Spring has Sprung with a snowstorm! We are just starting a new session the first two weeks of April. There are a few spaces left, mainly in the kids classes. The next session will begin after May 19th. Sign up for our email newsletter to get notices.

Common Troubles with Sewing Machines!

Sue Hausmann & America Sews

The Hausmann's
This past Saturday, November 20, 2010, Nashua Sew & Vac hosted a day with Sue Hausmann.  She has a show on PBS, called America Sews.  She was in town to share much of her expertise and inspire us in our creative endeavors.  It was a little heavy on machine embroidery hints, but there were a few gems she gave us, that I must pass on to you!  And, I couldn’t help but elaborate on related troubles and their solutions.

Bobbins, how to wind them without damaging them.
plastic bobbins
First, Jan Bickford, our serger/sewing teacher, has been educating us to wind plastic bobbins at a medium, rather than fast speed.  The friction on the thread, as it goes from spool, through the tension discs, to the bobbin, causes the thread to heat up.  Sue elaborated on this info by showing us that the heat can be high enough to actually warp and distort the bobbin!!!  She showed us one that was damaged in that manner.  I have wondered why some bobbins are like this when I go to wind them, and now I know!  Warping will cause the bobbin to feed thread unevenly and therefore your stitches will not be consistent.  (This doesn’t apply to metal bobbins.)  Another thing to be careful of, whether using metal or plastic bobbins, is that high speed winding can stretch the thread.  So, NO lead footing allowed!

Problems for which the Solutions involve the Take Up Lever

Many of you have had problems with your sewing machine, and whenever they happen, you’ll say, “What’s wrong with this @#%$&   thing!!!!  %#^@&$*%!”  Often, the machine gets shoved into the closet and collects dust.

Well, here are some hints for you.  First, whenever you wish to stop your line of stitching and pull the fabric away from the machine, you must put the Take Up Lever to its top position. (See the photo and drawing above.)   If your machine has a Needle Up/Down button, use that.  If it doesn’t , then turn the hand wheel, (on the right end of the machine,) top toward you, until the needle is at its highest position and just starting to move downward.  Or, until the Take Up Lever is at its highest point.  I say “top toward you” rather than clockwise or counter-clockwise, because if you are sitting to the right of the handwheel, it turns counterclockwise, and if you are seated to the left of the wheel, you would observe that direction as clockwise.  Since the machine is usually in front of you, I say “top toward you” to eliminate confusion.  Did that help?  Or, did I just muddle your thinking?

What having the Take Up Lever at the top will do for you, is eliminate 3-4 problems that commonly happen to beginners and even more seasoned sewists. (I have to tell you, that I don’t really like the term “sewist” but as I write “sewers” it looks more like “soo-ers” than “Soh-ers,” not an appealing thought!)

Please click on this link to the How Stuff Works website. It will take you to a page on how sewing machines form stitches.  There are 2 animated drawings showing first, how a chain stitch machine works, then, secondly, how our standard sewing machines work.  When you look at the second animation, note that the needle penetrates the fabric and a hook grabs the thread and brings it around the bobbin.  You can see that the needle exits the fabric before the needle thread completes its journey around the bobbin.  The needle thread is made long enough to wrap around the bobbin, by the Take Up Lever giving slack to the thread.  It “Takes Up” that slack, after the needle thread goes half way around the bobbin.  Most people look at the needle when they sew.  So, they think that as soon as the needle comes out of the fabric, that you can pull it away from the machine. Unfortunately, the stitch is not complete, until the Take Up lever does its job and returns to its highest position.

What are the problems that occur when you try to stop before the stitch is fully formed?

Problem 1 You cannot pull the fabric away from the machine
Why?  The hook holding the needle thread has not released it from its journey around the bobbin case.

Problem 2 When, with great effort, you do pull it away, you end up with 4 threads coming out rather than 2
Why?  Again with the needle thread being trapped below, you are pulling the bobbin thread, the needle thread and the 2 sides of the loop around the bobbin, up with your fabric.  You cut all 4 threads and then pull the end of one thread and it comes out of the machine’s throat plate (this is the metal plate that the needle passes through and where the feed dogs pop up.)

Problem 3 When you start sewing again, the thread comes out of the needle and you have to reinsert it into the eye of the needle!
Why?  You cut the thread and the Take Up Lever still has to travel up, before it goes down.  So, it pulls the needle thread out of the eye of the needle and you say, “$@%#^$%%!” and rethread it and continue.
Problem 4.  ALL of these problems can be eliminated, if you do one thing!!!!
When you stop sewing, make sure that the take up lever is in its highest position.  (Circled in red in the photo above, most will stick out of the machine at the top)  If it is not at the top, ALWAYS, turn the hand wheel on the machine, top toward you.  Now, this is counter-intuitive for us.  We bicycle, and walk and crank things in a “top away from you” motion.  But, the motor on your machine turns the handwheel, “top toward you.”  It you turn it the other way, you can jam the machine.

Problem 5 When you start sewing, the machine makes an AWFUL racket and makes a mess of thread underneath, and gets stuck in place.

A.  One of the most common reasons, is that you have forgotten to put down the presser foot.  When you lower the presser foot, you also engage the tension discs, which grab the thread and let it go in a well-timed rhythm.  If the presser foot is raised, the thread flows freely (it isn’t grabbed at all) and when the take up lever rises, it takes the thread from the spool (the path of least resistance) rather than from below the fabric.  Meaning, that the loop that is being wrapped around the bobbin, doesn’t get pulled back up through the fabric.  This will cause a pile up of thread loops underneath.  It’s a domino effect.  Like those classic comedy sketches where a line of people are moving forward, the first person stops and everyone bumps into the person in front of them.  If this does happen to you, don’t just put the presser foot down and try to continue sewing, you’ve made your mess and you have to clean it up before you can sew again. You’ve plugged the drain and it must be unclogged.

Mickey Hudson likes to call this mess “bobbin vomit!”  Sometimes, it seems the most appropriate term for such a mess.
P.S. Another reason, that I overlooked for thread jams, is that whenever you start sewing, you must have the needle penetrate fabric.  The fabric holds the thread so that the loop comes back up from under the fabric.  If you have the needle go down before the fabric, the loop gets stuck underneath and the same bobbin vomit forms.  Yuck!  I do have an industrial machine that always leaves a small knot on the underside of the fabric, unless I hold both thread tales to the back, while stitching the first 2-3 stitches in the fabric.  If you are concerned about sewing all the way to the edge of the fabric, then start with a1/4″ of fabric behind the needle, go forward one stitch to establish the thread in the material, then backstitch/backtack/or reverse stitch to the edge and then go forward.  This secures the thread tales and keeps you from having a knotty mess underneath.

B. Another time that this happens, is if you are trying to sew past a thick seam in the fabric.  If the presser foot gets tipped high in the front, it cannot move forward.  The pressure on the foot is in the back, if the fabric changes from thin to thick, the foot gets stuck in place.  The way around this is to make the foot level.  You need to shim the back of the foot to be even with the front.  If you do that, there is no problem getting past a thick area of fabric.  You can buy tools designed for this called, “Hump Jumpers” or Jean-a-ma-jigs.  I own these tools, but can never find them when I need them.  So, I improvise.  I find a business or index card, folded to the same thickness as the fabric, works really well.  (for those of you who are more adventurous or lazy, who like danger, use a sewing machine needle case, but wear your safety glasses)

Hump Jumper inserted behind needle to level foot over a thick seam.
Jean a ma jig, inserted before seam, to level foot.

How to level or shim the presser foot:  as the presser foot encounters the increased height of the seam, stop the machine, put the needle down and insert shim behind the needle.  Lower the presser foot, continue sewing across the seam.  It will pop out from under the foot when no longer needed.

Leveling Presser Foot, also does general sewing.

Some machines have a shimming mechanism built into the standard presser foot.  Do you have a presser foot that has a spring-loaded, black button on the side near the back, like the picture above?  Have you ever wondered what the heck that is for?  Well, when you sew and encounter a thicker area, let the foot start traveling over the seam, stop, put the needle into the fabric.  Level the foot and push the button in on the side so that it engages with an indentation in the back “ankle” area of the presser foot connection.  Hold the button in while you lower the presser foot onto the fabric.  Then, let the button go. It will stay pushed in.  The foot will remain level as you sew across your seam.  The button will pop out of place when you have passed the thick area.  It is quite amazing!

Now, for those of you, who have had a problem with the thread coming out of the Take Up Lever, this is for you!  I have been trying to figure this out for a long time.  I don’t have this happen to me, but it happens to a lot of my students when they use one of my sewing machines, in particular, the Kenmore model 16231.  Sue Hausmann talked to us about this and I was so happy to learn this, that it was worth attending the 6 hour seminar, if only for this explanation.

This usually happens for people who have a sewing machine which can stop the needle in either the UP or Down position automatically.  (Though, just today (11/23/10,) I had a student, whose machine doesn’t have this feature, have this problem, so all of you should read this!)

Many times, you may find that that AWFUL sound happens when you start sewing a seam.  When you stop, there are big loops of thread down below and you may or may not be able to pull the fabric away from the machine.  This is caused by using the handwheel, rather than the UP/DOWN button, to move the needle/takeup lever to their UP positions.  Sometimes, your machine’s UP position may vary a little bit from what you expect.  If you turn the wheel  by hand, you may not put it right where the machine would and it forms some slack in the thread, that allows it to come out of the take up lever.  Since I love the needle up down button (you can have it stop in the fabric whenever you take your foot off the pedal, so it acts like a third hand, holding your fabric in place on the machine while you adjust it to continue sewing.)  You can also have it stop in the UP position every time you stop.  If it is in the Down mode, make sure that at the end of stitching your seam, that you push the UP button rather than turning the hand wheel.  The designers of the machine want you to use the button rather than the wheel.

Another task that is effected by not using the UP/DOWN button, is threading the machine using the automatic needle threader. Most new sewing machines come with a needle threader.  How it works, is that you push a lever down, as it is depressed, it rotates forward and puts a teeny, tiny hook, through the back of the eye of the needle.  You draw the thread around a guide and then up the front of the needle until it encounters the underside of that teeny, tiny hook (like a minuscule crochet hook.)  You let the thread in your right hand go, at the same time as you release the lever on the left.  Spring loading allows the hook to draw a thread loop through the eye of the needle.  You then pull that loop all the way through to finish threading the machine.  Most needle threaders look like the one above.  None of them work right, unless the machine is IN the pre-programmed UP position.  If you are not sure if the machine is in the right place, hit the needle UP/DOWN button, until it is.  If you do not do this, it will bend the hook so that this will not work in the future.  Many people do not know this.  Remember………If all else fails, read the instruction manual.   Or, come to a class and we will show you what to do!

Comments are closed.