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Now I have a sewing machine with a walking foot (Bernina Activa 145), I'm having another go at my upcycled bike inner tube wallet design (old question from when I tried hand-sewing it); the answer I accepted suggested topstitching but it wasn't tidy enough by hand).

Without the walking foot I couldn't deal with the inherent stretching and I got uneven stitching and puckered rubber. Now I'm using the walking foot that's fine, but the needle doesn't seem to reliably go right through and pick up the bottom thread (I'm not saying the walking foot has changed this; I'm inclined to think it's right on the edge of working and my luck has let me down). Should I be using a thinner needle? A thicker one? Something special? Giving up?

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  • I do virtually no sewing, but I'm aware that there are needles with sharp points and ones with rounded points. Might you be using a rounded-point needle?
    – fixer1234
    Jan 23 at 23:06
  • @fixer1234 I don't think I've got any round point needles - but good thinking, and if I'd used them for something else I couldn't rule out a mix up
    – Chris H
    Jan 24 at 6:29

2 Answers 2

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You need a thick, sturdy needle to sew rubber. I would suggest a thick leather needle, if you have one. The tips of those have cutting edges that pierce cleanly through the material and create a tiny space for the thread to sit in. Otherwise try a needle for upholstery or heavy denim and see how it works.

Here's a random example of AliExpress that demonstrates the different shapes of leather needles:

enter image description here

You also need heavy thread. It should probably be some synthetic thread to resist the drag of the rubber. Cotton thread is not suited for sewing rubber.

It's a good idea to lubricate the needle as it passes through. That's best done by covering the rubber edge you intend to sew with silicone oil, talcum powder or starch. I could imagine a DIY solution of attaching a small, oil drenched paint brush so that the needle passes through the bristles on every stitch.

You may find that the rubber sticks to the foot or the lower part of the machine and doesn't get transported smoothly. People have different solutions for that like: covering the machine with a teflon plate that has holes for the feed dog, putting a sheet of tissue paper or newsprint between the rubber and the machine, or covering the machine with a layer of masking tape.

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  • I've got some needles for denim and the like, so I'll try them first. If that doesn't work I'll order leather needles. I'll have to consider my options for lubrication to be sure I don't foul the machine. I wonder if a smear of silicone grease on the rubber would provide enough. Although each run of stitches is a bit shorter than a credit card, I think I'd need to provide lubrication fairly constantly. Feed seems good with the walking foot, judging by the pattern of marks that the needle left instead of holes, but tissue on top could be used to carry lubricant
    – Chris H
    Jan 24 at 6:40
  • At least I got one thing right by using decent polyester thread, even if it could be heavier
    – Chris H
    Jan 24 at 6:41
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    @ChrisH lubricating the needle via a thin, oil drenched strip of tissue paper sounds like a very good idea, too. And you don't really need that much oil for each stitch. You should also experiment with longer stitches. Each stitch perforates the material, so short stitch lengths weaken the rubber.
    – Elmy
    Jan 24 at 6:57
  • Good point on stitch length, though I reckon I've got strength to spare here except at the end of the run. I run fairly tough inner tubes
    – Chris H
    Jan 24 at 9:00
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are you using anything to lubricate the needle as it passes through the rubber? Machinists use fine mist sprays (and in CNC, heavy mist sprays) to lubricate the cutting tools. A silicone or PTFE based spray would make the puncture of lower friction.

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