Thursday 3 July 2014

Tweaking your sewing machine for better results

A while back I had some things to say about the best sewing machine for learners to buy, but what if you already have a machine and don't want to invest in a better one, just yet?

There are a few ways you can make sure you are getting the best possible performance from your current machine, no matter how old or what model.

Firstly, how long has it been since you had your machine serviced?  Over time, whether you use the machine or not, the tension can go off and the machine will need a service and oiling.  None of what I am about to say will help if your machine needs a service!
If possible, ask your sewing friends about a recommended mechanic as there are some shonky operators out there, or take your machine to a fabric shop for them to arrange the service.
Don't bother going to Spotlight or Lincraft - if something goes wrong they won't care or help you out.  Smaller shops would never damage their own reputation by providing poor service.

Next, always use good quality thread.  To paraphrase that old motor oil advertisement "threads ain't threads, Sol.  So what's the difference?  Have a look at the following photo.

The bad thread at the top is fluffy and uneven.  That fluff and the lumps and kinks catch in the threading path and in the needle and you will get poor stitch quality.  The bottom thread is a good quality thread and will make your stitching look much better.

IMHO there are only 2 good brands of thread: G├╝terman and Mettler.  So when you see that barrel of threads at the shop selling 5 for $10, don't do it!  Resist and move on.

Also, make sure you always use good quality needles and replace them regularly.  So how often should you change needles?  Some say after every project, some say after 8 hours sewing, some say wait 'til it breaks!
I would probably lean towards the 8 hours sewing rule but I actually just check my stitches and listen to the needle when it's working to figure out whether it needs changing.
If you are getting skipped stitches or the the stitches are uneven, then it may be time for a new needle.
Also, if your needle is making a thudding sound as it pierces the fabric it's probably blunt and needs to be changed.
Certainly, if you are getting pulled threads in your fabric it is time for a new needle!

Another note on needles: your needle needs to be the right size for the job at hand.  A size 70 needle isn't going to be able to stitch a jeans zipper nicely.  Ballpoint needles are essential if you are sewing with knit fabrics.

Lastly change your feet....not your socks, just your feet ;-)
Most modern machines and certainly all budget machines come with clip on feet.  While these are cheap and easy to fit, they are not very stable.  Try it yourself.  Raise the foot and wiggle the foot side to side.  It has too much play.  Your stitch quality will improve if you swap to shanked feet.
A shanked foot includes the section that attaches to the bar, not just the flat bit that is in contact with your fabric.  Shanked feet are more stable and will make your stitching look its best.
This means removing the clip on attachment and screwing the feet on manually but I think it will be worth the effort if you want a better stitch.  There are not hard to find on the internet these days, new or second hand.  Here's a photo of an old style short shank foot.

I hope all that helps you get the best out of your machine, old or new.  Do you have any other tips for getting the best out of your machine?

Thursday 1 May 2014

This says it all!

This is what I really love about sewing.

I certainly enjoy the process of making a garment, and I definitely enjoy wearing my own creations, but at the very heart of things, is creating something that expressed who I am.

It also connects me to my very dear Mum who left us 5 years ago now.  Mum taught me to sew and sewing always connects me to her.  That is very special for me and eases the pain of her loss.

Mum is also with me when I teach.  Whether it reminds me of my learning with her, or hearing her say things like "a good press will fix that problem", she is with me every day I work with my lovely students.

God bless you Mum.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Working with sheer fabrics

Hi all,

Just wanted to share  project that my student, Laura has been working on over the past few months.  It started out as a bit of an experiment to learn some techniques for sewing sheer fabrics.  Laura wanted a simple jacket made from an inexpensive organza, which may, or may not, see the light of day.  Laura wasn't concerned about the result, just wanted to learn the techniques.

Sheer fabrics do require different construction techniques.  As you can see right through the fabric, the seams need to look smooth and inconspicuous.

We used french seams and narrow double stitched seams and triple layer hems to construct the jacket and trimmed all the seam allowances right back for a neat finish.

When the jacket was almost done Laura decided to add flounces to the sleeves - another new technique for her.  the sleeves were finished with a rolled hem on the overlocker.

The buttons on the collar add a classy touch and the cluster of buttons on the front are done up with thread loops.

As you can see the results are excellent and this little jacket will definitely see the light of day!  Or, more likely a candlelit dinner.  This jacket lifts a pretty camisole top to a formal level.  It will be a great travel option, taking the cami from daytime to dinner date with ease, and no added bulk in the suitcase.

Great work Laura!

If you'd like any further information regarding the techniques we used, please feel free to contact me here.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Which sewing machine should I buy?

For beginner sewers, this is my most frequently asked question.

It is quite a dilemma!  There are machines out there that sell for $100 and others that sell for thousands of dollars.  Which brand, what features, new or second hand?  Are they all the same?

I have pretty clear views on sewing machines - what you need and don't need.


The short answer to the big question is "get a Bernina machine".

The long answer to the big question is "get a Bernina machine, and here is why you should…."

Now let me explain why I say "Bernina" (and some other machines that would be fine too.) ;-)

I should also add here that I am not affiliated with Bernina in any way - I just love their machines.

1.  A beginner sewer needs a machine that will be reliable and predictable.  

The last thing a beginner (or any of us!) needs is to have to battle with a cheaply made machine that has a poor quality stitch and is frequently jamming with tangled threads.  You cannot be friends with a machine that fights you every step of the way!

A quality built machine like a Bernina, doesn't have such issues, so you can be more productive and enjoy your sewing time.

2. You do not need a lot of bells and whistles on your machine.  

A lot of cheap brands try to entice you with various gadgets, but they usually comes at the expense of the build quality and more important features.  The more important features, in my mind are: a range of needle positions (not just 2!), a variable width zigzag, a solid pedal and a good range of quality feet.

The vast majority of garment or home dec sewing will be done using a straight stitch, a zigzag and an overlock stitch, so you really don't need hundreds of decorative stitches.  There are lots of ways to create decorative embellishments without having many stitch patterns.

A basic Bernina machine has the same build quality as the top of the line model.  They just add more stitches and features as you go up the line.   This is not so for many other brands.  The Bernina feet are well designed, stable and do their job very well.

Watch this little video to see what I mean.  Make sure you watch right to the end!

3. You need a machine you can afford.  
Bernina machine are not cheap! Brand new machines start at $800 (AUD) so, what can you do if that is outside your budget?  

 - get creative!  Think outside the box!  Got a birthday coming up?  Ask for a combined birthday/Christmas/Mother's day gift from your family.

 - put your tax return money towards the purchase

 - buy a second hand Bernina (do be careful here - "buyer beware" and do your homework!)

 - take advantage of sales - Mothers Day and Christmas

Okay, so you still can't manage that sort of money?  Whatever you do, please do not buy a $100- $200 machine!  They are rubbish and will only let you down.

 Does your mum or grandma have a machine they aren't using anymore?  Vintage machines are usually much better quality than cheap modern machines.  

This is a gorgeous vintage machine was owned by Megan's Grandma and it stitches beautifully!

Janome does make a decent budget machine which is priced around $400 - the My Excel 18W.  Some of my students have this machine and it is quite good.  

The bottom line is this: buy the best quality machine you can afford.  

If you have any questions about choosing a machine, please post a reply and I will help in any way I can.

Here are a couple of my Berninas:

My main machine - 440QE
Ol' Faithful - an 830 - 40 years old and still sews like a dream!

A final note:

If you already have a machine, you aren't happy with it but cannot afford to upgrade there are some thing you can do to improve its performance.  Stay tuned and I will post a blog on that subject soon!

Thursday 2 January 2014

Sewing Guild Convention!

Hi everyone,

I'm very excited to tell you that the programme for the 2014 Australian Sewing Guild Convention is up on the ASG website, and ready for your perusal!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ASG or the Convention, it is a week of learning, inspiration and fellowship with like minded people.  We have classes for 4 days, plus special speakers and shopping opportunities and meeting lovely new friends.

Convention is in Sydney this year, at the beautifully located Shore Grammar School in North Sydney.

My week at Convention is an absolute highlight of my year and often have trouble getting to sleep for all the amazing new ideas whizzing round my head.  You will not get a better "value for money" holiday!

Here's a link: ASG Convention.

Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have!

Here are some snaps of previous conventions: