the shuttle became blunt.

Lower thread breakage:

[1] The lower tension is too tight.
[2] The bobbin is wound up too full.
[3] The shuttle is dirty.
[4] The hole in the needle plate may be rough (polish it with a sharp, smooth instrument).


[1] Too much tension in one or both wires.
[2] Too much pressure on the presser foot.

Skipped stitches:

[1] The needle is the wrong size or is too fine for the thread.
[2] The needle is blunt or bent.
[3] The tip of the shuttle became blunt.

If your machine still doesn’t run despite your best efforts – or if you have a rotary sewer or other unusual type – you can try locating a repair book. A useful work that I have found in the library is Sincere Sewing Machine Service Book by William Ewers, an easy-to-understand manual that covers both old and new models.

Needle and thread sizes

  • Cotton 100 and over; Silk 000; Old Needle Size 0; Size New Needle 9; Work: For the best work
  • Cotton 80 to 100; Silk 00; Size Old Needle B; Size New Needle 11; Work: For thin underwear, etc.
  • Cotton 60 to 80; Silk 0 & A; Size Old Needle 1/2; Size New Needle 14; Work: For ordinary sewing
  • Cotton 40 to 60; Silk B; Old Needle Size 1; Size New Needle 16; Work: For medium heavy fabrics
  • Cotton 30 to 40; Silk C; Old Needle Size 2; Size New Needle 18; Work: For big jobs


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