Setting Yourself Up for Sewing Success – Part 3

Here’s the last part of my Setting Yourself Up for Sewing Success class outline: Stitch Length, Helping your fabric move through your machine, Troubleshooting, and Final Thoughts.

Stitch Length

  • Default stitch length on many machines is 2.5 mm
  • The thicker the fabric, the longer the stitch
  • A stitch that is too long can cause puckers.
    • Use a shorter stitch length on silks and fine fabrics.

Test stitch length before you start sewing your garment!

Helping your fabric move through your machine: Feed Dogs, Pressure Foot Pressure, Walking Feet, and Straight Stitch Plates

Feed Dogs: The serrated bars that move the fabric through the machine, under the pressure foot and needle.

Tip: Try sewing the piece of fabric you are easing with that piece next to the feed dogs. The feed dogs move the fabric they touch a bit faster than the top fabric, so that will help with easing.

Pressure Foot Pressure: The higher the number, the more pressure the foot exerts downward.

  • Many machines allow you to adjust the pressure foot pressure up and down. Thicker fabrics may require less pressure. Test!

Walking Foot: A walking foot is basically a set of feed dogs for the top of the fabric. A walking foot can help feed the top and bottom fabrics through your machine evenly.

  • A walking foot is a good investment for the SCA sewist.
    • Good with sewing velvet
    • Good with thick layers.
    • Good for matching design motifs (stripes, brocade patterns) on fabrics.

Straight Stitch Needle Plate: A needle plate with a small hole, allowing for only a straight stitch. This type of plate provides extra support under the fabric to help the needle move through the fabric. Good for fabrics that are very heavy (helps needle punch through) and very fine (helps prevent needle from pushing fabric into the bobbin area).

  • Make sure you remember that you are using a straight stitch plate and not try to sew any stitches with width (e.g. zig-zag stitches).

Troubleshooting: What to try first when things go wrong

  • Change your needle
    • Make sure you’re using the right kind of needle for your thread & fabric
  • Re-thread your machine (top thread and bottom)
    • Make sure your bobbin is in correctly
  • Clean your bobbin area
  • Check your thread (Is it old? Poor quality? Too thick or thin?)
  • Check how your thread is coming off its spool. Is it coming off easily or getting caught on something? Remember to use the correct size spool cap. Alternatively, try using a threadstand.
  • Check your pressure foot pressure
  • Make sure your first stitch is on fabric.
  • Consider using a different foot or needleplate.
  • Try adjusting your machine’s tension if the stitches look off

If none of this solves your problem, take your machine in for servicing.

Remember that too much forcing or pulling your fabric through your machine can throw the machine’s timing off.

Final Thoughts:

  • Take classes if you can. Read books.
    • Online classes are available (e.g. Craftsy.com)
    • Non-historical sewing classes can help you become a better historical sewer/costumer
    • Consider going to Costume College (late July/early August, held in the Los Angeles area)
    • Traditional tailoring techniques can help you with more structured garments, such as 16th C clothing.
  • Invest in the best tools, thread, & fabric you can afford
    • Bad tools = frustration
  • Test First:
    • Garment mock-up
    • Stitch samples
  • Pre-treat/wash all your fabric if necessary
    • If you are going to wash your garment, wash the fabric and trims, if any.
    • Consider dry cleaning your fabric if you will be dry cleaning your garment
  • Be patient and methodical. Neatness counts!
  • Think ahead before you sew. What are your next steps?
  • Don’t sew when you are tired. 
  • If you want to buy a new machine:
    • Shop at authorized dealers who will support you. Avoid big-box stores or online
    • Authorized Dealers who do repairs in house, rather than sending out
    • If you feel pressured at a dealer, walk out.
    • Think about what you want in a machine. Needle up/down? Freearm? Automatic Buttonholes? Eyelets? Max. Speed? Kneelift? What are your deal-breakers?
    • Try a bunch of different machines and machine brands
    • Bring a bunch of the types of fabric you will be sewing and try out machines.
    • Ask your friends for recommendations (machines and dealers)
    • Consider high-quality used machines
    • Research the machines you are interested in online. Search for reviews and problems.
  • Get your machine service at least once a year
  • Maintain your machine. Clean. Oil if necessary.
  • Read your machine manual. It’s worth your time.
  • Sew with friends when you can. You can really learn a lot from each other!
  • We learn by doing.
  • Done is Beautiful.

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