Using a sewing machine

Discussion in 'Replica Costumes' started by Rick Hanson, Apr 14, 2006.

  1. Rick Hanson

    Rick Hanson Sr Member

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    In a fit of unheralded manliness, I bought a sewing machine a couple of weeks ago. :lol

    Those who know me, know I'm in the US Navy. I recently had to buy a bunch of new uniforms, and it made more sense to finally learn how to do all the sewing myself rather than pay someone else a ton of extra money.

    Good news is, I fumbled my way through it well enough to get said uniforms together in a presentable fashion, and the machine basically paid for itself in the process. Bad news is, I went through about a metric ton of needles while doing so. :unsure

    The manual that came with the machine mentions tension settings numerous times, but doesn't really offer any guidance on exactly what the proper tension would be for a given fabric type. I'm also a little cloudy on the relationship between needle gauge and the job at hand. We won't even get into all the damned stitch settings - I'm sticking strictly with the "default" for now. :lol

    I'm a very mechanically inclined, hands-on sort of person, and I *know* I could be much better at sewing, which in turn would be a fantastic skill to have under my belt for future costume projects. My major stumbling block right now is that I'm lacking some of the basic knowledge required to actually develop the skill properly, and I have nobody around to teach me.

    If anyone has any tips, tricks or hints that could help me get better at this (and not break a needle every 5 minutes) I would be most appreciative. This is something I"m really interested in learning how to do the *right* way. :)

  2. blubeetle3

    blubeetle3 Well-Known Member

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    I was in a similar boat (sorry for the Navy pun) about a decade ago. I was a sports jersey collector. I realized how much it would cost to put names and numbers on all those jerseys and, finally, said "To Hell with it. I'll do it myself.". I went out and bought a sewing machine, found a place that sold sports-grade tackle twill, and went to work.

    Here are some tips: You mentioned using the "default" stitch. That's called a "chain stitch". It's the most frequently used stitch on a sewing machine. The tension knob regulates how long each of the "links" in the chain stitch will be. Loosen the knob for longer links. Tighten it for smaller links.

    You mentioned something about breaking a lot of needles. Either you're trying to sew really tough fabric, you're buying really cheap needles, or, most likely, you're trying to feed the fabric through the machine too quickly. Your sewing machine should have those little serrated feet on either side of the port the needle goes down through. It's their job to feed the fabric through the machine. Your hands are there just to guide it along.

    If you can, always use a piece of "test" fabric to set your tension and decide how long a stitch you'll need.

    Hope this helps you.
  3. Darth Mule

    Darth Mule Sr Member RPF PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Go to a local fabric store and see if they offer classes on how to use a sewing machine. Sometimes the store you purchase your machine from offers these as well. This is the best way to learn your way around the machine is to have someone show you where everything is.

    I can say this tho. Most sewing jobs you can pretty much stick with a 14 Gauge needle. The higher the number, the thicker the needle. For instance, 18 would be suitable for leather and 10 would be what you would use on silk chiffon.

    Blubeetle3 wrote:
    "Here are some tips: You mentioned using the "default" stitch. That's called a "chain stitch". It's the most frequently used stitch on a sewing machine. The tension knob regulates how long each of the "links" in the chain stitch will be. Loosen the knob for longer links. Tighten it for smaller links."

    Not so.. The default stitch on most sewing machines. If there is a default. Is a straight stitch. A chain stitch is mcuh like the one you find on dog food bags. You know, the one that you pull and it comes unravelled. A common domestic sewing machine won't even do this stitch as most home machines are 2 thread locking stitch machines. A chain stitch is a single thread stitch that usually requires a special machine to accomplish.
  4. Got Maul

    Got Maul Official Licensee RPF PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Let me suggest a book that changed my skills forever :

    The Complete Book of Sewing



    These are the same visual guys who did our SW prop books and this book is just as visual. It walks you through everything visually. Its a great reference.
  5. blubeetle3

    blubeetle3 Well-Known Member

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    My bad. Mea culpa. The default is indeed the straight stitch.

    I brain-farted.
  6. AlderaanGirl

    AlderaanGirl Well-Known Member

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    Actually, if you bought your sewing machine new, it should have come with an instruction book/manual. These usual have the basics about using your sewing machine and sewing. There's the how to section and usually a troubleshooter section. It also usually details what size needle is best for different types of fabrics. Definitely look it over.

    I know I have broken needles before and that is because I used the wrong size for the wrong fabric.
  7. Darth Lars

    Darth Lars Master Member RPF PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Go slow on particularly thick sections such as when you are sewing through 4+ layers of thick fabric. If there is a hand-wheel you can turn to work the machine by hand, it is safer to use it at these places.
  8. WookieeGunner

    WookieeGunner Well-Known Member

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    One tip I've learned the hard way. Make sure the flat edge of the needle is in the right way and after securing, slowly hand crank the needle through a cycle to make sure it isn't crooked. I can't tell you how many needles I broke because they were in slightly crooked.
  9. SmilingOtter

    SmilingOtter Master Member

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    I was given a basic sewing machine by my very kind mother after I sewed a grim reaper/ringwraith costume for Halloween one year by hand. Shortly thereafter I picked up "Sewing for Dummies." It was a big help, but I also plan to look for the DK book as well. Good luck.
  10. Rick Hanson

    Rick Hanson Sr Member

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    Awesome stuff, thanks everyone. I realize a lot of this will simply hinge on practicing, so I think I'm going to go pick up some fabric and a few simple patterns to mess around with tomorrow. Make myself a bathrobe or something. :lol

    Got Maul, I ordered a copy of that book from Amazon. Thanks very much for the suggestion. :)
  11. Lynn TXP 0369

    Lynn TXP 0369 Sr Member

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    Yeah, I too got tired of having a seamstress do stuff for me, it is too hard trying to relate what you want to someone else and not having it come out to what you want.

    Practice is the best thing. So far I've sewn up all of my own Boba Fett soft parts, 2 Jawas, and I started working on 2 Kermit the Frog puppets.
    I'm getting better as I go.

    I may not be doing seamstress quality, but it comes out OK and works for me. :lol I'm getting better though.

  12. LordVdr

    LordVdr Well-Known Member

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    Hot dang, this is an excellent thread. I've been contemplating buying a sewing machine myself, but didn't think I'd be able to figure out how to use it.

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