School Me On Sewing Machines

Okay you stitch witches, just like it says, teach me some basics.

Wife and I have been going to garage and estate sales to get stuff for our house on the cheap. At many of these, we are seeing lots of sewing machines. Most of them are the old black Singer machines from way back when. Some are newer machines of different makes.

What is a decent machine to have to occasionally do/fix/make stuff with? Clothes and pack repairs.





If I mention Corona, I ain't talking about beer.


JOINED:  9/20/09     LOCATION:  Outside of KSA Finally!

Original Post

Start with a Singer 31-15.  It was the military light-duty machine for tent, canvas, clothing, and parachute repairs for years.  After WWII many became known as The Tailor's Machine.  Simple, strong, durable, new production parts available.  $300-400 complete with motor and table will get you one that you can pass to grandkids.

A typical modern household machine with plastic gears has shiite for torque and power.

From light duty go up to a medium walking foot machine, from $450 to 700.  This one will be for multiple layers of cordura and webbing (vests and harnesses, gun bags, etc.).

The FAA Parachute Rigger handbook (link:  FAA Parachute Rigger) and The Parachute Manual have tons of material on machines, fabric, and sewing.

I broke the hell out of my wifes machine on the last ghillie I was making. Now I'm back to hand stitching, and I hate hand stitching. I've been looking into a Singer, but haven't pulled the trigger. My line of thought is thus- Spend a bunch of money on something I will only use every once and a while, or just spend more time and possibly blood finishing this project?

"Here I abandon peace and desecrate law. Farewell to treaties. Fortune it is you I follow... From now on, war will be my judge."

Those old singers are downright impressive- even the less old and less robust models from the 60's and 70's can be used for a pretty amazing variety of tasks. I've built actual rucks using an old 636 from the late 60's- not ideal by any stretch, but they're great machines that can do almost anything in a pinch. 


Well ok, two ways to go here.  First is the classic, all metal machines.   Flush mounted tables, external motors.   Getting kind of old these days, but believe it, they will outlast us both.   They are relatively cheap, replacement parts ridiculously cheap, but it helps to be a bit of a tinker-er to really keep them up and running.  The Singer 31-15 is ok, but no reverse.  I'd look at the equivalent machine in the next gen, such as Mitsubishi, Consew, etc.  The biggie is getting a machine that takes a min of a # 18 needle (with 20-22 being optimum), at least 3/8" presser foot height, a LOW speed motor (under 1100 rpm preferred), and the smallest pulley you can fit on the motor.  Uses #69 or size "E" thread.  

Other guys step it up to a "walking foot" or double-feed model, which is good for heavy build-ups and the stupid things we do.  Preferred for production sewing.  But for home custom work I still like a simple single feed.  These can go up to "3 cord" for seriously heavy work.  There are even heavier machines, but we'll stop right here.

Now the other way of going is "table-top" or internal motor designs.  These are basically your home sewing machines, usually metal/plastic blends.   Also "Sail Rite" table machines, made for light weight canvas repair.  If you watch what you're doing, these will work, however it pays to stay on the heavy-duty side of these.  Singer has a nifty little HD machine you see at places like Jo-Ann's and so forth.  As long as you can get a #18 needle, and "heavy-duty" nylon thread through it (almost #69), you should be able to make some basic things.  

Now believe or not, sewing is sewing, so start talking to home clothes-makers, quilters, upholstery and drape makers, anybody you can find that sews.  They all have T,T,P's you can use.  Get the latest FAA Parachute Rigger's Guide by Sandy Reid (Vietnam Recon Marine BTW).  And/or Poynter's Parachute Manual, Vol 1.  Solid info on machines, materials, and techniques directly applicable to nylon gear.        

Did a little looking around for ya.  The two most popular/available right now are the Juki 8700 series, and the Yamata FY8500 series.  The Juki has become the go-to sewing machine in the single needle feed machine category which I prefer.  The Yamata looks to be a knock-off of the Juki, but basically the same capability.  If you are serious about doing this stuff, and want a little room to grow into, there's your answer.  These rigs will do everything from Cammie mods/ghillies, to belt kits, chest rigs, and rucks.

If you want to dabble a little first, the Singer 4423  is a decent table top model that I was talking about.  Here we're talking about basic Cammie mods, and light nylon gear, maybe keeping it at 500d and below.   

Here is Diz's how to get sewing in one easy lesson plan.  Let's say you get a Juki 8700.  With table and motor, thread stand and bobbin winder.  Also several extra bobbins, size No. 18, 20, 21, and 22 needles, and a gal of sew machine oil.  Here's what else you'll need.  Scissors, no. 11 x-acto knife, small hemos, lighter(s), chalk pencils, pins and/or small document clamps, 6 inch rule, yard stick, and another table for layout work.  Eventually you'll want some other stuff, like a hot knife and a 3/4" or 1" binding tape attachment.  

Now you need some materials.  Start with Rocky Woods Fabrics.  They are pricey but will sell you small quantities you need right now.  500d cordura, 1", 1 1/2", and 2" webbing, 3/4" and 1" binding tape, Velcro, Fastex hardware, no. 69 nylon bonded thread, elastic, and shock cord.  You can also find small lots of stuff on ebay.  

Now we need patterns.  Find something you want to make.  Buy the most torn up/fucked up example you can find.  Take it apart.  Notice how they put it together.  Layout the parts and trace them to some cheap Walmart material (or some thin cardboard paper).  See if you can put it back together with new parts.   It will probably look fucked up but that's ok (although I've seen some amazing work from guys right out of the box).   Buy more shit and keep tearing it apart.  Figure out how stuff is made; make patterns of things you want to duplicate.  Eventually, you will learn how to custom tailor it to exactly the size and shape you want.  Now you can start your own pattern making from scratch.  

If you get really good, we will all start buying shit from you.  And we will say we all knew you way back when. But seriously, any more questions, fire for effect.    

Wow. Pretty mind-boggling.

Like most other stuff done on here, I figured that there would be some info on detailed complicated stuff. And I was right!

I'm not quite sure what all I would doyet. But if nothing else, this will give me the ability to look at these machines being cast off and maybe get a quality one for dirt cheap.

I will add this, the wife and I have been able to pick up some tremendous deals at garage sales and estate sales. I've even been able to get some "antique" liquor bottles that are still factory sealed.

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.




If I mention Corona, I ain't talking about beer.


JOINED:  9/20/09     LOCATION:  Outside of KSA Finally!

Estate sales are the bomb.  Today I scored a made-in-USA K-T tools 23-piece metric wrench set (8mm-32mm) in the original roll-up pouch. 

For $25.   

I've gotten tons of great tools through estate sales.  Definitely a way to find a high-quality sewing machine.  With the knowledge provided here, I may keep my eyes open for one as well.  Although my inner prepper also still thinks about an old-fashioned foot-pedal-driven Singer.


In Yorktown, VA.          Joined August 2008

Gov't Civilian, after retiring from active duty in 2015. 


'One's own open sore never smells.'  - Haitian proverb

I don't have experience sewing but did work in a sewing factory for a couple years as a mechanic/building "engineer."  Figured I'd throw in.

From the standpoint of breakage on the professional machines, I remember that the Jukis were pretty solid mechanically.  The factory I worked in had some other models, but I don't remember their brands - and they broke more.  Now we are talking literally 1000s of garments a day and very little breakage from Jukis. 

I guess it depends what you want to sew and how much you use the machine, but I'd also say that buying a used Juki is very safe given their reliability.

For more "home" type machines, my mother sewed professionally for many years in the garment industry before it all went overseas...she won't use anything other than Singer.  



Joined: 5/28/04     Location: DFW TX


"We're men, okay? That means a few things; we like to shit with the door open, we talk about pussy, we like to go on riverboat gambling trips, and we make our own beef jerky. That's what we do." Dale, Step Brothers

I sew everything on a 1940s Singer 15-91 gear driven, Canadian model. It will sew everything you want. I paid $75 for mine and have used it for several years now. I've modified rucks, sewn chest rigs, halloween costumes, and made backpacks with this machine. 

The key is GEAR DRIVEN if you're going for an older machine. The new industrial machines will run you, if you're lucky, $300-600, but more likely upwards of a $1k - but - they will have a sweet motor, walking foot, multiple bobbins, etc etc. If you need that kind of stuff, check out Nick-O-Sewing. If not, keep searching estate sales and look for a solid machine. 



Joined: October 2009

Location: North Carolina

Sewing is a pretty easy skillset, comparably speaking to other things.  There is a huge range of acceptable equipment that can be used to make the stuff we're interested in.  Two things to consider.  First, as you guys pointed out, lots of really good deals out there, in secondary markets.  The thing to do is snap a pic and show it to us if you want an opinion as to it's suitability.  Some are so specialized, they don't do general work well.  But get the right machine and it will likely out-live you.  My Mitsubushi was used for many years in the LA garment industry.  I bought it re-furb'd back in the 80's, and it's still going strong.  So we're talking about a machine easily 50+ years old and just modified an LBT ruck for use with a new frameset.  The Juki is a grandson of this model, and now it is being copied by others.  But we're talking about a table-mounted machine, that takes a lot of space to set up and use.  This is the optimum set up, but you may not be at that level of commitment.

A good table top model, such as the HD Singer, or Sail Rite and others, gets you into the game without allocating the space for a dedicated sewing operation.   And they are more portable, if that is a consideration.  

The second consideration is a concept from my own industrial sewing days, namely picking a machine, for the task at hand, which is roughly in the mid-range of that machine's capability.  When you make thousands of items, this is a necessity; when doing custom home-sewing, I still see it as a very good idea.  So while there is a wide range of machines that will do what we want, I would argue that having a machine that is capable of sewing more than you usually tackle will give you some safety margin for normal use, and basically last forever.  As opposed to the home sewing machines that will eventually burn out when exposed to the type of work we do.

So yeah, like anything else, it may look complex  and scary form the outside, but once you get into it, it's like anything else; you put the time and effort into it and it will start to make sense.           

So, I open up the garage sales email for this weekend and come across this:

Sale Photo #1

Don't know what model it is, or what they may want for it. But I did see these listed in the Rigger's book.

Definitely more than I would ever need, but if a deal can be had...




If I mention Corona, I ain't talking about beer.


JOINED:  9/20/09     LOCATION:  Outside of KSA Finally!

Oh yeah man that'll do 'er.  That's a walking foot machine.  You could do just about anything on that.  However, it's got a lot of power.  So it will take time to learn how to use.   And you can't get in the tight spaces that a single feed can.  But other than that, it's probably one of the more popular models out there, as used by gear guys.  Looking at 1100 brand new, so anything south of say 400 is a good deal.  

But.  On that one I'd remove the guard over the motor pulley and replace it with the smallest one you can find.  Then, run a big bungee from one upright, to the treadle, to the other upright.  This acts as a giant return spring, and will help you learn how to control the speed.  Some guys used a "nerf" football under the treadle; whatever works for ya.  Then practice like a M-60 gunner.  Short bursts of butta, butta, butta.        

...What Diz says.  That thing will sew like a freaking Minigun if you're not careful -- great for long lengths like parachute ribs, panels, and skins, range flags, or tents. 

A reducing pully (or a set of them) will slow it right down to where it's controllable, even down to baby-stitch speed for sewing fine leather stuff like wallets, belts, holsters, and mag pouches.

I'm working TH and F so I only have Saturday to go there. It could be gone by  then.

That has a lot more than I could ever need.




If I mention Corona, I ain't talking about beer.


JOINED:  9/20/09     LOCATION:  Outside of KSA Finally!

Add Reply

Likes (0)
Copyright Lightfighter Tactical Forum 2002-2016