Beginner’s guide to sewing with industrial machines pt.2

After yesterday’s promising start, you’ll probably be disappointed today except for maybe one of my prize sewing secrets that I will tell you about. I did some follow up to see if there was existing video on the web on how to manage sewing on an industrial -why duplicate efforts? The first source (which had been mentioned on the forum already) was Esther’s sleeve setting tutorial. Esther uses a home machine (photographed step by step) but it’s no different on an industrial.

Another source I found was a quilting video showing the joining of a convex and concave curve, again on a home machine but there are minimal differences to industrial sewing. Caveats on the video are that she is sewing two tight curves so her hands are relatively close to the plate. This is the same for similar curves on an industrial. If sewing longer curves or straight lines, your hands would be farther from the throat plate.

The skinny: You use your left hand to manage the top layer of fabric; the right hand to handle the lower layer. You do not use both hands to hold (down) the two layers or your fingers to hold the two edges together -much less pins. You should not be using your hands to push the material into the throat plate; a good machine will feed it evenly. Each layer should be managed independently and separately of the other. You only worry about the seam lines being aligned until just before it goes under the needle.

Having smaller seam allowances on tighter curves helps a great deal. Quilters caught onto this years ago. They’re not using 1/4″ seam allowance because they’re cheap. If you are sewing a curved and straight edge together, I much prefer to have the curvier piece on the bottom. I don’t know if this is true for others but let us know. Also see the rules on seam allowances (also pt.2).

When sewing longer runs, there remains a temptation to pin at distant notch points. I completely understand. The pin police (namely me) will not come and get you for this. Keep in mind to remove the pins before they get near the presser foot because if you sew over them, you can have unexpected and unpleasant results. Minimally, your pin is toast (most common result); it’s bent beyond further use. If you’re not so fortunate as to merely lose a pin, if hit just right, the pin can shatter -good luck finding the fragment-, the needle can break etc. I genuinely fear broken pin and needle fragments; it’s a liability if a customer is harmed by one embedded in the fabric. Or, the metal pieces can work their way into the bobbin mechanism and cause a bit of havoc there too.

pony_clamp_instead_of_pinsMy preference is to use pony clamps instead of pins. Pony clamps are the bomb (image at right, pen is for scale).  You want to know the truth? I think pony clamps are so awesome that they are one of the things I go out of my way to be sure to not tell you about (publicly) because I’m annoyed by other bloggers who use my material as a resource for their own tutorials -without attribution of course. I have to keep something back that they they don’t have. One site is a riot. She shows you all this advanced stuff but the simple and pivotal little stuff that I haven’t written about publicly, she doesn’t have. Like drafting linings. Hers are all wrong and if she knew all the advanced stuff, she’d know the beginner stuff too. ‘Nuff said. Anyway, use pony clamps instead of pins on long runs. Besides, they become handles you can use to manage long seams effectively. I have about 8 or 10 of them around here. I store them by clipping them to the thread stand.

Many people worry the seams won’t match if they do it this way. If seams don’t match, it is due to 3 main things:

  1. Your seam lines on your pattern don’t match (or you haven’t cut correctly)
  2. The feed is off
  3. Mismatch of machine to material. Some piles are so tricky as to require a special machine (why I bought the needle feed).

Seam lengths: To prevent uneven seaming, walk the seam lines of your pattern before you cut it out. Sure, it’s boring but better to find out now and be able to fix it beforehand. The key to professional work is doing what professionals do in real life. There’s no secret or trick to it -other than doing the boring and not fun part of the job. Maybe a review of the How to sew faster series is in order.

Mis-feeding: Before I forget, mis-feeding isn’t exactly the same as seam puckering. Seam puckering has its own host of ailments unique to it (I wrote about this before but can’t find it; maybe it’s in the forum?). The best way to determine this is by sewing two long identical lengths together to see if one comes up short. I wrote about how to adjust an overlock before -sometimes 1 to 1 feed isn’t desirable so feed is adjustable. For example, you might want another ratio if you’re gathering and joining layers in one step.

Mismatch of machine and material is the biggest cause of mis-feeding with industrial sewing. Feed can be off because there is a mismatch between the material and the foot. Or, the material, foot, feed dog and maybe even throat plate. For example, suede is a bit grabby. You solve this with a better choice of machine, or perhaps a silicone foot and a bit of silicone spray. I can tell you this: in all the times I’ve sewn on my machines, I’ve never had to adjust the feed (except in the case of the overlock). Mis-feeding of lengths is a far greater problem on home machines than industrials. The difference is night and day. Put it this way, if pinning hasn’t solved your feeding problem with a home machine, I guarantee it won’t solve it on an industrial either.

Seriously, this is all so much blather because sewing with industrials is much easier than using home machines. Again, the average dedicated home garment maker is a better all around seamstress (meaning constructing whole garments together) than the average production sewer who only does a few operations. The latter though, excels at handling. It is really sad if you find yourself in the former class but are handicapping your skills with inferior tools. I was extremely impressed by my mother in law’s handling on her first attempt, I didn’t have to teach her anything beyond machine operation. Duck to water.

A good option to get over your fears may be to take a class. I don’t know of many but I found what seems to be a good class (no affiliation) at Portland Sewing. The cost is $129 for 12 hours of instruction and covers the operation of a lockstitch, overlock, double needle walking foot, a coverstitch and a blind hem. If I were close, even I would take it. I haven’t operated a coverstitch or blind hem beyond running a few stitches on something that was already set up.

There’s more on this topic in the forum. See beginner’s guide to sewing with an industrial machine and Industrial machine anxiety. Comments posted to part one of this entry were also very helpful with lots of encouragement. Feel free to post questions for further follow up. Otherwise I might follow up with causes of seam puckering if we can’t find the entry or better still, how I got power to the machines in the shop. This may be an issue if you have a larger shop because you don’t want to be forced to put machines along the walls where the outlets are and you sure don’t want extension cords all over the floor. That’s a recipe for disaster and possible cause of a painful visit from OSHA. Let me know what appeals most to you.

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