DRAFT form, and I will be adding to it, hopefully, on a regular basis until it has been completed. Of course I will add more images, but if you have resources that are relevant to this post, please share.
Let me assure you that I'm not an expert when it comes to sewing straw on the straw braid sewing machine, but I'll share what I've learned over the years. I've picked up the machine and put it down over and over again until one day I decided to "just do it." What I found out, is that it was quite easy. I had been led to believe that that little machine was some big monster and that it would take years to learn how to operate it; no way!
Note: If you do not have a straw braid sewing machine it is still possible to sew straw braid on a regular sewing machine. A free-arm sewing machine would be ideal, but a regular flatbed will work also. Of course you will not have the straw guide and the sewing area will be larger.
When I decided to "just do it" several things had occurred:
1) I had purchased two straw braid sewing machines, and totally refurbished and added a base with motor to one. As you may see, these machines are portable. I don't have the room to accommodate a commercial machine setup.
2) I had collected patents for the straw braid sewing machine and its accessories. You would think that a lady with a graduate degree would have had more success at deciphering that stuff--boringgggg! I'm the type of person that will try to put something together before I read the instructions. Yes, I had put that machine together, parts from here and there, filing metal for a week with a tiny Dremel tool. I thought I had really accomplished something; the machine worked perfectly. I should have been learning how to stay focused while not understanding old 1800s patent language.
3) I had practiced on the machine and made cute LITTLE HATS. No matter what I did, my hats always came out tiny.
4) I had asked questions concerning sewing on the braid machine and had either been given vague answers or had been outright insulted. I love insults; they help me to succeed succeed. Thank you.
5) I emailed a very accomplished straw braid sculptural artist, Ignatius Creegan. I had read his story in a magazine, and I became absolutely fascinated with his work. I hadn't been so excited about straw since I first saw Patricia Underwood's hats a couple of decades ago. Ignatius sent me an email describing, in detail, how to solve my small hat situation. So, because he had been so wonderfully generous in sharing this information with me, I emailed him and asked for his permission to published it. A few months after he had emailed me two years ago, I learned how to solve the small hat situation using another method, pulling the braid--not pushing it as I had read earlier. So, I let Ignatius know that whatever he decided was OK with me; I was so thankful for his generosity. Ignatius said that it was OIK with him to publish his email; so here it is in it's entirety:
On the machine there is a tipper that is just above the needle on the right side of the needle bar, there is a straight wire spring that is sticking out of a little hole, the whole tipper pulls out, and when you sew it raises the foot a little every stitch and allows you to make that tight curve around your hand sewn button. If it doesn't pull out right away turn the flywheel till it does. Or lower the foot. If you have trouble figuring out what I am talking about just feel around about two inches or so above the needle and to the right for a part that will pull out (it is a sort of odd lever shape) it pulls out about a quarter inch or more toward you, that should help you sew the tip. Also, you will note that when the tipper is pulled out there is a hex screw that the top of the tipper hits against. You will turn the hex screw out, or extended, for a thicker straw, that will give you a higher raised foot, or turn the screw up, so it will jump less for fine straw.
Now, I have to point out something here. Given the information above and the fact that the same thing can be accomplished by pulling the straw (I'll explain later), I now had everything I needed to know about sewing straw braid. So, understanding this bit of information propelled me to the finish line (well, I'm still no expert, but I do OK), a very short time--an hour maybe. So lets get started.
Preparing to Sew the Braid (more detail will be added in the future)
- Familiarize yourself with the materials I've provided you below--books, videos, patents
- Set up your work area*
- Adjust the braid spacing by adjusting the straw braid guide
- Sew the button by hand (approximately 1" inch wide--I prefer a little wider). Read Straw Hats, Their History and Manufacture: Chapter IX, Hand and Machine Sewing
- Read Ignatius' email above
- Pull the tipper out to sew the tip (top crown) of the hat
- Sew the crown tip
- Push the tipper back in after the crown tip has reached your desired width
- Push the tip down vertical to the floor (see videos) and continue sewing
- When the side crown has reached its depth, turn the crown horizontal to the floor and pull the edge of the crown. It will begin to flair out forming a brim
- After the brim has reached the desired width, pull the lower single braid to decrease/curve (if desired) the brim after you have reached the desired width
- Study better straw hats
Actually I don't know what the rotating contraption is call that the professionals hold their braid on, so I'll call it a spool. I created one by simply placing a Lazy Susan (one of those circular rotating things that is placed in the middle of a table) on my work surface and placing my camera tripod on it. The Lazy Susan has ball barrings under it, so it will move freely without securing the tripod to it. As the straw is taken up while sewing, the Susan and straw moves very smoothly.
Where to Purchase a Straw Machine
eBay: This is where I purchased my machines, including additional machines for parts. Search on Willcox & Gibbs and hat sewing machine.
City Sewing: Sewing machines, parts and services.
Note: These old machines are mechanical; so, more than likely, your local sewing machine repair shop can repair them, if you decide to purchase a machine off eBay. Make sure that you study images of complete sewing machines before you purchase one from anyone other than a sewing machine shop.
Where to Purchase Straw
Sun Yokos Enterprise (USA), Inc.: Straw braid and other millinery supplies.
Manhatco: Straw and other millinery supplies. Old fashion in a good way; nice people; located in New York, (212) 764-2218
U. S. Patents (there are others)
Improvement in Machines for Sewing Straw, Straw Hat Sewing Machine, Guide for Straw Braid Sewing Machines, Sewing Machine Tension, Guide for Straw Braid Sewing Machine, Presser-Foot-Lifting Mechanism,Tension Apparatus for Straw Hat and Other Sewing Machines
We all learn in different ways; some of you will look at these videos and see nothing; others will see plenty. Play certain segments over and over again. Maximize the screen to get a better view of video.
Sewing Straw, The Hat Makers, Straw Boaters, Jack Straw Comes to Town, Caught by the Camera
Free Online Book
In order to achieve some of the shapes you may try in the future, it's important to study books that teach how to hand sew straw.
How to Make Hats; A Method of Self-Instruction Using Job Sheets: Unit III, Straw Work
Straw Hats, Their History and Manufacture: Chapter IX, Hand and Machine Sewing
I Little Advice
Practice, observe, research, practice.