Reap What You Sew

Do Your Own Up­hol­stery, Part 1: How to Thread an In­dus­trial Sew­ing Ma­chine

Street Rodder - - CONTENTS - By Chris Shel­ton Pho­tog­ra­phy by the Author ■ ■

It seems we’ve mas­tered ev­ery part of the car-build­ing process. When our en­gines wore out, we bought a book and re­built them. When the body shop gave us our first es­ti­mate, we learned how to paint. We fig­ured out how to adapt air con­di­tion­ing and we’ve even gone as far as buy­ing the spe­cial­ized tools nec­es­sary to re­build an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

But there’s one com­po­nent of car con­struc­tion that makes most of us re­coil in fear: up­hol­stery. When diehards brag about how they built some­thing, they usu­ally do it with the fol­low­ing caveat: “Yup, I did ev­ery­thing … but the in­te­rior.”

A stigma ex­ists about trim work, some of it war­ranted and a bunch of it not. Yes, up­hol­stery re­quires some ex­pen­sive spe­cialty tools. But so does ev­ery other process in car con­struc­tion. And yes, up­hol­stery re­quires a pretty large piece of gear (sew­ing ma­chine). But so does paint­ing a car, and no­body ever bitches that their com­pres­sor is too big.

So why is up­hol­stery so taboo? I’m go­ing to go out on a limb here and hazard a guess: the act of sew­ing re­ally in­tim­i­dates us. And by us, I mean men.

No, re­ally. Sew­ing has some bag­gage and we guys are suck­ers for buy­ing into it. We’re taught early on that sew­ing is kinda girly. Your mom sewed patches to your jeans. Your sis­ter sewed a dress in Home Ec. Plus a lot of us are afraid of sew­ing our fin­gers to­gether. Th­ese fears foster a kind of noble ig­no­rance: we’re in­trigued but re­main largely in­tim­i­dated.

If you’re will­ing to over­come your fears then we have good news for you: more than fairly sim­ple, sew­ing is ac­tu­ally re­ally re­ward­ing. Yeah, trim work is one of those things that’s dif­fi­cult to mas­ter but at its heart it’s re­ally not all that hard to learn.

And we’re go­ing to show you how. And by we, I mean Jerry Glas­gow at McFar­land Cus­tom Up­hol­stery. He’s the ultimate teacher; be­fore he took up work­ing with award-win­ning trim­mer Jamie McFar­land, he taught would-be award­win­ning trim­mer Jamie McFar­land how to sew. In fact Glas­gow taught a lot of peo­ple how to sew when he in­structed at Clover

Park Tech­ni­cal Col­lege.

Over the next few months we’re go­ing to re­veal the tips and tricks that can make even some­one like you or me look like we know what we’re do­ing. Th­ese in­struc­tions will cul­mi­nate with a few big projects but it’ll be by a se­ries of baby steps.

Now if you’re still on the fence, here’s the part that may make it all bet­ter: to do this sort of work re­quires an in­dus­trial sew­ing ma­chine. The kind of ma­chine dear ol’ mom used can’t pierce mul­ti­ple lay­ers of up­hol­stery-grade ma­te­ri­als. While the ma­chines are re­ally no

big­ger than a do­mes­tic ma­chine, they have the power to plunge through ply­wood. They re­quire a job-spe­cific ta­ble that mounts a mo­tor on the bot­tom side. Peo­ple re­fer to them by var­i­ous terms like walk­ing-foot, uni­son-feed, or triple-feed. They all mean ba­si­cally the same thing. Con­sult a sew­ing-ma­chine spe­cial­ist for more de­tails. And get one that a lo­cal shop can ser­vice. Some brands come cheap be­cause they have lit­tle sup­port.

And while new ma­chines can cost in the thou­sands, older ones turn up in the want ads for hun­dreds. You can even buy low-cost ma­chines com­plete with ta­bles and mo­tors for $600. But don’t be afraid to splurge on a qual­ity ma­chine in known good con­di­tion; you can re­coup most if not all of your in­vest­ment when you’re done (pro­vided you’re not hooked, which you may be).

We’ll jump right into this by ex­plain­ing how to set up a sew­ing ma­chine. It takes

thread (Glas­gow rec­om­mends DB-92), bobbins (he rec­om­mends pre-wound), a di­a­mond-point nee­dle (con­sult your sup­plier), a sharp pair of scis­sors, and some in­ex­pen­sive vinyl rem­nants.

The fol­low­ing is the way to thread this par­tic­u­lar ma­chine. While it’s close for most ma­chines, it’s not the same for all. In fact, you’re best off con­sult­ing your ma­chine’s man­ual (which is al­most cer­tainly avail­able on the mar­ket). So why show how to do it? It’s a great hook; by see­ing how sim­ple it is to thread a ma­chine, you’re more likely to ac­tu­ally take the plunge and get one. Se­ri­ously, it’s easy to pick up. Even eas­ier than MIG weld­ing.

There’s great in­cen­tive to learn how to sew. For one, you can save a fair bit of money. For an­other, you con­trol the out­come. But most of all, learn to sew and you too can brag that you did ev­ery­thing … even the in­te­rior.

Rather than go di­rectly into the ma­chine, the thread passes through an eye­let in the thread stand just above Jerry Glas­gow’s hand. The spool pin holds a thread spool on a home­owner ma­chine but it serves as a guide on an in­dus­trial. Pass the thread...

Thread guides vary rad­i­cally among makes and mod­els but like the spool pin, it redi­rects the thread and main­tains thread ten­sion. In this case, en­ter both holes from the right, go­ing top to bot­tom.

By and large, in­dus­trial ma­chines con­sist of a ma­chine built into a ta­ble (the wood­grain part) with a mo­tor hung on the un­der­side. There’s also a foot pedal be­low the ta­ble and a knee-op­er­ated arm that lifts the presser foot. Here’s how to thread one.

This ma­chine has a sep­a­rate assem­bly for the take-up spring. Be­gin by wrap­ping the thread around it so it com­presses the spring.

Loop the thread over this grooved pin then pull it down to the right of the thread ten­sioner. The ob­jec­tive is to pull the thread be­tween the ten­sioner’s discs.

It’s not nec­es­sary to dis­as­sem­ble the ten­sioner to thread but it’s a good idea to clean it ev­ery so of­ten. Plus this shows how the thread wraps around the ten­sioner spin­dle and then loops over this small pin.

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