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Stitches have played a big part in my life — sewing stitches, that is. In college, there was a wrap cocktail dress I whipped up for the spring dance. After our first baby’s birth, homemade blankets lay about the crib. But since October’s costume stitching, my sewing machine has been on the disabled list, and I’m too busy to get it into the shop.

But my new motto for 2009: creativity is good for my soul. And my creative outlet is sewing. The sewing machine needs to get off the disabled list. But where to bring it?

“We work on all different brands of sewing machines,” offered Stuart Tulledge, lead technician at Sew Pro’s (858-270-4700). “The only time we can’t work on something is when parts become unavailable. With some of the older machines, going back 30–40 years, a lot of these companies are starting to have obsolete parts. We have a large warehouse where we stockpile a lot of these older machines that we can pull parts from, so that keeps most of the older machines in the game. But there are occasions when we just don’t have the parts.”

What are the common repairs seen with machines?

“Most of the time it is timing, a needle-to-hook timing,” explained Tulledge. “And the machines just need cleaning. It is so dry here in San Diego that these machines really do dry out. Some of the older lubricants that they used to use would leave a residue behind. The oil dries out, the residue behind gums up mechanisms. We do see quite a bit of that. The homeowner should make sure they use good-grade sewing machine oil. A lot of customers will use 3-in-One or WD-40 oil on their machines, and that’s terrible. It does more damage in the long term than good. It should be a bottle marked specifically for sewing machines.”

Where should the oil go?

“Often it’s needed down where you click in the bobbin case. Every time the machine’s needle goes down, the bobbin case is turning — it’s creating a lot of friction down in there — and with time it dries out. It should be periodically cleaned and blown out with a little Dust-Off they use for computers and then gone back through and cleaned with a rag and a drop of oil put in there.”

How much money do quality machines cost?

“Starting price should be $300. Truthfully, you get what you pay for. I have a shop full of machines [needing repair] from Costco and Walmart. They build those things for the price; they don’t build them for the quality. We have customers in here all the time; they are so frustrated.”

For repairs, “We give a free estimate, but our basic cleaning and service starts off at $38.95, and it goes up from there. If they are using the machine a lot, they should have it serviced annually.”

Monica Gassaway, owner of La Mesa Sew & Vac (619-698-2972), says that timing and tensions are common repair issues she sees in her store. “They can have problems if it is an old-style tension disc, where the spring is actually too loose so it is not holding tension. Lint can be caught in there or residue from the threads,” she added.

“Keep the machine covered,” continued Gassaway, “at least with a cloth cover; that absorbs any moisture. If they want to maintain the machine, at least every year it should be serviced and they should operate the machine periodically through the year.”

La Mesa Sew & Vac offers free estimates for repairs.

“You should get it serviced or at least take it out and play with it,” suggests John Wainscott, technician at Central Sewing (619-282-8502). “It’s like a car; if you let it sit too long, it’s bad for it. The oil dries out.”

For home maintenance, Wainscott recommends brushing out the bobbin area of the machine. “You want to brush out the lint. A lot of people make a mistake and use the canned air on their machines. What happens is they end up blowing the lint deeper into the machine. And then it builds up in there and causes problems. It’s better to brush it out, and do it frequently so there is not so much lint.”

At Central Sewing, Wainscott says, “We open it up, clean it up, get all the dust and the lint out of it, clean out the old oil, reoil it, and sew it off to make sure it is sewing fine. Basic service on a regular machine is $69.50; for embroidery machines, $110. We also work on industrial machines for $79.50 an hour.”

Any recommendations for a decent beginner’s sewing machine?

“Babylock is a really good brand for a low-end machine. Janome is a decent machine. You’re going to spend anywhere from $399 to $699 for a nice machine. If you buy a machine for $100, I wouldn’t expect it to last a year. But you pay $400 to $500, you should have a decent machine for life.”

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