Sunday, 18 August 2013

Seam Guidance or This one's for Matt C

Of all the sewing machine accessories I own (and they have rather mounted up here over the last year) the one I use the most is my seam guide.  This is probably because I use old black sewing machines with no markings on their throat plates.  To the best of my limited knowledge there are two basic types of seam guide.  The first is quite heavy, T-shaped, and pictured left.  This is the kind that tends to come with black japanned Singers with gold decals.  The second is made of lighter pressed metal and plastic and tends to be found with the later tan, pale green and duck egg coloured Singers.

Early type Singer seam guide
Later type Singer seam guide

Both types will screw into either hole in the machine bed of a black Singer sewing machine [say a Singer 66 for instance Matt]  I've taken pictures just to prove my point.  Notice that the later type can be swivelled about to allow for sewing curved seams.

If you have a zig-zag machine you can also use this type of seam guide to help with making a blind hem.  I haven't done it yet myself but this operation is on my experimental to-do list
Now this is not, as you might think, a six inch/15 cm ruler.  It is, in point of fact, a knitting and sewing gauge.  I know this because it has this written on one end of it.  This gadget, with its sliding marker, has a number of uses.  I use it a lot to set up the seam guides on my black Singers, none of which have markings on their throat plates.
Sewing and knitting guage

Now although these old Singer are not marked in the way that a modern machine would be there are landmarks if you know how to read them.  I've tried to illustrate the first here.  This is the front one of the two screws which actually hold the throat plate on to the bed of the machine.  Check out the seam gauge.  If you use the right edge of this screw as a reference point you'll be sewing a quarter inch seam allowance.  This is useful for those who piece quilt tops and other patchwork projects.

The next land mark is the mystery hole nestling snugly in the D-shaped throat plate.  Don't look for one of these if you have a VS machine like a Singer 28, 27, 128 or 127 because I don't think you will find one.  I'm not entirely sure what the intended purpose of this hole is.  I think it might be something to do with an under-braiding attachment sold by Singer.  The other interesting fact is that by using this hole as a seam guide you will be sewing a ⅝ seam which just so happens to be the industry standard for home sewing patterns.  Don't believe me?  Check the sewing gauge - handy eh?

Now, without the aid of the seam gauge, if you have the older type of seam guide and thumb screw you have two useful default settings.  The first I wrote about last time is for a ⅜ seam allowance and the second is achieved in the following way.  Set the thumb screw in the threaded hold nearest the throat plate and position the flat side of the seam guide as close to the thumb screw as possible.  This creates a spacing of one inch.  I suspect that this might well come in handy for turning hems.

Some people have seam guides and use them, some people have sewn beautifully for decades and have never seen a seam guide never mind used one.  They were a standard in the accessory boxes for Singer sewing machines so millions must have been stamped out over the years.  Bear this in mind if you are going to buy one.  I wouldn't want pay more than a couple of pounds for one.  It might be more cost effective to buy a job lot of accessories that include a seam guide - mixed lots turn up regularly on ebay.  If you can find one to buy cheaply or, even better, get one given to you you will have an easy to use accessory which will really earn its keep.

In parting I leave you with a link to one of Muv's (of Lizzie Leonard Vintage Sewing fame) excellent video tutorials.  If you're not familiar with her videos and blog check them out.  They are a priceless source for the care and use of vintage machines!  I cannot recommend them enough!


  1. Super tutorial! I use the straight seam guide when top stitching for the perfect straight seams. It is nice the manufacturers used the same thread in in the screw hole for the guides. I have used my Singer guide in my Kenmore, Free-Westinghouse, and Bel Air.

  2. Really handy reference points I did not realize. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Mine is for a 1920s White and has a combo: one wide end, one narrow; according to the directions, the wide end is better for sewing curved pieces and the narrow is for straight pieces; I've come to prefer it and find the results quite satisfying.

  4. Thanks for the post!

    I bought one and it just arrived in the mail yesterday. I haven't tried it yet.

    I like your idea of using the seam gauge.. I was just using an ordinary ruler but it would be easier to line it up with the seam gauge.

    1. Hi Matt C.
      Glad you took the plunge. I'd be interested to read how you get on with your new tool. You should find the seam gauge easier to work with but do try the folded paper method from Muv's video. It takes a little longer but is very accurate.

  5. Hello Gavin,

    Thanks for posting the vid!

    Interesting how all the measurements work out using the screw and hole in the needleplate. Hooray for imperial measurements. Can't stand all that metric nonsense.


    1. Hi Muv
      I'm glad you didn't mind me reposting the vid. I hope lots more people with will benefit from it like I have.
      I think it's pretty nifty how the measurements work out too. Those clever men at Singer really knew a thing or two back in the golden age of black cast iron. As a child of the 1970s I can use both metric and imperial measurements but always struggle with metric weights - who wants to buy 454g of marmalade or 568 ml of milk anyway? Who wants to buy 454 or 568 of anything for that matter? So silly that we kept the same imperial sized containers for food stuffs but felt compelled to relabel them!
      I learned to bake by watching my Mam and Gran so I am Imperial in the kitchen. I learned to measure at school in the early 1980s so I was metricated there but I've taught my self to sew and quilt from predominantly US websites, US published books or ancient English (UK) books and pamphlets so I am Imperial again. As long as we don't mix the two systems in the same project we all ought to be fine.

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