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Why won't this sewing machine work?
May 5, 2012 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Why is the top thread on my sewing machine unable to catch the bobbin thread?

I recently acquired a vintage sewing machine for three dollars at a local thrift store. It's a Riccar model 500, and there isn't a lot of information about it online.

When I turn it on the motor runs quietly and the needle turns. The zig-zag function seems to work. But for the life of me I can't get it to pick up that bobbin thread! The upper thread doesn't loop around the lower bobbin mechanism like it should. So far I've tried installing a new needle, re-threading the top of the machine, re-winding and re-threading the bobbin, and cursing a lot.

I don't know what the problem is, but I think it's in the bobbin area. It's almost like there's a part missing, the part that hooks the upper thread and makes it go around the bobbin area. But I don't know if that's right.

I took several pictures - the bobbin case and bobbin, the bobbin loaded into the machine, the empty bobbin area. I also took two movies: the machine running (by me turning the hand wheel) with the bobbin in it, and without the bobbin.

I'd really like to get this machine up and running, and without taking it to a repair shop. If it's at all possible to fix it at home, that would be great.

And for what it's worth, I'm stubborn and want it to work, because it seems perfectly good otherwise. I already have three other sewing machines so it's no big loss if I can't get this one to work. But I'd very much like to fix it.

Thanks!
posted by christinetheslp to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Have you tried the tension of the thread? There are three places that you should try Thread tension of the needle, the plate (under the foot) and thread tension of the bobbin.

Also, the older machines (I assume the new ones too) have a mechanism in the wheel (yours is black) where you can push the center in so that you can thread the bobbin. Is that pushed in?

If none of these things are helping, you may have to take it to a repair shop. I have found that the repair people are really nice and if it is an easy fix or if it's OE, they won't charge for that sort of thing.
posted by Yellow at 6:49 PM on May 5, 2012


In that video it looked like there was no bobbin hook, or at least it wasn't spinning if its there.
posted by fontophilic at 6:50 PM on May 5, 2012


This is the manual for the Riccar 500/515/525/8500 (manual index).
posted by candyland at 6:51 PM on May 5, 2012


Can you made sure its the right size bobbin and hook? I had a similar problem with an old singer, and the problem was the bobbin size. Good luck!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:52 PM on May 5, 2012


Do you have the manual?
posted by Yellow at 6:53 PM on May 5, 2012


Seconding fontophiliac - something should be rotating down there. Based on your 3rd photo it looks like the hook is there, but not spinning. Anything jammed or gunky down there? (Not sure how the rotary hook is connected to the motor, but a broken connection might require a fairly major repair or at least replacement parts, which can be hard to find for vintage machines.)
posted by Quietgal at 7:18 PM on May 5, 2012


Nthing that it looks like all the parts are there but there should be movement when it is running. If the motor is running smoothly my first guess would be some sort of broken connection rather than a jam.
posted by brilliantine at 7:39 PM on May 5, 2012


I can't tell for sure, but I don't think you have the bobbin threaded properly. The thread needs to come out that the slot on the bottom side and then be threaded under the tension spring, and then out the top hole. It's hard to explain, but there's like a feeling of the thread being caught under the tension spring and then releasing and it's where it needs to be. The thread should be at 12 o'clock when the bobbin is in the case and the case is in the machine, not 9 o'clock like it is here.

The bobbin case doesn't turn, it locks into the machine and the bobbin spins within it.

Oh, it's in the manual, page 10 of the PDF. And here's a video. And another one. These are different models, but the principle is the same.
posted by looli at 9:15 PM on May 5, 2012


Brilliantine has it right. The bobbin case doesn't move, but the ring around it, the bobbin hook, has to rotate around it. The "Secret Life of Machines" has a nice diagram here, with video here. There is a shaft that runs across the bottom of the machine, perhaps the belt that drives it is gone.
posted by Marky at 10:16 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had this problem with an old machine once and it was solved by turning the needle around. We had it in backwards somehow.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:43 PM on May 5, 2012


Looli, christinethesip's bobbing case is a different design.

It's not the bobbin case that rotates, It's the housing that accepts the bobbin case that rotates taking a length of cotton with it, at tension.

But the motion may not be a 360° spin.

On my machine the motion is 180° clockwise, then back. The housing, with rocker arm attached, doesn't rotate, as such; it rocks or swings forward, then back, forward, then back ... at speed - creating a stitch with each swing.

(My machine is vintage but takes the bobbin Looli found.)
posted by de at 11:52 PM on May 5, 2012


I have this problem sometimes! It's always solved by putting in a new needle. Have you tried a new needle, or are you using the one that came with the machine?
posted by fraula at 12:18 AM on May 6, 2012


Also, give it a good oiling.
posted by kjs4 at 2:55 AM on May 6, 2012


If it's a thrift-store acquisition, probably the first thing I would do is take it to be serviced anyway. The timing may be off, and that's a job for the professionals.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:41 AM on May 6, 2012


Thanks for everyone's advice! I'm taking it over to my mom's house because she's been sewing longer than I have, and maybe she can get that hook un-stuck. I really think that the problem is the hook not swinging around to take the thread up to the bobbin.

If we can't fix it I think I may use it for parts or scrap it. I already have three vintage machines that I adore - while it would be nice to get this running to donate it, I'm not going to pay for it!
posted by christinetheslp at 6:22 AM on May 6, 2012


As a follow-up...I took the machine apart and found that there's a gear behind the bobbin case that makes the hook turn. That gear was cracked, which prevented the hook from moving. I gave the machine away to someone who was interested in getting it repaired.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:13 PM on May 22, 2012


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