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?