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Getting started with a sewing machine

Discussion in 'Do-It-Yourself & Gear Modifications' started by pagga, Feb 26, 2012.

    pagga Loaded Pockets

    Hi guys, I was thinking about getting a sewing machine and trying to make my own pouches, bags, etc. I have some ideas, but no previous experience in sewing. Can you give guys me a quick rundown of what you commonly use (keeping in mind I know nothing about sewing) like what kind of stitches/thread are commonly used in EDC/tactical type gear, what is considered an "industrial" sewing machine, etc?

    Basically I'm looking for parameters in what kind of machine I should look into. Right now I'm looking on Craigslist and I see a Kenmore Model 90 which I Youtubed and saw sewing through a couple of layers of leather, so I'm assuming it'll work for my purposes. Also, are there favorite sites you guys have as far as materials? I'm thinking denim (nobody's used it yet but I think it would make a great material), leather, and Cordura/nylon.

    Links for various hardware sites (buckles, D-rings, zippers -- especially the heavy duty YKK stuff that everyone uses) would be useful as well. I've been doing a little bit of research already but I'm afraid I'm too inexperienced to really know what I'm looking for yet, and I'd appreciate any words of wisdom. Thanks!

    echo63 Loaded Pockets

    Go have a look at Diytactical.com
    It's a forum that concentrates on sewing tactical gear, but kinda branches out to riggers belts and bags etc.
    Most of the guys there are using older (cast iron) domestic sewing machines, small walking foot machines (sailrite ultra feeds) with a few having heavy industrial machines (tacsew t111 is popular) or a full sewing shop, with dedicated binding machines etc

    I dont sew stuff out of fabric, all the stuff I make is 1" or 2" webbing, I use my grandmothers old sewing machine, and upholstery thread from the local fabric shop.

    LivingUpNorth Loaded Pockets

    Machine: I'm in a similar situation as you. So far, I've been told that a standard household machine (the kind you might purchase at Jo-Ann's or other mainstream fabric store for $100-$300) will sew 1000D nylon for a while, but will eventually wear out due to the drive train being made from plastic. If you can find an older household sewing machine with an all-metal drive train, you would be better off. Check out this place for the heavy duty units: http://www.industrialsewmachine.com/ Expect to pay closer to the $1000 range for those.
    I only plan on making a few things, so I don't have any intention of dropping a $grand on an industrial machine.

    So I've been told: A household machine won't be able to feed the heaviest threads commonly found in tactical gear, but you should be okay with a T-70 polyester thread.

    Fabric and Hardware: http://www.rockywoods.com/ is a good site for fabrics and hardware. They also have a lot of helpful sewing info including different thread materials. Their inventory fluctuates a little, and they're always getting new things.

    Ideas: My recommendation is to go to a local fabric store and get some denim or canvas/duck cloth and practice making some items before dropping money on Cordura and associated hardware. DIY Tactical (http://diytactical.com/blog/) has some patterns you can download for free to play with.

    So far, I've made a 4x6 pouch and an insulated lunch bag. I didn't save any money compared to buying a finished product, but it was fun and satisfying to do. Good luck!

    Haubitz Loaded Pockets

    I’m in a similar situation. I started sewing this past autumn. I made a few pouches and a foldable backpack (made a thread about it here). The machine I used then was my wifes no-name machine, which I soon realized, wouldn’t be strong enough. I then bought an old (1965) Husquarna from an ad on the Internet. I just had it serviced and got it back today. The repairman told me that I had made a good purchase and that it will last me 20 years or more. I’m really exited to get started now, but time is an issue.
    I ordered my Cordura from rockywoods.com.

    Good luck. I’m looking forward to see what you make.
    • In Omnia Paratus

    CatherineM Loaded Pockets

    I've been sewing for over 40 years. I would recommend buying a used machine from a sewing store. First you'll get one that works well, was probably a trade in, and you'll get free lessons. They often have industrial machines. I have a 40 year old Bernina that has no problem sewing leather or canvas. There are lots of good used machines on the market right now because high schools are getting rid of their home ec programs for computer programs.

    There are some really good books on the market for sewing outdoors stuff. I'm not where I can see them right now so will post later. The library has great books and there are some good TV shows on PBS to watch.

    As to materials, I get lots of stuff from thrift stores. Old sheets or curtains are great to practice on. When little old ladies die who were sewers, their stashes get dropped off. When I die, my husband will have to make several trips.

    pagga Loaded Pockets

    Thanks for the replies everyone! I did a little bit more research on the model I was looking at (Kenmore Model 90) and found some videos on Youtube of it sewing multiple layers of denim and leather, so I think I'm going to get the DIYTactical guys opinion on it and if all is kosher I'll email the seller an offer. I'm definitely not going to drop a grand on this.

    I'm also looking at the DIYT site right now and it seems to be mostly patterns, which is helpful but I think I need a grounding in basic vocabulary/techniques/etc before I attempt a first project. I've seen terms like "bar stitch" and "box stitch", "zigzag", etc, thrown around here -- that was the jist of what I meant by "kinds of stitches".

    Again, thanks everyone for replying and for the links! CatherineM, I would definitely appreciate those book titles when you get a chance. Your mention of computer and home ec programs actually got me thinking...I wonder if there are any programs out there that you can design patterns on and put them together virtually. More research to do! :)

    EDIT: It just occurred to me to ask what good brands are. I recognize Singer/Kenmore/etc because they're huge companies, but it seems I consistently run into the brand Bernina and Tacsew (mentioned above) in searches. Also, DIYT seems to be more oriented towards the gear than the actual equipment and techniques used to make them from what I see. They don't have a subforum (or much discussion from what I can tell from searching) about it...so I guess I'm asking for everyone's advice here times two, lol.
    • In Omnia Paratus

    CatherineM Loaded Pockets

    Don't Forget the Duct Tape
    The Essential Outdoor Gear Manual
    Sew & Repair your Outdoor Gear
    Lightweight camping equipment and how to make it
    Made for Travel
    Travel Gear and Gifts to Make
    Sewing packs, pouches, seats & sacks
    Sewing Outdoor Gear
    Leatherworking Handbook
    The Art of Hand Sewing Leather
    The Art of Making Leather Cases
    How to Sew Leather, Suede and Fur
    Sewing for the Outdoors

    Those are the ones I have on the shelf. Some are out of print. I don't do much real tactical sewing. When I did it was for GI Joes. It takes real skill to sew backpacks and repelling harnesses for 12 inch high action figures. I found some fishing clips that made nice miniature carabiners.

    Kilted1 Loaded Pockets

    Your local sewing store probably runs some basic sewing classes to get you familiarized.

    I've had good luck with thrift store sewing machines. For $20, a can of carb cleaner and some oil you'll get a solid working machine that may not be pretty but will last for years.

    DIYTactical is new to me but looks cool.

    v137a Loaded Pockets

    Thanks for all the info. My wife and I were just talking yesterday about getting a more robust sewing machine, so this has been a big help.

    jma78 Loaded Pockets

    Take another look.

    Ghillieman7 Empty Pockets

    I have a White brand sewing machine, made around 1952 I think. I have found that sewing tougher matireals can be all in what type of needle You use. Im also kind of new to sewing, and love this machine because it is robust, forgiving and simple. It does straight or zig zag stitches, but non of the fancy stuff. I tend to keep either a denim or leather needle in in and it seems to go through most thicker things like webbing and such. Good luck, I think You will find it a lot of fun.

    Sailsmaker89 Loaded Pockets

    Jo-Anne Fabrics/Michaels Craft Stores sometimes have a "sewing 101" class, it is all in how you learn and then apply basics,
    you can also check with local vocational schools for an Adult Ed course . Then you can get a few old packs or shirts or whatever and deconstruct then reconstruct them it is a good way to study design and how you get from flat cloth to a working model later you can copy the pieces to new cloth and make a clone or "tweak" it by adding pockets or changing dimensions etc.

    I got my start at a Vocational High School, learning upholstery then I moved into Sails and Boat Canvas,then rigging work

    Most EDC /TAC gear will be straight stitched zig-zag is great for material that stretches Cordura is like Plywood (no stretch) or as a way of selvaging an edge so it doesn't fray ( button holes) most EDC/TAC folks seem to prefer either binding tape or sewing inside out,turning right side out and top stitching.

    I run a Consew 206RB from my canvas days but I need to invest in a new binding attachment as I lost mine in one of several moves :( and the lightest thread I use is V92 sometimes a heavier V-138 double sided tape is handy as a third hand sometimes also a stapler some use those small metal clips you use for documents the black ones with shiny arms that fold

    Denim seems to me to be too stretchy and not as durable as Cordura , I would hate to put the hours in some of these rigs need just to see it come undone due to a cotton based cloth that isnt rigid enough to hold shape there is a reason why most packs and rigs are made of cordura now some of the pants and jackets and shirts are a Poly/cotton blend but I would stick to different deniers of Cordura for the harder use gear the higher the denier 250,500,1000 the thicker and stiffer it is and more chafe resistant..

    BOX-X stitching is done near the end of webbing to reinforce it as the name implies it is a BOX with an X in it now sometimes they are square and sometimes rectangles... bartacking is usually done at the beginning and end of a stitch run to seal the ends from unraveling you go forward 4-8 stitches then back then proceed your seam trim ends when done I usually burn them after trimming to 3/16" - 1/4" it melts back and also aids against unraveling..most stitch lengths are between 7-12 stitches per inch (SPI)
    Good Luck with the new hobby you never know where it may take you.. I'm off to design and build my daypack for work.

    DIYTactical get to the FORUM http://www.diytactical.com/forums/index.php


    Kerstel Loaded Pockets

    Mr BadWrench Loaded Pockets

    Very interesting thread. My dad sewed tents in the army way back when and my mom has been a seamstress for as long as I remember. Ill add a +1 to the finding a used machine at a sewing shop but also watch goodwill & thrift stores. My recommendations would be to ask the sewing store about robust easy to repair models because while you are learning I assume you are not practicing on thin materials and easier to sew designs. I assume this because we are Men and Men do not usually want to sew handkerchiefs, Doilies and lacy items so I expect you to break your new toy or at least jam it up a few times before you learn its limits. I would look for something with an external motor, Older machines with this type of design have several advantages. One is that you can grab the drive pulley and manually turn it to get the needle back out of your finger. Another advantage is that these older machines usually had all steel gears inside and everything was heavier to hold up to the bigger motors. A few times in my teens my mother offered to buy me my own machine so I would stop messing with hers, I chose to stop sewing to save the embarrassment of opening a box with a sewing machine at a birthday party or Christmas..... I should have taken the offer I think now.

    • In Omnia Paratus

    CatherineM Loaded Pockets

    You made a good point about older machines. One of the reasons I have never bought a new machine is that new ones are plastic. Mine doesn't bounce around because it is all metal. It can be hard to find parts so five years ago I bought a second machine just like mine in case I need some parts sometime in the future.

    echo63 Loaded Pockets

    I too run an older machine, I learnt to sew on my mothers machine, and I am now using my grandmothers machine
    It has it's little foibles, but it is a good solid machine

    Blackheart Loaded Pockets

    I picked up an old, used White-brand sewing machine in good working order off Craig's List for $20 last fall.

    Couple of things I wished I would have thought about before hand:

    - If you're buying from an individual, MAKE SURE YOU GET ALL THE ACCESSORIES! They can be expensive to buy later (if you can find them).
    - Ask if the seller has the manual for the machine. Unlikely, but they're handy to have. Most can be found online with some searching.
    - Try to find a machine that was a popular model. The one I got appears to be some sort of oddball, but I could still get parts by buying for the next closest model number (can be iffy).