Welcome to day 5 of the Back to School Blog Hop. Thanks Sam Hunter of Hunter's Design Studio for inviting me to participate! When Sam asked me what topic I wanted to write about this year I thought, well, I have a few interesting things to say about throat plates, so here goes!
Raise your hands if have more than one throat plate for your sewing machine. Good for you! No need to read further - skip on down to the end of this post to read my advice on how to make a living as a professional plate spinner. (Spoiler alert, I have no clue how to do it.) For the rest of you, lets take a moment to talk.
Stitch Plate, Needle Plates, Throat Plates: they are all one and the same. We are talking about that polished metal piece below your presser foot on your sewing machine that covers the bobbin area. For the sake of consistency I will be calling it a "throat plate" throughout this post. The photos I am using are of BERNINA plates, because that is the machine I sew on.
A throat plate typically has an opening for the needle and the bobbin thread to pass through, two parallel openings for your feed dogs, etched lines marking specific seam allowance distances, a screw or release to remove it for changing or cleaning.
Why is is important and what does it do?
On some machines the throat plate can be changed out for specialty stitching. In my experience, if I'm sewing a straight stitch only, such as piecing a quilt, I use a straight stitch throat plate and a straight stitch foot like in the photo below. Some computerized machines have a setting where you can select which plate you have on your machine to prevent accidents (my machine doesn't have this and I may have broken a few needles switching to appliqué and forgetting to change out my plate...)
Alternately, if you have a wide throat plate, such as a 9mm plate and are piecing or sewing straight stitches your stitches may appear slightly zig-zaggy (not a real word, but who's checking?) This is created by what I've been taught to call 'needle flex' and it can be extremely frustrating for us perfectionists. The solution is simple: match your presser foot to your throat plate opening!
Throat plates and feet are brand specific, and like bobbins, are not interchangeable. The good news is that most modern sewing machines have options for changing stitch plates and feet. This seems really simple to say, but honestly I sewed for years on an industrial machine and it never occurred to me to change the plates on my domestic. It wasn't until I started to meet other folks who quilted that I became more aware of these options. I pieced many quilts without a straight stitch throat plate or quarter inch foot. There was a noticeable improvement (from my level of frustration to the quality of my work!) once I started to change them out.
Lulushomeatelier has a good article for Singer users on matching plates and feet. Here she shows options for straight stitch plates on a Vintage Singer 401 sewing machine.
Those etched lines on throat plates actually mean stuff. The vertical lines are there to help you sew consistent seam allowances. Some stitch plates have other helpful markings as well. Have you ever started to sew and your fabric jammed through the throat plate and into the bobbin area? The horizontal etched lines on these throat plates indicate the best place to place the top edge of your fabric and help prevent that! The plate on the left also has diagonal lines for help with stitching a piece that has a 45 degree angle. Different machine brands have different markings. Janome users might find this link helpful: Know Your Needle Plate, by Nancy Fiedler
Stitch plates are intended to be removed to clean under your feed dogs. Some machines also have a reservoir for oil there. You may also need to take it off to fix thread jams. Check your operator manual for details about whats under yours and how to remove it.
You've made it this far and I promised advice on plate spinning so here goes. Um,... Okay, I know nothing so I googled it and found this article from the International Jugglers' Association
The Art of Plate Spinning
Image: Patricia Lam Fung demonstrates her plate-spinning skills in the January, 1960 issue of Southern Screen. This was found on The Parallel-Play blog but the source link was broken. Please leave a reply in the comments if you have further information.
Stitch well and proser,