Friday, March 20, 2015

How Many?

Zigzag or straight is the question today. It seems all of the classic sewing machines that we love to own are only straight stitch. I'm thinking of the Singer Featherweight, 201, 301, 15's and their many clones, 66's with the drop-in bobbin are all straight stitch only. That's great if you are quilting and even garment construction primarily uses straight stitch. This covered most of the sewers needs for many decades after the sewing machine was mass produced. Wanted a buttonhole or fancier stitches? There are attachments to add to your sewing machine that can perform these tasks. Perfect.

But when we introduce knits into our wardrobe, we need stitches that have some "give" or ease to the line of stitches so they don't break as the knits move. This is acquired in two ways: a small zigzag stitch or a backwards and forwards stitch that is a classic stretch stitch. Either one of those actions require a whole new way of thinking about how straight stitch sewing machines work. As knit fabrics became more popular, so did sewing machines that could make those stretch stitches, even ones that could create a bound edge or cut and bind in one motion as with a serger. But let's back up; who needs a zigzag movement when sewing if you are not sewing knits? Seam finishing can be easily done with a zigzag stitch, it also enables you to make buttonholes, and other specialty techniques. When recommending a sewing machine to a beginner, I would love to start them on a Singer 99 but straight stitch only is going to hinder them from growing in their skills. What? You might think it's a whole other world just to learn to use all of the specialty feet, and that is true, but the ability to use zigzag in addition to those specialty feet is a big leap in skills.

Which sewing machines introduce zigzag but nothing else? Not as many as you would think. Singer introduced their Fashion Mate series so their 237 is a simple machine with straight, zigzag, needle position adjustment, and reverse for back-tacking (securing the stitches):
Singer 237

Singer 252
Unless a person new to sewing requests something special, I always suggest a sewing machine with basic zigzag included but not much else. Decorative stitches are fun to use but have limited use when you are just learning. A sewing machine loaded with those stitches can be overwhelming to a beginner and there are some comments about feeling guilty when only a few of the stitches are used. Why have all of the variety if you aren't going to use them? Sewing is all about skill and that just takes time and practice. Just like with sports, you only get better with practice. Quality equipment is great but it doesn't really make you perform much better. A good seamstress can even work around marginal equipment because it's their skill they have honed over the years. Good equipment makes the job easier and probably less frustrating, but it's usually about the skill level.

The message here is to keep practicing, be prepared to start over and have some failures along the way. You will get better with practice and a few well placed lessons; there is no magic and few who are "naturals" just like in sports. Each one is a different spot along the road: enjoy the journey!

The title of this post asks a question. How many refers to the number of posts I have made for this blog and my adventure in buying, refurbishing, and selling vintage sewing machines. The answer is 150 (this post is #150) so my response is WOW, how could I have found that much to write about? It's all for the love of these beauties (and the encouragement of my mom) that I continue to write. Thanks for being a reader of Sewing Machine Mavin!

1 comment:

Thin Man Sewing said...

When I took sewing almost 40 years ago I was told straight, zig-zag, and reverse are all you need. When I looked for a new sewing machine three years ago I was told the same. Who uses 600 stitches? Not me.
Thank you for your blog. I found it recently and enjoy it.