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Gear Workshop The Gear Workshop forum is for the discussion of homemade backpacking gear, gear modifications, and repairs.


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  #1  
Old 11-08-2013, 02:35 PM
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Ralph Ralph is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2010
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Sewing Machine Setup

I make much of my own gear, partly as a hobby, partly to save money but mostly so I can get exactly what I want. Designing and making gear is very satisfying and is a splendid addition to your set of skills. I can hand sew, but a sewing machine is faster and neater as well as more durable with a lock stitch.

I’d like to have a commercial machine but those are heavy, bulky and fairly expensive – a used commercial machine runs around $500 and up. For most hobbyist uses a good household machine will do just about everything you need done at considerably lower cost.

I favor Singer machines. An old black Singer was the machine my mother, an accomplished dressmaker and tailor, showed me how to use many years ago so I’m used to them. Singers, especially the older models with steel gears, tend to be fairly simple, durable, are readily available along with parts and accessories and have user manuals free for download for just about every model ever made.

Other makes are certainly available and most are fine machines but before buying an old machine check the availability of manuals, parts and accessories.

For the type of work I do I need only two stitches, straight and zig-zag (for bar-tacking). I prefer a bobbin that inserts horizontally and to have a reverse that sets, rather than a pushbutton that has to be held down when reverse sewing.

My current battery of machines consists of a Singer 99K and a Singer 347, both bought used. Both machines are “short-shank” and use the same attachments, the same bobbins (Class 66) and the same needles, simplifying the inventory. Both also have steel gears and have no trouble pounding through multiple layers of canvas, Cordura, lining and webbing.

The 99K is the classic black Singer portable (about 30 pounds of iron but still considered portable), made in the UK in 1956. It is my workhorse. This has straight stitch only though a zig-zag attachment is available. The motor on the 99 is external so easily serviced and replaced. When I received it the machine was dusty and missing a few small parts (the slide cover over the bobbin case, the presser foot and the presser foot screw) all available and easily replaced. The electrical parts were all in good shape so I cleaned and oiled it, installed the new parts and it was good to go.

There are a lot of Model 99s around. This model was made in electric, hand-crank and foot treadle forms. There are cases, bases and cabinets available. There are feet molded into the base so you really don’t need a base to elevate the working parts on the underside, however I came across a wooden base that makes a neat looking unit.

The old Singers are set up a bit differently from the new ones. Threading can be a bit tricky and a lot more lubrication is required. If you get one be sure to download the user manual – and read it.

The 347 Stylemate is one of the early model zig-zag machines with straight, zig-zag and blind stitches. I use it primarily for light duty, to apply PALS grids, bar-tacking stress points, applying overlock binding and making small pouches. It also serves as my back-up machine. This one arrived in fine shape and gave me exactly what I wanted.

I mostly use German-made Schmetz regular sharp needles Jeans/Denim weight in size12, 16 and 18 depending on the fabric weight. I use a lot of heavy canvas and Cordura so size 18 is generally on both machines.
For sewing light leather and other non-woven material leather needles are available. Leather needles have sharpened edges to cut through the material and should never be used on woven fabrics since the edge will cut the threads of the fabric and weaken the seam. Most household machines will NOT sew leather heavier than 4 oz. (4/64”) or so – the motors just aren’t powerful enough.

I like the metal bobbins. These are more expensive but also more durable so I use these for the heavy nylon thread while the plastic version is used for the lighter polyester thread.

I have a small assortment of attachments that can be used on both machines.

The low shank presser foot holder adapts the machines to use the modern snap-on presser feet and is more or less permanently attached to the 347. The snap-on feet are very quick to detach and attach and come in a wide variety of inexpensive special configurations. The most useful for making outdoor gear are the general purpose foot, the zipper foot, the roller foot (for “sticky materials like non-skid Hypalon and such), the binding foot and the roll hemmer foot.

The walking foot adds a top feed to the usual bottom feed to help keep multiple layers of fabric together. Most seem to be less than $20.
Virtually all household machines have two threaded holes to the right of the presser foot for an adjustable seam guide. This is usually in the included accessories but if it isn’t it sells for $5-6.

One item you can make yourself is a fabric weight, a simple square bag about 3” x 3” filled with lead shot. This keeps fabric and patterns in place during the layout and cutting process.

I generally use two types of thread. For most uses the #69 bonded nylon thread is the heaviest most household machines can use. This thread is sold by the pound (about 6500 yards/lb.) for about $28/lb in ¼, ½ and full pound cones. I keep this in olive, black and coyote brown. For lighter duty use and when I need other colors I use Gutterman’s polyester. These are excellent all-purpose threads with a novel spool design to capture the loose end of the thread. For use on outdoor gear stick with nylon or polyester, cotton can deteriorate quickly.

The Gutterman’s spools sit on the standard spool pin, but the cones need a thread stand. You can make or buy one. I bought mine, used, with a heavy cast iron base, for $6. Adjust the thread guide to the height of the machine and run the thread from the spool pin through the normal threading sequence for your machine.

I bind the edges of the larger packs and bags but have taken to using an overlock stitch on the edges of the smaller bags and pouches except sacks made from silicone nylon. The silicone impregnation prevents sil-nylon from unraveling.

Although you can use the zig-zag stitch to run overlock binding a serger, designed for that specific purpose, does a better job. I don’t have one yet but will likely get the Singer Tiny Serger Overedging Sewing Machine. This small machine lacks some of the features of the larger and considerably more expensive sergers but for the light use I envisage it should do fine. The Tiny Serger uses three needles and three spools to form a tight overlock binding. Using threads of different colors makes the binding quite attractive. Gutterman’s polyester thread will do nicely for this purpose.
A few other hand tools and supplies are needed.

I use Fiskars Softgrip spring-action scissors – large tailor’s scissors, craft shears and small embroidery scissors. A pair of thread snips is also useful. A needle threader makes that task a lot easier, especially for those of us with aging eyes. There are many “notions” available at sewing shops, usually a wall full. Browsing this wall may reveal other odds and ends you may find useful – depending on the project in mind.

Layout tools consist of a yard stick, a 12” ruler, and a few pieces of tailor’s chalk. A 6” sliding scale is also handy. I made a special template to help with laying out PALS grids from the heavy cardboard backing for a writing tablet. At the top is a 45 degree cut corner and the existing 90 degree corner. The top is marked with a 7” space with the centerline for placing the common loops for hanging pockets. The bottom corners are cut in arcs with 2” and 3” radius. Along one side are marks at 1” intervals for PALS rows, on the other side are marks and 1.5” intervals for PALS channels. One of the channel intervals is marked for the center. (PALS is the base grid of 1” nylon webbing required to handle MOLLE-compatible pockets.)

A seam ripper is a necessity – you WILL make mistakes. The small size seems to work best. A bodkin is needed to run cord through the tunnel of drawstring bags. A small nail brush with stiff bristles works well for removing chalk marks.

You need something to hold pieces together while sewing. For multiple layers of heavy fabrics dressmaker’s pins won’t do, you need ball-head pins. I also use small (1” or so) paper clamps. You can sew over pins but I usually remove the pins as I go along. The clamps, of course, have to be removed just before the material goes under the presser foot.

I use 3M masking tape to hold webbing used in PALS grids. Cheaper tape doesn’t hold on the material that well. In theory you can sew through the tape but don’t do it. The 3M adhesive sticks under the stitches and is a tedious nuisance to remove.

Many pieces for projects are simple rectangles so I don’t bother with patterns, just lay out the pieces with the yardstick. I use light poster board to make some patterns for more complex shapes.

Never use any lubricant on a sewing machine that is not designed and marked for sewing machines. All sewing machines need oiling, some require a light grease. You use only a drop of oil on an oil point so a small bottle of oil will last a long time. The user manual will show each oil or grease point. Before lubricating use a lint brush to remove lint and dust from the working parts. A set of small screwdrivers is also handy.

The user manual will also show you how to sew and it is a good idea to practice on scraps. Most places that sell craft and sewing supplies also offer sewing classes although these are commonly oriented toward clothing.
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  #2  
Old 11-08-2013, 10:21 PM
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philman philman is offline
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Thanks for the fantastic post Ralph! Very informative. I've made a couple of packs now after watching a friend put together a modified G4 design for me. It's a lot of fun, though I'm lousy at it. The G4 was made out of oxford. Pretty durable for the loads I tend to carry (20 lbs +/-) but a seam did start coming apart. The two I've personally sewn thus far (one is not quite complete) were made using cheap ripstop from one of the big box sewing/craft stores. Great for learning to work with lightweight, slippery material. And boy did I make a lot of mistakes. I used the first of those two for several nights in the Smokies this summer and I think I have the size/fit down. Just need to refine some other things. I have 2 yds. of 1.43 oz cuben that I've been very reluctant to cut into until I think I have things down.

Now, a couple of questions (remember, I'm a total amateur with little to no clue what he's doing!):

What do you do/use for basting light/nylon materials? As ridiculous as it sounds, I took to using plain old Scotch tape, avoiding sewing through it as much as possible as you suggested. It worked fine but I couldn't help thinking that there must be something better suited. With the pack I'm finishing up now I've tried to follow as closely as possible the process I'm imagining I will use with the cuben so I'm avoiding any pins if at all possible. Hence, the tape. I hear the cuben holds a fold much better than the nylon (which doesn't hold one at all) so that will help. I'm also trying to avoid sewing on things such as reinforcement patches. I used 3M Super 77 spray adhesive to apply them to the ripstop and surprising enough was able to sew through without things getting all gummed up. So, is there some adhesive you may have tried for basting? I tried the "glue stick" thing they sell at sewing shops and that didn't work at all. Haven't tried any actual basting tapes.

I bought a self-healing cutting pad and rotary cutter and those work great with the nylon but it does leave an unfinished edge to deal with. I was just going to bind these with grosgrain but am wondering how a hot knife does? I don't want to spend a fortune on one. Any experience with the cheaper models you see at the fabric stores? Do the seared edges hold up? I'm not even sure one would work with the cuben. The pack body is made like a large, rectangular-bottomed stuff sack so I just have a couple of long seams and the one running the height of the pack will be flat-felled so maybe it's not such a big deal for that. But for stuff like hip belt pockets and such I would like to finish the edges somehow. Ideas?

Is a walking foot worth picking up? I'm using a cheapo Singer 2502 and it's done ok thus far (though I really wish it had the locking reverse you described) and I think I can get one for it. I ask because I really want to do a quilt and tarp next and I think one would really be useful for those. What's your thoughts? I'm going to pick up a zipper foot next. I made a couple of hip belt pockets and put waterproof #3 zippers in those...with the standard foot. Managed to do it but not with the best results! Should I bother with getting the walking foot as well, with the quilt and tarp coming up?

I just have to wrap up the shoulder straps on this latest ripstop pack. Once complete, I'll post some pics so you all can have a good laugh and give me some sound advice!
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  #3  
Old 11-09-2013, 05:58 AM
© 2006-2016 Practical Backpacking™ / All Rights Reserved
Ralph Ralph is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2010
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I have no experience with Cuben fabric so don't know anything about its peculiarities.

I allow a 3/8" seam allowance and find I can pin layers inside of that area. To date I haven't tried any basting tapes. You can also use the old needle and white thread basting within the seam allowance, too.

I've used an improvised (wood-burning kit with thin brass blade) hot knife but mostly I handle raw edges by binding. On larger projects I use grosgrain ribbon binding on smaller, lighter projects I use an overlock stitch. As I mentioned, I will be getting a serger soon to handle this.

A walking foot really helps in keeping layers of slippery material together and since you can usually find them for around $20 or so are well worth the investment.Ditto a zipper foot.

The big trick with ultralight fabrics is learning how to hold and guide them. You need to pull slightly to keep things straight, but not too much or you will skip stitches. Don't discard the odd pieces when cutting. Use these scraps to practice different techniques on different materials until you get them down pat.

Hope this helps.
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Old 11-09-2013, 09:26 AM
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Perkolady Perkolady is offline
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I sometimes pin, but I try to place the pins as close to the edges of the fabric as I can get away with, so it doesn't put holes where they aren't wanted
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  #5  
Old 11-09-2013, 03:15 PM
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philman philman is offline
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Backpack: MYOG Cuben, Osprey Atmos 65 AG
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Location: Alton, Illinois
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Ordered a Singer walking foot and zipper foot. $15 w/shipping total for the two! Not too shabby. I'll try pinning as close to the edges of the seam allowance as possible. As crazy as it sounds, I do like the Scotch tape.
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  #6  
Old 11-10-2013, 06:18 AM
© 2006-2016 Practical Backpacking™ / All Rights Reserved
Ralph Ralph is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2010
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If Scotch tape works for you, then use it. Nothing sacrosanct about any particular method.
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  #7  
Old 01-17-2014, 07:42 AM
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GingerSnap GingerSnap is offline
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The makers of cuben have a special adhesive that can be used to adhere cuben to itself. It goes on smoothly and doesn't make sewing through it too hard. ( though sewing through cuben is a beast.)

The best cuben tip I can give you is to cut it using fresh razor blades in a utility knife, change them often. The cuben will destroy scissors and dulls blades pretty quickly.

Have fun!
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  #8  
Old 01-17-2014, 09:23 AM
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philman philman is offline
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Backpack: MYOG Cuben, Osprey Atmos 65 AG
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Location: Alton, Illinois
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerSnap
The makers of cuben have a special adhesive that can be used to adhere cuben to itself. It goes on smoothly and doesn't make sewing through it too hard. ( though sewing through cuben is a beast.)

Strangely enough, I found the sewing went fine. The 1.43 oz. material was really easy to work with...with the exception of sliding around a bit under the presser foot. That may have more to do with my inexperience...possibly some adjustment on the machine that I haven't discovered yet. Since I used 3M Super 77 spray adhesive to bond all of the reinforcements on, I had some trouble sewing through that (thread breaking) but solved that with a little effort keeping the needle clean with rubbing alcohol. Used the same material for a stake bag, rock sack & food bag (supposedly, smaller critters can't chew through the 1.43 oz. stuff. We'll see about that!). I used single-side 3M tape to seal & strengthen the seams. Sewing the 0.51 oz. material I used for some stuff sacks went fine as well, though I think next time I'll just use the 3M double-sided tape and skip the sewing altogether.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GingerSnap
The best cuben tip I can give you is to cut it using fresh razor blades in a utility knife, change them often. The cuben will destroy scissors and dulls blades pretty quickly.

I was able to do straight cuts with a rotary cutter (new blade for sure). For any curved cuts I used a razor knife as you mentioned. Tried a few different scissors and got the same results as you...except for one small pair of Fiskars which worked great on the 1.43 oz. and "ok" on the 0.51 oz. Go figure! Sharp razor knives seem to be the ticket for the lighter stuff. Maybe a hot knife (I didn't sear any cuts and I'm hoping I don't come to regret it). The hot knife is on the list for the next project, a quilt.

As for machine setup, I used a #10/70 needle with standard Gutermann thread, a medium tension setting, and medium stitch length. "Medium" setting on my cheap Singer. No clue as to what that actually translates to. I'll have to see what the stitches/inch worked out to.

Last edited by philman : 01-17-2014 at 10:12 PM.
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  #9  
Old 07-16-2014, 05:42 PM
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Ralph Ralph is offline
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Sorry for my slow response, I didn't notice this thread was active until today.

About the only time I use tape is to tack down the webbing I use for PALS grids and for that I use 3M masking tape (the cheap stuff doesn't work well). Sewing shops have a special double-side tape for basting that can be sewn through but I have never used it. I should get some but mostly I either pin along the outer edge for light fabrics or manipulate the stuff with my fingers - that's a little tricky but you can practice with scraps. I like sil-nylon, but it is a slippery material that takes some practice to control. Best to start off with stuff sacks or other small projects before tackling something big.

Most glues will not work in sil-nylon and are spotty on other coated fabrics. The only stuff that sticks to silicone is silicone so get Sil-Net or use tube silicone thinned with mineral spirits. In general there are special, specific glues for specific materials (Cuben, for instance) and you are well-advised to use them, and follow the directions.

A medium needle with Guttermann's thread is good for light stuff but most of the work I do is with canvas, Cordura, ripstop or pack cloth and I use the heavy-duty #16-18 needles and #69 nylon thread that I buy by the pound. I hold heavy seams together with 1" paper clamps, removing them (and any pins) as I move along.

I do use Guttermman's thread in the Tiny Serger.
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