December 19, 2013

Troubleshooting Sewing Machine Problems

Stitches have been skipped, loops have been made, or maybe there's a huge mass of thread that's formed under the needle plate! We've all been there, and we all know how frustrating it can be! Fortunately, most of the time it's not a problem with the machine, but a simple user error that can be easily fixed. So after you finish yelling obscenities at your machine, follow these simple steps one-by-one and hopefully you'll be back to sewing in no time! If you're unsure of any part of any of the following steps, make sure to refer to your sewing machine's user manual - all machines are different, so the manual will show you exactly what to do with your particular machine.

Step 1: Re-thread your machine! Make sure the bobbin is inserted the right way and that the upper thread has made it through every loop, hoop, or guide it's supposed to go through. Missing even a single step can be enough to drastically alter the tension, resulting in poor stitches or thread nesting.

Step 2: Clean out the bobbin area! Lint, dust, lost threads, and other unwanted debris caught in the bobbin area can have an enormous, negative impact on the quality of your stitches. When cleaning, remember that the goal is to get the debris OUT of the machine, not to push it farther in. So you want to avoid blowing into the machine or using compressed air. Micro vacuum attachment kits are relatively inexpensive, attach to most all vacuums, and are ideal for cleaning in all small spaces, not just for your sewing machine (computer, car, keyboard, stereo, etc.).

Step 3: Replace your needle! Most sewers have no idea that their needle should ever be replaced or that it should be replaced as often as at the beginning of every project or after eight hours of sewing. The condition of the needle is of the utmost importance to not only the quality of the stitches, but even the life of your machine. The slightest nick or bend in a needle can, at best, affect the quality of stitches. At worst, it can actually damage your machine! So if in doubt, it's usually best to go with a fresh needle of the appropriate size and type. 

Step 4: Use a quality thread! Not all thread is created equal. If you're using an off-brand, cheap, or poor-quality thread, chances are switching thread could really help out with the quality of stitches, the quality of your project, and your growing headache. 

Step 5: Adjust your tension! A lot of sewers are intimidated by adjusting the tension, but once you understand how tension works, you'll learn it's nothing to really be afraid of. Basically, there's a tug-of-war between the bobbin thread and the upper thread. The key is to get the same amount of pull on both sides. If you increase your upper tension, the more the upper thread will pull the bobbin thread up. If you decrease the upper tension, the more the bobbin thread will pull the upper thread down. To get the tension balanced perfectly, change your bobbin thread to a color different from your top thread - this will allow you to see just which side is winning, and which is losing, in the tug-of-war. 

Step 6: Hold onto those threads! If you're only having trouble at the beginning of a seam, before you start sewing, make sure to pull the bobbin thread up by manually rotating the hand wheel towards you. Pull the thread tails out about six inches or so and, as you start to sew your first stitches, hold the thread tails taught. There's no need to pull the thread tails while sewing - you just want to hold them taught so they don't get in the way of the stitches. 

Step 7: Get your machine serviced! If you're still having trouble with thread nesting, skipped stitches, or no stitches, it may be time to get your machine serviced. In most every situation, the above steps will be enough to troubleshoot any thread or stitch problem you may have. Occasionally, though, the machine itself may need a tune-up. 

If you are still having problems with your thread or stitch formation, get a photo and post in the Sewing It Up - Sewing for Beginners Facebook group! We're always here to help. :) 

December 11, 2013

KAI Scissors Product Review

Earlier this year, I received a complimentary pair of KAI embroidery scissors and dressmaking shears to try out and review. Before these, I had mostly used the typical orange-handled Fiskars that everyone is so familiar with. At the time, I thought they were great scissors, until I tried the KAI scissors. There is NO contest here! The KAI scissors not just cut, but also feel like a dream! I had no idea cutting could actually be enjoyable, but now I love it!

For the eight months I've been using these scissors, I've cut everything from very thin, slippery fabrics to denim and everything in-between. No matter the fabric or number of layers, these scissors have not, even once, hesitated or performed poorly. Truly, the only real complaint I have about my KAI scissors is that they've rendered all of my other scissors unusable!

To iterate just how well these scissors work, shortly after getting them, I was doing a fitting with a client where I used these scissors for all the cutting. During the fitting, my client, who occasionally sews herself, actually commented on how well the scissors were cutting and asked to know what the brand was! Now that is a true compliment!

Now to get to the specifics. The main scissors I use is the model N5210 Dressmaking Shears (also available in a left-handed version). One of the biggest problems for me when using other scissors is the amount of stress they put on the hand when using them for an extended period of time, both from the design of the handle as well as the force required to open and close them. With the ergonomically-designed handles and the exceptionally smooth movement of the dressmaking shears, this isn't a problem. I'm able to use them for as long as I need them without any pain or having to take breaks to let my hands recover.

The other pair is the N5135 Embroidery Scissors. Though I rarely do any type of embroidery, I've found these scissors invaluable to have on hand for cutting threads, cutting notches, cutting in tight areas, and for other projects such as cross stitch and crochet. With the blunt tip, they're perfect for cutting seams and threads as well as travelling, as I don't have to worry as much about cutting anything unintentionally. One aspect about these scissors that took some getting used to, though, was how to hold them. With most scissors of this size, my initial response is to hold them with my thumb and forefinger. However, with these scissors, it's much more comfortable (and gives greater control) to hold them with the thumb and middle finger, holding the outside of the bottom handle with the forefinger. (Just a tip for when you get them!)

Bottom line, I would definitely recommend KAI to anyone needing a pair of fabric scissors! Treat them right (no cutting on paper!!!), and they'll be one of the best sewing investments you'll make. :)

October 19, 2013

Buying Your First Sewing Machine

Buying a new sewing machine, especially your first sewing machine, can be as daunting as buying a new car. There are so many variables that need to be weighed against each other: needs, wants, price, brands, models, etc. It can be quite overwhelming. Fortunately, with a few key points, it doesn't need to be this difficult.

April 24, 2013

How to Sew a Button

How many times have you chosen to not wear a garment because a button fell off or even decided to just throw it out? Maybe you didn't know how to sew on a button, thought it was a complicated or time-consuming ordeal, or thought it would cost too much to pay someone to do it for you. Well in fact, sewing on a button is a very quick and simple process, only taking a few minutes and no special tools. So get out those unused garments sitting in your closet and get ready to learn how to sew on some buttons!

April 22, 2013

How to Sew a French Seam

The french seam is often confused with the flat-felled seam, and while they can look similar, they are in fact two entirely different seam finishes with different purposes. The french seam is used more often in womenswear than in men's, and is a beautiful finish for thin or sheer fabrics. At some point in your sewing life, you're going to want to sew a french seam, so let's see how they're made: 

April 19, 2013

How to Sew a Flat Felled Seam

A flat-felled seam is a type of encased seam every fashion sewer needs to know! Thanks to two parallel rows of stitching, this is a very strong seam that looks beautifully finished on both sides. Because of this strength and finish, you can find these seams everywhere! One of the main places you'll find them are in jeans along the inner side of both legs. You'll also find these in shirts (especially men's shirts), blouses, some outerwear, and in outdoor fabric products like tents. So let's find out one method of sewing them: 

April 18, 2013

How to Sew the Invisible Ladder Stitch

At some point in your sewing life, you're probably going to come across a project where, after you turn it right-side out, you're left with a small gap in your seam! There are several ways to close this gap, but the most commonly used methods (machine edge-stitching and whip-stitching) leave a very sightly, unprofessional finish. The absolute best method is the ladder stitch, which if done correctly, is almost entirely invisible! So let's find out just how that's done: