Bar tacks – denim v machine

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After – one good, one a bit messy

You might have noticed I haven’t finished my Ginger jeans yet. As well as the epic (and still ongoing) fitting process, I’ve been struggling with the bar tacks. So in case sewists of the future are also battling bar tacks, I thought I’d jot down what I’ve learnt.

Back up a minute – what’s a bar tack?

It’s a really dense stitch that you use to reinforce areas that undergo a lot of stress when you wear the garment. For example, you might use them to secure the edges of your pockets, or in the case of the Ginger Jeans, to strengthen the fly front.

Nothing to do with the Dior Bar Jacket, or this rather stylish eatery in Amsterdam (which is pretty much all you’ll find if you search Instagram for #bartack).

How do you do a bar tack?

It’s a lot like a buttonhole stitch – a short, narrow zigzag stitch. For jeans, it’s usually done with the same topstitching thread as the other decorative stitching.

This Seamwork feature shows you how and when you might use a bar tack, and some more decorative variations.

The Closet Case fly front zipper post in the sewalong for the Ginger jeans has tips on achieving the perfect bar tack on stretch denim.

Sadly, my machine didn’t want to follow the instructions.

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This was my machine’s initial reaction to be asked to sew a bar tack

My Janome DKS30 even has a specific bar tack stitch, but each time I tried a test tack, it jammed up and almost broke the needle. I fiddled with the tension, the presser foot pressure and tried four different presser feet but nothing was working.

After a cry for help on Instagram, some helpful suggestions came back. (Thank you @liwarlin, @heatherarnatt and @penguinandpear.)

I switched back to a regular zigzag stitch, swapped my denim needle for a topstitching needle and things improved a little. I swapped the bobbin thread for a slightly thicker sew-all thread (still nowhere near as thick as topstitching thread), and opted for the buttonhole foot with the stabiliser plate. Lastly, I lowered the needle using the wheel rather than the button, and when it began to look like the whole thing was going to jam up again, I used the handwheel to finish the stitch instead of the pedal.

They’re not the neatest, but at least I didn’t ruin the whole front of the jeans. Thinking I might go for rivets elsewhere though…

I’m still not sure my machine is supposed to behave like this, so I’d be interested to know if you’ve had similar problems – and whether you’ve solved them.

 

 

Sewing thick fabrics

On Saturday night, I spent the evening at home – wrestling with a monster seam. IMG_1202 (1)

This is the toughest seam I’ve ever sewn, and I thought I’d share some tips for dealing with these, without breaking too many needles.

When you make a coat, there’s usually a point when you ‘bag’ the lining. You start by assembling the outer coat and the lining separately. Then you stitch them together along three sides, turn the whole thing inside out through the fourth side and hey presto, you (almost) have yourself a beautiful lined coat.

In this seam, because there was also a lined hood, I had six layers altogether: two layers of polyester coating, two of cotton jersey lining, plus two of fluffy Thinsulate interlining. And when I got to the point where the shoulder and hood seams aligned, it was briefly doubled to 12 layers.

So, how can you get all this under the needles smoothly?

Use the right kit

Being realistic, a portable lightweight machine is probably going to curl up and die if you ask it to sew a seam like this. So if you’re lucky enough to have more than one machine, thread up the stronger of the two. My new Janome DKS30 and my old Singer 201k have both sewn this seam successfully – although only the 201k actually enjoyed it.

Pick the right needle and thread. If you’re making a coat, you’re probably using a size 100/16 needle. If you can’t remember what needle you put in, or you changed it to sew the lining, now is the moment to double-check. A strong sew-all polyester thread, or potentially even a topstitching or buttonhole thread is a good idea too.

If you’ve been using your walking foot for your coat so far, you might need to change back to your ordinary foot just to get the fabric under the needle. But if you can stick with your walking foot, that will give you a better result when seaming all these different fabrics together.

You could also try a Jean-a-ma-jig (also called a ‘hump jumper’) to help you over the seam allowances. It helps the presser foot lift and stay level over the hump when the fabric suddenly gets thicker.

Extra tips and tricks

Fish out your sewing machine manual again and look for any advice on sewing thick fabrics. I found that mine has an extra lever position that lifts the presser foot even higher to help you get all the layers into position.

Set your presser foot pressure and needle thread tension according to the advice in the manual. (On my Janome DKS30 I set the presser foot pressure at 6 and the needle thread tension at 3.)

If your fabric stops moving through the machine you might have to help it along the way. You can try gently pulling and pushing it through with one hand on each side. Or you can switch to using the hand wheel instead of the motor – sometimes a few stitches done like that will get you through the hardest part.

A cup of tea or a stiff G&T can also make all the difference…

If it does go a bit wonky, try not to panic. Unless you’ve dropped a layer or created a pucker you probably don’t need to unpick. And because this seam will never lie flat on the body, if it’s not 100% perfect you mightn’t even notice.

A new sewing machine

Eek. I’ve got a new sewing machine!

It’s the Janome DKS30, and so far, it really is the best thing since sliced bread.

Image: janome.co.uk
Image: janome.co.uk

My old machine wasn’t quite cutting the mustard, and the final straw came when I realised there was no way I was ever going to be able to use a twin needle with it. Given that I have a list of about twenty things I want to make in knit fabrics, I thought it might be time to move into the modern age.

There are so many options on the market it was hard to choose, but I knew I didn’t need a squillion fancy stitches or lots of quilting features. In fact I really just wanted my old machine with a couple more features and some of the glitches ironed out. But the more I read about computerised machines, the more that seemed like the way to go for me, so I decided to push my budget as far as it would go.

I tested this one at the West End Sewing Centre in Cheltenham, putting it through its paces on things like sewing four layers of coating, attaching a lining and hemming jersey. It actually managed all of those just using the ordinary zigzag foot, and a regular needle, so I was sold.

Now the only problem is working out which foot is which – there are so many!

Only one of these wasn't included with the machine. Bonus points if you can guess which!
Only one of these wasn’t included with the machine. Bonus points if you can guess which!

My sewing machine

My 1950s Singer 201k - raring to go
My 1950s Singer 201k – raring to go

 

I’d like you to meet my sewing machine. She’s a Singer 201k and I think she dates from the late 1950s.

I was given this machine by my Mum, who was given it by her mother. My Grannie was a keen dressmaker and this was a gift to her from my Grandpa and my great-grandmother in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I think they did a lot of saving up to buy this.

It was her pride and joy for fifteen years, when she upgraded to a newer machine with more stitches, but she always said what a good machine this was and how she missed its simplicity.

She was right. It may be a straight stitch only machine but it’s sturdy, hard-working and reliable. Everything’s mechanical, so if something goes wrong you can have a go at fixing it yourself. It can handle any fabric from chiffon to denim without complaining.

Over the last five years I’ve collected lots of attachments at flea fairs and through eBay and enthusiast sites: a buttonholer, a range of feet and even an automatic zigzagger (although I have yet to get that one working…). I love using it, but every now and then I do crave a machine that’s lighter, has a free arm, and does a zigzag stitch at the flick of a switch.

I’m tempted to get another machine at intervals, but I’m not sure I could part with this one.

I’m starting to feel as though she deserves a name. Perhaps Faith – which was also my Grannie’s name.