Sewing Machines. We has them.
For both industrial machines, please DO NOT unthread them unless you must, to fix a snarl. Instead, to remove (say) your own thread, simply cut it close to the spool so that the next person can simply tie a knot with the next thread and pull it all the way through to the needle.
Needles for these machines are NOT sold at most fabric stores. Both kinds take the same type of needle, luckily. The closest place to get them is at Apparel City, on Howard between 11th & 12th. Tell them you want size 14 needles for a Juki DDL 5550 and they'll give you the right kind.
If you've never operated a sewing machine before, ask some people at Noisebridge such as Rachel, Rachel, Crutcher, Alex, Ariel. Or do some research online. You are very unlikely to damage the machines by simply messing around with them, but they are not completely self-explanatory and this page does assume a certain amount of prior general knowledge. A good time to get help is Wednesday evenings, when SCoW meets.
If a sewing machine is actually broken and non functional, as opposed to just you can't figure out how to make it work, please call Billy from Apparel City at 415-816-8645 (mobile) and schedule an appointment for him to come fix it. He usually charges around $80 per hour, plus parts. Email the list and people will chip in to cover this. If you can't manage this process, email the sewing list and find someone else who can. Also, please put a note on the machine so people know what is going on with it.
The industrial straight stitch Juki sewing machine
This machine does only straight stitches, no zig-zag (and no button holes). It can go very fast. It has an automatic thread cutter which is triggered by pushing down on the treadle with your heel, the opposite from how you push to have it make stitches. There's a set of buttons on a widget atop the machine which control automated backstitching. If the top light is lit, the machine will do a backstitch when you start a seam. If the bottom light is lit, it will do a backstitch prior to cutting the thread, when you push back on the treadle. Push the associated button to toggle the backstitching. If this isn't clear yet, take some scrap fabric and play around with it until it makes sense. There's scrap fabric in the wheeled canvas bins under the table by the window.
Bobbins are kept in the drawer under the left side of the machine's table. Also in that drawer are thread snips, replacement needles, and a little screwdriver to change the needle with. Note that the needle faces to the left, instead of to the front, as on most home sewing machines. If you replace a broken needle and put it in facing forwards, nothing will break but the machine will not form stitches.
To wind a bobbin, place the empty bobbin on the horizontal spindle to the right of the machine body (near the hand wheel). Run a second thread through the upper holder, down to the tensioner at the back of the right side of the machine, in line with the spindle. Thread the end through one of the holes in the bobbin side, from the inside to the outside. Press the lever to push the spindle down in contact with the sewing machine belt. While holding the thread end so it doesn't just whip out of the bobbin, press the treadle to run a couple of inches (if there were fabric in the machine). Soon enough you can let go of the thread end as it will have been caught by windings on top of it. If you are doing a lot of sewing, you can start a new bobbin before the current one is empty, and let it wind up as you sew. When the bobbin is full, the lever will automatically snap out away from the belt and stop winding thread.
The top speed of the machine can be adjusted using one of the knobs on a box under the table, next to the motor. It is the second knob down. Right is faster, left is slower. Feel free to adjust this -- use a scrap piece of fabric to determine a good top speed for your skill level and project needs.
Full manual: Media:Juki-ddl-5550-6.pdf
Recommended reading: http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/3751/machine-needle-know-how
The industrial Juki serger
This machine does three kinds of stitches: a three-thread overlock, a chainstitch/overlock combination, or a four-thread overlock. Normally it is set up to do the three-thread overlock, which only requires one needle, and doesn't use the rear thread trace or the second upper thread trace. This machine has a knife placed to cut the fabric as you sew, and it *is possible* to cut your finger badly on this knife if you are not careful. The location of the knife is pointed out in bright orange nail polish on the machine. BE CAREFUL. This machine also can go extremely, sometimes startlingly, fast.
Thread tension is controlled by the knobs on the right front of the machine. Mostly they're adjusted properly, and for most uses of serging the tension is not critical. If the serged stitching is really wonky, though, try messing with the tension dials - be sure the thread is caught properly between the tension plates, as it occasionally gets into the springs instead.
DO NOT UNTHREAD THE SERGER. If you want different colored thread, simply cut off the current threads near the cone spools, and tie on a new thread. Then either pull the threads through from the needle area (this can be difficult as they are somewhat knotted and you'll have to pull one out through the guts of the machine), or serge for a few inches on some scrap until the new color is pulled through. You may or may not find that the knot catches on the hole in the needle. If it does, just cut it, rethread the needle, pull 6 or 8 inches of thread through, and keep serging for a bit.
If a thread breaks and forms a tangle, or breaks somewhere in the middle of the threading, you can find a map of how to rethread it on the inside of a little door that opens up just to the right of the knife. It opens downwards and lets you get at the levers and such of the thread traces. Each thread trace is drawn in a different color, however note that the tension dials are of mismatched colors, so follow the guide not the tension dial coloring.
If you have to replace the needle, the notch in the needle faces backwards and if threads front to back.
Full manual: Media:JukiMO240424142416.pdf
The portable Necchi
This is the only one of our functional sewing machines that can make buttonholes. It tends to snarl when run fast, but is usually OK when run at a slow or moderate speed.