Insight - 08/22/22

What is an Industrial Sewing Machine?

5 min

By Meghan Day

What is an Industrial Sewing Machine?

At Interwoven Design we use industrial sewing machines every day, we couldn’t create our prototypes and soft goods without them. But what is an industrial sewing machine, and how is it different from a domestic sewing machine you might have used yourself at home?

Imagining the meaning of the term industrial, you can probably guess the basic meaning. Industrial sewing machines are intended for use by businesses and factories. As the name also suggests, they are heavy-duty, built to withstand this industrial use. That’s a start, but it only scratches the surface of what these beautiful machines can do. In this article we’ll explain what an industrial sewing machine is, how that differs from a domestic machine, what these machines can do, and common uses for those features. We’ll show you some of the machines in the Interwoven Design studio to illustrate!

What is an industrial sewing machine, essentially?

Industrial sewing machines offer fast sewing speeds, powerful motors, and high stitch quality. Here a designer uses our straight stitch machine, a versatile workhorse stitch.

Industrial sewing machines are built for industrial use by businesses and factories, designed to be able to run several hours a day, every day. They are built to last with powerful motors and durable materials like aluminum and cast iron. They offer precision, fast sewing speeds, and higher stitch quality thanks to carefully calibrated components. They are able to sew through thick and dense materials, and can be designed to do complex stitches as well as automated stitches, which may reduce the labor needed as well as the level of skill needed to operate the machines. While they can in some cases do multiple stitches, it is more common that a machine specializes in a single type of stitch. Regular oiling and maintenance is required for industrial machines to run smoothly and reliably. They may also be called commercial sewing machines.

How is an industrial sewing machine different from a domestic sewing machine?

While domestic sewing machines often feature cost-effective plastic and nylon elements, industrial sewing machines are built with durable materials like aluminum and cast iron.

Domestic sewing machines are intended for personal and home use. In contrast to industrial machines, domestic machines have weaker (and less expensive) motors. The needle speed has a relatively low upper limit and can go extremely slowly to accommodate beginners. Many elements are made of plastic and nylon to cut down the cost as high quality metals are not necessary for the level of anticipated use. They can typically do a wide range of stitches and need minimal cleaning and maintenance. There is a limit to the thread and material thickness they can handle. They, like industrial machines, are capable of quality sewing, though this depends much more on the skill of the user and the suitability of the materials being used. Both types are available at a range of price points but domestic machines are typically much less expensive, with high quality machines for just a few hundred dollars compared to thousands for a specialized industrial machine.

What can industrial sewing machines do?

Most industrial sewing machines have a specialty. Any given machine offers a single stitch style: One machine does one stitch. There are many different types of machines to do many different types of stitches.

This industrial sewing machine from Juki is our walking foot machine, which means that the fabric is fed through the machine “feed dogs” from the top and the bottom. This is useful for sewing thick or unwieldy layers together.

If you take a look at a piece of clothing, especially clothing made with a stretchy fabric, you will often see multiple stitch types in the garment. Mass produced garments are typically made in an assembly line, with each station in the line doing one element of the garment. For most of these stations, with the exception of hand stitched elements, there is a dedicated machine. In the case of a standard dress shirt, for example, the machine that stitches the front and back pieces together will be different from the machine that stitches the buttonholes, which will be different from the machine that sews on the buttons, which will be different from the machine that applies the pocket, which will be different from the machine that hems the shirt. The stitches on a pair of jeans look very different, and the machines to make those stitches are different, too. 

Take a look at vintage garments; you see fewer and fewer machined stitch types the older the garment is. Perhaps the machines to make more complex stitches didn’t exist yet, or the garment is old enough that most clothing was made domestically, using classic straight stitch machines. Perhaps it was even made by hand.

How do we use industrial sewing machines?

In the Interwoven Design studio, we have four industrial sewing machines that do one stitch type each: we have a straight stitch machine, a zig zag machine, a four thread overlock machine, and a walking foot machine. Each machine has a purpose in our studio, and we need all of them to create the soft goods and wearable technology products that are our specialty. 

This is our industrial zig-zag machine. The needle moves left and right as the fabric passes through to create a zig zag pattern. This allows stretchy fabric to stretch even after being stitched, as the stitch expands and contracts like an accordion.

A straight stitch machine creates straight stitches in a neat line, though these stitches can curve on a garment or soft goods product up to a point. They typically cannot create tight curves. This is one of the most common types of stitches, though it is not suitable for stretchy fabric, as the straight stitches are rigid, and do not stretch. 

As we often use stretchy fabrics like jerseys and meshes for performance features, we need zig zag and overlock stitches that will expand and contract with the material. The zig zag stitch can often be seen on thick materials like neoprene, imagine a wetsuit or the padding in a bicycle helmet. The overlock stitch is a finishing stitch that is everywhere, easiest to see on the hem of a classic t-shirt.

Close-up of knobs on an industrial sewing machine
This is our four thread overlock machine. Each of these four threads leads to a different needle, and these needles move in three dimensions to create a stitch that can stretch with a material.

There you have it!

Those are the basics of what an industrial sewing machine is and why they are powerful tools, especially for mass production. You can find videos online that will help you to understand the build quality, speed, and specialization of these impressive machines. Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!


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