Feed Off the Arm Machine and Other Stories…

Introducing guest Houndstooth Wrapper Laura Gardner, PhD Candidate and Sessional Lecturer in the School of Fashion and Textiles, and online editor of Vestoja platform for critical thinking about fashion.

This week the Houndstooth Wrap paid a visit to the “specialty machine room” in building 516, helmed by Brunswick’s expert technical team with their expert technical know-how. Holly and Clem talked us through some of the highlights of the machines available, giving a demonstration on four of their favourites: the felled-seam machine, the elastic binding machine, the bias binding machine and the buttonhole machine.

Feed Off The Arm Machine:

Laura: How do you use this machine? 

Holly: This machine is a bit tricky to master; even its name ‘Feed Off The Arm Machine’ gives you an idea of why. Basically you have two pieces of fabric that you feed into the machine foot over the machines arm, they twist into each other and the needles run a twin stitch. The seam created is called a felled seam, it’s used for strength and comfort for garments that are hard wearing. It’s nice and flat, there are no exposed fabric edges, everything is tucked in and secured with two stitch lines to create a tough seam. You can always expect to see it in denim garments and shirting too although it’s used widely across many styles of clothing.

Laura: What do you need to watch out for as you feed the fabric through?

Holly: As there is no support for the fabric as you sew, like most other machine tables you need to make sure the fabric is feeding through the foot consistently, it’s not too hard, it just takes practice. I always encourage the students to sample plenty of different types of edges for a beautiful felled seam.

Laura: Did you know that the oldest known white shirt was found in Egyptian tomb at Tarken from 3000 BC, and was made of linen with pleated sleeves and a fringed neck?

Holly: No I didn’t. Do you know what kind of seams it had?


Elastic machine:

Laura: Is this machine just for stretchwear, or can it be used in other ways?

Holly: This machine feeds a piece of elastic along an overlocked edge, it’s useful for both stretch and woven garments but found more commonly in active and swim wear. It has a gather gauge that determines how taught the elastic is fed through so you can achieve a really full edge or just use it as a stabiliser, depending on what is called for in the garment’s design.

Laura: Is it acceptable to wear leggings instead of pants?

Holly: I don’t believe it is. I also don’t believe activewear at the cafe is acceptable either.

Laura: Any tips on how to use the machine to its full advantage?

Holly: Make sure what you are sewing is appropriate for the seams outcome. Whenever you utilise any machine you need to assess if it is appropriate for the garments construction. It’s no good to use the machine just because you can, you should ask if it is necessary for construction.


Binding machine:

Laura: How do you set up and use the machine?

Holly: This machine is for attaching a woven bind to an edge of fabric, it’s actually just a plain lock stitch machine with a different plate and foot attachment. First of all you need a piece of bias binding. We instruct the students to cut the bias bind at 28mm, sometimes 30mm if the fabric is flimsy, and you always cut at least 30-40cm more than you will need. Then we feed the bind through the channel and turn it under the foot, this is when we make sure the bias bind is folding correctly. Finally we take a few stitches to make sure everything is in place and from there we can start attaching the bind to the fabric edges.

Laura: What tips can you offer to get a good ‘bind’?

Holly: If you intend to use the binding machine it’s a good idea to keep the bind in a roll so it can unfurl as the seam goes rather than tangling up, and it’s always good to feed a consistent amount of layers through to have a crisp edge, there’s something quite luxurious about a garment with bound edges.


Buttonhole machine:

Laura: What do you need to set up the fabric and use this machine?

Holly: When we use the automatic Buttonhole Machine it is usually the final step in construction. The garment should have a button position marked clearly on both points to indicate where the button will be attached and where the buttonhole will sit, once that’s done we turn the machine on and follow through the instructions to activate the machine and select our buttonhole program. We guide the fabric into the correct position underneath the foot and once everything is aligned we can step forward on the treadle, the buttonhole is sewn and cut automatically. It’s very final.

Laura: What’s your favourite use for a buttonhole?

Holly: To be honest I don’t really like a machined buttonhole, I like getting tricky and creating bound buttonholes or drafting them into seams, but it’s always nice to have a straight row running down a crisp shirt front. I think the best part about using this machine at RMIT is introducing it to the first years and watching the different reactions they have towards the machine.

 Laura: The zipper was invented in 1851 by Elias Howe and was originally called the ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure’, can you think of a better name for the ‘button’?

Holly: I don’t think I can, the word is a noun and a verb and it applies to so many different situations! I guess you could try ’fabric latch’ or ‘modesty catch’? Button is a cute word though so I would prefer it stay in the game.


Scenes from the “specialty machine room”…