If you’ve had to temporarily close your business, you want to be sure that when you get back up and running your embroidery machines are able to keep up with you. Three industry experts share their advice on maintaining your machines during this period of inactivity, and how best to start them up again

The ideal way to store your machines while they’re not being used is to cover them so they remain dust-free, advises Matthew Mills, GS UK’s senior service engineer.

“Allowing dust to build up and penetrate areas of the machine can cause many issues that will arise once the machine becomes operational,” he says. “Ideally the cover must be a sturdy, plastic cover. This will protect the threads from any moisture build-up.” 

He adds: “Always make sure that you unplug your machinery when it is inactive. Leaving your machinery plugged in could result in a power surge that could damage your machine. You will also save energy as well as keeping your machinery safe. Alternatively, make sure you have a surge protector fitted.”

Throw the thread

When it’s time to start up again, Matthew recommends pulling the threads through for at least two to three metres on each needle and throwing this thread in the bin.

“Doing this will remove any thread that could have potentially been affected by the environmental conditions and will reveal the fresh, untouched thread underneath,” he explains.

“Once you’ve done this, run a few ‘I-tests’ and check the tensions are correct on each needle before continuing onto the next step.”

Next, run your machine for two hours on scraps before you do anything else. “Don’t oil the machine, don’t do anything to the machine, just run it,” he says.

When starting your embroidery machine again, check the tensions are correct on each needle, advises Matthew Mills, GS UK’s senior service engineer

“Then, after the two hours of run time, you can oil the machine as normal. It sounds crazy, right? You’re thinking to yourself: ‘My machine has been sitting dormant for a number of weeks, it must need oiling.’ Wrong.

“Running the machine immediately, with no maintenance, allows you to trouble-shoot any possible issues you may have regarding thread breaks, etc. It also allows any oil that has accumulated since the last use to be drained off without ruining any garments. This will then enable fresh oil to be applied where needed, ready for the production run.”

Running a test

When an industrial embroidery machinery is not used for a long time the internal parts can become “sticky”, warns Sean Barker, who works in technical sales at AJS Embroidery Services.

“This may lead to needle bars staying down and an increased noise when the machine is running.”

It’s good practice to lightly lubricate the needle bar areas and lubrication points as recommended by the manufacturer, he says, and then set up a test file that runs the full number of colours on the machine, whether that’s 12 or 18 or any other number.

“If you have your own digitising system consider setting up a test design with three types of stitch: running, tatami and satin,” he suggests.

The sewing arm [pictured] and needle case of Tajima machines need oiling monthly, recommends distributor AJS

“Pay particular attention to the satin and make sure the distance is large enough to activate the jump stitch function. Add a trim option to each section as this will allow the trimming blades to operate and clear. If errors appear when trimming remove the machine’s needle plate covers and clean with a brush. Ensure the screws are re-installed and aligned before re-running the test design.”

He recommends framing up with a frame large enough to perform the test multiple times. When switching the machine on, check that its driver box cooler fan is running freely and clear of dust, Sean says. “Remove all the machines bobbin cases and lightly spray with aerosol lubricant or oil as recommended by the manufacturer in the correct places.

“A good idea is to run the machine for 10-15 minutes for the first time after a lay-up without the bobbin cases installed and without the heads engaged,” he adds. “This will allow only the sewing hooks to turn and won’t activate the needle bars.”

Re-install the bobbin cases (take care not to mix them up – make a note of which heads they came from), making sure first that they are all full. “Reload the design and trace to make sure the sewing area is clear. Reduce the machine’s speed initially by 20% then increase the speed every run. Ideally, six to 10 runs in total will be more than enough.”

His last bit of advice is to avoid over-oiling as this will lead to the machine dropping the oil on the garments. “Try and stay on darker garments for the first two or three hours when returning to work,” Sean advises.

Regular maintenance

As with any piece of machinery, oiling, greasing and cleaning are essential, so establish a schedule for regular maintenance and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for servicing, say Natalie Greetham and Darcie Mullins of Madeira UK. Remember to keep a record of the maintenance and servicing as this will be helpful if you ever need to call out an engineer.

Here’s their advice on how to keep your machine in top condition.

Daily cleaning After four to six hours of continuous use, or every time you change the bobbin, it’s good practice to clean both the bobbin case and rotary hook. Check the case for signs of damage and replace if necessary.

Any lint build-up can be blasted away with canned compressed air, followed by a drop of oil on these areas.

A fine-tip oil pen is ideal for accessing small areas and to avoid over-oiling; you do not want to soak the bobbin thread as this could show on the garment.

Weekly cleaning Today’s high-speed machines can run at speeds of up to 1,200 stitches per minute, but without the correct lubrication they will experience excessive wear and tear. Use the recommended oil for your machine on the needle bar, needle arm and needle plate.

Every time you change the bobbin, clean both the bobbin case and rotary hook, say Natalie Greetham and Darcie Mullins. Blast away any lint build-up with canned compressed air then follow with a drop of oil


Monthly cleaning We recommend that once a month you remove the needle plate and clean out any dirt, debris and thread trimmings that may have accumulated. It is also vital to keep the control box clean and not to obstruct air flow in and out as the machine needs to be clean and cool to run efficiently. Vent areas are usually located near the main on/off switch; if in doubt contact your machine dealer for technical advice and support.

Change needles A blunt, damaged or broken needle could potentially cause serious damage to your machine and garments, which is why it’s so important to regularly change them. Fresh needles will reduce friction, penetrate the fabric better, help to avoid thread breaks and looping, and are a very cost-effective way to maintain high quality embroidery results.

Thread tension A very high percentage of thread breaks can be attributed to incorrect tensioning. Start with the bobbin: we highly recommend the Towa tension gauge to help with setting the correct bobbin tension. Adjust the tension with the little screw on the side of the bobbin case (clockwise to tighten, anti-clockwise to loosen).

A correctly fitted bobbin should spin clockwise when facing you. It is also vital to check the top thread is passing through all the tensioners, loops and hooks, etc, as each one plays a specific role to make sure the tension is correct. A perfectly tensioned embroidery should have 1/3 bobbin thread to 2/3 top thread visible on the back.

Take some time to clean your embroidery machine Not just a basic dust here and there, I mean, a real in-depth clean! Take off your threads, dust around the whole top of the machine. Get in between those top tensioners and remove that dust build-up that has been there for months! Give your machine some well-needed TLC while you have time.

Spend a day organising your design database in your embroidery software Most embroidery software has a fully integrated database that allows for complete design storage. The database may include categories, sub-categories and even detailed customer info, including contact details and postage information. Many businesses simply don’t have the time to maintain and update this information, so now is a great time to get organised.

Do a thorough deep clean of your embroidery machine