industrial sewing machine

The Industrious Sewing Machine

One day I’d like to make leather purses and wallets.  To sell.  I guess it’s because I enjoy purchasing fine leather products, and I’d like to be able to make them to the size and specs that would fit my needs.  And I figure maybe other people would like such particular size and shapes of wallets and purses too. While I may dabble in sewing leather with my home sewing machine one day, I know in order to get serious about sewing leather, I’ll need an industrial sewing machine made specifically to handle leather.

As I give thought to future business ventures and industrial machines, I am more than a little curious to hear how other people have begun their own business, especially as it pertains to sewing.  A good friend of mine, Josh, has been making minimalist running sandals, and he recently opened an online store.  I got the chance to pick his brain a little regarding the business and the industrial sewing machine he is using.  I thought other people might be interested in this little interview, so here it is:

What is the product you are making, and how critical is the sewing machine to the process?

I am making minimalist running sandals, and the sewing process is actually very important to all the models that I make.  Without sewing I was really limited in terms of what I could use as a sandal strap.  The best I had come up with was leather that was pulled through the sole and tied.  It would work for a while but it would wear out every so often and the process would be repeated.  I remember one time this happened while we were at the fair with you and Chris.  As I recall the only tools I had to repair it were my teeth, and fingers; needless to say I wasn’t thrilled with the leather knot.  Now I sew three parts on the sandals: the molded toe plug to the strap, the elastic heel strap, and the lace keeper.  Without sewing the performance and finish of the sandal are not possible.


What kind of machine are you using?

I am using a Singer 16-188 on a power table; the motor is a 1991 Consew.  According to what I read on-line this particular model was originally built to sew medium weight leather and upholstery, and it was manufactured between the 1920’s and 50’s.  My father had actually purchased it in the early 1990’s to sew the upholstery on his 1936 Ford pick-up.  That project continues to this day and the machine sat for about 20 years until I started making sandals.  The machine needed some attention when I unearthed it, and it was even beyond Jacqui’s ability to repair.  Fortunately I met a local seamstress who recommended a company in Los Gatos called Save Our Sew that specializes in repairing old sewing machines.  They repaired it and refurbished the table and now it is sewing very strong.  I personally don’t know that much about sewing machines but I actually think this thing is perfect for what I am doing.  I sew leather and Tubular nylon webbing; both materials are quite thick and need a pretty strong machine which this thing is.  It also has one of the first walking feet, so I read, this has been very helpful because it really helps to flatten and sort of press the material as I sew which is great because it makes the finished product stronger, tighter and looks better too.


How does the industrial machine compare to the home sewing machine?

Honestly I was a little bit intimidated when I first started sewing with this machine.  I have only been sewing for a couple of months now and I was just getting the hang of my wife’s Kenmore (which she had purchased when she was in Junior High).  However we were destroying it trying to sew this heavy material–it was simply not up to the task.  Back to the Singer, the motor is probably strong enough to turn a cement mixer, and it is honestly scary because if you really step on the peddle you could blast through your work in a heart beat or injure yourself holding the wheel that is connected to the belt.  In spite of the risk and the power of the machine, once I made the adjustment to it I really don’t want to go back to the home sewing machine.  It is consistent and it is totally unfazed by the material I am working with, and that is really nice because I can focus on the sewing rather than the machine which is what I was doing with the home sewing machine.


How does it feel to be a man who sews?  

Not that great. I was working in East San Jose building a retaining wall for about a month, and I had no time to get to the fabric store, and I really needed a tape measure.  Lo and behold I found one in Safeway one morning while getting breakfast and it was pink.  You can be sure a few jokes were tossed my way on account of the pink tape measure which I eventually gave to my daughter Naomi.  Other than the razzing over the tape measure sewing is simply another skill, and I think a very valuable one to have.  I like making things; in general I have found that I need to learn new skills all the time or I will not be able to realize my vision.  Fortunately for me there have been wonderful people who have been more than willing to share their skills and instruction in order to teach me how to sew and refine the sandals.  Hopefully I will have opportunities to pass on what I know and that can benefit others at some point.  So my answer is yes sewing is very manly don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Do you foresee yourself sewing anything other than sandals in the future?

At this point I can really only see myself sewing other models of sandals, but a couple of years ago I would never have thought I would be starting a sandal making company.  I am excited though to continue working with the sewing machine and the sandals because I know if I stick with it new ideas and skills will come, and who knows what the sandals will look like in a couple of years.

Has sewing broadened your horizons in anyway?

Certainly I am learning all about the sewing industry, manufacturing, working with suppliers, and technicians.  Sewing is a whole world unto itself.  One thing it has given me is a greater appreciation for the work that goes on behind the scenes to bring clothing and apparel to market at an affordable price that we can take for granted.  It is hard work and it involves a lot of risk, and my hat is off to all the men and women who have kept us wonderfully clothed. It is truly amazing.

Thanks to Josh for answering all my questions and for letting me try out the machine before I moved far far away.  

If you are interested in checking out Josh’s sandals, you can find Shamma Sandals here.