Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Winding a Bobbin: Basic Tutorial

Winding a bobbin is a basic task you must master if you plan to do any serious sewing. Every machine has a bobbin winding feature and you should read your manual to find out how yours works.

Nevertheless, in my experience, the basic steps are the same.

Basic Steps

Step 1: Thread the machine for bobbin winding. Usually you start threading the machine in the normal fashion, then the thread takes a detour; redirecting it to the bobbin area.

Step 2: Thread the bobbin. This involves sticking the end of the thread through a hole near the middle spindle of the bobbin. Leave a long tail you can grab onto.

Step 3: Stick the bobbin on the spindle. On my Pfaff, you can put it on with either side up. I always put the side of the bobbin with "PFAFF" imprinted on it facing up.

Bobbin ready for winding

Step 4: Engage the bobbin spindle. On my Pfaff, I push the spindle to the right slightly and it clicks in place. This step is necessary because it engages the bobbin winder (that is, it makes it spin), and disables the needle so it doesn't go up and down while winding.  On my machine, you can't get the bobbin on the spindle when it's engaged, so you have to do this before engaging.

Step 5: Get it started - hold on to the end of the thread and depress the foot pedal gently. The bobbin spins a few times, catching the thread on itself.

Holding the thread end, ready to start

Step 6: Snip off the loose end of the thread from the top of the bobbin (so it doesn't get tangled up).

Snip off the loose end after several 
rotations, and the thread is locked on bobbin

Step 7: Wind the bobbin with abandon - as fast as you like. The machine should have a sensor that stops the winding when the bobbin is full.

Step 8: Snip the end of the thread (that connect to the spool), disengage the bobbin winder, and remove bobbin.  On my machine, I disengage the bobbin winder by pushing the bobbin and spindle gently to the left. It clicks in place. Then I can easily remove the bobbin.

Proper Bobbin Tension
As I mentioned in a previous post, my machine doesn't provide enough tension on the thread when winding a bobbin to get a nice tight bobbin. If the thread isn't tight enough, it won't feed through the machine properly. It makes uneven stitches and jams. No fun.

To work around this, I've developed a simple manual technique. I pinch the thread as it's winding.  This provides enough even, consistent tension to get a good bobbin. See the photos below.

You may think it would hurt to hold onto the fast moving thread, like "rope burn." It doesn't.

The only thing you have to watch out for with this technique is that you don't hold the thread out of it's proper alignment too much. Otherwise, the thread won't wind evenly up and down the bobbin. I just keep an eye on the guide as the bobbin is winding and make sure the thread alternates all the way to the top and to the bottom as it's winding.

Guide for Even Winding

I wish I didn't have to do this! It should just work!! But, in my experience, all machines have their little quirks and either we live with them or we get a new machine.

A Few Other Tips
Your machine will wind the bobbin in a consistent direction. Direction of the thread is important when loading the bobbin into the bobbin case. Think of it like the roll of toilet paper - do you like the paper coming over the top or from under the bottom? The concept is the same, and in my experience some machines are extremely sensitive to how the thread comes off the bobbin. Unfortunately, different machines are designed for different directions. I can't tell you the "right" way.

This is why I always wind my bobbins with the PFAFF imprint on the top. Then, I always load my bobbins with the PFAFF imprint on the bottom. The direction of the thread coming off the bobbin is always correct for my machine, and I don't have to think about how I'm loading the bobbin.

It is important to use the proper bobbin for your machine. I always buy Pfaff bobbins for my Pfaff. I don't mess around with the cheaper, generic bobbins that say they fit the Pfaff. It doesn't save that much money in the long run because bobbins are reusable. And, it might save lots of frustration, if they don't work quite right.

Happy sewing! More tutorials to come!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Own Zakka

Here is a zakka I made yesterday. The pattern came from the book I recently purchased, Zakka Sewing: 25 Japanese Projects for the Household. It was easy and so very fun to make!

Of course I couldn't follow the instructions precisely to the letter. My modifications were to use cotton (instead of linen), embellish it with rick rack (instead of decorative stitching), and added edge stitching along the top seam for a neater finish.

Good instructions, easy to make, delightful results.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Needle Plates - Basic Tutorial

Needle plates (or face plates) are inserts that fit over the flat surface of your sewing machine under the needle. The fabric you are sewing passes over the needle plate and under the presser foot when you are sewing.

Sewing Machine with Straight Stitch Needle Plate 
in place on Sewing Surface

They are custom to each machine and manufacturer, so you can't just buy a new needle plate and expect it to fit on your machine. You should go to your machine brand dealer, although there may be a few available at general sewing stores, for most popular manufacturers and models.

I have two needle plates for my Pfaff 2046. The default plate, which came with the machine, is the zig zag plate. The straight stitch plate came with the Quilters Tool Box - an accessory kit that you have to buy separately. You probably can buy the plate only from a Pfaff dealer.

This tutorial will cover what you need to know about needle plates.

First, you need to understand that not all sewing machines provide a variety of stitches. In fact, early machines merely did a straight stitch; that is, the needle only moved up and down as you sewed.  It was not possible to have the needle move side to side.

As machines evolved and technology improved, other stitches became possible. These stitches required the needle to move side to side as well as up and down; the most basic is the zig-zag stitch. Almost all modern machines have zigzag, anymore. Now, patterns assume your machine can do this.

Straight Stitch
Early machines only had a little hole for the needle to pass through to engage the bobbin and complete the stitch. This hole is present on a straight stitch needle plate.

Straight Stitch Needle Plate

Zig Zag Stitch
When a machine forms a zig zag stitch the needle alternates to the left and the right with each stitch. Obviously, there must be a way for the needle to pass through when it's off center. The zig zag needle plate was born! It has a wider opening for the needle to pass.

Zig Zag Needle Plate

Comparing the Two
In a comparison of the two needle plates, you can see the difference. In the straight stitch plate, the opening is a small hole (left plate). In the zig zag plate, the opening is a narrow slot.

While it might not seem significant, it is.

Think about it: if you have a straight stitch plate on the machine and your needle moves off center, the needle crashes into the plate. It can't pass through, because the needle "missed" the hole. The zig zag plate is more versatile. It lets you make all of the stitches your machine can do.  This is why the zig zag plate is currently the default needle plate.

So...why would you even bother with a straight stitch plate?

In a word: precision. Most of the time, you use a straight stitch, and the smaller opening supports the fabric as much as possible. When the needle passes through the fabric, it encounters the resistance of the fabric and pushes it just a little bit through the plate before it pierces it. With more support from the needle plate, the fabric is distorted less and thus makes a neater, more precise stitch. On a zig zag needle plate, there is a bigger "hole" (slot, really) and the needle can push the fabric through a little more before it pierces the fabric.

For a lot of sewing, this doesn't really matter too much. But, if you are using delicate fabric, or if you need seams to match up precisely, or if you require a "perfect" quarter inch seam (as needed for complicated patchwork), it makes a difference.

I use the zig zag plate for most of my sewing, but when I'm doing a project where precision counts and I'm using a straight stitch, I change the plates. Additionally, the straight stitch plate helps with stitch formation in free motion quilting. Free motion work is merely a straight stitch with the fabric being moved manually in any direction. The extra support of the straight stitch plate helps keep each individual stitch aligned properly while the movement of the fabric exerts pressure in different directions on the needle and thread.

Changing the Needle Plates
Now you can see why you need removable and interchangeable needle plates. In most machines, plates are made of durable metal, and they snap into the sewing surface. On my Pfaff, I use a little tool that came with the machine to pry off the plate.

The flat tip (to the left) tucks under a little notch in the sewing surface, and when you apply pressure to the tool, the plate pops off. To insert the other plate, you line it up in the face of the machine and press down until it snaps in place. I imagine you could use a screwdriver, but I worry that could damage the plate.

Other Features of a Needle Plate

The numbers and lines to the right of the needle hole are seam allowance widths. (a) Line up the edge of your fabric with the line labeled 1/2, and with a straight stitch in center needle position, you will have a half inch seam allowance (that is, you are sewing one half of an inch in from the edge of the fabric). Since I'm in the United States, the measurements are in inches, but the numbers below the inches are metric in centimeters. (b)

The rectangular slots around the needle hole allow the feed dogs to reach up from below and grab the fabric to pass it through the sewing surface. (c)

The rest of the openings, I'm not so sure about.  I imagine they are for specialized sewing techniques. However, the large notch above letter "a" above is for snapping into place on the sewing surface.

Hope this has been helpful information for you.  More sewing machine tutorials to come!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pfaff Quilt Expression 2046

I sew on a Pfaff Quilt Expression 2046.

Prior to that I had a "New Home" model that I got from a garage sale. (New Home is now Janome) It was a pretty good machine and it was an excellent transition as I learned whether I wanted to sew a lot, or just a little.  I recycled that machine by giving it to my niece for Christmas one year.

Back to the Pfaff.

I did a fair amount of research prior to buying this sewing machine, but the decision came down to how I thought I'd use the machine.  You can spend anything you like on a sewing machine - $50 to $50000. What matters is that you get joy out of your work on the machine. It should enable you to get your work done without getting in the way.

My primary reasons were:
  • Integrated Dual Feed (IDF) - On Pfaff machines, there is a "feed dog" above where the fabric goes. It's like having a permanent walking foot every time you sew. If needed, you can disable it.
Integrated Dual Feed

  • Features - A good number of features without jumping to the next level: an embroidery machine.
  • Price - I think I paid around $1700 for the machine.
  • Quilting support, including a quilting add-on package with extension table, quarter inch foot, free motion foot.
  • Support - there was a Pfaff store/sewing center within walking distance of my house.

Now that I've used the machine for 3 years, here are some reasons I've come to love this machine:
  • I adore the IDF. The best thing about the integrated dual feed is that you can use any presser foot with it (if it's designed to do so - which most Pfaff feet are). It's like using a walking foot and a zipper foot all at once, for example. 
  • Low-bobbin detector - there's a little laser "eye" in the bobbin area that scans how much thread is left. The computerized screen displays an icon when the bobbin is low.
  • Built-in needle threader: It's a tiny hook that fits through the eye of the needle and pulls your thread through. Handy.
  • Two thread spindles. Nice.
  • It packs up neatly when I need to take it to guild or class. It's not too heavy.
  • When I forget to change the face plate and the needle crashes into it, the machine detects the pressure and stops before it breaks the needle.  Yeah, I forget every once in a while.
No machine is perfect, and you don't know what you want or don't want until you use a machine for a while and try to do various tasks. Here are some observations from the 3 years I've been in relationship with this machine:
  • It is not that good at winding bobbins. It doesn't provide enough tension, and you end up with a bobbin threaded loosely. I have figured out a work around, but it's annoying.  
  • I wish there was an easy way to put the needle down when you stop sewing. On Berninas I think you just tap the foot pedal. On my machine, you can do it manually with the wheel, or push a button on the front panel near the computer screen. 
    • Pfaffs have a needle down button that toggles the machine into needle-down mode. In this mode, the needle always stops in down position. This is good. But, sometimes I forget to push the button ahead of time, or I didn't realize I would need the needle down at a particular moment.
    • Often, my hands are all tied up in my project and I don't want to have to let go, break concentration and refocus my eyes to push a button on the screen or twist the wheel.  Can't I just tap something with my toe or knee or finger, right there by my work? Ideally, this tap would be a one-time-only action; that is, it wouldn't toggle the machine into needle-down-all-the-time mode.
I realize I have written about many machine topics and terms that may be unfamiliar. I will do a series of posts on these individual topics and I'll include pictures to illustrate the concepts. 

Lots of people have a sewing machine but don't know how to use its features or what they are for. These posts should help you progress in your sewing to the next level.

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Etsy Meetup

    It was a fun party this evening! I met other crafters and Etsy sellers and I got to play with some crafts. 

    We could make pinwheels, party hats, pennants, little banners, or we could silkscreen. I made a pinwheel and silkscreened a T-shirt (which I brought). Above is one of the silkscreen designs we could use.

    I met another Yudu user.

    These folks are making pennants and party hats:

    Etsy sent a cool banner to display at the party. Our organizer added the Rick-Rack.

    And below, this is Iris. She has a cool vintage shop on Etsy called Yesterday's Memories 09.

    Networking, shared interest, and a chance to see a way-cool shop in the Westport section of Kansas City. (Bon Bon Atelier). Of course I had to shop....they had so many treasures for the eclectic crafter and sewer. I could have bought all kinds of things, but I whittled it down to one special book called Zakka Sewing: 25 Japanese Projects for the Household. If that isn't just all of my interests rolled up into one book!  I can't wait to try them out.

    Being a part of Etsy has brought such delight into my life....

    Etsy Meetup - Kansas City!

    Happy birthday Etsy!

    In honor of their birthday (today, in fact!), has sponsored meetups of Etsy enthusiasts everywhere. They are using to bring people together locally on the same day, all over the world - I bet there's dozens of Etsy meetups going on right now, even as I write this post.

    The meetup in Kansas City is going to be at Bon Bon Atelier this evening - I've heard of Bon Bon Atelier, but never been there before. Looks like a fun place....they say we'll be screen printing and making pennants and banners and party hats. I'm bringing a T-shirt for printing.

    This is exciting - I'm just getting into home screen printing and maybe I'll find some other Yudu fans there.

    One of my friends from quilt guild is also going - we'll drive up together.

    I hope to post some pictures!

    Here's the link to the Kansas City Etsy Meetup.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    And, scrapbooking!

    I forgot to mention scrapbooking! I enjoy it as a hobbyist - I don't think I'll ever do it to make money, though, unlike my sewing.  It takes so very much time...but the results are delicious.  I made a scrapbook recently for a coworker who was retiring and even though it took hours and hours, it was beautiful when it was done.  It was something the recipient can look at over and over again.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Vision, goals, and what's what.

    I created this blog to focus my creative energy and to help promote my little bitty etsy store: I sell scrub caps in my store, but I have many more ideas...if I can only get them started!

    I am a crafter hobbyist. My primary interests are sewing and fabric arts - the idea of making something beautiful that is useful is so appealing to me.  So, my crafting concentrates on quilting, fabric accessories, and home dec items.

    Secretly, though, I have a little dream that one day I can play all the time with my crafting, professionally. You know, make money at it. It would be fun to teach classes, give lectures, sell handmade items, offer patterns, and maybe even lead an original block-of-the-month club. Wow. Maybe someday.

    For now, I like making scrub caps out of pretty fabrics with unique embellishments and designs.  Even though I haven't sold too many hats on, I have sold 20 scrub hats at work at the hospital.

    At Thanksgiving, I acquired a Yudu home screen printing machine. It sat in my craft room for 6 months before I finally tried it out. (I know, that's horrible....but haven't you done something like that, too? Go on, admit it!)

    Oh my gosh, what fun!  Although I've only done a little bit so far, I am so excited about the possibilities. I think my first series of posts here will be a tutorial with tips for Yudu. The instructions that come with the machine are minimal, at best, and I thought it would be useful to talk about my experience as I become a Yudu expert. Keep on reading....


    Welcome to the rikrax blog!