Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday Sewing - Your Sewing Machine

Today we're going to make sure you're familiar with the basics on your sewing machine.  When we're finished, you'll know how to thread the machine and bobbin case, fill the bobbin, change needles, and sew using straight and zigzag stitches.

Every sewing machine is the same and every sewing machine is different - very Zen!  They all have the same basic parts but they have these in different places.  So .... it's time to get out the manual that came with your machine and with any luck is someplace easy to find, like in the bottom of your sewing basket.  If yours has totally disappeared, try finding a copy online.  As I talk about different parts of the machine on mine, you'll need to find out where the part of that same name is on yours.

I currently have a Brother 6000i and highly recommend this to anyone looking at getting a new machine.  Amazon sells it for around $150 with free shipping, so the price is right.  It has enough basic stitches for a beginner and enough additional stitches to keep someone more experienced  busy.  I think it's the easiest machine to learn on that I've yet seen.  And just to clarify, I have no connection with Brother or Amazon, other than buying way too many books from the latter.

Materials List:
*scrap fabric
*sewing machine needle

The first step in sewing, is to thread the machine.  There are many good reasons to go ahead, spend a bit extra, and buy a really good quality thread.  The main one is, your machine will perform better now and for a longer time.  Most machines are currently made with plastic discs and thread going over these discs eventually etches grooves in them.  It happens faster with less expensive threads that have lots of loose fibers.  About Sewing has a great article about this with pictures of different brands of thread taken with a microscope.  I use Madeira and Gutterman.

Make sure you have a good, sharp needle.  Needles wear out and should be replaced when they begin losing their edge.   This is a good time to read About Sewing's tutorial on sewing machine needles.

To change your needle, loosen the needle clamp screw, pull out the old needle, insert your new needle making sure you have the flat side to the back, and tighten the needle clamp screw.  If this is a factory new machine, you may need pliers to loosen the screw.  If you have a Brother, they give you a screwdriver for this exact purpose - but you still might need pliers.  Seriously - I don't know who tightens these, but they definitely eat their Wheaties!

Put your thread on the thread post.

Many sewing machines have threading guides printed directly on them.  If yours does not, follow the instructions in your manual.  Practice threading several times.

1.  The thread goes around the thread guide,

2.  down the slot to the left of the tension dial,

3.  through the thread take up lever,

4.  and through the needle bar thread guide.

On to the bobbin!  The bobbin holds the thread that stitches underneath your fabric.

Craftzine has a wonderful animation showing how the  bobbin works.  The bobbin case is underneath the needle.  Your machine will have a specific type of bobbin it requires - look in your manual.  If your machine uses plastic bobbins, replace these every couple of years as they get nicks and worn spots that will affect how your sewing looks.

How you wind your bobbin (put thread on it) varies from machine to machine.  I'll take you through the instructions for mine.

Follow the directions printed on the top of the machine for bobbin winding, paying careful attention that you wind the thread on the bobbin in the direction it tells you to.

Push the bobbin on its post to the right until it clicks.

Move your stitch speed switch all the way to the right (the three arrows).

Your pedal works like the ones on those little cars at Disneyland.  Push it down a bit and you'll go slowly, push it all the way down and you'll go fast, fast, fast!  Push the pedal part way down and your bobbin should begin winding.  If this doesn't happen, check to make sure you've followed the directions exactly for threading it and that it is pushed as far right as it will go.  The winding will automatically stop when the bobbin is full or you can stop it at any point. 

Cut the thread .

 Remove the bobbin, push the bobbin post back to the left, and return your stitch speed to medium (two arrows).

My machine has instructions for loading the bobbin printed directly on it.  Insert the bobbin with the thread coming off to the left, and pull the thread along the groove (the arrows show you where), pulling the thread across the cutting surface at the end.

Now go back to your top thread.  Thread your machine as you practiced earlier, this time ending by going through the eye of the needle.

With my machine, you can replace the bobbin case lid and begin sewing.  However, I often have the thread jam up when I try this.  With other machines or if you want to avoid jammed thread (I don't know - maybe it's just me), you will need to turn the handwheel on the right side of your machine and draw up the thread from the bobbin.  Pull both threads to the back (always do this before beginning to sew).

Refer to your manual to set your stitch to straight stitching and how to adjust the stitch length.  On the Brother, the stitch choices are listed to the right.

Choose 00 for a straight stitch, then choose 3 for stitch length (the top number).  I generally sew on 2.5 to 3 for straight stitches.  A smaller number makes shorter stitches, a larger number makes longer stitches.

Put a double layer of scrap fabric under the presser foot (the metal piece directly underneath your needle), lower the needle (top photo to right), lower your presser foot (bottom photo to right), and slowly press down on your pedal.  You're sewing!  When you reach the end of the fabric, take your foot off the pedal, raise the needle by pushing on the needle button again, lift the presser foot up by pushing up on the same lever you pushed down on, and pull the fabric toward you.  Cut the thread near the fabric - remember to pull the threads to the back of the needle when finished.

Now look at the stitching on both sides of your fabric.  It should look like the photo above. If the stitches look really wonky or can be pulled out, you have a tension problem.

The tension dial has numbers on it.  The higher the number, the higher the tension on the upper thread.  The lower the number, the lower the tension.  The Brother 6000i has automatically set bottom tension.  For other machines, check your manual on how to adjust the bottom tension.  First, check to make sure your thread and bobbin have been correctly threaded.  This is often the problem.  Next play around with the tension dial.  Turn it one space and try again.  If it's a little better, keep going in that direction.  If it's worse, go two spaces the other way.

Put your fabric back under the presser foot, lower the needle, and lower the presser foot.  There are two ways to secure the thread when you're done sewing a seam (a line of stitching).  You can tie the thread or you can backstitch.  In most circumstances, back stitching is easer and faster.  To do this, begin sewing forward about 1/2 inch.  Push your reverse button and sew back to the beginning.  Let go and sew forward until you reach the end of the fabric.  Push the reverse button and sew back along the seam about 1/2 inch, let go and sew to the end of the seam.  Take the fabric out and trim the threads near the fabric.  The photo below shows the backstitch button on the Brother - look in your manual if you have another type of machine.  It is often near or on the handwheel.

If you have to stop sewing in the middle of a seam for any reason, such as breaking a needle or running out of thread, you will have to tie the thread.  To get both strands of thread on the same side of the fabric,

1.  pull the top thread until you see a small loop appear.

2.  Use a pin and pull the loop up

3.  until the thread is all the way through.

4.  Tie with a double knot and cut the thread close to the knot.  Practice doing this.

Practice sewing straight stitching until you feel comfortable with this.  Try turning the fabric while you sew to form a curve and making right angles (with the needle down, lift up your presser foot - use the presser foot lever - turn the fabric, lower the presser foot, and continue sewing).

The zigzag stitch on the Brother is 04.  Locate how to switch to zigzag on your machine.  The zigzag stitch is a good one to use when sewing stretchy fabrics or finishing seams.  For sewing seams, I like to set the stitch length (upper number) on 3 and the width (lower number) on 4.  The stitch length determines how far apart the "zigs and zags" are.  The width determines how fat the zigs and zags are.

Practice using the zigzag stitch the same way you practiced straight stitching.

If you followed Monday's post on applying appliques to fabric with embroidery, you can use a tighter zigzag stitch to sew around the applique after you've ironed it onto the fabric.  In the example below, I set the length to 0.2 and the width to 4.0.  If you're just beginning and all this sounds confusing, don't worry - we'll cover it another time in more detail.

Next week, we'll make our first project - a pillowcase.  If you want to get going right away when the Wednesday post comes out, have 1 yard of fabric washed and ironed.  It's easiest to make these the first time with a cotton or cotton/blend medium weight fabric or with flannel.  I'll introduce you to my niece, known as Big C (opposed to my granddaughter, little c) who is learning to sew with us.

Until then, get out your manual, play around with the other stitches on your machine, and have fun!

Happy Creating!  Deborah

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