I am a somewhat of a procrastinator. Just ask the editors for this column.


“Never put off until tomorrow what you could do today.” That pearl of wisdom is one of Thomas Jefferson’s most famous quotes. The great American writer and humorist Mark Twain gave Jefferson a little twist: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow.”


I would like to add yet another variation: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can avoid entirely.”


This is particularly true if you don’t procrastinate on your embroidery machine maintenance. Doing that routine maintenance will give you the luxury of procrastinating on embroidery machine repairs — in fact, you can avoid repairs all together.


Routine maintenance is one task you should try not to procrastinate on. If you really want to avoid repairs later, you have to suck it up and do the maintenance now.


Commercial embroidery machines actually require very little maintenance. But, what little is required should be done faithfully to make the machine last a long time. The two key maintenance tasks are cleaning and oiling.


Cleaning is easy enough. Just chase the dust bunnies away regularly and each day check the sewing hook area for loose pieces of thread. Once or twice a year, take the cover off the drive electronics and vacuum inside that area.


Oiling isn’t much more complicated. Specific lubrication schedules vary from machine to machine; check your machine’s operation manual for specific lubrication procedures. Generally they break down into four categories: daily, weekly, monthly and semi-annually. The schedules are normally based on the assumption that the machine is running eight hours a day, so your schedule can be adjusted based on your actual machine workload.


So let’s take a general look at these categories and see what they entail.


Daily
Normally, the only thing that needs to be oiled every day is the sewing hook assembly. This is the single most important lubrication in terms of machine performance. Not only does it prolong the life of your sewing hook, it makes a great impact on the sewing quality of your machine. All you need is one small drop of clear sewing machine oil at the bottom of the hook every four to eight hours of running. It doesn’t take much, but it does need it.


Weekly
Most machines require weekly oiling for machine parts such as shafts and bushings. Often, these parts requiring weekly oiling are painted red — making them easily identifiable. Normally, no covers need to be removed for weekly maintenance.


The needle bars should be included in the weekly oiling routine. This is another area that can have a tremendous impact on the overall performance of the machine. Often people will stop oiling the needle bars because they get oil spatter on the garment immediately after oiling them. In these cases, the problem is not the frequency of oiling but using too much oil


A good method to control the amount of oil you put on the needle bars is to use a cotton swab dipped in oil. As you pull down each needle bar, gently wipe it down with the swab. This actually cleans and oils the needle bar at the same time — double bonus! If you are concerned about oil spatter, instead of skipping the oiling altogether, place water-soluble topping (such as Solvy) down for the first few runs after the machine has been oiled.


Monthly
As mentioned earlier, daily and weekly lubrication normally doesn’t require the removal of machine covers. However, once you get into the monthly lubrication, you begin to have to remove covers. Still, this task doesn’t take very long and really prolongs the life of the machine.


Monthly lubrication usually requires heavier oil and maybe even grease. It is focused on gears and cams within the sewing head. You may not see a direct impact on your everyday sewing performance by skipping these oiling schedules, but parts will wear out faster — meaning more serious and more expensive repairs down the road.

Semi-Annually
There are a few items that require twice-a-year maintenance. These are the ones to do on that one day you want to do a total clean up of the shop. About once or twice a year the machine needs to be taken down and thoroughly cleaned. This would include removing sewing head covers and greasing certain parts.


It also means the pantograph. That is the mechanism that moves the frame around. It works just as hard as the sewing head, but gets neglected the most. To keep your designs in perfect registration, be sure to maintain this mechanism. Some machines (particularly singlehead machines) don’t even require the removal of any covers to oil or grease the pantograph, so there is really no excuse not to do it.

Of course, in general there is no excuse for procrastination. I usually don’t have really good excuses when I don’t get articles in on time or am late getting things done. However, if I don’t put off doing my machine maintenance, I can put off doing machine repairs; sometimes indefinitely. That sounds like a good trade off to me.

Maybe there is a lesson in there for me to learn about other things. I will have to think about that… tomorrow.

Steven Batts, a consultant with 17 years experience in the embroidery industry, owns Righteous Threads, Greensboro, N.C., which offers digitizing, embroidery and machine maintenance services. Steven regularly leads seminars at ISS shows, and is an industry speaker and consultant. For more information or to comment on Steven’s article, e-mail righteousthreads@gmail.com.