Home-made serger thread spools

A year or two ago I came across a tutorial for winding serger thread onto empty spools to avoid having to buy so many spools of thread for small projects, and I thought – “What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that?” I was able to remove the bobbin winder stopper on my Janome machine’s bobbin winder and stick an empty thread spool upside down right onto the bobbin winder without having to mess with attaching a bobbin to the spool. The spool didn’t fit on my older Singer’s bobbin winder, though. I filled a couple of spools and used them on my overlock machine, and it worked pretty well, but I ran into a couple of problems.

The first problem was that the thread built up too much twist as it unwound off of the small spools. After sewing for a while, the thread would kink up quite a bit. The other problem I had is I didn’t have any more empty spools, and I couldn’t find a source to buy any inexpensively. I tend to use serger thread in my sewing machine a lot of the time, so I don’t empty a lot of small spools. I know, I know, some people say using serger thread for general sewing is bad … but if it was causing my garments to fail, I’d stop doing it, wouldn’t I?

To solve these problems, I decided to make paperboard cones about the same size as the serger cones, so there would be less twist added to the thread as it unwound off the top of the spool. Since I am one of those irritating engineering types, I carefully calculated out the geometry and drafted out a pattern to make a perfect cone. I made a couple of these, with a cut-out circle of paperboard glued on at the bottom to keep the thread from going off the end as I wound the thread on. My solution for winding the thread wasn’t the greatest, but it sort of worked: I cut a piece of firm packing foam to fit inside the cone and hot glued a bobbin with the top broken off into a hole in the center of the foam. Well, not quite the center – it wobbled a bit when I used it on my sewing machine’s bobbin winder.

Here’s my original cardboard thread cone with the foam and bobbin thingy.

Here’s my original cardboard thread cone with the foam and bobbin thingy.

One day after making these spools I was eying the pile of toilet paper tubes that I’d been saving for kids’ craft projects, and I thought gee, those look sort of like the serger cones I spent all that time making. I cut slits most of the way down opposite sides of the cardboard tube, overlapped the upper edges about 1/4” (6 mm), and then glued and taped it back together. I traced around the bottom of the tube on a cereal box, then cut just inside that line and 1/4” (6 mm) outside of it to make a ring to fit on the bottom. I set the cones upside down and ran a bead of glue on the underside of the rings to keep them in place. In a few minutes, I’d made a half dozen cones. I felt kind of stupid for spending so much time designing and making the previous version.

Cut slits in the tube on opposite sides, stopping 1/2″ (1.3 cm) from the bottom. Glue edges.

Overlap the cut edges 1/4" (6 mm) or more.

Overlap the cut edges 1/4″ (6 mm) or more.

Tape it all together, but don't tape on the lower 1/2" (1.3 cm)

Tape it all together, but don’t tape on the lower 1/2″ (1.3 cm)

Set the cardboard tube on some paperboard (like a cereal box) and trace around the bottom.

Set the cardboard tube on some paperboard (like a cereal box) and trace around the bottom.

Cut 1/4" (6 mm) outside of the line, then just inside (not on) the line.

Cut 1/4″ (6 mm) outside of the line, then just inside (not on) the line.

Slip the circle onto the bottom of the tube, then apply glue to the underside of the circle.

Slip the ring onto the bottom of the tube and apply glue around the underside of the ring. Leave it upside down to dry.

To avoid having too much twist (or too little, depending on which way your thread is wound) build up in your thread, you need to unwind the thread from the original cone from the side, not the top. Here’s one way to do that:

Find two thread spools that fit inside the serger thread cone and push them tightly inside it. A bobbin might work for the narrow end. It’s OK if the larger spool sticks out of the end of the thread cone.

Hand wind some thread onto the new cone in the same direction it is wound on the original cone.

My toilet paper roll spools didn’t fit on the foam and bobbin contraption, so I slipped them over the chuck on my drill and wound them that way. It worked really well. If you don’t have a drill, you can try winding the thread with a kitchen mixer. To wind the new cone, unwind the thread off the side of the original cone and wind it onto the new cone in the same direction than it is wound on the original cone. Looking at my serger cones, I noticed some are wound one way, and some the other way, so check each time which way the thread is wound. Another tip is to to use your hand to move the thread quickly back and forth as you guide the thread onto the new spool so the threads are criss-crossed. Otherwise you’ll end up with a tangled mess if tight outer threads get embedded underneath looser inner layers.

Mount the thread cone on a knitting needle poked through the sides of a small box. I used a drill to wind the thread. Use your hand to guide the thread back and forth onto the new spool.

The cardboard spools are lightweight and don’t fit tightly on my overlock machine’s thread holders, so I wrap scraps of fabric around the thread holders until the spools fit tightly.

I wrap fabric around the spool holders so the cardboard spools fit snugly.

I wrap fabric around the spool holders to keep the lightweight cardboard tubes from jumping around.

Here they are, finished! And yay, I only had to buy one spool of fushia thread, which I will probably never use up.

Here they are, finished! And yay, I only had to buy one spool of fushia thread, which I will probably never use up.

Posted in Sewing

Another half-scale dress form

So, I guess I got a little obsessed with the half scale dress forms. I made another version that you print out on card stock and glue together, then cover with paper mache or kraft paper tape. The paper dress form pattern is for sale on Craftsy. I also listed free patterns for a knit dress form cover, woven dress form cover, and a princess line dress. The knit cover and dress should fit the craft foam dress form I have on this site, but the woven cover might need some small adjustments.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Printable French Curves

I was playing around with Inkscape and I ended up making a set of printable French_Curves. I really like how the curve turned out. I made full size, half scale, 3/8 scale, 0.39 scale (1 cm = 1 inch), quarter scale, and 1/5 scale.
french_curve

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

My take on custom dress forms

My first custom dress forms were made with duct tape many years ago. They weren’t that great and eventually stretched out of shape. Later I learned about paper tape dress forms. I had a couple of those made for me over the years. We used reinforced water activated kraft paper tape, since I figured reinforced tape would be stronger, and I couldn’t find any information on which type of tape to use. Well, it turns out I was wrong. I finally found a reference that says to use non-reinforced tape. I recently used non-reinforced tape to make a dress form for a friend, and it came out much stiffer and stronger. The other benefit to the non-reinforced tape is that the outer surface is not as slippery, so fabric doesn’t slide right off of the dress form.

As a test, I wrapped three layers of each kind of tape around a small box, let it dry, and removed it. The non-reinforced tape is on the left. Part of the reason the reinforced tape is so wrinkly is I used too much water on the tape. The non-reinforced tape is a lot smoother and stiffer.
1-paper_tape

I still want a better custom dress form. My fitting shell that fits me perfectly doesn’t fit quite right on the paper tape form. Of course, part of the reason the dress form isn’t quite right is the kids thought it would be fun to fill it with stuffed animals and jump on it. It mostly popped back into shape, but I think the back of the shoulders still looks a little flat.

I think my ideal form would be a paper mache form made inside a plaster bandage mold. I’ve seen way too many examples of expanding foam busting up the plaster mold to want to try that method. I’m sure it can be done successfully, if you drill holes to allow pressure to escape and add the foam just right, but it sounds like it takes practice to get right, and I don’t want to have to beg someone to wrap me in plaster a second time if something goes wrong. I haven’t done a plaster form because of the expense of the plaster bandages, but if I ever do it, from what I’ve researched it sounds best to make the mold in two pieces rather than cutting it. You do the back building up nice thick straight edges on the sides and shoulders, put petroleum jelly on the edges, and then apply the bandages to the front, overlapping the back a bit. This method avoids damaged edges from cutting, and is safer in case the person needs to get out of the plaster in a hurry.

In my effort to find the ideal cheap custom dress form, I tested out making a paper tape skirt form inside the one made on my body. Maybe someday I’ll try something like this on a dress form.

I also added another tutorial for making seam allowance guides.
5-use_tool

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Pants form tutorial

I added a tutorial for a 3/8 scale pants form, similar to the half-scale dress form instructions.21 finished form

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

My first try at retting flax

It looks like the weather should be fairly sunny for the next few days, so I think I’ll try water retting some of the flax that I grew last summer. There is way too much mildew around here, so I don’t like the thought of mildew on my fibers from dew retting. I’d much prefer to process the flax with nasty smelling bacteria. :) At least that way it will have a nice blond color, instead of a gray tint that reminds me of mildew.

My main reference book for flax/linen is Linen from flax seed to woven cloth by Linda Heinrich. It reads like an encyclopedia, with lots of interesting and relevant information.

I also found the free e-book A Guide to Spinning Flax: Linen Spun from Flax Fibers that has information on growing, retting, and spinning flax.

Posted in Growing and processing flax

Custom fitted clothing

I want to make clothing that fits me perfectly mainly for two reasons: comfort and health. How my clothes look is a secondary concern – I can buy clothes to get a certain look, but not ones that fit. I’m convinced that my poor posture for most of my life was made worse because I was hunching my shoulders and arching my lower back to relieve the pressure points caused by poorly fitting clothes. The feel of custom fitted clothes is unbelievable. Even heavy fabric can feel feather light since the weight is distributed evenly. The first time I wore custom made pants they were so comfortable I kept looking down at my legs to check and make sure I hadn’t left the house in my pajamas. It almost inspires me to write a poem. And I hate poetry.

Posted in Patternmaking

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