Sewing Machine Fundamentals

Sewing Machine Fundamentals
When our useful, much used machines and appliances, such as computers, food processors, coffee machines, hair dryers, or sewing machines, go on the blink they can become the focus of much intense frustration; we can then subject the object of our frustrations to righteous relentless ravings and technology bashing diatribes. Not that this will make them work any better. A little anticipatory thought as to what our machines need to keep them running smoothly and seamlessly in sync with our lives helps to keep our (machine) frustrations at bay. Our valued sewing machines are a case in point.

Sewing machines are at once supremely practical, a wonder of synchronous moving machine parts mechanical and digital yet surprisingly easy to keep running well with just a few considerations for tension, bobbin, needle, and machine threading. Tension, bobbin, machine needle, and threading are designed to work in Zen-like harmony.

Always start your sewing project by testing out how the machine stitching will look and perform on a piece of scrap fabric of the same or nearly identical fabric content. Sewing on denims or heavy weight fabrics and then beginning a new sewing project by sewing on lighter weight or different woven fabrics e.g., silks or knits, will require tension adjustments. Tensioning discs control the needle thread tension. The stitch produced by the needle thread and the bobbin thread should lie neatly on both sides of the fabric, with not one tighter than the other. If one or the other looks too loose or too tight, try adjusting just the needle thread tension only slightly and testing the stitching on the scrap fabric after making any adjustment. Incorrect thread tension is usually, or most often found to be the needle thread tension.

An incorrectly wound bobbin, whether done by hand, or using the bobbin-winding mechanism of your machine can sometimes, although infrequently, be a possible cause for incorrect thread tension causing the thread stitches to break after just a few stitches. For most machine stitching, other than decorative embroidery, use the same kind and weight of thread in the bobbin as in the needle thread. Different thread weights in the needle and bobbin can cause uneven tension and thread breakage. Always wind thread evenly onto an empty bobbin. Try not to overfill the bobbin.

Machine Needle
The sewing machine needle can make thousands of perforations into your fabric in a very short time. Although not always possible, it is best to use a new machine needle appropriate for your woven or knit fabric and fabric weight for each new sewing project. Some needle manufactures recommend you replace the needle after every 10 to 12 hours of sewing or sooner, or when you begin to notice a skipped stitch or two. Be sure the needle is correctly placed in the needle bar.

Each sewing machine has a specific sequence and path to follow when threading down to the sewing machine’s needle. In general, the sewing thread runs from a spool of thread usually on the top of the machine, passes through several thread guides and on through a tension disc assembly that is used to tighten or loosen the thread as it is fed into the needle. Many machines have the thread-path to follow visible as a guide printed or scored on the body of the machine; some machines have their threading best followed by using the owner’s or instruction manual for the specific sewing machine. Many contemporary sewing machines are similar in general construction; seeing how one machine is threaded can easily provide clues to another machine’s threading if a manual is missing or no longer available.

A note concerning how the thread is wound onto the spool: Thread wound parallel on the spool is sometimes referred to as stacked, when wound in a crisscross or zigzag pattern on the spool referred to as cross wound. Generally, stacked threads (lead off the vertical spool pin at right angles to the thread spool) should be placed on the machine's vertical spool pin and cross wound thread on the horizontal spool pin. The positioning of the thread types on the appropriate thread pins helps to avoid having the threads catch on the spools grooved or notched ends. Be sure the horizontal thread pin has a spool holder to firmly hold the thread spool in place otherwise the thread may lead off too loose and cause uneven tensioning resulting in uneven stitching.

All sewing machine manufacturers will have specific instructions for regular cleaning and care of your sewing machine. However, your thread choice, needle choice, careful bobbin winding, and tensioning work together to produce the desired even machine stitches we most want to see.

Sew happy, sew inspired.

You Should Also Read:
Sewing Machine Thread Missteps
Sewing Machine Presser Feet
Sewing Machine Dust Covers

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