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Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP!
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josh mcginnis
(joshm) - MLife
Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP! on 03/26/2011 14:38:55 MDT Print View

I've tried just about everything. Have searched this site and many others.

I have a brother PC-420.
Ray Jardine says to avoid any machine with a horizontal bobbin and only use a vertical bobbin machine (mine is horizontal). He also says to avoid a machine if you can't adjust the bobbin tension (which I can't on my machine).

I've adjusted the pressure on the foot, tension on top thread (supposed to automatically adjust bobbin tension), stitch length, many different feet (walking, etc).

I also took my machine to the local shop.

I then went to the Bernina and Viking dealers (two separate shops) with my fabric and thread (both purchased from Ray Jardine). Neither shop could get a good stitch.

Problem is material is puckering and thread tension keeps either the top or bottom thread too tight.

I am at a loss since at both shops I had multiple ladies trying to help me (I felt like a novelty item at the shop and they just loved a guy being in there).

Is this a machine problem? Is Ray's thread too thick? (he doesn't give measurements on the thread). If it was just a user problem, then the $2,000 machines used by the ladies at the shop should have worked...right?

I'll get any machine if it will do the job, but I just don't know what to do.

Thanks for any help.

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP! on 03/26/2011 14:50:47 MDT Print View

Try disassembling your top tension assembly and setting it to a looser baseline. You might not be able to get low enough with the way it's setup now.

I don't trust automatic lower tensioners though for featherweight fabrics, they just don't work from my experience. So try to adjust it by hand. If the lower tension is ever too tight (pulling the top thread flat along the bottom of the fabric), it's obviously no adjusting automatically.

FWIW, I have to recalibrate the tension on all of my machines to handle 20 and 30d fabrics, and I'm not surprised that the machines you tried didn't work. However, I will say, that no offense to Ray, but the horizontal bobbin concern is unfounded. My 500A handles sil with ease.

$2,000 machine means nothing, almost no standard machines are setup for low-tension sewing, and only a few (like the Juki DDL-8700) common industrials are, although your thread could still be too thick.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP! on 03/26/2011 14:52:33 MDT Print View

Does your machine come with a different foot plat that is just a hole instead of a slot for ziz-zag stitches? Some machines will pull the fabric into the slot. I have sewn sil with both a horizontal and vertical bobbin. Both work just fine. I have no knowledge of the thread that Ray supplies but have used regular Gutterman thread on sil with no problems whatsoever.

John West
(skyzo) - M

Locale: Borah Gear
sewing silnylon on 03/26/2011 16:15:26 MDT Print View

Yeah, you could try finding a pressor that only has a hole, it wont suck the fabric down as much. My machine has a horizontal bobbin, and it worked fine. Was hard to get adjusted at first, but after I loosened the bobbin tension, it made an almost perfect straight stictch. At first I thought my bobbin was unadjustable, but there was a tiny little screw on the bobbin-holder that was adjustable, Id be very suprised if yours didnt have one somewhere too.

Try using 100% poly Gutterman thread, maybe the Jardine stuff is too thick or something. Also make sure you are using a small enough needle.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP! on 03/26/2011 16:29:24 MDT Print View

Hi Josh

> Ray Jardine says to avoid any machine with a horizontal bobbin and only use a vertical
> bobbin machine
Ahhhh Rubbish. And illogical too.
I make all my lightweight gear - tents, quilts, clothing, with a horizontal bobbin machine. That's a LOT of gear.

I don't know what thread Ray has sold you, but for silnylon it should be quite fine. I have noticed that some MYOG things has been sewn with thread I would class as too thick. However, very rarely should that cause a tension problem from the lower bobbin in itself.

> material is puckering and thread tension keeps either the top or bottom thread too tight.

Step 1: balance the tension on a light bit of fabric, or a couple of layers of silnylon. Then all you have to deal with is the puckering.

Puckering is caused not just on silnylon but also on light silk. The fabric is just too light to be able to resist being pulled up when the stitch is being formed. The solution is very simple. When sewing these light fabrics, you must keep tension on the FABRIC. Don't just feed it through the machine. Hold it fore and aft and keep it slightly stretched at all times. Keep the thread tension low of course, but keep the fabric tight. There's a picture of how I do this in my article on MYOG Quilt here at BPL. Under 'Sewing the baffles' near the end.


Edited by rcaffin on 03/26/2011 16:32:14 MDT.

Ben Wortman
(bwortman) - M

Locale: Nebraska
Denim/Jeans Needle on 03/26/2011 17:08:24 MDT Print View

I had lots of problems when I started sewing my own stuff. Then I switched to a denim needle. I think it has a small groove on one side. It made all the difference. Now my stiching only looks bad because of my lack of skills, not the machine.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Re: Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP! on 03/26/2011 17:16:19 MDT Print View

Roger has it totally right on the fabric tension, this is true with any really light fabric and especially with Silnylon due to how slippery it is.
Also, because the fabric is so thin it can become a matter of taste what constitutes a balanced stitch, particularly if the the thread is on the thicker end of the spectrum. After all, at each stitch, you have two thicknesses of thread, and with silnylon, that is usually thicker than the two layers of fabric. Thus, the difference between a truly balanced stitch and one that is just close is very, very small. Even when you have stitching that is functionally very good, it can look like it's not as clean as you'd like.

Edited by paul on 03/26/2011 17:16:59 MDT.

Tom Holbrook
(Zandar) - MLife

Locale: Central Coast of California
Walking foot on 03/26/2011 17:47:44 MDT Print View

I have had great success with the addition of a walking foot to my Singer machine. The machine I have is nothing special but with the addition of the walking foot and the technique Roger talks about, it was fairly simple to sew silnylon.

I did go to a lighter thread, since the thread I bought from Ray, was too thick.

I made the Ray Jardine Tent Tarp and all turned out great.


Tohru Ohnuki
(erdferkel) - F

Locale: S. California
Re: Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP! on 03/26/2011 17:49:50 MDT Print View

Is the needle big enough for the thread? I found this out the hard way, the 'regular' thread usually can fit in needles from size 65/9 to 80/12. The thick Gutermanns likes to be in a much larger needle, 100/16 to 130/20 or so. This was a useful resource, i think the regular thread is about tex 30:
Fabric Weight / Typical Thread Sizes / Needle Sizes

josh mcginnis
(joshm) - MLife
This is good on 03/26/2011 19:18:52 MDT Print View

I've got a number of things to try out in the morning. I'll try a smaller thread (I've got some from someone else). I'll also see if there is a way to adjust the tension on the lower bobbin. The thread is very thick and each sewing store I went to commented on how thick it was and thought it was too thick for the material. I'm now wishing I had not bought 8 spools of the stuff :-(

Thank you for the additional insight and encouragement. I've probably spent close to 16 hours working on this problem and hopefully will have it solved soon.

Roger: thanks for the link. I had seen that earlier, but forgot about the pictures of you sewing and the pictures of the seems and what they should look like. This is helpful!

Edited by joshm on 03/26/2011 19:23:57 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Can't Sew Silnylon...HELP! on 03/26/2011 22:46:03 MDT Print View

Hi Tohru

That is a very useful link - thanks.

I had to laugh at their classification scheme though - 'Ex-light' = 68 - 136 gsm! I wonder what they would call silnylon, at 49 gsm?

That question is actually very relevant when you think about it. What we might call 'conventional sewing' is usually dealing with far heavier fabric than what we call UL fabric. Which may be why ladies in sewing shops have trouble solving the problem: it is out of their range of knowledge.

Fwiiw, I use a Rasant 120 thread and a #60 needle for silnylon, netting and Pertex.


josh mcginnis
(joshm) - MLife
Working on another machine on 03/27/2011 08:12:27 MDT Print View

Stayed up real late last night trying to figure out how to adjust the bobbin tension on my new machine. Couldn't find anything about it anywhere. The manufacturer does not suggest doing it and my local brother dealer did not want to adjust the bobbin tension when I took it in yesterday.

I then saw the link about what machines other people are using and got my mom's old Kenmore out. It was made in 1974. At the shop they told me it wouldn't work well and would cause nothing more than frustration (so I bought a new one). I learned my lesson on taking sewing advice from someone who profits from me buying new stuff.

Problem I'm having is the stitches are way too close together, even when I alter the stitch length. The machine was fully serviced 3-4 years ago and was not used after that.


P.S. When I use other material (cheap cotton stuff) the stitch length is perfect. It is only with the silnylon I'm having a problem.

Edited by joshm on 03/27/2011 08:23:42 MDT.

josh mcginnis
(joshm) - MLife
Problem Solved...Thanks! on 03/27/2011 19:21:35 MDT Print View

I have fixed the problem and here is what worked.

At lunch with my family, I was telling my mom about my sewing woes and she said I should try her mom's old sewing machine which was much better than hers she had given me earlier. My grandmother has a very old Singer that is built into a desk type thing.

I also got some smaller thread from gutermann.

With all the above tips and a new machine and smaller thread, I set up three sewing machines and started to test them all out. My new $400 Brother would never sew right no matter what I did. My mom's old Kenmore did a much better job. But the real surprise was how amazing my grandmother's Singer did. It would feed the material through perfectly and balancing the stitch was a cinch.

Now I'm ready to sew some bags and then on to more advanced projects.

John West
(skyzo) - M

Locale: Borah Gear
Sewing silnylon on 03/27/2011 20:24:26 MDT Print View

Congrats man, its a tough fabric to sew. It takes a while to get used to. The main thing is just to keep the fabric tight.

Yeah, one of my friend's wife had a nice expensive Brother machine that I first tried on, and I could not get it to sew right no matter what. Then I traveled home one weekend to my parent's house and used my mom's 20 year old Singer and it sewed like a champ. go figure

josh mcginnis
(joshm) - MLife
Crazy how the old ones do better on 03/28/2011 07:00:02 MDT Print View

I'm surprised with how much better the old machines sew than the new ones for the super lightweight fabric used in UL backpacking. I also thought it was almost funny how my grandmothers old singer was the champ and that thing has not been turned on in more than 15 years! I don't know whether or not to take it in for a cleaning and service because it is working so great right now.

Rebecca Ribbing
(joyfulmama) - F

Locale: Alexandria, VA
newer machines are a pita on 03/28/2011 07:05:32 MDT Print View

I've learned the hard way that new machines just aren't built nearly as well as the older ones. I got a nice new machine about a decade ago and after 5 years of struggling with it, I junked it for a $35 singer on Craigslist and I couldn't be happier. My sister has a $700 machine that she's just gotten rid of for another Craigslist viking. It's amazing to me how much better they were back in the day. It's kind of ridiculous.

I'm glad you found a solution!

Rebecca Ribbing
(joyfulmama) - F

Locale: Alexandria, VA
Re: Crazy how the old ones do better on 03/28/2011 07:07:04 MDT Print View

oh, and don't bother to take it in. You can easily clean and oil it yourself. The manual should have instructions on what should be oiled, but you can google it as well.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Sewing silnylon on 03/28/2011 08:26:29 MDT Print View

I will soon attempt to make a Parcho. The kit from Quest Outfitters came with thread. Does anybody know if the thread they send is the right kind?

Also, any tips for cutting silnylon? Should I use a craft knife? Scissors okay or should I buy a pair of shears? Single-edge razor?

josh mcginnis
(joshm) - MLife
Re: Re: Sewing silnylon on 03/28/2011 09:04:44 MDT Print View

The thread I got from Ray Jardine I could not get to work in three machines I have and neither could two different sewing shops. The thread from Quest is what worked for me.

The thread from quest worked better in every machine but best in an old singer from early 1970s.

I have no idea what the details on the thread from Ray Jardine because they don't post thickness or anything like that and couldn't get a response when I asked about it (sent two request for thread details).

I'll list the details on the Quest thread. I'm new so I still don't know what any of it means, but here is what it is.

100% Polyester
No idea on the thickness, but the number is CA 02776

I'm looking forward to finally getting some practice in with silnylon tonight.

Ron Moak
(rmoak) - F
Cutting silnylon on 03/28/2011 09:09:55 MDT Print View


For short precision cuts, I use rotary cutter and mat. For longer cuts, I do a starting cut with rotary then switching to scissors. When cutting with scissors, I open the tips of the scissors about a half inch. Then, with the fabric in the notch, simply push the scissors through the fabric along side your pattern. This is faster and makes a much more precise cut.