Egghead Learns to Sew, Part VI

Today I start applying machine-sewing to the material I intend to work with, namely, felt! This involves learning about types of thread, needle sizes, and a few key machine settings.

Fabric, Thread and Needle -- Combining Heaviness, Strength and Size

Felt doesn't appear in the Fabric, Thread, Needle Chart in my Instruction Manual but I'm approximating to be somewhere in the neighborhood of jersey and tweed in terms of heaviness. I used my outfit of denim and jersey (jeans and a t-shirt) to make this determination. Felt is thicker than jersey but not as dense as denim, so... best guess.

My Chart describes thread in terms of cotton, fiber and silk. None of the thread I own states these as its components; it's all just polyester, if it even says what it is (a lot of it is inherited). Hmmm. This is the point at which I had to go beyond the Instruction Manual for information. I learned that the important thing is to match the type of thread to the type of fabric, not just in terms of color but also strength and stretchiness. Although the best source I found (Tying it All Together: All You Need to Know About Thread) didn't specifically mention felt, I gleaned from the wide range of fabrics it included in its more extensive fabric-thread-needle chart that polyester would work just fine with felt.

On to needle size. My Chart said to use a needle sized between 11 and 14. I wasn't sure what size needle was already in the machine, though I deduced from the sizes of the needles included in my little box of sewing machine accessories that it was probably an 11. But what a problem it could be if I was wrong, so I decided to take the needle out and with a magnifying glass and a lot of light, read the teeny-tiny number engraved on the rounded side of the base of the needle. To get the needle out, I followed the directions for "Changing Needle" in the Instruction Manual. Using the little screwdriver that came with the machine, I loosened the needle clamp screw. Then I gently pulled down on the needle until it was free.

I couldn't make any sense of what the teeny-tiny engraved text said for the longest time, until I realized I was looking at it upside-down. That's how tiny it was! Probably the glare from the additional light I had shining on it didn't help. 

In any case, the needle turned out to be a size 11, as I suspected. According to my Chart, it would likely work fine with felt (it recommended size 11-14). 

Pressure of Presser Foot and Length of Stitches -- Setting the Settings

For heavy fabric such as I determined felt to be, my Chart said to use heavy pressure, so I pushed the pressure regulator all the way down.

As for the stitch settings, I set the selector dial to straight stitch (versus a zigzag stitch). For this type of stitch my Chart recommended a stitch length of between 0.5 and 3. I set this dial to 3.

I turned the machine on, depressed the foot control, and clickety-clack, off I went a-sewing on felt! I planned to make a little pillow, in part to test how much stuffing I could stuff into something and still be able to sew it up on the machine. Stuff it too full and there's not enough fabric to get under the presser foot.

Considering that in any given project I'll probably be combining machine-sewing with hand-sewing, I'll probably opt for a longer stitch so that they match, setting the dial to 4 instead of 3. I did try this, not on the pillow but on a scrap of felt, and it worked fine. For decorative purposes I may also want to use a thicker thread than the multi-purpose polyester I used today, requiring further machine settings to be investigated and duly adjusted. More on that to follow.

Until then --

Purty Bird

Egghead Learns to Sew, Part 4

Today is a big day! I get to the very cusp of sewing by adding the bobbin thread to the upper thread that I threaded last time. According to the Instruction Manual, this entails four steps: removing the bobbin case and bobbin from the compartment below the needle plate, inserting the bobbin into the bobbin case, inserting the bobbin case into the shuttle race, and drawing up the bobbin thread. Whoooeeee!
The first three steps really comprise one big operation, so I cover them together, followed by the fourth step.

Removing the Bobbin Case and Bobbin, Inserting the Bobbin into the Bobbin Case, and Inserting the Bobbin Case into the Shuttle Race

One thing to note: the Instruction Manual sometimes calls the sewing machine parts relevant to a given operation by names other than the one it originally used to identify them. For instance, regarding the set of operations I'm covering here, the originally identified "bobbin door" is called the "shuttle race cover." I'm going to keep to the original names for clarity's sake but note where the Instruction Manual diverges, just so you're aware of the alternatives.

As mentioned earlier, the action in this operation occurs in the compartment below the needle plate, behind the bobbin door. It's where the bobbin lives, in a case, inside a part of the machine called the shuttle race.

The first step of the present operation is to remove the bobbin case from the shuttle race.  (Before you start make sure the needle is at its highest position.) Open the bobbin door. Find the little latch on the front of the bobbin case and pull it to release the bobbin case from the shuttle race.

Next, insert the bobbin into the bobbin case, leaving a tail of thread about about 3-3.5 inches long outside it.

Pull the end of the thread through the little notch on the inside rim of the bobbin case and  out an oval-ish opening on the side of the bobbin case, called the tension spring.

Holding the bobbin and bobbin case together, pull the latch on the front of the bobbin case again and set the bobbin case inside the shuttle race. A handy tip: The bobbin case and shuttle race are like pieces of a puzzle; they have corresponding, inverse parts. Specifically, the bobbin case has an arm attached to the front of it that fits into a notch at the top of the shuttle race. Line up the arm and the notch and place the bobbin case onto the center pin of the shuttle race. Release the latch. The completed puzzle looks like this:

You're done! Close the bobbin door!

Drawing Up the Bobbin Thread

(This step requires that you've already threaded the upper thread. Please see my previous post for instructions if you haven't. Thanks!)

It's all starting to come together! Hold the upper thread (here, in dark blue) to the left side of the needle loosely with your left hand. Turn the hand wheel slowly toward you until the needles goes down and comes up. The bobbin thread (here, in red) will be brought up looped around the upper thread.

Pull the bobbin thread out with your fingers and together with the upper thread, under the presser foot to the rear of the machine.

Add electricity and fabric, and.... Stay tuned!

Until next time --

Purty Bird

Egghead Learns to Sew, Part II

In this installment of my klutzy-bookish guide to learning to sew on a machine, I explain how to wind a bobbin. For those of you who never took sewing in school, the bobbin is essentially the spool of thread that contributes the bottom stitch. While it's not really necessary to wind your own bobbin --- you can buy them pre-wound --- I thought the process of doing so would be a manageable way to introduce thread and electricity to the post-it labeled parts of my machine and thus, to dip my toe into actually using it.

I began by identifying the relevant parts: the spool pin, bobbin winder tension knob, bobbin winder spindle, bobbin-winder stop, and the stop clutch knob. The diagram above shows these parts in relation to each other, albeit from the back of the machine (which, incidentally, I found confusing; the owner's manual is my friend, but, it turns out, not the most reliable one, alas). The pictures below show what these parts actually look like.


It took me poking around for awhile to figure out how to extend the spool pin so it was long enough to hold a spool of thread. Once I scaled that hurdle I followed the instructions in the owner's manual and placed the bobbin on the bobbin winder spindle, pushed the spindle to the right to engage it, and released the clutch.

Next I plugged the machine in. Ack! Electricity! We're getting serious now. I paused to collect myself and then put my spool of thread on the spool pin and wound the thread twice around the bobbin winder tension knob. The owner's manual didn't explain how exactly to attach the end of the thread to the bobbin so I just wrapped it around a few times and hoped for the best.

I depressed the foot control and lo! The thread began to wind itself around the bobbin! I marveled at how evenly the the thread distributed itself. I was also impressed that the machine knew when the bobbin was full. When the bobbin winder stop stopped turning, I was done. Nothing got jammed up or tangled. Yay!

I snipped the end of the thread with a scissor, removed the bobbin from the bobbin winder spindle, and felt accomplished. And relieved.

Until next time, when I go inside the machine to insert the bobbin, and thread the upper thread into the needle --


Egghead Learns to Sew

Yes, I'm crafty, but I'm also klutzy and bookish. I do crafts that require a minimum of special skill and only the simplest of tools: just needles, paint brushes, and, of course, my beloved microspatula. But a Christmas or so ago my mother and sister gave me a sewing machine. I was really excited to get it---"Oh, the things I'll be able to make!," I thought. But once I got it out of the box and looked at the owner's manual I was completely cowed. So many parts, not to mention electricity! I quickly put the machine back in the box, where it's remained ever since. (Sorry, mom and sis!)

But, with the dog days of summer upon us and that little itch of boredom beginning to creep up the back of my neck, I've decided it's time to conquer my self-doubt and get that sewing machine a-clacking.

I'm documenting my learning process in the hope that it encourages other reluctant machine-sewers to jump in there and get started learning a new craft.

Step One: Get Familiar

Yes, the instruction manual is your friend. I am taking this learning process very slowly so I started at page 1 and only went as far as page 3 this time around. This entailed identifying the machine's many daunting parts and odd-looking accessories.

Using the diagram on page 1, I began by labeling the many daunting parts of the machine with post-its. This way, as I proceed through the instruction manual I'll know what parts it's talking about without having to constantly flip back to the diagram on page 1.

Then, using the pictorial guide on page 3, I similarly identified all the odd-looking accessories (although I already knew the bobbin from my 6th-grade sewing class, which is otherwise a complete blank to me, except for the fact that I failed to complete my project and therefore received a "C" for my final grade).

Next, I'll attach the foot controller, plug the machine in (electricity---eek!), and wind my first bobbin. Deep breath.

Until then --

Purty Bird