Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What is a boat shuttle?

For the last couple of weeks I've been trying to finish a quilt made from the Treadle On "boat shuttle" block exchange. I started quilting it back in October, but decided I didn't like the way I'd quilted a couple of sections so took a while to pick those stitches out. I finally got that stitching out last week, with a little help from my "cat attachments," and now just have to decide how to quilt the borders.

If you are not a collector of antique sewing machines, you are probably saying, "what the heck is a boat shuttle?" So here's a little sewing machine history.

When the first inventors tried to come up with a sewing machine, their first idea was to put the needle all the way through the fabric, just as in hand sewing. Didn't work. The mechanism that worked was a chain stitch, which has a single thread. It works well and the chain stitch is still used today, for example I opened a bag of cat food a couple of days ago that was closed with a chain stitch. But the problem with the chain stitch is that it has to be secured at the end or it pulls out and if it is cut, bye-bye stitching.

The next big development, and the one that is used today, is the lock stitch. It uses a spool of thread on top of the machine and a bobbin of thread under the bed of the machine. The earliest lock stitch machines used a transverse shuttle. That's a long bobbin in a long shuttle and it moves in a straight line. The shuttles for the transverse shuttle machines were usually open on one side and the bobbin dropped in. They look kind of like a little boat so we call them boat shuttles.

One of the purposes of the Treadle On list is to encourage people to use their treadle and handcrank sewing machines, so we have regular block exchanges. Sometimes they are for a specific brand, or for machines of a particular time period, sometimes open to any machine. For the boat shuttle exchange we also included another class of machines that have an open top shuttle, those made by the American Sewing Machine Company. This company came up with its own arrangement, a tiny round bobbin which drops into a tear-drop shaped shuttle. I've been researching the company for a while and from what I've found they were probably the first company to use a round bobbin. But the bobbins were tiny and didn't hold a lot of thread and the company didn't make it into the big leagues.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How I started quilting

On the Stashbuster list someone asked how we all started quilting. That brought back such a great memory that I thought I'd share my response here, too.

Picture two women sitting on the floor in a living room with two huge garbage bags full of fabric - scraps, strings, remnants, mis-sewed pieces, you name it. With every piece pulled out we're saying 'ooh, look at this one,' 'oh, how pretty,' etc. That was November 2000 and is the date when I changed from wanting to learn to quilt to being a quilter, even though it was four more years before I finished my first quilt!

I'm at least a fourth generation quilter, though my mom is more of a top-maker. Growing up the quilt on my bed was a 1930s bow-tie that my mom and great-grandmother made. I started sewing my own clothes in ninth-grade and made various patchwork and quilted items over the years as part of my sewing.

Summer 2000 I found a vintage sewing machine (1930s Singer 15-91) at a thrift store, brought it home and in researching it, discovered the Treadle On list. With their help I bought my first treadle and in November a group member who lived near Atlanta invited me to spend the day with her and another member who was visiting. My brother-in-law and family lived near her, so I drove up on Friday and headed to her house on Saturday. The three of us looked at and talked about her sewing machines, then went to a couple of antique shops. Then the other visitor had to leave and the two of us went to a quilt store that was about to close.

It was my first visit to a quilt shop and I bought some beautiful fabric for my first block exchange, which was coming up. Then my friend mentioned that she wanted to make a log cabin quilt but that it would take a long time for her to get enough scraps. The shop owner invited her to help herself from a box full of strings. After my friend took a small bag full, the shop owner took over. She pulled out a big garbage bag and dumped the box in, then started pulling out scraps and remnants from under her cutting table. When the first bag was full she started filling a second. We took those bags back to my friend's house and spent hours digging through them. Her husband said we were like two kids on Christmas morning.

My friend insisted on sharing with me and the fabric I brought home with me was the beginning of my quilting stash, and I still have strings and crumbs from that windfall in my boxes.

In 2001 I participated in my first block exchange and after about three years of block exchanges I decided I had better learn to finish a quilt. I finished my first quilt, a BOM in Christmas fabrics, in 2004 and haven't stopped since.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Getting past quilter's block

There are times when I want to sew, but can't quite figure out what to work on. That's where I had been the last couple of weeks and it was driving me crazy. I was still picking out stitches in the black and red quilt, so I couldn't finish quilting it, and I have a rule, only one "quilt" being quilted at a time - I'll squeeze in a small item, but I just don't have working space for more than one layered and pinned quilt in progress. I had stopped working on the Shakespeare in the Park (SITP) while I worked on Christmas items, and wasn't ready to get back to it, and I had finished all the Christmas sewing - just a few small items.

Fortunately, I finally got back to work. Last Wednesday night I pulled out the SITP. After the first round of triangles the Snail's Trail blocks were a tiny bit undersized. I had debated remaking them, but decided instead to make the rest of the rounds a bit larger to make up for it. Since then I have managed to cut and sew the rest of the rounds for the Snail's Trail block, except the last triangle on the last round.

I got most of this done yesterday, while watching "Tin Man" and "Alice" on Syfy. For anyone who hasn't seen these re-tellings of "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland," they are well worth the time to watch.

I'm doing SITP with a cream background and scrappy blues and purples in the Snail's Trail blocks. The star blocks have some pinks in them, too. I think it's going to be beautiful, but it is quite a challenge with all the pieces!

I'm also making progress on the red and black quilt. On a couple of evenings when it was too cold to really work in my studio, I sat in the living room unpicking stitches and finally have it down to the last few to pull out. Yesterday I re-pinned the two sections I'd picked out, and quilted one more section. The quilting was a bit of a challenge since my Pepper cat decided he had to sit on the quilt as I quilted it. So now I have two sections and the border to go. I'd like to finish this one up before Christmas, so I can move on to some other projects.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Another reason to love my Davis VF treadle

I do all my sewing on my vintage and antique sewing machines. From piecing to assembling blocks to quilting and binding to other types of sewing. In fact, the newest sewing machines I have are a 1988 Singer and an early 1990s serger. The serger gets a little use once in a while, but since I don't make many clothes these days, not often.

My Davis Vertical Feed treadle is one of my top favorites. It's like a walking foot but is better termed a needle feed. There are no feed dogs. Instead, each time the needle comes up, it and the presser foot move forward, then move backward on the downstroke, bringing the fabric with it.

It's wonderful for straight line quilting because there is no worry about the fabric creeping along at different rates and ending up with pleats and folds in the backing. So I use it for any straight quilting, like stitching in the ditch, or echo quilting, anything other than free motion. Even if I never used it for quilting, it pulls its weight when it comes to applying bindings. Before I started using this machine my bindings would always try to twist but with the Davis, it's smooth and straight all the way.

Well, this weekend I discovered another use for the Davis, sewing fleece! I'm making some Christmas projects that required hemming fleece, and, remembering how it always stretches, I decided to try the Davis. Perfect! No stretch, no overlap, no uneven edges.

Just another example of how my oldies get the job done.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Quilting and un-quilting

I'm starting to really love doing little wall hangings. It's so easy to try out new ideas and techniques, finish them up and move on to something else. Great for art quilts, but doesn't do much to keep you warm, of course.

I wrote a few days ago about the Treadle On list doing a group quilt-along, based on the Hundreds of Triangles pattern. I hadn't planned to start another quilt, but I tend to avoid triangles, so thought it would be a good exercise. Then it occurred to me that it would make a great background for an applique, so my "Hundreds of Turtles" was born. I did the triangles in various shades of blue, quilted it, crazy-pieced and quilted one turtle and cut out three more for shadows, then appliqued the turtles to the background. I used lots of quilting motifs and various threads. I thought about adding some embellishments, but decided to keep this one simple.

My other sewing right now is finishing up a few small Christmas gifts, and picking out the quilting from a twin-size quilt that I wasn't happy with. This quilt has a large pieced center section, set on point and quilted in the ditch. I had started the quilting on the four large corner sections a couple of weekends ago and got two sections done, but wasn't really happy with the quilting. The following weekend I tried a slightly different approach on the third section and liked it so much better. So, I'm removing the quilting in the first two sections. Wow, does it take a long time. But I think I'll be much happier with the result and fortunately I'm not on a deadline.