Reap What You Sew

Do Your Own Up­hol­stery, Part II: How to Set Thread Ten­sion and … Sew (Fi­nally)

Street Rodder - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy by the Au­thor By Chris Shel­ton

Do Your Own Up­hol­stery, Part 2: How to set thread ten­sion and ... sew (fi­nally)

O K, we apol­o­gize. Last month trim­mer Jerry Glas­gow at McFar­land Cus­tom Up­hol­stery showed us the way around a com­mer­cial sewing ma­chine. Lured by the prospect of one day do­ing your own up­hol­stery, maybe you even went out and even bought a ma­chine. But now what? I mean know­ing how to thread a ma­chine is a tremen­dous tease if you don’t know how to ac­tu­ally use one.

That changes this month. Yeah we’re still pressed for space and all but af­ter prac­tic­ing what Glas­gow re­veals here, you can hon­estly say you can sew to­gether at least two pan­els.

We’ll cover a few very crit­i­cal (but sim­ple) things. First, we’ll learn how to set thread ten­sion to ex­e­cute a strong, re­li­able seam. As part of ex­plain­ing seam al­lowance means, we’ll show you how to stitch to­gether two pan­els. Then we’ll learn how to mea­sure how pan­els “shrink” when sewn to­gether. Then we’ll show how to make a sim­ple seam a whole lot stronger and bet­ter look­ing. We’ll fin­ish up with how to stitch out­side and in­side curves, two of the build­ing blocks in the trim­ming world (the straight seam is the third).

Yeah, we still have a lit­tle ways to go. But taken a lit­tle bit at a time, you too may one day brag that you did it all, even the up­hol­stery.

How to Set Thread Ten­sion

If you were to X-ray a stitch, you’d dis­cover that it’s ba­si­cally a se­ries of in­ter­lock­ing loops not very dif­fer­ent from the wires in a chain-link fence. The nee­dle mov­ing up and down is but one half of this loop-mak­ing process. The other half is the bob­bin hook. As the nee­dle moves up and down, the bob­bin hook spins round and round. As the nee­dle de­scends through the ma­te­rial, the bob­bin hook swings up to grab the nee­dle’s thread. The hook swings back down, tak­ing the nee­dle’s thread with it. Dur­ing this trip down, the nee­dle thread and bob­bin thread cross to make that loop. As the nee­dle as­cends, the take-up lever pulls up on the up­per thread, thereby pulling the newly formed loop into the stitch hole.

Now, if the nee­dle and bob­bin thread ten­sion match, the two threads will in­ter­sect within the ma­te­rial. But if the thread ten­sions don’t bal­ance, the tighter thread will pull the looser one to its side. And a poor-qual­ity stitch will fol­low. For­tu­nately there are only two ad­just­ments.

Be­cause few ma­te­ri­als be­have ex­actly the same, set the thread ten­sion each time you change ma­te­ri­als. It takes just a few stitches in a cou­ple rem­nants. This is how to do it.

The other half is how the stitch looks from the bot­tom. Just as with the top, the ma­te­rial should dim­ple slightly and you shouldn’t see the top­side thread. Glas­gow says the only ex­cep­tion is when a slight glim­mer of top­stitch can show on the un­der­side stitch.

Here’s how a per­fectly ex­e­cuted seam looks from the top­side. The ma­te­rial should dim­ple slightly from the pres­sure and you shouldn’t see the thread from the bot­tom stitch any­where on the top­side.

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