attached to rickrack

sewing, tools


I love rickrack but my befuddlement with it started when I was six or seven years old. I had a white dress with some tiny red rickrack sewn on it. The manufacturer had attached it by sewing a straight seam down the center of the rickrack, which meant that after the first washing the zigs and the zags were hopelessly curled up in the center around the stitching. Even at a young age I loved the graphic quality of the red zigzag on my white dress and was frustrated that it would never lie flat and look as pretty as I knew it should. Even at a young age I had strong opinions about design!

Since then I’ve wondered about the best way to attach rickrack. I want an elegant method of machine sewing that doesn’t detract from the zigzag from but still makes the trim lie flat washing after washing. Although I’m still trying to figure out how to attach by machine tiny rickrack, I have come up with a method for medium to large rickrack. I’ll warn you, however, that if you’re an impatient sort  you might want to stop reading right here.


It’s all in dropping your feed dogs. Not all sewing machines have this capability so if your machine doesn’t ask around for a friend who might lend you one that does. After I dropped the feed dogs, I replaced my regular sewing foot with the clear embroidery foot for maximum visibility along the edge of the rickrack. I chose some thread that disappears on the rickrack, but I could have also used invisible thread. Next I pinned the rickrack in place and slid it under the foot so the needle caught the edge of the rickrack and attached it beautifully to the garment. Once you’ve done one side, repeat on the other side.

If you’re new to dropping your feed dogs, here are a few hints to keep in mind. The role of the feed-dogs is to regulate the length of your stitches, so once you’ve dropped them the speed at which you move the fabric under the needle will determine the stitch length. Try to be as consistent as you can about your sewing speed or else you’ll get stitches that vary in length.


I’m happy to report that the pink rickrack sewn onto my daughter’s pants in the photo above has weathered countless washings and hasn’t curled a bit. I’m still stumped about the tiny rickrack though. Any suggestions?

oiling your sewing machine

sewing, tools


Several readers of my previous post on spring cleaning your sewing machine asked for a tutorial on oiling the rest of a sewing machine. So I thought I’d post that info as well.

Cleaning and oiling go hand in hand. Clean first, then oil. But the tricky thing is finding the right balance. Oil attracts more lint. If you over-oil a hard to reach place and then don’t clean sufficiently, you will attract more lint and cause premature wear to your machine. This is why we’ve been told in conversations with our sewing machine repair guy as well as what we’ve read in the manuals of machines that we own that the only parts of the machine meant to be cleaned and oiled by the user are the parts I covered in my previous post. The other areas of the machine require less frequent maintenance and are more complicated to clean and oil so they are intended to be serviced only by an expert.

There’s a lot of debate over how frequently to get your machine professionally cleaned. Some people say that they don’t use their machines very frequently so they don’t need to get it serviced often, but I think it’s more a matter of how and where it’s stored. If it’s somewhere where dust can get into it or it’s out in the open, I’d go for every year or 18 months. If it’s sealed in a case, you can go longer, unless you use it a lot. We have two machines and take ours every year or so because we use them a lot and because they are both out in the studio all the time. I’m also a believer in preventative maintenance. Sewing machines are expensive. One of our machines is nearly 20 years old and runs like a new one. I plan to keep it forever so I’m happy to pay someone to keep in in good shape.

Here’s are a couple more hints on oil and your machine. After you’ve oiled the race, get a scrap of fabric and sew a couple of inches onto it to make sure that none of the oil has gotten onto your bobbin. Check the thread color. You’ll be able to see that it’s darker if there’s oil on it. Continue sewing until the thread is the original color. Also, if you store your machine in a cold place or maybe it’s been in a cold car on the way to a class, let the machine warm up to room temperature before you start sewing. Think about what happens to olive oil in the refrigerator when it gets all lumpy. The lubricants on the internal bearings need to be at the right temperature to be sufficiently viscose. Happy cleaning!

spring cleaning for your sewing machine

sewing, tools


I’ve learned from teaching workshops that many sewers are hesitant to give their bobbin cases a good cleaning as often as they should. It seems as if some are afraid to remove the parts necessary to give their machines a good cleaning and others simply forget.

So my partner in crime, Bill, and I have put together a series of tips and photos that should help you get started. While there are a lot of different machines out there, we trust that you will be able to extrapolate the information here and consult your manual to figure out the differences between the machine we photographed and your own. If you have questions, don’t be shy about asking your machine repair person to show you some maintenance tips. They want your machine to run well. If you have other tips, please post them in the comment section. We’ve left the photos large so you can see the parts easily.

If you get in the habit of cleaning and oiling your machine every time you change the bobbin, you won’t forget when you last cleaned and oiled it. At first it may seem like a lot of steps but once you get used to it, the whole process takes less than a minute.

Here’s our general cleaning routine:

First, remove the foot and the needle.



Then remove the throat plate.


Remove the lint from the feed dogs and the area under the throat plate.


Wipe it down with a soft cloth and replace the throat plate.


Now direct your attention to the bobbin.


Remove the bobbin and lift the lever to gain access to the bobbin hook and race. Clean each part as you go with a small brush.


Remove the bobbin hook and wipe any lint off.


Inspect the hook for blunting, burring or damage at the point. This could cause skipped stitches, split threads or other problems. A new hook is about $70.


Use a pin to clean out the groove near the race that accumulates lint. Once it’s clean, place a drop of clear machine oil on the race. Replace the hook, close the latch and reinsert the bobbin.


If you have a thread cutter, remove it.


Clean the debris from the thread cutter and put it back in place.


Rub the side of your needle along the top of your fingernail. If there’s any mark left on your fingernail, it’s a sign that your needle has a burr and should be replaced.



Here are some additional Dos and Don’ts

DON’T use compressed air, it simply blows the dirt deeper into the machine. This can cause future problems or premature wear of hard-to-reach parts.


DO use vacuum attachments for small-scale cleaning. They are available online, at vacuum repair stores or often at computer stores (techies use them to clean keyboards and CPUs).


DO use clear machine oil, not yellow machine oil. Our machine repair guy, a second-generation sewing machine repair expert says that the yellow oils can gum up parts over time. He even said that although our Bernina’s manual states that oiling the hook race (the circular point inside which the hook rotates) is unnecessary, he advises using a small drop of oil from time to time. We’ve done so for years with no problems and it certainly makes it run more quietly.

Once your machine is clean, listen to the sound of it sewing. It should be more quiet. Try to remember this sound so you’ll know when it gets louder that it needs another cleaning.