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  1. #1
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    Learning sewing machine basics

    Man, I really need to spend more time in this part of the forums. I was busy for an hour or two this afternoon making pillow cases. I got a couple of thrift store pillow cases for a dollar each, chopped them in half and made each one into two smaller cases that are just right for the inflatable pillow I use hammock backpacking.

    But every time I use my sewing machine I think, "I really should learn how to do this right". I may try to get my sons girl friend over here to watch me (or somebody who really knows how to sew) and have them watch me do stuff and make a a list of all the things I am doing wrong and then set me straight. There must be other resources besides learning the hard way. It seems like the hands on skills are handed down from father to son (or more likely mother to daughter). The books I have picked up all launch into patterns and making clothes. How did all of you guys figure this out and get good at it?

    Like for instance today when I reverse direction and the machine produces this big wad of thread on the back of the fabric at seemingly random times -- just for an example. We just chop it off, shrug, and try again ... Sometimes I do stuff that looks really good. Other times, well it gets the job done.

  2. #2
    Mouseskowitz's Avatar
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    I think I sewed a couple sleeping bags for my GI Joes when I was little. Other than that it has just been playing around. There are probably sewing classes you could take in your area. Some of the guys that really know what they're doing have said that there is a difference between gear making and sewing. So, I'm not sure how much classes would help past he basics. There are also some good videos on YouTube that help sometimes.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Lepmeister's Avatar
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    Agree with youtube... I watched a few before getting my singer 99 and by the time i picked it up a few days later i was ready to go. Ive made heaps of stuff that i could only look at others making in the past and wish.

    After buying a few hammock setups over the years it has allowed me to make stuff that i didnt want to spend the money on before (ground setups) but now that i have the skills up im looking at making a hammock.

  4. #4
    Bubba's Avatar
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    You tube plus practice is what I've done. HF member Ramblinrev has a pretty good beginners series. Get some scrap materials and just practice.
    Don't let life get in the way of living.

  5. #5
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    My suggestions - first study the manual for your machine, I know y'all hate reading the instructions but set the hate aside and you'll find that the operator manual has lots of good information.

    Next, google what you want to learn about - search 'narrow hem' and you'll find a heap of videos. Watch several because each one may have a different tip and some people teach differently. Yes, you may end up watching clothes being made but the skill is the same just different application.

    Watch videos of people like Grizz - they've learned to handle the thread injector, maybe even turn the sound off so you're not distracted by what he's doing and watch HOW he's doing it.

    Keep in mind that when you watch someone sewing from a pattern, that whether you realize it or not, you're creating a pattern yourself when you lay out a stuff sack or a pillow case. You're just not formalizing it the way a commercial pattern does.

    Start simple, work your way up. You didn't start in shop class making a formal dining room set, you started with a bird house!!

    Oh, and just ask around here, there's more than a few of us who are willing to write long detailed instructions to do simple things....

  6. #6
    Senior Member Ramblinrev's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bubba View Post
    You tube plus practice is what I've done. HF member Ramblinrev has a pretty good beginners series. Get some scrap materials and just practice.
    Thanks for the plug. The link is in my sig. It really is super basic. It's also somewhat older (relatively) so the quality is up to some of the other resources. But it pretty much covers the basics of making gear.
    I may be slow... But I sure am gimpy.

    "Bless you child, when you set out to thread a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it; that's the way a woman most always does, but a man always does t'other way."
    Mrs. Loftus to Huck Finn

    We Don't Sew... We Make Gear! video series

    Important thread injector guidelines especially for Newbies

    Bobbin Tension - A Personal Viewpoint

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tucson Tom View Post
    Like for instance today when I reverse direction and the machine produces this big wad of thread on the back of the fabric at seemingly random times -- just for an example. We just chop it off, shrug, and try again ...
    That could be a 'technique/skill' problem , but IMO is more likely a machine problem.

    When I am 'playing' with a new sewing machine 'find' I expect it to stitch well in forward and reverse- fast and slow- and be able to switch smoothly between.
    It's tough to analyze machine problems when you don't have a bunch of sewing experience, or even adjust the tension, etc. when you haven't developed an 'eye' for it.
    If you are lucky, you'll have a stitcher nearby who isn't afraid to 'hurt your feelings' when examining your efforts.. SWMBO springs to mind!

    As others have said, practicing does help. Stuff sacs can be quite interesting and challenging to make - and there are a lot of different designs to copy. Putting a round bottom in a stuff sack, or sewing on a separate drawstring tube can teach you a lot.

    If you have the time and inclination, I'd also suggest trying to get away from the mind-set that the goal is to quickly produce a piece of gear, and instead do a (small) project with no deadline and try for the 'best possible' quality, with well-formed stitches, etc. . Lightweight fabrics are less forgiving, so most projects here are 'advanced' by that measure.

    Also, start looking - really looking- at sewn clothing with the 'how did they do that?' question in mind. It's amusing detective work. Before you toss those torn pants in the garbage, get out the seam ripper and figure out the assembly process. Sewing them back together is amusing as well...

  8. #8
    Senior Member Lepmeister's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by VictoriaGuy View Post
    That could be a 'technique/skill' problem , but IMO is more likely a machine problem.

    When I am 'playing' with a new sewing machine 'find' I expect it to stitch well in forward and reverse- fast and slow- and be able to switch smoothly between.
    It's tough to analyze machine problems when you don't have a bunch of sewing experience, or even adjust the tension, etc. when you haven't developed an 'eye' for it.
    If you are lucky, you'll have a stitcher nearby who isn't afraid to 'hurt your feelings' when examining your efforts.. SWMBO springs to mind!

    As others have said, practicing does help. Stuff sacs can be quite interesting and challenging to make - and there are a lot of different designs to copy. Putting a round bottom in a stuff sack, or sewing on a separate drawstring tube can teach you a lot.

    If you have the time and inclination, I'd also suggest trying to get away from the mind-set that the goal is to quickly produce a piece of gear, and instead do a (small) project with no deadline and try for the 'best possible' quality, with well-formed stitches, etc. . Lightweight fabrics are less forgiving, so most projects here are 'advanced' by that measure.

    Also, start looking - really looking- at sewn clothing with the 'how did they do that?' question in mind. It's amusing detective work. Before you toss those torn pants in the garbage, get out the seam ripper and figure out the assembly process. Sewing them back together is amusing as well...
    Very true!

  9. #9
    boulderv7's Avatar
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    I learned a lot from the ladies at the sew shop. They were more than willing to share knowledge. They gave me a few lessons for free. I think they just thought it was cool a young guy was into sewing. YouTube is also great as said before. I'm really just always learning and honing skills.
    My head is an animal

  10. #10
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    Lots of good advice and suggestions here. Thanks! I will get to work. When learning to use my wire-feed welder one of the best days I spent was with a bunch of scrap metal and fooling around and trying the full range of adjustments to find out what would happen with things set way off this way or the other way. I need to do the same thing with the sewing machine tension adjustment and really get a handle on that. Actually there isn't any other adjustment on my machine I don't understand. I have the length of stitch knob, which is easy enough, and my machine (an Elna "super" from the good old days) has a zig zag width, which is also easy and obvious to understand, and set to zero for regular sewing. More practice, and find those videos. I'll think about a class if I can find one.

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