Machine Maintenance

My good old Baby Lock serger (shown far right) had been getting progressively looser in the stitch. I had named him Jonah Hex shortly after purchase on account of his retaining complete control over thread tension. He’ll do the job, he’ll do a damn fine job, and he’ll do it his own way. You don’t like it, tough.

The cool thing about Baby Lock sergers is the whole automatic tension thing and the threading with a gust of air. The bad thing about Baby Lock sergers is the whole automatic tension thing and the threading with a gust of air.

Having grown up with cars with manual window cranks, the increasing prevalence of automatic windows leaves me periodically nervous about ending up with a window emergency in a powered-off car. Like getting trapped in a car in a lake. Or that time in high school when I ran a lot of errands with a friend who had neither working power windows nor cranks nor A/C.

The front panel came off and is now propped in place by a thin strip of plastic, which I guess I should have seen coming after naming the machine after this guy:

Also, the blade, which immediately winds up going over a pin every freaking time I get it changed, and which had furthermore not been changed in probably about a year, had finally given up completely. After an extended period of iffy cutting, it was not longer even cutting this effectively:

So with all the work I had lined up and the heavy focus on serging, I decided to whip out my old serger. This is actually a fabulous serger (New Home HF504D, which is the last model in this series sold under the name New Home before they switched to Janome), and even after I had first bought Jonah, I was still using her the most because you can tell her exactly what you want her to do and she’ll do it without making you fight an alligator to get her agreement.

Which is why I’ve been referring to her as The Bitch for some time. This is not a particularly informative name, though, due to the double meaning. I can’t think of many characters who do whatever they’re told, so I’m not sure what to rename her. The first one who comes to mind is Jefe, who yes-manned El Guapo to the point of attempting to pretend he knew what a plethora was. But she’s not really a villain, and I’m not sure she’s got the bad attitude or stupidity to match Jefe, nor do I want her to get any ideas.  Perhaps a Disney princess? Snow White? She was pretty agreeable.

Anyway, back to the tale. Then someone with access to my studio while I was out of town used her in such a way that both loopers became twisted. I do not even know how this is possible, but there are some people who can manage to wreak havoc in ways you cannot fathom, and they should be cut from your life with the determination of Mr. Hex after a bounty before they wreak this havoc on your serger.

At the time I was going to a particular sewing machine mechanic who shall remain nameless, and who returned it to me “repaired” in such a way that the once-immaculate stitches were now pretty floopy. I tried to adjust it myself, but they were seriously irregular and that cannot be adjusted for by changing the tension. I also tried to get it to make its previously beautiful rolled hem, and that wasn’t any better.

I returned it to him, describing the ongoing problem, and received an insulting phone call pretty much explaining that I was too much of a moron to know how to use a serger properly or what tension-setting was for. He insisted that the reason the stitches were floopy was because I had changed the tension, which he had set perfectly to the only tension I would ever need. Furthermore, despite the fact that I had wasted his time by dropping the malfunctioning machine off for further/actual repairs instead of calling to ask him how my machine worked, he would graciously readjust the tension to straight 4’s all the way across without charging me, and I needed to stop messing with it.

There is a reason the tension is adjustable; it’s how you get different stitches, such as rolled hem or flatlock. Saying I shouldn’t change the tension on that type of machine is like saying that a sewing machine that can do decorative embroidery stitches REALLY only needs a straight stitch. Or that a stick shift car that’s stuck in 3rd gear is, on average, everything you’ll ever need, as long as you don’t get on the highway. Or come to a complete stop anywhere.

So anyway, I set that machine aside and exclusively used Jonah Hex for a number of years, and he was now coming to a point where he needed medical attention himself.

I checked them both over and after a brief wrestle with The Bitch, I determined that Jonah was the least malfunctioning, and lugged them both, as well as Jurgis, who had had a one-foot-high tumble off a cart onto concrete, to my favorite genius sewing mechanic: Antonio at Mr. Sewing Machine on Harry Hines, in the front section of the building they share with Golden D’or. (At this time on their website, you can get to a photo in which you can see Antonio’s ear by clicking on a link endearingly titled “Sarvice Department;” I love these people.)

I’d hoped I could get Antonio to work some sort of miracle to improve Jonah enough to tide me over until he could fix The Bitch, but he and the assistant mechanic were both out of town for a week to learn how to be even more awesome, and a backlog of broken machines was piling up in their absence.

I got Mr. Sewing Machine himself to replace the blade, then went home to see if I could figure out anything myself.

Here he is looking even more like his namesake:

From the side:

I blew the whole thing out with spray cleaner and an air compressor, then oiled everything that moved. Found some lint in various parts of the tension mechanisms.

Reassembled it all, tried it out. The needle tension is now passable, though it still needs some maintenance from an expert. Also, I ran over a needle with the blade.


Next round of velcro-on-Cartier-panels. This set is 330+ panels, so the new machine is pretty much broken in as far as sewing through glue.

I’ve been thinking about a name for the machine: perhaps a superhero, to go along with Jonah Hex, my serger. I considered The Flash, but I don’t think it would be readily clear that I’m referring to Wally, who dresses in red and wears a lightning bolt, rather than just something that is fast, without having to stop and explain to everyone:

Me: This sewing machine is called The Flash.

Other Person: Oh, because it’s fast.

Me: No, because it’s super.

Other Person: Oh, right.

I’m not sure that any other fast superhero has any clearer a name in regards to sewing machine nomenclature, so then I thought about naming it after the fact that it only does one thing, but it does it really well.

The Atom? But he’s also smart, and I don’t know how bright this machine is, after all. Elastic Man? That’s a big misleading.

The Green Lantern is definitely the one-trick pony of the Justice League; magic ring, and all he ever manages to imagine with it is a giant fist. I suppose he can also cut things when necessary, and that he can change his foot pressure.

If anyone confuses the name Green Lantern–

Other Person: Oh, like a decorative green lantern I would put in a yard or buy at Hobby Lobby in the perpetually half-off glass section?

–that’s their own fault, and I’m not explaining it. Though perhaps I should ask Larry what he thinks of the name before I christen it with a bottle of machine oil, as it is his sewing machine after all.

Wonder Woman is not amused. (Actually, this isn’t the Green Lantern I picture in my head, but I couldn’t find any handy shots of Jon Stewart making a fist, for some reason.)

Anyway, back to how Green Lantern handled the glue. Pretty well; the needle continues to not be particularly gummy. The bobbin case is only marginally sticky and it catches a very moderate amount of fuzz. The thread has a periodic tendency to break, and there seems to be some sort of intermittent issue with the tension, but complaining about that after getting 250 strips of sticky-back velcro into this project is pretty much complaining that my sewing machine isn’t magical.

And now I’ve created this horrible meme that will live forever on the internet.

Chinese New Year Sacks

Usually for these panels, I just stitch on the velcro, then someone else glues the fabric to the backing. This taffeta fabric chosen to decorate for the Chinese New Year was too thin and the glue left visible dark spots. So instead of wrapping the fabric around the styrene, we made the panels like bags with the styrene as an insert.

I laid the styrene panel on top of the fabric and traced around it, then stitched on the outside of the line with the fabulous new Speed Janome. (I need to come up with a better name for it–and don’t say it already has one. I don’t tell you to name your kids Tiny Human Jones; don’t tell me to call my sewing machine P1200.)

Snip the corners, turn it right side out, and poke the corners out with this corner-poking tool:

Press the pouch. Before:


Eek, I ironed off the velcro! No, it’s on the other side. I had you for a minute there, didn’t I.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to justify that “question” with a question mark.

Double-sided tape to hold the velcro in place and pull the back fabric taut:

I cut the raw edges fairly close, then folded them inside and pinned:

Larry made an extended table for the sewing machine, which was necessary for sewing something this stiff that had to be kept flat.

Here is a shot of it being slightly more visible:

I broke into the Chinese New Year panels for some emergency velcro-sewing on some regular panels. There is a gap between the back of the sewing machine bed and the extension because the base didn’t take into account the width of the knee foot-raising lever.

Which I also had a hard time remembering to take into account. The first several panels, I snipped the threads with a physical scissors instead of the auto-snip scissors button. Since I associate my hand (upper body) with raising the presser foot and my foot (lower body) with making the machine run, trying to associate my knee (lower body) with raising the foot kept messing up my internal autopilot; I kept mixing up making the machine go with the knee-raiser and pushing the pedal with raising the presser foot. Other times, I would raise the foot by hand and by knee at the same time or confuse the fact that the knee raises the foot temporarily while the hand lever raises it until you manually lower it.

We needed a couple dozen velcro strips, which wouldn’t truly test the new machine’s ability to handle the X-treme glue (no sic), but it could start to give an idea, as well as mentally prepare Speedy for his real full-time job that does not include hours of sewing on luxurious taffeta.

Here is what the glue looks like collected on the needle:

That’s the accumulation from just one strip.

So far it does not seem to be getting down into the bobbin case or sticking to the bottom of the presser foot. Or getting into the feed dogs or lining the bottom of the needle plate.

These needles don’t really have much of an indent running down the shank, so the glue doesn’t build up in there. The side-loading needle so far seems to handle the glue and keep the thread away from it better than the usual front-loading needle.

One sort of problem I’ve noticed with this machine is its ability to corner:

And again, to show that this is not an isolated incident:

Though in this one, you can see where it’s trying.

Coming up slowly on the corners–and of course coming to a complete stop, raising the presser foot, then turning the fabric–does not seem to have any effect on its tendency to Tokyo drift.

Anyway, back to the New Year panels:

Because the process involves so many steps, and because doing all of one step before moving on to do all of the next step takes less time than cycling through all steps for one or for a small group, I tried to production-line as many stores at once as I could. They’re all divided up by very specific quantities and sizes–down to a half-inch difference between the panels for one store or another. So here is the mess of multiple stages going on and being kept carefully separate.


New Speed-Janome!

I do quite a bit of sewing for Larry, which involves carting my machine or machines upstairs and downstairs, one shoe off and one sock on. So he called me up this morning and asked what machine I recommended, saying he wanted to keep one at his studio for me to use.

After calling around about options and immediate availability, we picked this baby from Thomas Sewing Center in Mesquite:

This is how ridiculously fabulous this machine is: it has a pre-tension thingy that prevents your thread from twisting BEFORE it gets to the tension knob. It also has the increasingly popular scissors button that takes the top thread to the bottom and snips them both in the back. It winds a bobbin WHILE YOU’RE SEWING.

The foot pressure dial on the far left, above the sewing instruction diagram allows you to switch quickly back and forth between normal with a lot of control to 0, which allows you to swing the fabric around willy nilly–I was doing loop-de-loops on a fabric-batting-fabric sandwich without bunching anything up. Also, there’s a knee-press foot-lifter.

My machine has to be dismantled and cleaned with rubbing alcohol and scrubbing at least twice per velcro job, and the needles have to be peeled twice per strip of velcro due to the velcro’s glue backing. The machines I’ve been using have front-facing needles and top-loading bobbins. This one has a side-facing needle and a side-loading bobbin, so we’re expecting that to handle the tough job better than my poor Princess and Idiot machines I’ve been switching out when one gets tired (not their official product names).

This machine is the mule love-child of an industrial machine and a home machine: fast and relatively lightweight. It does straight-stitch only, at high speeds–notice the speed dial has a picture of a turtle, a tired rabbit, and a flying rabbit, as opposed to the usual home-sewing range sweeping from dead turtle to mourning rabbit.

This machine will make the Chinese New Year panels as close to a breeze as a project this awkward can get. And I’m looking forward to finding out how it handles getting coated in glue.