Tactical home sewing

Other provisions not covered above that may make survival easier if your life is tossed out of the norm. This section is for discussing everything from arc welders to underwear.

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Tactical home sewing

Post by Politenessman » Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:19 am

I thought it was time I gave something back after all of the information I have pulled from here over the years so I figured I would write a little about something I know a little about and that is sewing. Let me start by saying that I am totally self taught, so sometimes my grasp of terminology can be a little tenuous, and I may miss a technique here or there that others are aware of and I am not, so feel free to chime in if you think I have missed something (I know I am not the only stitcher on this forum).

The focus of this is on the home sewing machine. Usually for tactical equipment, one requires an industrial machine, but for most of us, we really don't have access to or the funding for an industrial machine when we start out and frankly, if you only need a couple of pieces, why get one? So what I am going to attempt to do here is to condense 5 years of trial and error into a short piece about what works and what doesn't when using a home machine to make your own gear. What I am not going to do is discuss lace, doilies, how to make pants or Christmas vests, just to be clear.

So where to start? Most of us have a project or two that we would like to work on, be it a chest rig, magazine pouch, EDC pouch (which is where I started) or simply lengthening (or shortening) a bag strap. So, go dig out your mothers sewing machine and lets have a look at it.

This is what I started with, it is an old White sewing machine that the wife purchased from Wal-mart about 25 years ago, and I still use it from time to time depending on what I am doing.

Image
Not my photo but one from the web, but this is exactly the machine I used for years.

If you want to get more in depth than I will here, I can recommend the complete idiots guide to sewing.

Your sewing machine


I know it goes against the grain, when you dig out the machine, see if the manual is there with it. Now, go read it. This is important because, the first thing you need to be able to do is thread the machine. Now I am not going to get into machine specifics because there are a large number of machines out there and they are all different, however, they all have a couple of things in common:

1. A place to put the lower bobbin
2. A place to put the thread spool
3. A pedal
4. A lever or button (or both) to lower and raise the needle.

Most home machines also have a stitch selector and adjustment, as well as some form of tension adjustment. In the next posts I'll discuss needles and threads, how to set the machine up, how to design your gear, and how to design around the limitations of your machine. I will also list places to get supplies, and show you some of the tools I use.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by TacAir » Tue Apr 19, 2011 1:30 pm

I'm bookmarking this thread, could be interesting.

Just for fun, I have found manuals on-line for machines (*real Singers) built as long ago as the 1890s....

Thanks for starting he thread.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Politenessman » Tue Apr 19, 2011 2:52 pm

Needles
=======

There is no order to these posts, each one can be taken stand alone. I had a good think about the order in which to do this; thread first then needles, or material first and I realised that it really doesn't matter so here goes with needle and thread.

Lets look at needles first.
I am sure, when you pulled your machine out of storage, there was a needle in it and no doubt a pack of needles nearby. Chances are, these are not the needles you are looking for. There are three factors regarding needle choice that we need to look at; needle size, thread hole size and needle point shape.

Needle size

We are going to be using mostly heavy materials like Cordura and we will certainly be using webbing, so heavier needles will be required, as smaller needles just won't punch through this density of material. There is a number system to needles, and we are interested in #80 to #100 needles, or jeans needles. These are the heavy end of the home sewing machine needles.

Thread hole size.
But, as they say, size isn't everything, there are other factors to consider. The hole the thread runs through comes in different sizes also. For home machines, the jeans needle has a small hole, made for ordinary or dual purpose thread. If you are using a heavier thread, like upholstery thread, you need the larger hole, because the larger thread will bind in a standard jeans needle, causing problems. A heavy duty needle with a larger thread hole is called a TopStitch needle, so use this type for heavier thread.

And now the third factor for needle choice, the point.
There are a number of different point configurations for needles. Often there will be a code or some text showing you what point the needle has. The usual suspects are sharp, universal, round and leather. The sharp is what we need for Cordura and webbing, the universal will work but it isn't as good. The round is terrible as it is made for knits, and pushes the threads aside, rather than punching through and while the leather needle may seem like a good idea, after all it is very sharp, it creates too large a hole (often V shaped), making the stitching loose and ineffective.

A good Needle primer here

Bottom line is this:
Get sharp pointed needles
Size 80 - 100
Jeans or Topstitch (depending on thread selection)

Don't get cheap needles, especially when using heavier fabrics on a home machine. The machine needs all the help it can get to punch through the layers of heavy fabric, so spend a little more and get good needles.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Politenessman » Mon May 30, 2011 9:00 am

Thread
Using the wrong thread can cause all sorts of problem, but getting the right thread can be tricky. Ideally, you should be using bonded nylon #69. This is the minimal thread size for tactical gear, and is typically what most off the shelf gear uses. For belts and other products with higher loads, larger threads are used. Now, for a home machine, #69 is about the largest thread they can handle, and in fact many machines cannot handle thread that sized. The other consideration here is cost. You can't really buy a small 200yd bobbin of #69 bonded nylon in coyote at your local sewing store, and online sellers generally sell this thread by the pound, making your thread purchase ~$20!

So what would be a good compromise? Go for a polyester upholstery thread or polyester heavy duty thread. Most of the time, these will work in a home machine, with a little adjustment. Most places stock Coates and Clark Dual Duty XP (general purpose or heavy) - this is ok if you can't find anything else, but if you can find Gutermann Sew All thread, use that instead - the quality is much better. Do not use Rayon, ordinary Nylon (mono-filament), cotton or decorative threads as these will deteriorate in adverse conditions. Polyester threads have much better UV resistance, and shouldn't be effected by water and cold or heat.

So we have our machine, some new sharp needles, and some thread - onto the next step!
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Politenessman » Mon May 30, 2011 9:18 am

Setting up your machine.
Put one of those new shiny needles in the machine, wind a couple of lower bobbins with your new thread, get the machine threaded (read the manual!) and you are ready to play!

Take a small square of fabric, about a 4" sqr will work. Set your machine to a straight stitch, 2-3mm stitch length and just run slowly across the fabric, laying down a (fairly) straight stitch line. How does that look?

What you are looking to end up with is a stitch that has good tension, and looks the same on the top of the fabric as it does on the bottom. If this is what you have, then your tension is good. If you don't have this, it is time to start playing with the tension adjustment. If you have a total birds nest, well, that might take a while to sort out.

A couple of tips that will help:
1. When starting to sew, I always hold the loose thread ends to stop them getting pulled back under the fabric and making a birds nest. Most people will tell you that you don't need to do this, the presser foot will hold the threads, and this is true when sewing lightweight and flat fabrics, but when you start sewing webbing, Cordura or canvas, I don't like to rely on the presser foot - I'd rather hold the threads, just to make sure.

2. There are two tension adjusters. The primary adjustment is the dial on the machine, and this is usually where all of your adjustments are done, however there is also a lower thread tension adjustment. It is in the form of a very small screw on the bobbin case, and can only be adjusted with a screw driver. Don't mess with this unless you know for sure that it is the lower tension that needs to be adjusted.

For example, when sewing several layers of Cordura and a layer or two of webbing, on my home machine I have the tension dialed to max, and the bobbing case tension also close to max. This is the only way (with my home machine) that I can get consistent thread quality, when using medium weight threads, with that much fabric. Your mileage will definitely vary, so be prepared to play with this, a lot.

Another little trick I used was to have a couple of bobbin cases. One had standard tension for ordinary sewing, the other was set up for heavy duty sewing as the tensions were very different. This meant that I did not have to keep messing with the lower tension. It is always good to have a few spare parts for your machine anyway. I keep spare belts, presser feet, throat plates, bobbin cases and bulbs handy, just in case.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Gun_Nut_2k1 » Thu Jun 02, 2011 1:23 am

You know it is not considered "cool" for a guy to sew but I have been doing it for years. Heck I remember making Doll clothes with my cousin. No you bastards I did not have a Doll! :wink: I have a Singer machine that does my Light sewing and a Cowboy that does my Heavy stitching. I can sew up to 1/2 inch of armor grade leather. In fact I have yet to find a material, that can fit under the Foot, I cannot sew. So when I say learn to stitch by hand before you get a machine you know I speak from a little experience. No machine is going to be with you after a PAW, but you will have a needle and thread. Well that is if you are at all prepared. I like the thread BTW. Pun intended of course! 8)
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by mough » Thu Jun 02, 2011 3:17 am

Its like pulling teeth to get my wife to fix any of my clothes. I tried to hem my pants once which was an epic failure. On the plus side, I learned how to do quick sutures. :( :(

It is definately a handy skill to learn though and would like to give it another shot

What do you think about using spiderwire as thread? It is pretty heavy duty stuff.

Do they still make those old school foot powered machines? that could be a godsend in the PAW

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by KnightoftheRoc » Thu Jun 02, 2011 3:59 am

I don't think they still MAKE the pedal powered Singer machines, but they're still around, and available. Pricey, sometimes, but worth looking for, as the pedal system CAN be powered with a motor (110 OR 220 volt), and swapped back to pedal power pretty easily. I worked as a (pretty much self taught) sewing machine mechanic as part of my job for a rehab facility, once. I learned quite a bit there.

I'd like to see folks with more experience than my own weighing in on things like what types of machines, or features on a machine to look for. For instance, strapping is a big part of most tactical gear, in one way or another- would you suggest a bar tack machine, or go with a "home" machine that has a bar tack stitch feature? Can a buttonhole stitch be used AS a bar tack (not making the actual hole, of course)? Among the "pros", who likes what brands?

I've gotten several sewing machines given to me over the years, and most have been less than impressive. I fully admit that my own ignorance is most likely the problem in each case, but without being sure, it's hard to know what to keep and what to toss, on the machines, and I'm starting to get quite a pile building up.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by the_alias » Thu Jun 02, 2011 4:13 am

Politenessman - good to see a face that welcomed me back when I signed up!

Great thread - I was just looking into this!
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by FrANkNstEin » Thu Jun 02, 2011 5:55 am

Nice Thread!

Granny still had her old pedal powered Singer in the 1990´s when she died, i don´t know who snatched it up after her dead. I´z gotta find out, i KNOW it´s not been thrown away, afaik my cousin has the machine now. I gotta ask her next time she´s around.

On topic: i can sew pretty well by hand but lack experience with machines. I learned it a bit once when i was 8 or so but haven´t done it in a long time. But lately, i was thinking about sewing some pouches for various guns. Not for mags but for loose ammo and other odds and ends. I can´t find anything that fits my needs in stores, it´s either crappy stuff that looks like it´ll fall apart when you glance at it sideways, or it´s geared toward High Power Hunting rifles with huge bullet loops and too small a pouch if there´s one at all...

So i gotta do it myself.

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Gingerbread Man » Thu Jun 02, 2011 6:39 am

Nice thread! :lol: :|

On my wifes side of the family has a long line of folks that sew. Her grandfather would make shoes by tailored to peoples feet. Her father and mother can make all kinds of stuff by hand and do. I don't think their house has a drape, pillow cover of blanket that isn't sewn. They have about 8 antique foot powered sewing machines. They still use them.

My wife has taken up the torch. She's made bed covers, drapes and she's now under taken some chairs.

Tagged for very cool home sewn coolness.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by sturmotter » Thu Jun 02, 2011 6:53 am

KnightoftheRoc wrote:would you suggest a bar tack machine, or go with a "home" machine that has a bar tack stitch feature? Can a buttonhole stitch be used AS a bar tack (not making the actual hole, of course)? Among the "pros", who likes what brands
You can make a bar tack stitch by stitching a straight stitch first - maybe a triple stitch if your machine has it and you want to be real hardcore - then going over it a couple of times with a tight zig zag without cutting the thread in between.

My machine is a Singer heavy duty mechanical home machine - not up to industrial-strength tasks such as sewing through two layers of Cordura, single layer of webbing and a layer of 10mm padding, as I found out - but adequate for most purposes: I've taken apart my ALICE ruck and resewn it back together after making some customization, and that's gone without a hitch.

As for thread, I think that it is quite possible to use a thinner thread and yet achieve the same strength as typical off-the-shelf gear when using the typical 2-3 mm stitch length: most commercial gear seems to use a longer stitch than you would use on a home machine (probably because it takes less thread and less time = cheaper) so even if they use a thicker thread, it's not necessarily any stronger. I use either the heavier Gütermann threads or Coats Nylbond, and have had no problems (with some commercial gear that I've taken apart, resewn and taken apart again, I'd say that the rebuild has sometimes been much stronger than the original).

There also a handy sewing tool for your repairs box or BOB pack made by Stewart Mfg.; a sewing awl that can make a kind of a manual lockstitch, which becomes handy out in the wilds if you ever have to repair your pack, shoes or anything else a normal needle can't handle. Also good for sewing heavy leather.

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by yellowbrand00 » Thu Jun 02, 2011 8:47 am

mough wrote:Its like pulling teeth to get my wife to fix any of my clothes. I tried to hem my pants once which was an epic failure. On the plus side, I learned how to do quick sutures. :( :(

It is definately a handy skill to learn though and would like to give it another shot

What do you think about using spiderwire as thread? It is pretty heavy duty stuff.

Do they still make those old school foot powered machines? that could be a godsend in the PAW
This is fishing line, right? I have found fishing line to be too slippery. You can sew with it but when it breaks, it slips right out of your seam, hem, what have you. Also, since it is particularly strong, you don't want to be tripping over it or catching it on something. When I was learning SCUBA we were taught the danger of fishing line. Maybe I am biased.

ETA: This is why a good quality, standard thread (appropriate for your material) is good. When it breaks, it will generally stay put until I have a chance to mend. I am imagining all the hems I have repaired because boot-cut pants look good with heels. One thing I won't worry about in the PAW.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Politenessman » Thu Jun 02, 2011 8:53 am

Fishing line is very bad for sewing with, for a number of reasons.
It doesn't take heat well, and can be attacked by cleaning solvents, weakening your product.

Bonded nylon = good (designed for sewing)
Fishing line = bad.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by mough » Thu Jun 02, 2011 11:35 pm

Yeah, spyderwire is a brand of braided fishing line. Its 50lb test but has the thickness of 8lb test.

Do you know how strong good nylon thread is?

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by yellowbrand00 » Fri Jun 03, 2011 2:51 am

I found this information: http://www.thethreadexchange.com/miva/m ... nformation

From the above link: "Lets put nylon thread's strength in perspective. A middleweight (Size 92) nylon has a tensile strength of about 15 pounds. At that strength there are very few people who can break it just by pulling. Commonly used threads such as polypropylene, spun polyester, acrylic thread, and cotton have tensile strengths ranging from 4 to 10 pounds. Kevlar is the exception with a 35 pound tensile strength. But, it costs $130.00 a pound compared to $19.00 to $22.00 a pound for nylon"

"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." It seems to me that maintenance of your gear would prevent most unexpected failure and sometimes, seam failure is a good thing if it is the only thing between you and getting away. Of course, you might end up with a mismatched sleeve :)

I feel like I should include YMMV with every post.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by KnightoftheRoc » Fri Jun 03, 2011 4:15 am

yellowbrand00 wrote: I feel like I should include YMMV with every post.
Yeah, it's something that should be assumed, but- since it never seems to be, here's a new sig line for you:
"If you believe that dreams can come true be prepared for the occasional nightmare." - Unknown
YMMV- Your Mileage May Vary
Now you CAN have it in every post! :D
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by basm » Fri Jun 03, 2011 8:34 am

Cool thread! I wish I had a machine. I am stuck with hand sewing right now.

I found this, might be useful: How to machine sew molle patterns. He has some other how-to on his site also.

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by FrANkNstEin » Fri Jun 03, 2011 9:20 am

Good find basm, i added it to my favourites for later study!

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by BAGHDADY » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:39 pm

Im glad to see I am not the only one who does this. I have been a member of the DIY Tactical community (DIY Tactical Forum) for about two years now. I burned out my wifes machine, then got a small commercial machine, then finally got my industrial TAC SEW model. I have 21 different colors of 1000 Denier nylon cordura. 3-20 yards of each. Everything from Multicam and A-TACS to coyote and AOR1. If I can figure out how to post pics on here I can show you what I do. Most of it is special requests from soldier friends who need stuff repaired or made to fit their personal load-out. I do a lot of tearing apart of usable gear to see whats inside and why it was made or sewn that way. Did you know an IBA has leather init? I use hard and soft armor as well. Its a bitch to cut even with Kevlar sheers, but its necessary to make your own CRYE CAGE armor. I just did a 3D Multicam rifle bag, a spotter stool and I am now working on a new designed medium rucksack in A-TACS. Thanks Polite for posting this. We should talk...

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Chris@MTCT » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:50 pm

tagged.
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by BAGHDADY » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:53 pm

Someone please tell me how to add pics to my replies....

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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Chris@MTCT » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:59 pm

BAGHDADY wrote:Someone please tell me how to add pics to my replies....
upload the photos to photobucket or another image hosting site. then use the IMG linky copy paste and bam! photos
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Re: Tactical home sewing

Post by Crimson Phoenix » Fri Jun 10, 2011 4:29 am

Firstly, another huge advantage to going through the included instruction manual, at least by what I saw from my friend's Brother sewing machine, is that it includes not just a primer on the parts and setup for your machine, but also what all the different stitches are for and how they're set. In said manual, it even gave a list as to what thread to use for what material or use and how to do button holes, bartacks, and some very simple embroidery, though that had a lot to do with skill, practice, and patience in the days before computerized machines.

And secondly, since I feel they go together, I'm gonna pull a shameless plug and dust off my old DIY sewing topic which has a lot of useful links to websites for materials from cordura to straps, cordage, plastic hardware, and thread. If I remember right, other members started some discussion about their own projects they have done. Sadly, the projects I've discussed, I've yet to get started on beyond buying up supplies. Honestly, I think we need to combine the info from these two threads, and others and make a stickied sewing and materials topic with maybe some sort of step by step how to with a pattern for something we can all learn on for those interested. I figure the easiest thing to start with would be if someone's willing to take photos and put up a pattern as they make a 2x M16/M4/AR15 mag pouch or some sort of general purpose/first aid pouch in MOLLE or the like. Would anybody else be interested in getting behind such a thread/project?

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