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Singer 201k - https://www.singersewinginfo.co.uk/201/ This is an old domestic machine. It’s usually described as “semi industrial” but that isn’t strictly true. You want to ensure you get an electric one, you could make products on a hand crank model but it would be frustrating!
Singer 99k - https://www.singersewinginfo.co.uk/99k/. This is a 3/4 size machine so useful if you’re limited on space. Again ensure you get an electric model, and you want to ensure it has a reverse feature. Look at the link for more information.
Singer 185k - https://www.singersewinginfo.co.uk/185/. An updated version of the 99k. All come with reverse, but you still want to ensure it is electric. Again, a 3/4 size machine.
I’m sure there are plenty of other machines that are suitable. In fact you could buy a brand new machine today and make things with it without any issues, but these older machines have fully metal gears so are far less likely to strip, and the 201k is what I started with. You should be able to pick any one of these machines up for £50-60 in working condition.
Brother B755 - This is the machine I use, it’s a basic lockstitch machine with forward and reverse. I’ve upgraded mine with a servo motor which has an adjustable speed controller which is very useful. The machine cost me £150 but I did have to go and pick it up from Portsmouth in a van because of the size of it!
If I was starting from scratch I would buy a walking foot machine. Walking foot machines are better at keeping multiple layers of fabric held together when sewing, with a lockstitch machine the layers can shift.
Good manufacturers include Brother, Singer, Juki, Pfaff, Seiko and Mitsubishi. They can all be found second hand on eBay and will vary from around £250-£500+. That being said you can get the job done with a lockstitch machine like mine, they start slightly cheaper. I’d look for something with a servo motor, or look to upgrade to one as they can be found for around £125 on eBay.
Don’t believe the ads on eBay claiming machines are “semi industrial walking foot”. I’m sure they’re great machines, but they’re not what you’re looking for!
If you want to buy a new/professionally refurbished machine, I’d start at https://www.industrialsewing.co.uk/ as they always seem to have a large range of machines at a good price.
Bear in mind these machines take up a lot of room - my sewing machine table is around 3ft x 1.5ft - so are only really suitable if you’re looking to step your game up! However, if you get comfortable with the machine you can easily use it for leatherwork, upholstery, camping equipment, and all sorts of other things, I repair my parents horse rugs on mine about once a year.
Scissors - I use Fiskars Dressmaking scissors, I also have a sharpener for them, however any decent pair of scissors will do, just make sure you only use them for cutting fabric and webbing. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/290580154810
Thread Snips - can be bought on eBay for £2.25 for 3. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/262281352822
Lighters - I always keep lighters by my machine. They’re useful for finishing off thread/webbing/binding material.
Chalk - I use Clover Chaco Liners, they’re about £6 each. You can buy refills but I find once they’re empty the dispensing wheel is basically ruined. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/322515535474
Pencil - Any mechanical pencil will be fine, this is useful for marking VX21
Rulers - Steel rulers are essential. You probably want a 12 inch, 24 inch and 1m. If you can get an even longer one, something around 1.5m long, that would be a nice thing to have too but they’re few and far between. A large roofing/framing square is also very useful for marking 90º angles on fabric.
Bobbins - Get a pack of 10 metal bobbins that fit your machine
Needles - Again get a few packs of 10 that fit your machine. 100/16 is the size you want, denim needles are ideal.
Thread - V69 Bonded Polyester thread. See the Suppliers section for more info.
Webbing Cutter - Cutting/finishing webbing soon becomes tiring. I use a Dremel VersaTip Soldering Iron which comes with a basic knife add on for cutting it. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/180659396069. You could also use a hot knife/rope cutter which can also cut fabric. https://shop.solentsew.co.uk/cutting-equipment/hot-knife/solent-100w-hot-knife.html
Binding Attachment - I always use this for attaching my binding/edging. It’ll screw into the bed of the 201k and most industrial machines will have attachment holes in them too. You can get one that you put on/take off every time you need it https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/183209138888 or a swing away one which are hideously expensive https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/390632428059. You want to get a 1” version
Edge Guide - When I first started I always used one of these when joining two pieces of fabric until I got more comfortable with doing it without. Again it screws into the bed of the machine https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/272629377626
Scissor Sharpener - I use a Fiskars one. I’d say this is borderline essential if you’re going to be making often. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/122052080470
https://www.profabrics.co.uk are my go to for almost everything. They sell Cordura, VX21, ripstop nylon, waxed canvas, all sorts of webbing, thread, velcro, buckles, zips, basically everything you need to get started. There is no minimum order
https://www.hookandloop-direct.co.uk/ are great for velcro by the roll. You’ll probably want 25mm and 50mm.
http://www.britishtactical.com/ has a great selection of webbing, as well as camo fabrics.
https://www.attwoollsmanufacturing.co.uk/ do a lightweight 25mm nylon webbing which I use as my binding/edging. They also do lots of other webbing including seatbelt strapping.
https://www.hookandloopfasteners.co.uk/ another good velcro shop. They also do One Wrap velcro by the roll which is what I use for Bar/Stem Bags.
http://thebushcraftstore.co.uk/ is where I get all my paracord from. For each zip loop you want to use about 12”, so get plenty.
https://www.extremtextil.de/ have lots of specialist fabrics, including Cordura and VX21.
https://www.rockywoods.com/ are US based but again, great selection of XPac (X50, VX21) fabrics. They ship to the UK.
I could write a million and one things here that I’ve learned over the years, so I’ll probably add more as I think of them.
Keep your stitch length long, I usually have mine around 4.5mm. It’s actually stronger than shorter stitches, and it makes things easier to unpick if they go wrong.
Keep your seam allowances at around 10mm if you’re going to be binding the seam. This means you want to add on 10mm to every edge that’s going to be properly finished. I do my initial stitch at 5mm (which is about the width of the right hand side of the foot on my machine) and then the binding goes on which brings it out to about 10mm. If you’re not going to be binding it, you can get away with 5mm.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! I’ve got a whole box full of things I did wrong, fabric really isn’t that expensive and you can definitely afford to make mistakes, you’ll learn from them.
If you’re not sure about sizing, bigger is better. You can always cut something down half way through the build if it’s too big. It’s hard to add fabric on if it’s too small.
When cutting fabric, I usually mark on the inside when marking the shapes I plan on cutting. I only mark on the outside if it’s a line I need to follow (such as for a webbing ladder), this keeps things clean.
A lot of the time, you’re going to be working inside out. Your brain will get used to it eventually.
Plan your projects. If you sew all the panels together, you can’t then add a pocket on the front without unstitching it. You will need to think logically about the order in which to do things, but eventually it’ll become second nature.
Draw your ideas. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a scribble, drawing things will help you with the planning of it, and it also means if you don’t touch the project for a few days/weeks/months, you have reference of what it is you’re trying to achieve.
Don’t use VX21 until you’re comfortable with your machine and your skills. Yes it’s the “bikepacking material” with the funky diamond pattern, but once it’s been stitched, it can’t be unpicked without leaving holes in the material. That means if you mess something up, unless you’re very lucky, you’re going to have to remake that panel.
Use instagram for inspiration, follow people, say hi, message them, most of them are really helpful! There are tons of bike bag manufacturers on there from all over the world, steal ideas, copy bits, just make stuff! Don’t rip people off completely and claim it as your own though, that’s not cool. A very well known manufacturer did this a few years ago and pissed off an entire forum full of cyclists. It didn’t go down well for them in that circle, but thankfully their target market shifted and they’re now one of the biggest manufacturers in the UK.
https://backpackinglight.com/forums/forum/gear/make-your-own-gear/ is a great forum for information regarding MYOG, especially super light stuff, as is https://www.reddit.com/r/myog. https://leatherworker.net/forum/ is great for advice about machines.
Start from the same place when cutting fabric. Because I mass produce stuff, I have a bunch of rules that I stick to when cutting fabric, but when I first started I just cut bits out from wherever. This led to a lot of waste.
Keep your offcuts, you never know when they might come in handy.
Make patterns, write down measurements, keep lots of notes. I have a few templates for complicated stuff, but most of my knowledge is in my head. One thing I do is write useful information on my templates, so for example my saddle bag template has all the measurements that I need for velcro, webbing, and even the fabric itself, so even if I don’t make one for months, I still have everything right where I need it.
Save your cardboard boxes. All that Amazon packaging will come in handy for making templates, I’m talking frame bags, top tube bags, saddle bags, anything you can think of.
When working with velcro, always double check before you sew it on and make sure it’s facing the right direction. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve sewn hook side out and then loop side out on the other piece of fabric, and had to unstitch one. It’s not so bad when it’s one piece, but when it’s 9 frame bag straps…