Winter Weather Warning for Sewing Machines!

Although it means the Holidays, and skiing, and building snowmen, the weather change also means it is time to take precautions with our sewing machines. It is also that time of year when people gather to finish those Holiday sewing projects. That means transporting their sewing machine.

Over the years I have seen many quilters and hobbyists turn a well intended outing into a repair disaster. Placing your machine in the car over night for that early start in the morning can result in repair nightmares when temperatures drop below freezing. Placing your sewing machine in the trunk of the car to make room for passengers and packages can have equally bad results if you are traveling any distance in freezing weather.

Sewing machines are made from a variety of materials. A typical machine will have aluminum, magnesium, copper, brass, steel, nylon, pvc, a variety of plastics, and that does not include the materials in the electronics of newer sewing machines. In addition to the materials that make up the machine, most machines have a variety of lubricants. When these materials are exposed to extreme cold (or heat, but we will talk about that next summer), they change. And they do not all change the same. Sewing machines are considered household appliances, and like all household appliances, they are intended to be used at room temperatures. That is the 55 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit range of temperatures. So if you are transporting your machine, ALWAYS let it warm up to room temperature before trying to use the machine.

Have an old mechanical machine? So what can go wrong? The different metals react differently to cold temperatures. Bushings may shrink more than the shafts that pass through them resulting in the bushing seizing the shaft. This can result in damage to the bushing or “spun” bushings that no longer hold their position once the machine thaws out. The use of nylon to steel gear sets has been around since the 1960’s. This results in a quieter machine that requires less lubrication of internal gear sets. It was also the intent that if one of the gears is going to fail, the one that would be least expensive to replace will fail. But a $300 repair instead of a $600 repair is still not an inexpensive repair. Also, many bevel gear sets have been made entirely of nylon or some composite material since the 1970’s. Again, they are quieter and require less lubrication and will run for decades. That is because they have some pliable characteristics that are lost when they are frozen into brittle bricks.

Have an older “electronic” machine with push buttons for different stitches and for reverse feed? Again, they have the same metal problems as the mechanical machines. They also have circuit boards. These old solder type boards get hot fast and cracked “cold solder” joints are not uncommon when they are powered up while the boards are still frozen. These repairs require substantial trouble shooting by the repair technicians and sometimes the pronouncement of “DOA” if the board can not be repaired and a replacement board is no longer available.

Have a nice newer “computerized” machine, with hundreds or thousands of stitches, an LCD screen or a color touch screen? In addition to the problems other machine owners face, these boards are like any computer board. They are sensitive to temperature changes, and those fancy screens are also subject to freezing and breaking some of the crystals resulting in blank spots on the screen, or worse, the liquid spreading across the screen and requiring a new screen. These screens are expensive to replace, no matter who manufactured your sewing machine. And finally, the covers of most new machines are quite flexible at room temperature which allows them to absorb some level of shock, but they are brittle and fragile when frozen. Your machine may still work with that chunk missing out of the covers, but who wants a fancy sewing machine with a big hole in it? Replacing a front machine cover can cost hundreds of dollars.

So our lesson for today is to ALWAYS let your sewing machine warm up to room temperature before turning it on and asking it to sew. And how long will it take to reach room temperature, a simple rule of thumb is you should have your machine in a warm room for as long as you had it exposed to the cold. So if it was in the trunk three hours, give it three hours, if it was there over night, give it until the next day.

May Your Thread Never Break!



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James AndersonMichael RoussinKelly Jackson Recent comment authors
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Kelly Jackson
Kelly Jackson

Thanks for the information. I’m very concerned that my Brother Designio was stuck in a delivery truck for five days in 7-25 degrees temperatures due to icy roads being closed. (The total delivery days ended up being eight instead of two in winter weather. ) It seems these conditions will compromise the life of the machine since it’s an entry level. Am I worried for nothing?

James Anderson

I like what you said about not leaving one’s sewing machine in the car because of the possibility that it will be frozen and will need extensive repairs. One of my friends have recently bought a sewing machine and she usually takes it with her whenever she needs to go somewhere so that she can sew during her spare time. I’ll share this with her so that she can avoid getting her machine damaged and have it repaired because its components have frozen when left in the car.