Saturday, March 21, 2020

Staying Home

So we are staying home these days but working from home. What does that mean when I'm always working at home? My work laptop came home with me and I set up a tall table in the sometimes sunny porch. There are two mornings each week where I'm in charge of monitoring our local chat service for the library and answering the group email account. We are all on internal chat so I keep up with everyone while we try to support our faculty in getting everything online for the remaining two months of class. I've learned how to work in chunks of time, taking breaks to go clear my mind; it's at those times when I will sometimes solve a problem so down time isn't always down!

Since I am no longer spending time driving for work, I not only have extra time at home but my sewing machines and projects are a nice break time diversion. Before everything started to close down I picked up two sewing machines from Goodwill auction, a Husqvarna Viking "Emma" and a Kenmore 158-1310. I couldn't resist the Emma since that's the name of one of my granddaughters but wasn't expecting much since it was just a mechanical model. This one surprised me with its solid feel, easy controls, and more than passable stitching:
Husqvarna Viking Emma
It came with all you could need with extra presser feet, some tools, a few bobbins, and a great padded carrying case. There was a receipt in the pocket showing it had been bought in 2003 for a fairly hefty price considering it is mechanical, in fact it was twenty times the price I paid. You gotta love an auction. Maybe some day Emma will sew with it but not to worry because it's a solid machine that someone else would like, too.

Next up is the Kenmore 158-1310, a nice machine that seemed pretty familiar. I clean it up and test it out to find it only goes backwards. What? Again? I checked my inventory database to find I had just sold this exact model with the same problem. Of course, I don't know what I did to fix the one I sold  so I put the cover on, made a note on its label, and had to walk away for the time being.
Kenmore 158-1310
Because I'm so happy with the Singer Futura XL 400, as I wrote about in Embroidery the Easy Way?,  and its embroidery functions as well as free motion, I took a chance and got a Singer Futura CE 250 embroidery sewing machine. It came with everything so there was less risk involved but I knew this was a problematic model. Upon testing it out, I could see the manuals were nearly identical so I was hoping for less of a learning curve. I was lucky that I could install the software on the same laptop as I had for the XL-400 with no problems or confusion on the part of the software but I kept getting error messages after the first project was stitched out. I kept playing with it until I got the right combination of thread and sequencing of steps but I'll need to use it more before I feel confident enough to sell it to someone. Here's a nice stitch-out:
Deer antlers and arrows on camouflage fabric
I didn't even use stabilizer and it turned out this nice so now I just need to keep trying different patterns and features. I'll do it "for the cause" (said tongue-in-cheek).

Not to let too much time go by, I attacked another one of the quilt block sets I got back in September at the river Rats TOGA. With one under my belt, pieced but not quilted (a future blog post), I got out a Joann's Block-of-the-Month set from 1997 where the blocks were all done and an attempt to assemble them. It looked like there had been a change of heart with some purple sparkle fabric added to the sashing but I took that out and started over again. Here was part of the planning:
Blue BOM 1997 with new sashing
This was the easy part since the blocks were all done and a pretty nice job of it, too. I used my Singer 66 treadle since this came from a treadle sewing group and that made it even more fun. Here it is all assembled:
Final assembly, waiting to be quilted
Because it has a white background, I needed white batting so I ordered Quilters Dream batting. I've seen it talked up in a few of the quilting books and it gets great reviews but it's a bit pricey so this was a smaller project to try it out on, only 45" by 60". This is also a smaller project for continuing to practice my free-motion quilting skills so it's a bit of a win-win.

Let's continue to keep busy and keep sewing because this is one way we can head off the pandemic: stay home (and keep sewing).

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Quilting Vacation

I'm back from a week of vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, where quilting is alive and well. We met my quilting sister and her husband for some nice rest, good food, and as it turned out, visiting quilt shops. Who knew? It started out with a plan to have the guys do their own thing looking at ships and such but a wrong turn and  backup on the bridge meant they came along with us as we spent the day touring shops (I think they were along for the lunch).

First stop was Five Eights Seams, a bright and cheerful shop that actually had various sewing machines and classes.
I love the subtitle: Perfection starts here
More than just quilting, they had samples and fabric for clothing that caught my attention:
Border prints!
I did my best to resist but I bought one piece of fabric before I left, a lovely Lori Holt sewing themed piece that I planned on making a cover for my industrial Bernina 217. We shall see:

Heading up to Summerville, we stopped for lunch first at Fives Loaves Cafe and then on to People Places and Quilts. I found this very fun fabric with four different patterns in each width. I couldn't decide so I got a yard of each of the red and blue:

Then there were patterns! First I picked up the sewing machine cover with a camper theme and then I found the travel iron bag that doubles as an ironing surface:

They even added the heat resistant fabric so you don't have to go shopping around for it. If and when I make this little gem I will have to show you.

On another day we stopped at Wild and Wooly where they were having a birthday celebration for one of the owners who happened to have a rare February 29th birthday. How old was she? Not very old since she only could celebrate every 7 years or so but it was all fun with birthday cake and punch. Of course, we did buy a few items we were sure we couldn't find anywhere else, including camping themed fabric:

Camper fabric with a companion piece

Camping fabric paired with four patterned fabric
Loved the camping fabric and even found another piece of the four patterns on a width that I think might work together. So now I have several pieces of fabric and patterns for sewing machine covers but I only need one of my machines covered. Who knows where this will end?

Before our trip was over, my sister shared the quilt top that I had assembled for our aunt as a lap robe as I wrote about in Hand Quilting back in the summer. When Aunt Marcella died we just let that project drop, or so I thought, but she had it quilted for me and I am now the proud owner of my aunt's lovely flower garden quilt.
Flower Garden blocks all assembled and quilted
Another great trip was put away but we have many happy memories. The four of us are planning our next trip with our campers, maybe not this coming summer but for the next year. Could I pack a sewing machine along with me? We shall see!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Chenille Maker

At the last River Rats TOGA I attended a session on how to make your own chenille. That's a bit of a misnomer since chenille is a type of fabric with many different looks and surfaces from rows of dots or bumps to intricate designs that cover the surface. What we learned about was how to make your own rows of fluffy fabrics using a chenille cutter. For Christmas I asked for the Olfa Chenille cutter since it was recommended but it was pricey, definitely a splurge. With time on my side and the cutter in my hand, I followed directions and layered three flannel fabrics on top of a piece of mid-weight  upholstery fabric. Rows of stitches were marked at half inch intervals with chalk and stitched:
Sample stitched and start of cutting layers
Then the fun began with using the cutter to cut the top three layers and leaving the bottom layer intact. It didn't look like much until I washed and dried it:
Washed and dried sample!
It turned out fairly thick so now I ask myself "What are you going to use this with/on?" and I haven't a clue. A whole quilt with these chenille squares sewn together? Back of a quilt? Hot mitts? I think I'm going to have fun finding out. In the meantime, I bought two sewing machines that have solved a few problems I had and one I didn't even know I had! First up is a Singer 31-15, an industrial machine without a table or motor:
Singer 31-15 head only
I've had one of these before and it didn't impress me so I gave it a servo motor and sold it. At the time I was enamored with a Singer 78 walking foot machine, ended up with a Bernina 217, and told myself I would consider another industrial if I could treadle it. Now I have a great machine but no industrial treadle base so what's up with that?

It came very, very dirty and you can see that it's been well used but it cleaned up  and would almost spin on its own so I brought it downstairs to wait for that treadle base...someday. Just for fun, I took measurements and found out it would fit in the Bernina 217 table. Although they are very heavy machines I only had to lift out the Bernina and put it back against the wall and the Singer only had to rest of the four corner supports. I gingerly attached the belt, turned on the servo motor and carefully depressed the foot control: it stitched! The feed dogs also broke the needle plate so the years of dirty build-up had provided a buffer for a poorly fitted plate. That was okay since parts are very cheap: I bought a new set of feed dogs, needle plate, and slide plate for only $13. Such a deal! I already have various feet, extra bobbin cases and bobbins, needles, etc. so we will be all set when they arrive. I'm going to have fun with this one, seeing how it might do some tasks better than the Bernina 217 or not as well but it's nice to have choices.

Along with the Singer 31-15 I picked up a New Home SX-2122 that was missing a few parts but basically just needed to be cleaned up and run. It was missing the front storage compartment so I looked it up at and found out it was also used with other models. Cross-referencing my database I found out I had one of the models listed, a $10 find at the Textile Center Garage Sale last spring. There were multiple problems with it so I stashed it away on my parts graveyard  shelf. The storage container fit just fine and then I noticed the electrical socket was in great shape on the broken machine. I had a New Home MyExcel 15S with a broken socket so I switched out the parts and now have 2 sewing machines ready to sew and that parts machine is officially off the parts shelf. I have a guy who takes them for metal scrap so it waits for his pick up time. Success!
New Home "Computer" model SX-2122
Now I'm headed to a weeks vacation with family for a much needed rest and relaxation. Maybe we will spy some sewing machines? At least we plan to visit a few quilt shops!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Education and Great Finds

Last post I extolled upon the features of using various sewing machines for free motion quilting. At the end of the day I have to admit, a bit shame faced, that I had the most success with a plastic Singer sewing machine. I can be harsh on those newer models but when you can set the machine to sew at a steady speed without any effort on your part, then you are free to move the fabric around and not have to pace your foot to your hands. That's right, I also play no musical instruments for probably that same reason but I digress. Here's the banner I made with First Quilters last year, now finally finished:
Sew Blessed banner/table runner size
and with free motion half heart pattern, shown from the back to see it easier:
Half hearts free motion quilting
Which machine? Singer Futura XL400, the same one I've been using for machine embroidery! It's possible I won't be able to sell this one since I've had so much fun with it and it is so easy to use. Now that I have discovered this free motion feature, well, I'll have to think real hard about it.

Another nice find this week was a New Home MyExcel 15S, a model I've bought and sold, loving their ease of use, nice quality, good for beginners and more experienced sewers. This one is also nice but had sat unused for a long time and I have to get everything limbered up again. No problem! Until I found out I couldn't get the stretch stitches to consistently stay limbered up. They keep going back to their stuck state and that means they only sew in reverse. I've done all of the usual cleaning, oiling, repeat, heat from a hair blower, repeat daily, getting better but not there yet. In the meantime I've felt the need to confine the many sergers that I've gotten ready for sale by making zippered bags for them. The first bag turned out way too big so I had to use it for a sewing machine instead:
X-Large size is extra large!
Next up, I made the large size with the same blue fabric and print lining since I have a bolt of the solid blue fabric. It needed firmer fabric so I used iron-on interfacing to give it more body plus the lining adds firmness to the bag. Once I figured out a good size I started a production line of bags for sergers:
Zippered bags with sergers and supplies inside
That's right, four bags in all with gray vinyl bases, nylon webbing for handles, and a storage pocket on each side. Zipped up they contain the accessories, manual, and power cords. It also cleaned up my space and helps to keep the machines dust free, too. While I was sewing these up, I used my Bernina serger but also needed a regular sewing machine so I used what was handy: the New Home MyExcel 15S. I handled the vinyl just fine, was easy to use, and the proof is in the product, don't you think? It still stitches backwards when using the stretch stitches but a little heat from the hair dryer does the trick.

While up north on Saturday, my dear husband and I were stretching our legs by stopping at the Goodwill in Alexandria, MN. I say "dear" because while I found a Singer Tiny Serger, he found a table. Table? Yes, a clear acrylic table like the Sew Steady type. Here it is, cleaned up and sitting with:
New Home MyExcel 15S with acrylic extension table
the New Home MyExcel 15S. The table is imprinted Janome but they bought out New Home so are one in the same now. It's not a perfect fit but not too bad either. The price? $7. What about that Tiny Serger? It actually does work:
Singer Tiny Serger TS380+
for overcast edges but the biggest downfall is the inability to cut as it sews: no blades. It's only meant as an edger. It actually works but there just are no adjustments for stitch length or width. Here's a funny feature: there is a light but only for threading because once you plug in the foot control the light goes out! This has limited usefulness but it was fun for awhile.

There you have it, my recent adventures in buying, restoring, and reselling vintage sewing machines and what to sew with them. New up: chenille cutter and what I made with one.

Monday, January 20, 2020

OmniStitch for FreeMotion

Quilting has been taking up much of my time, if not actually sewing at least in my head. I love the design process, learning new skills, practicing until I can get it right (or at least better but who am I kidding, at least until it can be shown in public), along with the best sewing machine for this new skill. After piecing the top of a quilt I'm somewhat at a loss for how to actually quilt the top, batting, and backing together. Trying to stitch-in-the-ditch or outline blocks has been my past efforts but sometimes I long for the longarm machine quilt finish. My sister had one and did up a huge king size quilt of mine that I use for a bedspread but she lives in Michigan and has since sold her machine. I have looked into having a service or individual do up my quilts but it's pretty pricey. Here's what I have tried with some success.

Quilting Frame
Parts of a quilt frame
What started me down the road to free motion quilting was watching a video where they used a frame to keep the quilt taunt and for ease of manipulation. Even though the video used a Flynn Frame and I wasn't going to spend $150 on one, I did find a frame at a thrift store and for $10 I figured I could try to use it in some fashion. Well, it was "some fashion" and I found out the limitations and parts I must be missing. I needed some other parts to keep rolling up the quilt as I finished but it did show me how it could work.

OmniStitch OS-1000
The sewing machine that I figured out would be the best for this kind of work is a no-feed dog type, meant for embellishing items with yarn or ribbon. It came to me via a thrift store for under $10 and I have only spent money on DBx1 needles so it was worth the experimentation. Mine came with only one attachment for feeding the yarn/ribbon so that wasn't going to work too well but I could use it for free motion.
No feed dogs, just a single needle opening
 This has worked for me before so I got it all set up with the quilting frame to discover I needed to remove the presser foot and needle to get the frame under the arm. This was a pain but maybe I would only need to do this a few times. I started to quilt on a simple block pieced baby quilt made of flannel, something I got at the River Rats TOGA last fall. I have three of these quilt tops and one came with backing fabric so that's where I started. Adding one layer of batting and getting it all into the frame, I was ready to stitch. I decided to try out a different design in each square to make this a sampler in free motion quilting and this turned out to be a good idea. The frame only allowed me to go about 6 inches into the quilt before I needed to roll it up and that was the part that was missing. I took a stab at trying to use it with another bar to hold the unquilted pieces together but it finally sorta collapsed so I took it out from under the arm of the machine.

Now I was up for the real deal, free motion just holding the quilt layers in place as I went. Thank goodness it was flannel because they really stuck together well even without basting! It was fun to try out different free motion patterns to see what worked, what was too much work, and how to control the speed and movement to get a good result. Here's my first attempt:
Flannel baby quilt with different patterns in each block
I ended up using some left over rayon blanket binding just to get it finished off since it was not going to be sold or even given away: it was for practice only. Next up I tried another one and this time I decided to use a wave and circle pattern at random to stitch in an all over pattern. I was surprised how little time it took, maybe over an hour for a 32" by 40" size baby quilt. Using safety pins to hold things together, I started in the center and moved out, smoothing and removing pins as I went. No basting! Here's how it looked:

All over stitch pattern
and then with green blanket binding with an ombre look of a light to dark fading out of the color:
Almost done with the second of three baby quilts in flannel
 I'm getting better so I'm ready to start the third flannel quilt top with a blue flannel backing:
Blue backing on pieced blocks
This has been a good learning time and I'm glad to have the pieced tops already presented so all I needed was to do the finishing up by learning free motion quilting. I sure didn't want to experiment on something I spend hours and hours on cutting, piecing, plus the cost of the fabric only to then botch the free motion quilting. Do I feel ready to work on one of my "dream" quilts? Not yet, but I have several sets of quilt blocks from the TOGA and others I can still practice on before I put the needle to a fancy quilt top. It's all about practice, practice,and more practice!

Monday, January 13, 2020

When Close is Close Enough

There has been quite a run on Bernina's lately and that could be because I have been recommending them more. When people I have sold sewing machines to come back for another machine, many times they ask for something that is really "the best" sewing machine for (fill in the blank here). If it's the best stitches and they want more than straight stitch, I frequently have to recommend Bernina's. Their tension is perfect, stitches are ramrod straight, and these machines have definitely stood the test of time. So I continue to recommend but sometimes get caught in a situation where I have no more machines and that has been my dilemma lately.

Everyone wants the Bernina Record 830, a very top-of-the-line machine before the real electronics came to dominate sewing machines. I know, they have electronic in their name on this model but they are primarily a mechanical sewing machine. Much to my delight, I have two of them, one complete with red carrying case, extension table, full set of accessories in a red box, new power cords and foot control. The other one has the same except no carrying case and no extension table. Everyone wants that extension table and they are hard to find! The search will continue until I sell both machines but one is getting picked up this weekend and we shall see about the other one: maybe someone wants it so bad they are willing to try to pick up an extension table later.

Here's the real dilemma: next up is the Bernina Record 730 and I also have two of them but both have issues. One came with the green suitcase and has the attachment compartment in green that fits onto the back of the machine, the other one came without a case. So what's the problem? The model with the case has a broken cam gear, very common, and the other one uses a knee control instead of a foot control. I have been looking for that knee control for four months and they keep getting away from me until this week when I found one and now it's mine! As far as the gear replacement goes, that's another sage but I'll summarize.

I bought the replacement gear some time ago but without a buyer I wasn't too motivated to actually replace it. After watching an excellent YouTube video on how to do this right with all of the subsequent adjustments, I dove in. Here's a little aside about an oil pad under the can mechanism: the video said to just throw it away but I could see the machine with the decent gear also had a decent oil pad so I switched them out:

Deep inside the machine where the oil pad was removed

Let's throw that oil pad on the left away and replace with the super clean one on the right
The problem comes with these aftermarket gears that are just slightly off in size so there is a bit of a hitch in their giddy-up. For the most part the stitches were great and then there was the occasional misstep but it was unpredictable when it would show up. I put everything away and checked back two days later. Now I had another thought: I have a 730 as a parts machine so maybe I could use that camstack gear! I took it all apart and, wouldn't you know it, it was the same measurement as the new gear! Is my micrometer off?
Broken gear, older gear on camstack, new replacement gear on camstack
 I don't have anything to lose so I go ahead and take the old but not broken gear off the camstack. I try to anyway but one of the screws is not loosening up so I decide to use the whole camstack with gear because, after all, aren't they the same model? It all goes together just fine so I stitch it out but find the stitches are not in the right order. Some of the patterns are all together different. What's going on here? Then I look at the stitch selector for each machine and see there are different stitches and a different order between them. What do I do now? The easy way is to print off a new list and tape it to the machine:

But then I get the idea of switching the top lid:
Original order
Replaced camstack order
I think this might work so I'm relieved for now. Neither of these machines have the extension table but I did find one only to discover it did not match even one of the three 730's I now have. Time to investigate the part number so I can get the correct one when I find another one. I still have two more Bernina's to show but I would like to have all of them in working order. It appears my work is never done but it's oh so enjoyable! Happy sewing...

It was quite a whirlwind day on Saturday and things didn't turn out as expected! A quilting friend from Cambridge came down to look at the Berninas and bought the 830 without the case or table (since the other one was already spoken for). I told them about the 730 table that didn't fit as I had it on the kitchen table with all of the Berninas. Her husband, who was active in this whole discussion, said it looked like it was the same size opening as the 830 so we tried it and it actually fit the 830 a bit better. He said he was willing to shave off the extra with a file to make it fit and it was sold! All three of us were happy as she loaded up the car with her new-to-her-sewing machine.

Before the next Bernina sale I managed to squeeze in Harlan who wanted an Elna for some basic sewing. The SU62C was not behaving well and I couldn't sell it yet so I sent him some photos of a few Kenmore's. He called Saturday morning to see some of them and I figured I could set them up for his perusal. He ended up with a Kenmore 158-17741, a very nice machine with built in stitches as well as cams for decorative stitches. Upon leaving he said he would still like to have a go at the Elna if and when it was ready to go as he was taken up with the Swiss manufacturing and watch reputation.
Kenmore 158-17741
Julie came for her Bernina Record 830 and we plugged it in and it didn't sound very good. What happened? We figured she must have sewn on the other model and not this one. Then the stitch length lever wasn't behaving well so she said she would either wait for this one to get worked on or might even look at a different Bernina. I do have a 910 coming this week so we shall see. Last night I took the 830 apart and checked the motor, cleaned out stray pins, put it all back together and with another oiling it now sounds like it should. The stitch length lever was cleaned out and adjusted and now it works according to the manual. I'll let Julie know it's fine now but she might want to wait until I have the 910 up and running. We shall see.

And finally, Freeman was back with his restored bentwood case and looking for an exact fit of those strap sets I sell. There was an extension table with his case and he wondered if we could somehow accommodate it with the straps but nothing seemed to work. Then my husband had a brilliant idea: how about making a carrying pouch that attaches to the back of the carrying handle for the extension table? That sounded like it would work so I even produced some Singer logo fabric to give him inspiration. All was well, everyone went home happy, my reputation is still intact. 

Four visits in one day: that might be a record but I don't want to do that very often. Now I'm off to sew a new Hawaiian shirt for my husband (we have to do something to avoid going out in the snow!)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Embroidery the Easy Way?

As promised, I've got a lot to tell you about my newest embroidery sewing machine and the fun I'm having with it. Oh, it's not all fun and games but once you get things figured out it can be exciting to watch the designs appear and creative, too. There's just so much to learn! The machine I've been playing with is a Singer Futura XL-400:
Singer Futura XL400
This is by no means any kind of a high end machine, and a plastic Singer to boot, but it's been pretty easy to use and the end results has been good, too, so I'll shut up now about modern Singers. This machine came to me via Goodwill Online auctions where I got the machine in one bid and a set of three embroidery arms in another bid. I took a chance that one of those arms was going to fit the Singer Futura and it did but now I have a Pfaff Creative 1.5 embroidery arm with large hoop and manual plus an unbranded arm that could be for a Brother machine. But that's okay because I've learned that the right parts just might come along one day or someone reading this post might want just what I've stumbled upon!

The Singer came home with me and I got it all sorted out with a borrowed power cord and foot control but there are issues. I keep getting error messages and it seems like I'm not in the right mode. It occurs to me it might be stuck in the embroidery mode so I back out of it just like I was going to take the embroidery arm off and then start the machine over again and VOILA it works! There does seem to be an issue with the speed control so with a repair manual, free from a Facebook group for Singer embroidery machine users, I find the component that controls the speed and order it. There are also some levers that have their handles snapped off so they also get ordered along with the large hoop that was missing and I'm good to go.

Dell laptop with Futura Embroidery software loaded
I forgot to mention I needed software, too, so I ordered a disk for this model and crossed my fingers that it would work. Above is a laptop with old Windows 7 or 8, a better match for this older system embroidery machine anyway. Everything was installed correctly so now the fun begins! I had some small under four inch circles that I used for making zippered pouches originally intended for earbuds but used for anything. Some of them were just too plain so I downloaded some designs that would fit the fabric theme and colors to come up with the following:
Truckers: another good theme
In the above design with a big truck, there were ten "blocks" where you had color changes and each block had to be selected, sent from the computer directly to the sewing machine via a cable, press Start on the sewing machine and it stitched the block. When finished the machine stopped, you cut off the thread, added the next block, chose your thread and rethreaded the machine, hit Start, and you were off and stitching. Here's the above design all finished:
This might be my mantra
How cute is that? You can see the finished product below. It wasn't all fun and games when Harry Potter turned out not to line up right and I had to remove those extra stitches:
Are those shadows or misplaced outline stitches?

Even my cat, Meg, was curious enough to sit on the chair and watch the needle but this isn't something you can just load and forget: you need to be attentive to any mishaps that can be corrected if found early.
Meg the cat, ever curious about what's going on
I finished a project for work, adding our initials to some microfiber cloths that we use for wiping off white boards. It only takes about ten minutes for each one but with 36 of them it adds up quickly.
Microfiber cloths with BUL stitched on each one
 I had way too much fun with those circles that are for holding earbuds:
Backside to compliment printed fabric on most of them
 Then I have a few designs that I just like and I'm itching to try out but first I need to find a purpose for the design. For instance, I have a Mustang GT and an Elvis head: what could I possibly do with them? I'll think of something!