The story of Roy or how to learn to sew in 4 months

Danielle reminds me to tell you the story of Roy. Roy makes jeans. Very nice ones; I love his workmanship. There’s nothing I can tell you about Roy that you can’t read on his site except to say he’s a good source of inspiration. He taught himself to sew respectably well within four months. Roy’s background is in metal fabrication. Somehow, I’m not surprised. I’ve said to pretend your pattern pieces are sheet metal many times. If you can fabricate those to match, you can sew anything.

I like his shop -which you can see in the videos on his site. It may look messy to you but it’s cleaner than a lot of places. I like that he has nice tools and is using proper materials; the genuine stuff. Everything from (real) pattern paper, hooks, spreader to machines. Even his jury rigged, safety-pinned on ironing board cover is the real deal. You could learn a lot about what materials and equipment to have on hand by watching his videos. If you’re handy, you could do it very inexpensively. None of it was purchased new; it’s mature technology and very low cost. Well, except for maybe the tables if you can’t get them local.

More than anything, I like to watch his handling of materials as he feeds them through the machines. No one would say his handling is better than a line stitcher with 20 years experience but he has a knack for it. An ear too. In the second video on his site (youtube permalink), he pulls a bobbin before it bleeds out because he can hear the rattle (around min 5:15). I’m curious, can you hear your bobbin rattling before it runs out? I would never have thought to mention it.


At around minute 2:00, he begins flat felling the center back seam on a pair of jeans. Watch how his handling of the pieces changes once he approaches the yoke seam. At the outset, he’s overlaying the pieces. Going over the yoke seam to the end point, he’s curling the top layer of the seam. Perhaps you wouldn’t know it but that seam can be even more challenging without a slight pattern adjustment (that isn’t mentioned in any of the drafting books).

I have a sourcing question: Around minute 4:20, he’s pressing. See that orange material covering the board? I want some of that. You can see he has it pinned haphazardly but that’s the best stuff. I don’t know what it’s called so I can’t buy any. It’s one of those things I never thought to ask about on the job. Most plants keep at least a bolt of it around and use it for everything from iron board covers to machine covers.

The only thing I don’t envy about his machines is that the ones I saw in operation don’t have automatic thread trimmers. Once you have those, it’s a tough sell to go back.

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  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for the great link. I like his philosophy page the best! I was getting envious of all his sewing machines – and I really want one of the electric cutters he was using at 3:40.:)

  2. Lisa Brazus says:

    Thanks for the post. I love watching his videos and seeing all the machines. I feel as if I am in his studio and I learn something everytime I watch his videos. His workroom is awesome!! It is great that he is showing the construction process. Maybe it will make people more aware of the importance of sitting at a machine and learning how to stitch.

  3. Alexia says:

    Brilliant insight and video, thank you!

    Have popped onto the site to leave feedback and THANKS for the Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. I received it last night and I think it might save my life (or at least let me know that I’m not going completely insane!). I have obviously not read every single word cover to cover (quite) yet (I will this weekend), but I flicked through and caught a sentence saying ‘don’t assume that the manufacturer will act rationally’. I am slowly learning the benefits of clear communication but your book will make it a million times easier to get to grips with. I just wish i had known about it/bought it 8 months ago!!

  4. Nic Cornell says:

    Holy toys galore! Allow me to gush for a moment here….The videos are a sewing machinist’s dream! Did you see the juki long arm :) I have a machine collection (a couple of the ones he has), but Roy’s machine collection is quite impressive. Yes very masculine sewing indeed. LOVE IT! I want to meet and have a creative studio sewing session with this guy?!

    Hearing the bobbin running out – yes that’s a fun one, on a top loading machine I like to pull the thread quickly at the end and then slide the cover plate and pop the bobbin out with my pinki finger nail – right quick and efficient like :)

    imogeneandwillie – interesting too

    thanks for this one! inspiring

  5. Kathleen says:

    but I flicked through and caught a sentence saying ‘don’t assume that the manufacturer will act rationally’.

    You are the manufacturer (pg. 8, also) :)

    I think this comes from pg 14 where I say “don’t assume that industry suppliers and service providers will act rationally”. What I meant by this is that we do not act in ways that meet the expectations of new entrants to the industry. We do act rationally however but it often is not clear until one gains a greater context of our actions within industry culture and mechanisms. Case in point: we’re paranoid because our customers are paranoid and since they think we’re the weak link, we have to be very protective lest we be accused of anything nefarious.

  6. Kathleen says:

    I don’t think this is masculine sewing as much as it is geek sewing. We’ve got at least several geek sewing girls in these parts.

  7. Anir says:

    Yes, I agree with Kathleen, totally geek sewing. I would love a long arm, I like my machines powerful and fast and I’m female. One of the things that is notable about Roy’s set up for a one person shop is that he has dedicated machines for particular jobs–which can lead to specialized machines. For instance the machine that sews the back flat fell–you could set up a regular lock stitch with the folder to do this–but then you’d need to keep switching out the folder.

    I also wondered what Kathleen thought about the layout of the machines. I’ve only looked at the video once so I haven’t really mapped it out in my head–in any case Roy does get to move around a lot.

    Kathleen, I’m not sure if this is the orange fabric that you are looking for, but it’s sold as ironing board cover cloth: Pyron H Cover Cloth 60″ wide $14.00/yd at Banasch’s.
    here’s more about the fabric itself:
    and more

  8. Lynne says:

    Really enjoyed that video.

    The bit where you talk about him flat felling the centre back seam on a pair of jeans Kathleen – love how he tells us that he learnt if through a .com sewing class and then tries it and masters it from there. Roy is a legend!

    Thanks for sharing. I will watch that video often :)

  9. Kevin Bishop says:

    In the main entry the pattern modification at the yoke was alluded to. What is that pattern modification or adjustment that isn’t mentioned in textbooks?

    “…Going over the yoke seam to the end point, he’s curling the top layer of the seam. Perhaps you wouldn’t know it but that seam can be even more challenging without a slight pattern adjustment (that isn’t mentioned in any of the drafting books).”

    • Craig says:

      I may be a little late to the party but, the pattern modification you can do to the thick yoke seam to fit through the folder, is to trim about .25″ out of the bottom right corner of the left yoke and then snip another .25″ out of the top left corner of the the right leg of the jeans.
      You do this before you attach the yokes to each leg.
      Now you’ll notice when you attach the two back legs together there is far less fabric going through the folder and it all gets hidden in the joining seam.

  10. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    I second Kevin; what is the pattern modification? If I understand the process correctly, you will be transitioning from three layers to six layers as the seam is felled; I usually have problems feeding the material through the machine at that point, often ending up with a few stitches right at the transition that are shorter than the others. (This assumes that you are using a twin needle machine and have an attachment for felling; if it’s a faux-fell, then you can go from four layers to eight, which makes the difference even worse.)

    I’ve gotten around the problem by making a one-piece yoke. The amount taken out of the curve ends up being pretty negligible (IMO; feel free to correct me). I sew the two pieces for the back legs together at the crotch and then attach the yoke. ‘Course, I still have problems when I’m trying to bind the seam and faux-fell/topstitch it down, but the transition in material is somewhat easier to handle.

  11. vee says:

    Great inspiration reading story about Roy and his machines. I have been out of commission and back to reality. He uses a antique Singer sewing machine like I had since I was 14 (given to me by old neighbor years ago. I would watch her using it and was fascinated. I keep it clean. Never used it ,and was always thinking about selling it. Once saw one for parts for seventy five dollars. My studio in the basement looks like this but I have other activities going on. But its important for our society to understand that clothes are sewned by human beings that handle the machines. I make it slow to sew but I plan to remain local and not cross the seas. I am a one person show because none of my relative (6 siblings have the patience) to cut, trace, read, copy, or sew simple things. My husband helps but he is limited because of his impatience. Good Luck

  12. Lisa Blank says:

    I don’t think this is masculine sewing as much as it is geek sewing. We’ve got at least several geek sewing girls in these parts.

    I think I heard my named called. :-)

    Great videos. Thanks for bringing Roy to our attention. I intently watched how he handled sewing curves. I am still trying to get that down, though my excuse is that I don’t sew them often.

  13. Caramella says:

    Roy’s stuff is wonderful! But I noticed something interesting… In the ‘Buy Jeans’ section, the last photo (“IMG_7582” if you hover over it) is a close up of the leather tag. What is also evident is the fact that the yoke and the waistband are cut with the grain running around the body, contrary to Kathleen’s tutorial on waistband pet peeves. Has Roy fallen victim (as we all have) to layout economy vs. shrinkage minimisation (and therefore, fit)?

  14. Marie-Christine says:

    I totally resent the equation of geek with masculine. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s highly offensive.

  15. Kathleen says:

    … the yoke and the waistband are cut with the grain running around the body, contrary to Kathleen’s tutorial on waistband pet peeves. Has Roy fallen victim (as we all have) to layout economy vs. shrinkage minimisation (and therefore, fit)?

    I’m guessing he didn’t know another way of doing it. When you’re starting out, it is not bad to follow what others have done. It’s only once you master it that you’re qualified to re-engineer it.

    The entry to which Caramella refers is this one.

  16. Seth M-G says:

    @Sfriedberg: Since it’s rather difficult to search for specific machine types (well, at least on Juki’s site), have you ever seen a off-the-arm *lockstitch* machine? I’ve got a fairly strong bias against chainstitch machines.

  17. sfriedberg says:

    Seth, they are very rare. Miami Sewing’s website suggests the Consew 347R-1A is one example. (Hit the “Special Offers” button on their main page, then select the “Feed off-the-arm machines” link.)

  18. sfriedberg says:

    And a bit more research tells me that the Consew 347R-1A is a zig-zag machine with a fixed 10mm ZZ width, which probably isn’t what you want…

  19. George says:

    I know this is quite a late reply but this is the first time I have read this article.

    The feed-off-the-arm machine is a Union Special 35800 Felling Machine, they are three needle machines but are usually run with two. I am not sure what people have against chainstitch machines but they are much better (and much more expensive) than lockstitch machines.

    In regards to the waistband being cut on the straight grain and not the cross grain, there is not any other way to do it, selvage denim is only 29.5-31.5″ wide, with most White Oak being 31″ in width.

  20. sfriedberg says:

    George, there is another way to do it, but you have to pick your poison. It’s a tradeoff between a center back seam in the waistband with consistent shrinkage, or a one-piece waistband with inconsistent shrinkage.

  21. George says:

    You could do that, but it would not feed through a waistband folder. I suppose you could have a custom made spring waistband folder but that would seem to be an unnecessary hassle. I understand why this theoretically is an issue but considering the waist will simply stretch out when one wears the jeans, I would imagine the added bulk of a two-piece waistband would be more of an annoyance.

    It is not an issue that consumers are really concerned about, nor is it something they would even have the slightest clue about. It is no surprise nearly all pants are made this way, as why would a manufacturer decrease productivity for the sake of something that is not an issue (in their customer’s eyes at least).

  22. Kathleen says:

    I understand your points George, agree pieces wouldn’t fit in the folder set up you’re thinking of and even, that most customers would not care nor appreciate the difference in fit. Mostly tho, mention of the waistband design refers to an earlier post on optimal design and shrinkage and which is technically congruent with uniform shrinkage. And that would not be jelly roll style. The point of discussing it was not which grain direction is the optimal production scenario but what was best shrinkage wise. I believe we made mention that it wasn’t cost effective to do it the “correct” grain- wise etc.

  23. Jason says:

    I really appreciated watching Roy’s videos. I can relate to how he works. As a career electrician, I feel like I’m building sleeping bags more than sewing them. Reading about how he developed as a craftsman also helped a lot. Also, I don’t see 6 foot straight edges often is sewing circles, but I have two that I use all the time!

  24. Nick says:

    Hello I know I am replying to an old discussion, but I was curious what the pattern modification is for matching up the yoke during the lap seam? Or is the modification only to help with the multiple layers of denim at this point?
    I use an industrial lap seam machine with folder, and it can be difficult to get the yokes seams to match up during the final long lap seam from bottom to top. Is there a modification that would make this match up easier? My current pattern has two identical back panels so the yokes are at the same height.
    My machine does not seem to have any problems going through the numerous layers of denim at this junction. It’s just hard to get them to match well.

    • Craig says:

      It’s been awhile so you may have already figured this out, but there are a few reasons you may be having trouble matching up that back seam. Sometimes it’s just the tuning of the machine…. The puller and feed dogs may be off, it could also be the fabric. Different fabrics or fabric weights react differently going through the Union Special 35800. There are specific lap seam folders depending on the weight of the denim. They all look almost the same but they’re different. You should be able to see the kind of fabric its designed for on the folder after the serial number . For example: 23420z-9H. The H stands for “Heavy” .
      Also, sometimes it helps when you’re using the machine to pull a little on the left side, but not the right.

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