Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Diversity Quilt Front

Diversity Quilt Front by designcamppdx
Diversity Quilt Front, a photo by designcamppdx on Flickr.

I know this is not a sewing machine, but it is my first quilt project - finished! I have a ton to say about machines based on this experience and am excited to write - just as soon as I finish the second quilt (photos soon!) Both quilts were made with a class of 36 students at daVinci Arts Middle School for the annual auction.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Leitfaden CMYK thread!

I think this is one of the most inventive ideas I have seen in a long time! This sewing machine is also a printer and will print thread to matct fabric. It can match colors from paper or a fabric swatch. Gives a whole new meaning to DTM (dyed to match) doesn't it!

I wish I could try one and see how it worked. Unfortunately it is only a concept at this point. I hope it gets commercialized or something similar becomes available on the market. I also find the modern look of this machine really interesting. I am not sure how it would feel sewing without the usualy neck shape - in a way it reminds me of when I used to walk all the time in NYC and sometimes there would be a scaffolding up for a long time and when it came down I'd often get a strange dizzy feeling walking where it used to be. But I digress. This machine is cool - no doubt! The project is called "Leitfaden" and it was designed by Monika Jakubek and Anna Müller.

There are some other really innovative features on this machine as well: according to an article on Yanko Design it has an electromagnetic needle drive (I'm not sure what that does) and the ability to project the stitch pattern onto what is being sewn.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Get the Sewmobile Button!

Grab the sewmobile button for your website or blog! We have our own little nifty badge now and it would sure be swell if you would decorate your spaces with it! I figured out how to do this recently and made them for some friends too. I may make some in different colors, because I'm that kind of gal and I know orange doesn't go with everything. And while I have your attention, I just want to say thanks for hanging out on sewmobile with me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

La, a note to follow sew...

After a week of posts about machine maintenance I thought Friday should be a bit more lighthearted. So here is a collection of really cute sewing machine things to make you smile and say, hey, sewing is fun! (even after ripping this seam out for the fiftieth time...)

And while you are happy, send me pictures of your sewing machines and 'like' our page on FB. Enjoy!

Paper sewing machine and friends
by Fantastic Toys on Etsy

Keep Calm and Sew On by the Keep Calm Shop on Etsy

Amigurumi Crocheted Sewing Machine by Yummy Pancake on Flickr

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sew, a needle pulling thread...

Those who have sewn with me know my catch phrase is manage your frustration! I say it to myself, I say it to my students. I wish it were something that was more fun, like 'make it work' or something more motivating, like 'just do it' but somehow it seems to apply.

I have been teaching myself to quilt for the past three weeks. I have quilted small projects before but I have never embarked on anything remotely like what I have in mind. I have been going through books and internet tutorials and trying techniques, ripping seams, learning about what foot to use, what needle to use, what thread to use and much much more. There have been a million frustrating moments. I wanted to scream tonight when my bobbin ran out of thread in the middle of topstitching a complicated block. I've misplaced pieces and cut some wrong - in a nutshell, I've been dealing with a high level of frustration. The benefit of all this is that I am learning new things about my sewing machine and I am building skills.

One thing I have had to do as part of this process is change needle frequently. The different thicknesses of fabric require different needles and I have also been mixing knits and wovens. Luckily I am pretty well stocked up different needles right now. I also happened to grab a pamphlet with a needle guide in it and it has been very useful. Schmetz has great info on their site too.

The sewing machine is thought to have been invented in the late 1700s but it wasn't for another fifty years that a simple change to the needle was made that made the commercialization of the sewing machine possible. Hand sewing needles have the eye (the part where the tread goes through) on the dull end of the needle. Sewing machine needles are the opposite: the eye of the needle is near the point. This is known as the Howe needle after Elias Howe who patented the eye-point needle in the 1846.

I'd suggest changing the needle after every four or five hours of sewing and also I would change it depending on what I'm sewing. If you haven't put the full amount of time on it - don't throw it away, keep it off to the side (I keep an empty needle case when I'm rotating them out during a project). If it is time to dispose of it, I put mine in an old prescription bottle instead of throwing it into the trash. And use the right needle for the type of fabric you are sewing on: a universal needle for quilter cottons (an 80/10) a stretch or ballpoint needle for knits, a 70/10 for finer fabrics (like silk), I have heard some people prefer to use a jeans or topstitch needle for sewing cotton or natural fibers because the universal needles have a slight ballpoint and are intended for blended fibers. The best way to find out what is the right needle to use is to test it on a sample of the fabric you are going to sew. But the buck doesn't stop there - you will have to also use the right thread.

Do I sense another post in the future? Indeed I do!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea

Wouldn't it be nice if your machine could tell you when it needed oil like the Tin Man in the 1939 Wizard of Oz motion picture? New computerized machines can communicate many things, but I don't know of one that keeps track of how many hours you've sewn and whether or not it is time for a tune-up. (Designers are you listening? This would be an excellent feature!)

Keeping your sewing machine clean is the key to keeping it working. Many experts suggest cleaning it after each project. Preventitive Sewing Machine Maintenance, an online 2008 article by Sally Hickerson for Threads Magazine, puts it simply: "just a few minutes daily, weekly, or monthly— depending on how much you're sewing— you can help keep your machine running smoothly" The one part of the cleaning regime that seems to be most allusive is how often and when to oil a sewing machine. She gives this tip for oiling the bobbin: "Use a soft piece of muslin with a dot of sewing machine oil to clean the race hook. If the hook is removable, place a drop of oil on it before returning it to the machine" with a photograph, but again, the question is when and how often.

Oiling your machine too often or in the wrong spot may harm it. A quick google search and you will find a range of advice from 'oil it every eight hours of sewing' to 'more often for quilting' to 'oil every three to five bobbins'. Much of this depends on the age of the machine. New sewing machines are oiled at the factory and depending on where you bought it, your salesperson will likely have instructed you to oil the race hook as described above. If you bought a used machine from a private party and don't know when it was last serviced I would ere on the it probably needs to be oiled side. Oiling may also depend on the brand of machine. Keep in mind I am talking about lockstitch machines: sergers and specialty machines are a whole other ball of wax. If you have an old Bernina, for example, it may not be as easy to get to the race hook as it is on an old Kenmore and you may need to be a bit of a sleuth to figure out how. (Those of you with old Bernina 830s or 930s: there is a good photo with instructions here)

The best advice I can give you is to check the instruction manual if you have it. If it is an older machine you may be able to download a pdf version on the internet. I have links to several places who sell these on my machine info page. Page 29 on my manual for my 1970s Montgomery Ward 1942B (mechanical) machine suggests you oil the machine every week if you use your machine every day. Another manual I have describes in detail where to oil the machine, but not when or how often. If you don not find clear instructions call a service person and ask. Make sure to describe the use of your machine in detail (I have sewn on this for blank hours since it was last oiled - or this machine hasn't been used since 1954...) so they can help you make an informed decision for what to do.

Most sewing machine oil is made in China and India and is a petroleum-based light weigh white oil (spray silicone versions are lubricants and will not work to oil the machine). There is a website called Sewing Machine Oil (of course there is!) where you can find links to every kind of machine oil for home sewing and industrial sewing machines out there and with suggestions for which to use with what and why. For those of you who are concerned, yes, it is toxic and yes, there are some ideas for homemade non-toxic versions out there. Here is one recipe I found on eHow that used jojoba oil, silicone oil and ester oil. I've also read it is okay to use a bike chain oil: Tri-Flow sells a sewing machine specific oil. What you should never use is olive oil or cooking oil (it will become rancid), motor oil (too heavy) or a 3-in-1 oil: it contains paraffin and will harden in your machine.

I found some good advice for what kind of oil to use on antique machines at Treadle On which suggests using WD-40 to clean the moving parts of the machine (don't put it in the oil holes - it is a water dispersant and a lubricant, not an oil) and then use sewing machine oil (in the oil holes) to get it ready to sew. They also point out if you spill or drip oil somewhere you don't want it to be, use a product like Simple Green or to wipe it off. I can vouch that this works well - I recently had a tube of oil spill in the arm compartment of my machine and after freaking out I called my repair shop and they suggested this as well.

Whew, I never knew I had that much to write about oil! Let me know if you have some other information not covered here. I am learning as I do this, so please don't be afraid to tell me I am wrong.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bobbin Art

Look familiar? Nine times out of ten this happens because you forgot to put the presser foot down when you started to sew. Yes, really! Make a little sign and tie it to your machine so you never forget again. Those other times, however, may be happening for a variety of other reasons.

Oh bobbin problems, do you exist solely to make us all go mad? You are the bane of our existence and can cause us to write overtly dramatic sentences like this one when we are frustrated by you. If your machine won't sew the first thing to do is simply rethread your machine and bobbin and see it that helps. If the problem remains, you should check to see if there is any thread caught in the bobbin or in the feed dogs. DO NOT tug or pull or yank on anything. Be gentle -- you don't want to cause a bigger problem, now do you? Remember, in times of frustration, your machine is your friend!

If you are anything like me and tend to jump to conclusions, perhaps you have taken the shuttle assembly apart (this is what the bobbin case fits into) in a frustrated effort to see what is wrong. When you put it back together, take the time to dust it out with a small sewing machine brush or toothbrush. Make sure you set the bobbin back in the case in right direction (clockwise, counter clockwise -- check your instruction book or online for instructions). It is possible that it needs oil, but don't just jump to that conclusion (we will cover when and where to oil your machine on Wednesday this week). If you have several sewing machines it is possible that you have the wrong bobbin for the machine (not all bobbins are universal). The bobbin may not have been wound properly to begin with. Don't waste the thread though! Wind it back onto a new bobbin.

And don't forget about that old adage Murphy's Law. This is the law of the universe which governs the bobbin thread to run out two inches before your seam ends, in the middle of a long gathering stitch, or at the crucial point of a set-in sleeve you neglected to baste. Newer computerized machines will alert you that your bobbin thread is running low, but older mechanical and most electric machines will not. There is often no way to know when your bobbin will run out, so wind a few at a time for your project and it will save you that quarter for the curse jar.

Time for a confession. I took that "broken" Bernette in for diagnostics and guess what was wrong with it? The bobbin winder was engaged. Seriously! The guys at the shop got a good laugh over that one, but they were kind to me and told me some worse 'duh' stories with the intention of making me feel better. It worked.

While I was there, I thought I'd take some time to ask a few other questions which were on my mind (a friend is looking for a recommendation for a machine to applique projects with) and they were happy to show off some tricks the high end Berninas could do. It is too bad I need to fix a rather expensive problem with our master bathroom and that I may chose to go on a family vacation this summer, or I may have been able to justify the $150 month payments for one...

Monday, February 7, 2011

If it ain't broke, don't fix it...

Ever have one of those days when you are sewing along just fine and then bam - your machine fails you? I am talking about those moments which inspire you to speak every expletive you've ever heard, hurl your machine out the window and swear off sewing forever? Now you're with me. Okay, so what is the best way to handle those moments? Let us take a moment to discuss that, shall we?

Thursday at my after school sewing class one of my new Bernettes (yes, the new ones...) just refused to sew. Nothing had happened to it, and to my knowledge it hadn't been used in a week. So why in the world was the wheel stuck? I took out the manual and it suggested to take apart the bobbin and remove any trapped threads. I did that but it was not going to budge no matter what I did. It was getting to the point where I was afraid I was going to break it and I needed to attend to the students. I put the cover back on and told the kids it was out of order. Well nothing can set a group of middle school kids heading in the wrong direction like an adult who preceivably gives up. Boy was it hard to get them focused after that. I was having one of those moments I described above - but publicly and in a room full of twelve year-olds.

I had planned on doing a fun free motion thread illustration project with them, so I tried to garner enthusiasm for that instead of giving into the grumblings about all the other machines which were now 'broken' and stories of broken machines and machine related accidents they had heard before (my grandma told me that she knew someone who sewed right through her finger once!) It became machine-doctor to the rescue mode: I rethreaded one, wound an empty bobbin on another, replaced a needle which had broken in half (I don't know why it broke - it just got stuck in the fabric and when I tried to pull it out the bottom part came off!) and attempted to convince the student who didn't feel like plugging her machine in to try one of mine.

So today I am off to my fav little neighborhood machine-fixer-upper place which also happens to sell those lovely Bernina 830s... I may have to play with one while mine is on the operating table. What do you do when this happens? Do you put your project away or take the machine apart piece by piece until it looks like that toaster oven your dad tried to fix when you were a kid? What calms you down in if you are faced with a machine malfunction? What inspires you to keep on sewing? This week is dedicated to *$&#^@)! and the machines we love to fix.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sew by-the-hour

Okay guys, not ready to commit to a sewing machine yet, but think you'd like to try one? Or maybe you want to dive in and take a class? Perhaps you are experienced and want to hang with other sewing enthusiasts... Well, here is a round up of some drop-in sewing studios around the world where you can test drive these babies for as little as $10 an hour. I've only listed a smattering of places so please comment if you know of a sew-by-the-hour studio not listed so I can add it to the post. Happy Trails!

Modern Domestic in Portland Oregon: Sew on the best Berninas. FYI, they have offered sewing classes for men in the past, so check their calendar, and read my interview with owner Lupine Swanson for more sewing inspiration.

PDX Seamsters in Portland Oregon: sew on new Pfaffs and 'vintage' machines, also offers sewing classes for men

The Sewing Studio in Pasadena, California

Sew Now in Lafayette, California: try out Brother Sewing Machines during their open studio hours

Stitch Lab in Austin Texas: check out their Sewing for Guys class

M Avery Designs and Studio in Hoboken, New Jersey

The Victorian Cupboard Sewing Studio in Salem, New Hampshire: sew on Husqvarna/Viking machines

The Workroom in Toronto, Ontario Canada: Various Bernina's and Reliable Dreamstitcher 787 Serger

Homemade in London, England offers The Sewing Cafe: Tea, Cake and Jamone DC 3050s

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Interview with Dave Bush

Dave Bush is a set dresser and production buyer in the film industry, living and working in Los Angeles. Having dabbled with sewing in childhood, he recently has rediscovered it as a fun approach to matters practical and fashionable. He aspires to one day make the perfect black suit.


I learned the rudiments in grade school, where machine sewing was taught as part of the arts and crafts program. Assignments generally were things like stuffed animals and hand puppets, but covered such basics as basting, seam allowances, making and using patterns, etc.


I don't recall the model, but it was a mechanical tabletop machine that only did straight-stitches. Black, metal, heavy, likely twice as old as I was.


My current machine is also my first one, a Singer 4411 purchased several months ago. Reviewers summed it as a reliable, novice-friendly model that can handle somewhat heavier-duty projects, which fits my needs perfectly.


Mainly basic alteration, as necessitated by being 5'11" and thin-waisted. As retail sizes generally are too wide for me, the machine has helped manage what was a constant and growing frustration. I hope to undertake pattern sewing as my skills and savviness develop.

The machine will also help me as a production buyer for film sets, where imperatives of size, color and quantity can pose a challenge. An otherwise perfect set of drapes may be longer than required, or the fabric in a medical folding screen may not be a suitable color. Having a sewing machine will allow me to fix such things in a time-efficient, budget-friendly way.


In my perfect world I would have a magic wand. My current machine fulfills my needs for now, but the decadent Bernina 330 would fulfill them with much more panache.


I would offer the same advice given me, which is to identify your real needs as a sewer and shop accordingly. Online user reviews at sites such as offer helpful real-world feedback, often flagging a model's problems or defects. I also would recommend talking to friends
who are sewers, drawing from their general insights and experience. One friend of mine summed things in two sentences: "Know exactly what you want the machine to do. Don't spend more than $200."