Useful 3D printing -sewing machine jigs & fixtures

jig_or_fixture_smYes I have heard of the 3D printing technology but like many of you (c’mon, admit it) you rolled your eyes because in spite of repeated protests to the contrary, it wasn’t a short term or cogent solution for the apparel industry. However, I did stumble upon a cool use for it -that of making sewing machine jigs. I know you’re likely jumping up and down, clapping your hands with glee to hear the rest of this but quell your beating heart and listen up:

Oh wait, you’re not sure what a jig is? A jig is -courtesy of Wikipedia:

…a type of custom-made tool used to control the location and/or motion of another tool. A jig’s primary purpose is to provide repeatability, accuracy, and interchangeability in the manufacturing of products. A jig is often confused with a fixture; a fixture holds the work in a fixed location. A device that does both functions (holding the work and guiding a tool) is called a jig.

Okay. So today, after having written most of this entry, I learn that the device I’ve shown you (above, the green thingie) is technically a fixture. Sheesh. More directly within your frame of reference, I’ve shown you how to make a jig/fixture in the making of the welt pocket. If you’ve used that tutorial, you’ve learned that a jig/fixture is the critical difference in identical or near identical results which is why one goes through the bother of making one even if it is only out of paper.

Overly belabored introduction dispensed with, the sewing contractor I visited yesterday, creates 3D printed prototypical jigs to hold a workpiece at the machine (larger photo of the above). Once the jig/fixture has proven itself (iterations are color coded), a permanent jig is made in metal. I have never known a contractor who could make such pretty* jigs. It is truly impressive. Jig and fixture making (beyond the following paragraph) isn’t something one expects from a sewing contractor but this company has full bore machine shop. Usually if you need an attachment made, you have to send back east for it, pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars and then hope the thing is what you need. Before I forget, it is the customer who is expected to pay for this machining under typical circumstances unless you’re making thousands upon thousands of items. To the same ends, it likewise not unusual for a DE to own machines, jigs/fixtures or attachments that are loaned to a given contractor.

*Previously, most of the jigs I’ve seen (and made, let’s be honest) have largely amounted to crudely cut pieces of sheet metal with the edges ground down, and hinged with duct tape (for reals) for folding. I’m wondering if it would be cost effective to have some jigs/fixtures of my own invention, made for resale. It is yet another thing to think about.

Have a great weekend!

Oh, and if you’re interested in being put in contact with this contractor, do let me know because -in spite of their prodigious capacity and capability- they’re interested in exploring the world of small scale manufacturing.

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  1. Sabine says:

    well, if you want to go that way….I work in a metal fabricating/welding shop now…just saying (at the very least I can draw them up for you)

  2. Stephanie says:

    The geek in my heart sings when it sees this. I don’t need a jig for sewing anything, but damn that’s nice! Still not in the market for a 3D printer, but I know my son is itching for one. And seeing this, I can see some very tasty applications in my workshop (the one with the other power tools). Thanks!

  3. Eena says:

    Love it! I too have made many a jig – often out of cardboard, duct tape and the sort of clothes-hanger one gets from the drycleaner’s. Being able to print one would be wonderful.

    By the way, I’ve been reading your site and blog for a few months now,and want to thank you for all the information you provide. Some of it, naturally, is not applicable to those of us outside the USA, but much of it most certainly is. I’m a long-time home sewer who sews at home still, but now it’s for money, and not for myself (well, the money is for myself, of course!). Your site has given me several useful wake-up calls.

  4. Natasha E says:

    Well if I ever bite the bullet and get a 3d printer for making my shoe components. I shall certain indulge in whatever you’d like printed out. Husband is very pro 3d printing so it might be soon..

  5. Leslie Hanes says:

    I would love to see this in action, like a video with some examples. I can’t really understand what that particular jig (or fixture) does. It would be so cool to see a few different applications so I could determine if I could be using a jig. Or doing a jig?

  6. I love this! I am all about marking jigs. Saves brain power! I had to explain to people why they are important… someone once accused me of making jigs because I was lazy. Psh! I am not wasting my brain power when a piece of plastic or metal can cut down my strain.


  7. OOH! I thought of a question! If a job requires a jig, other than simple paper ones, to be made, how do you recommend it to the client? Since it’s purchased by the client but used by the maker, do you just “sell” the client on why a jig will help their product? What’s an appropriate way to bring that up?

  8. Kathleen says:

    Very good point Adrienne but let us put this into context. What kind of jigs have you made and or what job did they perform that made your life easier?

  9. Bente says:

    Thanks for todays lesson. Now I know what a jig is. Sounds like this contractor has more flexibility due to this 3D printing option/making of jigs that could benefit a DE with ideas “outside the box”.

  10. Most jigs I make are simple ones for consistency in placement. Sometimes they are marking jigs, you know, with slots for chalking. At the tactical company I used to work for we made marking jigs for almost every product. Jigs can help solve a lot of problems, in my opinion.

    Since I can make those myself and they save me time I don’t usually even mention them to the client. In the event that a more expensive type of jig made by a third party needed to be made to add to a machine, that’s what I am talking about.

    This is a larger concept in my brain, actually. If there is a tool or resource that would improve the work flow/quality etc of the finished product, do you sell that to the client or buy it yourself? Where is the balance?

  11. Stu Friedberg says:

    In the contract machining world (which has many business similarities with sewn-products), there’s something called non-recurring engineering (NRE). This shows up on quotes, and covers tooling/jig/fixture development. So in that world, it generally gets charged to the client explicitly.

  12. Kathleen says:

    Adrienne, what you’re describing sounds like what we call a guide or marking template. It’s in the book (pp 150-153). Imo (based on experience), a pattern isn’t complete if you haven’t provided the guides, it is part and parcel of the pattern. So yes you would charge the customer for them as part of the pattern process.

    I get what you’re saying but I don’t think these are jigs because they’re used to mark placement before sewing. Jigs and such are used in the sewing process itself, holding or forming the workpiece as it goes under the needle.

    If your customer needs the more expensive type then you would provide the pattern for it to be made and the customer would be responsible for paying whomever to make it for them.

    If there is a tool or resource to improve flow… we’ve talked about that a lot. Even in this entry I mention that it is typical for a customer to own attachments (for which they don’t own the machines). Attachments=jigs. You can only do a cost benefit analysis. It costs X hourly to sew; it will take X hours more without the tool vs with it. Etc. They may decide they don’t want the attachment. It’s their choice.

  13. We have also had different types of folders made for our machines for different jobs. My sewing machine mechanic is a wiz at making any type of jig, folder, binder, and adapting our machines to do the job as quickly as possible. Customers never asked for them and we have a box of past ones. I would just add into the price per piece and it never was an issue to the customer. They wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway. It was always designed to fit one of our machines.

  14. Teresa says:

    Someone at work has a vintage bound buttonhole device that you use to achieve identical results for each side and each buttonhole. Have you seen it? I think it was made by Dritz.

  15. Dara says:

    Why wasn’t one of the 3D print houses on demand mentioned here? Or cheap places to buy a printer that works? 3D printers like Plastibots we love are only around $1,000 each which is pretty reasonable if you’re looking to do folders/jigs in house. Alternatively, already does 3D Printing on demand including metals with a ship time of 1-2 weeks. Average price is $16-50 for a new jig we found in either plastic or metal. Given how much I’ve paid for some jigs this seems more than reasonable to dip your toe in the pool if you’re not ready to buy your own yet.

  16. Frances MC says:

    I have been trying to catch up on your posts so I’m late to this one. I want to point out that to make something with the 3-D printer, you will have to design your object then translate it into computer speak. So, unless you are capable of doing this yourself, you will have to hire some who is.

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