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Sewing machine repair: Hook timing

Hook timing is a fairly common problem that sends many sewers running to the repair shop. When it happened the first time on my older Kenmore, I decided to try to repair it myself first. My thinking was, since it’s a mechanical machine with mostly metal parts, as long as I was careful, I couldn’t really hurt anything. I probably would have thought twice before attempting it on a computerized machine.

All machines are a little different, so what worked on mine may not work on yours. Something I recommend to everyone who wants to work on their own sewing machine, is getting a copy of the service manual. Honestly, I still need to do this. There’s tons of info online, but having the actual service manual is even better. You should have an owner’s manual on hand, too. It  covers basic care and maintenance. For repairs, though, the service manual will give you technical instructions and confidence. 

Hook Timing?

Before taking things apart, determine if hook timing is causing the problem. If the needle (top) thread isn’t picking up the bobbin (bottom) thread, hook timing is a prime suspect. It’s always a good idea to rule out simple problems first, though. Try swapping the needle, rethread the machine and sew on some scrap fabric. If it’s been a while since you’ve dusted the lint out of the bobbin case or you’ve been sewing on linty material, give it a good cleaning.

Once you’ve tried the easy fixes, if it still isn’t working right, look at how the needle and the bobbin hook intersect. This page, https://tv-sewingcenter.com/general/sewing-machine-timing-hook-timing, has illustrations, photos and descriptions for where they should meet on both rotary and oscillating machines. 

Taking a look at my oscillating hook.

My machine is an oscillating machine, so the hook tip should pass just above the eye of the needle. Mine was passing below the needle’s eye, so clearly the hook timing needed adjustment.

Open it up

The first and honestly the hardest step was figuring out where all the screws were that I needed to remove to take off the casing. (Actually, the first step was to turn off and unplug the machine. If you’re attempting this at home, do not skip this step!) On my Kenmore, I have to take off the side by the hand wheel, a plate on the bottom, and the front panel. 

More cleaning

While I have my machine open, I like to take the opportunity to clean it out and oil it. Oiling a linty machine, using the wrong oil or putting it in the wrong places can cause tons of problems, though, so if you’re not sure, stick to dusting only.

Find and adjust

Next, I tilted the machine on to it’s back so I could get a good look at the mechanism that rotates the hook. Once I had isolated that, I found a hex head set screw. Loosening that allowed me to gently adjust the hook position so that the tip passed just above the needle’s eye.

About in the middle, just above the motor is a silver piece with a round, black screw near the top. That is the set screw I loosened to adjust the hook timing.

When I was sure I had it properly positioned, I tightened the set screw. I turned the hand wheel a few more times, making sure everything still looked good before I put the casing back. A quick test run showed everything was working properly again.

Done!

It’s so satisfying to be able to make simple repairs to my machines myself, especially when most repair shops start around $75 and go up from there, depending on what needs to be done. 


Hook timing
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Attempting DIY Fashion

Lately Christopher and I have been talking a lot about fashion. It started as a discussion about not being able to find comfortable clothes and how hard it is to find clothing that goes against the trends. Being crafty, we explored making our own clothing. The cost of fabric, supplies, time it takes to cut and sew all highlighted how impossible it is to produce clothing ethically at the low prices charged for much ready-to-wear clothing. That doesn’t even take into account the raw materials that are used to make the fabric and problems with content, pesticides, sustainability, etc.

At the same time, like many, our budget, doesn’t allow us to spend a ton on clothes. We try to make the most of our clothing budget guilt-free by shopping thrift stores and second hand shops. That way we aren’t adding to the problem by purchasing new. Most thrift shops are charity-based, so our purchases help others. We often find better quality items than what we would otherwise be able to afford this way, too.

With thrift shopping, you’re not as limited by trends. If you’re looking for something in particular, unless it’s a common item, you’re still likely to come up empty handed. That has been our problem when it comes to comfortable men’s and boy’s pants. Both Finn and Christopher would prefer something a little roomier, like karate gi pants. Unfortunately, nothing like that has been in fashion since M.C. Hammer. That means it’s time to put my sewing machines to use.

Making a pattern from shorts

This summer, I started by trying to copy a pair of the cotton knit gym shorts they practically lived in, adding a gusset for comfort and mobility. I used to buy bulk bags of t-shirts from Thrift Town before they closed, so instead of using new fabric, I used some XL t-shirts I had on hand. That way, if things went horribly wrong I wouldn’t feel as bad.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember seeing this photo with some enticing caption like, “Working on a new project!” Then, nothing else was said. Sorry.

I have zero experience with pattern making, so this was a learning experience. Here’s a brief overview of how I did it.

I laid the shorts inside out and folded in half, front to the inside, smoothing them as flat as possible. Then I traced them, adding about an inch all around. The inch is for seam allowance and to account for the fact that it’s impossible to get finished shorts to lay flat. I always err on the side of too big, because that is much easier to fix.

At the waistband, I measured the waistband and extended the pattern by that amount plus seam allowance above the waistband. This allows it to be folded down for elastic and a drawstring casing. At the hem, I extended the lines two times the width of the hem to allow enough fabric to fold and hem. On the pattern, I drew lines straight across to show where the finished hem and waistband hit on the original shorts for reference.

Then I folded them in half , backs to the inside and repeated the above steps since the back is cut differently than the front.

Drafting the gusset

For the gusset, I drew kind of a triangle with the top point cut off. To do this evenly, I folded a piece of paper in half, drew a half inch line perpendicular to the fold, moved over about four inches and drew another perpendicular line measuring one and a half inches. Then I drew a straight line connecting the tops of the lines.  I cut along the lines and opened it up to get my gusset pattern. Sewing the gusset in with the wider part at the crotch seam and using a half inch seam allowance results the gusset tapering down to a point.

Shorts to pants

Shorts work for summer, but I needed to come up with a pants pattern for fall and winter. Chris suggested just making the shorts pattern longer, so I did by measuring the waist to floor measurement and extending my pattern the needed amount, including seam allowances.

I did this by taping the bottom of the pattern to a big piece of paper, sketching out the needed length and side seams and cutting it out.

Final Result

My pattern isn’t perfect. I think I’ve tweaked it each time I’ve used it. Since the pants are made to be loose and flowy it hides the imperfections.

These are my first attempt. I made them with a linen blend, elastic and drawstring combo waistband and no pockets. I added side-seam pockets later.

My goal is to find or draft a few more basic, customizable patterns for pants and shirts that can be made in linen or a similar material. Then I can buy a bulk amount of undyed fabric and dye it as needed.

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Easy fix for worn out denim jeans

I have a pair of denim blue jeans that are still in good shape except for where my thighs touch. There they are really worn on one side and there is a hole on the other. Because of where the hole was located, I wasn’t comfortable even wearing them around the house, so I decided to try a simple fix.

First, I ironed lightweight fusible interfacing on the inside of the worn areas, making sure to completely cover all the worn out spots with the interfacing.

Once it was fused and cooled down, I turned them right side out. Using a narrow zig-zag, I stitched back and forth over the hole and worn areas. This serves to secure the interfacing and add strength.

If you can, drop or cover the feed dogs on your sewing machine in order to be able to move the jeans freely under the needle. The machine I used doesn’t have a way to drop them and I don’t have the special foot plate to cover them. Instead, I used a combination of repositioning and forward and reverse stitching to make it work.

Depending on the location, you could use contrasting thread and decorative stitches to turn the repair into an embellishment.

I also have a pair of jeans I love, but they needed a button sewn back on. They were also always a little short, so I replaced the button and let out the hem while watching TV one evening. These are heavier denim, so it will be another month or two before I can wear them much, but at least they are ready.

Buttons!

These have an obvious line where the hem used to be, but they’re cute so I don’t care.

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A Tale of Two Suburbans

Our family of five people, two dogs, one cat and a chicken is in need of something larger than our car. Sure, it’s fine for everyday driving, but for long trips or anytime even one of our pets needs to come along, things get a bit…snug.

This guy takes up a lot of room.

So, we bought this at an auction:

The Zombie truck.

It’s a little rough, but it runs and can haul people, pets and supplies from Home Depot. It’s missing the third row seat and needs a few other parts to be perfect. Instead of buying them piece by piece, we found a parts donor for it for less than the parts would be individually. The problem with that is, minus needing a paint job, the donor is in excellent shape. The interior is spotless, and the transmission was recently rebuilt. It just won’t start.

Beckett approves of Suburban number two.

Because Suburban number two was obviously well cared for, we’re attempting to diagnose the problem and repair it. That would allow us to retire my car completely. Which is good, because, as of yesterday it’s broken down in my driveway. Luckily it’s not too difficult of a problem to fix this time. It’s more expensive to maintain, though, and I’m not so sure a major repair isn’t in it’s near future.

Replacing ground wires on Suburban number two.

Our first attempt at troubleshooting involved replacing the ground wires. We had high hopes, since a faulty ground left us stranded in a previous Chevy truck, and it’s one of those easy to overlook problems. Alas, either that’s not it or my mechanic skills aren’t up to par. Luckily we have a few more relatively simple fixes to try before we get to the hard stuff.

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Quick Ironing Board Cover

My ironing board cover has seen better days. It’s not worn, but it has a few scorch marks and B thought it was a good idea to stamp it a few times with my thank-you stamp. Since it is always visible in my craft room, I wanted something more pleasant to look at, so I decided to make it a shiny new cover.

Eww.

I went with supplies I had on hand and used the ironing board itself to measure, so I don’t have exact measurements. You should be able to adapt from what I did easily, though. Keep in mind that this is just a cover and not the padding. I put mine on right over the old one. If you want to replace everything, you’ll have to find a replacement for the pad, too. (Layers of quilt batting and topped with Insul-brite maybe?)

Supplies:

Enough fabric to go over the top of your ironing board with about a 3 inch overhang on all sides.

Extra-wide double fold bias tape or blanket binding (2-3 packages)

Thin elastic. The bias tape or binding serves as a casing for the elastic, so make sure to choose an elastic thin enough to be threaded through easily.  Mine is 1/4 inch elastic.

Thread.

How to:

Cut the fabric with a 3-ish inch overhang. The easiest way to do this is to put the fabric on the floor, then the ironing board upside down on top and cut around it, eyeballing the overhang.

For this tutorial the pointy curved end is the top, the short, straight end is the bottom and the long edges are the sides. There’s going to be a gap in the bias tape/binding at the bottom, so you will want to finish it some way. If you have a serger, just serge straight across the bottom. If not, you can either zig-zag stitch over that edge or fold over 1/4 inch twice and hem. It doesn’t have to be exact, just make sure when you cut initially that you account for the hem on that end if you go that route.

Find the middle point of the bottom edge. Measure about 1.5 inches on each side of the midpoint and mark. These are your starting and ending points for the casing.

Leaving the three inch space at the bottom open, sew the bias tape/ binding on being sure to enclose the edge of the fabric. Unless you have a really long strip of binding, you’ll probably need to piece the binding together. When you get a few inches from the end of one bias strip, stop sewing and join the new strip by opening the ends flat, overlapping and sewing across. Refold and continue sewing around the edge of the fabric. Stop when you reach the end point.

What happens when you don’t have enough blanket binding on hand? This. This is what happens.

Thread the elastic through the binding all the way around leaving several inches hanging loose at the beginning and end. This works best if you attach a safety pin securely to the leading end of the elastic to help guide it through.

Fit your new cover, pretty side up onto your board and pull the elastic snug.

Tie the elastic securely, trim the ends if necessary.

Admire your new cover.

Questions? Ask in the comments and help me expand on my clear-as-mud tutorial.