Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Read The Manual

While I was visiting last weekend in Illinois, I asked my sister, Mindy, if she would bring along the sewing machine that she was having trouble with since we were going to be together.  Her answer of "Which one?" stopped me in my tracks: which one? How many aren't working? "All of them" was her answer. Since I gave her one in November I asked her to bring that one since I was familiar with it, a White 1899. In a previous series of texts she said the same thing keeps happening to all of her sewing machines: the thread underneath is always big globs of loops and a real mess. I asked her to think about that for a minute: all were doing the same thing, new, old, computerized, manual? Yes. I couldn't help but ask if it was possible she was making the same mistake over and over again and she said sure, it was probably user error.
White 1899 (not my photo)

We sat down together with her White 1899, a manual sewing machine that was easy to use and pretty nice, actually. Loops on the bottom generally means a machine was threaded wrong so I followed the thread path to find it had missed the take up lever. It was one of those open loop types of lever, not one where you only have a hole and it cannot jump out of place. I asked if she had the print manual and she did so I suggested she needed to go back and read it to see how it should be threaded. Oh. Well, there was a reason, actually, because she got the machine with the walking foot attached and it just never worked and she thought it best to leave it alone. That is a good reason so you don't mess anything up. I checked things over, we both sewed on it to see how nice it could work, tried out two different walking feet and found one that worked much better. While we were at it, I checked out all of the different feet that came with the machine and told her what they were for and how she could use them. It was a mini-lesson like the one I've given the quilt group up north and have been asked to give again in September (yea!). She was fascinated with what could be done but I had to stop and remind her: all of this is in the print manual. Read the manual. We are all guilty of not using the resources right in front of us, myself included. When I told her about the chart I made up of the 32 different presser feet and how to use them with video clips she was interested in the chart and asked if it could be printed off. Well, no, because the strength was in the video clips and somehow those don't print off. But that has given me an idea of printing off the names of the feet and a brief how-to in only a photo or two. Until then, I have the chart that I will share with you again in case you haven't seen it yet.

Presser Feet Chart

While I was at it I checked to see if I could use the dropped feet dogs and try out a little free motion sewing. There was no darning presser foot so it was "bare needle" sewing and I am happy to report that it worked! Practice does make perfect, or at least better. It probably never was the sewing machine or the presser foot but my own lack of skill. Yup, I'm becoming a free motion fool:

Not the best of handwriting but it is legible!
It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

In The Swim

I love to sew and by this time in my life I'm finally getting good at it. In a previous post about making swim suits for Emma, Getting Prepared, I made up five little suits and last weekend I got to see one in action. We were all together for a family time with my sisters and those who were out-of-town stayed in a nearby hotel with a pool just for the kids or the young at heart. Emma wore her yellow suit and I could watch her in action to see if it really did fit (could be a little longer) and how it held up (the top decorative-only button fell off). There were her older brothers who enjoyed a game of catch with Grandpa Jim, but little Emma had two girl cousins from Michigan, Vivie and Frannie, who were just a tad younger and older so they were quite a three-some. How many times can you jump into the pool and in how many ways? There seemed to have no limit and they sure did have fun. When Emma's family drove home the next afternoon Vivie and Frannie didn't stay in the pool too long that evening because it just wasn't as much fun without their new friends.

Once we got home I found something I needed to mail to Beth, my niece and the mother of Vivie and Frannie, and decided I couldn't mail off just one item so decided matching swimsuits would be fun for the girls. Wouldn't you know it? I still had enough fabric to make two more suits that were the same yellow print as Emma's:
Kwiksew 3785 size small and X-Small
By this time I was on suit numbers six and seven with this KwikSew pattern 3785 so I was getting pretty good at the elastic sewing but each suit takes five loops and each loop gets sewn on twice: once to attach and then folded over and sewn again. That's ten times per suit! But I woke up early one morning and couldn't get back to sleep so I started in on the suits and they were done in no time. You know how much I love to sew on vintage sewing machines but I've been using my Viking Designer 1 and, oh my, there are some features that are really, really nice. For instance, needle up and needle down. Now, a lot of sewing machines have this but the D1 takes it a step further and when it's needle down and you stop, the presser foot raises up a half step, not all the way up, just halfway. This lets you reposition your fabric (and elastic) yet keep your place because the needle is still down in the fabric. Then there is the Fix feature that is automatic at the start of each new seam where it stitches in place for about five ups and downs to secure the stitch. I have this on earlier Vikings, the 1100, 1200 , and 1250, but you have to choose it. The D1 has it at the start by default and I'm not changing it! Finally, when you are done with a seam, select Fix again to lock the last stitch in place, and then you can select the scissor button. What does the scissor button do? It pulls the thread from the top down to the underside and clips both the needle thread and the bobbin thread. It works about 80% of the time but that's fine by me because it snips the thread!!!!!! I didn't know how much that bothered me until I no longer had to do it.
Viking Designer 1 function buttons on left side of the body
I was even feeling adventurous and sewed the buttons on with the sewing machine, something I rarely do, but was willing to try it again since Emma's button came off her swimsuit. This was also easy and no broken needles, either. Oh yea, I'm in love with the D1 right now.

As a post script, I did receive photos of my niece's daughters in their new swimsuits. You gotta admit, they are cuties!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Industrial Strength Singers - part 2

I wrote a month ago about a Singer 31-15 and now it is finally ready to be returned, getting picked up tonight. Sigh. It was so much fun while it lasted and I would encourage you to try an industrial sewing machine without the motor using only a treadle. At least for me, to have a strong motor is pretty scary and the treadle still does the job but not at top speed. In my last report on this sewing machine I hadn't figured out what really needed to be done beyond cleaning and further cleaning showed me the broken or wrong presser foot and feed dogs. I could easily get new ones and even cheaply, so I went ahead and ordered a new set along with the DBx1 needles in size 16 and 18. I was all excited when they arrived but that was before I figured out how to get the feed dogs off. Actually, I ended up not getting them off since I broke the feed dog bar. That's right, it just snapped and I thought "You did it now..." until I found one online for under $20. I had to eat that $20 since I hadn't gotten that approved first and it was my mistake but at least there was one to buy. Here's what it looked like:
Singer 31-15 feed dog bar broken with feed dogs attached and new bar on right
But how to get all of this apart? It turned out to be a bit tricky but not as bad as it could have been. Although there were several ways it might come apart, I ended up taking the whole plate, bobbin, and hook out several times to get it all fitting back together:
Singer 31-15 without feed dog bar in place
When all was said and done and I went to sew with it I found out I had reversed the feed dog timing: instead of the needle coming down into the fabric when the feed dogs were in the furthest back position, they were too far forward. There is a way to adjust it but that screw was not going to move so I walked away to think about it for a day. Or two. And in the end I went back and undid the work to get it together and held the feed dogs in the correct position, not just the easiest one. After some more adjustments to raise the feed dogs I finally got it to sew perfectly. Whew! That was a real learning experience and I don't have to own the machine to enjoy how it works.
Singer 31-15 with new needle plate, feed dogs, and presser foot.
Ellie came to pick it up and to find a place for it while they pack up another shipment for Haiti in September. She also asked for towels and soap for people who stop by the center. Most of the time they come right out of the fields and jungle and are in need of a shower, which they have, but towels and soap would be welcome. She asked the right person since I had recently bought new towels and the linen closet was too full. I also had small bars of soap from various hotels and samples along with new toothbrushes. Before Ellie drove off she commented that she almost put this machine out for a free pick-up since it came to her in such a poor state. I'm sure I wouldn't have recognized it if I hadn't seen Henry's back in January. There is so much to learn but I'm having fun in the meantime!
Singer 31-15 treadle bound for Haiti

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stormy Weather

While heat and storms were predicted over the weekend, I got busy and posted a few sewing machines and a serger, thinking people might stay inside and think about projects they needed for finish with a sewing machine. That turned out to be a good idea but I only sold one of the items from the actual ad. Here's my story (and I'm sticking to it):

After another hot summer day topping +90 degrees, I figured I would buy plants for a few pots and planters on Sunday afternoon and get them growing but the weather had other ideas. At 8:30 in the morning I got a weather alert that a storm was coming in with hail predicted. I no more than read the alert on my cell phone and it hit. We had golf ball sized hail that continued for about 15 minutes, making it look like we just got an inch of snow. The temperature plummeted, green leaves were littering the sides of the house and covered the ground. It was scary! Here's a chunk of the hail I recovered:
Hail after the storm
While I was checking things over I get a call from Nebraska and it turns out it's Marilyn's daughter who has heard the story of her mom's Viking 1070 and White serger and wants a sewing machine that is more reliable than the one she has.  Her daughters are sewing for 4H and the Husky 145 is sewing only at top speed, not acceptable for those learning how to sew. Marilyn can come over right away and pick out a sewing machine, she trusts her mother. Oh, and do I have a serger that would also be easy to use? I get right on it, setting up 5 sewing machines that would be good for beginners and reliable plus two sergers, one from a current ad on Craigslist. I actually enjoy getting out the machines and testing them out, just to make sure everything is still working: sometimes I have surprises and they go into the repair shop (just my table top) before going back on a shelf.
Kenmore serger

Singer serger
Before Marilyn arrives I get a text from someone else asking about the Kenmore serger: can it sew knits, especially performance knits? I quick grab some four-way stretch knit and sew-up a sample and text the photo to her. Perfect! She will be over when she's off work at 8; this should be good news but what if Marilyn buys it first? I quick stitch up the knit on the other serger to find it works great, too. I have to tell her that it could sell before 8 pm but I still have another one that will also work. Marilyn arrives, looks at the five machines I've set up and says she really wants her daughter to have a good Viking. These machines are too basic because the girls are already putting in zippers and want a good buttonhole feature, a one step not a 4 step of a more basic sewing machine. Of course, I did have some very nice Vikings but they were considerable higher in cost than a beginners sewing machine but Marilyn was prepared to buy a much better one for her daughter and granddaughters and I could hardly blame her. I brought up a lovely Viking 1100:
Husqvarna Viking 1100
We gave it a test run and it was wonderful, similar to the Viking 1070 she already was enjoying at home when purchased from me seven months ago. Now on to a serger: the Singer or the Kenmore? Both were working fine and could handle what she was looking for but they each had strengths and weaknesses. It came down to what I would recommend but remember I already had a buyer for the Kenmore serger. Just to be fair, I pointed out the Kenmore had a more modern look, had a scrap tray and accessories but the Singer's manual was much easier to use. So the better manual won out and the Singer serger is going to Nebraska! We got everything all packed up (the Singer had a box with the original packing foam), extra cones of thread were picked out, and she had to hurry out to get all of this to Red Wing, Minnesota (home of the RW shoes and pottery) where it was going to a mother-in-law before she set off for Nebraska. Whew!

By 8 pm the lone Kenmore serger was set up, samples made with three different knit fabrics and a cotton, when I got a knock on the door. Amy comes in with her mother, a quilter, to check out the serger. She's in love - at first sight - sits down to try it out, and claims it sold. That was fast! And here's a bit of the back story: Amy is working with a theater group, making repairs and parts of costumes and wanted a better way to finish seams, a more professional look. I bought that serger from a woman who originally bought it to make her daughter dance costumes. I thought the purpose was pretty similar so just maybe the Kenmore serger found a forever home.

Will I see Marilyn again? Yes, she confesses she hasn't used her serger, a White 534, since she brought it home and maybe she needs a lesson on setting the tensions. Of course, she's going to come back for a lesson and to practice using her serger. Who knows? Maybe Marilyn has a sister to bring along or even a sewing friend: all are welcome!
White 534 serger

Saturday, June 10, 2017


I just realized my whole business is based on trust: people trust in my ability to make a sewing machine work and work well enough for them to take it home and sew with some amount of success. This week I had an opportunity to buy a sewing machine and the seller operated on her own premise that she could trust me to pay her...if and when I wanted to. What? If? That's right, if it didn't work I could do what I wanted with her sewing machine. Here's the story:

I spotted and ad for an Elna 8000 sewing machine, an early computerized model whose reputation has struggled a bit. I was brought to this series of models through a friend who has an Elna 7000 that could not be fixed, or so the shop told her and we had an adventure trying to get a working model for her. From there I bought a couple Elna 5000's as I wrote about in Ebay Elna 5000, the very basic model, and started to wonder about the later models, the 8000 and the 9000 they called the "Diva". It was on my wish list to work on one some day and it looked like this was going to be it. But the price was so low I feared it was going to be missing  parts or didn't fully function so I asked the seller if it still worked. She was selling it for her mother who used it recently so the answer was "probably". I explained this model suffered from having a step motor where part of it was for the belt and part was for the feed dogs and that was the part that usually failed. Well, she didn't sew and didn't understand but here's what she could do for me: She would leave it at the bottom of the steps by the garage door at her house and I should just come pick it up. If I liked it I could send her the money in the envelope she would provide, if I didn't like it I could do what I wanted with it. Fair enough? I told her it was more than fair and she was too trusting. She LOL's me a few times and said she had been accused of that before but this was what she wanted to do.
Elna 8000: note the top bar with one of the three rows of possible stitches
I stopped on my why home to find a decent looking model sewing machine along with a bag of bobbins and workbook in a bin at the front of her house. It had to wait until my grandson's softball game was over but when I got home and plugged it in it appeared to work and even moved an envelope across the feed dogs so that step motor seemed to be working. The next morning I threaded it up and it sewed great! Here's a sample of what it can do:
Elna 8000 stitch sample
There are three rolling bars across the top of the machine with illustrations of the stitches with their respective numbers. Row 1 holds 1-24 for basic stitches, buttonholes, and a small selection of decorative stitches like scallops. Row 2 holds 25-60 for block letters and numbers and row 3 holds 61-84, some pretty cool decorative stitches as shown in the sample. I really liked the feather stitch of actual feathers, one I have never seen before. Remember, Elna had all those really cool cams with a huge number of decorative stitches that others copied.

Mine came without a plate on the bed that would give you a smooth sewing surface but I actually had one from the Elna 5000 or 7000 as parts:
Gray plate is removable: see accessory tray in place?
It also came with the accessory tray full of goodies, plenty of bobbins and even the original needle threader:
Accessory tray with lid open
When the lid closes, it slips under the free arm and actually stays in place, very handy! There was no manual and I fear I will have to buy one because it just isn't as intuitive as I would like: this is not a beginners sewing machine either and a manual  is necessary. It did come with a workbook
where they will take you through a series of lessons to learn how to use all of the feet and features. Here's a sample page:
Of course, the previous owner did all of the lessons and attached her sample but you could still use it as a self-paced learning module. I've seen a few others that do this and I wish more would consider a workbook approach. Maybe classes were also held and you brought your workbook with you? Someone is going to have to let me know how that worked and if they still have this type of learning because it's pretty neat.

The Elna 8000 is one of the last ones that were actually made in Switzerland and it says right on the front"Swiss Made" whereas now they say "Swiss by Design." Who are they kidding? Janome bought them out so now you are getting a Janome sewing machine, which also has a solid reputation.

We have a heat advisory out for today so I mowed the lawn last night in anticipation of staying indoors today. It's a grand day to stay in the cool basement sewing up things I've cut out and working my stash down. Won't you join me?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Thirty-three and Counting

A few posts ago I wrote about the 32 presser feet and what they can do. This post is about 33, that is model 33-10, a Viking sewing machine that I got my hands on. Every once in awhile a model comes along that I think would be cool to use and it's usually an older model Elna, Bernina, Singer, or Viking. I had been eyeing a Viking 33-10 but thought the price was too high and apparently everyone else did , too, because it did not sell quickly. Finally breaking down, I sent a text and it came up with someone's name: Blake from Duluth who sold a Bernina 530 several months ago to me. Since we already had a working relationship he was more than willing to come down in price and even arranged to deliver it since he was swinging down through the Twin Cities from Duluth. He said it was running slow and showed me the huge globs of grease on the works through the back of the machine. Oh, yuck! The rest of it looked pretty complete with an extension table for the carrying case and all of the parts lying around in the case.
Original Viking case is in good shape

Back of the machine: opening where all the grease was packed in (note that extension table on the case)
Couldn't wait to get my hands on it, to get all of that grease wiped out of there and to get it running again. As it usually turns out, it just needed some TLC. Cleaning, oiling with Triflow, and a generous application of heat with a hairblower got everything moving again. When I went to test the stitches out I discovered there was no bobbin case or bobbin. Mistake? Blake isn't answering texts so I surmise I'm out of luck . I have to be patient in hopes of one coming up on eBay someday or to find another supplier. But it runs! It has zigzag! Now if it would only stitch.
Viking 33-10, heavy duty but not industrial
In the meantime I'm working on the timing of a Pfaff 130. I change needles and bobbin cases (this one also came without a bobbin case but they are not hard to find). In my search for a slightly different bobbin case I pull out a Viking Husqvarna 21 to see what kind of a bobbin case it has and notice it is a zigzag model. I had a text on Memorial Day asking if I had a Husqvarna with zigzag and I had replied no but I had a Singer 237 and 190 with basic zigzag. It was a holiday and interest was waning and there was no follow-up by the requester. Now I remembered this series of texts and my newly retrieved Viking 21 so I text the Memorial Day shopper, Alex, to see if he still was interested in a Viking zigzag. Yes, he certainly was and would be right over.
Viking 19, a very similar model (sorry no photo of the 21)
He loved it! Alex was going over seas in July as part of his military active duty and wanted to take a good strong sewing machine with him along with new sewing skills he hoped to acquire. He was a quick study, having sewn a tiny bit before but never had his own sewing machine. He did confess that on Memorial Day he went to a fabric store and looked at their models and knew he was not going to be able to sew too long on such flimsy models. For the same cost he got a terrific sewing machine that would handle those heavier fabrics without jamming.

Alex walked away with a great sewing machine for his purposes. I reminded him he could call and come back with questions but that YouTube was a great resource. He laughed and said he worked at a large hardware store and always preferred when people took a short video of their problem to show when they came in for help. Maybe I will get that video clip from Alex when he is in another country and needs a bit of assistance. That would be cool, to go international again! Let's see, my sewing machines are presently being enjoyed in Haiti and Scotland so maybe another country is going to be added. Just let me know, Alex!

Friday, June 2, 2017


Innovation is a part of the libraries, always looking for ways to serve our patrons, meeting their needs, and sometimes before they even know they have a need. Our new Makerspace is just that: innovation and experimentation in....we don't know quite "what" because that is up to the user. As part of the equipment we have obtained a 3D printer, photography equipment, a green screen, and a sewing machine. It seems there was an old rarely used Singer 237 in the Art Department hidden in a corner of the sculpture studio. Our digital librarian, Kent, and I went down to look at it and found it just covered in dust even though it was down inside the table. Kent asked if it was going to be of any use to us and I figured I could get it up and running. Over the next few months it appeared in the Makerspace so I spent some time cleaning, oiling, and adjusting it and think it is going to work nicely for their purposes. And what would it be used for? Well, we didn't know just yet but we were getting ready.
Singer 237 set up for free motion embroidery
In anticipation of students who never used a sewing machine we figured they needed some guidance so I printed out the Singer 237 manual. No one reads manuals! Instead, I wrote up some basic instruction on how to thread the sewing machine and get started sewing along with illustrations from the manual. It was only four pages long and that seemed about right so they can be printed, laminated, and posted on the wall behind the sewing machine. Then we got the set of 32 presser feet and our minds started to churn out ideas on how to use this collection. A fringe foot? Where would we put fringe we could make? The free motion foot had intrigued me and I think this is where some really creative sewing could take place. But first we needed to get them sewing and Kent said he needed to learn so he could help anyone who needed help since he was in charge of the Makerspace. So let's get Kent sewing!

I proposed making pillowcases since this was an easy project that could be expanded upon and Kent agreed. Bringing in a stack of precut fabric in the size of pillowcases and a set of instructions, Kent picked one out and tried to remember his only sewing lesson back in 8th grade. He was going to need a refresher so we sat down and went over the basics. As a digital librarian, technology doesn't slow Kent down but a sewing machine? He was more than a little hesitant but was willing. Here's the progress he made:
Sewing in wide hem of the casing
Closer look at the start of the hem
Pinning the seam
Final result: a pillowcase!
We were both happy with this first project and now Kent wanted to try free-motion stitching on the hem to see how creative he could be.  I'm very new to free-motion embroidery but we all agreed this was a skill that was going to be used in this space, but that Singer 237 was not making this easy. The speed of the foot control seemed to lack the fine control that I thought was holding me back. Was it the machine or was it me? I went home and practiced on several sewing machines that could drop their feed dogs with varying results. The Viking #1, model 1200, was okay but maybe an electronic sewing machine was not the best way to go. I went back to the Singer 237 after a practice session at home and found it was better. Now, was the machine better or was I?  Yeah, you are thinking along the same lines as I am when we consider the machine had not changed but I was learning how to move the fabric, how to learn to keep a steady pace, and what designs I could actually produce. Here's a sample of the work I did:
Hooped, swirls, and words
As you can see, this takes practice! I'm sure some sewing machines are better than others for free motion but don't let the machine hold you back: just get in there and do it!