Beginner’s guide to sewing with industrial machines

Based on the experience of my recent class, I thought an entry about how to feed or manage layers when sewing on an industrial machine would be helpful but realized I needed to provide more groundwork first. Speaking of the class, the context is I had two students who are primarily retailers (own 3 stores) who want to develop their own in-house sewing unit. One partner does a bit of sewing with home machines but is intimidated by industrials. To reduce the intimidation factor, I trained them on my three servo machines:

Durkopp Adler Lockstitch model 271-140342 (basic sewing machine)
Juki DLN 9010 SH Needle feed
Reliable 3/5 thread overlock model 3316N GG740H

That reminds me, you may ask what is a servo? Servos are relatively new being one of two types of motors used on industrial machines. The other kind you may be more familiar with is a clutch motor. Clutch motors are noisy (I like the sound); servos are completely silent, as quiet or more than a home machine even at top speed. Stuart wrote a review of a servo motor.

Industrial machines are set up differently from home machines. With the latter, the motor is built into the machine head itself. The motor on industrials are separate, usually mounted to the underside of the table. This is useful because you can switch them out if they go bad.

You may ask which is best but it depends. If you are a baby (like me) and don’t like fiddling with stuff and want the whistles and bells (automatic thread cutter, easy speed control etc), the servo is best. I’m slowly upgrading all of my equipment to servos, I love them. Clutch motors are good too but it takes longer to get used to controlling the speed with the foot pedal and they don’t have the same amenities servos do.

Industrial machines are more specialized than home machines. Probably the biggest misconception is that industrials are for heavier work like canvas etc but this isn’t true. My Adler (the lockstitch) is a “dressmaker” for lighter materials. Sewing heavier weights on it throws off the timing -assuming it’ll form a stitch. A lockstitch is the most common kind of sewing there is with a top and bottom thread forming a stitch. The basic dressmaker only has one kind of feed, that of the bottom feed dogs. I don’t know what this model and brand costs these days. Mine is about 10 years old. I bought it from a customs broker whose client went belly up before he could collect his merchandise so it only cost $400 which is what the broker had in it. The deal of the century, it was so new it was still crated. At that time, these machines were over $5,000; they cost less now (industrial machine prices are very competitive and continue to fall). Adlers are the top of the line brand and cost more; a Juki 9000 comparable to this one is about $1,350 (quote from Orange County Industrial). Brand names aren’t as important in industrial machines because among the major brands, they are all good. Also, many presser feet, parts and bobbins between brands are interchangeable. That keeps costs low too and most presser feet are inexpensive. A $7 presser foot is considered expensive if that says anything.

A needle feed is also a lockstitch but it feeds from two places, the dogs and the needle itself. This is useful when feeding tricky materials. I wrote about this before in much more detail. That entry includes a video so you can compare the needle action. If you could only afford to get one, the needle feed might be the better option because it is more versatile with respect to sewing slippery and nappy stuff but it costs a bit more. I bought mine from Wayne at Orange County Industrial (I’m a very satisfied customer but do a lot of your homework before calling; industrial dealers don’t do extensive hand holding and I don’t want Wayne to become annoyed that I mentioned him). Speaking of, my model is the SH which is for heavier weights. You probably want the SS model. It costs about $2,800. This price includes an automatic thread trimmer. Because I’m a baby, I think it is worth paying for. A thread trimmer means the machine will automatically cut the thread when you want it to (easier than you’d think).

The other difference between home and industrial machines that bears mentioning is that your usual price quote includes three things: the head, the motor and the table. In home sewing, it is just the head (motor built in). Because this is more typical than not, if you are quoted a price where this is not the case, the dealer or seller will always mention if it is head only, machine and motor only or no table included etc. In the normal course of affairs, you can assume the price quote includes table, motor and machine. In fact, dealers will often mention a possible upgrade to a better motor.

The feedback on the two machines from my students: one had a pronounced preference for the Juki. The other seemed to prefer the Adler. All things remaining the same, I prefer the Adler. It operates more elegantly (it is sometimes described as “more sensitive” but not as in needy or neurotic). The Juki sounds clunky (to me) by comparison. That matters little, both machines operate excellently and I heartily recommend them both.

An overlock is better known to home sewers as a “serger”, they are the same thing (but Rocio says you should never say “serger” in industry). The one I have is a 5 thread safety stitch. This consists of a three thread formed overlock seam with a chain stitch alongside. You usually don’t use a safety stitch on knits unless you use stretchy thread. The Reliable model I have also converts to 3 threads which can be used on knits. The overlock was popular with both students. It also has a servo and runs very smoothly and quietly.

Regarding operation, the foot pedal (as applied to the servos only) bears mentioning. There are three basic foot positions. You use the tip of your toe on the edge of the pedal closest to you, to lift the foot. You use your full foot to stitch. When you’re done with the seam and want to back stitch (automatic with the servo) and cut the thread (if you have an automatic thread trimmer, definitely recommended), you leave your foot in place on the pedal or maybe slide it down just a tad but bear down firmly applying pressure with your heel on the pedal edge closest to you. Exactly as though you were “digging in your heels”. The overlock has two foot pedals. One to lift the presser foot (if needed) and the other to run it. In short, machines with servo motors don’t have a knee or a hand lift for the presser foot. With automatic back stitching, you don’t lose one hand to operating a knob or lever. This is great because your hands are free to work the materials.

Explosion factor of any of these machines if you do something wrong is zero. Mr. F-I laughs at me but I have told him that women often rate equipment in terms of, if they do something wrong, will the machine explode? He thinks I’m kidding but you know better. It is pretty hard to mess these up. Speaking of, the worst that can go wrong is in threading.

Threading a machine: When you buy a machine, it is nearly always threaded. That is because the dealer “sews it off” before shipping to make sure the unit is operable. The way you change threads on an industrial is to clip the thread at the spindle (never pull it out!) and tie on the new thread with the most basic knot there is. Then unthread the needle, lift the presser foot and pull the thread through the channels and what not from the bottom. When the knot feeds through, clip it off and re-thread the needle from left to right. The bobbin is threaded exactly like a home machine. The direction and thread tail of the bobbin should form a “9” before inserting it into the bobbin case. I learned that from a home sewer, I never could keep it straight before that.

All of this is very basic, if you scan the machines and equipment category on this site, you’ll find much more detail and information about machines.

In the next entry, I will explain the epiphany I had with respect to the main reason we don’t use pins (and what I originally intended for this entry to be about). Pins prevent optimal handling and feeding of the fabric into an industrial machine. Before I told you that pinning was unnecessary due to foot pressure and also, that pins introduce inaccuracies where there were none.  Until had to teach handling in this class (focusing on advanced topics, I’m not very experienced at teaching people who’ve never sewn on an industrial) I didn’t realize needing to mention that pins prevent optimal feeding of goods. As it happens, the best (most consistent) sewing results are attained by keeping layers as separate as much as is possible until just before they go under the needle. Pins obviously subvert that.

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