I regularly clean and oil my sewing machine, a vintage Singer 201 built in 1939. It can be counted on to run beautifully most of the time, with perfectly straight stitches, and almost noiselessly, compared to other machines I’ve used.

However, I ran into an issue the other day. The bobbin thread kept breaking off and getting clogged in the bobbin casing. The first thing I did was take out the casing, and inspect it for any lint or dust. Nothing could be seen. The next thing I tried was a new needle, and again, the problem persisted. So I decided to give the machine a thorough cleaning and oiling, even though I had just done so a couple days earlier. Did that work? Of course not.

Then I thought, maybe the area under the throat plate was clogged. I had not checked that area since I bought the machine, because one of the screws was stuck. So I decided I’d get that screw off, and using a bigger screw driver helped. Here’s what I found inside:

Close up of the feed dogs.

Close up of the feed dogs.

Singer 201 bobin casing and feed dog area.

Singer 201 bobin casing and feed dog area.

Another view of the lint buildup.

Another view of the lint buildup.

After cleaning all that lint out, I expected it to work perfectly. Instead, I still had the same problem of the bobbin thread breaking. Out of desperation, I tried another bobbin, thinking maybe I was using the wrong thread. It worked perfectly. The problem turned out that the bobbin I was using was completely rusted inside, binding the thread together. How that happened, I have no idea, but it was one of the original bobbins, so maybe the rust had already started forming.

Anyway, the machine runs very smoothly now, almost as if it has had a professional tune up. It pays to be mindful of all the little details that can make a sewing machine unusable.