Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The miracle of the sewing machine

One of the things that always amuses me (sometimes annoys) is the "experts" – usually self-proclaimed – who insist you have to have a fancy, new, usually expensive, sewing machine in order to quilt.

Last weekend at our guild workday everyone else had their new sewing machines. One person was using the computerized embroidery machine to embroider some Christmas motifs, another was using decorative stitches to finish a crazy quilt ornament. Everyone else was straight-stitching. So when someone said about my Featherweight, but all they do is straight-stitch, I just shrugged and said, that's all I really need to make a quilt.

And that's true enough. But the fact is that a woman of 1900 with her straight-stitch sewing machine and box of attachments could probably do more than most people today with their computerized machines. Think about the clothing of the day, tucks and ruffles and plackets and eyelets. And there was a way to do them all on the sewing machine.

Machines of the day came with a basic set of attachments, like the puzzle box I've shown, which would have come with a Singer 27. Basic attachments included a ruffler, tucker, various hemmers and a quilting foot. The angled wire piece in the top right corner is a quilting guide. Very handy when you want to make parallel lines of quilting, whether they are straight or curved. The machine's instruction manual would have information on how to use all these basic attachments.

The really fun thing, to me, is that this is just a start. All the modern ideas, free-motion quilting, thread painting, and so on, were done 100 years ago, using straight-stitch sewing machines.

I was recently looking for something online and found the1911 Singer Instructions for Art Embroidery at the Internet Archive site. This is a book I've wanted for years, but never had the money when one came up for sale. Thanks to the wonderful people who share resources online, I can now try it out.

While I was looking around, I found another treasure, the Domestic Handbook of Art Needlework, a similar book written even earlier, in 1896, by one of Singer's competitors.

These two books have some wonderful ideas and techniques, and I'm looking forward to trying them out.

I thought this was a good day to share, as I didn't do a lot of sewing after work yesterday. I did decide on the thread I'll use to quilt the bow tie quilt and wound a half-dozen bobbins. And I started putting together a background for the little art piece I'm thinking about.

Now, time to get back to work, more later!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Putting the puzzle together

Somebody please keep reminding me that when I start working on a machine I should not leave it sitting disassembled for weeks (months, years....) on my workbench!

Yesterday I decided to clear my workbench so I'd have room to work on the new Pfaff. That meant putting back together the Necchi Supernova that has been sitting there for ages. I'd had it pretty well cleaned up, but never done anything with it because I still needed parts (bobbin case, kind of crucial). I gave it an oiling, dusted it off and started putting pieces back on. And realized the end cover was missing. I finally found it under the workbench (where the spiders live), then couldn't figure out which of the dozen or so tiny screws sitting around were the ones to attach the cover.

I finally found what I hope was the right screw and got the machine back together, puttered with some other parts sitting there and cleared part of the workbench. But I've decided I want to redo/rearrange and evict the spiders before I bring the Pfaff in to work, so no heavy lifting.

Other than that, it was a quiet day. I finished pinning the bow tie quilt, tested a swatch with one possible quilting pattern, and finished four little sewing kits, except for snaps or closures.

One of my favorite uses for my digital camera is to take pictures of things in progress, so I can remember where I am. That's especially useful in laying out quilt blocks. Not only can you remember where you were, you can more easily see problems and possibilities in your layout.

Last night I started working on the layout of blocks from last year's Davis exchange I hosted on the Treadle On list. All these blocks were made on sewing machines made by the Davis sewing machine company, which went out of business in the 1920s. We did a maker's choice block at 9.5 inches, using blues/greens/purples with bleached muslin. I think this one will be beautiful!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A whole lot of sewing going on

Actually, not so much sewing as pinning and cutting and all the things that make sewing possible, but I had a good day yesterday. My primary focus right now is finishing up several quilts that I want to put in our guild's show, all traditional quilts, but the creative switch has finally turned back on and I have a couple of ideas for art quilts, including one "reboot" of a theme I tried earlier but didn't come out quite right.

So yesterday I finished a little piece I'd started earlier in the year. I had been walking on the beach and was intrigued by the patterns left by the seagulls walking on the dry sand. I wanted to see if I could recreate the pattern in quilting, so did this little piece. Originally I was going to quilt in a human footprint, but didn't like it, so I covered it with a flipflop. It has some composition issues, but I'm pleased with the effect of the quilting.

If there is one part of making quilts I can't stand, it is pinning them. Lots of reasons, primarily that I don't have enough room. But over time I've found a system that makes it less awful. It's based on Sharon Schamber's basting system, using two pieced of wood to wrap the top and backing, opening up a section at a time. I modified it to use two 1x6 pieces, wrapped in batting, and, of course, I pin rather than hand baste. I had been using a small crochet hook to close the pins, but a couple weeks ago I got a Kwik Klip and that really helps.

So, yesterday I got the backing assembled, found some batting the right size (love it when a leftover is the right size!) and got the bow ties quilt mostly pinned. I'll be finishing pinning today and testing out some quilting ideas, though I don't know if I'll get started on the actual quilting.

One more little project yesterday. Last year a member of one of my groups showed us how to make some cute little sewing kits. I couldn't find the instructions, but found my kit and figured it out. I made one up as a test, then cut out several and started putting them together. These will be great for our boutique at the quilt show.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pool noodles and chain stitchers

I run across a lot of great ideas on my quilting and sewing machine lists. Sometimes I use them right away, sometimes I file them in the back of my mind for later. Last night I stopped by the drugstore to pick up a couple of things and walked through the seasonal clearance area. I was glancing idly at the items, no, I don't need a singing fish wall plaque, or kids goggles, when I saw the pool noodles. Originally $4.99, clearance 75 percent off.
My sweetie gave me the "what now?" look when I started pulling out pool noodles and handing them to him to carry. I just said "quilts" and didn't try to explain as we carried four noodles to the checkout.

I tend to work on my quilts in stages. A set of blocks can sit for years before I make them into a flimsy (I have some from a 2001 exchange to prove it) and a flimsy can sit for more years until it becomes a quilt. But sometimes, like now, I have tops that I'll soon be quilting, and it's hard to keep them from getting wrinkled. I'd read the suggestion to roll on pool noodles and wanted to try it.

And it works. I rolled the Boxy Stars on one and bow tie on another. No added wrinkles and I'll be able to tuck them out of the way while I prep backings, etc., this weekend. If I had the room I'd buy more and store all my flimsies on them.

In other news from yesterday. My Willcox and Gibbs sews! After evicting the spiders and giving everything a good oil and lube, earlier in the week, yesterday was the day to install a new treadle belt and try it out. It sews!

Chain-stitchers are so cool. Instead of having a bobbin and using two threads to make a lock-stitch, chain-stitchers use a single thread which is looped to make a chain on the back and a straight stitch on the top of the fabric. Chain-stitch sewing machines were among the first marketed, and are still used for a lot of applications today, including basting and sewing closed bags of pet food and other products.

I was expecting to have more trouble than I did getting the W&G to stitch. It has a very odd threading path and a tiny, tiny needle. But once it was threaded I got good stitches almost right away. I still need to do a little cleaning, and find the package of new needles I bought for it. But now I can't wait to try some ideas for decorative stitching using it.

I'm planning a big day of sewing today, so more later.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Glad not to be in the fashion business

I had a great evening last night sewing and watching "Project Runway," and as I watched I realized how glad I am to be a quilter, not in the fashion business. As a rule, quilters help each other out and even if they don't like a quilt, they'll find something nice to say about it. These design divas, not so much.

I got into the studio early and watched the party store challenge from two weeks ago while I finished a pillowcase and trimmed up some Mile-a-Minute blocks. I enjoyed the party store challenge except that my favorite designer, Sarah, went home. I picked her for favorite as soon as I saw that she sewed on a vintage sewing machine – couldn't tell if it was a Singer 201 or 15-91 – and kept fabric in the kitchen cabinets. My kind of person.

The best bit of the episode, though, was seeing Tim Gunn crack up over "wooly balls."

After that I watched last week's episode with the wonderful hats while sewing the border on to my Boxy Stars quilt. The borders came out great, a narrow deep pink inner border and a black print outer border. It was nice to see the episode with sound, too, as last week my cable provider was having problems, there was a picture but no sound on the show.

I finished the borders just in time to watch the newest episode. Just two things to say, yea Team Underdog, and, for once, the promos didn't overhype the show. I still want to see more of the sewing, though!

More later!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

So much sewing, so little time

Isn't it funny how you can go weeks without sewing then suddenly the dam breaks and you want to do everything – all at once? This summer was like that for me, I went the whole summer and the only sewing I did was at the two TOGAs I attended and making an outfit to wear to my class reunion. Then a couple of weeks ago I finished a little crumb table topper and I guess it brought my mojo back. Now I want to do everything, all at once!
The only problem is I'm jumping from project to project like a butterfly from flower to flower. I guess that's okay, since I'm making progress. In no particular order I have:
Assembled my Boxy Starts blocks with sashing and have the border ready to apply;
Assembled some bow tie blocks and put the border on;
Made 20-something blocks from a bag of scraps and a Mile-a-Minute pattern I got at the beginning of the month;
Finished two pillowcases to donate to our guild's boutique and have three more cut out.
Last night I changed gears yet again and opened up a sewing machine I've had a year or two but never used, a Willcox and Gibbs chain stitch treadle. Beautiful little machine, but I had other stuff going on when I brought it home and just never got back to it. Both machine and treadle were stiff but a good oiling/lube has them moving smoothly now, except that the presser foot is stuck in the up position. I have some penetrating oil to put on it and I should be able to finally try out this machine this weekend.
I didn't get much sewing done after playing with the machine last night, but I did get the pillowcase fabric pressed and started on a third pillowcase, so not too bad.
More later!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Pfaff and a half comes home

I've really been cutting back on new sewing machines lately, simply no more space. But I had to make an exception this month. A really big exception.
Last year a friend got a Pfaff
industrial treadle machine. I was with her when she got it, and told her if she ever wanted to sell it, I'd be interested. A few weeks later, she told me it was mine. So, when I saw her at the Tennessee TOGA (Treadle On Gathering and Academy), I also got to bring home the Pfaff-and-a-half (my sister's description).

It's a monster. I haven't weighed the head, but it's probably in the neighborhood of 40 pounds. I should have put something in the picture to show the scale, it's bigger than it looks. And the bonnet (cover) is large enough to use as a baby bed.

The cabinet isn't too much bigger than a household treadle, but it is heavier and the drive wheel on the treadle is huge. It's in pretty good shape for an industrial, the table top needs a little work and there is paint worn off the front of the bed of the machine. The main problem is a small break in the treadle base, but it is patchable.

My biggest issue right now is where to put it. It's currently on the sunporch, but the humidity is getting to it and the cabinet top swelling a bit. So I need to get it inside (not that my house is any less humid).

I'm hoping to use this for free-motion quilting. The thought of all that space under the arm! About twice as much space as the Singer 15-30 I normally use for free-motion.

Oh, and the treadle is beautiful. Pfaff used an art deco styling for their treadle bases, very sleek and linear. Since I love art deco styling, it's perfect.

Another project, but I won't put this one off, I can't wait to try it out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where has the summer gone?

Not into the studio, that's for sure! Except for a few activities, my summer has flown by without touching a sewing machine or fabric. But now my mojo is back, I'm back at the machines and our quilt show is coming up rapidly, so I'll try to catch up over the next few days.

The quilt show is coming! It's amazing how a deadline can focus your mind. Our guild's show is mid-October and I have a ton to do to get ready. (link to High Cotton Quilt show in my blogs list for details).

Entry forms for our show were due last week, so I spent two hours Saturday morning sorting through quilts, measuring them, deciding what class they belonged in and filling out the forms. Then I drove to town, where we were having a work day for our boutique, turned in the forms and spent a couple more hours working on pillowcases to contribute to the boutique. I'm doing a simple cuffed pillowcase using some juvenile fabrics I found in my stash.

For the entries to the show, wow! I entered more than 20, because this is our first show and the entries were coming in slowly at first. Better too many than too few. A half dozen were my little art quilts. A few more fell in the small quilt category, both pieced and mixed piecing and applique. Several more went to the large quilt category and the final batch go to the group category, as they were made with blocks from Treadle On exchanges.

And four of them aren't finished yet! One has been a flimsy for ages, the other three were finished blocks. Since last week I've assembled the tops for two, a Boxy Stars started in class with Bonnie Hunter last year, and a bow tie top using Civil War repro fabrics. I'm in the process of putting borders on both of them now, so that just leaves one top to piece. The blocks shown are from the Boxy Stars. The combination of blue, pink and brown with black was inspired by the fabric in the top right corner of the brown block. I'll be using that fabric for binding.

I'll have more to share later, but for now, on to other stuff!