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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  1. Kathleen says:

    It is to me. Thanks for posting that link. I know I posted about thread shrinkage (for home sewing, more likely to occur there) somewhere, maybe PR?

  2. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Kathleen, you must be using the itty bitty spring clamps. My Dad used a few in his machine shop and they are neat. I’ve used the larger ones to clamp fabric to a table but for pin substitutes I’ve used the large size paper clip. I will keep the Pony spring clamps in mind. And Pony is the manufacturer, not the type. Just like Vise Grips they make a wonderful array of clamping devices that can be repurposed for other trades. Thanks for pointing out the pertinent helpful pictorials.

  3. The most common cause I’ve found for seam puckering with home sewing is winding the bobbins too quickly. The plates heat up and the thread stretches. When released from the bobbin during the seaming, the thread tightens and you’ve got a puckered seam. No solution other than taking it out and redoing it.

    Some older home machines will wind bobbins as you sew, automatically giving the right tension. Kathleen, do you use purchased bobbins, a stand-alone bobbin winder, or can the industrials be set to simultaneously wind bobbins as you sew?

    Other than that I manipulate fabric layers backwards from Kathleen (left hand for bottom, right hand for top), complete agreement.

  4. sfriedberg says:

    Carol, most single-needle industrials are set up with a bobbin winder over on the right side of the table and a thread stand that holds two cones of thread. You thread the machine with one cone and use the second cone for the bobbin winder, which shuts itself off when the bobbin is full. So you can sew all day with two bobbins, taking just a minute or so to swap empty and full bobbins. If the machine doesn’t come with a bobbin winder, it’s a very common and easy-to-add accessory to buy later.

    BTW, if you sew lots of different things, you probably want more bobbins (like dozens) so you can have colors pre-wound or at least avoid stripping unused thread off your bobbins for a new color. If you are factory sewing lots and lots of the same thing, two bobbins will suffice.

    Some sewing factories also purchase pre-wound bobbins by the truck-load. A box usually holds 144 pre-wound bobbins, and I think a carton is something like 120 boxes. I’ve picked up three or four boxes of colors I use a lot on eBay.

  5. Chris V says:

    I switched to narrower seam allowances as soon as I realized I could sew curves accurately without preclipping them that way. Haven’t looked back. Conservation of fabric is just a nice side benefit. It does require better edge finishing on more loosely woven fabrics, however.

    When orienting a curved onto a straight piece I find that top/bottom isn’t an issue, for me it’s keeping my seam allowance on the right – both my hands seem able to ease the curve equally well (I’m generally left on top, right on the bottom). Occasionally I’ll finagle top/bottom depending on how the fabric interacts with the feed dogs and the presser foot, but that’s because I’m using a home machine without a walking foot. If that makes sense :)

  6. Thanks for confirming the industrial bobbin-winding setup.

    I’m not sure where I ran across having lots of bobbins being a good idea (it was decades ago). Maybe it was watching my mother, otherwise a canny sewer, filling her three bobbins with several dozen tails. Messed up her tension, too.

    Absolutely agree with this being a smart idea! Lots of bobbins was one of my first investments.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Theresa: I haven’t tried paper clips, I don’t think they will perform to meet the expectations I’ve become accustomed to with the pony clamps. I have also tried other less expensive clamps but I’m not as happy with those either. And you’re right, these are a brand name transmogrified to product name (uncommon except in limited and highly specific types of production), thanks for mentioning it tho.

    I have seen some people use binder clips -and there is a hilarious story behind how that practice started- better left to another day.

    Carol, I make my own bobbins altho I’ve been tempted to buy them pre-wound like Stu. My older machines have the right side bobbin maker that Stu mentions. My servos have the winder mounted to the top of the head itself. I don’t think it matters either way.

  8. Gisela says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    Is it worth getting this machine meanwhile saving up for an Industrial machine.

    I have a brother home sewing machine I would like to upgrade from but reading your previous blog post has made me think about waiting to invest in a industrial machine better. Not sure if the one i’ve left a link to is a good temp machine till then?

    Thanks, appreciate your insight!


  9. Gisela,

    I see you’re starting a small line. It would be a good idea to join the forum where you can have a discussion about your particular requirements. Membership in the forum comes when you buy Kathleen’s Book, which explains how to start a small line.

    The link to buy the Book is in the bar at the right of this page, below “categories” and above “subscription options.”

  10. Kathleen says:

    Gisela, if you already have a home sewing machine, why invest in another? If you need another machine, I would shop around (craigslist, auctions etc) and buy an industrial for the same money. At $150 to $250, it wouldn’t be a servo but it would be a good back up machine for other operations. Worst case, you could resell it for the same money later on.

    Caveat: be careful of some online sales, some sellers really don’t know what machines are going for. I saw an older pfaff industrial lockstitch (no whistles and bells, no servo etc) the other day listed at $999. Better than a home machine for the money but not a good price as compared to other industrials on the market. A more competitive price would have been $400 or less.

  11. Marie-Christine says:

    I don’t think paper clips would do it either, not enough friction. But binder clips can do in a pinch, although I think your pony clips would be easier handling.
    I understand another problem with shattering pins would be the naked eyeball. Mercifully, mine are always protected, and I’ve never shattered a pin, although I confess to using some in a long slippery seam or a tricky sleeve sometimes.

    I have been totally aghast recently though to find out young friends who’re taking formal sewing classes are being encouraged to pin stuff to death, like every half inch!! What could possibly be the point of that? You may as well hand-baste then, it’d be quicker and more accurate. Oh wait, I’ve also seen the thing where you trace the pattern onto the fabric with basting, and then cut every which way around it – no hint of a real seam allowance, just extra jags of fabric. Insane. And these classes are taught by girls who are professional seamstresses, with diplomas and everything, I fear the state of French couture has turned into a nightmare..

  12. Virginia Dan says:

    Atlas Levy in Los Angeles is great, so is Acme Supply near 8th & Los Angeles, i think they have online stores and ship industrial machines. If i were buying an industrial machine by mailorder, i’d stick to companies that are located in areas that are centers of garment manufacturing, LA and New York, I’m sure Chicago too. The people who own/run the company will know the machines better and be able to help you in choosing the best one for you. Plus they will have a large stock of used machines at good prices. happy shopping!

  13. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Marie-Christine, the classes you are referring to don’t sound like classes for production sewing. If you listen to ladies who had come up in the old school style (Ann Rowley, over at Stitcher’s Guild) that style of sewing was more for the “this garment fits this person” rather than RTW. Even high end RTW is still factory sewing. As Kathleen says, a good home sewer is much better at putting the whole garment together than the average line stitcher. Line stitchers have us home sewers beat nine ways to sundown on fabric handling. Pinning is the standard for home sewing/quilting because we are not specialists in one specific task. I liken pins to training wheels. Some sewers never progress past them. Sometimes I need them; sometimes I don’t. I’ve got Connie Crawford’s “A Guide to Fashion Sewing” new edition on my desk right now. Plenty of pins in evidence in the accompanying DVD.

  14. Home sewers pin because we use home machines. We get differential feed whether we want it or not, so we pin. Otherwise we can sew a long straight seam and end up with the top layer sticking out *inches* over the bottom layer even if we cut them to identical lengths.

  15. kay says:

    Theresa, the dvd with the new edition of Guide to Fashion Sewing is a piece of the larger ‘Studio Sewing Skills’ dvd that was basically made for the beginning home sewing market, not industrial sewing.

  16. Lisa Blank says:

    The quilting video showing different curves was really useful. Thanks!

    I would be very interested in seeing a video clip of curves that are the same, e.g. sleeve cuffs. Here, I think you keep the layers together but fan out the fingers of the left hand. I’m not sure what else you do. It’s another handling operation I’d like to learn.

    Alison, I think another reason pins aren’t necessary on industrial machines is due to the increased pressure they offer. True?

  17. Amy says:

    Thank you for this series. I have read and re-read a number of your entries on industrials and this answers a lot of practical questions. Re: pinning… my previous domestic machines just stunk at feeding materials (especially silk, which I work with quite a bit) and I find using a walking foot so clunky, so I’d pin at top and bottom of seam. I debated getting an industrial to replace them, but had no space at the time so I ended up getting a Juki home machine… Some of their newer machines are a different type of feed than other domestics–or something’s different because I don’t have to pin anymore. I love sewing curves without pins–it’s a lot less frustrating… Anyway, I already know which industrial lockstitch I want and am just saving pennies. Anyone know of dealers in Austin?

  18. Marie-Christine, what you describe for marking the seamline with threadtracing and then just guessing the seam allowance is exactly how my grandmother learned to sew. She took sewing classes in the 1920s. And then they would handbaste along the marked seamline, try the garment on (or have it tried on), alter to fit, unpick all basting and then sew it step by step.
    (And if you buy pattern mags for home sewers or burda pattern they will also come without seam allowances, so it doesn’t make much difference if you threadtrace your seamline properly or if you measure a precise seam allowance.)

    Kathleen, I really want to thank you for explaining the handling, because I finally understood why it can work without pins. I can even imagine to try it on my home sewing machine for sturdier fabric like denim. (Though I have no problem with pins and I pin way faster than I handbaste…)

    I will never have an industrial machine but out of curiosity: would that also work for fabric that is slippery and gets easily distorted like chiffon, tulle,… on an industrial machine? On my own workplace (okay, this is a table that is to high and to small so most of my fabric hangs down somewhere while being sewn) less stabile fabric would get distorted while sewing if I did not pin it. And I don’t trust myself being able to move two layers of chiffon (cut on bias) into the machine without stretching it. Lack of experience or “wrong” machine?

  19. Clarisse says:

    Nowaks, that’s how I was first taught to sew, lol. My teacher was probably trained in the 1920s. We had to handbaste everything before we put sewing machine needle to fabric.

    Lately, after reading these posts on industrial sewing, I’ve tried to go pin-free (or at least reduce my dependence upon pins). I’ve found that wooden clothespins work pretty well as clamps.

  20. Deb Mulligan says:

    Great article series, thank you! I have enough “home sewing” knowledge and experience to be dangerous, but am truly a novice and am loving everything I am learning here.

    What is interesting to me is that because I do not have much of a sewing background I analyze what I am doing and try to come up with various solutions to solve my problems, and using binder clips is one of the solutions I have come up with in making my purses. It is great to read about others doing the same thing or something similar, it validates my solutions and thinking process. Pinning verses not pinning is something else I have struggled with as I have noticed that with pinning my fabrics/materials do lay well leaving me with an unsatisfactory end result. Reading about pinning has helped me to understand why it is not working for me.

    Off to read and learn more.

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