The Sewing Place

Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines

Mr Twingo

Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines
« on: June 08, 2018, 10:10:06 AM »
I've been pondering recently why so many of us assume that vintage machines are better suited to sewing leather than modern ones.

Researching, I found couple of articles that addressed the questions I was asking myself. Below are abridged versions of the pieces, with links to the original pages:



Abridged from tv-sewingcenter.com/

Not all sewing machines are created equal, but over the years, one trend in sewing machine manufacturing has created a sense of distrust in many sewing machine customers. The concern is that the machines are made of plastic.

In the good old days sewing machines were really heavy… because every part was metal. Metal does have its advantages: it’s really strong, and so these old machines were practically bullet-proof, and they could generally sew through anything.
There are a few disadvantages, too: all-metal parts are expensive to manufacture, the machines tend to be harder to repair, and repairs are generally more costly because of the extended time it takes to access parts in the machine.

Nearly all household sewing machines manufactured today have plastic exterior covers that cover an interior metal frame. Not only are the covers plastic, but many parts, such as gears, pulleys, knobs, etc. are made of plastic too. Plastic is OK. It weighs a lot less than metal, and the parts are less expensive to manufacture. When the plastic covers are taken off of a modern sewing machine, typically an interior metal frame is revealed, and all of the parts in the machine are attached to the metal frame. This type of manufacturing process allows for easier, less costly repairs, and repairs that don’t take as long, because the parts are easier to get to.

There may be other issues regarding modern sewing machines that you have concerns about, but the metal frame NOT being on the outside shouldn’t be one of them. Please note that not all modern sewing machines have a metal frame. There are some brands out there that are completely plastic, and you should be careful that you don’t end up with one of those, or you’ll certainly be disappointed.



Abridged from leatherworker.net

Leather varies in texture, weight, stickiness, thickness, density, dryness and chemical composition. No doubt, some of you have seen pictures and videos online, showing this or that machine sewing leather. What many sewers don't realize, is that just because a particular machine is said to be able to "sew leather," that does not mean it will do it well for the types of leather the buyer wants to sew. Leather varies, as stated above. The machines that can sew garment weight leather may not be able to sew chaps, belts, tack, holsters, or saddle bags. Just because a machine is large, or metal bodied, or even industrial, does not make it a true leather sewing machine!
Male sewist, not sexist.

b15erk

Re: Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2018, 10:32:49 AM »
I think the different types of leather would be an important consideration in deciding if a machine would cope.  Garment quality leather I believe is a different weight altogether than upholstery leather.  I was given a huge quantity of upholstery leather and I wouldn't sew it for any length of time on a lightweight machine.  My old Singers cope beautifully with it though.

I think as well that manoeverabililty (?) needs to be taken into consideration.  A good flat bed seems to be required.

Interesting topic.

Jessie
Jessie, who is very happy to be here!!  :),  but who has far too many sewing machines to be healthy, and a fabric stash which is becoming embarrassing.

Mr Twingo

Re: Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2018, 16:03:46 PM »
I think the different types of leather would be an important consideration in deciding if a machine would cope.  Garment quality leather I believe is a different weight altogether than upholstery leather.  I was given a huge quantity of upholstery leather and I wouldn't sew it for any length of time on a lightweight machine.  My old Singers cope beautifully with it though.

Naturally, I wouldn't entertain the notion of sewing thick, heavy, stiff leather on a domestic machine. For such tough jobs I would want a dedicated leather sewing machine, not a mere industrial walking foot.

There aren't many pictures of modern sewing machine internals, but from what I could see, Janome and Bernina are considerably more substantial internally than other brands. Take a look at these, for example:

The skeleton of a Bernina 130 (© tv-sewingcenter.com)


The entry level Janome Arctic Crystal sewing machine (© Janome)


And the Singer 4411 (© Singer)


It looks as if the Singer image has been cropped…

The Janome models use aircraft-grade aluminium with is very strong yet very light. No reason to consider contemporary machines to be lesser than their older cousins.
Male sewist, not sexist.

Surest1tch

Re: Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines
« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2018, 16:40:44 PM »
Those look like nice machines  :S don't get me on the path of hunting for one pleeeaaassse  :'(.
I've got a vintage industrial machine which I think was originally a leather sewing machine and I love it above all the others I've got (too many  :() it never lets me down from the thickest to finest fabrics.

Mr Twingo

Re: Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines
« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2018, 18:25:27 PM »
Those look like nice machines  :S don't get me on the path of hunting for one pleeeaaassse  :'(.
I've got a vintage industrial machine which I think was originally a leather sewing machine and I love it above all the others I've got (too many  :() it never lets me down from the thickest to finest fabrics.

It is hard to resist, isn't it. I don't have the space, but that doesn't stop me secret looking out for an 1970s Jones zigzag machine  ;)

My first sewing machine was very much an entry level model made by a very well known company. But internally it was made from a very soft alloy that could be bent far too easily. It wouldn't even sew polycotton without having a tantrum at some point.

If I could fit a more powerful, DC motor, that would make my current machine a monster. For now, I'll have to settle for the AC one.
Male sewist, not sexist.

arrow

Re: Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2018, 01:10:53 AM »
All the good models have a sturdy aluminium inner chassis, new or old, but I promise (!), they are nothing near the sturdiness of the old cast iron models like a Singer 66, 201, Pfaff 30, Husqvarna CB-N,...  The steel parts like hinges, joints, levers, gears are many times thicker and heavier on the old straight stitchers. (Maybe the gears on a 201 aren't that much larger, but they are hardened steel, not plastic). The cast iron body is very solid, heavy and absorb the vibration heavier fabrics and leathers can cause. They also can take needle size 19 to 22 (120-140), which comes in handy for top stitch thread weight (or extra strength) in denser material. They are in a league of their own among domestic machines. With very few exceptions, all modern zigzaggers have plastic gears. That said, it's easy to find a new machine that stitches through soft leather with out too much fuzz, but push them towards their limit of intended use and you will quickly notice the advantage of a cast iron straight stitch model.







« Last Edit: June 09, 2018, 14:11:05 PM by arrow »

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Re: Sewing leather: vintage vs modern machines
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2018, 19:19:29 PM »
I have to add that when I test sewed several rather expensive sewing machines, the Bernina models was the ones I liked the best. I can't really complain about any of the other, but the two Berninas I tried felt firmer, ran smoother and and less noisy than the others. They cost from £1000 to £4000 which felt a bit too much for my use. They have a few nice features the old ones doesn't have, but I ended up fixing up an old Bernina Record (freearm and zigzag) and bought a cast iron 201 for about £65. The 201 has turned out to be a favorite. I guess it has a lot to do with how  much we are willing to spend on a new machine, and how frequent we are willing to put up with service and repair. You can hardly damage an old 15 or 66, it most likely will not stitching through the material if it becomes too much. The presserfoot lift sets a limit in itself. Another thing is the motor, it can run too hot and in the long run get damaged, but it can be repaired or replaced.

The so called Heavy Duty Singers 4411 and 4423 are low priced machines. They aren't particularly light weight, I have seen them first hand. They have tured up at a good price various places. They aren't nearly as capable as many new or vintage machines with an aluminium chassis (if that's the point of referance), but they are within acceptable. It's a bit unfear to compair them to a Bernina, which cost four or five times as much or an old cast iron machine. It's intersting to see the difference in build, they look solid enough.