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My mom insists than whenever I don't use a sewing machine, I have to put a piece of scrap fabric under the sewing foot, lower the foot and move the needle all the way down. This is supposedly true for all machines of all manufacturers.

When asked for the reason, she couldn't answer me. "It just is that way".

I can understand the advice when moving the machine to avoid accidentally bending the sewing foot and needle, but otherwise this doesn't make any sense to me.

Is it true (or was it true in the past) that you should lower the foot and needle of a sewing machine when it's not in use? For what reason?

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I've heard similar things about bicycle derailleurs, and hand-tools like secateurs (pruning shears), both of which have springs inside them.

There's an "old wives tale" that the spring will loose its springiness if stored under tension for a long time, so a spring should be stored in a "relaxed" or untensioned state. That means letting the machine's foot down, putting the bicycle into a hard gear, and storing your garden cutters wide open.

My sewing machine is 70 years old and, as far as I know, the foot has always been left in the up position when not used.

Metallurgy used to be a bit more hit-and-miss when it came to making springs, but you're more likely to wear out some other part first.


Another downside of leaving the foot down is the risk of scratching the underside with the upwards-facing feed dogs. Even with a scrap of cloth, bumping the pedal under power can eject that in a blink, and that could scratch up the underside of your foot.

Upshot: I wouldn't bother lowering the foot for storage. All I do is make sure the needle is up at the top of its arc, above the foot.

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  • 1
    Regarding springs, torque wrench manufacturers specify to untension the spring for storage, e.g. Norbar and Snap-On. Jan 18 at 15:30
  • 2
    @AndrewMorton There is a difference between a spring in a precision measuring instrument, and springs in general. I don't think many people jack up their car each time they park it, so the coil springs in the suspension are not being compressed by the weight of the car! (Of course if the car is not going to be used for months or years, they may remove the wheels completely to avoid creating a flat patch on each tire where it touches the ground, but that is a different issue).
    – alephzero
    Jan 18 at 16:28
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    Springs absolutely do "springiness" if they stay under tension for a long time. idcspring.com/spring-lose-tension-when-compressed The issue is "how long is long"?
    – RonJohn
    Jan 18 at 18:06
  • @alephzero - I am doing that with my car from now on!
    – rebusB
    Jan 20 at 22:44
  • I suspect OP was looking for a reason not to have to leave the foot down. X-D
    – rebusB
    Jan 20 at 22:56
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This is akin to the advice, "Don't run with scissors". As rebusB points out, it isn't a necessity for the machine to work. It's because undesirable things could potentially happen, which can be easily avoided.

The undesirable things aren't limited to accidental damage when moving the machine. The machine could be bumped or experience mechanical shock from things that happen when you are not intentionally moving it. When the needle is all the way down, not just the needle, but the internal mechanism, is the most protected.

It also protects the user and their fabric from accidental damage. People tend to focus on the specific thing they're doing and have minimal awareness of the surrounding environment. If they aren't paying attention, they could accidentally snag the fabric or potentially stick themselves on an exposed needle. If the needle is left covered inside the machine, the user has to explicitly move it into position to start sewing, which makes the state of the machine something they are focused on.

The odds of any of the possible undesirable things happening are low, and the results aren't catastrophic. Still, they can easily be avoided by doing something that takes no real time or effort, so why not use the safest practices.

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    On older machines there also was a thread "catcher" or thingamadoo that was reciprocating and would also be less able to snag anything if the foot was down. On newer machines this routing is often internal in the machine. It is also a just-do-it thing, leave the machine as others want to find it, even yourself. It is simple and meaningful to always have the same start position when you arrive at the machine. It is done for industrial machinery, airplanes, food and beverage machines, everything. The inherited common sense from centiuries of craft-like situations; just do it... Jan 18 at 9:49
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Worked in a sail loft for a Summer. Never heard anything about the machines "needing" to be left that way, as in "it will not work when coming back to it". It is just a natural and easy thing to do to protect the needle and machine.

Not sure if it is a tradition, other than being something you pick up when first learning to use the machine.

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