A Home Made Sewing Machine May Be The Only One

The sewing machine is a tool that many of us will have somewhere around our workshop. Concealed within it lies an intricate and fascinating mechanism. Some of us may have peered inside, but very few indeed of us will have gone to the effort of building our own. In case you had ever wondered whether it was possible, [Fraens] has done just that, with what he claims may be the only entirely homemade sewing machine on the Internet.

If you’ve ever studied the history of sewing machines you’ll notice that it bears a striking resemblance to some of the earliest commercial machines, with a relatively short reach and an entirely open construction. The main chassis appears to be laser-cut acrylic while all the fittings are 3D-printed, with machined brass bushes and aluminum rods for the other metal parts. The design utilizes a hand crank, but is also pictured with a DC motor. It makes for a fascinating illustration of how sewing machines work. Sadly we can’t see any design file links (Update: He’s contacted us to tell us they’re now on Thingiverse.), so you might have to be inventive if that’s the way you want to build your own. Take a look at it in the video below the break.

Fancy a sewing machine but don’t fancy making your own? We’ve got the guide for that, and for filling the rest of your textile bench.

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Industrial Sewing Machine: Acquired

Well, it’s done. After weeks of trawling Craigslist, an hour-long phone call with an intelligent stranger about a different machine that wasn’t going suit my needs, and a two-week delay while the seller and I waited out their unintentional COVID exposure, I am the proud new owner of a vintage Consew 206RB-3 industrial sewing machine.

So far, it is exactly what I wanted — at least a few decades old, in decent shape, built by a reputable maker, and it has a clutch motor that I can upgrade to a servo motor if I wish. I even like the color of the head, the table, and the little drawer hiding on the left side. Connie Consew is perfect!

Decidedly Not Portable

The internet was right — these things are heavy. According to the manual, the machine head alone weighs 25.5 kg (56 lbs). The motor probably weighs another 50-60 lbs. There’s a small wooden peg sticking up from the table that has the job of holding the head whenever it is tilted back for maintenance or bobbin changes. I’ll admit I didn’t trust the little peg at first, but it does a fine job of supporting all that weight on a single point of contact about an inch in diameter.

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What You Should Know Before Buying An Industrial Sewing Machine

I’ve been sewing off and on since I was a kid, and I really started to get into it about ten years ago. Even though I technically outgrew my little 3/4 size domestic machine pretty quickly, I kept using it because it always did whatever I asked it to. I even made my first backpack on it before deciding it was time for something bigger. Don’t ask me how I managed to not kill that machine, because I have no idea.

Left: a 3/4 size Janome 11706. Right: a full-size Singer Heavy Duty 4452.

Last year, I got a so-called heavy duty Singer that claims to have 50% more power than a standard domestic machine. This bad boy will make purses and backpacks with ease, I thought. And it does. Well, most of the time.

I found its limits when I tried to make a bag out of thick upholstery material. And honestly, when it comes down to finishing most bags — sewing the thickest and most difficult seams — the machine often lifts up from the table on the end opposite the needle.

What I really need is an industrial sewing machine. Not to replace the Singer at all, but to complement it. I can totally justify this purchase. Let me tell you why.

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Eric Strebel peeks through his Pfaff 463 industrial sewing machine.

Simple Upgrades Make An Old Industrial Sewing Machine New Again

Well, this is a pleasant surprise: it seems that industrial designer [Eric Strebel] recently got a hold of an industrial sewing machine to tackle the softer side of prototyping. What doesn’t surprise us is that he did some upgrades to make it more user-friendly. Check them out in the video embedded below.

So, what’s the difference between a machine like this and what you might have around the house? Domestic sewing machines have a motor about the size of your fist, and it’s inside the machine’s body. Modern domestics can do light-duty work, but they can’t handle making bags and upholstery or sewing a bunch of layers of any material together. Industrial machines have either clutch or servo motors that are easily five times the size of a domestic’s motor, and are built into the table along with the machine.

Pfaff 463 industrial sewing machine with its new brushless DC servo motor.[Eric] found this Pfaff 463 on Craigslist. It was built somewhere around 1950, and it only does one thing — a single-needle, straight stitch, forward or reverse — but it will do it through damn near anything you want (unlike those computerized hunks of plastic made for home use nowadays). Again, these machines are always built into a table, and they come with a lamp.  While the machine itself may be a workhorse, the light is wimpy, so [Eric] replaced it with a goose-neck LED light that has a magnet for sticking it anywhere light is required around the machine.

No matter the size, electric sewing machines are driven with a foot pedal. On a domestic, the pedal is loose and you just put it on the floor wherever you want, but industrial foot pedals are built into the table frame. [Eric] drilled a bunch of new holes in the side of the pedal so he can move the connecting rod closer to the pivot point. This gives him better control with less footwork.

The biggest, baddest upgrade [Eric] did was to the motor. Although there was nothing wrong with the original  clutch motor, it makes the machine go very fast so that garment workers can fulfill their quotas. Because of this, it’s difficult to control. He upgraded to a brushless DC servo motor for greater precision and easier prototyping. He got really lucky, too, because it mounted directly into the old holes.

We agree wholeheartedly with [Eric]’s sentiment about old sewing machines, or any old machine for that matter. They tend to be overbuilt because planned obsolescence wasn’t a thing yet. If you can’t afford or find an industrial, an old Singer or something similar will likely serve your purpose, as long as you use the right needle.

If you already have an old domestic machine sitting around, you might be able to breathe new life into it with a 3D printer.

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An array of 3D-printed parts for old sewing machines.

Printed Sewing Machine Parts Extend Singer’s Range

[Grow Your Own Clothes] had finally found their ideal sewing machine for doing zig-zag stitches (/\/\/\) and converting to a treadle drive (mechanically foot-fed) — a Singer 411G. This is a well-respected workhorse of a machine, and if you see one in a secondhand store, you might want to grab it. The only problem is that its multi-step zig-zag stitch is a 4-stepper and not a 3-step, which is what [GYOC] prefers. Having heard it was possible to hack them into doing a 3-step, [GYOC] set out to learn Tinkercad and grow their own sewing machine parts.

A 3D-printed cam lets this machine do the zig-zag in three steps instead of four.
The new zig-zag top hat cam in place.

So once upon a time, sewing machines didn’t just do a bunch of things out of the box. They needed an array of plastic cams to do different stitches, kind of like trading out the element or disk in a typewriter to print in italics. While most machines still have exchangeable feet for different needs and special parts for sewing things like buttonholes, most domestics now have decorative stitches and their cams built in.

The 3-step zig-zag cam was just the beginning. [GYOC] decided to make a few more parts before their Tinkercad knowledge faded: a needle adapter with an improved design, some tension stud sprockets for a different machine, and a couple of buttonhole templates for making different sizes with a buttonholer. Although they aren’t giving away the files for free, all of these parts are available quite cheaply in their Shapeways store.

Got an old machine you don’t know what to do with? Try converting it to a computerized embroidery machine.

Thanks for the tip, [Raphael]!

Curious Marc Takes On Sewing Machine Repair

Even the most talented engineers can be stymied by simple repair projects. In this case, repairing a broken sewing machine has [CuriousMarc] all tangled up.  [Marc] is probably best known as a part of the team who managed to restore and boot up an apollo guidance computer, but he’s worked with plenty of other vintage machines.

This problem hit much closer to home. [Marc’s] daughter wanted to sew a Halloween costume. The machine would boot up fine, but when attempting to sew, it would make a bit of noise, then beep and display “The safety device has been activated”. Not very helpful.

The sewing machine in question is called “Baby Lock Decorator’s Choice” and is manufactured by Brother for Juken. [Marc] of course dug in, and quickly found himself stymied by a clamshell case that just didn’t want to come apart. This is the point where many of us would apply just a little too much force when prying and be rewarded with a broken case.

[CuriuosMarc] is thankfully the more patient sort. Rather than become [FuriousMarc], he carefully persevered to find a hidden screw holding things together. The screw could only be accessed by inserting a screwdriver through a tiny access hole on the front chassis of the machine.
With the screw out, a couple of molded clips were all that held the case sides together. After popping them, [Marc] was finally able to fix the real problem: A toothed belt that had slipped off its cog. That’s it — just a loose belt. The cryptic error code most likely was due to the machine realizing it the motor was on, but the machine wasn’t moving – which would generally indicate something stuck or tangled in the thread path.

This type of repair would be much easier if service manuals were readily available. We did a quick search for this model but didn’t find anything freely available.

Have you gotten stuck by a simple repair? Tell us about it down in the comments.

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There Really Was A Sewing Machine Controlled By A Game Boy

These days, high-quality displays and powerful microcontrollers are cheap and plentiful. That wasn’t the case a couple of decades ago, and so engineers sometimes had to get creative. The result of this is products like the Jaguar nu.yell sewing machine, as covered by [Kelsey Lewin].

The later nuotto model was capable of more advanced embroidery patterns. A Mario character cartridge was sold, while a later Kirby edition was scrapped before release.

The Japanese market product eschewed the typical mechanical controls of the era, to instead interface with a Nintendo Game Boy. The sewing machine would hook up to the handheld console via the Link Port, while the user ran a special cartridge containing the control software. This would allow the user to select different stitch types, or embroider letters. Very much a product of its time, the nu yell mimics the then-cutting edge industrial design of the first-generation Apple iMac. The technology was later licensed to Singer, who brought it to the US under the name IZEK. Sales were poor, and the later Jaguar nuotto didn’t get a similar rebranding stateside.

Back in the late 90s, the Game Boy was likely an attractive package to engineers. Packing a Z80 processor, buttons, and a screen, it could act as a simple human interface in lieu of designing one from the ground up.  Aprilia even used them to diagnose motorbike ECUs, and we’ve seen Game Boy parts used in medical hardware from the era, too. Video after the break.

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