Friday, August 28, 2015

Featherweight Skill Series - Needles, Fabric, and Pressure Control

Thank you for coming to my Featherweight Skill Series! There are thousands of us who love our little 221s but need or want a little more "know-how" on using them to their fullest potential. I hope my posts and videos will help you get more know-how and confidence in using your beautiful Featherweight. Enjoy the classes!

Class #4 - Needles, fabrics, and pressure control

Class supply list:
Your fully threaded sewing machine with all purpose thread, any color that would look nice with your fabrics; the straight stitch foot; needles - sizes 11, 14, and 16; two 10" squares of each: a lightweight fabric (sheers or silk), a medium-weight fabric (cotton), and a thick fabric (denim or canvas)

Let's get sewing!

First, we'll talk about needles. 

The machine needle construction is pretty much the same: 
-the shank, which is the section that goes up into the machine, 
-the shaft, which is the rod below the shank,
-the groove, where the top thread follows down the shaft to help protect it,
-the scarf, a cut-away on the lower part of the shaft where the bobbin hook is allowed to catch the top thread
-and the eye, where the thread goes through at the end of the tip. 

Needle sizes are based on the thickness of their shaft. (The numbers with the / between them is showing US and European sizing) The lower the number, the thinner the shaft. The size 11 needle will work wonders on our lightweight square but the denim will most likely break it in a moment. 

The tips of needles vary as well. Why? Because not all fabrics and threads are created equal! So the best needle must be chosen for each job. 

There are universal and stretch and sharp and jersey....and a few more.... But they all have a specific uses so it's good to know what to get that's best suited for your project. 

The three illustrations above were found at

There are many types of sewing needles in the stores and it can be confusing. The most common one to find is the universal tip. This kind may not the best needle to use for every project but if you can get an assortment pack, you can use it for this exercise. 

Here's a package that I have. Notice the the top of the shaft is color coded on each needle to help identify the sizes. 

Needles life span is about one project long, or 8 hours, so when it's time to oil your machine, it's also time to change your needle. 

Checkout this useful chart I found in an old Singer booklet. 
We already had a class on stitch length. Check it out at this post. The thread you use should be able to blend in well with your fabric. All purpose thread will work fine for our exercises.

The selections of our 10" fabric squares may make more sense now. We will match the best needle choice with our fabrics. 

The sheer fabric will take the size 11 needle. I have a variety of machine needles in my sewing cabinet and have a package of sharp tip ones for lightweight fabric. If you have the universal tip, go ahead and use it. The jersey or stretch tips will not work well with sheers, they'll pull some of the fibers out of place instead of piercing through them. That's not the result we want. Put your squares and #11 needle together and set them aside. 

The medium-weight fabric will be best matched with the size 14 needle. I love quilting and have LOTS of cotton fabric! Cotton weaves vary in thread count but a universal tip should work well with them. Take your squares and #14 needle and set the aside. 

The thick fabric I chose is an upholstery fabric. Thin needles cannot hold up against the strength of material like this. Choose the heaviest needle you have, in our case a number 16 was in the assortment pack. If you have a heavier needle, like 18 or higher, feel free to try it! Take your squares and #16 needle and set the aside. 

Most of our Featherweight machines have the pressure foot set for a medium thickness of fabric and that screw is not turned. The 221 manual even states that this setting needs little adjusting.  We will need to be able to adjust this screw in future lessons. Let's practice this skill now!

The manual states the pressure should be heavy enough to keep the fabric from rising with the movement of the needle, and it is to keep the fabrics advancing evenly. 

The way to test the pressure is to remove the thread from the needle and bobbin, then sew a swatch to see the result. If the fabric is bouncing around (too loose) or not advancing well or is puckering (too tight), turn the pressure screw and sew another test line. If it needs to be tightened, turn the screw to the right or clockwise. Loosen it by turning it to the left or counterclockwise. 

For thin fabrics, the setting should be lightened. Turn the screw counterclockwise toadies the foot and reduce the pressure on the fabric. 
Heavier fabrics need heavier pressure. Turn the screw clockwise to lower the foot and increase the pressure on the fabric. Here's a short video about the pressure screw adjustments that I did.

Take your three paired sets of fabric and needles, start with the medium-weight cotton fabric and install the size 11 needle. Set your desired stitch length. Your pressure setting is probably set for this thickness of fabric. Stack the fabric wrong sides together and sew some lines on the square. You can sew anything you want, straight or curved lines. Examine the stitching while sewing to check the pressure on the fabric and adjust if needed. 
Here's my sample square sewn with red thread along the garland lines.

Now set the machine up for the lighter fabric, needle, and stitch length. Hold off on threading to test run the fabric through and check the pressure setting. Lighter fabric needs lighter pressure. Did the fabric get stuck under the foot at all or bunch up? Adjust the screw until the fabric advances evenly. You may want to count how many turns you made and write it down for future reference. Thread the machine. Stack your squares and sew lines on the square.
Here are my two pieces of silk sewn together. They came out great!

Turn the screw back to the setting for the medium-weight cotton fabric.

Repeat the process with the final, thick fabric squares, needle, and stitch length. Unthread the machine and test the pressure. Adjust the screw so the fabric advances evenly. Count the turns and jot down the number. Heavier fabric requires heavier pressure. Thread the machine and sew lines on these squares.
Here's my stitching on the sample squares of denim-

Set the screw back to the setting for the medium-weight cotton fabric. Keep your sample squares for future reference. Now give a big smile, take some pics and share them on our Favebook group page! 

I hope you have enjoyed these exercises. You will get confidence to adjust the pressure screw for fabric thicknesses and how to choose the best needle for your fabrics.

Please post your pics on my Facebook group, Featherweight Skill Series, and share you comments with everyone!

Next weekend is Labor Day weekend so I will give us all a break! We will resume on the 12th with the next class! 

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