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Reap what ye sew!

By Chief

       Okay, you've rebuilt your speedometer, transmission and radio. You've repainted, blasted, scraped and welded. You've done absolutely everything to your truck yourself except ... the upholstery! You've done everything else, right? How hard can it be?? Well here's the Chief to get you started on that final touch for your award-winning restoration. Like with everything else associated with old truck restoration, you'll need the right tool...

A Restorer's guide to getting started in ... sewing!

       If you ever plan to do your own upholstery, you need a good sewing machine. Not everyone can afford a commercial unit, so, if a used one cannot be found, the best domestic unit is an OLD OLD Black Singer. If you ever had a Grandma, you may remember these.

       The Singers are "straight stitch" models that are cast iron with cast and machined metal parts. Also, look for "Spoked Handwheels." These are about 6" to 8" in diameter. You don't want the smaller solid wheel. The larger diameter wheels help the needle bar force the needle through the naugahyde, working like a flywheel.

       Because the thread used in upholstery is thicker than that used for the lighter materials, you will need to adjust the upper and lower tensions. (These tension adjustments are found on the thumbwheel and a very small screw in the bobbin case.) There are two types of bobbins in these old machines. Round Bobbin (preferred), and Long Shuttle. Either are good machines, but the round bobbin design is newer and interchangeable with parts from later models.

       To identify these two machine designs, the round bobbin will look like those Electrical Cable Spools telephone and power companies use. It has a flat steel tape wrapped and screwed to the bobbin case (very common these days). The long shuttle resembles a M2 .50 caliber machine gun shell with a flat "machine scrolled" stock wrapped around the "bullet." That stock is the "lower" tension spring. Outdated design. Requires bobbins that resemble the little axles on an HO scale model train set.

       The purpose of the tensions is to equalize both top and bottom thread tensions. One golden rule of thumb is to test sew on the material you're going to use. Remember, the knot should be in the MIDDLE of the material.

1. If the stitches knot is above or on the top side of the material, the upper tension is too tight.

2. If the stitches knot is below or under the material, the upper tension is too loose.

       Many of our customers, (mostly experienced ladies) are afraid to touch the lower tension as it's adjustment is a small screw and they misunderstand how it is used. This screw doesn't usually require adjustment but with time and usage, the tension lightens and thus requires a wee amount of adjusting. Often done by a shop, again, due to misinformation. The only time these lower tensions require adjustments is when you have tried the UPPER tension knob with no results. Always test on the same material you plan to use in whatever project.

       Use sharp needles and make sure that your machine has been serviced. If it has been sitting a long time, or if has been used extensively. As with ANY machine, never force the handwheel! If the motor does NOT turn the machine on its own, and you try to free it by force, you can damage it, or cause it to fall out of timing. Newer machines are very delicate by comparison to their much older counterparts.

       When shopping for used machines, look for weight. If it is heavy, it is the first sign of all metal parts. If it has any degree of "cold to touch" chromed "trim" parts, it is also likely to have all metal parts. Stay away from the computerized machines. Though they are nice, they are expensive and manufactured parts are heavily plastic. Plastic parts deteriorate to uselessness over time -- especially the gears. This happens when they no longer produce replacement parts. Just like the auto industry.

       Considering cost of materials, if your wife, mother, sister, brother, father, or friend knows how to sew, ask them in on the project -- they may do a better job. (especially if you've never sewed a stitch in your life). If you have a friend in the upholstery business, you're home free!

Happy Sewing!


v. Feb 05

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