Part one: Needle and thread
Ok, depending on what kite related thing I'm building I might
change as necessary but 99% of the time I stick with the same kind of needles, same kind of thread, and the same machine (I am guilty of owning 3 but only ever use 2 of them).
Let us start with the thread.
The reality is you could use any
kind of thread and end up with a kite. However, some threads are better than others and better is always
worth aiming for. For a start you could just use cotton thread and it would look ok. However I strongly
advise that you don't. Kites are meant to be flown, and in the UK we get a lot of rain, hence wet kites. Salt water and beaches are even worse. Cotton can't handle these elements and will
rot over time. It just does not have the longevity that we want to be pursuing. Why invest many hours into making a kite for it to then fall apart on you down the line?
For this reason a polyester thread is the way to go. I have used a few different brands of polyester thread over the years and have fully settled on Gutermann Sew-All thread which is 100% polyester.
I wouldn't even consider
using anything else now. It is bloody good stuff: available as 100m, 250m, 500m, or even 1000m lengths (Kilometre of sewing anyone?). It is easy to work with, available in all colours of the rainbow, not 'fluffy', has a nice weight to it, never snapped on me, sold in most sewing and craft shops and is a fair price. I really have nothing negative to say about it. I use it whatever kite and whatever kite sleeve I am making. If you are seeking to use a thread that matches the colour of the fabric panel then I am confident you will find a good enough colour match.
The only time I use a different thread (still Gutermanns but a heavier weight variant) is if I am building a kite bag
to hold a bunch of kites in their respective sleeves - another topic for a different day; possibly the next build thread as I need another bag
As for needles there is a bit more of variability. At its simplest level needles come in not only different sizes i.e thickness (think of the size hole it leaves in the fabric when punching through) - but also 'varieties'.
By varieties I kind of mean the shape of the sharp bit at the end of the needle.
For example: you can get denim or 'sharp
' needles (as the name suggests these are very sharp and designed primarily for heavier weight fabrics and pierce
through the weave), ballpoint needles (they have a more rounded end which separates
the weave as it goes through - useful on more open weave fabrics), and Universal needles (really a combination of the 2 above).
another kind of needle called a Microtex needle that really interests me - I will be doing some more experimenting with these shortly and post the results - so far so good; (they have an acute point and are designed for working with more 'modern' materials such as polyesters and coated materials)...Are you thinking Icarex???
Anyhow. as of now
, my advice is go with the Universal needles. They will not let you down for the majority of materials you will use. Simple.
Now the more interesting consideration of this topic is the size of the needle. The needle size needs to match the weight of the thread
. You will have nowt but dropped stitches if you tried to use a fine needle with a thread which has a heavy 'weight' (ok so not 100% accurate but you could think of the 'weight' as the thickness of the thread). To understand why the size needs to match the weight
let us briefly consider how a machine needle kind of works
When the machine runs:
step 1. is that the machine punches down and the point of the needle begins to creates the necessary hole. Take a second to note where the thread is going through the eye of this needle - on a sewing machine needle the eye is just above the point (Unlike on a hand needle where the eye is on the end).
step 2. is where the needle continues dropping the thread and thus is carried through the opening of the hole.
So far so good. Now take a look at the picture of the needle and you will see that above the eye is a groove which runs along the shaft of the needle. This groove is pretty important and leads onto...
step 3. As the needle is driving through the fabric the carried thread will lie into the groove and thus not protrude from the overall thickness of the needle. Therefore it is carried without obstruction.
step 4. is where the top thread interlocks with the bottom thread and some magic happens below(we will come back to this later).
step 5. is then where the needle withdraws from the fabric (again with the thread laying within the groove), reveals the stitch and is now ready to repeat the process.
So let us return to the 'needle size needing to match the weight of the thread'
. On the whole we want to use the smallest size needle we can get away with for the material we are using. Think of this as the size of the hole we will be punching in the sail - we are not intending to make perforations - just a hole big enough for the thread to go through. If you use a fine needle with a fat thread the hole just isn't big enough and can lead to dropped stitches. Now consider the opposite; a fat needle with a fine thread - you are unlikely
to drop a stitch as the thread can pass easily through but damn...those holes look nasty when held up to the sky - we are trying to make a kite not a doily.
So its like Goldilocks porridge, you want a happy medium - the smallest needle that can accommodate the thread and
get through the materials without dropping stitches.
So what size needle do I use? For the majority of the sail (all of the sail panels for sure) I use a size 11 needle. I sometimes use smaller but find a size 11 to be dependable on my machine (Please note that your machine may be happy going with a smaller size needle so experiment as you see fit!). I end up with a nice small hole, it matches well to my preferred thread weight and 99.9% of the time gives me no dropped stitches. In areas where I am going through heavier materials & multiple layers (reinforcements, nose etc) I may
go up a bit in needle size, say a 14 or 16 sometimes, but again, only as much as is needed. This can be deducted through test pieces, of which we will dedicate a full part in this thread to discuss further.
As for what brand of needle then? Lets be clear - we are only talking about something that costs a few pounds but there are good needles
and bad needles
. Do not buy the cheapest in the store
. I really like the Schmetz brand. Superb needle every single time. My number one for sure. You will not go wrong if you can purchase these. A second choice would
be Klasse. But...I have had it quite a few times with these where a spanking new needle was defected and just dropped stitches immediately. Therefore I am a bit more wary of this brand of needle.
Number one choice:
Number two choice:
Now this reminds me of very important
point which I will end this part with for tonight.
IMO the vast majority of cases where your machine is just messing up, dropping stitches etc. the problem is either the needle or the thread, likely
the former. Change the needle, and remember; just because that one is now new doesn't mean it isn't defected!
- and also check it is inserted with the flat point being the correct way in the arm. If the problem persists then question the thread - is it missing a guide between the eye and the bobbin? If it still persists - are you using an adhesive tape as opposed to a glue to hold materials together? I personally really dislike tape and had a world of problems when using it in the past (We will look into this area in another build thread). If the problem still
persists then I would be looking at tensions and so on. But my bet is the majority of problems disappear with the change of needle or thread.
That is all for part 1 of this particular build thread. In part 2 we will briefly look at the basics of a sewing machine, how to set it up correctly for kite building, and discuss stitches that are commonly used.