The ramblings from a small quilt shop on the South Islands West Coast of New Zealand

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Routine Maintenance

A lot of us consider routine maintenance ofroutine our sewing machine important and albeit reluctantly, take our precious sewing machines off to the service technician.  But what about the other equipment/tools that we use, do we bother to give them the ‘once over’? 
As I have got older/matured/aged or just become more aware that things don’t last forever without a bit of special care, I have started to become a little more ‘caring’ of the little tools of our craft, the minions of the sewing room. So I thought I would share some of these with you and how I give them the ‘once over’.
The Cutting Mat:    It doesn’t matter what size your cutting mat is or what brand, they all do the same and all profess to be ‘self healers’, so let’s have a closer look at them.  Do you tend to cut in about the same place on your mat and can you see whitish lines033 appearing where you cut?  Each time you cut you do leave a scar on the surface of your mat and after a time those white lines appear as small amounts of fibres get caught in the cuts. So I guess the next question is … how do we get them out?  035It’s easy really. Gentle roll your board backwards and using a nylon pot045 scrubber, gently stroke the mat, just in one direction.  By rolling the board you are opening up some of the scars and allowing the pot scrubber to catch the fibres that are filling them. 
Scissors:   Many of us have more than one pair and each pair tends to have their own specific purpose whether they be fabric, embroidery or paper scissors, all different sizes, all different qualities, all to be043 treated basically the same way.  Regular sharpening (I mean about once a year) by a professional is the best, but if you don’t have someone that does that then there are tools that you can buy that are not our of the normal price range.  Friskars have a handy little 042gadget that I use, and with just a few simple swipes it has been able to get rid of ‘dead spots’ on the blades.
Whether you are able to have scissors sharpened or not wiping the blades down with a cloth that has just a couple of drops of sewing machine oil on it will lengthen  the longevity of the sharpness and don’t forget to add a drop of oil where the screw is and between the junction of the two blades, wiping off any excess before use.
Rotary Rulers and Templates:  Regardless of what shape these take a lot of punishment when we are wielding our rotary cutters at a great rate of knots wanting to get our next masterpieces cut out. 
fastpatch rulerRun you finger down the side of your ruler/template.  Does it feel smooth?  Does it feel straight?  Sometimes, like the cutting board, we have used the same spot over and over again each time reducing the edge a fraction.  Your quarter inch cut may not be a true quarter inch any longer because of this ‘erosion’ of the edge.  Sometimes you may find a little sharp bit, dealing with this is up to the individual but I have used the softer side of an emery board to smooth out that little sharp spot.  When using the emery board try to remember ‘less is more’.
Next, check the marked graduations on your ruler – can you still see them?  I came across a very old one of mine and was amazed at how faded the markings were, actually some of the markings were totally gone – needless to say that ruler was ‘retired’ to be used as just a straight edge.
Pin Cushions:  Yep, we all have them… pretty, plain, big, small all shapes and sizes and many of us have made our own but what have we put inside them to make them a better tool in our long list of tools?046
I live in a location that has high rain fall and before I moved here I live where there was high humidity – what have these two locations have in common?  Moisture, that’s what.  When making my pin cushions I take this into account.  I do have a variety of pins and will talk about those next but how to protect them comes down to how we store them.  When available, I like to fill my pin cushions with natural sheep fleecefleece (unwashed).  The fleece is full of natural lanoline, it doesn’t let moisture anywhere near my pins.  If I can’t get my hands on natural fleece I then use the same stuffing as what I use for teddies and soft toys plus… I add lavender lavenderrubbings.  The lavender has a natural oil in it, each time a pin goes into the cushion it is surrounded by a subtle oil again protecting it from moisture.
Another product I like to include into my pin cushions is powdered emery, many embroidery supply shops sell this. The emery  dust helps keep the points of my pins sharp.  I also have a ‘strawberry’ filled with emery, if and when I have a needle or pins that is slightly dull or has developed a small burr, I just push it into the strawberry a few times and taa daa, back as good as new.040
Pins,  Safety Pins-  If you sandwich your own quilts you very probably use safety pins to hold your sandwich together while041 quilting.  Give them a check for burs and whether they have suffered any damage.  Any misshaped ones that can’t be ‘bent back’ , throw them out.  And if you have a good collection of pins store them in a screw top container that has a few ‘drying’ sachets in it – you know the type, they come free when you buy new shoes, new multi vitamins etc.  Just pop them in the container they do work.
Dressmaking Pins and any other pins- Empty your pin cushion of pins and check how many of your pins are still straight.  The pins do bend, some of them easier than others so now is the time to 011straighten them.  I have a small pair of hobby pliers,017 DH tells me they are ‘short nosed’, whatever their name I use them. When the pliers are open there is one part of the ‘nose’ that is ribbed and another part that is smooth.  I never use the ribbed part on my pins – it just creates  a small ‘pinked’ effect on the steel, instead I use the flat space to gently straighten the pins.  I also have a different pin cushion for pins that are used for different purposes, not because I am overly manic about their use but because I just find it easier to use them that way.
and lastly...
Rotary Cutters:  We should all change our rotary cutter blades regularly that is a given, but we should also look at the 'holder 038itself.  A lot of lint builds up under the blade and this needs to be removed each time a new blade is put on, like the lint in the cutting mat, it reduces the effectiveness of the blade.  Also take time to wipe down the037 holder removing any marks .
I am aware that this is one long post but do believe we all need to take care of our equipment, we have invested rather a lot financially in it so it makes sense to keep it in tip top condition, I hope my tips offer something to you.
a name Miche'le


  1. What a GREAT post....nice of you to take the time to write it AND include photos, too!

  2. Fantastic post, thanks for sharing some of those very handy maintenance tips.

  3. Great post and fabulous tips

  4. I am just getting back into my stitching, so this was a nice little reminder to review all my supplies before using them, because they have been sitting in the bag for a few wee years (like 6) since last been used. May have to treat myself to a few new little supplies to ensure the best quality work gets produced, lol

  5. What a great post - lots of reminders plus many new tips. I hadn't thought of straightening my bent pins - duh! I enjoyed your points on the pincushions...we live in a high humidity area so I may just pop out to the shed to raid the bag of sheep's wool next time I make one! Also have found it hard to track down emery in the past but will try again.

  6. Thanks so much for this great post!

    I have noticed that with my board and will clean up up now!

    Yes one of my rulers needs to be retired...

  7. Fantastic post Miche'le. I'm wondering if you've been a fly on the wall in my sewing room recently as I have been cursing at my bent and snaggy pins with burrs on them! Now I know how to fix them, so thankyou!

  8. You have done a great many quilters a service! Thank you for the great information.


Thankyou so much for popping by and leaving a comment. I enjoy reading your thoughts and ideas and will get back to you if needed, hugs - Miche'le

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