Continuing our lively discussion from the other day, Babette wrote:
After working in a technical school, I think I’ve seen all the ways a machine can be misthreaded. One popular one was to put the bobbin in back to front so that the thread comes off at the wrong direction. Often the machine will appear to sew ok from the top thread but a huge knot of thread forms underneath and eventually it breaks.
I could never remember how to feed the bobbin into the case correctly, until someone (a home sewer) taught me that the bobbin and thread hanging off should form a “9” when feeding it into the case. I remember her every time I set a bobbin into a case.
I would also like to share a discovery I made, which seems counterintuitive, on the surface: I found that, often, if I’m dealing with a heavy fabric, with several layers, I’m better off using a smaller needle than usual. Yes, that’s right; instead of taking a great big needle and trying to hammer it through multiple layers of denim or canvas, sometimes it’s actually easier for a smaller needle to slide through the fabric; it’s pretty amazing to watch (especially after you’ve snapped a few size 18 needles). It’s also helpful to take a nice solid hammer to the seam allowance, before stitching – but of course, that’s not a practical manufacturing procedure! (Or at least, I don’t think it would be. It can be a dandy help at home, however.)
Interesting about the smaller needle. About the hammering though; if you work with a lot of layers or heavy goods, hammering is the way to go. While hammering may not be common in the typical plant, if you work in a leather or coat sewing place, you’ll hear whack whack whack all day long. It gets to be rather comforting. As I said before:
Sewing hammers are great for sewing! How many times have you tried to sew through too many layers and the needle will fight you and you end up with skipped stitches? Well, you give it a good whack (or two). Ever have trouble joining a four way seam? Well, hammer it before you sew and the ease of sewing will amaze you. Have problems top stitching pocket corners? Give it a whack. Sewing hammers are a great solution if you don’t have a walking foot and just need occasional seam compression.
I can see using a smaller needle for thick layers possibly working. Rather, I think the difference is a sharp versus a ballpoint needle. As Kathleen states, you need the right type of needle for the fabric. Generally speaking, a ballpoint is for knits, sharp for a woven.
The issue of using the wrong needle point is common too. As Esther says, ballpoints are for knits and often silks and the like. These push the threads aside. Sharp points will cut threads. Still, sometimes cutting is desirable. If you’re sewing leather, you do want cuts which is why leather needles have diamond or triangular shaped points. Speaking of Solinger’s book from yesterday, here’s a chart from his book on page 197 that describes the different shapes of points.
You may find this chart on needle nomenclature from page 195 useful too.
Speaking of charts, this one on Organ’s site may be useful. Rest your cursor over the different parts of the needle to get a pop up with more details and variations. Another site is Great Western Sewing Machine (scroll down) because it includes something nobody’s mentioned yet, that being the importance of the throat plate. There you’ll also find a complete needle size chart.
I note that the entire topic of presser feet has been neatly avoided… I’m tempted to say we should leave it that way. I think that needles, thread, presser feet and throat plates are at the top of my list of things I least like writing or talking about. It’s like homework for me so I really appreciate all those tips you’ve left in comments. I had a friend who -was otherwise quite charming- loved to talk about this stuff. I wonder if we can scare Troy out of retirement. He hosted our weekend long marathon manufacturing boot-camps. He had a big contract facility in nowhere Missouri. They always fed us good. I miss those days.