Going from prototype to production sewing pt.2

I should have problems more often, thank you for the many useful suggestions. As ever, if you need to catch up, previous entries are pt.1, pt.2, pt.3 and pt.4.

The topic of the too-short table height generated many suggestions, useful if you’re just starting out or have limited space. I thought it would be appropriate to mention the kind of table I have which is designed for the apparel industry. If you have  space, it’s better to buy these  (Philocraft). New tables are expensive but you can buy used ones for much less than the cost of lumber and hassle of building your own. These knock down so you can store them until needed.

These are often called spreading or cutting tables. These come in various widths, in four foot sections so you can add on as needed. They are very heavy, a 48″x66″ section weighs about 150 lbs. These are everywhere in a factory and are used for everything from cutting, to pattern drafting or even sorting and marking.

spreader_table_apronWhen you select a table, the width is important (but height is not). Optimally, you should select a table that is 6″ wider than the widest fabric you intend to use. The reason is so you can run a spreader. A spreader (on wheels) carries a bolt of fabric up and down the length of the table, laying it just so. The table in this  spreading video has  an apron. An apron is a little ledge that is part of the table frame along one side. The wheels of the spreader roll along in the apron like a trolley car so the fabric is lain more evenly. It breaks my heart when someone has gone to great expense to build long tables that can’t be used with a spreader or they build them too narrow.

You don’t have to worry about table height because industrial tables are adjustable. The standard height is 33.5″ but each leg has an extension 7″ long. If you need your table to be higher than 40″, there’s longer extensions.

table_raising_problemAnyway, considering the length of my long table (20 feet) and the weight (750 lbs), the only way I can think of to raise the table height is to use long sections of lumber with car jacks. Once raised to the proper height, I can then tighten the leg extenders so I don’t need a permanent add on to keep them up. The problem is the height of the leg brace (8.5″ up from the floor) under which I’d place the lumber. I can only use the low profile jacks mechanics use, not the one that comes with your car because most of those are too high. The way they do this in factories (on obviously shorter table lengths) is with a pair of pallet jacks and lumber. Long story short, I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry when I set up these tables because setting them to a proper height is difficult after the fact. That’s a lesson you can learn at my expense. And you know, I knew better. If in doubt, don’t. That’s good advice for nearly everything in life.

Dispensing with tables, let’s move along to lighting and electricity.

I like Kristen’s suggestion of a floor-to-ceiling pole to which one can attach lighting. She suggested halogens but those run hot. I’m thinking clamp on lights would work well too.

Regarding the electrical load, my error was describing the swamp cooler as an “air conditioner”. In NM, that is what we call it (sorry). We call a real air conditioner, “refrigerated air”. Only fancy houses have those and most of us are poor. Even work places are commonly cooled with swamp coolers. Refrigerated air is relatively uncommon but I always keep a sweater in my car for mall trips or government offices just in case because it makes my skin hurt. The long and short of it is, swamp coolers (what I have) only draw only 25% of the power needed to run refrigerated air meaning my electrical problem is worse than some may have guessed. I haven’t talked to my landlady yet. Eric is down in the dumps over his unanticipated week end plans. Actually, that’s not true. He is also a very cheerful person who likes to make himself useful. I consider myself fortunate and proud to be married to an electrical engineer. He’s the brains in this outfit.

Sewing Velvet:
Finally, the fun part. I did three different test seams. I cut 6 fabric strips in the same direction and of the same length. I sewed one with the regular foot as a point of comparison. I did another with a zipper foot (solution proposed here on the forum) and the last I sewed with a strip of wax paper between the velvet layers. I had read somewhere on the internet that using a layer of waxed paper would help. I was sure that would work because sewing with paper usually works very well. With velvet, it didn’t. Or maybe it’s just me. I got the worst result with it. If you want gory details, a larger version of this photo is here (156 kb).

Before I got the feedback from Andrew and Lorraine who confirmed a needle feed machine was the way to go (thank you very much, confirmation helps), Humberto at Patternworks called to drop the name of their machine repair people who they say are very good. So I called Wayne at Orange County Industrial Sewing to chat about possible machine solutions, most likely established by this time to be a needle-feed machine. Here’s video of a needle feed set up for denim hemming. Halfway through (it’s short), it slows down so you can see the needle moving forward.

Let me digress a moment. How many of you have never called an industrial supplier? In my experience, it is easy to know who’s good or bad based on a conversation and it has nothing to do with their interpersonal skills. [I fear some of you are never going to learn that]. The difference between a good supplier and a bad one is that the good supplier will ask you all kinds of questions, what are you making, what kinds of materials, what’s the application, price points etc. Many newbies are very threatened by these questions. Nobody is going to hop on a plane, rent a car, drive to your house and peek in your windows to get the lowdown on your concept because nobody is that important. A good supplier is someone who sells you what you NEED. Need, not want. Need, not what you think you need or somebody may have mentioned you need (if your friends aren’t experts, better make some new friends). So, because I know all this -and stubbornly insist on doing it myself- I volunteer it to the salesman. I explain what I’ve been doing and am comfortable with, what I’d like to be doing now, explained my test runs and the product I’m making. I even sent him a link to the blog entry so he could see the product.

So we get to talking. I did mention that others said a walking foot would do the job too but that it seemed rather brutal to me. Like sweeping your kitchen floor with a big shop broom or something. He agreed. He also said -which made me say “duh” out loud and slap the side of my head- that the reason the walking foot works is because it is also a needle feed. Boy, did I feel stupid. Was Wayne ready to sell me this machine? No, he was not. A good supplier shouldn’t. Not if you haven’t actually tested one on your materials. So, I had to send him some fabric samples by mail which I did yesterday. He’ll do a test sew and get back to me.

A bad supplier is the equivalent of an order taker at a call center. While they may be as cheery as Pollyanna at Sunday School, they just want the model number and quantity. They won’t ask you any questions about your product or anything else meaning you may end up with something you can’t use. This is just one of the myriad ways that paranoia costs you.

A note to Celeste (who offered to pick up the overlock) I wrote you but have not heard back. I actually have two overlocks. One is for home sewing that my MIL gave me to find a good home for and the other is an older Singer industrial. If I don’t hear from you by Saturday, I will be taking them to the Habitat for Humanity thrift store. Sorry, I need the space now.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. dosfashionistas says:

    Don’t feel too bad about the tables. I don’t think it would have occured to me that it would be so hard to raise them. Who knew they were so heavy?! All my working life I have seen the cutters doing things with those tables….Sure makes a difference when you’re on your own.

    I am trying to pick through my brain for anything I know about sewing velvet, but the only thing that comes to mind is a needle board for pressing, and that is a home sewing tool. Sure helps though.

    I am enjoying this thread no end. Very useful. Thank you.

  2. Renee says:

    If I were in NM I’d be there to pick up the industrial overlock. I need one badly. I’m currently using two 15+ year old then-top-of-the-line Pfaff Babylock home sergers. Can you say ssssslooooooooow?

  3. I like it!
    Tables: they are expensive. Yes, you can get them used. Most of those who have them 2nd hand are word of mouth (only my exp.) Someone I work for bought a 300′ table compete with rails and electrical track for cutter for $100. – they are out there.

    I worked on a farm with a man who was very nice and all, but when he had to lift something hard he turned into the Hulk, he would yell “do it, do it” and lift crazy things – really crazy. I tried to do what he did a couple times, but that was a bad idea – jacks are best, and if your worried about the price check out Harbor Freight, very cheap and you get what you pay for but they do the immediate job.

    Air Conditioner:
    I live in New England now, but I grew up in Arizona. We did the swamp cooler thing, WOW they work very well in the dry heat, but they sure don’t work in the humid weather, so now I go without. BTW, your right, when its bone dry heat and you walk into a mall its like eating ice cream too fast but all over.

    Sales person:
    I have had many encounters with industrial sales people both professionally (the company I work for) and paraprofessional (my own company). Two different experiences: professionally, they treat me with kid gloves, the company I work for has been around for 200 years, paraprofessional: they ask me all the questions. Recently, I actually started answering them; you know what?… I was their cats meow and they sent me free samples! and advice! and encouragement! – who would of figured? They are finicky, but when in Rome…..

  4. LisaB says:

    I was encouraged to see the description of a good supplier. That was exactly my experience when I bought my industrial machines. I didn’t know any better at the time, though. It’s just nice to have confirmation about the person I bought my machines from.

  5. kay says:

    Kathleen, check with your friends with small, probably imported, cars for jacks. The scissors jack from my Scion, for instance, is about 4″ thick when down tight. Put one or two of those under a cross member, raise that end of the table an inch or so and crib it, then down to the other end to use the same jack(s) and crib some more, then back to the first end… pretty soon it’ll be raised enough for you to drop the extensions to the right height. Raise it a bit more and knock the cribbing out of one end. then the other, and you’re done.

    Or you can substitute a teeter-totter arrangement of your 2x and a fulcrum — just like a little kid at the playground can hold an adult up on the teeter totter if they’ve got a long enough lever, you can raise the table an inch or so at a time and crib it. You’ll need two people for that, though. And watch the grain direction in the 2x.

    Don’t try to lift as you drew… the table will teeter on the 2x and be really unstable.

  6. Susan says:

    We, actually my son, has a floor jack. I’m sure if you ask around you’d be surprised as to who has one. I’m sure you could probably rent one from a rental company.

  7. Brenda P says:

    What a dream table. Width as well as length. Perfect.

    The Vornado fans would definitely help where a swamp cooler is used.

    The full spectrum bulbs come in incandescent and flourescent styles. I’m sure the clamp on lights would work with them. Again, do your homework on line before purchasing bulbs because on type (not halogen) runs hotter than the other kind. You can see much better with them. Even black threads are easily seen. The real difference in the room lighting came when I purchased the uplights to illuminate the whole room. How much different? Probably the difference between using cheap diet margarine and a good creamy whole butter.

  8. john buster says:

    Here’s how you can raise your cutting table without car jacks:
    1. Detach and lift off the 3-4 very heavy particle board top panels.
    2. With another person’s help, flip the table over . . . or at least insert four 12 x 15 x 3/4″ ply risers under the four lower cross beams to lift one side up in the air.
    3. Lengthen the 4-5 legs on that raised side.
    4. Lift that side of the table a little higher, kick out the risers, and lower that side back to its new height.
    5. Repeat again on the other side.
    6. Reattach the heavy top panels.
    Good luck!

  9. Hi John, I appreciate the response! I offer this not to contradict you but in the event someone decides they can pass on the work of figuring table height because they can raise it later with your solution. Some caveats are particular to my situation, some are not.

    Detaching the table tops is a three man job. Or a two-very-strong men job. It is *totally possible* to remove one segment from either end in the manner you describe. However, you cannot remove the inner segments without first disassembling the frames of the outer ends because the table tops are too tightly nested in there along the aprons (you’d also have to unscrew the metal strips joining segments from the under side). If you had a short table (4 to 8 feet long), the method you describe is probably easiest if you didn’t have jacks. In fact, were it that short, once you’d removed the table tops, you wouldn’t even need to turn the frame upside down because you could manually lift the legs and set the bolts on the leg extensions with just two people.

    Another matter which is peculiar to my shop (and may similarly apply to others) is that my floor is not even. It dips significantly in spots. So, I need to level the whole 20 foot length of it while it is located in position. As such, I cannot raise the table height *and* level it by turning it over on one side -assuming I could flip the whole 20 foot table length without bending the frame somewhere; I’d need one man per 4ft section. This is important if people have one of those spreaders; the wheels will get caught if the apron segments are disjointed due to floor dips meaning that as one runs the spreader along, tension from jerking (coming to a screeching halt) will be applied on the fabric ply, stretching the goods.

    Perhaps I should explain how these tables should be set up properly. The order of table segment construction depends on your workplace constraints. You can either start at one end and build on to that, or you can calculate placement of the center segment and build off of both ends. If you have several helpers, starting with the middle is fastest because you have enough bodies to work on both sides of the center at the same time. Starting from one end means people are getting in the way of each other or are waiting around to have something to do -like moving in those 125lb table tops. I will go with the center method.

    You construct the middle table section first, leveling it and setting table height with the leg extensions (table leg “foot”). You have to install the table top before you can level it because owing to the weight of it and possible wonky frames (or not being perfectly square), the frame needs to be settled. Once you’ve constructed the middle frame and installed the table top, have raised and leveled it, then you can add frame sections off to either side of the middle one.

    Then you add frame segments to the middle section, guesstimating table height and crudely leveling it however you have to. Set the bolts on the legs to estimated height but don’t tighten them. Then lay in the table top. At this point you can level the table top, aligned to the previous section. At this point, two people can lift a corner of each end with another person tightening the leg bolt to attain the desired position. This really is a three man job. You can use two but it’s harder. Anyway, rinse, lather and repeat until the table is done.

    Even doing it like this, you would ideally have jacks because it’s better to lift the segments from below (rather than by using strength to pull up on a corner) and let the leg feet (extenders) fall to rest level. Doing it in sections also means you really only need two jacks at most and one (or two) shorter piece(s) of lumber since it only needs to span four feet and change to raise the lower cross beams.

    The next time I have to move, I will photograph this process so people can see what I mean. Moving tables is such a hassle. And then you get all of these invisible tiny metal cuts that make your hands hurt for days. That’s why it’s worth getting a pair of mechanics gloves. My son took mine and got teen-age boy cooties all over them so I need another pair. I am still annoyed about that.

  10. Penny says:

    Interesting sewing on velvet… what does work is a thin strip of sand paper rough side face down under the side of the foot while sewing. It grips enough to move the top layer evenly with the bottom layer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *