Sewing Machine Maintenance: How To Clean the Bobbin Race

The first time someone showed me how to clean a bobbin race, I was petrified.  Take a screwdriver to my machine??  Is that…legal?  Turns out it’s a part of regular sewing machine maintenance- I never knew.

I try to do it after completing a garment, or about once a week.  I also clean it carefully before “important” top-stitching or buttonholes because a clean bobbin race produces higher stitch quality.

Before starting the Revolutionary Road dress, I unscrewed my needle plate.  See the place for the screw in the top left corner?  Gone.  New machines will have a factory-tightened screw.  That doesn’t mean you aren’t supposed to unscrew it.  Persevere.

The black plastic and steel piece is called the bobbin case.  Carefully remove that, too.

My regular maintenance fell by the wayside (as so many things did) during my recent stint of “full time” work.  Get in there with a small, stiff brush.  Many machines include them as part of the accessories packs.  An old toothbrush works well, too.  Just don’t let your husband catch you putting it back in the bathroom.

All clean.  I must resist the urge “blow” the rest of the dust away.  My breath has water vapor in it, which can gum up the mechanical parts over time.  Use a can of compressed air (useful for electronics, too) to clear away the last flecks of dust.  You can also spray air into the undercarriage area around the bobbin race. Watch out for flying dust bunnies.

Bonus points: the little hole in the middle has a sort of wick beneath it.  The wick is designed to evenly distribute machine oil where you need it.  Use a drop or two every few months and be sure to wipe away the excess.

I’m using a pin to point to a place where two little arrows should match when you replace the bobbin case on many but not all models.  Mine is a Janome.

Also check that the little black springy corner aligns with the steel piece on the machine.  If you drop the case in from above, it should settle in that position naturally.  Just double-check.

Re-assembled once more.  I usually take the opportunity to change the needle, which deserves its own post.

Hope this is useful!

Long-time readers know I’m a political person.  I can’t help myself, I’m a diehard idealist, though I respect the views of cynics.  As often as I swear “no politics on the blog,” it comes back.

Have you heard about Occupy Wall Street?  The idealist in me delights in it as much as Tahrir Square or the Liberation of Tripoli. 

I know some people down there and wish I could join them.  I figured out a way to “occupy” my needles and keep some people warm(ish).  I won’t be there but my work will be in a small way.  I also hear tell of people teaching other occupiers to knit..

If you live in Brisbane (ahem) and you’d like to meet up for a knit-together (old movies, a glass of wine and yarn) then let me know- I’m thinking Tuesday or Wednesday.  Free crochet lesson to anyone who comes.

If you’d like to contribute to the project, leave a comment on the page or email me and I’ll give you an address to send the items to.  We’d like to make a flickr stream, so the recipients and the knitters can “meet” each other.


  1. What a useful post! I am a good girl about cleaning the bobbin race, but I never apply a drop of oil – ooops! Good to have that spelled out. I know what you mean about having to stop yourself from posting about politics. My particular pet-interest for the last three years has been macro-economics. My leanings are definitely Keynesian. I have to remind myself that most folks are bored to tears by economics chat.

  2. Well…I have always wanted to learn to crotchet so I’m quite interested in the knit-together/free crotchet lesson over wine and movies!

  3. Serious coincedence; yesterday evening I screwed open my janome for the very first time to clean it. It scared me a lot, but not as much as the noises my machine was making. Now it’s clean, and purring like a kitten.

  4. My machine looks different from yours, but the concepts are the same. It’s very satisfying to get in there and clean it all out (although apparently I don’t do it nearly so often as you do!) I usually push a piece of muslin around in there which works pretty well and does tend to hold the junk it knocks loose – haven’t tried using a brush.

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