Clothes alteration & sewing

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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horsewoman
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Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by horsewoman » Sat Oct 05, 2019 11:46 am

Ego wrote:
Sat Jul 13, 2019 9:03 am
What a great twist this thread has taken! I think we need an alteration thread where these skills are taught.

What are some examples of professional quality sewing and tailoring equipment and why are they useful?
Thanks for the reminder @Ego! Finally a thread where I feel competent to give advice! :)
If anyone has questions or needs trouble shooting for a sewing project I'm very happy to help (I used to work in a tailors shop when I was a young gal and never stopped sewing all my life).

As for examples of equipment, it really depends on how much you sew and what you sew. If you are making vests/camisoles/stretchy things out of oversized T-shirts you need different equipment than for repairing jeans.

A basic sewing machine will be enough for most jobs, and the less fancy it is, the better for a beginner. My overpriced "Brother" computer sewing machine has been driving me nuts for years because it is such a diva. If it could talk - and I'm SO glad it can't! - it would go like this:

"You pulled on the fabric! How DARE you pulling on the fabric!! I have a sophisticated 7-way-fabric-transport-system and I do NOT countenance fabric pulling by a clumsy human! I will punish you by wantonly destroying my bobbin case which costs 40 € to replace! Ha!").

If you get a used machine it may be sensible to look for a special mechanic to have it regulated. This is money well spent for a beginner because an unregulated machine will give you trouble (jammed thread, uneven stitches, jammed fabric...). Here in Germany it is not expensive either.
There are lots of YouTube videos for repairing/regulating a sewing machine for handy people, though. It depends on your skill level with fixing motors and machines in general, I suppose. Most sewing machines tend to be fussy, maybe due to the strong shaking while sewing? A sturdy table is advisable in any event.

My 35 year old "Pfaff" however seldom gives me a headache (I got it used for my 14th birthday! Still going strong).
The all-time favourite however is a "Juki" industrial sewing machine, a regular workhorse! Only straight stitch but this it does perfectly and without any fuss. There is a strong used market for those, at least in Europe. It sews through leather and layers of jeans without complaint.

Regardless of the machine, using the right needles is crucial for the success of your project. There are sturdy needles for denim, thin ones for delicate fabric, needles with a little blade for leather and needles for elastic fabric. At a certain skill level you can sew most stuff with a medium all purpose needle but in the beginning using the appropriate needle will save you lots of cursing.

There are also sergers, machines which are used to finish off the edges of fabric to avoid fraying. A serger is also great for stretchy fabric, because it can do an elastic stitch (which a regular sewing machine can do as well with some workarounds, but it is more difficult to get a neat result.)

Most important are good scissors, and even more importantly, use this scissors ONLY for fabric. Paper will dull the blades and cutting fabric will be a pain in the ... afterward. Since my kid will steal (and ruin) my scissors all the time I do not buy expensive ones. The cheap ones work just as well as long you are using them on fabric only.

A leftover habit from my tailor shop days is having a steam iron running while sewing. I press all seams directly after sewing them, it makes sewing easier and gives you a neater end product.

This is what I can think of at the top of my head, I'm sure @Sclass has some useful hints as well!
Last edited by horsewoman on Sun Oct 06, 2019 2:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Ego
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by Ego » Sat Oct 05, 2019 5:41 pm

@horsewoman, thank you! I was at the swap meet this morning and saw an industrial machine. I didn't ask the price but I know the vendor well and am confident it was not much. When I looked at it I thought of that thread.... and now you post this. Wonderful tips. I will keep an eye out for good scissors as well.

horsewoman
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by horsewoman » Sun Oct 06, 2019 2:38 am

There are no better machines for repairing outdoor gear, like loose straps or if anything gets torn. These old Jukis have lots of power and the industrial heavy duty needles take a lot of abuse before breaking.
I repair our horse gear all the time, and considering how much power a horse has, everything that is used on one needs to be sturdy! Same with dog harnesses and beds ect. A regular sewing machine will have trouble with these things. Sometimes I toy with the idea of setting up a business of gathering up broken horse/riding gear and sell it after repairing it. There are people who do this with outdoor gear as well, at least I see some posts on facebook now and then. Yields and flows :)

7Wannabe5
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Oct 06, 2019 10:47 am

I agree these are great tips. I am sewing a pioneer woman costume for Halloween party and I am cursing the fact that my minimalism precluded dedicated sewing shears and my BF's ironing board was rescued from trash heap and leans to one side. I tried to do a clean rip, but botched it pretty bad.

Anyways, I am at best advanced beginner in all forms of needle craft. Luckily, babies still look cute even if their sweaters are lumpy.

Sclass
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by Sclass » Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:53 am

I’m not much of a tailor. I’ve managed to learn a lot by buying cheap second hand clothes and just trying to alter them. It’s good when you can get something free that you don’t like so when you ruin it you don’t get upset. Our society is awash with cast off clothes.

Like a few weeks ago I got something that was too small. It was hanging out of the neighbors trash. I expanded it by adding panels of non matching materials just to see if it would work. It looked crazy but I learned a lot. This way the material is free and the thread is nearly free too (I buy one pound spools surplus on eBay). Then add your time.

For thick stuff like straps I like my walking foot machine. An industrial machine can mean a lot of things. Like a dressmakers machine or a sail makers machine. Know what you want before getting one of these big beasts. I passed on my neighbors Juki because it was huge with its table and motor combo. It was purposed for making commercial grade thin garments (high quality stitch, speed, many adjustments). A home machine is made to do many things sufficiently well while an industrial is made for a specific operation it does with absolute perfection. It’s kind of like a screwdriver versus a Swiss Army knife. They’re great to have but they take a lot more space for less versatility.

One of my friends commented I could do all my sewing on my upholstery machine. Yes, kind of. It is a heavy beast. It is slow and deliberate. To do so I need to adjust tension for fine thread and switch to small needles. Then when I sew it feels like I’m driving a HumVee in Parisian traffic. Hence the need for multiple machines.

I do my own timing (regulating). It isn’t that hard once you do one. The machines are fundamentally the same. I downloaded some old Singer and Elna service manuals and just read how to loosen all the magic screws and line up the marks. If the machine isn’t overly worn you can do well using these guides which is what most of the videos on YouTube show.

Only do this if the machine isn’t sewing well to start with. I retimed my late mother’s Singer. She put it away mysteriously years ago. As I tried to use it recently I noticed I broke one needle after another. She never told anyone and was too cheap to take it in for repair. I opened it up and found out it’s needle bar was way out of time. She probably hit a button or zipper and it’s shaft slipped. The tolerances are low enough on these machines they can be adjusted by eye and don’t require any special measurement devices. Once you know how it works you follow the service manual and align things up and tighten.

Sewing repair shops are going away. And the remaining people doing this are ripoff artists (like car repair people). I know my local tech will take in a vintage machine for tuning and lubrication. He quotes a high price to get it going and then he offers a new plasticky modern machine “for the price of the repair” with trade in. I see his eBay listings all the time of the old machines he gets from people. He lubes them, times them, replaces the broken bits then sells them on eBay to collectors. Total crook.

So I suggest learning how to fix your own machine. It isn’t rocket science. Be brave...like with the alterations. Start with a jumble sale machine you don’t mind ruining.

paretotime
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by paretotime » Tue Oct 08, 2019 2:04 pm

I mostly learned like @sclass on free clothes discarded by others or cheaply procured by the pound. Practicing alterations and small projects with essentially free material can lead to some surprisingly wearable and usable results. In the early days some things didn't turn out, but it was all part of the learning curve. A few remakes later and I'm probably at advanced intermediate level now. I have a 45 year old Singer sewing machine that is solid and reliable for most projects, and recently got a second hand serger which makes the knit edges much easier. Before getting an overlocker, you can do a lot with regular zig zag stitch or a pair of pinking shears that you can trim your seams with to prevent ravelling. It's a lot more portable to have just 1 machine while learning, and 2 pair of fabric scissors is a bit fancy but a nice way to up your game without committing to more equipment.

Sclass
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by Sclass » Tue Oct 08, 2019 4:35 pm

Gotta love those old singers for learning. Totally BIFL. Actually it lasts several owners.

This was my first machine. I got it for $25 at a rummage sale with a built in table.

Image

No cost of failure. Just jump in.

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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by jacob » Tue Oct 08, 2019 5:33 pm

@Sclass - You paid $25? :shock: :? I'm not entirely sure what "paid" means, but real men pull their sewing machines out of rice paddies and restore them like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Veuf_IeCeI (<- restoration porn---I halfway suspect he dumped it in the mud in order to film himself cleaning it up though). Seriously though, did you fix it up after buying it or get it in that condition? Either way, that's the way machines are supposed to look.

I once *won* a Singer+table in a somewhat worse condition on freecycle back when I lived in the east bay and my reach exceed my grasp---as did a lot of other peoples' as I subsequently noticed the machine making the rounds after freecycling it back again. I hope it eventually made it to a good home :D

Sclass
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by Sclass » Tue Oct 08, 2019 6:35 pm

So the machine was a great story. I got it in 1992 at the White Elephant Rummage sale put on by the Oakland Museum for those who remember that place. I eyed it from a distance and an older lady approached and asked if I wanted to buy it. I told her it looked like a very useful tool to own, but I didn’t know how to sew. She said “I’ll teach you.” Fifteen minutes later I was sewing scraps of fabric together. I asked how much was it and she said $25. It was working when I got it but it was missing bobbin covers and it had a thick coating of old grease all over it. The table was scratched and flaking. The black enamel was all there but it had a cracked finished due to the age. Most importantly it worked.

I got it back to school and rewired it with parts from the EE stockroom. :lol: Then I got the missing access panels to pretty it up from a local sewing shop in Palo Alto. I was stunned they had everything in stock. $10 later I had needles, bobbins, panels and a scrap of fabric to reupholster the bench. I refinished the wood with stain and oil. Cleaned up the cast iron with rubbing alcohol.

And that is how I got into machine sewing. I’ve got three more machines now. Some in the sewing thick stuff thread. The 1942 Singer cannot sew leather or vinyl easily. The walking foot is the game changer for thick payloads. I later got into vintage Elnas just because they are slick Swiss precision tools.

This one was $65 from eBay +$35 in repair parts.

Image

Home sewing machines are a dime a dozen at rummage sales. Buy one. Learn how to make it tick. Then sew. I’m indebted to that Oakland Museum volunteer who showed me how to lay down my first stitches. I can still picture her face as she desperately tried to move these unwanted machines.

Edit- wow looking back at that old Singer I realize what a game changer that was for me. I was the only grad student in the department with a sewing machine. I sewed windsurf sails, ski bags, ski pants, ice skating costumes, Halloween costumes and my landlord’s hems the first year. My gang of grad school buddies all dressed up as Gumby characters and went bar crawling. It saved tons of cash.

I hit this big thrift shop and got a wardrobe of awesome fashionable clothes that didn’t fit me. They were all the same style and looked cool so I bought them and made them fit. I remember my thesis adviser staring at me wondering about my new found style. Later a gal I worked with approached me and asked where I got all that stuff. I told the story about how I got a dozen like outfits all exactly the same size and how I altered them. They were super flashy. She nodded and said, “I’d put money on it that you’re wearing the clothes of a gay man who recently died of AIDS.” The clothes looked that good.

And that really got me moving along the path of not giving a damn and just getting good once loved stuff at a great price and getting ahead.

The same girl held my lead crystal glasses bought at the same shop for pennies and said, ”and these are...Divorce.” :lol:

horsewoman
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by horsewoman » Thu Oct 10, 2019 12:52 am

Sclass wrote:
Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:53 am
For thick stuff like straps I like my walking foot machine. An industrial machine can mean a lot of things. Like a dressmakers machine or a sail makers machine. Know what you want before getting one of these big beasts. I passed on my neighbors Juki because it was huge with its table and motor combo. It was purposed for making commercial grade thin garments (high quality stitch, speed, many adjustments). A home machine is made to do many things sufficiently well while an industrial is made for a specific operation it does with absolute perfection. It’s kind of like a screwdriver versus a Swiss Army knife. They’re great to have but they take a lot more space for less versatility.
You make good points here, there are specialized machines that can used only for one operation. But the real special machines look pretty different form the regular straight stitch machines as well, so they are easy to tell apart. I typed "Juki industrial sewing machine" into the ebay-search and all machines that popped up that looked like "normal" sewing machines would probably fine to get. But like I said, a basic home sewing machine would be best for a beginner.
Sclass wrote:
Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:53 am
One of my friends commented I could do all my sewing on my upholstery machine. Yes, kind of. It is a heavy beast. It is slow and deliberate. To do so I need to adjust tension for fine thread and switch to small needles. Then when I sew it feels like I’m driving a HumVee in Parisian traffic. Hence the need for multiple machines.
I agree with your friend :) I sew everything on my Juki as long as I can get away with straight stitch. But OTOH my juki is a modern machine and while it can be slow and deliberate when sewing heavy material it can also zip through Parisian traffic like a racing bike. :) Sorry for waxing so poetically about my juki, but it is such a joy to use, compared to all my other machines.
Sclass wrote:
Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:53 am
I do my own timing (regulating). It isn’t that hard once you do one. The machines are fundamentally the same. I downloaded some old Singer and Elna service manuals and just read how to loosen all the magic screws and line up the marks. If the machine isn’t overly worn you can do well using these guides which is what most of the videos on YouTube show.

Only do this if the machine isn’t sewing well to start with. I retimed my late mother’s Singer. She put it away mysteriously years ago. As I tried to use it recently I noticed I broke one needle after another. She never told anyone and was too cheap to take it in for repair. I opened it up and found out it’s needle bar was way out of time. She probably hit a button or zipper and it’s shaft slipped. The tolerances are low enough on these machines they can be adjusted by eye and don’t require any special measurement devices. Once you know how it works you follow the service manual and align things up and tighten.

Sewing repair shops are going away. And the remaining people doing this are ripoff artists (like car repair people). I know my local tech will take in a vintage machine for tuning and lubrication. He quotes a high price to get it going and then he offers a new plasticky modern machine “for the price of the repair” with trade in. I see his eBay listings all the time of the old machines he gets from people. He lubes them, times them, replaces the broken bits then sells them on eBay to collectors. Total crook.

So I suggest learning how to fix your own machine. It isn’t rocket science. Be brave...like with the alterations. Start with a jumble sale machine you don’t mind ruining.
Great tips, I would not have thought of downloading a service manual of a different kind of machine. There was none to find for my PFAFF, but this may be a possibility. The Juki machine came with a detailed manual for regulation, I was able to do all necessary timing myself without trouble.
The story about the service guy is terrible! Good to know that this is possible a scam.

What about timing newer machines, though? My mechanic will not touch my digital brother quilting machine, so I had to send it in to the factory twice already. (Did I mention that I hate this machine? I should get rid of it, but I kinda don't want to burden anyone with this thing.)

Sclass
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by Sclass » Thu Oct 10, 2019 3:18 pm

You got me horsewoman. I’ve never sewn with a Juki. I’ve looked at a bunch and made assumptions about them. I thought they were suited for assembly line operations but come to think of it there is always one in the front of the dry cleaners/alterations shops in my area. My neighbor was selling one for almost nothing but it was so big I didn’t have space. She made blouses for a living in her garage.

The industrial machine that is my HumVee is this.


Image


Check out the size of the wheel. It is several kilos of steel. Great for thick stacks of leather that have the tendency to feed unevenly on conventional feet. The wheel has the momentum to go through thick loads and draw heavy thread under high friction but, it is hard to start and stop because of the inertia.

So this is what I was referring to.

You have me interested in a Juki dressmakers machine. There are a lot forsale on Craigslist in my area. I think people buy them for craft businesses and end up quitting like my neighbor.

Beautiful machine. I notice quite a few out there have compound walking feet.

Image

I haven’t tried timing an “electronic” machine. I did look at my friends new Bernina electronic and I found that while it was full of sensors, circuitry and smarts, the actual needle bar, shuttle and hook were the same mechanism as a fifty year old machine. They haven’t figured out a high tech way to create the interlock stitch any better than older machines. The electronics seemed to be for embroidery, feed control and needle starting position and end position. These were simply governed by a number of optical and electrical sensors that shouldn’t require much adjustment because they don’t govern tension, needle and hook clearance which are done the old way.

The zig zag was done with an electric motor rather than a cam. However tuning this servo mechanism is simply a matter of adjusting the initial position of the displacement sensor on the needle bar. The software governing the relationship between the sensor and actuator is not something that gets changed by the technician.

Again I could be wrong because I’ve never torn one of these down and tried to adjust it. It’s possible your tech isn’t comfortable with electronics. I bet there is a manufacturer’s service manual for the machine that documents all the adjustments. I bet all that is needed is checking the calibration of the position sensors - for the electronic side. Then the mechanical side is tuned like a conventional machine.

horsewoman
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by horsewoman » Sat Oct 12, 2019 5:11 am

Oh well, I see what you mean. This machine is a beast!
The Juki on the picture is about the same model I have, I can't make out the number on the label but mine is a DDL as well.
It has what the sales guy called "needle transport", I'm not sure if this is the same as a "compound walking feet" but I suppose so.
At any rate, at this point I have not sewn any kind of fabric that did not run through the machine smoothly, even jersey which is notoriously finicky to sew neatly on a regular machine.

Back in the 90s in the tailor shop there was a really old Juki (the grey ones who look a little bit like WW2-planes). Sewing on it was not so nice like it is on the white (and newer) models, but it was still a good reliable machines that could handle everything from flimsy silk blouses to tweed blazers to heavy velvet gowns.

So far the only gripe I have with my Juki is that the oil somehow will spread over the whole machine when used very little. No idea why, since the oil is in a pan underneath the machine, embedded in the table. I noticed that the thread in the bobbin is soaked in oil after the machine was not used a while, plus the foot and pole are coated in oil. At the moment I solve this by removing the bobbin and by winding a rag around the foot and needle. But since it is a machine made for being used a lot I can understand that sitting idle is not doing it any favors. But I actually did so far not even lkook into the manual if this is addressed (facepalm!).
Sclass wrote:
Thu Oct 10, 2019 3:18 pm
Again I could be wrong because I’ve never torn one of these down and tried to adjust it. It’s possible your tech isn’t comfortable with electronics. I bet there is a manufacturer’s service manual for the machine that documents all the adjustments. I bet all that is needed is checking the calibration of the position sensors - for the electronic side. Then the mechanical side is tuned like a conventional machine.
It took me some time to realize this, but it is best to treat it like a computer, not like a sewing machine. At the slightest hitch it needs to be restarted, so that everything can align again. I've had far fewer problems since I'm doing this. But at the moment there is definitely something wrong with the alignment of the needle, since it always gets stuck in the bobbin case (and hereby damaging it. I found a tip online to polish the nicks out the plastic with fine sanding paper, which works up to a point). There is indeed a service manual online to download for 5 bucks. Could be worth giving it a try, together with my dad who loves fiddly DIY projects.

Sclass
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Re: Clothes alteration & sewing

Post by Sclass » Sat Oct 12, 2019 1:26 pm

Needle transport probably refers to the needle being able to move forward and backward to aid the feed dogs in dragging the material forward. This is a great feature compared to simple up down needle sewing found on simple home machines. Walking feet are basically two feet that walk on the fabric so that there is always a foot applying pressure to the fabric at all times. For upholstery this is great because the layers tend to slip relative to one another while feeding. A needle feed is another way to solve this problem. I didn’t realize the Juki had this but it makes sense since it needs to produce professional quality straight stitching and minimize slippage between fabric layers. That’s why I can always see the difference between garments sewn on my home machines vs. the original manufacturer’s stitching. The home machine transport is primitive.

Best seen in video.

https://youtu.be/avr3pN_udMA

Your brother machine definitely sounds like it has a mechanical timing problem. Slipped needle bar height or rotary timing of the hook is out. The scratch on the bobbin case is the telltale sign. My feeling is that this adjustment is just like any conventional machine. Even though electronic machines can move the needles up or down under computer control, the timing to the shuttle is still coupled mechanically.

It’s amazing how easy it is to knock a machine out of time by striking a button or a zipper. I think it is a historical tradition that this adjustment was left to the technicians and isn’t done by the user. What I’m saying is it is easy to slip the machine and easy to align it again.

I do mine by opening up the machine so I can see the hook/bobbin and needle tip. Then I slowly roll the machine forward and compare the relative position of the needle, hook and dogs for a complete cycle. The needle bar is set by checking the highest and lowest heights with a 10mm ruler relative to the dog position. The hook and shuttle are rotated after loosening a grub screw to set the clearance between the hook and needle eye so that the thread is reliably caught. Basically two settings.

There are basically a couple of criteria the machine needs to follow. The dogs must move the fabric when the needle is up (again on the simple home machine not the professional model). The hook must nearly scrape past the notched part of the needle (~1mm above the eye) to pick up the thread as it passes. I think if these two conditions are met the machine should stitch without collision.

Fun stuff! $5 on a manual is money well spent.

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