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Old 06-08-2021, 13:52   #1
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Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

What determines whether a sewing machine is suitable for canvas work or not?

I've been reading threads and people swear by machines from years gone by, all the way up to new multi-thousand dollar units.

All bells and whistles aside, is it simply a matter of motor power?
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Old 06-08-2021, 15:31   #2
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

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What determines whether a sewing machine is suitable for canvas work or not?

To me, it is the depth of the "throat", the hole between the needle and the other side of the machine where the controls are located, and the motor; plus whether or not it has a "walking foot", and the height to which you can raise the presser foot.

You want a large throat to get rolled up fabric through. The presser foot is smooth on the bottom with a sewing machine for clothes, and the feed dogs under it are high friction and have the job of pushing the layers of fabric through, while the foot is stationary. You sometimes have to help multiple layers get through, especially when you reverse the direction of the stitching.

The walking foot has "teeth" on it and moves the fabric through, in a fore and aft motion, without one needing to help it, in forward or reverse. Obviously, the distance to which you can raise the presser foot limits the number of layers you can get through.




I've been reading threads and people swear by machines from years gone by, all the way up to new multi-thousand dollar units.

All bells and whistles aside, is it simply a matter of motor power?
It is not a simple matter of motor power. The walking foot has a much easier time with multiple layers of say, Sunbrella (a popular acrylic canvas.)

I used to have a Pfaff 130, that my mother had bought in 1949. I sewed boat canvas with it for years. It is a machine that is all metal inside (no plastic bits), and it is very quiet in operation. It will do fancy clothes, curtains and boat cushion covers. Any all metal machine from years gone by will do Okay. I still wish I had it, really, for lighter work. A friend of mine feels the same way about her similar vintage Bernina.

I bought a lightly used SailRite LSZ-1. It does the canvas easier, but to me is really clunky, noisy, and I am not as happy a camper with it as I had hoped to be. It paid for itself with the first project, a boom bag with lazy jacks.

Some friends of ours bought one of the Chinese copies, for about $300 less than I paid, and seem satisfied with it....But they never had a nice quiet Pfaff to compare it with. We had a hand crank we could put on it (and SR has one for the LSZ-1), and with Jim hand cranking for me, we could take the machine ashore and sew (for instance) the UV strip back on a friend's headsail.

Long answer to a short question, eh?

Ann
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Old 06-08-2021, 16:11   #3
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

You can get a new Yamata/Family Sew zig zag walking foot 9" throat machine from www.zamirsew.net or less than $450. It's the same basic machine as a Sailrite LSZ1 without some bells and whistles, BUT has a 9" throat. I just bought one to replace my 25yo straight stitch version that was starting to show its age (may have something to do with the time my horse knocked it over and cracked the base). The new one was sort of stiff until I attacked it with a spray can of WD40 with lithium grease.
I'm pretty sure you can put the Sailrite monster wheel on one.
Ann, try the liquid spray grease on every moving part, it should smooth things out.
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Old 06-08-2021, 18:16   #4
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

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Ann, try the liquid spray grease on every moving part, it should smooth things out.
Thank you for that. I can look for some, here. Some of the spots that want oil, I've been using pouring it down a toothpick to get into.

Ann
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Old 06-08-2021, 18:56   #5
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

Great andwer, Ann. I agree.
I used my mom's 1955 Universal (from Sears) from the time I was 6. In 2017 I found an OLD Sailritefrom 1990 on ebay, which I was really excited about. But it arrived with a hairline crack in the chassis from shipping. UPS reimbursed me but I was disappointed. Then I ordered a brand new Singer Stylist Longarm I love the size and all its autmatic features. It's at one of my locations, at my other location I still use my mom's. I sew almost every day.
Keeping your machine oiled and lint-free is one key to smooth sewing!
Remember you can use the Sailrite online videos no matter what machine you end up with!
Good luck!
(Ps, I'd still like to find an old Sailrite!)
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Old 06-08-2021, 20:25   #6
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

Ms J-37,

Thanks for the kind words. I would have saved us a lot of frustration and angst if I had read the SailRite online instructions for making the chaps BEFORE starting the project!

Ann
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Old 07-08-2021, 04:20   #7
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

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Originally Posted by JPA Cate View Post
It is not a simple matter of motor power. The walking foot has a much easier time with multiple layers of say, Sunbrella (a popular acrylic canvas.)

...
Long answer to a short question, eh?

Ann

While doing research, a walking foot and the throat was a prominent suggestion for consideration. However, throat size is less of an issue for us I think. We have a power boat, so the only canvas we have is an enclosure for the upper deck. The only thing that I can imagine would be a slight issue with throat size, would be the actual roof, which is completely canvas. All of the sides are mostly clear vinyl windows, so there wouldn't be that much to roll up and push through the throat.

The walking foot doesn't seem like it would be an absolute necessity either since the most we would ever be sewing through would be about 4 layers of canvas, and the vinyl window.

I can see where both of these things would be a necessity if you're sewing sails where you'd have to get a large amount of fabric through the machine, or sew through multiple layers like around the clew, but I'm not sure how necessary they are for us.

So with those two things taken out of the equation, whats the next thing to consider?

I've found photos of a machine that can sew through three layers of leather, so I'm thinking this might be a fairly good option for us to begin with. I'm trying to be very budget conscious and methodical in my planning, and not jump head first into something, since I have a tendency to spend a lot of money and not follow through with things.
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Old 07-08-2021, 04:44   #8
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

The key to sewing canvas with any machine cheap or expensive is SHARP needles. They don't have to big just sized for the thread. Buy lots and discard the moment they begin to struggle.
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Old 07-08-2021, 08:50   #9
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

Get a walking foot machine. Consew makes several that have all metal parts and are good for heavy sewing. Reinforcing corners and snap locations with multiple layers of cloth will extend the useful life of your projects.
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Old 07-08-2021, 10:22   #10
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

We love our Sailrite LSZ-1 sewing machine, BUT you MUST get the MONSTER II Balance wheel. We did several projects without it before purchasing and struggled with some. It makes a huge difference.

We (read mainly my better half) have sewed the following new items:
- Mackstack type mainsail cover
- Jib sail cover (we have a camberspar boom jib)
- Eisenglass enclosure
- Salon window covers (outside)
- Salon window curtains (inside)
- Sun shades around cockpit (8 shades)
- Cockpit seat cushions and seat backs
- Throw Pillows (too many!!)
- Winch and engine control covers
- Sail line bags (4 of them in various sizes)
- Fender covers (6 covers so far - we ran out of material!)
- Grill cover
- Life jacket holder under cabin rooftop
- Dinghy chaps
- Throw line bags
- Gas and water jug covers
- Cover for our large format photo printer, etc etc etc...

We estimate that we have easily saved well over $10k vs having it done "professionally" and that includes purchasing all the tools needed to do it right (ie. snap kits, grommet dies/kits, hot knife, etc)

And there is always something that needs restitching, repair, or upgrading. Get a high quality machine and it will pay for itself in short order even when you screw some things up... and yes we have!!

Good luck!
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Old 07-08-2021, 10:25   #11
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

We use a Singer 401A, actually a 1959 dress makers machine, but being all metal (cast aluminum) and all mechanical gear drive (it has no belts and the motor is internal) and quiet enough that other crew members can sleep while sewing is in progress.

It will sew 4 layers of 12 oz cotton but we did break it once. Got all repair parts off the internet in 1 week. My complaints are the bobbin is too small, and the largest needle is #18, every 20 feet of seam or so requires another bobbin. It sews sunbella without an issue BUT sticky seam binder will gum up the works unless the needle is cleaned routinely when doing sticky-tape.
Good luck with your projects.
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Old 07-08-2021, 10:29   #12
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

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Get a high quality machine and it will pay for itself in short order even when you screw some things up... and yes we have!!

Good luck!
Perhaps I will eventually, but I can't jump into something like this with an expenditure like that.

I'm going to start with a used, probably extremely old cast iron machine and work with a few yards of canvas and see how things go. If I can make something we are happy with, I'll try another, and if that goes well, maybe another. AND THEN, I'll think about a Sailrite or walking foot machine.
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Old 07-08-2021, 10:33   #13
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

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It will sew 4 layers of 12 oz cotton but we did break it once.

The biggest issue I'm going to face, I believe, is going to be the 4 layers of canvas combined with the vinyl window material.
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Old 07-08-2021, 10:45   #14
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

There are other considerations that are more important than motor power. If your machine has nylon or plastic gears, you will eventually destroy it, if you sew coated synthetic canvas like Sunbrella. I did my first canvas projects, a sailcover, awning, and sail bag on a beautiful then new (1980s) Necchi and it never ran right after.

One of the reasons people use and love older machines (pre 1970s) is they have all metal gears. I collect and have restored several vintage machines. Even though my vintage machines (motors and gears) are strong enough to sew canvas projects, I use a new Sailrite machine. The thread used for canvas projects is often too heavy and strong for the thread tensioning systems in domestic machines. You probably can make it work, but it will be finicky at best. The thread can eventually cut grooves into some of the softer metal parts and even a small burr will weaken the threads and cause problems.

Butyou can pick up a nice vintage machine for cheap, sometimes less than $50. So if you dont have a lot to sew it might be worth trying one out. Heres some info on vintage machines.

https://antiques.lovetoknow.com/anti...cording-sewers

Others have mentioned using a walking foot, which helps the top and bottom layers of fabric move evenly through the machine. It will lessen curving and buckling in the seam. You can get a walking foot attachment for vintage machines.

If, like me, you have a low frustration tolerance and want professional results, Id suggest looking at the Sailrite machines. Mine works beautifully and its a pleasure to sew on, it just works flawlessly. I have over a dozen sewing machines, and my Sailrite is one of my favorites to sew on.
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Old 07-08-2021, 11:36   #15
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Re: Canvas Sewing Machine Questions...

We used a heavy-duty Singer (US$160) to sew 3 sail covers, three cockpit cushions covers, and a steering wheel cover out of Sunbrella, and covers for two quarter berth mattresses out of thick cotton. No real problems, other than a neophyte's learning curve.
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