Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sewing Machine Tips: Needles, Tension and Stitch Length

My sewing machine is coming up on 10 years.  My mom gave it to me for my 18th birthday (I'll let you do the math.)  Out of all the presents I've ever received, I think this one has been used the most and endured my fluctuating interests over the years.  Since my first project, a simple A-line skirt, I've always had problems with the thread or the needle breaking.  Sometimes the thread comes undone and gets knotted up in the bobbin.  I've had it fixed several times, which is not cheap.  My machine "broke" for the umpteenth time this summer, and I brought it in to be repaired.  This time, the lady at the repair shop (I wish I could remember her name) took a few minutes to teach me a few things about my machine and {voila!} my machine has been working wonderfully.  The best part is that it was free!

I figure I can't possibly be the only one that needs a lesson on needles and stitch length so I'm going to pass on what I learned.  This'll probably bore you sewing veterans (please correct me if I get something wrong), but hopefully this will help a few of you.

My first problem was that I was using the wrong brand of needle.  That explained a lot since my needles were always breaking.  I have a Kenmore machine and was using a Singer needle.  Singer needles exclusively fit Singer machines, but all other needles come pretty standard for the most part. 

There are also different types of needles for a variety of fabrics: denim, vinyl/leather, ball point (for finer fabrics), and universal needles.  I've talked to some people who don't change their needles for every single type of fabric, but I do for the most part, because I'm so afraid my needle will break.  I usually use a universal needle, but I used a vinyl needle to sew the Cupcake Spy Bag.  

Another problem was that the tension was set too low.  The lady at the repair shop told me to never touch the tension once it's set correctly.  The only exception would be if you're using thinner or thicker thread and there's a way around fiddling with the tension even in that case.  The tension is adjusted on my machine with a dial, however, every machine is slightly different, so check with your manual.  Tension affects how much tension or tightness is in the bobbin thread and the spool thread.  To figure out how to set your tension,  stitch a straight line on a scrap piece of fabric.  If the tension is correct, the stitches on top of the fabric and the stitches underneath will be the same tightness.  If one side seems to be tighter than the other or too loose adjust it until they're equal.

 Another thing to consider is stitch length.  A length between 2 and 3 is standard and anything shorter is meant for finer fabrics while longer stitch lengths are meant for thicker material.  Longer stitch lengths are also good for basting or preparing a ruffle or gather.

Remember how I said that you should only change your tension if your thread is either thinner or thicker, but there's a way around that. Here's the way-  The lady at the repair shop showed me this little feature for making thicker stitches on my machine.  (Writing this is making me want to go to that repair shop and give that lady a big hug!)  Depending on your machine, there should be a way to select the "stretch" mode under stitch length.  On my machine it is indicated by a gold triangle.  This stitch allows you to go over each stitch twice, making it thicker and stronger.  My machine also allows you to select "L" for longer stitch length or "S" for a shorter stitch length.
The fabric on the left has normal stitches while the one on the right has double.

I hope this has been helpful.
Have a great rest of your week!