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Unused, sewing machine stiffens up

Gloriasews | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

Does anyone have this problem?  My Kenmore zig-zag (1993) stiffens up if I don’t use it for a few months & I have to take it in for servicing.  They do it quickly (but won’t tell me how/what they do to it), but it costs the $50-60 maintenance fee each time.  Certainly it should be something I can do myself & save that fee.  It stiffens up at the up/down needle post (it looks like that is where it happens).  I’ve tried running it without thread to “loosen” or warm it up, but it only worsens, but the motor doesn’t even warm up.  I’ve also wiped it & re-oiled, but that hasn’t helped, either.  I’ve never had this problem with any other machine (I’ve had previous Kenmores & Brothers).  Any suggestions?  (This is my back-up machine)



  1. starzoe | | #1

    If I were you I would insist on knowing what they did.....your money, you should have that information or take it somewhere else. Maybe they are oiling it with oil that is too heavy and that gums up the works. Is this a dealer or is it someone in his basement that does it.

    1. Gloriasews | | #2

      It's a dealer.  The machine runs great once he fixes it, so he should be using the proper oil (as I do). 


      1. damascusannie | | #4

        I work a LOT with old machines and it really sounds like a poor-quality oil that's hardening up over time. What brand of oil are you using? I use "Lily White" which I buy by the gallon because I use so much. (70 machines, remember?) I've never had a machine stiffen up after using it and most of mine are lucky to get used once a year. Since the machine is from 1993, is the warranty still good? If it's not, you have every right to ask your dealer to show you how to fix this problem yourself rather than going to the expense of having it serviced every time this happens. Once you've seen what's involved, you can decide if it's something that you can do for yourself. If he is truly reputable, he shouldn't have a problem with this request. If he does...well, you might need to find a different dealer to work with. Annie

        1. Gloriasews | | #9

          On these threads in the past, I had read that Lily White is exceptionally good sewing machine oil, but I haven't been able to find it here.  I use one made by Euro-Notions that says it "stainless/high quality oil - a MUST for sewing machines!  The oil used by sewing machine mechanics!"  So I assumed it was OK.  I'll have to see if one of my shops or on-line notions suppliers will order it for me.  Thanks so much for your input!


          1. damascusannie | | #13

            We order Lily White through the internet. You can buy it on ebay and other sources.Annie

          2. Gloriasews | | #15

            Thanks so much - I'll try the Internet (I don't use e-Bay at all).


          3. damascusannie | | #17

            E-mail my friend Cindy Peters and tell her you need Lily White sewing machine oil. You can get it from her in a 2 oz spouted bottle or by the quart.
            Her e-mail address is: [email protected] Be sure to tell her DamascusAnnie sent you.Annie

          4. Gloriasews | | #18

            Thanks muchly!  Where does she live? (Hopefully, Canada)?  :)


          5. damascusannie | | #19

            Minnesota, but she ships worldwide, so she can get it to.Annie

          6. Gloriasews | | #20

            Thanks, Annie, for your help.


  2. sewornate | | #3

    I have loosened up stiff machines I cleaned and restored for use for beginning sewers. I sometimes buy one cheap at an auction, clean it up and get it running and either give or sell it for the cost I have in it to beginning sewers.) I would think that maybe you need to run it longer. Your sense that the problem seems to be in the needle drive portion is probably right on.  It sometimes takes a bit of time to get it back in service.  An alternative, since this is your machine is to run it more often.  When I had my drapery business, I set up my old machine and used it only to hem drapery linings.  Other procedures I did on my newer machine and serger.  This way it kept it operational.  Since I am no longer working, I am back to not using it, so may have problems again.  You have to have room to keep it out to do that. 

    I am buying machines primarily with metal parts, not plastic or nylon.  This might be a different story.  

    1. Gloriasews | | #5

      I think you're right.  I don't have the room to keep them both set up, but I'll try it again & let it run longer.  What do you use to clean the machines?  I was thinking maybe that's what's needed.  Your suggestion that plastic or nylons parts may be the issue & this machine does have a plastic or nylon ring around the needle post. 


      1. sewornate | | #6

        I just brush out any lint and dirt.  I use Singer sewing machine oil, and a lube for sewing machines (on gears or wherever the instruction book calls for it.)  They can work pretty sluggish, and I just persist.  I have not had one that couldn't be cleaned up.  My own machine gets that way when I leave it set for any length of time.  You can try hand turning the wheel a bit, then using the electric pedal.  It may work hard and that might scare you.  Just go back to hand-turning the wheel, and trying the electric peddle again.  I have not had anything to do with the motor.  If that is a problem, I would take it to a dealer. 

        My husband bought me a Singer feather weight, and that one he took to a dealer who specialized in them and I think that one needed a bit more than usual.  I don't know because he had it done and gave it to me as a gift.  He said it was in pieces and had to be put together.  It works fine now.  That might have been a job for a dealer, but just cleaning one,  I think you can do.

        You might clean and oil it before you store it, and cover it good to keepdust out.

        1. Gloriasews | | #10

          I've been doing all the things you've suggested - but I did become frightened when it stiffened even more when I tried to run it with the pedal, so I stopped, afraid I'd do damage.  I'll try it again & keep turning it by hand for a longer period of time & see what happens.  Thanks for the suggestions!


  3. starzoe | | #7

    I bought an elderly machine in its cabinet at a yard sale for $5. It was tightly seized so I cleaned it up and oiled the heck out of it and put it out into the bright sun (summertime) for three days, occasionally turning the flywheel. And guess what, it worked beautifully afterward.

    As a side note, I sold it for $10 to a gentleman whose wife could not manage her spinning wheel with her feet anymore and he was sure he could convert the machine to do the work. I should have given it to him!

    1. Gloriasews | | #11

      I would have never thought of putting it in the sun!  The heat must have done the job, eh?  Maybe if I leave the light on in the machine, that would work, as it does give off heat. 

      That was quite an idea of the man to convert the sewing machine into a spinning wheel - lots of inventive minds out there!  Necessity is truly the mother of invention :)


  4. Pattiann42 | | #8

    There are a couple of members of  the patternreview forum who do repairs.  You may be able to obtain even more information there  -  http://www.patternreview.com.

    1. Gloriasews | | #12

      I'll try that - thanks!  I hadn't thought of Pattern Review - you guys are just a wealth of information!


  5. Teaf5 | | #14

    The bobbin winder on my hand-me-down machine was completely stopped, and I despaired at first.  I over-oiled all the parts that looked like they might be involved, let it sit for a couple of days, and then re-oiled it.  Slowly, but surely, the new oil finally loosened to old stuff, and now the bobbin winder works perfectly.  Heat probably would've speeded up the process.

    If you don't want to haul your machine into the sun, try using a blow-dryer set on low to warm and loosen the old oil and help the new oil penetrate.  Protect the area beneath the machine with newspapers, as over-oiling gets very messy.

    1. Gloriasews | | #16

      Great idea - thanks!  I'll oil it again & try it. 


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