THE PERFECT STITCH

Photo Credit: Courtesy of C.H. Holderby Co.

Recently I have been getting enquiries about troubleshooting with regards to machine-stitching, so I thought this may be a good opportunity to discuss creating the perfect stitch.

Sewing-machine manufacturers want their machines to consistently produce a perfect stitch. Machine needles are the most changeable part of your sewing machine and they can control how your machine performs stitches. Understanding how the sewing machine needle contributes to the assembly process will help you choose the correct size for the fabric and thread you are using. Its configuration is engineered to manage thread and fabric to reduce the likelihood of skipped or flawed stitches. When constructing the perfect stitch, select the needle type by the task at hand. Each needle type produces a stitch by using a uniquely designed groove, scarf, eye, and/or point to enable the needle and bobbin hook to meet perfectly (see the diagram below). How smoothly the thread draws though the needle’s eye is also a factor in producing even, regular stitches. Thread should pass easily through eye of needle, so if you have trouble threading the needle and problems with the stitches, the thread and needle are not matched correctly. Lay your thread in the needle’s front groove; it should “snuggle” in.

The needle selection, its point and size, depends primarily on the characteristics of the fabric being used in the handbag construction, as well as the thread, seam type and stitch type.

NEEDLE POINTS

The needle point is determined by the fabric weight and its structure.

Round points have a conical shape designed to spread the yarns without breaking them; they are used for most woven materials and are known as Sharps or Universal needles.

Micro point needles have come to be with the invention of microfiber fabrics and coated materials. These are built with sharper points and more slender shafts to pierce the yarns of finer woven fabrics. Perfect to use with lightweight faux suede, neoprene, and other such synthetic microfibers, etc. Micro points will also work well on slick materials such as plastics, and will create nice even stitches for edgestitching.

Cutting points have sharp cutting edges; they are used to slice through the material such as natural leathers, suedes, and vinyls.

NEEDLE SIZES

The needle size can be as small as 60 (0.6 mm) or as large as 250 (2.5 mm). The metric size (Nm) describes the diameter of the needle blade in hundredths of a millimetre. The needle size is determined by the the thread size (thickness).

If the needle is too fine, it will abrade the thread, bend, break, affect the loop formation, and cause skipped stitches. If it is too coarse, it will damage the fabric, produce an unattractive seam, cause the seam to pucker, affect the loop formation, and cause skipped stitches.

Generally the best choice is the smallest size that will accommodate the thread being used without skipping stitches.

TROUBLESHOOTING

Changing the machine needle is the first step to solving most sewing machine problems. Know about the choices there are in needles and solve your stitching problems faster than you ever dreamed possible!

(A) Ideal needle choice for most fabric handbag styles.

  • Use: Sharp or Universal needle
  • Medium to Heavy-weight Fabrics: 16/100 or 18/110
  • Configuration: Has slightly rounded point and elongated scarf to enable almost fool-proof meeting of needle and bobbin hook.
  • Troubleshooting: When fabric is not medium-weight woven, consider needle specifically suited to fabric. For example, size 18 universal needle works on heavy denim, but size 18 denim needle works better.

(B) Sewing microfiber, neoprene, synthetic leather; and precisely-stitched edges on plastic/vinyl fabrics.

  • Use: Microtex  needle
  • Medium to Heavy-weight Fabrics: 16/100 or 18/110
  • Configuration: Has an acute point.
  • Troubleshooting: Essentially trouble-free, but fabric may require a roller, or even/dual-feed presser foot.

(C) Ideal for sewing natural leather, suede, buckskin

  • Use: Leather needle / Wedge Point 14/90 or 16/100
  • Configuration: Has slight cutting point (almost like an arrowhead).
  • Troubleshooting: Use a longer stitch length to prevent perforation and heavy-duty synthetic thread to sew leather. On synthetic leather, unless it’s very heavy synthetic, cuts rather than pierces stitch hole and can tear leather. Most synthetic leathers require a Microtex or Sharps needle. A Teflon foot may help to prevent drag.

(D) For heavyweight upholstery fabrics, denim, duck, canvas, faux fur, artificial leather, and vinyl.

  • Use: Denim (jeans) needle 16/100
  • Configuration: Has deeper scarf, acute point, and modified shaft to sew without pushing fabric down into needle-plate hole. Goes through fabric and meets bobbin hook better on dense woven fabrics.
  • Troubleshooting: If stitches skip when sewing very heavy fabrics, try larger needle and sew more slowly or use a even/dual-feed presser foot attachment, often known as a “walking foot”.

In the end, most sewers just want to get professional-looking results. Knowing more about needles brings you closer to that goal, since needle choice greatly affects your outcome. For every correctly chosen, new needle you put into your machine, you should have eight to 12 continuous hours of trouble-free sewing.

15 Comments

Filed under Bag'n-telle, Design Insight

15 responses to “THE PERFECT STITCH

  1. Great article! Do you know any website where we can buy all these needles?

  2. lyndy

    hi there, love your work, can i subscribe to your blog?

  3. Hi Don – I have been following your blogs (and your earlier fashion one) with great interest and love your clear concise instructions (without an OVERLOAD of information) ……………..
    Latest info on needles has helped me sort out a couple of issues – despite having sewed for over 30years – See never too old to learn something new!!
    I became ill a few years ago and consequently had to leave my chosen profession, and have now started to sew and craft again BUT am still trying to come to terms with all the new technology ie these new plastic computerised sewing machines.
    I may have worked at the cutting edge in my career and be au fait with latest technology there ……….but my sewing machine has stayed in the dark ages!! My poor 25 old Frister that did basic straight & zig-zag ( and built like a tank -being all metal), has I think, finally died on me – the presser foot broke yesterday (when I was cleaning out the shuttle ace), and was getting rather uneven in stitching ………….. so have been contemplating a replacement …………. do you have any suggestions???
    I use my sewing machine most days and sew everything from silk organza to heavy duty canvas/twill/upholstery and want to sew leather bags cushions throws etc
    So could you offer any suggestions?
    I was thinking of maybe a vintage Singer for the heavy duty stuff e.g. a 201
    I cant justify spending thousands on a plastic computerised models e.g. a Bernina Janome Husq etc and then discover it cant sew heavy duty materials regularly.
    Thank you in advance for taking the time to read my comment and I look forward to your future blogs – have become a follower!
    Thanks
    Lynn

    • Don

      Hi Lynn,
      Thank you for the kind words.
      Let me begin by saying how envious I am that you own a Frister & Rossmann, no matter how old it is. They were (are) the very best in German engineering.

      May I suggest that you try to hold onto it if economically possible. Have you looked at having it repaired and new parts added? It may be a challenge to find replacement parts but certainly worth the effort. Sewing machine technology really has not changed much in the past 100 years. They still used the same lock-stitch process and a similar machine needle, yet now electrically-powered rather than by a treadle or hand crank. Most modern sewing machines are either “Chinese” or “Swedish” models. Even the reliable old Singer brand, once made in the U.S.A., is manufactured in Taiwan these days. The only thing that has changed is there are now more “bells and whistles”.

      If you want a machine that will last, here are some key things to look for regardless of whatever brand name you select. While plastic is in and commonplace, you don’t want an entirely plastic machine. The interior parts, if you want a machine that will hold up under rigors of lots of sewing, or can survive sitting for years, should be primarily metal. Some parts will be plastic no matter how high in price you’re willing to go. Try to opt for one with the most powerful motor. Many companies offer this premium model in their series of products.

      All sewing machines have a belt that drives the parts. You want a machine with a thicker, more durable belt; not one with a skinny rubber band. The belts will rot if the machine is idle and plastic can become brittle, so make these components top-priority.

      A foot lever (the lever that raises and lowers the machine foot) should be metal also. A plastic cover is fine, just make sure that the lever itself is metal. This gets lots of use and is very important.

      The bobbin-well should also be all metal inside. There should only be plastic housing the bobbin parts. Many of the newer models have a drop-in bobbin well so no bobbin case is required.

      Make sure the electrical cord and the cord for the foot pedal are thick and flexible. Check where they are attached; it should be secure with no thin metal plates that will warp or loosen as the machine is used, plugged in and unplugged over time.

      Overall, a heavier sewing machine will have more metal parts and be more durable. A heavy machine will also be more stable and have less tendency to “walk” while you are sewing (I use an anti-skid mesh pad under my light portable model). Carefully weigh your options, do you need portability? Or will the machine be kept fixed in one spot? Portability will require a lighter machine, one that can withstand being taken down, closed up and transported. Look for one with built-in cases. Many small tailoring machines come with hard cases where the case becomes part of the sewing platform. Domestic sewing machines while portable and convenient, their plastic bodies make them lack in long-term durability.

      Vintage almost entirely metal machines can be found at antique dealers. There, old-fashioned Singers with foot pedals can be found. While quaint and an excellent conversation piece, many of these machines are lacking in working order and parts are hard to find. If you can get your hands on one that is still in good working order, or know a dealer who reconditions them, these machines will handle most anything you want to sew; that includes leather and tarps.

      If you opt for a used machine (and good ones can be found), whether you search ebay (buy from a good rated seller with a return policy in case of problems) or find a good buy at a yard sale, take the time and the money to have it professionally cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted. This is more than a mere cleaning and oiling. The technician will take the entire machine apart piece by piece and reset the timing of the sewing mechanism for smooth, carefree operation. It is worth every cent you will pay (usually averages about $100. plus new parts). These old sewing machines are extremely durable, just like your old Frister.

      So remember: go for more metal over plastic and as powerful a motor as you can afford. Price is generally a good indicator of quality.

  4. I’ve been sewing leather today on my home machine and thought I might add a tip to help get a perfect stitch as I’ve found that a leather point needle isn’t enough to ensure even stitches . It took me several frustrating days before I discovered that putting greaseproof / baking parchment paper between the needle and/or the dogfeed and the leather enables the leather to glide through. You need a good pair of tweezers to remove all traces of paper afterwards but at least it does the job while I save for a professional leather sewing machine.

    • Don

      An oldie but a goodie…the paper trick works every time. You might try a roller foot or dual feed “walking” foot on your sewing machine, it will save you from tweezing paper bits.

  5. Thanks for your suggestion Don. I got myself a roller foot to try but have found it isn’t any better than the ordindary foot so I am sending it back. Is that the same thing as a dual feed ‘walking’ foot? I would so love not to have to fiddle about with tweezers!

    • Don

      The walking foot is a dual/even-feed foot that “walks” over fabric to assist with keeping fabric layers feeding at the same rate. With this foot attachment, fabric can be sewn without shifting or puckering since the fabric is gripped and fed by both upper and lower feed teeth. It feeds well with materials such as vinyl or leather or whenever matching plaids and checks. It is often used in quilting when sewing two layers of fabric and one of batting, so a quilting supply store may be a good place to source one. The only drawback I find is that it is a quite large piece of hardware making it difficult to get into tight places.

      Since the roller foot did not work well for you, try a Telfon foot. It tends to allow “sticky” surfaces like leather and plastics not to drag. Another idea is to spritz the faceplate of the sewing machine with a silicone spray.

  6. Thanks so much for taking the time to advise, Don. I got myself a walking foot and it works like a dream, allowing the leather to glide through easily, and up to 4 layers of it too. The biggest drawback (apart from being bulky like you said) is that it leaves track marks on the leather – a problem for areas requiring decorative topstitching.

    • Don

      I have never experienced track marks using the dual-feed foot yet good to know that it could happen. Let me suggest putting a Teflon coating on the bottom of the foot. You can purchase polytetrafluoroethylene in sheet form with an adhesive backing. The way this is applied is to peel off the release paper and stick it to the sole of any sewing machine foot, then trim the excess away following the shape of the foot. It might be worth a try to prevent the track marks.

  7. What’s up, this weekend is nice in favor of me, because this occasion i am reading this enormous educational post here at my house.

  8. Jo

    Excellent post. Thank you🙂

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