Smooth Moves: Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 deep clean

Yesterday I spent hours deep cleaning and oiling my sewing machines. I've been needing to do it for quite a while, but have only now slowed down enough to take the proper time to do it. I'm so glad I did! This might sound weird, but it was really a joy to spend time with them in a different way. It's a chance to get to watch the inner workings just for the fun of it, which I don't see when I'm just sewing. It's quite fun to watch all the different parts moving in their perfectly timed and coordinated ways. When I spend time like this I inevitably feel like maybe I should have been a small machine repairwoman, ha! I really do find these kinds of machines fascinating. Machine nerdery/fascination aside, now my (incredibly important) workhorses are running smoothly again. Huzzah!

Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Review

UPDATE 7/3/14: I recently purchased a refurbished Consew 226 to work alongside the Sailrite. For several tasks, I am finding the Consew to be a better fit, especially on projects in which I am not always sewing through the same number of layers. With the Consew I am exclusively using a TEX 45 bonded nylon thread (see these bags), and am mostly using a TEX 40 polyester thread with the Sailrite (like I use on these wallets and pouches). This combo is working well for what I am doing. If I was to continue only using the Sailrite for all my production, I have a feeling it would eventually start causing a lot more problems. It just doesn't seem like these machines are made for production work (it's not a fully industrial machine after all). But for less intense work, it seems to be just fine.

My sewing machine and I have been together a little over a year now, so I think it is high time to talk a bit about this lovely beast. She's a Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1, a semi-industrial machine made especially for sewing through multiple layers of heavy materials like canvas, leather, upholstery fabric, or in my case, bike tubes. I tell ya, without this machine, I wouldn't have gotten as far as I have with my bike tube adventuring.

My workhorse, a Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1

My workhorse, a Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1

Before I had this machine, I had very little experience with and did very little research into industrial and semi-industrial machines, so I don't have much to compare this to other than all the many home machines I have used. That being said, just the fact that it has a walking foot (the most amazing thing ever!) and a more powerful motor than the old home sewing machine I had been using, has made it indispensable for my business. Once I played around with it for a bit and figured out all the settings, the ease with which I could get professional looking seams was amazing. Just getting decent looking seams out of my first machine was a struggle (not the machine's fault, surely its makers never intended it to be used for sewing rubber).

I read about this machine in Make magazine and I knew someone who had one, so I had done a little bit of research. Practically all the reviews I found were overwhelmingly positive, which made me a bit suspicious (with the exception of one reviewer who, while admitting it was a good machine, said that Sailrite's choice to go with a plastic flywheel was akin to wearing cheap shoes with a thousand dollar suit). But, it seemed like a pretty decent machine for the price. Plus my friend had good things to say about theirs so I was seriously considering the investment. THEN...the day before my birthday I was presented with my very own bright and shiny Ultrafeed sitting in a custom made table built by a good friend and one of my biggest supporters! After some difficulties with skipped stitches (which was determined to have been caused by some minor adjustments that were made soon after I got it) I was off and sewing! And I will say that it has been a great machine ever since, and now I understand why everyone was raving about it. It has worked very well for me, and has made a huge difference in my business.

There are a couple things that have irked me that I want to mention. Yeah, the plastic flywheel feels cheap, but so far I've had no problems with it. There's no light, which took some getting used to. Also annoying was the fact that the electronic foot pedal that comes with the machine is cheap and makes speed control difficult. I was lucky enough to have someone around who knows how to fiddle with electronics and wiring. He replaced the cheapo pedal with an older resistive style pedal, which made it much easier to control the speed of the machine. The circuit board from the electronic pedal was put into a custom 3D printed case and is wired to the new/old resistive pedal, which allows for some fine-tuning. This makes it really easy to go super slow if I need to.

The resistive pedal and the electronic pedal that it replaced. On the right is the 3D printed case that houses the electronic guts from the original pedal.

The resistive pedal and the electronic pedal that it replaced. On the right is the 3D printed case that houses the electronic guts from the original pedal.

It do think that there are some features that should be automatically included, but are add-ons, and they aren't cheap. During Sailrite's holiday sale last December, I caved and bought an LED light and their reverse stop & lock knob, which allows you to lock the stitch length lever in place (seems that should be a standard option, is that just me?) I also went in for a right angle binder, which really has nothing to do with the overall operation of the machine, but I have really loved it. Since the machine has been working so well for me and the add-ons I got have been pretty useful, I won't complain about this, but I think it's worth at least mentioning.

One last thing I want to mention is that I exclusively use TEX 45 bonded nylon thread and TEX 40 polyester thread. They both work beautifully with a little bit of tension adjustment when switching between them.

Overall, I'd say it's definitely a good machine, and I'm finding that it's still a great fit for what I am doing, especially with a few modifications (the new pedal, adding a light, and the stop & lock knob). Now, for some videos!

A Look Back

Originally posted on Moab Bag Co's Tumblr blog, dated 12/22/13

Now that the holiday shopping season is winding down here at MBC, I am marveling at how my expectations for the season were greatly exceeded. My “ambitious” goal for the last two months was apparently a rather low bar that I easily sailed right over. It is clear now that I underestimated peoples’ desire for cool bike tube wares. A sign that I should have listened more closely to my friends’ claims that my products will be very wanted

It’s been an exciting year, and to get to end it on such a high note is a great bonus. It’s still a little unbelievable to me how this whole thing got started. Such a small seed! The progression from then to now is kind of amazing, and I marvel at that more than how great the last couple of months have been. If I can make all of this happen in just a matter of months, what can I do in the next year? I have some ideas, and now that I can slow down, breathe deep, and contemplate, I will start fleshing those ideas out and develop a solid plan for the upcoming year.

I am very grateful for the support and positive reinforcement that my friends, family, the Moab community, even strangers on the internet, have provided. Their desire to see me succeed means so much. One person in particular has played a vital role in this story, someone who has supported me all the way, and pushed me to do more and do better. I know I would not have made it this far without them. Their immense generosity and tireless support is humbling. Thank you.

Wallets and I, we've got History with a capital H

Taken from the Moab Bag Co Tumblr blog, originally dated 10/21/13

I never thought wallets would ever become an issue in my life…

After my first foray into bike tube baggery (a set of bike panniers for myself) my (then) partner - who I must credit as the person who gave me the idea to make bike tube bags - said, “what about wallets?” I didn’t really give it much thought, but went ahead and made one anyway. The feedback was great, so I made another, then another. The third one seemed pretty ok, so I thought I’d make a few more. My roommates soon had bike tube wallets for “product testing” and were encouraging me to make more. Then before I knew it, I was carrying a bunch of wallets in a box around Moab and inquiring at all the local shops to see if anyone might be interested. I didn’t really have much success at first, most of the shop owners looked in the box, and then politely declined. Looking back I can’t hardly blame them, there wasn’t much to get excited about, all that plain black rubber sitting in a box? No branding, a sort of amateur feel, not very professional or eye catching. Sometime after 50 wallets or so, I got some colored thread, took some photos, and started an Etsy shop. They started selling. Well, ok, I wasn’t that excited about the wallets, but if people wanted them, I could not withhold!

Some of the original wallets

Some of the original wallets

Meanwhile, I tried to refine my wallet making process, because it was taking too long, and I was ready to try making other bags. So I tried a few things, but nothing seemed to improve upon my original method. I was just going to have to get faster, all the while making sure the wallets looked good (and hopefully professional) which I was having a hard time with. To be honest, I came to HATE making wallets. My sewing machine had become temperamental. It seemed to want to skip stitches and snarl the thread only when I was sewing wallets. I had many a frustrated moment sitting at the machine cursing and telling it loudly how stupid it was. I started to think my machine was doing it to get back at me for calling it names. I now dreaded making wallets, but it was becoming clear that folks were more interested in my wallets than anything else I was making - they were my bread and butter. So, I needed to make it work. Turns out the machine needed some adjustment (duh) - something I had failed to recognize in my over-emotional state. My problem-solving, ever patient, and resourceful partner spent TWO WHOLE DAYS making adjustments, while watching the dorky and hardly bearable Fix-It-Yourself DVDs that came with the machine. (I appreciated this man even more after having witnessed his enduring patience in the face of my frustration and emotional outrage).

And…? It worked! The new adjustments made wallet making much more bearable, practically eliminating skipped stitches and slowly helping my confidence in my wallet making skills to return. Since then, my wallets have improved leaps and bounds, and I have much more confidence in their desirability and attractiveness. It’s amazing what lots of practice (and patience) can do.

The greatly improved wallet, after months of practice!

The greatly improved wallet, after months of practice!

Coming soon!

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