Industrial sewing machines differential feed

This is definitely one of those things I rarely write about because I think everyone already knows it (and probably more than I do) but what the heck. This is (circuitously) about differential feed on industrial sergers. I’d been playing with the mobius scarves again under the guise of making “Christmas gifts” but the activity would be more accurately described as making dual-duty prototypes, the advantage being the results are pawned off as genuine product. Heh. I’ve got two done (and discovered two other ways not to make them) with one to go. Maybe Mother-in-Law will get the good stuff, hers being the last one in the series. You all don’t ever do this, do you? Didn’t think so.

In making these, in spite of all caution and diligence, one seam kept coming up short, nearly two inches worth over a very long seam. Odd. Being that the scarf is a geometrical (topological) puzzle, I thought it had something to do with the geometry of it. I put Eric -resident math whiz- to work on it but there was no solution forthcoming after two envelope backs (literally) of scrupulous math notation. Math obviously wasn’t out to save me so I looked for something else, preferably something simpler. One thing I did notice was that the seam was puckering just a tad. I was thinking it couldn’t be the feed on the machine because the overlock is brand new and presumably in A-1 condition. Below is a photo of a sewn sample, (this isn’t one of the prototypes doing double duty as a gift). The photo has also been enhanced to dramatize the slight puckers on the bottom half of the seam. In real life it’s barely perceptible:

So I thought, what the heck, maybe it’s the differential feed. The mechanism that governs how the fabric is fed through the machine via the feed dogs. The manual

–Formerly occupying this space, was a rant. Specifically, three hours worth of writing about the state of industrial sewing machine manuals —

wasn’t very clear about how to determine the setting of the feed. In fact, there’s no way to work your head in there to even see it. However, it was possible to stick my camera in there and take a picture of it! [below]

From the picture, I could see the raised dot on the indicator arm was resting midway between 0 and 1. The manual said for even feed, the arm should point to 0, like so:

There’s a little hand turn knobby thingy (toward the front, not shown) that’ll move that rocker arm up and down (for fine tuning). To make dramatic adjustments, you need to loosen that large screw (dead center in the photo), adjust the arm and then tighten the screw afterward. Long story short, here’s what a sewn sample looked like after the adjustment:

In summary, my pattern problem was really a machine adjustment problem. Adjusting the differential feed on an overlock is pretty simple and quite useful too. If you want to gather a skirt and attach it to a shorter fixed length ungathered bodice, you can do that in one pass on the overlock.

The numbers on the indicator refer to ratios. If you want the fullness to be 1:2, you’d adjust the arm to the 2 and so on. One of the things a pattern maker can do for you, is if you can indicate your preferred level of fullness (gathers), they can make the pattern specific to the setting on the machine. If you want it set to 1:3, they can make the pattern to fit in evenly. This saves tons of work, a lot of people still run a basting thread to draw up gathers but it’s often not necessary.

One last thing about this machine and its manual (this is not the aforementioned deleted three hour rant). I won’t mention the brand because I actually like this machine and think it was a great buy (and would even recommend it to you) and I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about it but I had a very bad experience following the instructions in the manual.

Being a new machine, it needs oil. Industrials usually have reservoirs, unlike home machines that only have given points you stick a dot of oil into. The manual said to put in oil until you could see the oil rise midway between the two indicator lines. Well. I poured in oil. Then more oil. And more oil. The more I poured in, the more my dismay and unease grew. I only bought one gallon and was distressed because I also needed some for this other machine I’d recently moved and cleaned and needed fresh oil for. I thought if this overlock took this much oil, it is inordinate to the extent it should be mentioned. Anyway, I poured in oil. Finally the oil breached the top, it’d bubble down a little to where I could pour in a little more since the indicator was still showing zip. After the third time of waiting till the level dropped, I decided this was ridiculous and got up to call the guy who sold me the machine -and nearly fell flat on my butt; under my feet, there was oil everywhere. It was dripping out of the bottom of the pan. Oh my. Now I was really distressed.

So I get the guy on the phone, very upset that the machine is overflowing oil but the indicator isn’t working and this is a brand new machine, never even turned on -and I was counting on this machine!- and he said that not only did the machine already have oil and didn’t need any, but that you’re supposed to put in oil until the indicator was black. If it was white, you needed oil. Black, it was okay. I told him that’s not what the manual said and he said they thought they’d changed it. Well, that didn’t help me any. Crud. So, I had to pull off the belt, pull the machine head out of the table and drain the machine and start over. It was such a mess. Oil was everywhere. By the way, like I’ve said many times before, you don’t need carpeting in your work areas, I strongly advise against it.

I think next week or maybe the week after, I’ll put up some entries on industrial sewing machine manuals. There’s four kinds. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. There’s Instruction or operations manuals (threading, stitch settings etc), Service manuals (adjusting and repair), Parts manuals and last of all, product features, sometimes called “service line” manuals which explain which machines you need for which operation. Just finding manuals is a nightmare. For some reason, there’s this big karmic pox on industrial sewing machine manuals. Buy a new machine and chances are fifty-fifty you won’t get the manual with it. I made that a condition of sale for this one and I still didn’t get it, only after the fact.

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  1. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    OMG, how annoying to have oil everywhere!!! How annoying to not get manuals!

    Re the gathering, and this works more for home sewers or if you use an industrial sewing machine not industrial sergers: On my new machine I can run the basting stitch and gather stuff up just fine, but only for a fairly short length of seam, because it doesn’t really work pulling a ton of fabric. For longer seams, I zigzag over a length of crochet cotton or fairly thin string w/o stitching into it. Then I pull and it gathers up really nicely. After sewing it to the other piece, I pull out the string and reuse it. (Naturally it would be nice to gather and sew the seam in one pass.)

  2. Esther says:

    LOL! If we could all think like Sherlock and find the simplest solution.

    I have sewn probably a thousand skirts to bodices. It is true that a pattern maker can make a pattern with an exact gather ratio. There are other variables to consider why this might not happen in the real world. First is fabric usage. A strict 2:1 gather ratio may waste fabric. Instead what happens is the full fabric width is used and the gather ratio is approximated. Another big variable is the operator and how the fabric is handled. A slight pull or tug on one of the layers as it moves through the machine will affect the gather ratio making the extra effort of the pattern maker moot. Finally, the machines themselves can present problems. Each machine has its own slight variation of differential control.

  3. Kathleen’s problem with the scarves is a good example of how a problem is approached in lean manufacturing. Actually, Toyota used it because it was a tried and true industrial engineering method of solving a problem: the four M’s. They are Man, Machine, Method and Material. (Well, “man” gives people some problems so you’ll see “person,” “man or woman,” “operator,” or even “huMan,” but remembering what the 4 M’s are is easier if you just think “man.”)

    Anyway, Kathleen and Eric worked really hard on method, and couldn’t find anything wrong with their math. Material didn’t seem to be a variable – it was the same on either side of the seam. The operator might have been a factor, except that Kathleen has plenty of training and experience in sewing a seam. So that left Machine. It was new, and the instructions were poor – call that a defect in the equipment. But she persisted in studying the machine and found the adjustment that was out of whack.

    That and the ambiguity of the oil indicator made it really difficult to put this machine into effective operation. And we’ve all been there, whether it’s a sewing machine or a toaster.

    Toyota, as you’d expect, does a lot of work choosing a new piece of equipment and has a lot of clout with suppliers. Even so, when a new piece of equipment comes into the factory, the maintenance mechanics disassemble it and put it back together. Toyota feels it needs knowledge this intimate about any machine it puts into operation.

    That’s not all that practical when we are the manager, purchasing agent, mechanic and operator. I’m not about to take apart the engine of my car and put it back together just to know it better. But it’s a bit of insight into what a lean manufacturer does to increase the reliability of the system that makes the product.

    Wish I were on your Christmas list to get one of your Mobius scarves, Kathleen. Happy holidays to all,


  4. Kathleen says:

    Toyota used it because it was a tried and true industrial engineering method of solving a problem: the four M’s. They are Man, Machine, Method and Material.

    What a great comment! I could build on this for another entry (there’s still some nebulous holes). In fact, with respect to DEs, an argument could be made to add a fifth M -that of Market or maybe even a 6th, Money! (pricing). I think manufacturing problems could be summarized with 6 M’s. :)

  5. OMG, don’t even get me going on industrial manuals! I love your note where the rant was. I only have a lockstitch machine, and it (touch wood) works like a trouper, which is wonderful, because reading the manual when I first got it, I just sat there thinking, “If this thing ever breaks, I’m hosed – I cannot understand a thing they are saying in here!”

  6. Babette says:

    I know this oil problem only too well.

    As the tech officer at a fashion school I went from only ever having sewn on a straight stitch industrial as a fashion student to being responsible for the basic maintenance of about 100 machines which included quite a range of specialty machines – guess what – some of which did not have manuals.

    I discovered with some that the oil indicator doesn’t actually rise just by filling. You put some in, you turn the machine on and touch the accelerator. This causes the oil in the reservoir to distribute throughout the machine. Now the indicator moves. Then a bit more etc. Until I worked this out I had a couple of ugly overfills (on carpet).

  7. Eric H says:

    Karen – Actually, we weren’t trying to work out mathematically the reason for the problem, I was trying to come up with an easy way to predict the length. However, that does get into a 5th M, Measurement. NASA ran into this when they crashed a Mars probe into the surface because they made an error switching between metric and SAE.

    Which reminds me – we were going to make the Root Cause Analysis post a series, but we haven’t figured out a way to make it readable and concise. So I’m going to pick it up again in the forum.

  8. Jenny says:

    Hi, I have a Rockwell Rimoldi industrial serger which looks to me to be from the 70s. At the top of the machine is a plastic bubble which I unscrewed. I poured oil into it, and it comes out at the bottomr machine. I don’t know If I’m pouring the oil into the wrong place. There is an indicator, which is also a plastic window on the front of the machine, but the oil inside never reaches the “Minimum” line on the window. Does anyone know where the oil should be poured in? There are two black plugs on the top of the machine which unscrew also, but when I look inside of them, all I see are cobwebs. Thanks!

    • Debi Price says:

      Just got rimoldi serger older machine. Cleaned it good and added oil because there was no oil showing between the red lines threw the glass. Now the oil is leaking g out of front plate you open to thread machine.

  9. Will says:

    Tonight I just bought a Rockwell Rimoldi industrial serger and the description of your machine sounds just like the one I have. All of the oil in my machine leaked out in shipping. I do not know what kind of oil to use in the machine. After reading your post I do not know where to put in the oil once I find out what I need. I noticed that your post is dated five months ago and I assume that you have found an answer to your question by now. Would you please share any information on putting oil in the machine and what type of oil to use. Thanks

  10. Metoleous says:

    I have a Rimoldi 329 series, I use regular old sewing machine oil in the conveinent quart size per my repair guy. I found a couple of websites for manuals and parts. Parts breakdown guides(free) and manuals(about 10.00) at a couple of different sites. If you have a 329 series, and can’t figure out the threading. I found a threading diagram. also, the filling hole may be under the plate as it is on mine. you may want to check th edrain plugs on the bottom..if they are loose the oil tends to run right past.

  11. tina says:

    i need a threading diagram for rockwell rimoldi 327 or 527 and i cannot find one if anyone knows a website that might offer one please let me know

  12. Joanna says:


    I just bought a used Rimoldi 329 industrial serger. It was used in a high-production place, and it’s definitely not in a mint condition, but the price was low so I decided to try it. I cannot seem to find the threading diagram for this machine anywhere. I just bought a manual online, but it does not contain the threading instructions. Do you have any idea where I could get it?

    Also, you’ve mentioned that you use a regular oil. I have a Juki brand machine oil for my single needle industrial machine. Would that work, you think? Any particular oil brand you could recommend?

    And thank you for posting the link to the site that carries Rimoldi parts. I may have to get a replacement tension knob (one of the tension assembly knobs is entirely missing) and the thing that shoots out your scraps.

    Thank you!

  13. Karen says:

    I have recently purchased a Rimoldi 527 which has never been attached to a motor. Its still in the box with thread stand, foot pedal everything I have no intention of selling it but, would like to know its approximate value. I could only find very used Rimoldis with the prices not listed. The literature says it takes an Italian oil but the comments here say regular oil is sufficient. Is that for sure ok? Apparently I should also be worried about threading it does anyone have the threading diagram for my model? I am hooking it up to its motor soon so I might need one.
    My uncle helped me find these site for anyone interested. I haven’t used them yet.
    Thanks for any assistance.,

  14. Kathleen says:

    Hi Karen, I thought I’d responded to this a long time ago but don’t see it now.

    I have never heard of “italian oil”. I googled it and the top result was your comment so I think something was lost in translation. So yes, regular oil is fine except I have no idea how “regular oil” is defined. Generally I’d say that if it’s clear, comes in one gallon jugs and for use in sewing machines, that is what you want.

    About threading diagrams, I can’t help you. What’s more, the three people (now deleted) who had posted here offering to send threading diagrams to others, do not respond to emails. Each of them said for visitors to post their email addresses and they’d send them one but that didn’t work out and made this post a dumping ground of “me-too” comments. The better way to have done it was for those three making the offer to post their email addresses. The best thing of all, is for those three to send *me* the threading diagram which I could upload and provide a link in the entry so the whole thing becomes self service. But like I said, when I wrote those three and asked them to send me the diagrams, none of them responded. So, I deleted the comments with those offers.

    The rest of you looking for threading diagrams and manuals, I can’t help you. I don’t have a problem finding these and I don’t know what the difference is between the way we each search. If you want a *free* diagram, you’ll need luck with that one. You only get free stuff from friends and colleagues. Me, personally, I’d look first on my forum which is where we discuss and solve issues like this but then again, it’s not free either. There are yahoo sewing machine groups, I think those are great option if you’re on a budget.

  15. Jenny says:

    I just did a similar thing… but I was cautious enough to stop when the black passed the maximum oil fill line. I couldn’t tell at first whether it was black because it was empty or full, but finally the black part passed the top red line, and I realized I put in a little too much. Does anyone know if it is a problem if it is just slightly over-filled with oil? And does anyone know how to drain it? I haven’t looked under the machine yet.
    Thanks! Jenny

  16. Stu Friedberg says:

    I just noticed Vas’ contribution and would like to add this: Teresso 43 is an ISO 32 viscoity machine oil, which is far heavier than what we normally think of as sewing machine oil. Any high quality rust&oxidation protected, “turbine”, “hydraulic” or “circulating” oil of matching viscosity would be equivalent. Specifically, Mobil DTE Light or Mobil DTE 24 would be an excellent, and more readily available in the US, substitutes for Teresso 43.

  17. Jason says:

    I have you all beat. I bought my first industrial machine before I knew the head came off of the table, and that there was a pan of oil. The seller didn’t know either and we dropped the head, and all of the oil, onto the seller’s driveway.

  18. Christine says:

    I have just bought a rimoldi spa 327 overlooking machine
    It came with no instructions on how to thread the machine so I cannot use it please help

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