Friday, November 29, 2019

Sewing Tricks and Tips

My Sewing Tricks and Tips

Three years ago I purchased a Sailrite LSZ-1, a Zig Zag Walking Foot Heavy duty sewing machine because I knew I would have to get a lot of Canvas work done on our boat and it seemed cheaper to learn to sew than to pay someone to do it. - Nothing against the Pros that make a living from doing great work, I just didn't have the spare cash to pay that much, my labor is a major part of my value.

Basically, I've been learning to sew for 3 years, and hopefully have many more years to get even better.

Many mistakes have lead to some simple tricks and tips that I thought might help someone else, so here goes.

Tools: Invest early! When you get a tool and wonder how you ever managed without it, that's when you realize that you should get the tool as soon as you can. Some of my tools that I wish I had purchased earlier.
  • Quality Sewing Machine - I broke a cheap white machine trying to sew through 4 layers of Sunbrella. 
  • Sailrite Industrial table and Servo motor: I cannot say enough about this addition. It gives me the ability to move the needle so slowly that I can move the needle by as little as 1/16" of an inch. Remember when you first learned to drive, jerky jerky because you couldn't move the throttle finely. But then you got it. The Servo motor gives even greater control. 
  • 4' and 6' Straight edge Rulers. Best low cost purchase ever.
  • 6" x 24" Clear Acrylic Ruler - The first time you use this will hurt your shins - kicking yourself for not getting it sooner
  • 1.25" Swing away Binding attachment - they are not cheap, but they are a must. I got the 1.25" model because I detest skinny binding. So anything that needs a binding gets 1.25" binding!
  • Sailrite Canvas Patterning Ruler - there are other things to use to draw lines parallel to a marked line, but this is really good. 
  • Sewing Gauge ruler - sometimes, the Patterning ruler won't do it. 
  • Chalk Cartridge Pen Set - For canvas work, chalk is the way to go, this Cartridge pen set lets me write and mark the canvas. Don't press too hard - you'll figure that out within 5 minutes of using it.
  • Triangular Marking Chalk for Canvas - sometimes it's better, especially for marking the edge of a piece of canvas when it's laying over a tube or bench seat to be covered.
  • Hot Knife - Don't get a cheap one! It's used on every single project that is made from Sunbrella.
  • Scissors - Don't get craft scissors! They need to cut 4 layers of Sunbrella - Imagine the Bound edge of a double layer of Sunbrella - 1st choice is the Hot Knife, but sometimes you have to cut it. 

Work Space: Facebook has a very active community of people that Sew on Boats (look up SOB on Facebook) and there are a lot of folks that do their sewing where they live on their boats. For me it's in my garage, the same place I keep all my other project stuff.  It wasn't until I wanted to make a project out of White Sunbrella that I realized the risk my grubby floor might have. So I scrubbed the floor and now regularly vacuum the floor.

As my tools grew, I realized the benefit of having a tidy work space - not my norm - Now when I get supplies or tools, I find a neat place to store them, or I make a home for them. eg. I found a bunch of old chain boxes from Home Depot and used them to hold Zippers, Threads, LSZ-1 tools, Fasteners, Webbing buckles, etc. I made a holder for my Splicing kit, purchased a Harbor Freight partitioned case to hold my Grommet tools and supplies, made a canvas holder for my Snap-rite fastener tool and supplies.

Sewing Tips:
Measure carefully, make templates, account for errors in marking, double check - Measure Twice - Cut Once.

Review before applying basting tape. Basting tape doesn't grab Sunbrella very well unless it's pressed with either a Canvas Measuring rule or, a fav of mine, a wall paper hanger's Roller. But it really sticks well to Zippers, especially when pressed with a rule or roller. It's a pain to get the glue off of the zipper flange.

Before sewing: Every time that you start a stitch, check - Stitch length, Needle left/center/right position AND that the Presser Foot is lowered - you'll remember that one the first time you get a bunched  up spiders nest of thread bound up around the bobbin and on the underside of your project, worse a bent needle or even worse, damaged bobbin assembly. Lower the Presser Foot!
I now check all of those when I am about to put my foot on the power pedal.

Prewind a load of bobbins with the thread you are using - buy extra bobbins! If you do not have a pre-wound bobbin and run out of lower thread mid seam, you'll have to stop the stitching and wind a fresh bobbin - I have a 4" tall pin on my sewing machine table that I load up with bobbins wound with the thread I'm using for the project.

Before starting a stitch on a long seam that's going to be visible, make sure there is a fully loaded bobbin installed. It's annoying to have to do some reversing, which is very visible, mid seam.

Use an edge guide to keep the stitch parallel to an edge. I purchased 10 Badge Magnets from Amazon and use them as edge guides as well as holding canvas surfaces together. 

Go Slow! It's not that difficult to sew fast, the difficulty is in keeping it neat. Figure out how to go slow, there's a pride in seeing a neatly sewn seam that makes the time taken worth while.

Clean the Needle - When you sew using basting tape ( I try to keep 4 rolls on hand) the glue sticks to the needle, the thread sticks to the glue, the results can be irregular stitches, broken threads ( think visible restarting the seam) and even broken needles. I keep a tub of Chlorox wipes at hand to wipe down the needle.

Clean the eye of the Needle - Wiping down the needle to remove sticky glue residue might not clean the eye of the needle. I use a Needle Threader to clean out the eye of the needle.

Oh! The Sailrite machine uses a different style of needle from most domestic machines, the groove along the length of the needle should be on the left side of the machine. I drew a silhouette of the needle on the top of the machine to remind me which way the needle is positioned. It really mucks up the sewing if the needle is the wrong way around. The silhouette shows that the scarf where the bobbin hook passes is on the right (towards the driving wheel end of the machine)

Clean up as you go -  those little tails of thread, that you snipped off after completing a seam, can get caught up as you sew the next stitch - and, if there's a furry rug of thread snippets on the floor, that could lead to a Slip and Fall accident. Just have a bucket that you can drop the ends after cutting them rather than let them fall to the floor.

Lighten Up! - wherever you sew, make it bright! I have an LED lamp attached to the machine, LED strip lights on the ceiling, LED Strip light on the wall and another over my work bench. Being able to see the results of your work is a whole lot easier when you turn the lights on.

Folding tables are great - I have two 6' x 30" tables, one folds. If I didn't have the room for 6' tables I would get a couple of 4' even narrow if that's what would fit the work space. But they are a huge boon. Rather than struggle with a large piece of canvas trying to get it neatly into the machine, being able to support it on a table or two makes life so much easier.

That's it for now, I'll update this page as I figure or remember other tips and tricks.

Enjoy your sewing.


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