How To Sew Vinyl Bags On A Regular Machine And Hints For An Industrial Sewing Machine.
Vinyl and faux leather can be nice to sew with, but occasionally there can be some challenges. It is much easier to sew on an Industrial sewing machine, but perfectly possible to achieve a good result on a domestic
We'll look at both domestic sewing machines and industrial.
First, I'll run through my top twelve tips for sewing Vinyl and PU faux leathers in bag making using a domestic machine, then I’ll offer a little basic advice for anyone new to sewing on an industrial.
But first a note on thread.
What thread do I use for sewing a bag with vinyl?
Your choice of thread really depends on what thread your machine can manage. For the construction of the bag an ordinary multipurpose polyester thread such as Guttermann’s is absolutely fine and works well on a domestic machine. I have sewn many vinyl bags with this and it has always produced an excellent finish with good integrity.
For topstitching you can use the same thread, or to make it stand out use a heavier thread such as topstitching thread with the appropriate needle.
If your sewing machine can handle it, or you have a heavy duty domestic, consider upgrading to a Tex 45 or even Tex 70 weight bonded Nylon thread for the topstitching.
On an industrial machine, most sewists seem to use Tex 70 or Tex 80 bonded weight thread. You should experiment and see what gives you the results you like.
My personal preference for my industrial is Tex 70 bonded nylon.
Top twelve tips for sewing Vinyl and PU faux leathers in bag making on a domestic machine
Every domestic machine will handle vinyl or faux leather differently and not every machine will cope with every type of fabric. It will be much easier to sew on a heavy-duty machine and exceedingly difficult on a very cheap and basic model that is designed mainly for apparel. Any good sewing machine should be able to cope providing you understand any limitations.
Here are some tried and tested tips to help you achieve a good result.
I will list them all first and then go into some more detail.
- Don’t attempt a pattern that has too many layers.
- Test everything before you start sewing your project.
- Use the right needle.
- Use a longer stitch length than normal and check your tension.
- Use the correct pressure foot and other things to help smooth sewing.
- Don’t use pins. Use clips instead.
- Test your fabric marker on a scrap first.
- Use a hump-jumper.
- Use a rubber mallet on thick seams.
- Control your sewing machine, don’t let it control you.
- Consider tying off your thread ends rather than back-stitching.
- Oops I made a mistake! Un-picking
1. Don’t attempt a pattern that has too many layers.
One of the things about sewing bags is that often the layers can add up.
Read through the pattern and if it becomes clear that there are going to more than 4 to 6 layers you are probably going to struggle slightly.
- You may run into problems with the needle not penetrating the fabric and risk breaking your needle. Worse, you may even find that you can’t fit your project under your pressure foot.
- You may have problems turning the finished bag. If you are using thicker vinyl, try warming it with a hairdryer which will make it more pliable. DO NOT hold the dryer too close.
2. Test everything before you start sewing your project.
Put together a couple of test strips with the maximum number of layers you will be sewing, including any interfacing etc. and do your first test sew.
Always try and keep interfacing and stabilizer out of the seam allowance where possible. (Tips on interfacing vinyl here)
3. Use the right needle and change it regularly.
I recommend sewing with a microtex sewing machine needle or sharp needle at least 90/14 size. The heavier needle and sharp point will help your machine penetrate through the layers. If you don't have a microtex needle a heavier needle like a denim or jeans sewing machine needle will do the job.
Don’t use a leather needle as these have a blade edge, which is designed to cut the leather. You will run the risk of slashing your vinyl as you sew, or creating tiny tears that can become larger later, for instance when you try to turn your bag at the end.
Remember that needles do blunt over time, so if you start to get fraying threads or skipped stitches where everything was fine before, you may need to check your needle.
4. Use a longer stitch length and check your tension.
Stitch length: If you find that the thread is faying or snapping, using a longer stitch length will help you sew through the thicker layers. Use stitch length 3 or slightly longer for sewing seams and 4 to 5 for top stitching.
Too small a stitch length combined with the wrong needle can be like putting a ine of perforations into the fabric.
Tension: Sew a test piece with a different coloured thread in the needle and the bobbin and then examine the stitching to check the tension. It should look the same on both sides with the knot buried in the middle of the fabric. If you can see the knot clearly on one side and not the other you need to adjust the tension.
If the top stitches look straighter and the knot is clearly visible on the top side, this means that the tension of the upper thread is too tight or the tension of the lower thread is too weak. Try loosening the tension of the upper thread until it improves.
(You can also tighten the lower bobbin tension, but not all machines have this capability, so start with the top.)
If the knot is appearing on the bottom, try tightening the tension of the upper thread.
Note: Always make sure that your machine and in particular the bobbin case and holder is clean and lint free. A build up here can also cause tension problems.
5. Use the correct pressure foot and other things to help smooth sewing
Think of the pressure feet on your machine in the same way as you do your shoes. You wouldn’t go on a long hike in stilettos, (although weirdly I did once see someone doing that on Mount Cook!) Neither would you, (normally), wear walking boots to a posh dinner dance.
Vinyls and faux leathers can be either slippery or sticky and both can cause problems when you are sewing.
Domestic machines will sew better with a walking foot vinyl, roller, Teflon attached. My personal preference is to use a walking foot wherever I can, switching it out for the zipper foot if necessary.
A walking foot has an upper feed dog which works simultaneously with the lower feed dog on your machine to pull the fabric through evenly.
Teflon and vinyl feet have a smooth surface and are designed to glide over stickier fabrics and roller feet to roll smoothly over and give better control. It is a matter of trial and error to see what works best for your machine.
From left to right: Teflon Foot, Walking Foot, Roller Foot.
If you don’t have any of these pressure feet there are some other things that you can try.
- Stick some Sellotape to the underside of your regular foot.
- Use some baking paper or tissue paper above and below the fabric to help it glide through more smoothly. (I prefer baking paper as it is easier to tear off afterwards).
- Use a fabric friendly silicon spray on the fabric.
- If the fabric is sticking to the throat plate of your machine, try taping a piece of Teflon baking sheet to the machine to help it glide.
6. Don’t use pins. Use clips and/or double-sided tape instead.
Pins will make holes in the vinyl and depending on the type this can be very difficult to remove. It’s also far easier to use clips.
Double-side tape will hold everything in place. Try to find the 1/8” width as this will keep the tape within the seam allowance and away from your needle. If you do have to sew through it, try using an anti-glue needle or keep some methylated spirit handy and wipe your needle down from time to time to remove any glue.
Glue on your needle is NOT your friend.
7. Test your fabric marker on a scrap first.
Heat erasable and other markers can leave permanent marks on vinyls. Do a few tests to see what works best for your fabric. I tend to favour chalk which is fairly easily wiped off afterwards.
8. Use a hump-jumper.
A hump-jumper is nothing to do with Quasimodo. It is a clever gadget with two prongs designed to keep your pressure foot even when sewing over thick seams.
When your pressure foot reaches a thick seam the front end will tip up as it tries to climb up the hill. Sewing machines don’t like walking up steep hills or having their feet at a funny angle, (bit like me really), and just as my steps get shorter climbing a hill, so do the stitches made by your sewing machine, which can make sewing difficult and basically just look, well, ugly.
Just before this happens, and just before the thick seam, slide the hump jumper in under your pressure foot from behind as far as you can and obviously with the needle between the two prongs, then sew slowly forward. If the seam is ultra high, you can slide it in from the front to get down off the top. Also like me though sewing machines have less of a problem going downhill.
I recommend getting a proper hump-jumper, but if you don’t have one, stack one or two needle cases under the back of the foot. You may have to reposition them a couple of times, but it will still work.
9. Use a rubber mallet on thick seams.
If the hump-jumper isn’t enough or you can’t fit the seam under the presser foot, think of a situation that annoys you and pound the seam with a rubber mallet. Place some cloth over the seam first to protect your fabric.
This sounds extreme, but it is deeply satisfying, and it works.
10. Control your sewing machine, don’t let it control you.
If you’ve ever ridden a horse, you will know that you need to be in control and the horse needs to know that, other wise it will run away with you.
Sewing is not like ripping off a band aid. There is a temptation to speed up if you are not confident when you are sewing, as if getting it over and done with faster will help. It won’t. And just like a horse that senses your nerves, the faster you go the more likely your sewing machine is to take advantage of you and try to steer you off course.
When you have a potentially tricky seam to sew, reign your sewing machine in by turning the speed down. Take it slowly, if necessary, one stitch at a time and enjoy the process. If you get bored like Mr Bean on the rollercoaster you can turn the speed back up a bit.
11. Consider tying off your thread ends rather than back-stitching.
You can back-stitch, but it will look nicer if you don’t and some vinyl doesn't respond well to repeated stitching in the same area. Leave your tails long and pull the top thread through to the back and tie it off.
12. Oops I made a mistake! Un-picking.
Always unpick from the wrong side of vinyl to avoid scratching the surface. Use a seam-ripper and gently lift the thread out of the right side. Having to unpick can spell disaster for your bag as for some vinyls, particularly the thicker ones, the needle holes are tricky to get rid of. Try ironing on the back, using a pressure cloth and a medium heat, (test on a scrap first).
Those are my twelve tips AND….
…..Test everything before you start sewing your project.
Yes, I know, I already said that, but now you’ve read all the tips you may have need a reminder.
Now off you go – good luck and have fun.
Sewing vinyl or faux leather on an Industrial sewing machine
Industrial machines should have no issue tackling either type of fabric. There are a couple of potential problems that are usually easily resolved.
1. Uneven stitching or fraying thread.
This is usually due to a tension issue and normally just adjusting this slightly will resolve the problem.
Also check your needle is in good condition, is straight and has no glue from tape on it. Replace it if necessary.
2. Grooves or track marks on the vinyl from the machine presser foot.
Many industrial machines will sew most types of vinyl or PU without leaving marks on it, they are actually more common on real leather.
If you do find you are getting some marks there are a couple of things that you can do.
Adjust the pressure foot tension. Some industrials have the ability to adjust the pressure foot tension, usually a knob above the pressure foot. Loosen the tension until the marks disappear.
If you don’t have this option on your industrial, you can keep a set of smooth feet just for vinyl and leather or have the ridges ground off the base.
An extreme example of track marks from an industrial sewing machine foot on a leather sheath.