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."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Michael Swaine SF Sewing Guru

I think every city should have a Michael Swaine. This fellow sets up his sewing cart (a real sewmobile -- how cool is that!) and mends stuff for free! Michael, who is a performance artist, began his project originally called Reap What You Sew, and now titled The Free Mending Library in 2001.

Swaine, who sews on an old treadle machine, is available to repair those jeans or re-sew that sleeve from noon to six on the 15th of every month at luggage store Cohen Alley in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. The neighborhood, once a harbinger of decline, has attracted artists like Swaine to do what they can to connect with the community. You can watch him in action over on YouTube or Spark.

Swaine studied ceramics in college and rescued his sewing machine from the garbage. According to an interview he gave in 2008 to Bonnie Alter for Treehugger, he has learned many mending techniques from the people who he meets on the street. He has even taken his show across the pond to jolly ol' London, England. Well, I think you are swell, Swaine! Keep doing what you do!

Wouldn't this be a fantastic project for Portland? Someone (not me!) should start it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

To make of sewing something attractive & cool with men of today

How amazing is that black Pfaff 1988? It is the brain child of a designer known only as Bea for the Schwäbisch Gmünd school of design. Or what about
Fabien Nauroy's sewing machine for men? It was a concept he designed for Toyota sewing machines some time in early 2008 or 2009. There is not much information available about his concept machine, but there is a black sewing machine for sale over on the Aisin Australia website that may or may not have been the commercialization of this design. I have also sent him an email and I hope he responds!

What do you think? Do the features in his illustration tap into the male sewing psyche? I found another concept machine that appears to be the winner of a contest Aisin held. Designer Lysandre Follet of Mini Gorille may have had a modern machine in mind that would appeal to a unisex target market. But is this a man's machine? Is there such a thing? Perhaps the ultimate feature on a man's sewing machine would be a machine that does more than just sew: like one that had a bottle-opener on the side or one with speakers that would play music from your ipod while you sewed instead of the sound of the motor being the only noise option. Don't laugh - I'm not the first to think of this idea! It could be interesting, but truthfully I am not as sure about how I feel about the stereo sewing machine prototype designed by Sounds Butter. Dunno, maybe it is a 'guy thing...'

Monday, January 31, 2011

Men Who Sew

I really like Judith Weller's statue of a Jewish tailor at a sewing machine. I must have passed by it a million times while I lived in NY. I moved there in 1986, and this was made 1984. He always seemed so peaceful sewing there while everyone rushed around him. I think I have a photo of him with a pigeon on his head somewhere. When I think about it, my experience with men who sewed began with the guys who I went to college with. I don't recall a single fellow classmate in my middle school home ec class. None of the men in my family sewed.

I asked my husband this weekend if he would like me to teach him to sew. He answered no a bit quickly for my liking, and when I pressed him as to why he told me that he didn't have time nor would he know what to make. And why is a man traditionally called a tailor and a woman a seamstress? Do we say seamster? I've never used that term. I've read sewist a few times lately. Is that even a word? This week is dedicated to men who sew. I am looking forward to what I find out.

P.S. Anyone want to take a guess what kind of machine our statue tailor is sewing on? I may need to write to the artist to find out.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Is there such a thing as a vintage sewing machine?

What does vintage really mean? Well if you are a smarty pants, you have probably figured out by now, I have been misusing the word vintage all week.

According to Richarde13 on Ebay, "The correct usage of the word vintage must be used with a year: ie. my car is vintage 2001... , this WWII item is vintage 1943... " In fact, vintage in the purest sense of the word refers to wine. When I write vintage sewing machine I am using the adjective form, meaning it is of or relating to a vintage: like it is the best of that group.

Is it wrong then to call a machine from the early to mid 20th century vintage? You tell me. I think it is not the correct use of the word, but it has become part of the vernacular. Ah, semantics... what will we mess up next!

Hope you enjoy the collage of 20th century beauties. Next week I am going to attempt to feature (brooding music cue) Men who Sew. I have some good stuff lined up, so stay tuned!

Links to the Machine Photos:
Orange Brother
White and Orange Singer
Blue Morse
Green Zundapp
Green Brother Overloque

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Interview with Amy Karol

Amy Karol is the creative guru behind the blog Angry Chicken and has written two sewing books, Bend-the-Rules Sewing: The Essential Guide to a Whole New Way to Sew (Potter Craft 2oo7) and Bend the Rules with Fabric: Fun Sewing Porjects with Stencils, Stamps, Dye, Photo Transfers, Silk Screening, and More (Potter Craft 2oo9). She has sewn everything from wedding dresses to quilts and has made short films, recorded songs, and created monoprints and fine art paintings. Amy's artwork, textiles, notecards and patterns are for sale on her online shop KingPod. She lives in Portland, Oregon (her hometown) with her husband and their three daughters.

When did you learn how to sew?

I don't exactly remember how old I was—5 or 6? It was always out and set up, I think. My mom taught me. We did a mix of hand sewing and regular sewing, but mostly I was just watching her and learning the process and then trying myself by jamming up her machine over and over again.

What kind of machine did you first learn to sew on?

I learned on my mom's machine, which she no longer has, but has since given to her sister. It was a awesome 1970s (maybe earlier) all metal bright orange Husqvarna. I love it and it was so strong! I must have jammed that machine up 1000 times and it still worked great. When I graduated from highschool my mom and dad said they would buy me a computer to take to college or a sewing machine. I went for the machine, and of course I chose a Husqvarna and now it's the machine my girls use.

What machine do you sew on now?

Now I have a Bernina Artista 165, which is the second machine I have ever owned. I love it. I also use a Baby Lock Imagine serger, which has been nothing short of life changing.

What do you most use your machine for?

Sewing! Ha! Seriously, everything, right? I mean it's perfect for both crafts and garment sewing. I do a love of free-motion work on it as well and it does a great job with that.

What is your 'dream machine?'

I'm pretty well set up right now. I don't have a collection of machines (nor do I want one) but my mom has a vintage featherweight, which I would love to try, it's popular among quilters for it's wonderful straight stitch, and I'd love an old school Pfaff machine, like what I used when working in college in the costume shop, again, another straight stitch machine. Purely for nostalgic reasons.

What advice would you give to a beginning sewer looking to invest in their first machine?

I actually have a bit about this in my fist book, Bend-the-Rules Sewing . . . I'd say try to get the best one you can afford and buy from a dealer from an independent shop, not a big chain store. Also, these smaller shops have classes usually for free—take them. It' makes all the difference in the world. And really be honest about what you think you might sew and try to keep it simple. You can always trade-in if you later want a machine with all the crazy bells and whistles, but starting out, simple is best.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Does Your Sewing Machine have a Name?

Does your sewing machine have a name? Common now, you can tell me! As I have been researching machines this week, I have run across this notion (sewing pun!) more times than not. Come to think of it, when I brought the Babylock Ellure home I think my daughter named it something, but I can't remember what. I may have been Sewey or Stitchey, but I will have to ask her. I also recall the Elna at Oregon Ballet Theater's costume shop having a name, but I can't remember that one either. Maybe I'm just bad with names!

I love that there is a machine called a Minerva, which is the brand name, not the name of the machine itself. So what does it say about our collective sewing personalities that we name our machines and talk about them like they are human? In literature that is called personification -- or maybe it is pathetic fallacy -- I can't quite remember which is which -- but I still find it interesting that we think of our machines as our friends (or in some cases, enemies...)

It seems for many people, the choice of a name is derived from the brand name -- such as Bernie (for Bernina) or Vicky for a Viking. I have also read about lots of machines which (or is it who?) possess a name that conjures up a reliable farm animal or wise elder: think along the lines of 'Ol Betty or Aunt Bertha.

Here are a few links I found that discuss the habit of naming machines. Julia over at Serious Sewing calls her Singer 168 machine Matilda. There are seven pages of comments on naming machines on the quilters' message board. And it was one of the questions for the Sew Mama Sew Sewing Machine Meme: they asked if 'she' had a name - I wonder if there are any machines out there who are male...?

My dad had a car named Sad Bird. He had a little silver plaque engraved with the name on it that was set into the dashboard. Could be a business idea for someone, no? Maybe take over a corner of a trophy shop and market it to us nutty sewers? Let me know if you start it up!

Swingin' Sewing Graphics

I just love the graphics on these vintage owner's manuals! The colors are great and the illustrations are fab! You can barely even see the machine on the Kenmore booklet - just a bunch of happy gals! I love the artwork on vintage patterns too. I had a great internship once where I helped archive an entire library of home sewing patterns - there were over 10,000 patterns dating from the 1860s though 1959! One of my tasks was to try to date them. Betty Williams, the woman who had the collection, donated them to The University of Rhode Island when she died. The entire collection is open for research.
Don't you wish there were some groovy machines to go along with these funky owners manuals? Well, I will have to search for those. I know there were some cute colorful toy machines, and I've certainly seen some groovy Bernina's. I will go exploring tomorrow -- I have to run over to the repair shop. Who knows, maybe I'll find a treasure to write about!

PS - there are great images of sewing manuals (which are for sale) over at Manuals on CD.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Vintage Machine Week

So Far I have been reviewing a mixture of new and vintage machines, so I have decided to dedicate this week to vintage machines only. Not antique machines - that will happen, I promise, but vintage, as in 20th Century; 1940s-1970s (maybe 80s if it comes up.) I would love to make it a more specific challenge and limit it to American manufacturers, but that is tricky, because many machines in the 70s were made overseas. I'll see what I can muster.

I learned to sew on a converted Singer treadle machine, meaning it had been converted in the 1920s or 30s from a foot pedal to a knee pedal. I loved sewing on that machine, but it was far from modern. Then sometime in 1977 I went shopping with my mother. We brought this fancy Kenmore 158 16250 home and embarked on a world filled with zig-zag stitches and blind hems! I still have this machine and have used it with my students. It is a solid, mechanical machine (remember this means all pullys and levers and gears and such) and my only complaint is that the tension knob seems to be useless.

I plan to scour the web for interesting vintage machines with stories attached. If you have one, send me an email! I hope to find some great stories about machines and their humans to blog about. I am looking forward to what else comes up in my quest.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Juki TL-98Q, Just Quilting, & the Portland Modern Quilt Guild

I am now a proud member of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild thanks to this machine, the gals at Just Quilting and my friends Miyong Noh and Violet Craft. It is true - a sewing machine can get one into this kind of mess!

I was out and about with Miyong, not shopping for sewing machines (although that is a bit of an oxymoron, because I always get in trouble when I shop with her!) and we saw the sign for Just Quilting. After a quick decision to go see what was there, we were deep into a conversation about longarm quilting with the two awesome gals who work there.

Let me back up a bit and admit that I have only ever made doll quilts with my students. I have never, ever made a quilt. I have always been intimidated by quilting, which is silly, because I've sewn everything else under the sun. Somehow the idea of committing to such a large and labor-intensive project that requires precision terrifies me. I am inspired by the modern quilt movement - and I love Denyse Schmidt's quilts and quilts of Gee's Bend - oh it is a vast world of quilting out there! But I digress...

Back to Pat's Just quilting. I asked her which was her favorite machine to sew on and she pointed me to her her Juki TL-98. She said it was perfect for sewing on quilt bindings and she was attached to it (See, I am not the only one who gets attached to my sewing machines!) The Juki TL-98Q is a lockstich machine, and I wasn't sure I knew what that meant. This warranted more research (okay, twist my arm!) and here is what I discovered: A lockstitch is a straight stitch. It is what was originally patented to commercialize the home sewing machines in the 1830s and is the fundamental mechanics for straight stitch sewing on machines to this day.

Good to know! Now off to plan my quilt design...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interview with Lupine Swanson of Modern Domestic

Lupine Swanson is an owner/partner of Modern Domestic sewing studio on NE Alberta in the bustling arts district. She has been sewing and crafting since childhood and really began sewing just after college 15 years ago, then became a Sales Rep for Petersen-Arne, a large wholesale distributor of sewing and craft supplies out of Eugene. There she had the opportunity to travel in the greater Portland Metro area and spent time in all sorts of stores, big and small. After having her first child, Lupine switched to teaching sewing at Bolt Neighborhood Fabric Boutique which proved to be a wonderful change, and perfect for the first years of her family and second child. Eventually, she assisted Gina, the owner of Bolt and future partner at MD, on starting the bolt neighborhood blog. Last March, Lupine opened Modern Domestic with Gina of Bolt, and Michelle, a long time friend and sewing and knitting inspiration.

When did you learn how to sew & what kind of machine did you first learn to sew on? I began sewing as a child on my grandmothers hand-me-down Singer. It was horrible. If I had access to a better machine, I would have been sewing much earlier. There were constant problems with tension, unthreading and more. It made sewing by hand easier than figuring out the machine, which really stalled my learning. After college, I borrowed a friends simple and inexpensive machine. After a little less (just a little mind you) frustration, I started taking some classes. I wanted to become a better sewer, and although I didn't know much, I knew there was a whole lot for me to learn.

I began taking classes in a great shop in Eugene, 27th Street Fabrics. I quickly discovered that Bernina's were truly wonderful machines, and bought one. I am the type of person who feels that if I am going to invest in something, a tool or learning experience, I would rather have a good one that I can depend on to work ever time and make learning fun. I can not tell you what a difference that machine made to my skills. That lovely Bernina 130, a handful of classes, and I was sewing for years and years! There wasn't access to great fabric or inspiring patterns, but I made due and mostly just kept sewing through the years, for myself, my home, and now my kids.

What sewing machine do you use now? I also invested in a Bernina serger, it is a 900 DL. It is a great serger and continues to serve me well. I now also have a Bernina Aurora 430, and still have my Bernina 130 (although I have lent it to my sister). I also sew on lots of new Bernina's at Modern Domestic, the 330's mostly, as they are in the classrooms.

What do you most use your machine for? I use my machine for loads of things, from sewing doll clothes, to clothes for myself, a little quilting, home dec projects, what ever inspires me. Most recently I made a little Vogue tunic dress with beautiful Liberty of London fabric, which was dreamy.

What is your 'dream machine'? I think I can happily say that I own my dream machine! I do think that may change when I get to know more about the Bernina 820, which is truly amazing. After I can get over the intimidation of such a sophisticated sewing machine, I bet I will begin to fall in love.

What advice would you give to a beginning sewer looking to invest in a machine? When it comes to investing in your first machine, please do not purchase on from a "big box store." Aside from a very poorly made sewing machine that has mostly plastic and non-durable parts, they are hardly worth maintaining and you get NO support from those stores. Go to a dealership and buy the best you can afford. A well-built sewing machine will last you a very long time if properly maintained, and you can get loads of support from your dealership, including classes on your machine, and tips and help. If you have to wait a little longer to invest, look into layaway, and use a sewing studio for classes meanwhile, so you can learn and sew before you decide on your level of commitment/investment.

Lupines Links:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Omni Glide Machine Trolley

How cool is this? I first saw the Omni Glide at my local sewing haunt, Save Stores on Foster Road. I couldn't believe there was something that looked this hip for lugging a sewing machine around! I knew I had to have one, but it was right before the holidays, so I did the only possible thing I could do and told my husband to get it for me as a gift (That was the right thing to do, wasn't it?) Well, he did, (thanks hon!) and it proved to be as fantastic as I had hoped. We have already covered my it needs to look good issue and this satisfied that quirk of mine perfectly!

If you travel with your machine I would say this trolley is a great investment. It is super lightweight and comes in three colors: silver, red and blue. Warning though, it does not fit my Babylock Ellure with the cover on. I can just get it to zip closed. My older machines and new little Bernettes fit just fine. Also, the wheels seem delicate to me, like they are meant for slick airport linoliem floors and not the rocky asphalt I attempted to drag it across in the school parking lot (I ended up carrying it until I got inside). Shop around too: Amazon has it for less than Save Stores did, it just depends on how you like to shop. Personally, I prefer to support my local sewing haunts, even if it means paying a bit more.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

VISI: Margarita's machine

Several weeks ago I found out that Barbara Matera Ltd. was closing its' doors after over 40 years of making costumes for Broadway shows, Ballet, Film and Opera. My first job out of college (I went to Parsons School of Design) was working as a first hand there. I was a fabric cutter for the two years I worked for Materas and I had the privilege of working directly with Barbara on several occasions. One that stands out in my memory was handing her pins in a fitting for Rudolf Nureyev for a performance of the King and I. It was a life-changing experience working there: I helped create some of the most incredible garments, I worked for world renown costume and fashion designers, and I made life-long friends who loved to sew.

I always made a point to visit the shop when I was in the City. Many of the people I had worked with were still there, and they always invited me into their world of costume magic. My daughter had a chance to visit and she began to look forward to going to the place mommy used to work where she could keep any beads she collected off the floor. One of the most important skills I took away from Matera's was how to sew on their ancient industrial sewing machines. The women who sewed at the shop, known as the 'ladies', were either hand stitchers or machine stitchers. Margarita, one of the machine stitchers, took me under her wing and taught me with patience and expertise how to drive these behemoths. I took this photo of Margarita's sewing machine the last time I visited the shop in New York. She was an expert tutu maker and taught me how to tell jokes in Spanish. I never quite mastered the art of either, but I will say I am more confident sewing tulle than regaling my friends with the 'one about the playa.'

I will miss Matera's and the world sparkle a bit less in it's absence.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Singer Touch and Sew: Mystery Solved!

I found it! I am so glad I took pictures of this machine when my student brought it to class last year! The Singer Touch and Sew was introduced in 1965. You can look at a 1970 version of the Golden Touch and Sew Delux Zig Sag Sewing Machine Model 750 sewing manual here (love the internet for finding things like this!) The graphics are super cool and it clearly shows the bobbin winding feature on page 7.

While researching this I discovered the google timeline and found several classified adds from the 1960s and 70s showing that this machine originally retailed for around $300. Not much has changed in fourty years!

Friday, January 14, 2011

and the winner is...Lauren!!!

Congratulations! And thanks for commenting everyone. I wish I could give all of you machines! In an effort to give everyone a fair and equal chance, I assigned everyone 3 numbers starting with 1 for the last post and continuing in reverse consecutive order up to the number 27. Basically, if your post was first on the list, you got numbers 9, 18, and 27. I used an integer generator at to chose the lucky winner. I know, I could have drawn a name out of a hat, but this seemed more fair somehow.

And because I am in such a giving mood, there is a runner-up prize which goes to #17, tambouringirl. Please send me a note so I can send you your goodie bag!

Now we have to figure out shipping to the big apple. This was fun. I hope I can do another giveaway soon!

Singer Athena 2000

I love it when a student brings a sewing machine to class that inspires me to learn something. Thursday night happened to be one of those times. I could tell it was an older machine and I had two thoughts: I hope she has the instruction booklet and I'm excited she went to the trouble to bring it to class. I don't expect my students to bring a machine, but if they have one and can bring it, then I can teach them how to use it.

I offered to help her set it up and asked if she had sewn on it recently. I was happy when she replied she had tested it last night because then I knew there was a possibility of it working. I have had students bring in machines that have sat in basements for years. It is never fun to have to tell kids that their machines have to be serviced before they can be used. I hoped tonight that wouldn't be the case. I lifted the machine out of the container, plugged in the presser foot and power cord and it turned on fine. My student assured me she knew how to thread it, so I went to attend to another kid. Then I heard those famous last words, "Michelle, my machine isn't working..." I headed back over to her and sure enough, the machine was on, but it wouldn't sew! I noticed that the bobbin winder was engaged, which could prevent the needle from moving up and down. Typically that can be adjusted by pushing in or tightening the center of the manual wheel, but that was not the case this time. I was stumped! I asked if she has an instruction booklet (I think so, but I don't know where it is) so I decided I needed to sit down until I figured it out. I started investigating the machine: the more I searched, the cooler I realized it was! It crossed my mind that it was a hybrid of some kind from the early '70s and I wrote the model number down so I could research it later.

I still had a mystery to solve. The one clue I had was the bobbin function. It was a drop-in bobbin (on the top by the feed dogs, and not in the front on the neck) and it was a self-winding bobbin design I had seen once before in a vintage machine (I wish I could remember what that one was). I think, there must be something in the bobbin that I can disengage, but I can't figure out what. Then I just go for it. There is a panel of buttons with no information on the top of the machine. I press the first one: nothing (later I figure out it is the reverse button). I press the second one: bingo! It works! Mystery solved.

When I got home I did some research. Turns out the Singer Athena has an interesting place in history. It was introduced in 1975 and was the first electronic sewing machine. If you click on the photo it will take you over to a time line on the singer website. There are some other interesting facts about the machine and free pdfs of the schematics here: Athena 2000. I just love this stuff!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Interview with Miyong Noh of Idyeology

Miyong Noh is the owner of Idyeology, a dye shop located in Portland, Oregon and designer of limited edition burner-inspired apparel. She worked as head dyer and color specialist for Gene Mignolia in NYC for twenty years and spent three years as the dyer for the New York City Ballet Costume shop. She earned her BFA from Parsons School of Design in Fashion and is a fine artist specializing in wood carving paintings, paper mache masks, and wearable art. She has taught adults how to sew and craft for the past five years in New York City and plans to do so again in Portland.

When did you learn how to sew? My mother showed me how to hand-sew when I was about 3 years old. I took a sewing class in the eighth grade when I was about 12. In high school I took a couture sewing course outside of school, then got my BFA from Parsons School of Design in Fashion Design. 34 years of experience and I am still learning!

What kind of machine did you first learn to sew on? I don't remember the home machine model at my school but since my mother had an industrial Singer straight stitch, that is the one I used until college.

What machine do you sew on now? I just moved and sold my Italian Necchi A809 which was an amazing machine with speed control. I've had mostly Singers but recently purchased the Bernina 830! as well as a Thompson Mini-Walking foot machine, a 900 Singer industrial straight stitch and a new Janome 111ODX serger. I had major issues with my Singer Serger 14SH654 because I used it frequently and used many different types of material. Many home machines are not meant to be used on a constant basis thus my need to use industrials now.

What is your 'dream machine?' Any older model Bernina made in Switzerland, Italian made Necchi, and Juki industrial machines: including a coverstitch, blind-hem, and serger.

What advice would you give to a beginning sewer looking to invest in their first machine? I am not a fan of computerized machines because I am used to the mechanical and electrical models. I would advise getting a machine that has the basic stitches: straight, zig-zag, buttonholer, blind hem and if you plan on using stretch fabrics, a stretch stitch, though using a zig-zag stitch will work perfectly fine. You really don't need to have more than those stitches unless you are planning to do a lot of embroidery.

Personally I prefer to buy used older models from brands I trust such as Bernina and Necchi. Nowadays more plastic parts are put inside the machines and they can break apart more quickly than one that has metal parts. It's okay to buy a used machine that is trusted than a pretty new one with tons of stitches you will probably never use.

If you choose to go to a shop to buy one, lift it! If it's heavy generally there are more metal parts than plastic. Check and see where it is made. Talk to the salesperson and tell them what you want to sew. Do your own research as well: Jot down model numbers, go home and check on-line for reviews. Bring swatches of the types of fabric you want to sew.

Baby Lock Ellure

I suppose I should write what machine I have been sewing on for the past few years. Most of the time I sew on a Baby Lock Ellure. My daughter (who was 9 at the time) and I invested in this machine together after a summer spent driving each other nuts working on my grandmother's 1970s Kenmore. We went into Montevilla Sewing Center and she was instantly drawn to the touch screen on this model. While I had no idea how to get past turning it on, she and the salesman were having a delightful time exploring everything this machine could do. A slightly used model was available and we put it on lay-away. It took us until the following summer to pay it off, but it was worth it. She loves this machine, and I like-like it. I don't take advantage of everything it can do, especially the embroidery functions, but there are a few features I'll admit I've gotten quite used to. I like the needle up-down, the scissor-cutter, the speed control (for my daughter and students), and the way it gave my daughter the confidence she needed to get to the next level sewing. I don't really like the top bobbin loader (although most new machines have this, so get used to it Michelle...) and the one-step button hole thingy is useful, but it has been unpredictable: could be the needle needed to be changed, but the thread has broken in the middle of my button hole attempts too many times to mention, so I think it is just an Ellure thing. I have also had problems with the thread breaking during embroidery attempts, which may be part inexperience and part this machine. Again, I don't use the embroidery feature much (those of you who know me know my catch phrase "manage your frustration" and I don't seem to be able to manage it well when it comes to embroidery...).
Sewing machines are so personal, funny, isn't it? I am going to start a series of interviews with some sewers I know about what machines they use and why starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sewing Machine Giveaway!

I have decided to give a sewing machine away! Blame it on the impending snow storm or my blatant good mood. Here is the deal. I will draw a name at random from comments on this post, but I have to get at least ten comments (from different people - come on now, friends!). Please say, I'd like a free sewing machine (or something like that in your post) so I know you want to be in the drawing. If you live in or around Portland I will arrange a time and place to bring it to you. If you live elsewhere and you need it shipped, you will have to pay for that.
The Machine:
Riccar 1570
The one I have is probably 10 years old, maybe less. The Riccar 1570 is still made although I have not been able to find out how much it would cost to buy it new (it was given to me, so I'm passing that good will on). Also, I have not have it serviced, but I have used it. I would suggest getting it serviced and oiled and all that.
Speaking of oil, I did learn something new today. I took out the first of the two Bernettes and was in the process of checking all the parts and I noticed I had some oil on my hands. When I opened up the little parts case the oil cap from the oil container had not been replaced tight enough at the factory and it had spilled everywhere. Yikes. I called the store where I bought the machines and they suggested to clean it up with Simple Green. Oh, that's easy! I didn't have any but I did have some Trader Zen, which did the trick.
Good Luck!
Winners will be announced Friday, January 14th (if I get those ten comments!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bernette 46

Oh Bernette 46, what a little cutie you are! You are so darling you tempted me into buying two of you! My students are going to think you are rad (or awesome or sweet or tight, or whatever) and they are going to learn to sew because of it! You didn't have exactly what I was looking for but how could I resist: you sewed straight and zig zaged with aplomb, you don't weigh much and you look like a vintage machine. And I did my due diligence: I test drove many other versions of you to no avail. I didn't like the Janome reverse feature or the dial on the Bernina 55. The Brother, the Viking and the vintage Bernina were all great, but too spendy. So you are the one! Welcome home.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sewing Machines: Mechanical, Electronic or Computerized?

I have been shopping for a new sewing machine to use for my classes. I have been using ancient Singer and Kenmore machines, which work fine, but I have decided to modernize and teach my young students on something they may be more likely to feel confident using. The one feature I really find does this is the speed control. Several years ago I invested in my first computerized sewing machine and it had this feature. So which is the best machine to get? I want a machine that is simple (not too many stitches and NO embroidery features), has a speed control, is lightweight, and cost around $250.
The adventure begins:
Computerized vs. Electronic/Mechanical
Well, who knew this would be so complicated! All of my machines are electric, and I thought all new machines were computerized. Not so. A computerized machine may be a low-end model or the most expensive embroidery machine. An electronic machine may be high end as well. As an experienced sewer, but inexperienced buyer, I found this all very complicated to navigate.
The difference between Mechanical Machines and Electronic Machines is basically semantics. CLARIFICATION (added 1/11/11): mechanical machines have no electronic guts - they have gears and levers and pullies and such. I was thinking electronic meant you plugged it into an electrical outlet. Silly me! Electronic machines are different from a basic mechanical. I'll work up a post about this with better information... Most dealers use the term electronic, but once in a while you will hear some one say mechanical. These terms are used intermittently in descriptions as well. This was terribly confusing to me at first. I asked many experienced sewers I knew what the difference was and it became a giant guessing game. Here is what I've decided: A mechanical machine refers to older or vintage machines. The user has to adjust the settings, the tension and stitch length. It is more likely that the speed in which you sew using the presser foot will affect these settings: I have had this happen a million times. Why are my stitches suddenly so small when I sew fast - aha! This is why. Mechanical machines are also heavy. This is one of the reasons I want to get rid of mine. Carrying them every week to class is starting to drive me crazy.
Electronic Machines are mechanical machines. This term appears to describe machines beginning in the 1970s. There is a technical description of the mechanics of an electronic machine vs a mechanical machine on The Ultimate Sew and Vac web site. This did not make it easier to understand for me, but it did explain things. Most dealers use both terms and I have come to the conclusion that they basically mean it is not computerized. The ones I like so far are the Husqvarna/Viking 118 and the Singer CG-590. There is a significant price difference - the Viking is $450 at my local shop and I can get the Singer online for $300.
Computerized machines have a microprocessor. These are the ones that have led screens and tons of fancy stitches. The ones I don't need, except it is not easy to find an inexpensive Electronic machine with the speed control feature. The main thing to know is that the lower end machines are not built with a protective interior case. These are basically cheaply made and intended for the sewer who makes a project once or twice a year. Not for me. A middle-end (is there such a thing? There must be if there are low and high ends!) are machines like Janome Magnolia 7330 and the Brother Innov-is 40 . Both of these machines run around $350-400 and neither are aesthetically appealing to me (I wish I could just get over that... but yuck!)
So that is where I am at right now. I had hoped to buy two machines for around $250 each, but I think that may be impossible. We'll see!