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Sewing machines that can't cope with particular fabrics.

(47 Posts)
AskAlice Sat 20-Jan-24 17:30:23

About six months ago, I made a pair of pyjamas for DD1 with a very stretchy fabric that was quite lightweight but with a tight weave. My second best sewing machine was in action at the time and it kept chewing up the fabric, skipping stitches and generally behaving very badly. Oh no, I thought, the machine is obviously is not working properly and probably needs a service, which costs about £90. As I have another sewing machine I thought I would just retire the badly behaved one to the loft until I felt it was worthwhile to have it serviced.

"Best" sewing machine had no such problems and I managed to complete the pyjamas. Then I started a new project with a different fabric (this time a fairly lightweight woven) and lo and behold the best sewing machine started chewing the fabric, skipping stitches etc. etc. In desperation I liberated the other machine from the loft to try it again and it sewed like a dream, no problems at all!

I now have both machines in action and have had no difficulties with either of them since. It just seems that individual sewing machines "take against" a particular fabric for no reason that I can fathom. At the time, I tried adjusting tension, stitch length, foot pressure, changing needles - all the things the experts tell you to do but without success.

Does anyone else have this sort of problem and did they manage to identify what was causing it? I would add that both machines are computerised, one a Singer and one a Janome.

eddiecat78 Sat 20-Jan-24 17:47:24

I have 2 non-computerised machines - an elderly Riccar which is great for woven fabrics and a newish Riccar which is better for jersey fabric. I have to say that I was shocked how much better both of them worked after being serviced last year!

AskAlice Sat 20-Jan-24 17:58:47

I've not heard of Riccar before - do you live in the UK, eddicat78?

I also have a Jones basic sewing machine that I bought in 1982. It is all-metal, including the casing but seized up completely about 4 years ago. Does anyone think it is worth getting it looked at? It was a real workhorse and could sew through anything, even really heavy denim and furnishing fabric.

eddiecat78 Sat 20-Jan-24 18:08:25

I am in the UK. The Riccar was made by a Japanese company which no longer makes sewing got mine in the 1980s. I abandoned it for a while when I got the Janome ( which I bought mainly for the buttonholes) but in fact I think it is a much better machine.

vegansrock Sat 20-Jan-24 18:28:07

I have 2 Bernina machines. I had a problem with one sewing machine eating up fine fabrics , when I used a straight stitch needle plate it avoided that problem, it was the larger hole in the zig zag plate causing the fabric to be drawn into the hole by the bobbin thread. I’ve also found doing “leaders and enders” works -sew two small scraps together first then carry on with your sewing without cutting the threads ( obviously cut off the scraps when finished) .

DaisyAnneReturns Sat 20-Jan-24 18:56:51

Which stitch did you use AskAlice? "Overlockers are best for "very" stretchy fabric. If you don't have one think zig-zag. A ziz-zag stitch can stretch and jump back with the fabric. The one usually recommended is the lightning stitch, a very shallow zig zag. You can find a picture on it if you search.

AskAlice Sat 20-Jan-24 18:57:56

Ah, thank you eddiecat, sounds a bit like my Jones machine which was taken over by, I think, Brother. I am definitely thinking of having it serviced/repaired, although I do like the functionality of the Janome - particularly the automatic thread cutter!

Vegansrock, that is interesting and makes perfect sense. I will try the straight stitch foot next time and see if it makes a difference. It would be particularly helpful, if it works, with stretch fabric as I don't have to zig-zag the seam edges to finish them as they don't fray.

AskAlice Sat 20-Jan-24 19:02:23

DaisyAnneReturns, I don't have an overlocker but used a shallow zig-zag stitch with the first machine (which chewed the fabric up) I also used a ball-point needle.

My second machine does have a lightning stitch and that seemed to cope better.

AskAlice Sat 20-Jan-24 19:07:13

vegansrock, I have heard of the technique you mention, except they called it "chain stitching" in the explanation I read about. How close do the scraps have to be to the garment that you are sewing? I seem to remember when I was much younger and learning to sew at school that I was told that it was bad for the sewing maching to sew stitches without fabric under the needle and it damaged the bobbin - am I remembering correctly?

AskAlice Sat 20-Jan-24 19:09:14

Sorry, should be "machine" not maching and "as" not and

Pantglas2 Sat 20-Jan-24 19:12:25

I found that covering the plate with sellotape meant that the silk fabric i used for making pillow cases didn’t get dragged down the hole as it were!

I also pinned tissue paper on the fabric seams which meant they fed through easily (ripping it off at the end of course 😉)
The right size needle and thread also helps - apologies if I’m preaching to the converted🤦‍♀️

DaisyAnneReturns Sat 20-Jan-24 20:15:37

There are so many new (and exciting) fabrics but they do pose their own problems. I hoped your DD appreciated the pyjamas Alicesmile

AskAlice Sun 21-Jan-24 10:43:09

DD loved the pyjamas! Leopard print and very glam grin

Purplepixie Sun 21-Jan-24 12:48:38

I have an old NewHome sewing machine which I have had for nearly 50 years. It will sew just about anything. Infact my husband made some linings for the interior of his car, using leather! It’s fantastic and has been serviced about 4 times in all those years. I use it for making patchwork quilts with it.

AskAlice Sun 21-Jan-24 16:11:59

Wow Purplepixie, that sounds like a real work-horse of a machine and amazing you've had it 50 years with no problems! I am thinking very hard about getting my old Jones machine serviced and fixed, although it's a relative youngster compared to yours at 40 years old...

JaneJudge Sun 21-Jan-24 16:15:26

did you try adjusting the tension? really you should adjust the tension and sew on scrap bits of the fabric until you find the correct adjustment

it is also worth mentioning you can use strips of vilene interfacing over and under the fabric seam and then remove it afterwards. It prevents slippage

ordinarygirl Sun 21-Jan-24 16:19:16

part of the issue is the actual needle. The majority of UK needle manufacturers are not in existent so needles are made abroad with inferior metals.

Susiewong65 Sun 21-Jan-24 16:38:38

I’ve also found the quality of the needles has a lot to do with whether the machine sews properly or not.
A lot of trial and error as well as a fair bit of ripe language!

AskAlice Sun 21-Jan-24 18:31:49

Re. needles, I read something interesting the other day. It said that Singer needles (which I have bought in the past for my Singer machines and used on the Janome) are very slightly longer (1mm) than other needles such as Schmetz and do not necessarily suit other makes of sewing machine. On researching this further, other sewing web sites stated that this is a myth and all needles are standardised. I've yet to actually measure any of my needles to do a comparison!

I only buy branded ones now (Singer, Schmetz or Organ) having made the mistake of succumbing to a bulk-buy on Ebay and finding out the hard way that they were very inferior and caused so many problems!

AskAlice Sun 21-Jan-24 18:36:11

JaneJudge, ah yes, I always do a test on scraps first - that's the most infuriating part. The test sewing was always perfect, but as soon as I started on the main project I got the snarling, skipping stuff! Tension adjusted, tested again and fine. Start on main project and lo and behold the machine played up again...I swear it was out to get me!

JaneJudge Sun 21-Jan-24 18:37:34

It is very frustrating x

karmalady Sun 21-Jan-24 18:53:40

It sounds very much as though you needed to renew the needle and to use the correct type of needle. You say that your fabric was a dense weave, that would have needed more effort to pierce and so the incorrect needle would likely have pushed the fabric down into the feed dogs. I would have tried on a spare bit of fabric and likely would have settled on a microtex needle

The bobbin thread could have had too much tension on it, there is a small screw on the casing which will release bobbin tension. The basic dynamics need to be understood. If tensions are equal for that fabric, then top and bottom threads will meet and link in the fabric

I have two berninas which can sew everything, a 380 and a vintage record 930. I also have a walking foot for both and only ever use schmetz or organ needles on any of my machines, which includes an overlocker and a cover stitch. I routinely clean and oil my machines and regularly change needles

skipped stitches are symptomatic of old or incorrect needles

Grandmama Sun 21-Jan-24 18:55:55

In the 1970s I bought a Pfaff, it was brilliant, would sew perfectly anything from cheesecloth (I still wear the the cheesecloth top) to woollen fabrics. It was serviced from time to time but eventually it developed a tension problem and was told it couldn't be fixed - the top layer of fabric tended to pucker up. I bought a Toyota machine online, perfect at first but then the tension slipped on that one so I got out my Pfaff. It's very solidly built, very heavy and felt much more substantial than the Toyota.

AskAlice: My Pfaff had seized up when I got it out so I took off the top casing and put some drops of sewing machine oil in over several days. When that ran out I used olive oil. I kept gently trying to manually work it and eventually it freed up and would sew. The tension is still not good but I pin and tack very firmly so that helps but it wouldn't do well on finer fabrics.

ayse Sun 21-Jan-24 18:58:40


I've not heard of Riccar before - do you live in the UK, eddicat78?

I also have a Jones basic sewing machine that I bought in 1982. It is all-metal, including the casing but seized up completely about 4 years ago. Does anyone think it is worth getting it looked at? It was a real workhorse and could sew through anything, even really heavy denim and furnishing fabric.

I’ve just had an old machine serviced that now goes like a dream. It’s very solid, half way between domestic and industrial. It’s especially good for heavyweight fabrics like denim and upholstery material. It cost me £50. Well worth it.

Modern machine just don’t do heavy fabrics so well, IMO.

karmalady Sun 21-Jan-24 19:06:02

old mechanical machines are fab, I love the mechanics, the moving parts and the sheer stability and ease of maintenance. They do need to be used from time to time and all knobs need to be turned as that can seize up through lack of use, gummy oil or being kept in a damp place so the cams etc rust. My old bernina has over 24 points that need to be oiled, when I do a full oiling. Being older berninas, they need the lower viscosity bernina oil