Turn Your Home Sewing Machine Into a Commercial Workhorse

Turn Your Home Sewing Machine Into a Commercial Workhorse

First of all, notice my aqua Singer, circa 1970's, that I found a couple of months ago at the Salvation Army Superstore for $10.00. Serviced and cleaned up, it's one of my favorites. Now, on to the matter at hand; one drawback to sewing home furnishings with a lightweight machine is that it's difficult to get the durability you need from plain old All Purpose thread. What you really need to get the job done right is a true commercial machine that will accept upholstery weight thread. Sewing machines designed for home use, especially inexpensive new machines, aren't set up to handle upholstery weight thread. However, there is a trick I learned from a talented costume seamstress/Hancock Fabric Assistant Manager. Here's what you can do to get strong durable seams and professional looking topstitching using your home machine.

1. Thread the top of the machine with upholstery weight thread and use All Purpose thread in the bobbin

2.  Use a heavy duty needle in the machine. I use either a needle made for denim/jeans or leather. The eye is larger so it won't fray the upholstery thread

Check out the difference that heavier thread makes on this canvas topstitching.

1/2" seam allowance on a canvas strip

created at: 05/05/2010

Topstitching with All Purpose thread in both the top and the bobbin

created at: 05/05/2010

Upholstery weight thread in the top and All Purpose thread in the bobbin

created at: 05/05/2010

I didn't even change the tension on my machine. This may not work on all home sewing machines but it's worth a try if you need to do heavy weight sewing.

One other obstacle to sewing heavy weight upholstery fabric on a home machine is that the presser foot only raises so far. Depending on how thick your fabric is, it can be impossible to get double and triple layers of heavy upholstery fabric to move through the machine.



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Some random guy on May 09, 2014:

I will take the unpopular side of this discussion and suggest that a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link.  If you are creating stitches with heavy on top and all-pupose on the bottom, you will still only have an all-pupose strength of stitch.  Think about it . . . if you tie a powerful dog to your porch using two pieces of twine, eventually he will break the twine.  If you do the same thing and tie a piece of twine to a piece of nautical rope, eventually he will still break the twine.  The rope does not make the knot stronger.  It just provides an unyielding point of resistance, against which the weaker material will still break. 

My suggestion if attempting to do heavy work on a home machine (modern or vintage), is to use the same thread top and bottom.  Adjust tensions if necessary.  And at some point depending on the thickness/density of your fabric, and/or the thickness/weight of your thread, you many just have to concede that your machine can't handle it.  However, in my experience, making proper adjustments, using balanced threads, using a NEW heavy duty needle, and using careful technique feeding the material through, most home machines are far more capable than what we often presume. 

Leroy on Feb 01, 2014:

What machines are you using? does anyone use the Singer 401, for this kind of work?

Anonymous on Dec 23, 2013:

Can someone recommend a good machine that could do some upholstery (not often, but enough to make new cushions for outdoor furniture that I'll be selling at garage sales, etc) and embroidery?

Bobby.Chicago on Jun 17, 2013:

To add to Tricia Rose's great advice- This only applies to sewing unseen seams. It doesn't apply to top stiching for a decorative effect. Heavy weight thread on top with something lighter in the bobbin works great when used along with a heavy duty, large eyed, denim/leather needle. The second run through Tricia mentioned does make it stronger. However, if you flip your fabric for the second trip it adds even more strength because now you have the same strength on both sides. Also, if you want to try using heavy weight thread in the bobbin, and some home use machines can handle it, just pay better attention when preparing your bobbin. If you add extra tension to keep it as tight as possible it can reduce the risks of a problem. The main problem most people have with heavy weight thread on a bobbin is a result of the thread being to loose because it is so thick. I hope this is helpful. My family has been in the upholstery, drapery, and furniture business since 1933. My mother and grandmother did all their work on home model machines until the early 70's when they finally bought an industrial walking foot Consew machine. But to this day, my mother does most work on her home models and I do almost all upholstery on the Consew. However I still use home models on occasion. Most can handle it. Yeah,they have issues. But if you just sew for yourself you can get through them. It just takes a little extra attention and time. If you are tired of trying to get it to work you don't have to buy an industrial machine. SINGER makes two excellent heavy duty home models that sell for around $200. I have one and use it often. Plus, it even works great on any light weight projects too. And no, I don't work for Singer.

anonymous on May 10, 2012:

Thanks so much!  You just prevented from completely giving up on a project that I am halfway through.  :)

ModHomeEcTeacher on May 05, 2010:

That's right Amy. Thanks for reminding me.

Amy on May 05, 2010:

To sew thick layers you can try dropping the feed dog if you are good at pacing the speed of movement of the fabric under the needle.  It takes a little practice and it's not something I would want to do for a long seam, but for short sections it's doable.

ModHomeEcTeacher on May 05, 2010:

I agree. But my thought is that at least one side of the chain is strong. Sewing twice is obviously the best solution. The upholstery thread makes me feel secure.

Tricia Rose on May 05, 2010:

Congratulations on your sturdy little Singer!   I truly believe the old machines are better engineered than some of the newer ones - it's like the difference between driving a reliable old good car, and a clunker.

I sew from home too, and yes without a professional machine it is hard to sew heavy duty fabrics, but I don't see how using upholstery thread on one side only is going to make your sewing all that much stronger.  Maybe it will help with stretching but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if the bottom thread snaps with use, your seam is compromised.  It does give a handsome top stitch though.

For safely if I need a seam to be very strong, I sew it twice.  It's a pain, but my old granny is looking down from heaven telling me it's worth the effort.

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