Simple Just Got Simpler

We Carry
by Sara Snuggerud in Sewing Tips


I often hear the phrase, “I just want something simple” from sewing machine shoppers who have never sewed before, or it‘s been a long time since they had a machine. Whatever the perception is that gives the impression that sewing machines are more complicated these days needs to be dispelled now. Just because a machine has a lot of stitches does not mean it is complicated.

Mechanically, the way sewing machines operate is still essentially the same as from the time the lock-stitch machines were first developed more than 150 years ago. The lock-stitch is formed with two threads, a top thread that goes through the needle and a bobbin thread as we know today. But gone for good are the days that a new machine only does straight stitch. No matter how many stitches a machine may have, if you only use straight stitch today’s machine is simpler than ever to use.

Electronics have invaded every aspect of Twenty-first Century life, including the sewing world. It makes me wonder why anyone would want to go back to the typewriter after using a computer, or use a rotary dial phone after a cell phone. Once you know how to thread a machine you have one-touch options (think microwave) for a multitude of beautiful stitch patterns from which to choose that require no thinking on your part other than where you choose to use them.

More Than Straight Stitch

Many stitches are practical in nature; the rest on a machine with more than ten stitches are decorative. Knowing how to use the stitches like everything else is a learning process. And once you know how to operate the machine there is more to learn about following directions, using a pattern, cutting fabric, and which two pieces to sew and where to sew them.

Electronics in sewing machines have done several things. First it has enabled the machine to “multitask” if you will. This means that instead of having a feed-dog system that only operates in one direction, moving the fabric forward, or backward by pressing a button or lever to sew back stitches, the electronics can now create beautiful embroidery stitches.

The circuit boards are programmed to change the forward and backward motion in combination with multiple needle positions. That is how you get the beautiful floral and heirloom patterns, alphabets, and cute stitches like hearts and doggies. There also are machines take this a step further in that they feed the fabric sideways as well and create stitch patterns larger than the standard stitch width.

Needle Stop Up/Down

The next way electronics make sewing machines simpler is that they now control whether the needle stops in the up or down position. Gone and good riddance are the days of cranking the hand wheel to reposition the needle and take-up lever so you could take the fabric out of the machine.

After more than a hundred years of having machines that need repositioning by cranking the hand wheel, we are now FREE of this task. Besides, most people never learned how to do it correctly. If you have ever seen three threads as you pull the fabric out…if you ever had the thread jerked out of the needle when you started to sew the next seam…if the threads made a bird’s nest underneath…you did not reposition the (“thing-a-ma-bobber”…that thing that bobs up and down) TAKE-UP LEVER correctly. If you only see that the needle is up it might be at the point where it is not quite finished making the stitch and that is why those annoying things happen. The take-up lever also needs to be positioned correctly.

Now with electronics we do not have to think about take-up lever repositioning and no more cranking the hand wheel. More than that, with many machines you can choose whether the needle stops in the up or down position. Having the needle stop in the down position every time you let up on the foot control helps you not loose your place as you sew if, for example, you need to lift the presser foot to pivot. It helps, too, with chain piecing when you lift the foot to set the next piece under.

Need for Speed

Gone too are the machines that had more power only if sped up. It was always difficult to get over the seam of a jeans hem…the machine always grumbled and balked at that point. Electronic machines use a different type of motor, DC rather than the AC motors that non-electronic machines use.

DC motors have full penetrating power even at slow speeds so you can sew slowly over thick places without loosing control of what you are sewing. You can also regulate the speed easier with the foot pedal. Some machines have a speed regulator so you can set the machine to sew fast or slow. This is the best feature for free-hand machine quilters who set the machine to the speed that is comfortable for how fast they move the fabric. Speed control is a great feature for young sewers, too.

So you want a simple machine? Today’s machines are simpler than ever. They also give you the capability of being creative in ways you may have never thought. It is as easy as the pushing of a button….which we are good at with phones and microwaves!