Friday, November 24, 2023

I'm back! With a Brother VX-808


Wow, it has been over two years since I posted anything.  I never forgot about you, dear readers, and some of you have kindly contacted me from time to time to see if I was OK.  I appreciated the concern and I'm fine.

Lots of stuff has happened in my life.  I moved, which I did blog about a couple of times.  I had yet more joint replacement surgery (everything working quite well).  I had covid this summer, but after taking advantage of the shots as they became available it was no worse than a bad bout of flu.  And then there were the life altering events, both good and bad.  Or both at the same time. You know, the usual.

But you're not here for that, and don't worry, I have not suddenly become that person that spills their personal life on the internet.  I know you, dear readers.  YOU'RE HERE FOR THE SEWING MACHINES.  

And one of the many reasons I haven't been blogging is that I wasn't doing anything with sewing machines (except sewing with them) and therefore had nothing to say.  Another reason was that I couldn't see the screen on my laptop, but I finally got some glasses just right for that one thing.  

Hence the original working title of this post:

I can see clearly now.  And sit in my recliner and blog after a long day wrestling with a vintage sewing machine.  Because sewing machines have come back into my life.

So.  I joined a church in the denomination in which I was raised after an absence of over 50 years.  Long and no doubt fascinating story which I am not going to tell you (see above).  At the end of my initial meeting with the minister I joking said that I was going to be looking for some way to be useful but that my only skill was repairing sewing machines, and had he ever thought about a sewing machine ministry? 

That was meant to be a laugh line.  Obviously.  But he said they had just had an email the previous week from someone who wanted to donate a machine for the church to use.  

Surprisingly the church had never perceived any need for a sewing machine.  But one thing led to another and I now have three sewing machines that I have assessed, have either repaired or failed to repair, and am free to dispose of as I see fit.  A Necchi BU with a bad motor, an absolutely lovely Elna SU, and a Brother VX-808.  And my plan has been to fix them, sell them, and donate the money to a particular church program that feeds people in need. 

I'll tell you more about the Necchi and the Elna in future posts.  See, I do plan to resurrect this blog!  But today you will hear the sad story of the Brother VX-808.

I would call it late-vintage and I would never have bought it and will never sell it.  It's clearly from a time when manufacturers were just beginning to cut costs.  It weighs the usual 40-some pounds of good-vintage. The housing is all plastic, but that isn't really a problem.  It is ALMOST all metal inside, and this is the really sad part of the story.  For an extra dollar or two of production costs (and I made that up, I really have no idea) this could have been an excellent machine with decades more life left in it.  


But no.  There is a nylon gear with hairline cracks.  It hasn't failed--yet--but I just don't sell machines with known problems.  And the really sad part is that the only other non-metal is the plastic in the tensioner (photo above).  The tension is not quite correct and it is impossible to change it.  The tension knob turns, but it does not grip anything, just spins around.  I have had it in and out of the machine many times tinkering and trying to get it at least to produce a better tension.  

See the photo above.  Each separate line of stitching shows some attempt.  First, trying each number on the tension dial.  Then the in-and-out tinkering including entirely dis-assembling and re-assembling it.  Nothing changes.  

 Here's a closeup of the what ALL of the stitches looked like on the back of the work.

The photo above shows the bottom, or underneath side of the stitching.  A problem that appears on the top is the result of a bottom tension problem.  A problem on the bottom is a result of a problem with the top tensioner. 

Spent a couple of hours on this. Went through my box of tensioners harvested from dead machines, but nothing fit. 

Downgrading the gear and the tensioner to nylon and plastic was criminal manufacturing malpractice.  Sadly unrecognized by our legal system.  I'm not nearly as upset by the cheap crappy plastic machines being poured out by the millions today.  Nobody should expect those to last.  But this could have been a real treasure.  Sigh.

I had adjusted the bobbin tension early in the testing process.  I have a "feel" for what a decent bobbin tension is, and I went bit beyond it.  After I had finally given up on the top tension I revisited the bobbin tension and loosened it up much more.  I was finally able to get a decent result, but only on stitch length 2, or on thicker fabric layers. 

When I have finished testing a machine I leave the test sample with it.

And I write on it with a sharpie so the recipient will understand how it was tested and what the results were.

It's a basic zigzagger with slot threading and a free arm, the absolutely perfect type of machine for the occasional seamster.  Slot threading is shown in the photos, and replaced the little metal guides along the thread path.  On the older style machine you have to guide the thread through each one.  On a slot thread machine the thread just glides into the slots.

(and I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of the free arm.  Too late now, it is packed up.)

Slot threading is just about the only modern "improvement" I actually enthusiastically endorse.  So quick and easy.  And since we've been talking about tensioners, let me vent for a minute.  The absolutely best tensioners, hands down, were the leaf tensioners on machines from the 1880's.  Simple.  Easy to use.  Dead easy to understand.  

Here's a Domestic High Arm Fiddlebase  from around 1880.  The leaf tensioner is on the top of the arm of the machine.

And here's a closeup of the tensioner.

I'm a charter member of the Leaf Tensioners Fan Club.  The other members are Missie and Linda.  We even have t-shirts.  No kidding.  I'd show you a photo but I would first need permission to republish the original art work on the shirts.  And I'm not sure who holds the copyright. (Feel free to chime in and tell me, Missie).


Photo above shows how incredibly complicated a leaf tensioner is not.  Two strips of metal with a screw you can tighten or loosen to control the tension.  (The photo was taken before I cleaned it up btw).

My hypothesis is that sewing machine manufacturers respond to complaints from customers by trying to "improve" things and almost always make things worse.  Tensioners are the perfect example of this.  Modern machines are designed with the tensioners hidden inside, and its not possible for the owner to open the casing.  So a thread caught in the tensioner means a trip to the repair shop.  

Hannah recently had such a problem and she was quoted $100 as the base price for bringing it in.  Her "modern" (circa the 1990's) top-of-the-line Pfaff would only sew for a few inches before the thread would break.  Fortunately we were able to diagnose the problem and I got most of the thread caught inside the tensioner with long skinny tweezers such as those that come with a serger.  That thread broke, leaving some inside the machine, and I thought that was the end.  But the little piece left in there came out when we tried stitching again.  Whew!  Problem solved.

Bobbins are another example of a "improvements" that don't.  Leading ultimately to the most heinous bobbins ever created, the ones on the Singer Touch N Sews.  People complained (and still do) about bobbins running out of thread.  So Singer had the bright idea of winding the bobbins while still in position below the needle.  Those bobbins held even less thread than a regular bobbin and the system was plagued with problems.  (This is my own opinion, based on painful personal experience.  And now is a great time to remind you that, as I have often stated, I AM NO EXPERT.  Just a person with a blog.  Not the same thing at all.)  

Fortunately most of the modern machines I see now (and I don't see many) use class 15  bobbins.  They may drop in the top as the Singer class  66 ones used to do, rather than go in a removeable bobbin case.  But they are class 15 bobbins.

Not everyone hates Touch N Sew machines of course.  At a recent Repair Cafe (look it up, I plan to blog about it later) we had a 90 year old client who brought one in. She had bought it new in the 1970s and had used it ever since.  Made curtains, clothes for her children and grandchildren, etc.  She loved it.  I don't remember what the problem was, but she said she had taken it to be repaired three times and the problem always returned.  I had to tell her that if professional repairs had failed three times it was unlikely that I (not an expert) would be able to fix it and that she should value the memories and realize that it had lived a long and useful life and was probably just done.  She took the news well.

So, what am I going to do with this Brother VX-808?  It does sew and the stitches are secure.  Stitch width and length all work properly.  It was frozen when I got it but just from sitting for decades while the oil dried and hardened.  There was some rust on the needle bar, which I sanded off with 400 grit sandpaper. It was rust free and lint free inside.  It's now serviced and running smoothly.

Usually if I can't fix a machine I cannibalize it.  But this one is functioning, and it might serve someone for a long time.  With slightly wonky tension.  And until that nylon gear goes out. 

I can't take any money for it.  But I was recently told about people who know how to sew and are in need, and in need of some sewing machines.  I'm going to include this one in the group of machines I am taking to them.  I wouldn't palm this off on a newbie, but an experienced seamster, displaced from their country, with enough knowledge to know what is going on, may get some use out of it. 

Best I can think of to do anyway.  What would you do?  Please tell me in the comments below.

* * * * * * * * * * *

If you are still here after my long absence, drop a comment to say "hi".  I guarantee it will thrill me to hear from you!

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Funny mis-reads


Spoiler alert:  No sewing machines in this post

Getting old is just an endless source of amusement---if you have the right mindset.

I have cataracts.  They have been developing for years but last summer reached some kind of tipping point.  I gathered up my courage, left my self-imposed isolation and risked death by coronavirus by going to see my eye doctor.  Their covid protocols were all that could be desired.

He told me that yes, the long-predicted day had come when I needed to have them removed, but that no harm would be done by waiting until the end of the pandemic.

I can't see very well.  I don't drive at night anymore.  I have my recliner pulled up to within a few feet of the large screen TV.  And (here's the funny part--you WERE wondering when I was going to get to the funny part, right?) I quickly skim over reading the headlines of news stories and often mis-read them with hilarious results. 

So I decided to start collecting them here and post them when I had accumulated a sufficiently entertaining number.

Merkel and pastry chef at odds over measures.  Merkel and party chief at odds over measures.

Cannabis appears when angels are near.  Cardinals appear when angels are near.   (On an ad for a garden bench.)

Even Myths Have Leggings.  Even Myths Have Legends.  (Ad for a fantasy book series on Audible).

Beard Spotlight.  Board Spotlight.  (Story about the board of directors of a philanthropy, accompanied by a head shot of one of the directors.   It was the lack of any beard on the woman's photo that made me look at the headline more closely.) 

Merkel Warns of More Mutants.  Actually this IS what the headline said.   The fact that it caused me to do a double take was undoubtedly because my son-in-law and I had watched Evil Dead 2 the night before.  Angela wasn't talking about mutant zombies but of mutant viruses..  

Swein Forkbeard's Fashions.  Swein Forkbeard's Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England,  991 to 1017.  This sounds like a book I would love to read.  But I would love Swein Forkbeard's Fashions even more.

America Is Running Low on Children.  America Is Running Low on Chicken.  In related news, our fertility rate IS the lowest in our entire history.  It had been falling long before the pandemic started and has fallen even more.

Chinese TVs Caught Spying on Omelettes.  Chinese TVs Caught Spying on Owners.

A fanciful underwear scene decorates the entire hem of this black linen skirt.  A fanciful underwater scene decorates the entire hem of this black linen skirt.   (From an article in Threads magazine.  The underwater scene was lovely but my imagination is running wild on an embroidered border of underwear on a black linen skirt.)

Amazing images of warship sunk in West Cork in 1796 shows cayenne still on board.  Amazing images of warship sunk in West Cork in 1796 show cannon still on board. 

Virtual pasta making glass.  Virtual pasta making class.  This one really confused me for a moment.   What's virtual pasta and how can it be making glass?  Even on the first re-read where i "got" it that the word was class, I was still wondering what virtual pasta was.  

I'm sure you have noticed by now that my subconscious mind is obsessed with food.

Women's Free Range Organic Cotton Bralette.  Wait a doggone minute, this is EXACTLY what it does say.  I didn't mis-read it.  I sure am glad those cottons get to wander freely around the farm.  I would hate to think of them being confined to giant metal barns with tens of thousands of other cottons.


The first cataract is now removed and the vision and light and color coming in is AMAZING.  I'm sure everyone who has had cataracts removed knows exactly what I mean.  The other one gets removed three weeks from now.


Progress in my studio and workroom continues at my "new" house.  Built in 1972, exactly the same year as my "old" house.   It's slow but I have thing together enough to do some sewing.  I made gorgeous and super easy and surprisingly inexpensive floor length pleated linen curtains for three of the rooms.  Let me know in the comments below if you want to hear all about them.

Eventually I will write about vintage sewing machines and accessories again,  but in the meantime I'll post random stuff sporadically just to let you know I haven't forgotten about you, dear readers!


Sunday, April 25, 2021

From the DragonPoodle Test Kitchen: Sourdough Bread

 As sometimes happens, I am using this blog to communicate something specific to one person.

I gave Missie some sourdough starter and promised her my recipe.  Two attempts at emailing this to her failed.  I use a free word processor (Libre Office) and her computer couldn't read the formats I used to send it to her.

So here it is. 



Sourdough Bread

Start this one and a half days before serving. This is REAL sourdough bread, in which all the yeast comes from the sourdough starter.

Ingredients Actions






Sourdough starter

¼ cup

½ cup

1 cup


¾ cup

1-1/2 cups

3 cups

Lukewarm water

½ cup

1 cup

2 cups

Mix. Use your judgment about the water—should be able to stir it. Let stand covered for one day, preferably in a warm place. Should look foamy at the end of the first day.






Lukewarm water

½ cup

1 cup

2 cups


1 tablespoon

2 tablespoons

¼ cup


½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons salt


1 table

2 tablespoons

¼ cup


2-1/2 to 3 cups

5 to 6 cups

10 to 12 cups

Stir all ingredients into starter and mix. Knead. My large Kitchen Aid mixer with dough hook can handle up to four loaves. Use your judgment about the flour and water, too. The flour itself and the humidity of the air can cause some pretty wild variations in how much you will need.

Original recipe says to let rise, punch down, and let rise again, but I had good results with skipping the first rise and going directly to rolling it into loaves. Let rise.

This is MUCH slower to rise than conventional bread—plan on a couple of hours rise time in a warm place.

Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when thumped.

Makes terrific pizza dough. One loaf will stretch to cover a regular size cookie sheet for pizza.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Taming the Chaos


We've made a lot progress in taming the chaos in the basement studio and workshop, but there is a long way to go.  

If you want to see what the studio looked like after I had moved in but before I started unpacking down there, just look at the previous post Total Chaos in a New Location.   But honestly, don't bother.  I can't think of any reason why you would want to.

Usually I only write when I think I have something useful to say.  I'm writing now just to let you know I haven't forgotten about you, dear readers, and to let you know that I will be back some day.  Probably not any time soon though.  And if you want to know why, well, the photos below will illustrate that.

My daughter was out of town for a few weeks working far too physically closely with a bunch of people, some of whom didn't take the whole mask thing seriously enough. When she got back her husband came and stayed with me for a couple of weeks until she had let the appropriate amount of time pass and then tested negative for covid.

OMG I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for a son-in-law who is handy around the house!  (They got married in October of 2019.)

One of the many thing he did for me was assemble five wire shelving units for the studio and workshop.  Jim is fortunate enough to be working from home and for the two weeks he was living and working from my home we didn't wear masks around each other.  Both of us have minimal exposure to the outside world.

In the old studio I had a nine foot wide wall with floor to ceiling built in shelves housing most (but not all) of the quilting cottons.  I built those shelves myself based on a distant memory of my ex throwing some shelves up in a shed for me in what seemed like half a minute.  I built them very badly but the cottons did not mind how wonky they were. And they were visibly wonky.

The shelves at the old house were 12 inches deep and I bought 18 inch deep wire shelves thinking that this would mean that I could get 50% more fabric on them.  They had been packed as folded, so as I unpacked the first two boxes I refolded each piece to fit the 18 inch shelves.  Two boxes took me an hour to refold.  And surprise, surprise, refolding them seemed to fluff them up so that they took exactly the same amount of height.  They will probably compress a bit over time but I really would like to get unpacked before 2022.  So I stopped the refold project and just started chucking them on the shelves as-is.

We left the top shelf off of two of the units so we could put the rolled fabric up there until it finds a better permanent home.  I realized very early in the unpacking that everything would probably end up being moved around at least once.

When the quilting frame was moved into the new house I asked the movers to put it in the studio, along the wall where the aforementioned fabric shelves ended up.  It fit perfectly there but all that fabric had to go somewhere and I soon realized that I hadn't allowed for that.  When the movers put it in the room was empty.  When we needed to move it out into the workshop both rooms were full of stuff.  It is 10 feet long and had to be dis-assembled in order to be moved.  Jim did that and while it was in smaller pieces he added eight casters to it.

OMG casters!  Be stll my beating heart!  I can now move it with my little finger.  And that is no exaggeration.  The casters turned out to be the worst part of the project too, because those bottom legs are only an inch square and casters don't come small enough for that.  He bought the smallest available and then had to drill two extra holes in every one to get them to attach securely.

The ability to move it easily will always be important but it is especially important now when there are still boxes stacked up in rows to either side of it.

Jim suggested replacing the shop lights with LED shop lights.  The original shop lights had never worked very well and did not survive the move.  I could have tried just replacing the bulbs but the four LED shoplights were surprisingly inexpensive and a huge improvement.  As usual the link is provided only for your interest and convenience and sadly Amazon is not paying me to promote anything.

Jim and my covid-free but still careful daughter came over later and installed the shoplights, including two over the big worktable. 

You can see the other two wire shelves he assembled behind the worktable.


The top of this worktable is concrete.  Yes, really.  I bought it years ago at a thrift store for $25 without really understanding what it was but recognizing that it would be an indestructible work surface.  The surprising news that it was concrete came when the thrift store workers struggled to get it into my truck.  And then I had to hire some guys to schlep it down the hill to the studio in my old house.  But it was worth it.

The movers I hired initially told me that they would not be able to move it for me and I was sympathetic.  So I was surprised and delighted when they changed their minds and brought it.  It is a fantastic work table.

My future daughter-in-law Jenn (they are waiting until the pandemic is over to have a glorious wedding) has also been invaluable.  Imagine trying to find specific things hidden in two rooms stacked to the sky with boxes.  She has an amazing eye and has found things several times.  Including my Babylock Evolution serger, one of the great loves of my life.  And my most expensive sewing machine purchase ever and worth every penny.  

I had saved the humongous box that it came in and repacked it in that for the move.  It was much larger than most of the boxes so when I couldn't find it I started to fret about it.  You know how that goes.  I knew it had to be somewhere in there but I still worried about it more and more.  Jenn winkled it out from underneath a huge pile of boxes.  

For a brief moment it was there in all its glory but I quickly covered it to protect it and then it became a handy place to put things as I continued to unpack.  Sigh.

BTW, if you need to cover a machine I can highly recommend searching for a clear plastic tote with the right dimensions.  Both the serger and my embroidery machine are covered this way.  

It's still pretty chaotic down there but with the help of my family there has been progress!  

* * * * * * * * * * 

And speaking of family we had a wonderful if unusual Christmas.  We had celebrated Thanksgiving together in my daughter and future daughter-in-law's carport.  It's a two-car carport and we were in three widely separated sets, much more than 6 feet apart.  We're doing our best to minimize risk, and following the science as best we can. 

Living in North Carolina has its advantages.  But we didn't expect to be lucky enough to do the same thing for Christmas.  And indeed as it approached the weather reports predicted a wet and very cold Christmas, which fell on a Friday.  But Wednesday was predicted to be sunny and in the 50s.  So we moved Christmas to Wednesday.  We sat outside from 1 to 6 pm.  It was comfortable most of the day but got quite chilly after 4.  We opened some presents, had a meal, opened more presents, had hot cider and snacks and all in all had a wonderful time.  We stayed masked even though we were outdoors and distanced, except for the times when we were shoving delicious holiday food into our mouths or slurping hot apple cider.

Our family has always been very flexible about moving birthdays around to suit people's work or travel schedules but this is the first time we have moved Christmas.  I thought it might feel funny or sad on the actual Christmas but the Wednesday celebration was so fabulous that it didn't bother me at all.  And the weather really was rotten on the Friday.

Knowing how many people were missing their families on Christmas made us especially grateful for the opportunity to celebrate together.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Total Chaos in a new location


It's going to be quite a while before anything interesting or useful comes out of DragonPoodle Studio, or the adjacent DragonPoodle Workroom.

I love my "new" (circa 1971) house and the studio and workroom are going to be AWESOME.  Hopefully it will be sometime in 2021, and not 2022, when full awesomeness is achieved.

There are two rooms on the lower level of the house, both 13' x 25'.  One is completely finished and will be the studio.  The other one is partially finished and will be the workroom.  But they both have FLOORS.  Actual floors that are level and have vinyl tiles on them.  Not funky painted concrete that is NOT level and on which ones wheeled chairs tend to drift. 

I moved in two weeks ago but my chair lift just got moved over here and installed yesterday.  So now I can ride up and down and actually get down there whenever I want to.  I'm still unpacking the living spaces upstairs and that has to be my main focus until it's finished.  But I have started slowly moving things into place downstairs too.


There is also a little room with a window labeled "walk in closet" on the floor plan that is clearly meant to be a powder room and may become one some day.

(These photos were taken the one time I went down there before the chair lift was installed.)

  It's going to take quite a while.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Total Chaos, No Shame

 Last time I hinted that there were big things in the works here and I hadn't planned to discuss it until it was over.  I'm moving about 45 minutes away and two doors down from one of my daughters.  Same size house with an almost identical layout.  

I've been in this house 32 years and I'm using this as an opportunity to weed things out but I still have an enormous amount of stuff.

The mover couldn't get over here to give me an estimate and asked for pictures and the easiest way for me to do that is to dump them all on the blog.  Faint-hearted or squeamish readers should turn their heads away now.

All the remaining comments are for the movers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Here are the photos as requested.  I am still packing and putting boxes in a 16 foot pod.  I would like your company to unload the pod once all the furniture is in the house.  Each box is labeled and color coded as to what room it will go in.

Much of what you see here will be packed in the next week and a half.  I will move all the lamps and art work.

I have approximately 43 sewing machines, most of which are cast iron and weigh 40 pounds @.  Almost all of them are in cases but I am still packing and putting some machines into empty cases so I can't be more precise at this time.  The cases should be thought of as dust covers and not ways to move them.  In other words, don't trust the handles and latches to hold but they will protect the contents during the move once they are in the truck.  

I will also have a twin mattress and box spring in my car that I would like you to move into the house.


Notable items:  loveseat, recliner, assorted chairs (some will be moved in advance), curved glass china cabinet, large hutch, cedar chest (may or may not be here for the move), 36" flat screen TV, 50" new flat screen TV still in box.  3 cast iron treadles and their cabinets (sewing machine removed from them.)


Toaster oven, microwave, KitchenAid mixer, cuisinart, vintage GE refrigerator.

There is a stainless steel refrigerator at the new house that I would like to have moved back to this house.


There is a large dining table under all the junk, most or all of which will be gone by the move. Six dining room chairs. One very large antique hutch which separates into two pieces.  5 sewing machine cabinets.  

King sized bed.  Wardrobe.  toy chest, three card tables.  Two small bookcases.


Full sized bed, two antique dressers, two nightstands, recliner, hanging clothes which will wrapped in plastic bags and won't need to go into a wardrobe box.


Pilates machine.  3 wire racks. Loose desk top and two small chests of drawers that support it.  Small bookcase with sliding doors.  Rolling tool chest.  


There is a door to the outside and outside steps.  The washer and dryer are not being moved.

Upright freezer.  43" flatscreen TV. 5 wire shelving units.  One 10 foot long quilting frame and an extra-large sewing machine.  4 2-drawer lateral filing cabinets.  3 3-drawer lateral filing cabinets.  One 4' x 8',  3/4" plywood top.  Small rolling tool cart.  Three sewing machine tables.  One dresser.  One table with a concrete top.  Hanging wall shelves (items will be removed).

The gun safe is not going to the new house.