Busy and exciting pair of weeks.
Hello again, everyone. It's going to be an exciting week in Raleigh! Florence should be making landfall later this week and we've been prepping our shops for the onslaught of water and wind. We live midway down a hill in our neighborhood, so, we'll probably have moving water and a lot of wind. Our shops are pretty well made and very weather resistant.
Due to storm prep and storm cleanup, I am going to be closing up shop until about this time next week, likely. The storms earlier this year knocked down some branches and did some minor damage, which has been repaired, but with the massive panicking people around the area, I feel it's best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
I was going to be prepping some work with SPARKcon and my wife's show in fashionSPARK, but SPARKcon has been postponed and hasn't given an alternate date yet. There has also been some kerfuffle that I have stayed away from and don't know much about, but I will leave it at that. Suffice to say, there's been a lot of prep work for something that is no longer happening.
This ends the current update. Not much news, and nothing overly exciting going on in our lives. I am not excited about storm prep, but sometimes it needs to be done. Everyone out there, stay safe!
Welcome to Insanity, We Welcome You For Your Extended Stay.
The next few weeks are going to be quite busy as far as work and side jobs go. I have been getting a lot of dropped off machines of late to work in my shop in evenings, which is good! The downside is that I now will also be having to find room to schedule time to make 5 sets of vastly different metal wings for Dara's entry into fashionSPARK. There are some pictures of her drawings and videos of the models on her Instagram, the Haus Page Facebook page, and her Youtube Channel.
The entire event should be a blast, but it will be involving a lot of work and not much free time. I will likely post pictures of my part of the work in the meantime. She has yet to provide the materials for what she's looking for, but it will likely involve machining and/or welding as well as quite a variety of me dealing with artistry....which is never a good idea. Most of my creative enterprises are functional products based around solving a problem. I am a Form Follows Function type of person, but these will definitely have to be something of an artistic piece.
The full show, if you want to come, will be at fashionSPARK on 9/14 time will be after dark, so likely 8 or 9 PM.
Sorry for not putting up an entry last week!
So, the past few weeks have been ups and downs of jobs, and last week was quite a busy one so my weekly post was mostly forgotten... Whoops!
A lot of stuff is happening this week, and has happened even since Sunday. I found out yesterday that a good friend of mine from college passed away. It's apparently too soon to find out details of what happened, but I am wishing him well. His funeral is this weekend, and I will be attending. My mother describes her side of the family as the show "Six Feet Under," but with less story. Funeral home families are interesting.
ALSO, this weekend is my dad's 59th birthday! I blame him for a lot of my learning to tinker at a young age, so, he's probably a big part of the reason why I got into sewing machine repairs. He's also in IT, so, I can blame him for a lot of my side work dealing with network and phone equipment. Good job, Dad, look at the monster you helped create!
Moral of this story, you can really never escape your past, but you can use it to mold how you treat your future. Both of my parents instilled a want to learn new skill sets in their monster of a child, and that has pretty much stuck throughout my life.
Thank you, Mom and Dad!
I wasn't always a sewing machine mechanic, but I have always had a tendency to pick up new skillsets, especially in slow periods in my life. I can do several types of welding, I can build and manage network systems, I can blacksmith, the list can go on and on and on.
Recently one of my regular customers had me take a look at their network because they'd been having issues, which turned into a conversation about working on networks, etc, and now I have been asked to upgrade their network system and do some managing on it to make their systems work better, faster, and more stable.
I also do some work with gunsmithing. Nothing like boring a barrel, more like adding new barrels or swapping out parts. My most often gunsmithing customer says I have both "gorilla strength" and "finesse strength," and that's why he has me make adjustments. Granted, he also has me weld together shooting targets using half-inch steel plate.
I have worked in machine shops, wood shops, fabrication shops, IT departments, phone system repairs, museum archives, and just about everything in between. I don't meant to toot my own horn, but I like to be able to help people with projects. If you ever have an odd issue that I "may" know something about, please feel free to ask.
Some weeks are quieter than others.
Nothing new and exciting over the past week. The most exciting thing to happen? Cosplayer friends who went to Supercon contacting me with questions about how to modify part of their outfit or prop, or how to fix a break that happened either during transport or at the con itself.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer: Avoid hot glue. It's cheap and easy, but it will not hold effectively on something that is meant to be mobile. It's good for arts and crafts, but as far as parts of an outfit go or props? Not so much. Anything over an ounce or two will likely put more strain on the hot glue than it can handle once you add momentum/acceleration/deceleration to the mix. Otherwise known as starting and stopping motion. It will hold something in place that is stationary, but the shear forces will weaken its grip pretty quickly.
Back to the main topic, the joys of making/repairing costumes or outfits generally boils down to a few questions: What tools do I have at my disposal? How long does the repair need to last? Am I aiming for form or function? How much time do I have to make the repair? My cosplay repair kit almost always has a variety of high-strength cyanoacrylate (aka CA, the older, beefier brother to superglue), gaff tape, double-sided gaff tape, leather punch/stitch kit, zip ties, a power drill/driver, and some stainless steel screws with good grip in various sizes. Those tools/consumables will be able to get just about anything repaired as far as props go that you may need, and they can fit in a relatively small tool box.
For fabric repairs, it's always good to have an older model sewing machine around. They can go through light leather, medium weight vinyl, sheer fabric and normal fabric. Wonderful tools, and are almost always easier to fix a fabric/textile part of an outfit with a machine than by hand, especially in a time crunch. I always say to keep a leather punch/stitch kit, just because sometimes you're going to have to go through something rather heavy duty, likely in an awkward place, and more than likely made of thick foam or leather.
Almost everything will need something different, but this is a short list of quick fixes:
Broken prop - CA glue with a smidge of gaff to keep it in place until the CA sets. If it's something that you can repair from the "inside" use a little CA, and a stainless steel screw from the inside out.
Broken armor - Double-sided gaff, maybe some leather stitches or zip ties
Broken shoe - CA and gaff, make sure they let it set while the shoe is on their feet.
Fabric costume mishap - Stitch it back together, or find someone who can.
It might not be an extensive list, but it's what 4/5 of repairs to costumes usually boils down to. If you ever have questions, shoot me an email or some method of text-based communication. Have a wonderful week!
Playmakers and their awesome shops
This week I made a trip out to UNC in Chapel Hill, NC to do an overhaul on the costume shop's machines and make sure everything was working as it should. They have a mix of home machines that the undergrads tend to use and industrial machines that the grad students tend to use. I'll let you guess which ones are better cared for.
The people in charge were not there, so I was unable to get permission to take pictures of their setup. However, I did see a tour going through, and they might be able to schedule those? I was a little busy enjoying working on the machinery to pay too much attention to my surroundings. If you want more information about the awesome things they work on, and the schedule for their future shows, check out their website: PlayMakers Reperatory Company.
I love working with theatres and educational facilities. It's always a wonder when I get to work with both at the same time. UNC and NCSU have me do work around their shops a few times a year just to make sure everything is running smoothly. Working with both universities is a privileged and I always love the people I work with.
You can schedule basic training during service calls
Fair warning, there likely won't be any fun pictures with this one. Sorry :(
You can find this information by digging around on the site, but I figured it might be a good idea to post a little blurb with the same information: you can request some basic training and explanations during a service call. If you're working with tough materials on a regular basis and those are causing needles to break or timing to go just slightly off, I can walk you through the process of checking what can be done by a beginner to see what might be causing the issue.
Having a background in machinery repair isn't necessary to do basic fiddling on most sewing machines. You can check the state of your equipment just by looking, feeling, or listening to what's going on with your machine. Some of the most common issues with light duty industrial or home machines are that you might have put some material through that the machine wasn't rated for, or only handles gingerly.
Sewing over sequins or beads, leather, vinyl, denim, etc. can overtax a lot of lighter duty machines, and it will usually show by the needle bending and hitting the needle plate. This could cause the middle portion of the needle plate to bend and get barbs that catch thread and throw off the lower thread's ability to be caught, or might cut the upper thread during sewing. This is a quick diagnosis, but pretty easy to repair. You should almost always have a spare needle plate for those just-in-case moments if you're a professional/regular stitcher.
This is one of many possible issues that could arise, and generally one of the most visibly obvious ones. The on-site training I offer is $50 for roughly 30-45 minutes where you can ask questions or have me show you how to work on your machine in-shop or at home. I can also walk you through the steps I follow when adjusting the machine for any work it needs.
RESURRECTING antique machines.
Sometimes I am asked to help restore old, old, old pieces of machinery. This weekend I finished up restoring an early 1940's antique Brunswick machine where the oldest patent listed on it was 1941. I was only asked to make it look shiny and decorative, but later I found out why; the wires from the motor to the power "box" were entirely bare. All the sheathing that was on them had long-since dry-rotted and been covered in rust. That's a fire hazard, one hell of a fire hazard.
Below is a layout of all the parts that were "external" on the machine. Aka pretty much anything that would touch the outside, or kept something in place that touched the outside. With older machines, there's quite a few pieces, but significantly less than with newer all-metal machines. Almost every standard steel portion of the machine had rust, including some that were chromed and that it was leaking through in small spots.
I've used quite a variety of parts cleaners over the years. Ranging from ultrasonic baths to bench grinders with wire wheels and just about every kind of chemical cleaning agent you can name. I've found that a diluted version of grill cleaners, stainless steel polish, and something like WD-40 will do wonders. I've found my own mix of them, but it's taken me close to 5 years to figure it out. If you want to do some testing, best of luck! (It's not difficult, I just appreciate the ability for people to learn for themselves with a little nudge in the right direction.)
Below is the end product of what came out. It came in colored with as much rust and grime as there was black enamel on it, and left like this. Not too shabby for about 6 hours of work and another 3 hours of soaking. I still had to give a thorough warning to the owners not to plug it in or turn it on, and they said they weren't planning to, it was only a decorative piece, so let's hope they keep it that way. Yay!
caution - Chemicals are bad, m'kay! i've been using these cleaning agents for quite some time and know their ins and outs. Wear a face mask, safety glasses, and keep pets away from the area in which you are working. skin contact is tolerable if you immediately wash it throroughly.
Industrial feet, feed, and needle plate
Aside from tension issues, one of the most often found problems with industrial sewing machines is keeping an eye on your feet (walking or otherwise), your feed dog(s), and your needle plate.
Here's one of the places that some "unexplained" issues can be resolved. If you're sewing a good thickness of fabric, or a dense fabric, or even stretchy fabric, it is possible for your needle to move out of alignment during sewing and manage to hit the needle plate. A full on needle point hit will almost always break the needle, but if it just glances off, it will only leave a mar in the needle hole on the plate. This can catch on the upper and lower threads, and often effect how your stitch looks, or either of the threads could fray out and tear randomly.
You guys are what makes this job worth doing
I started doing most of this work because my wife needed someone with mechanical skills to work on her machines, and keep them running for production orders. However, the reason why I continue to do the work is because of great customers.
A new one contacted me last week and I made the first visit to their shop yesterday. An excellent group to work with and I'll be doing a full-shop service for them next week. I'm not listing names/businesses because unless otherwise told, I tend to keep business's information. Unless two customers could work well together.
In other news, I am looking for anyone that I have done work in the past to shoot me over any testimonial if they think I did good work. These testimonials may be used on flyers or on my website. I am also offering up listings for regular customers on my page for anyone who may be willing to collaborate with others in the same industry or who are willing collaborate with others. A few of my regulars have made good connections with other people through my ability to network, and I hope that mutual business will always bring more work for everyone.
Alright, I'm back and off to do more work!
Your sewing machine guy:
I am a Jack-of-Most-Trades that was roped into working on sewing machines, and managed to find a knack for it. I love hilarity, fixing things that are broken, video games, dogs, cats, most other creatures, and sleep. Especially sleep. On here you'll usually find tidbits about recent visits or ADORABLE CREATURES THAT LOVE ON ME WHILE I WORK. There may be ancient machines, there may be unique machines.