Friday, July 11, 2008

Choosing the correct needles and thread for your Willcox & Gibbs Chain Stitch Sewing Machine

Choosing the correct needles and thread for your
Willcox & Gibbs Chain Stitch Sewing Machine

The information about needles in this particular blog also applies to other machines that use the same needle, such as chain stitch sewing machines made by Kruse & Murphy, Eldredge/National, and Western Electric. Please note that the Singer model 24 series of chain stitch sewing machines do NOT use the same needle as the other machines mentioned in this article.

Willcox & Gibbs needles
Willcox & Gibbs brand needles have long been discontinued and some people may have trouble finding them. This particular blog article will address how to get compatible needles and which ones I recommend.
Original W&G needles are stamped W&G on them and if they are in their original packets with the manufacturers name on them, they go for big bucks on eBay. I have seen them go as high as $30 for 3 needles. I do not recommend buying them for sewing with unless you are extremely desperate.
The Boye wood tubes of needles, which are labeled "20 1/2" also sell for a lot of money as a "collectible", again I don't recommend them, unless you luck out and find them cheap. Be sure to check what size they are, as the smaller ones are nearly impossible to find fine enough thread to it through their itty bitty holes. The 000, 00 and 0 sizes were meant for very fine heirloom sewing on very thin fabric with ultra thin silk threads.
There were other companies that made compatible needles, but they are even harder to find. I occasionally come across generic needles in plain envelopes inside a drawer or case of a W&G machine. Manufacturer of needle is unknown. However, once you know what a real W&G needle looks like, you will easily be able to recognize what a compatible needle should look like.
This picture will show what a W&G chain stitch sewing machine needle looks like compared to some of the other needles by other makers. Its looks are quite distinctive, it is #6 in the middle of the other needles in this illustration: . It is a very short and stout needle, with a groove going down the entire length of the shank.
Studying the text and images in this catalog : will show you images of hundreds of different needles going to various models and makers of sewing machines, and will make it easier for you to learn to spot which needles are suited to various machines in your collection.
The best needles for actual sewing on a W&G are the more modern needles made by Schmetz, which are also sadly discontinued, but easier to find, cost less, and are of such high quality
that one needle may last you for many many hours of sewing. Contrary to what most sewing needle manufacturers recommend you do not need to change to a fresh needle every 8 hours of sewing time, at least not with Schmetz. They stay sharp a very long time, and I rarely break them. I have probably used Schmetz needles for 30-60 hours of sewing before they became too dull to use.

If you are looking for needles to fit your W&G, go to the Schmetz website:
. Click on the link for "customer service", and choose what country you are in. You'll get a name of a person to contact, click on their name and it will open a window for you to email them.
Send that person a message with your address and ask them for a list of dealers in your area .
When you get the list, call those dealers and ask for what you want, and if they don't have it ask them to special order it from Schmetz for you. The dealer should be able to find out from Schmetz exactly what is left in their inventory. If there isn't any left in the size you want, start calling every dealer till you find one with them in stock. You will most likely need to deal with industrial suppliers, NOT little fabric shops or sewing machine stores geared towards home sewers. If there are needles left in a size you want at the Schmetz factory, the order will take a few weeks to get since it will come from Germany to your dealer then to you.

When you call dealers ask them for Schmetz "WY 502".
I got my needles as a special order from:
S.M. Cristall Co, Inc.
1865 Kenmore Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14217
Toll Free: 1-800-800-9983
Phone: (716) 876-9105
Fax: (716) 876-9142

They may be a good place to start, but again, if the size you want is no longer available from the Schmetz factory as a special order, then you will need to get a list of Schmetz dealers that
might have some left in their own warehouse/store. You may need to contact dealers in other states and/or countries. Be persistent.

I personally don't know of any eBay dealers that are going to continue selling the Schmetz W&G inventory that they have left at the old rate of $15 for 10. It is all about supply and demand. If they can get $35-$50 on eBay for 10 they will do it. If you buy from an industrial supplier you will spend about $66-$70 ( US dollars) for a parcel of 100 needles all the same size, separated into 10 packs of ten needles each. I have heard that some dealers are charging double that amount, but it is still a bargain compared to eBay prices for individual 10 packs.

(These prices are current as of July 2008.)

Choosing the right size needles and thread for what you plan to sew:
When reading your W&G manual or looking at the cloth plate on some of the machines, you may notice a size chart listing needles in sizes 00-4, along with recommended thread sizes and stitches per inch.
Here is a conversion chart for the needles sizes:
W&G needle sizes = new modern sizes
00 = 7 or 8
0 = 9
1 = 10
2 = 12
3 = 14
4 = 16
5 = 18
6 = 19
7 = 21
8 = 22
10 = 23

I personally don't recommend anything smaller then a 12 or larger then a 16 for most home sewing needs with modern threads.
The size 12 works perfectly with most home sewing thread, including the rayon or polyester machine embroidery threads, cotton machine quilting thread, and Coats & Clark dual duty
cotton/polyester thread. The size 12 is suitable for light weight fabrics. Use size 14 or 16 if you wish to do decorative embroidery with the thicker tatting thread made by DMC, or if you are sewing thick fabrics like velvet. Size 18 is really only for very thick fabrics, like denim.

If you choose a large needle and thick thread to sew light fabrics, you often end up having the fabric dragged down, sucked into the machine , in a snarled up mess around the looper, often with holes in the fabric. Be careful not to order or use large needles if you wont be sewing on heavy fabrics.
When choosing thread, try to stick with spools that are short and wide, not the long skinny ones. The long ones don't always fit on the spool pin, so if you want to use them you will have to
purchase a thread stand. Serger thread is also very thin and works well with W&G auto tension sewing machines, but you will need a separate thread stand. Here is a picture of mine:

How to choose the correct stitch size, based on needle and thread used :
Ignore the chart on the machine (if there is one) and in the manual. It doesn't translate well to modern threads.
I recommend using 12 stitches per inch if you are using thick threads with a large needle (size 16 or higher) on thick fabric.
I would recommend using 12-16 stitches per inch with a size 14 needle, depending on the choice of thread.
I have never found a thread thin enough to go more then 20 stitches per inch , and going only as high as 16-18 per inch with the thinner threads and smaller needles such as the size 12 needle.
Older machines do NOT have a numbered stitch length selector, and also may not have the chart engraved on the cloth plate, so you will just have to experiment till you get results that please you.
Size 12 needle: 12-16 stitches per inch with ordinary thread such as Coats & Clark Dual Duty, 18-20 stitches per inch with very thin thread, such as polyester or rayon machine embroidery threads.
Size 14 needle: 12 stitches per inch if using decorative tatting thread, or up to 16 per inch with cotton machine quilting thread, or ordinary polyester threads.
Size 16 needle: 12 stitches per inch, heavy thread & heavy fabric.

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