Sewing- not just for clothes anymore! (Or ever, really.)
Sewing- not just for clothes anymore! (Nor was it ever, really.)
More and more often, making, hacking, and fabrication projects demand flexibility. It's not just about apparel or wearables anymore; sometimes it's a matter of practicality or cost. I'm not here to talk about crafting and garment construction right now, although the same principles obviously apply, but I've gotten a lot of questions about the tools and techniques used to hack together some traditional (and non-traditional) materials, so I thought I'd share!
Let's start with a sewing machine. Not everyone has one, and they're not necessarily cheap, but it's the sensible way to construct quite a few soft structures, so we should discuss it. If you've got a machine, that's wonderful! If you haven't got a machine, but you've got access to one through a friend, hackerspace, or family member, also great! This is a great way to learn without risking the loss of a chunk of money if you don't like it. Don't have either? Don't despair! I might get some friction for this in the comments (and feel free to bring it on, machine elitists! Your input is valuable!), but for your first machine, and something you're not sure you'll use with great frequency, I recommend one of two options.
A sewing machine is useful for fabric, but also for vinyl, leather, some papers, and even some metallic materials. You use it for straight seams, laying down long traces of conductive thread, attaching long sections of a non-sewable material to a soft base with a technique called 'Couching' (this is a great way to secure wires to a project you'd rather not use conductive thread on) and more. Unthreaded, you can also use it as a perforation tool.
Another, more specialized tool that I get asked about a lot is a serger. If you konw someone who sews, you've probably heard of it, but you may not know what it actually does. A serger (also known as an overlock machine) is a finishing tool for the edges of projects. They vary, but typically a serger will cut your material off as you sew, using four spools of thread simultaneously to create a finished edge.
You can use it independently for straight seams, so I use it instead of the sewing machine for a lot of applications, but it's not a suitable straight replacement, because you can't topstitch or finish a serged hem. Sergers used to be very expensive, but prices have dropped to around $250 for a serviceable one, which is worth it if you're using it often.
I get asked about leather a lot. It's beautiful, makes a great enclosure, finishing it imperfectly often just makes it look more rugged. It also gives your project that wonderful new car smell! There are a ton of different types of leather, and some of them require a really substantial investment in tools; since this is aimed at the beginner, I'm just going to point you towards the types of leather most suitable for machine or hand sewing. These include almost all faux leathers, a lot of garment-weight cowhides, lambskin, pigskin, and deerskin. In all cases, feel the weight and be sensible- if it's cardboard-stiff, it's probably not going to work out. If it flexes like fabric, you're likely to be okay. When sewing leather on your machine, take it slow! Broken needles aren't a huge deal, but they're still best avoided, and they're most likely to be a problem when you're roaring through the material at top speed! Entirely without sewing, you can make shaped leather pieces using boiling and gluing techniques.
Just a couple more suggestions, if you're still with me!
Questions? Corrections? Examples? Non sequiturs? That's what the comments are for, so get to it!