Beginner’s guide to sewing with industrial machines

Based on the experience of my recent class, I thought an entry about how to feed or manage layers when sewing on an industrial machine would be helpful but realized I needed to provide more groundwork first. Speaking of the class, the context is I had two students who are primarily retailers (own 3 stores) who want to develop their own in-house sewing unit. One partner does a bit of sewing with home machines but is intimidated by industrials. To reduce the intimidation factor, I trained them on my three servo machines:

Durkopp Adler Lockstitch model 271-140342 (basic sewing machine)
Juki DLN 9010 SH Needle feed
Reliable 3/5 thread overlock model 3316N GG740H

That reminds me, you may ask what is a servo? Servos are relatively new being one of two types of motors used on industrial machines. The other kind you may be more familiar with is a clutch motor. Clutch motors are noisy (I like the sound); servos are completely silent, as quiet or more than a home machine even at top speed. Stuart wrote a review of a servo motor.

Industrial machines are set up differently from home machines. With the latter, the motor is built into the machine head itself. The motor on industrials are separate, usually mounted to the underside of the table. This is useful because you can switch them out if they go bad.

You may ask which is best but it depends. If you are a baby (like me) and don’t like fiddling with stuff and want the whistles and bells (automatic thread cutter, easy speed control etc), the servo is best. I’m slowly upgrading all of my equipment to servos, I love them. Clutch motors are good too but it takes longer to get used to controlling the speed with the foot pedal and they don’t have the same amenities servos do.

Industrial machines are more specialized than home machines. Probably the biggest misconception is that industrials are for heavier work like canvas etc but this isn’t true. My Adler (the lockstitch) is a “dressmaker” for lighter materials. Sewing heavier weights on it throws off the timing -assuming it’ll form a stitch. A lockstitch is the most common kind of sewing there is with a top and bottom thread forming a stitch. The basic dressmaker only has one kind of feed, that of the bottom feed dogs. I don’t know what this model and brand costs these days. Mine is about 10 years old. I bought it from a customs broker whose client went belly up before he could collect his merchandise so it only cost $400 which is what the broker had in it. The deal of the century, it was so new it was still crated. At that time, these machines were over $5,000; they cost less now (industrial machine prices are very competitive and continue to fall). Adlers are the top of the line brand and cost more; a Juki 9000 comparable to this one is about $1,350 (quote from Orange County Industrial). Brand names aren’t as important in industrial machines because among the major brands, they are all good. Also, many presser feet, parts and bobbins between brands are interchangeable. That keeps costs low too and most presser feet are inexpensive. A $7 presser foot is considered expensive if that says anything.

A needle feed is also a lockstitch but it feeds from two places, the dogs and the needle itself. This is useful when feeding tricky materials. I wrote about this before in much more detail. That entry includes a video so you can compare the needle action. If you could only afford to get one, the needle feed might be the better option because it is more versatile with respect to sewing slippery and nappy stuff but it costs a bit more. I bought mine from Wayne at Orange County Industrial (I’m a very satisfied customer but do a lot of your homework before calling; industrial dealers don’t do extensive hand holding and I don’t want Wayne to become annoyed that I mentioned him). Speaking of, my model is the SH which is for heavier weights. You probably want the SS model. It costs about $2,800. This price includes an automatic thread trimmer. Because I’m a baby, I think it is worth paying for. A thread trimmer means the machine will automatically cut the thread when you want it to (easier than you’d think).

The other difference between home and industrial machines that bears mentioning is that your usual price quote includes three things: the head, the motor and the table. In home sewing, it is just the head (motor built in). Because this is more typical than not, if you are quoted a price where this is not the case, the dealer or seller will always mention if it is head only, machine and motor only or no table included etc. In the normal course of affairs, you can assume the price quote includes table, motor and machine. In fact, dealers will often mention a possible upgrade to a better motor.

The feedback on the two machines from my students: one had a pronounced preference for the Juki. The other seemed to prefer the Adler. All things remaining the same, I prefer the Adler. It operates more elegantly (it is sometimes described as “more sensitive” but not as in needy or neurotic). The Juki sounds clunky (to me) by comparison. That matters little, both machines operate excellently and I heartily recommend them both.

An overlock is better known to home sewers as a “serger”, they are the same thing (but Rocio says you should never say “serger” in industry). The one I have is a 5 thread safety stitch. This consists of a three thread formed overlock seam with a chain stitch alongside. You usually don’t use a safety stitch on knits unless you use stretchy thread. The Reliable model I have also converts to 3 threads which can be used on knits. The overlock was popular with both students. It also has a servo and runs very smoothly and quietly.

Regarding operation, the foot pedal (as applied to the servos only) bears mentioning. There are three basic foot positions. You use the tip of your toe on the edge of the pedal closest to you, to lift the foot. You use your full foot to stitch. When you’re done with the seam and want to back stitch (automatic with the servo) and cut the thread (if you have an automatic thread trimmer, definitely recommended), you leave your foot in place on the pedal or maybe slide it down just a tad but bear down firmly applying pressure with your heel on the pedal edge closest to you. Exactly as though you were “digging in your heels”. The overlock has two foot pedals. One to lift the presser foot (if needed) and the other to run it. In short, machines with servo motors don’t have a knee or a hand lift for the presser foot. With automatic back stitching, you don’t lose one hand to operating a knob or lever. This is great because your hands are free to work the materials.

Explosion factor of any of these machines if you do something wrong is zero. Mr. F-I laughs at me but I have told him that women often rate equipment in terms of, if they do something wrong, will the machine explode? He thinks I’m kidding but you know better. It is pretty hard to mess these up. Speaking of, the worst that can go wrong is in threading.

Threading a machine: When you buy a machine, it is nearly always threaded. That is because the dealer “sews it off” before shipping to make sure the unit is operable. The way you change threads on an industrial is to clip the thread at the spindle (never pull it out!) and tie on the new thread with the most basic knot there is. Then unthread the needle, lift the presser foot and pull the thread through the channels and what not from the bottom. When the knot feeds through, clip it off and re-thread the needle from left to right. The bobbin is threaded exactly like a home machine. The direction and thread tail of the bobbin should form a “9” before inserting it into the bobbin case. I learned that from a home sewer, I never could keep it straight before that.

All of this is very basic, if you scan the machines and equipment tags on this site, you’ll find much more detail and information about machines.

In the next entry, I will explain the epiphany I had with respect to the main reason we don’t use pins (and what I originally intended for this entry to be about). Pins prevent optimal handling and feeding of the fabric into an industrial machine. Before I told you that pinning was unnecessary due to foot pressure and also, that pins introduce inaccuracies where there were none.  Until had to teach handling in this class (focusing on advanced topics, I’m not very experienced at teaching people who’ve never sewn on an industrial) I didn’t realize needing to mention that pins prevent optimal feeding of goods. As it happens, the best (most consistent) sewing results are attained by keeping layers as separate as much as is possible until just before they go under the needle. Pins obviously subvert that.

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  1. Sue says:

    I just stumbled upon this site and love it! I’ve had to make a career change and am sewing again after 40 some years. I’ve started up my own little business which is doing well enough I’ve take the leap to an industrial Juki! After reading the posts I’m so excited for it to arrive! The gentleman I’m buying it from will deliver, set up and even going to give me starting up lessons! My regular machine is the one I learned on, a ’57 Singer Featherweight. It’s such a great machine but obviously can’t hand duck canvas with nylon webbing very well. I’m so excited to get going on this next stage!! I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  2. Yay Sue!

    You might want to consider buying Kathleen’s book — The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing — and joining the forum. There are designer-entrepreneurs there at all levels of experience who discuss all aspects of the business, from sourcing through production to sales and marketing.

  3. Kristine says:

    Thank you for all this wonderful information! I’ve read and re-read it, and have narrowed it down to the Juki 8700 or 9000. The local dealer I’ve found spoke poorly of the servo motors though, saying that they get many that need replacement. I think this is because they supply more factories and home sewers? I’m hoping to expand my business and production in the next few years. I’m having a hard time spending double the money on the 9000, but the features sound like really nice. I’m leaning toward splurging… and I think you’d say the same?

  4. Karma Temphel N. says:

    I really admire your website. I have sent you an email with some queries. I hope to hear from you, thank you.

  5. Trace says:

    Hi Kathleen! I ran across your website yesterday and have been reading like mad! I sent you an email from the email address you requested with a couple specific questions – I have a really unique industry. I hope you have time in your busy schedule to help. Thanks!

  6. Kathleen says:

    I should have followed up here so it didn’t appear as tho Trace was left hanging but I was unable to help her in a way that met her expectations.

  7. Brandie Layfield says:

    Hi Ms. KATHLEEN, I just purchashed a Consew 206-RB-5, its my first industial machine. I will be creating, designing leather and faux leather clutches. Im the kind of person that does research for a while until I make a purchase. I did get a servo motor. You made me jealous about not having a knee lift lever. Am I able to change that out once it is delivered? Can I call them before they ship and ask for the thread trimmer? Or can I have that added once it arrives. Ihave been spoiled by my domestic Singer. Thanking You Iin Advance

  8. Kathleen says:

    A walking foot machine is a whole other matter. Getting a servo on it isn’t going to provide the features I describe in this post -namely, the auto lifter and thread trimmer. For those features you need air too -and about 2 or 3 thousand more dollars. For example, I bought a Juki dnu 1541 for about $1800, delivered. The air version is 1541-7 and costs about $4300.

    I’m not familiar with the consew but would suspect that not only could you not change this out after it arrives, you couldn’t do it at all but would have to get the pneumatic version of this machine. Sorry..

  9. Last Christmas, I bought a Sewstrong WSM-8700,High Speed, 1 Needle, Lockstitch Machine from This machine’s parts is interchangeable with a Juki 8700, which they also sell on this site (actually, my machine has “Juki” stamped on the underside of it). I bought the machine that comes with a table. It all came in 3 or 4 boxes and was fairly simple to set up. I also bought the “right quilter zipper foot” (which can be found on this page:, not really knowing if it was going to work and an all metal, high shank open toe quilting foot (which I bought off E-Bay). However, the open toe foot doesn’t provide enough pressure, so I am now using the zipper foot with decent stitches. This has been a fairly recent change, for the open toe foot stopped being an effective foot, and I’m still getting used to the greater amount of pressure from the zipper foot.

    Let me tell you, using this machine for quilting comes with a steep learning curve, but it’s totally worth it! Once set, the bobbin tension is beautiful, so much so that you can use 2 different colors and have neither of them show on the opposite side. Even though I always use the slowest speed (I’m a chicken!), the stitches are nice and regular. Of course, getting the machine to work at the beginning was a trip, as well. This is NOTHING like a domestic machine, which it why we want them. Yet, there are things that are needed to know and they aren’t in the instructions. In fact, the instructions are translated from Chinese or Japanese, and not done very well either. So that tells you something…

  10. Kelly says:

    I don’t know if you can help but I want a industrial sewing machine and I have a chance of buying a Yakumo industrial sewing machine for $600.00 but I live in a little town and there isn’t anyone who specializes in them I don’t know how old it is all I know is a model number and its a Yakimo jack ump model number tdu-n62 if any one has info I would love to know anything about this make thank you.

  11. Wins says:

    Hi Kathleen keep up the good work in your website :) I’m a beginner and is still confused. Is the Juki DDL 8700 able to sew through stretchy fabrics such as jersey and hull dull? With the servo motor installed, is the speed slow enough ideal for beginners? I also read somewhere that the model is a single needle straight stitch machine. Does this mean it is capable only of straight stitching and nothing else? I’m considering the Janome 7318 for more features available like buttonhole and suitability for beginners. Hope you can shed some enlightenment. Thank you!

  12. Winona says:

    Hello! I’m wondering if you’ve heard of the brand “Artisan”? For industrial sewing on leather, thick canvas, etc.? We just purchased a used 2001 Artisan industrial sewing machine with a clutch motor that specifies use for leather goods, sporting goods, interior of automobiles, vinyl goods, canvas sheet, etc. I’m brand new at this, just trying to do some homework on it before I jump in feet first.
    Thanks, Winona

  13. Kathleen Fasanella says:

    I have heard of Artisan. It is a private label machine company; they put their brand name on a machine made by someone else. I don’t know who manufactures their machine but they’ve been around for at least 15 years, probably more. I met the owner at this hidey hole out of the way place in 2001 or so, at a leather sewing meet up in Oklahoma.

  14. Emily says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    My husband and I just purchased an industrial Juki DNU-1541S for use on leather and upholstery. I have manufactured a few leather bags already but am not loving the thread I am currently using. My question today is on thread. Do you have a preferred brand and/or weight for leather, and additionally for medium weight upholstery? I just learned about your book and am looking into buying it. It sounds fabulous!

    Much thanks, Emily

    • kathleen says:

      First, a multitude of apologies for my tardy response. In my defense, we were in the throes of manufacturing boot camp at the time.

      For leather, the preferred thread is bonded nylon in various weights. Since I use mostly garment weights (2.5 oz max), I top out at 69 (T70) but prefer lighter, depending. As far as buying it, again, we mostly do samples and prototypes so it is the customer who supplies thread for production. For odd lots, eBay has been my main source.

  15. Danielle says:

    Hi there,

    Great info thanks! I would love a servo motor but for now I am stick with a clutch motor – I haven’t used one before and am struggling to control the speed – is there a specific method to this or just trial and error?



  16. melissa says:

    help, my lovely husband bought me a Mauser 1245 something and I only have experience with my home Pfaff machine. Please help! What thread do I use for average cotton? Then ultimate goal is to make sturdy, rustic leather hand bags, help the industrial machine is lovely but scary because currently I cant keep it from breaking top thread. I read mention of a class in Portland, are there any near Northern California? help…..

    • kathleen says:

      Thread is my least favorite subject… Stu was kind enough to write a post about it:

      As to thread breakage, it is likely a threading or tension problem. When I have this problem, it is usually that the thread is hung up in the thread path, hooked around something it shouldn’t be. Trace the path first. If that doesn’t resolve it, you might try googling “my thread keeps breaking” or some such because there is a whole list of things to check.

      I wish I could help you with classes in Portland or Northern California but I’m doing well to keep up with my own. The week after next (I think), we’ll be doing free classes in my factory, mostly on the walking foot and needle feed. Attendees will be making a product (TNR trap covers) that we’re donating to charity. I’ll be posting about it later.

  17. Cathy Wightman says:

    Thank you for this info as I went to a used industrial machine/fix shop and had a bad experience with the owner not wanting to “school” me before I purchase. I was offended and left. This information you’ve provided helps me know that I can get the information myself with questions to some other people before going back to purchase a used machine.

    I also now understand my home machine better and know I shouldn’t be using it on the fabric and applications I’ve been sewing. Thanks so much!

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