Frozen Feed Dogs / Lever on a Vintage Sewing Machine


In an earlier post I showed you how to oil a vintage sewing machine, and I briefly mention “frozen feed dogs”.  If your vintage sewing machine has a “frozen feed dogs” lever, meaning you are unable to drop or raise the feed dogs with the feed dog control lever, then this is the post you need to read to fix them.

Your sewing machine may have its feed dogs frozen on the up position and sewing properly but you should also be able to lower the feed dogs to darn, draw, and to make it easier to remove a piece of fabric that may have gotten chewed up by your machine.

Any machine that sits around for any length of time can seize up due to the oil drying out.  The freezing of the feed dogs is a sad thing.  It means that the poor sewing machine has never been used or has had very little use.  Why do people do this?

Sewing machines need to be used.  And oiled, and believe it or not, they should also NOT be stored on the floor (even if they are in their case).  Try to store your sewing machine off the ground, preferably on a table or shelf.

Moving on to setting the dogs free.  You will need the following:

  • a hammer
  • paper towels or a rag
  • PB Blaster (available at auto parts stores) and Tri-Flow [grease (preferred) or liquid – available at bicycle shops]
  • a hair dryer for heat
  • a little patience

We will be looking at a Kenmore 1560 Free-Arm Zig Zag Sewing Machine for this tutorial.
Since this is a free arm machine, you need to remove the extension table.
This is what the bottom of the machine looks like with the extension table attached.
Next, if your sewing machine has an underside cover plate, you need to remove it by removing the screws holding it in place.  Do not forget to unplug your machine.
Here is the underside of the sewing machine after the cover plate is removed.  You need to find the feed dog control mechanism on your machine, the location of it for most machines is pretty standard.  You should find it somewhere near the bobbin area and it is usually shaped like a bullet on vintage sewing machines.
For this tutorial I am going to call it the bullet and the piece encasing it, the bullet case.
Notice on the next picture how close the feed dog controller is to the bobbin area?
Depending on how stiff this part is, you need to have some patience and do it a little at a time.  Applying heat is the key!
Get the PB Blaster and spray a little bit or Tri-Flow (******sewing machine oil should be used only as a last resort and only a drop at a time*****) and add it to the 2 areas that the black arrows are pointing to.
Start with just a bit (1 drop) making sure it seeps into the crevice and on the end of the bullet like part.
Plug in your hair dryer, set it on HOT and heat the entire bullet casing moving the hairdryer from one end of the piece to the other. Make sure to heat it well (caution it can get really hot).
The BLUE arrow is pointing to the long piece of metal that is attached to the bullet piece.
In the next photo, the arrow is pointing to the elbow like piece of metal that pulls and pushes the bullet-like piece when you drop
and raise the feed dogs.
You will need to wrap and hold the elbow with a few paper towels or a rag.  If using paper towels, try to make it a bit thick.  What you are trying to do here is to wrap that piece because you will be tapping it with the hammer, you should not hit it directly with the hammer.
Now, get your hammer and lightly tap the “wrapped” elbow section in the direction of the bobbin area (see arrows).
Try to lower/raise the feed dogs with the feed dog lever on the machine.
If you are unable to move the lever, repeat the steps above, this will work.  I have loosened many feed dogs this way, it just takes a little patience.
Once you have loosened the bullet and it moves freely when you drop or raise the feed dogs lever, add some grease (Tri-Flow) to it as this part needs to be lubricated to continue to work properly.
You may not have this particular sewing machine but many vintage sewing machines have very similar parts and this process
will work for most.
That’s it!  Easy right?  If not contact me.

12 thoughts on “Frozen Feed Dogs / Lever on a Vintage Sewing Machine

  1. Oh, thank you thank you thank you. I can’t wait to try this. I am a beginning sewer and was given this machine when my Grandma passed on. I know it has sat in my house for a few years (on the floor, in the case) and who knows how long it sat before that. I am so happy to find your blog. I can’t wait to learn more!

  2. This is a fantastic post and so useful. Earlier this year my machine jammed (I have been making chair covers and I think it had got clogged up) and this was exactly the problem. Luckily i have a very clever neighbour who managed to fix it but now I think I could manage it myself if it happens again! Thank you so much 🙂

  3. Oh no, what have I done? I tried this method with sewing machine oil and now the bullet is catching the last part of metal and not fully re-engaging in the control. So the feed dog gets stuck in the down position. Did I use too much oil and now the feed dog drops too far for the bullet to catch again? I’m just not sure what has happened. Do you have any ideas?

    • Maybe. I mentioned sewing machine oil as a last resort, perhaps I need to re-word my post. Anytime you add oil to your machine anywhere, you do so only a drop at a time. The first two products I mentioned are what is best for frozen feed dogs however, sewing machine oil has also worked for me when I did not have any of the other products.

      Try to wipe it of, and re-heat with the hair dryer to loosen it up. Just keep heating it, it may take a while and that is why I mention you need to have some patience when you work on this part. Let me know how it goes.

  4. Okay, I wiped off a slight bit of oil and wiggled things around a little. It seems to be working for now. I can’t wait to start sewing. Thank you so much for your help! Oh, and I’m looking forward to your 1560 review.

  5. Oh ya, I understood your post, I just couldn’t run out to the store today and am a little anxious to start sewing so I just used the sewing machine oil. I think due to inexperience I may have used slightly too much oil. But things seem okay now. I really appreciate your time and help. Thanks again.

    • Great! If it starts sticking again, just repeat the steps. Sometimes machines have old, dried out, and really stubborn oil and grease that may need more attention and heat to dissolve.

      Glad this worked for you and happy sewing.

  6. Gosh, Sonia, I admire your expertise. I sew when time permits, so my machine is often “stored” six months or more in a stretch. A couple questions: Why do you advocate storing a machine off the floor? And, do you advise releasing the pressure on the presser foot regulator before storing? How about the presser foot lever, does it make any difference if it’s up or down? I ask because I have just one machine, a New Home 920, and I love it and would like it to last forever. In 30 years, the only item needing replacement was the pressure foot regulator.

    • Hi Kay,

      Thanks. A repair tech advised me to store sewing machines off the ground as they absorb moisture and/or coldness from the ground which is the main culprit of frozen machines.

      In regards to the presser foot lever, I usually will leave it down and always place a piece of fabric between it and the feed dogs. If the sewing machine has this feature, I will also lower the feed dogs.


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