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!

35 comments:

  1. Thanks! I have a Kenmore that I fight a lot too. Did she tell you what makes the fabric get sucked down into the bobbin area? Or the thread to just get jammed? Maybe I'll play with all of my settings now that I understand them better. One tip that I never knew is that you should always do the complete threading of your machine with the presser foot down. That is the magical advice that has helped me not end every sewing project in tears. I actually like sewing after I learned that.

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  2. Megan, that's exactly what was happening to me time and again. I haven't had that happen since setting the tension just right and making sure I was using the right needle though. It could be the timing on the machine too, in that case, you might want to have it looked at.

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  3. Oh, this is great info!!! I am new to the world of sewing and hope to make many fabulous things. This information will definitely help. Thank you!

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  4. When I was learning to sew those were the two most common problems I would have. It would frustrate me to no end. Luckily I had a mom that could help me. I think most sewing problems are simple fixes, but most people don't know the secrets. This is great info. Thanks for sharing! I borrow my sister's sewing machine and she has a Kenmore too. I had no idea about the "stretch" mode! I am going to try it next time I borrow it!

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  5. Thanks for the tips! Makes me want to go sew something ;)

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  6. I get frustrated with sewing, thanks for the tip.
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  7. I've lost count the number of times I've wanted to throw my sewing machine out the window! I love all these tips and hints people share, I always thought sewing was a doddle, so much more to it than I realised!

    Thanks for sharing!

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  8. I had a Kenmore for my first machine also. I sew a LOT, like several hours each day, and my machine would break OVER and OVER. I tried all the little tricks and learned a lot about my machine and thought I'd gotten it to stop breaking. (My biggest problem was the binding would seize up--the handwheel wouldn't crank.) After getting it reparied several time, yes expensive, the guy who repaired it just recommended I just spend my money on a worthwhile machine. He recommended a Janome, and I purchased a Janome Magnolia. It was hands down the best sewing decision I've ever made. I have sewn HEAVILY with that Janome for almost two years now (I made my entire couch slipcover with it as well as countless quilts and more) and the machine has never once broken or even had a problem. I hate to say it, but sometimes you just need to invest some money in a better quality machine. And my Janome btw wasn't a ton of $$, it was like $350 I think.

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  9. Your first picture of your sewing machine foot and needle shows that the machine isn't threaded right. See if you can see it too.

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  10. Even though I have been sewing for years.....more than you have been alive :) it never hurts to read the basics. You did a great job on this post! And it just goes to show you that asking questions from the experts pays off!
    Thanks!

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  11. Heidi, thanks for letting me know about the Janome brand. I know that Kenmore isn't the greatest and that's probably half my problem. It's been running really well since I set it correctly though. I think the next time I need to have it repaired, I'll just buy a better machine.

    It's been great to hear from you experts since I'm kind of learning as I go. And I guess I should change that first picture- that's what happens when you're racing the clock during nap time. Thanks Kat :)

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  12. I'm thankful you took the time to explain what you've learned about your machine to the rest of us. I've picked up some useful tidbits I need to try (I'll see if they apply to a Viking Husky Star). Nothing is more frustrating than a machine that doesn't sew how you want it to!

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  13. For Folkhaven...I have a Viking and everything she said is true and good except I haven't found a "stretch" mode on my machine yet. I have a stitch that is similar but I don't know if that is what it is for.

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  14. Great tips! My sewing machine is about 20 years old and sews like a dream. I wish I was a better seamstress though ;)

    P.S. Come visit my blog for a chance to win 25 FREE Shutterfly Holiday Cards: http://acraftyescape.blogspot.com/2011/11/giveaway-shutterflys-2011-holiday-cards.html

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  15. Great tips! Thanks for the help, I need it!

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  16. This is awesome. I am your newest follower from www.thestuffofsuccess.com

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  17. Thank you. I am a brand new sewer so this is very helpful!

    Meredith From A Mother Seeking Come find me on my blog, A Mother Seeking...

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  18. I been sewing longer than you've been alive and I just learned something the last time I had my machine fixed. Before you move your machine you should place a piece of material under the presser foot and lower your needle into the fabric.

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  19. Very helpful!! Thanks for passing the tips along! I have my Grandmother's old Kenmore and just started sewing not too long ago! Looks like I need to buy some new needles!

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  20. Thanks for sharing this! I recently inherited a sewing machine, and it can be such a headache! These tips helped a lot, so you can give that lady a hug for me as well. :)

    Gabby
    The...Late, Young Family

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  21. What great tips! This post is so informative and I think my subscribers would really enjoy reading this. I would love for you to come share it at Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways on Frugally Sustainable today. And, I really hope that you will put Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways on your list of carnivals to visit and link to each Wednesday! Here’s the link: http://frugallysustainable.blogspot.com/2011/11/frugal-days-sustainable-ways-1.html

    Warmly,
    Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable
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  22. Janny! You made it:) Thank you so very much for linking up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways:) I'm so happy to "meet" you! I am totally loving your blog and your posts! I really hope you make Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways a part of your Wednesdays! And keep the great posts comin'
    Very sincerely,
    Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable

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  23. Thanks for sharing these. I am self taught with sewing, and any and all tips help! :)

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  24. Thank you for the wonderful tps! I am teaching myself on both of my grandmother's machine, one Sew Gem and a Kenmore. Unfortunately, neither grandmother taught me to sew, so these tips are very helpful.

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  25. This couldn't have come at a better time! Thank you, Janny!!

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  26. I have been sewing for over 30 years. I use a Brother sewing machine. My Viking machine is in its cabinet in my bedroom. It is an old one that uses cams for stitch selections. I also have a Europro machine but it is put up somewhere in this house. My sewing skills came in handy when my oldest son was born. He was only 3lbs 7/12 ozs and was a full term baby, He was not premature. He just did not gain weight in utero He had to have clothes made to fit him as everything that was ready made was too big for him. Knowing how to take care of your sewing machine is very important.

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  27. Oh my goodness that has to be some of the best tips I've received yet! Thank you "sew" much! I can't wait to sit down at my machine and hopefully get crafty with it!

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  28. I certainly understand your struggle with an older machine. My sewing machine is about 20 years old and was my grandmother's machine. I swear I have to stand on one foot and hold my nose just right to get it to work sometimes. I'm requesting a new one from my husband for Christmas this year and I'll keep these tips in mind.

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  29. Never Thread Your Machine With The Presser Foot Down. The tension disc is open to recieve the Thread when the Foot is Up. The Tension Disc Is Closed When The Foot is Down-engaged. If you miss the Tension Disc you will find loose threads on the bottom of the fabric while the top stitches look perfect. Always think Dental Floss. Foot Up as you thread hold a Finger on the thread to the machine and go follow the Threading Route. You can put the foot down when you get to the needle. Thread it! Put the foot up and gently pull the thread you feel it sliding down. Put the foot down and you will feel a engaged thread a bit tighter. Always change your needle after 8 hours of sewing. It develops a burr on the end. Flat back and the needle pushed up as high as it will go. Your sewing machine is like beginning driving. A learning process since 1790. A new machine makes sewining faster with speciality stitches. Your old machine can sew beautiful if You Take The Time To Learn It.

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  30. The Double Thick Stitch-is the Triple Stretch Stitch. You see it on the yellow gold stitches on your denimn jeans. It is also used for putting two layers of fabric together in Stress Areas. Stress Areas are Under Arm, Scoop neck, Crotch in pants and shorts. Areas that curve and recieve pull as you move wearing it.

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  31. I was given a Kenmore machine, not that old at the time, maybe 5 yrs old, but no manual. The website won't tell you anything. No online manual. They want to charge you over $10 to see one! Can you beleive it?

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