Friday, October 31, 2014

Stupendous Stitching, a Craftsy course


Got a reminder from reader Dre in PA that I "teased" you on this in my last post and then went radio silent for over a month.  Mostly what I have been doing in that time is working on some studio upgrades, and I am preparing a LONG post on that.  But in the meantime...



I have taken several Craftsy classes and really enjoy them.  The only one where I have actually finished the project is Stupendous Stitching with Carol Ann Waugh.  You begin with a piece of stabilized fabric, add couching and stitching and eventually quilt it.  Well, I haven't REALLY finished it because I haven't quilted it yet.  The class project recommended framing it, but mine will become a giant tote bag.  Some day.

this is probably the most accurate color representation in this blog post.

Back in January of 2010 I first experimented with snow dyeing, with mixed results.  When I first saw the results on this piece, I said to myself "what the heck can I EVER do with that?"  It is interesting.  Garish.  So when I was looking for a piece that needed to be totally altered by massive amounts of stitching, this was the obvious choice.



Most of you know that I am a vintage sewing machine person, but modern machines DO have their place in my heart.  I really love decorative stitches, and my modern Janome does dozens of them, and in a maximum 7 mm width.  It also does the type of stitches where the machine goes back and forth to create more complex patterns than the vintage cam machines.


When I first bought the machine I made a sewing machine cover that also functions as a stitch encyclopedia.  The embroidered panel is a souvenir that BF Amber brought me from China.



I buy tons of tapes, yarns, threads, ribbons, trims, etc. at thrift shops and hoard them.  I have accumulated a HUGE hoard of stuff.  This gives me lots of choices when project time rolls around.  I probably end up spending about the same amount as I would if I went out and bought new stuff for each project, BUT I get MUCH more interesting color combinations.



When you buy new stuff you are at the mercy of the color police.  There is a vast conspiracy by the Color Marketing Group to determine what colors you will buy each year:  in clothing, in cars, in wall paint, in fabric, and in ribbons and trims.  I am not making this up.  So when you buy only new stuff, you end up with a project that is flat, boring, and looks like it was made in a factory somewhere.  Just my opinion.  No one would EVER think that this project was made in a factory somewhere, lol.



The project began with couching, in which you apply yarn, ribbon or trim to the piece by stitching it down.  Then I spent many, many deliriously happy hours listening to music and adding decorative stitching to the piece.  I pretty much dropped everything else in my life for a week and a half and just did this.

This was all about process rather than end product and I did not worry about anything.  I used a much larger piece of fabric than the class project recommended.  This made it difficult to feed the fabric through the machine in a smooth and even way, and resulted in glitches and distortions in the stitches.  In the end, however, the sheer amount of stitching distracts the eye from the errors.  That's my story and I am sticking with it.






My mother-in-law named the piece "Magma", which I think is very apt.  She showed it to her friends.  I begged her to stress that this was an experimental piece in which I was practicing some techniques.  I doubt if she did because she reported their comments to me.  They said the kind of things that polite Southerners do say when they can't think of WHAT to say.

This made me laugh.  In a good way.  Hey, I know what a weird piece this is, and I am aware of all of its flaws.  But I love it.  And I don't expect anyone else to love it, or like it, or even want to spend more than two minutes in the same room with it.

One of my favorite moments in quilting came after I had won second place for "most creative" for another experimental piece done for a challenge at my quilt guild.  We submitted them anonymously.  As I sat back down after accepting the ribbon my friend Jo said "I knew that was yours."  I asked her how she knew.  "You are the only person here who is THAT far outside the box."

Oh, yeah!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Introducing Sunny, the Robot Girl


Free Moda Bake Shop pattern Wiggly Whimsy.
Back in the spring I bought a mid-arm sewing machine, the Sunshine 16, from Pennywinkle Valley Ranch.   These machines are built by Nancy in Tennessee and her small American workforce.  Not by underpaid minions of transnational corporations in other countries.

I already had a Pennywinkle frame, bought years ago at a local charity shop.    I used a variety of domestic machines on it with varying luck.  I have written about it before here.  My best experience with a domestic machine on the frame was with a Pfaff 1221, which had a 9" harp and was in general a totally awesome machine.  Sold now, probably a mistake but there are SO MANY sewing machines in the world.  And in my house.

The logo on the side is not lighted, but still it glows.
The Sunshine 16 has, surprise surprise, a 16" harp and will allow me to quilt wider paths and therefore be more productive.  That's the plan anyway.  I named her Sunny.  Yes, that IS totally lame.  And although not all of my sewing machines have names (or genders) sometimes they just DO.  She's a girl.  But not a human girl.  She's a robot girl.  Just look at her.  I'm not going to try to explain or defend it.

Hello there.  My name is Sunny.

I learned a poem when I was a tiny tot:

there was a little girl
and she had a little curl
right in the middle of her forehead
and when she was good, she was very, very good
and when she was bad she was horrid.

That pretty much sums up my first two days with Sunny.  When she was performing well, she was a dream to drive.  Other times, I spent hours pulling my hair out trying to figure out what was going wrong.  Most of it was "operator stupidity".  Here's what I have learned so far:
  • If you move the machine around too quickly or change direction suddenly, the thread breaks.
  • If you don't have the needle set perfectly, the thread breaks.  It takes an industrial needle which has a round shank.  No flat side like a domestic needle has.  So it is quite easy to get the needle in there with the eye ever-so-slightly off to one side rather than dead center.  
  • If you use it late at night when you are tired, the thread breaks.  I assume I have poorer fine motor skills late at night.  No beer, wine or other substances were involved, sadly.  But if there were, they would probably cause the thread to break also.
Baby quilt loaded
Then my friends Jo and Janet came over to check her out.  I removed the quilt I had been working on to load up a baby quilt with a long leader for them to practice on.  Removing the first quilt was a quick and easy job because I have long zippers on the frame, so the quilt just zips in and out.

There are three rollers and three zippers: the bottom layer gets zipped at the beginning and end.  The top layer gets zipped at the end only and pinned to the bottom layer at the beginning.  Once pinned, the whole thing can be zipped out.
I was going to have Jo and Janet work on the actual baby quilt, but they were satisfied with working on the long leader.  They both did very well, too.  Yes, the thread did break, but they both got some good quilting in between thread breaks.

Janet drives while Jo supervises
Jo gets her turn too
Here's the funny thing:  when I went back to quilting the next day, suddenly I was MUCH better at it, and rarely broke the thread.  Thus proving that old adage:  if you want to learn how to do something, teach it.

Almost finished!
Too short

And it turns out that I would have had to take the original quilt out anyway.  Both the batting and the backing were too short.  All fixed now, and waiting to go back on the frame.  But in the meantime I got hugely distracted by another project.  It's SHINY.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Family Treasure



1917 Singer Model 66 in unrestored condition
Cousin Beverly called last week with a sewing related question.  Then she mentioned that she needed to buy a sewing machine.  But before I could shout down the line "DON'T DO THAT!"*  she went on to say that she had an old machine but could not get anyone to come out and look at it.  Her house is way out in the country on the family farm land.  I guess my fame as a sewing machine repair person has not spread all the way out there.  So I told her that working on old machines is what I do for fun.

*friends don't let friends buy crappy new plastic sewing machines


I told her that I would expect her to sit with me while I worked on it so that she would know how to maintain it, and she was enthusiastic about that.  The girl is into vintage, like all right-thinking people are.

She inherited it from Aunt Beulah, a legendary sewing-person and quilt maker.  Beverly's mom has several of Aunt Beulah's quilts and Beverly is plotting to acquire some of them.  I can tell you that because her mom is not a computer person and not online in any way.  And I don't really think she means to break into the house in the middle of the night and steal them, just talk her into parting with some of them.

Aunt Beulah definitely knew how to keep a machine maintained.  When we sat down everything was turning, but stiffly.  A few drops of oil and she was spinning like a top.  But the real reason I know it was maintained well is that the screws on the needle plate came out easily.  This needs to be done from time to time to clear the lint out.  Most old machines I work on have lint packed in there like dense felt, and the screws are frozen with dried up sewing machine oil.

The drawers were full of treasures:  all kinds of attachments, the original manual, and a replacement leather belt in a cardboard case marked 80 cents.

A happy Beverly!  Treadling away like a champion.

We got it sewing in an acceptable manner, although the tension is a bit off and refused to be reset.  Ditto for the stitch length.  But it is making a strong seam and the stitch length is fine for almost anything.  I promised her a full spa treatment for the machine, irons, and cabinet some time next year.  Right now I am in the middle of an all-out restoration project on another treasured family machine which I will write about later on.

The hardest part of the job was connecting the plastic tubing with the tiny connector thingy.  I prefer this to leather as a treadle belt because it won't stretch and need to be redone.  I did give Beverly a choice since it does not look traditional, but she plans to use this machine.  And her granddaughter Kailah whom you have seen before in this blog here will be using it too.


Kailah using a Singer Spartan hand crank
In fact, Kailah spent a day with me earlier this summer and made a dress in ONE DAY, start to finish.  It was a longish day, and I took a nap in the middle of it, but we still finished it.  We shared the work, but she definitely did her half of everything, from laying the pattern out on the fabric, pinning, cutting, sewing, drawing the elastic through the casings, everything.



 She chose a poly-blend fabric from my stash and a pattern that I used often back in the 1960's and early 70's.



She wore it to vacation Bible school the next night.

if she was not destined to be a scientist, she could easily be a model.  but scientist is way better.

Pretty impressive for a ten-year old person, right?

So have you guessed what the family treasure referred to in the title is?  Is it Aunt Beulah's Singer treadle?  No, silly, it is young Kailah.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is It "Art"?

Pillow.  Title:  Nine Olmec Heads

This is the only piece I have ever done that I consider to be "art".  The central panel was featured on Quilt University's facebook page as their cover photo for a week.  But that is not why it is art.  More on that in a moment.

That selection by Quilt U is one of only two times I have received recognition for my work.  The other one was a second-place ribbon for "most original" in my local quilt guild's challenge last year.  I mention these things because I always feel it is important for me to position myself for you, dear readers, as the non-expert person that I am.  I got second place for "most original" mostly because the piece I submitted had the guild members scratching their heads.  "What the heck IS that?"

My first husband (splendid guy, and it was ALL my fault btw) was an artist.  A real artist.  While we were married he was an art student and a janitor in a factory at night.  He went on (post-me) to become a successful commercial artist and only left the field when computers became dominant.

This brief marriage (hey, it was the sixties) gives me insight into the artistic soul.  See comment above about being a non-expert.

When I create something pretty and someone compliments me by telling me that I am "artistic" I first cringe, and then immediately try to explain to them why they are wrong.  Not the best interaction with someone being nice to you, and I don't recommend it.  I'm still searching for the right thing to say in these circumstances.  So far I'm settling for "glad you like it".

So, what, in my non-expert but also non-humble opinion, is "art"?  Art is created with intention and meaning.  Intention to convey something, not merely to create something beautiful. The intention may be vague.  The artist may not be able to articulate the meaning, but it is there.

This pillow, titled "Nine Olmec Heads" is the first of a planned three pieces (all titled Nine Olmec Heads).  The other two pieces are still in my one non-Olmec head, and have been for years.  The intention is personal and private, and the meaning is known only to me and my BF Amber.  The very first time I ever met her I pissed her off, and the subject matter was Olmec heads.  Yes, we are both total geeks.  Normal people can probably not even imagine what it is like to get all steamed up over the topic of Olmec heads.  Fortunately we got over it right away and it remains a subject of hilarity now.

Amber is the good looking one.  She has forgiven me for my (in her opinion) misguided ideas about the Olmecs. I secretly still think that time will prove me right, if we both live long enough.

I recently spent a wonderful week in Paradise (aka Santa Barbara) with Amber and her family.  I spent some time with her at work and there on the sofa in her office was the pillow I made years ago.  The central panel (ink jet printed on fabric) has faded somewhat.


The faces originally were are bright as the 1980's stripey fabric bordering them.  When I found that fabric in a thrift shop I immediately time-traveled back to the 80s, and then thought "what horrible fabric, I will NEVER use this."  But my invariable plan is to buy all 100% cotton fabric priced at a dollar a yard or less.  And once again this instinct proved sound.  Even a horrible fabric can find a purpose in small doses.

Even, perhaps, to create "art".



Monday, August 18, 2014

Enfolded in Enablers


People in my life laugh at my obsession.  HOW many sewing machines do you have now?  (around 100).  I comfort myself with the knowledge that the hobby supports itself financially, since I do sell them whenever I can.  I have lost money on only a few machines that I bought in the early days before I knew what I was doing, and a few non-fixable ones that became parts machines.

Some have been given to family members.  Some I sell to friends for the amount I have invested.   Some I sell on CraigsList for a bit more (I price them to compete with the plastic machines at Walmart), and a few choice and desirable models sell for even more and those pay for the tools and supplies.  Even those sell for a tiny fraction of the price of a non-Walmart plastic machine.

Don't confuse a self-supporting hobby with making money, btw.  The hobby is fixing them up.  I don't really make anything for all the labor I put into them.  But it is not really labor to me, it is fun.

I buy at thrift shops and on CraigsList.  And I am lucky to be enfolded in enablers.  My family members find them for me.

Singer 301.  Thanks, Patty!  Patty is a serial enabler who has found and bought more than one for me.


My friends find them.

Singer 301, thanks to the late, great Jan.


Friends of family members find them for me.  And then become friends of my own.  You know who you are, Jenny!  Even husbands of friends of family members get into the act.

Singer 285.  Thanks, Jenny!

Singer 401.  Jenny's husband Charlie bought me one of these.  Thanks!  Ignore the bamboo chopstick spool pins, btw.

My guild buddies find them.  Or even donate them!

Singer cabinet with bonnet and extension table.  Thanks, Sherri!

Myra and Dexter refinished it for me.  Thanks, y'all!

And a nice Singer model 27 inside.  


One of my late husband's buddies called me up to tell me about a beautiful treadle he saw at an estate sale.   I spent a happy week restoring this one and it really is gorgeous. I never planned to keep it, I am drowning in treadles now.  But for the purchase price of $25 I got a week of fabulous occupational therapy.

Probably the prettiest cabinet to come through my hands.  Thanks, John!


Fortunately Myra was more than willing to take it off my hands.  We are bartering:  I get lots and lots of fresh eggs from her hens, one dozen a week.

Myra's new Red Eye, a Singer model 66


Former customers call or email to tell me about machines they have spotted in the wild.

My formerly imaginary friend* Linda also calls me with sightings from time to time, but since she lives about 2 hours away I haven't actually succumbed to any of her temptations.  Yet.
*originally only knew her online, but now we are in-person friends

And recently a local blog friend found one for me.  Meaning that she lives nearby, she commented on my blog and then we met for lunch.  She does some amazing work herself, and sells paper flowers, stationery, and recovered cases on etsy.  And you can see more pictures of her gorgeous paper flowers here on instagram.

Thanks, Maureen!
I think that buying me a sewing machine transforms her from a blog-friend to a real-friend, don't you?

Completely as-found, I have not even wiped off the dirt yet.  Imagine how good this will look restored!

How lucky can a DragonPoodle be?


Friday, August 1, 2014

Introducing: RIVER SONG!!!


After a long time and much indecision and waffling, I have finally finished the sparkly blue repaint and decal job on the Singer 27.  Her name is River Song.  Dr. Who fans will get it.

Singer Model 27, circa 1900
You have seen it here before:  getting the paint stripped off of it, and getting the sparkly blue paint job

A shout out to Christy H for suggesting the name "River Song" for this machine.  I met Christy on a private Facebook group.   I had been racking my brain for a blue-related name.    Thanks, Christy, "River Song" is the perfect name!

Now I am here to tell you what I did with the decals and why, what worked and what didn't and why, what I would do again, and what I would do differently the next time.

My first painting and decalling project was Shield Maiden, and I deliberately created black decals because I knew that adding color would complicate the process.  This time I planned to make my own color decals.

Folks, it just did not work out.  I spent an estimated 50 hours (I'm not kidding) searching for and messing with possible images for decals.  In the end, I just could not get images that would look good against the sparkly BRIGHT blue.  At the 50 hour mark it stopped being fun and became agonizing drudgery and I quit.  After all, this is a hobby and it is supposed to be fun.

This doesn't mean that I have given up on the color decals.  I do have a plan, involving silver hammered Rustoleum and another Domestic high arm fiddlebase and I will tell you all about it later.  Probably much later.

So there we were, the sparkly blue 27 and me, thinking about our future.  It was too pretty just to abandon.  It needed decals, just not color decals.  I could have done black again, and that would have worked, but I had already done that and I wanted to explore something else.

So I bought a set of decals from Keeler Sales on eBay.  They have a variety of decals for a variety of sewing machines, many Singer models and some other manufacturers' models also.  I bought the flat gold gingerbread style for the Singer 27 and 127.  $55 with shipping.  They do decals in color also, but they don't look like convincing duplicates of the original decals to me.  But I have not seen them in person so I don't really know.  The gingerbread or Tiffany style decals are very ornate and I thought the flat gold would look good against the bright blue.  And it does!



I used Keeler decals once before, to replace flat gold decals on the bed of a Singer 301, and I liked them.

Myra (another treadle fanatic frequently mentioned here) and my friend Becky (crafting person but not yet sewing person) came over to watch the decal application.  I discussed the process of applying waterslide decals in some detail here when I decalled Shield Maiden, so take a look if you want the DIY details.



I have a Singer 115 with Tiffany/gingerbread decals and we got that out for a side-by-side comparison to see where the decals go.  FIRST MISTAKE.  The 115 is fatter and has a shorter harp width than the 27.  Not the same shape.  And Keeler has a nice photo of the 27 with Tiffany decals.  I should have used their photo as a guide.

Decal #1:  Back of the arm
We began in the back of the machine on the theory that my technique would improve as I went along and any mistakes were more likely to happen first.  We looked at the 115, found the same decal on one of the two Keeler sheets, and cut and applied one decal at a time.  SECOND MISTAKE.  What I should have done, and I actually thought about this ahead of time and decided not to be so obsessive, was scan and print the Keeler decals, cut them all out, and figure out where each one would go on the machine before even beginning.  Although looking at the Keeler photo would probably have been enough to prevent the problems:

On the 115, the decal wraps around the spool pin


Placement Mistake #1:  Spool pin and oil holes








The oil hole placement is a bit different on the 115.  In retrospect it is glaringly obvious that these two decals should have straddled the spool pin and oil hole on the longer 27.  But on the 115 one of the decals sits right over the spool pin, so that's where I put it.



Looks stupid, does it not?

Placement Mistake #2:  Front and back of the nose.


I did the back first and just chose the wrong decal.  When I got around to the front, the other nose decal did not fit.  I trimmed off some of the outer detail and made it fit.


Placement Mistake #3:  Pillar decals



The pillar decals on the 115 sat all the way at the bottom of the pillar.  I thought they would look better if I moved them up 1/4".  Myra was skeptical.



I should have listened to her, because by the time I got around to the front of the pillar I found that this resulted in a small part of the decal being underneath the bobbin winder attachment point.



None of the placement problems bother me, btw.  The spool pin will be covered by a felt or a spool pin doily.  The other mistakes just don't look that bad.  And Myra, who has a trashed out 27 of her own and plans to paint it fire engine red, says that this was just a trial run for HER machine!


the length of the bed edge decals made them quite tricky


Up to this point all went fairly easily.  The arm and bed decals were MUCH more challenging because they are so much larger.  It is more difficult to get them into the correct position, and more difficult to slide them into a slightly new position once they are on.  There are many more wrinkles and bubbles that have to be finessed out.  It all did work out, just with more time and trouble.  When I do my own decals on the next machine I will remember this, and do smaller decals, or decals that will go together in pieces with each unit smaller.

see the wrinkles?


There was one problem with the front arm decal that I anticipated, because I had the same problem on Shield Maiden.  You cannot expect a flat decal to go smoothly over a convex surface.  I attempted to solve the problem in advance by cutting tiny snips into the outer edges of the circular design on the pillar end of the arm. (Just like clipping the edge on a curved seam in sewing.)  It worked, but only partially.  If I had cut further down into the decal it would have worked better.  I chose areas where breaks in the design would not be too obvious.  But because I did not cut far enough in, I still got a couple of wrinkles that just could not be smoothed out.

Placement Problem (not a mistake of mine):  Bed decals



The bed decals are in four parts:  the left end past the slide plates, the front, the back, and the center of the bed.  I put the left end on first, and I am glad I did.  I really think that the decal itself is just a trifle too long for the machine.  The only possible placement was to begin exactly at the front edge of the bed and run to the back edge.  This looks OK.  But when I tried to line the front and back decals up with the left edge decals, I ended up with a portion of the design dripping over the edge of the bed.  Moving them back would have removed the drip,  but then the design elements would have been mis-aligned.  I went with the drip.



The biggest problem with the decals, and this DOES bother me, is the fact that the decals themselves are apparent against the sparkly blue paint.  You can see the edges of the decals.  They look like they have very tiny air bubbles underneath them--because they do.  This was obvious while I was applying them, and no matter how much pressure I put against the edges of them, the problem persisted.  They also appear to be raised above the paint finish--because they are.

OK, so it's not THAT obvious.  But it bothers me.


I know that this is NOT a problem with the decals themselves.  This did not happen on Shield Maiden, where they just melted into the paint job and are invisible, except for one spot where there is a tiny air bubble that I missed.  It is not apparent on the black Singer 301 either.  Both the Keeler decals and my DIY decals worked just fine on other machines.  So what happened here?

It's the finely grained texture of the sparkliness of the paint.  To go to an extreme, imagine applying decals over coarse sandpaper.  No matter how hard you worked, the decals would still be sitting above the surface of the paper itself, and there would always be some tiny pockets of air around the grains of sand.  The grains of sparkliness are much tinier than sandpaper, but the effect is the same.

Sigh.  I do love this paint, but I will never use it again on any machine with decals.  I might use it on a vintage (as opposed to antique) machine with badges and dials and no decals, but I haven't been planning to paint any machines of that type.  It really is pretty, but the extreme sparkliness really only shows up in direct sunlight.  It is still pretty indoors, but loses much of its drama.

Update:  In the comments section below "Dre in PA" asks about the clear coat process which I discussed in an earlier DIY decal post.  On thinking over her comment it does (NOW) seem pretty obvious to me that clear coating BEFORE applying the decals over the sparkly textured paint probably would have solved this problem.

The bobbin winder is a tricky son of a gun to paint, so I decided not to.  I stripped off the black paint and then wire brushed the cast iron portions to a gleam.  Then I used clear nail polish to seal and protect those parts only (not the chrome plated parts).  Seemed like a good idea, and easy to apply with the little brush.  Because the chrome is completely gone from the nearby handwheel, the silver-ish steel and iron colors match.


Notice that the badge is being held on by only one little pin.  One of them fit into its hole and I tapped it back in with a small hammer.  That worked.  On the other side, the hole is not as deep and the pin would not go in.  I'm still thinking about what to do about this.  Probably just cut that pin shorter and then whack it in.

Access cover before any restoration



This machine came to me in pretty bad shape.  The decals were mostly gone.  The paint was worn and chipped.  The metal parts were missing chrome, some were slightly rusty, and some were slightly corroded.  400 grit sandpaper took off the light rust.  The dremel rotary tool and some wire brushes helped a lot.

However, the round access port cover on the back still looked pretty bad.  Black showed inside the corrosion and no amount of polishing or wire brushing removed it.  Time for more experiments.







Although I have never liked the look of painted metal parts, this needed serious help.  I used a fine tip silver Sharpie PAINT pen (not a marker) to cover the inside or lower level of the design.  It took a couple of coats.  The fine tip allowed me to keep the paint on the lower level.  Then I used a silver Sharpie MARKER to go over the corroded areas of the raised portions of the design, and wiped this off with a paper towel immediately.  The point of this was to get silver down into the black corrosion pits but leave the raised design with whatever was left of the original chrome plating.  The silver paint and the silver marker were slightly different colors of silver and this worked well.  I'm really happy with the results.

I have discussed in detail every problem that arose, every flaw that I can see.  This is so that when YOU paint a machine you will know some of the pitfalls, have realistic expectations, and get your best possible results.  Don't think for a moment that these problems mean that I'm unhappy with the machine.  I think it is gorgeous.

Everyone keeps asking me what I am going to do with it.  How the heck should I know?  The whole point was to experiment and play, and I chose my most cosmetically horrible machine to do it on.  This particular machine has no motor boss, so I can't put a hand crank or a motor on it.  It can only be treadled.  I have a surplus of treadles.  Would I sell it?  Maybe in a year or so.  Maybe sooner.  Best offer over $500 takes it, and I will throw in a Singer parlor cabinet.  Mwahahahaha.