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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Handy sewing hint #15

As promised here are some thoughts on sewing machine feet.

To zoom out a bit, many of us struggle to perform a variety of sewing jobs perfectly at our own domestic sewing machine without fully realizing that in mass factory sewing industrial machines are all special purpose built to do only one function and to do it perfectly. It is to be expected that we have our difficulties trying to do so much more with so much less.

This fact really connected with me when I once complained to an industrial sewing machine technician that I struggled to produce identical pairs of welt pockets every time. 

He told me that in suit factories the machines that did welt pockets were often the size of ping pong tables and although the did an infinite number of perfect welt pockets, that is all they did.

Quite a change from the home sewer and her little multi-purpose sewing machine.

There is a point here to consider. 

There are devices that exist to extend and standardize the performance of any machine and many of these are available as attachments for you own sewing machine.

Here are some I have used and many I own:

  • Flat felling feet that turn under the edge of the seam allowance that needs to be topstitched from the right side evenly and holds it still so you can stitch it down a consistent distance from the seam line.
  • Feet that hold two pieces of lace together so they can be joined by zig zagging ( I once lost my mind and did some heirloom sewing - temporarily)
  • Feet that let you feed in rows of strung beads and stitch the down ( the 80s were weird man )
  • Button hole sewing feet that hold the buttons still so you can zig zag them on ( you are kidding, you haven't had the pleasure of sewing your buttons on by machine?) although often you can get the same result by snapping off your snap on foot and just lowering the shank directly onto the button to hold it.
  • Wide and narrow hem feet. Once these are mastered, and this does play a game on your nerves,  these feet roll tiny hems and feed them through under the needle more finely and accurately than you could ever do with an iron and your fingers. 
  • Pin tuck feet that do an outstanding job of sewing little pin tucks, again from my brief, but intense foray into heirloom sewing.
There are tons more speciality feet out there, do a surf or visit your sewing machine dealer. The right sewing machine feet can make the difference between a hard sewing job that sails right through your machine and one that makes you go back to crochet as a hobby.

You will note too, before we go any further, that I have not listed gathering feet here. 

If you want to speed gather you are far, far better in investing in a good serger gathering feet - these little miracles actually evenly gather and finish long lengths of ruffles (and if you are on the A team and practice a lot you can even serge the ruffle onto a flat piece too at the same time). IMO sewing machine gathering feet are not nearly as effective.

If it were me and say I was making some home dec thing that required a lot of ruffles, ike a bunch of dust ruffles for a bed,  I would invest in a serger gathering foot as soon as I could.

The sewing feet I have listed above are really useful and interesting if you want something job specific but there are a couple of more basic feet (some of which you might even already own and don't know how to use) I consider essential.

These are:

1. A satin stitch a.k.a. an appliqué foot. You might have two standard looking pressor feet (you can spell this presser btw, I got used to writing pressor, also correct I think) that appear identical.

Turn them over.

One of these two feet is probably totally flat on the bottom (this is a good thing, the more contact between the foot and the fabric, the more stable the stitching area and the nicer the straight stitch, so important when you are top-stitching) and one might have a ridge or cut away area on the underneath side. This second foot, the one with the tunnel on the bottom side, is a satin stitch (as you would use for applique) foot. The idea is that those closely packed satin stitches (closely spaced zig zags) need somewhere to go so they can slide out from under the foot.

If you have ever tried to sew a satin stitch, or even a button hole, and the stitches seem to stick under the foot, chances are you were using a foot that did not have this cut away area.

Note too that many of these satin stitch feet also have the toes set wide apart so you can see where you are going with your stitches - so important when you need to make sure you are covering a cut edge with the zig zag totally, centring it in the swing of that stitch.

Sometimes when I have something really nerve-wracking to sew I also use this foot because I like the visibility for tricky construction jobs.

A few pictures:

2. A straight stitch foot. A few handy hint posts ago I talked about how containing the stitching area improved straight stitch quality and talked about straight stitch throat plates. A lot of machines, particularly older ones, come with these plates. For most newer machines they are after market items and quite expensive. An alternative, and far more reasonably priced, is a straight stitch foot that actually has the small needle hole in the foot, rather than the plate. As quilters, those kings and queens of careful straight stitching, work with 1/4" seam allowances, many of these straight stitch feet are also narrow feet with the edge of the foot an exact 1/4" from the needle- pretty handy if you are going to spend your life trying to keep your seam allowances all 1/4".

Here is a picture:

Note the bottom of this foot is solid, not cut away, again adding to fabric stability and stitch quality.

3. An even feed or walking foot. These fix that annoying problem of having the top layer shoot forward of the bottom layer in a seam by introducing a set of "feed dogs" over the top layer of fabric too, in synchrony. 

There can be added to most machines in attachments like this:

It should also be noted that some sewing machine companies make machines with a walking foot built right in. 

For a long time, I believe 50 years, Pfaff had the sole patent on this, in their IDT integrated feed system, but that patent ran out about 10 years ago and since then a number of other manufacturers offer this feature on some of their machines. In all cases the built-in walking foot looks like a set of upper feed dogs that can be snapped down to walk along the top of the fabric behind the foot, eliminating layer slippage:

4. An invisible zipper foot. Listen IMO every new sewer should start to learn to sew zippers by inserting invisible zippers. They are the bomb.

Just think about it, the part that is invisible is your own stitches, that can be done over and over again, getting even and close to the teeth if you need to work on that, without any need to take out previous, maybe messy or mistake stitching. All this stuff will be hidden on the wrong side and no one is to know.

Compare this to the stress of trying to make sure both sides of the stitching on a centred zipper are even, or that the top stitching on a lapped zipper is straight.

Make it easy on yourself zipper wise. Invest in a decent invisible zipper foot and learn how to use it and you will thank yourself you for this for the rest of your life.

Would I lie to you about a thing like that?

Here is a picture:

So that's enough for one evening. 

I am sure I will think of more on this subject, say at 3:00 a.m. tonight, but it has been a full week what with mouse control and clean up and actually beginning some sewing, a pair of jeans and a blazer, more on those later.

I also want to thank you for you comments. 

So much. 

Both to the experienced sewers who contribute so much of their own expertise on the subjects that come up, and on the new sewers, like I was once, teaching myself to sew during nap time really resonated with me.

I want the new sewers in particular to know that I am taking note of requests for more on specific topics, fit issues is a good one for example, and I will return to these in future posts.

For the time being however, good night, and thank you. 


elliemae28 said...

Thank you so much for this series. I have sewn for 55 plus years and still find suggestions that help me. Again, thank you.

Mary said...

Thank YOU for all your wonderful advice presented so well. May I add to your list of pressed feet the Edgestitch foot? I had sewn for decades without one, and I remember very well how I struggled with topstitching, edge stitching, and stitching in the ditch before I bought one. Now I find myself joyfully using the Edgestitch foot on almost every single project.

Ginger said...

While I'm not a new sewer I have never been able to master my rolled hem foot. If you are making a list of topics I would love any tips to use this foot. Thank you for your posts. I really enjoy them.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for you writing about sewing.
Oh, can you please inform us exactly where we should cut on the patterns cutting line ... inside edge, middle of line, outside edge?
Although I'm around your age and did sew when I was younger (knowing little, following instructions of patterns and being clueless about fit) even though I was too occupied without enough sleep ... reading about sewing to learn more is what I do the most online ... and I look first to read what you post ... thank you !!!! I'm inspired and empowered and hoping to sew more again. With appreciation, Lynda from Toronto

Anonymous said...

Oh and thanks for the comments on sewing feet ... especially about the invisible zipper one. I was being expedient, using a zipper I already had when I recently sewed a centered zipper on the side seam of a skirt I sewed. So I'm now thinking that on a future sewing project following your advice would be a wiser choice. (Lynda again)

Freshly Sewn said...

I've really been enjoying this series! Also, I hope that the mouse situation is getting under control, for your sake.

Kathryn Hoyman said...

I am an old time sewer. But I have never sorted out my three basic sewing feet. I've never paid enough attention to figure out that they are different. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

I cannot thank you enough for this excellent series. Despite the fact that I have sewn for years, I have mastered very little. I still get confused on different feet etc. Your hints in every area of sewing have been enlightening or a gentle reminder. This is quite generous of you to spend your time helping other sewists. Thanks again.


Wendy Rader said...

Thank you so much for this series, and your tongue in cheek humor! I always learn something from your blog!

Library Lady said...

Hello, thanks for your blog - it's fun to read & helpful too. I don't have a serger and when I use a zigzag stitch for my seam finishes the fabric gets all puckered, especially on lightweight fabric. I've experimented with loosening the tension which didn't seem to help, and when I Googled it the suggestion seemed to be that I should get a walking foot. Would you agree with this? Thanks

Leigh Wheeler said...

5. A Teflon foot. While a bit obscure, it is a marvel on leather, and can be great for other 'sticky' fabrics like vinyl and all vinyl's cousins. Great for when the fabric keeps sticking and not miving through smoothly, but isn't so thick that you NEED a walking foot to take care of it.

Oh, and while I've seen suggestions online that you can just put Scotch tape on the underside of your regular foot, that is a crock. I tried it and it does not work. You just get tiny bits of scotch tape on your project and have to pick them off. Not good.

Barbara said...

Responses to comments : Lynda I would cut outside of the printed lines, but wouldn't lose sleep over it.

Library Lady - it is sort of normal for this to happen. In a light fabric the swing back and forth of a zig zag that action will pull the fabric between the swing up, it just happens because of the action. There is even a name for it - tunnelling. You will note this doesn't happen in heavier fabric.

So what do you do?

1. Try narrowing the zig zag, this should really help.
2. Try running the zig zag so it catches the edge of the fabric - the tunnelling will make a roll edge of a kind on the cut edge
3. Rather than zig zagging you can just sew a tiny folded over and stitched edge treatment, not as hard as it sounds, just do it with your fingers at the machine to each edge of the seam allowance. I used to do this a lot in my pre-serger days.

Does this help?

Boy there is a lot of territory to cover, a rolled hem tutorial would be a good idea too.

Leigh Wheeler said...

Yes! A rolled hem tutorial would be nice! How to start and end the corners. How to start/end in the round. Those nice pictures in the book never say how to do the corners so they're neat. Mine are sometimes nice and neat. :/

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm so pleased that I've found your blog. I'm coming back to sewing after too many years away from it, and there is so much help and advice in here. Advice on fitting would be much appreciated.


Library Lady said...

Thanks, yes it does help, even if only to know that it happens to others too. Will try the rolled hem tip - really don't want to get a serger....