Best sewing machine for making a tent...

9:30 a.m. on November 9, 2013 (EST)
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Ok everyone...

I am starting this post after a long time deliberating whether or not I wanted to make my own stuff.  I get so frustrated trying to find a seamstress that will do these things for me, so I have decided to plunge in and get a machine.

So what should I buy?  I figure that if you are sewing large sheets of fabric that you would need a decent table, and I do have an old dinning room table with fold out wings.  But for sewing all the nylons and other fabrics that one could encounter while making tarps or tents, what type of machine should I get.  I don't want to break the bank but I don't want a piece of junk either.

Snakey 

10:51 a.m. on November 9, 2013 (EST)
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Ask a seamstress but I imagine a standard Sears machine would suffice. Using rip stop nylon? Heavier duty for the floor. Grommets for tent stake pulls, songs like good plan!

11:55 a.m. on November 9, 2013 (EST)
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Snakey...I have made bivies + tarps + hats + mittens + stuff sacks +rain pants + foot-prints + quilts...basically everything but tops + socks + backpack + baffled sleeping bags (though I hope to eventually make these as well). Personally...I don't think anything beats making your own gear...you can keep it simple and light...it can save you a ton of cash (you should more than have a new machine paid for in two projects)...and most importantly...your choices (creativity?) are only limited by the materials you can source...which is not very limiting (Quest Outfitters + Seattle Fabrics _ Z-Packs + Thru-Hiker + Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics + The Rainshed).

As far as what machine to buy...you don't need a lot of fancy functions...but a good strong machine is preferred (multiple layers of fabric and webbing can be difficult for a lightweight machine to deal with). If you know of one...nothing beats a good older machine...they tend to be over-engineered. I didn't have such luck...so I use a newer "Heavy-Duty" machine...which does increase the price a bit (I think I paid 100.00)...but I saved a lot by choosing a very spartan machine in terms of functions. All you really need to make outdoor gear is the capacity to go forward + backwards...sew straight and zig-zag stitches...and have some basic controls for thread tension and stitch length (I have used the button-hole function to install buttons and thumb-holes...but both of these are hardly necessary). Just to prove a point here...one of my first major projects was a 10 x 10 sil-nylon tarp (I did a lot of stuff sacks first to get familiar with sewing)...the materials cost around 60.00...the sewing machine cost 100.00...a new 10 x 12 sil-nylon tarp from Integral designs cost 180.00. This might not seems like a fair comparison...but because of the way fabric is cut...I could have made a 10 x 12 for the same price I made a 10 x 10 (I did not want that large of a tarp). In this one project the machine was paid for.

Other information: 1) Get several good quality needles ranging between 70 (lightweight fabrics) and 100 (heavyweight fabrics)...needles dull fast on nylon and other synthetics fabrics. 2) Buy a seam-ripper (you'll need it!). 3) I find the zipper-foot tremendously helpful for installing zippers (usually comes with newer machines). 4) Buy cheap 1.00 a yard fabric from Walmart to practice on...and to make patterns from (this practice has saved me hundreds of dollars!). 5) Make sure you have an extra-long measuring-tape (between 10-12 feet)...the seamstress kind...not the carpenter kind! 6) Go REALLY SLOW until your skills have improved to the level of expert (slow = little mistakes...fast = big mistakes). 7) Expect your first projects to be less than perfect (if you went slow they will only be small imperfections)...and know that your skill will quickly improve. 8) practice + practice + practice...

7:08 p.m. on November 9, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks Joseph!  I have Sunday off so I plan on starting my search for a machine.  Cyber Monday will probably get a better deal than normal.   

Snakey

6:55 a.m. on November 10, 2013 (EST)
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Not to many dudes think sewing is manly. LOL Get a machine without all the bells and whistles. Secondhand stores will have them for around 15 -20 bucks. Sharp needles a must. I like to zig zag stitch but I'm into making kites. The biggest problem that I have is the fabric is slick and will roll up on me. My biggest wish would to have better control of the speed. Slow and steady seems to be the key to success. Sewing sure beats the heck out of playing video games all day! 

11:08 a.m. on November 10, 2013 (EST)
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mikemorrow said:

...........sure beats the heck out of playing video games all day! 

 Amen brother....then again I was a terrible gamer.   My grandson will sit in the house ALL FRIGGEN DAY and play games.  Such a waste of time.

So if you bought a new machine...what would you buy?

Oh...I have met some upholsters that are big manly dudes, and I don't think anyone would laugh at them for using a sewing machine.  At least not if they are smart.  And when you see what they can do...amazing.

Snakey

3:34 p.m. on November 10, 2013 (EST)
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I reconditioned a old sewing machine that my dad had, it is an old singer from the 60's.  Heavy as hell but that I here is good.  I though at first that it would be hard and or expensive to get it back in shape.  It had sat for years.  But it was actually really easy.  Although it would have been expensive to have some shop do, the bids I got were from $60 to $90 plus parts just for a service.  So now it's all ready to go... Cost less then $20 for all the stuff, mostly oils and cleaners and a few small parts. I think I still need needles though.

But I still have not used it....  Yea working on that too. :)

I would look around to see if anyplace as used machines, the old singers and sears from the 60's and 70', before all the bells and whistles are great for gear sewing, or so I have been told, simple, strong, and durable work horses.  If there are not any shops that sell used machines, check out Goodwill, and other second hand stores.  If you can find one they are usually very cheep, like $25 or less. 

One other option if you decide that maybe this is not for you, is to ask around at the local sewing stores, or post a notice that you are looking for someone to do some sewing on smaller projects.  Some of the ladies would love to make a little extra cash and probably have a tone of experience.  (And yes I know that was sexiest, but I rarely see a guy in one of these shops.)

One more thing; Hammock.net the Hammock Forum had a entire section devoted to homemade gear and sewing machines, and they have some very helpful people. They will try to convert you to a hammock hanger, but that is not so bad either.  :D

Best of luck and let us know what you find and how it goes!

10:42 p.m. on November 10, 2013 (EST)
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Wolfman (Wolfgang Greystoke) said:

.... ask around at the local sewing stores, or post a notice that you are looking for someone to do some sewing on smaller projects. .....

 Yeah I did this and it is really hard to find someone.  I did find a lady that made me a couple of seat covers for mtn bike, but it cost me a lot.  

The older machines is a route that I am going to check out this next week.  I have found some heavy duty (new) machines without all the computerized stuff for around $300.  Then it would be new.   

Thanks Wolfman...

8:58 a.m. on November 11, 2013 (EST)
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That sucks on finding help.  And that is a lot of money for a sewing machine, let us know how the search for a use machine goes.

Wolf

9:27 a.m. on November 11, 2013 (EST)
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I really don't think that you would need anything that heavy duty, unless you are going to be sewing canvas. I have a Brother that I picked up for $15. Sews ripstop nylon with ease. I haven't tried a zipper yet, but I'm pretty sure it would handle it. Good sharp needles and good thread have more influence than the machine. There are many helpful hints on the internet.

Years ago I had one of those black cast iron Singers. Cleaned it up, oiled it, Replaced the belt. I swear that sucker could stitch though leather.

9:46 a.m. on November 11, 2013 (EST)
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What do you all use for stitches?  I assume that you are not using anything fancy...right?  It seems that all the new machines are computerized too, which is something that I really don't think I need.   

10:02 a.m. on November 11, 2013 (EST)
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My machine can only do two types, a straight running stitch and zig zag. Though I can control the length of the stitch. I have found for kites that the zig zag is better for the stress  that the winds put on the seams. I have never seen a tent stitched this way before. I'm guessing there is a reason.  I personally like the simpler machines. I'm a simple man, don't need, nor would probably never use any of that other stuff. Just more bells and whistles.   

10:51 p.m. on November 11, 2013 (EST)
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Snakey...300.00 sounds like a machine for upholstery work...you just need a good solid and simple machine for outdoor gear. I use a new machine...a Singer (4400?). It has done everything I need it to do...and I got it for 100.00 on clearance...but not on clearance it is probably no more than 150.00. I would not recommend you spending over 150.00...and as several folks have said...the older machines that you can pick up at second-hand shops are often better than any newer machine.

As far as functions...I think I mentioned this...you want to stitch forward and backwards...you want to have control over the length of stitch...and the tension (for thick materials you want a looser stitch to accommodate for the extra width of the material...the reverse for 30 and 70 denier nylon). I believe you will want to have a machine with a zig-zag stitch capacity...because it allows for more stretch with stretch materials like fleece and lycra. A button-holer is useful (to a degree)...but I wouldn't pay extra for it...and it usually is considered a basic option on a seamstress-machine (which is what you're looking for)

As mikemorrow said...sharp and properly thick needles are more important than anything. I also recommend 100% polyester thread (polyester is better against UV light)...but Jardine says this is unnecessary as all thread is polyester coated (just buy the 100%).

Again...buy some cheap fabric of various kinds from walmart or wherever (1.00 a yard) to practice stitching with different materials so that you can learn how to best use your machine before you go punching holes in expensive nylon. I know this seems like a pain...but you will thank me...and a day or two of practice will lead to a success on the first "real" project (though probably not a perfect one). Finally...GO SLOW...it is better to have little mistakes than big ones...when you are working with large pieces of materials...you often need to be watching + moving + holding several things at once...going slow is the best way to ensure something tragic doesn't happen.

Just so it is clear...you can totally do this...and after you finish your first project...you will never be limited by manufacturers again!

8:35 a.m. on November 12, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks...

I was looking at a basic Janome, all mechanical no computer, and it sells for $150 on Amazon.  However, the reason I was looking at the heavy duty is that I want to do some leather work and know that I would need a beefy machine for that.  It seems that Janome makes many of the machines even some Singers.  I don't have that many places for sewing machines in town and besides they are a lot more expensive.  Used machines are fine...and I have been looking on Craigslist.  I don't own a car though, (car free for two years) and that does present a problem in getting around when I have to go so far.  Summer...no problem, as I have a trailer for the bike.  Otherwise it is a bugger to get it home.  Therefore, I am sort of limited to internet, as it gets delivered to my door.  

Snakey

10:34 a.m. on November 14, 2013 (EST)
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I've seen a bit of gear on our very run of the mill sewing machine.  Here is what I know.

If you are looking to sew fleece, wool, light nylon, light webbing, a modern, home machine is fine.

If you are looking to sew heavy nylon, say multiple layers of cordura and webbing and maybe a zipper and use heavy duty nylon thread, you will need a much more robust machine.  You will not likely find such machine at a sewing store or at Sears.  I've read several places (must be true, right?) that old school Singers with big motors work well for this.  For this application you need a machine that is designed for this task and home machines simply do not work well.

Your machine only needs to sew forward, backward and a minimal zigzag stitch; you'll never use the rest of the stitches.

You can't oil your machine enough.  If you don't remember the last time you oiled your machine, it is time.  If you have sewn several hours, it is time.

Always use good quality sharp needles, and as with oiling, you need to replace the needles often.  Nylon and webbing and zippers dull needles fast.  Not uncommon to break a needle going through zipper teeth.

Always use good quality all polyester thread (unless you need heavy duty nylon thread).  

Oil, needles, thread - solves 90% of sewing machine problems.

12:16 p.m. on November 14, 2013 (EST)
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With your basic home style "thread injector", I was able to make a quilt, backpack, stuff sacks, even pillows.

As stated on the post by alan, when you start working with heavier denier fabrics like cordura, webbing, etc. you may need a more industrial grade injector.

Some of the projects I've managed to make with an old Brother thread injector...

http://theshadedtrail.blogspot.com/2012/08/make-your-own-gear-backpacking-quilt.html

http://theshadedtrail.blogspot.com/2013/03/my-first-try-making-my-own-backpack.html

12:36 p.m. on November 14, 2013 (EST)
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mangus7175...those are some nice projects...from the looks of things you appear to be a Jardine fan:-)

5:12 p.m. on November 14, 2013 (EST)
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jrenow said:

mangus7175...those are some nice projects...from the looks of things you appear to be a Jardine fan:-)

 Thanks! It's actually gratifying making you're own gear...especially if it works on the field LOL

I'm a Jardine fan but more specifically, I am a fan of going lightweight ;)

6:23 p.m. on November 14, 2013 (EST)
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I've made several things myself (synthetic quilt + WPB bivy + bug-bivy + sil-nylon tarp + WPB mitts + fleece hat and mitts)...and I highly recommend DIY projects because you can make it exactly how you want...though have not been daring enough to try to make my own backpack or clothing yet...they're next!

I asked about Jardine because your back looks a lot like what he has in the back of his Beyond Backpacking book...and I see you carry an umbrella!

10:55 a.m. on November 15, 2013 (EST)
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mangus7175 said:

With your basic home style "thread injector", I was able to make a quilt, backpack, stuff sacks, even pillows.

As stated on the post by alan, when you start working with heavier denier fabrics like cordura, webbing, etc. you may need a more industrial grade injector.

Some of the projects I've managed to make with an old Brother thread injector...

http://theshadedtrail.blogspot.com/2012/08/make-your-own-gear-backpacking-quilt.html

http://theshadedtrail.blogspot.com/2013/03/my-first-try-making-my-own-backpack.html

 Wow...great job!  How long have you been sewing? 

12:45 a.m. on February 5, 2014 (EST)
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Sewing_Projects.jpg

Back in the late 1980's I purchased a Viking sewing machine for I raised six children and to get them into the back country, I sewed many things to make it affordable!

One thing that must be kept in mind is the very light material such as taffeta and the heavier material such as cordura for tent floors, must be handled.  Plus the choice of threads, how heavy the thread is to be used, should be known before starting your project?  This project is designed for outdoor usage.

Adrian

1:38 a.m. on February 5, 2014 (EST)
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In addition to the previous posting the photo are of the following items.  On back of the couch is my open plus close cell foam sleeping bag pad (red & white).  On the back of the couch are three down jackets –Frostline Kits.  In front of the couch (L-R) is a extended daypack (dark green), my youngest son’s back –age 9yo (red &blue.  My backpack (blue & black), my oldest son’s backpack the tall blue & black backpack and, finally the duffle bag (red, blue & black).  On the floor is my sleeping bag with letter ”A” on it.  Next to it is a sleeping bag liner.  Across both sleeping bags are my ‘rain chaps’.  On the front row is a  red pillow case –just add a sweater for a nice pillow.  Finally in front are my over-mittens and finally my stove/kitchen gear.

October 1, 2014
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