Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Machine for Michael!

The Emdeko, a vintage Japanese machine
This blog post continues the previous posts in which I searched for a machine for my friend Michael.  Scroll on down to see the earlier posts.

After the green Dressmaker fiasco it finally dawned on me that I had an almost identical machine in my hoard that I  had forgotten about.

A year ago I restored my MIL’s Singer 66 Red Head treadle and fell in love with the whole process of bringing an old machine back to life.  I was beginning to read vintage sewing machine bulletin boards and was in search of another machine to play with.  The Emdeko came my way at the Good Samaritan thrift shop, $15.  I brought it home, opened it up and LO! It was pristine.  I’m talking factory-fresh. 

The fact that the exterior was immaculate and you could do your hair and makeup while looking into the chrome should have been a clue.  Oiled it, put in a new needle, and it sewed perfectly.  Built in zig-zag and the possibility for decorative stitches with cams. 

Now it’s not really possible to be disappointed that a $15 machine turns out to be a gem, but I will say that I was nonplussed.  It didn’t come with cams, but by now SMAD* fever had set in and cams started coming home with me—finally one set of them did the trick.  One of the cams is a blind stitch, and the machine has a built in zig-zag.

*Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder

This fall will be the 50th anniversary of my journey as a seamstress, and it has been fun thinking about what a newbie would like in a sewing machine.  The Emdeko seems to go out of its way to communicate clearly with the operator (unlike, say, a Singer 401).  The stitch length dial says “stitches per inch” in nice large letters.  There is a giant button marked R for reverse. 

The zig-zag  selector has icons showing the size range of the zigs (or zags).

I just love this machine.  There are other nice touches:  a marked throat plate, AND it came with a seam guide.  There’s a button to drop the feed dogs down, and another one that changes the height—all the way up is for normal fabrics, and halfway up is for lightweight fabrics.  The cam operation is fairly intuitive and the cams are easy to insert and remove.  The thread spool pins are metal and hinged so they fold down.  There is a needle position lever.  All of these things make sewing easier and all are working flawlessly.  And miraculously I found a manual online for free.  Now a generic manual for Japanese machines is fairly easy to find, but this is the exact manual for this model. 

I think this machine could take Michael anywhere he wants to go.   Two thread spindles allow for twin needle sewing.  A 1.3 amp motor and the solid steel construction ought to handle any home dec project up through occasional upholstery.  Put a roller foot on it and I’m betting it could handle leather.

Which leads to the single drawback to this machine:  it is high shank.  It came with a zig-zag foot.  I bought an adjustable zipper foot for it.  If Michael comes up with any needs beyond that he is in the realm of full-retail-price.  I have only ever seen one set of high shank attachments at a thrift shop, and needless to say I bagged them for my Lady Kenmore 89 (Queen Of The Studio, a Pfaff 280 in disguise). 

and, oh yes:  Michael was quite pleased with his new machine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TOGA: Days 2 & 3, sewing and a tale of two machines

Day 2 of the TOGA (Treadle On Gathering and Academy), Monroe NC

Lots of things happen at a TOGA.  Machines for sale.  Other stuff for sale.  Classes.  A guy doing scissor sharpening.  Young kids sewing and helping people and otherwise behaving impeccably.  I"m not making this up and I'm not exaggerating.  I had a marvelous time but most of this post is just about sewing machines.  What a surprise!

I took three classes and I did take pictures but I am not comfortable with posting people's faces without their permission.  Besides, you have all seen rooms full of women sewing.  What you may not have seen is a room full of women sewing on ALL kinds of sewing machines, from antique hand cranks through vintage electrics and vintage electrics converted to hand cranks, to the very latest whiz-bang electronic plastic wonders.  (No, I am NOT sneering at them--I own two of them myself.  They are just fine as long as you keep them in their place.)

Of course I was hoping to find a beautiful antique machine that rang my chimes and was for sale at a price that would not stop me.  I did see the EXACT machine that I would have bought and it belonged to a lovely young woman named Ada.  Lucky Ada.  This machine has inlaid mother-of-pearl and what looks like hand painted ornamentation.

I had a terrific time looking at everyone's machines and came home with a new lust-obsession:  a Singer 316G.  O.M.G.  What a beast!  The most muscular looking Singer I have ever seen.  No pic, stupidly.

When I returned to the hotel after Day 2 the DH was surprised that I had not bought a machine.  I did see an adorable chainstitch treadle.  The treadle pedal looked like two footprints.  I couldn't face trying to get a treadle home with us.

The DH asked me how old my oldest machine is (1921).  He then told me that I "needed" to buy a machine from the 1880's.  After more than 20 years of marriage he still manages to astonish me at times.  I do talk to him incessantly about sewing machines.  He talks to me incessantly about sports.  I always assumed that we were both paying an equal amount of attention to one another.  Does this mean that now I will have to start following his discussions of college football coaching strategies?  

On Day 3, sitting on the floor along the wall, I found this sad looking little machine.  Tag was marked "National (?)  $5".  It has the leaf tension and bullet shuttle that I associate with machines in the 1880's and is almost certainly older than my next oldest machine.  The price was definitely right.
I can find neither a brand name nor any kind of number on it.  This style of machine certainly does go back to the 1880's but machines like this continued to be produced through the teens.  Apparently this is not good enough for the DH.  He says I should keep looking.

I wish I could convey how hilarious this is, Mr. Football having any kind of opinion about sewing machines.  Totally out of the blue.  Are you reading this, honey?

It is rusty, not only on the chrome (?) parts but on the body and the rust extends under the paint.  It was, of course, frozen solid.  The chrome on the bobbin slide plates appears to have bubbled up off the underlying metal.

Instead of the liquid-wrench-and-a-hairdryer trick, I sprayed it and set this puppy out in the North Carolina summer sun.  It "only" got up to 96 degrees F today, but that was enough to do the trick.  Had to tap the slide plates gently with a hammer, but I have it stripped down now.  The mechanism is still frozen, and tomorrow I will clean off all the drippy Liquid Wrench and miscellaneous gunk and take a closer look at what might be stuck.

A quick swipe with sewing machine oil reveals the remnants of some lovely decals.  In most places the decals are completely gone, with only an outline of glue to show where they once were.

The most amazing thing about this machine:  it weighs in at a mere 16.5 pounds.  For a cast iron machine, that's almost "featherweight".

If I am ever able to identify it, it will probably be from this access port cover on the front above the stitch length lever.  If you recognize it, please leave a comment!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

TOGA, Day One: Shopping

I have sung the praises of Mary Jo's Cloth Store on this blog before, and I will undoubtedly do it again.  Not being paid to do so, boo hoo.  They could pay me in fat quarters.  Are you listening, Mary Jo?  Is there a real Mary Jo? 

The sad thing is that back in the day (and back in the day I lived in Baltimore) I used to know of many fabulous fabric stores near me.  Now there is ONLY Mary Jo's, and a 3 hour drive is not near.  So I don't go there often, but on the other hand that frees me to spend as much as I like when I do get there.  Or so I claim.

Want to hear something else sad?  I was in Joann's a while ago, and the customer in front of me asked the cutting clerk a question.  The young woman replied "I don't sew and I can't help you."  Pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Joann's, the fabric store with employees that don't know how to sew and can't help you.

and DON'T tell me to patronize my local quilt shop, where the fabrics are the highest possible prices and the clerks are snooty. 

Need hoop skirts?  Mary Jo has them. 

Need sequined organza?  Ditto

and here's a sign that absolutely cracked me up.  My SIL is a Methodist minister. I wonder what she wants for her next set of robes, fur or burlap!
You can also find:
  • swim and dance wear fabric
  • home dec
  • fleece
  • knits
  • oilcloth
  • Pro and college team themed fabric
  • Lining, interlining, interfacing, and fusibles of all descriptions
  • notions and tools of all kinds
  • and everything else.  really.

of course I went for the quilting cotton, which is about 1/3 of the whole enormous store.

You want to see what I bought, don't you?  Of course you do, you are reading a quilting blog!
 Civil War repro fabrics for an upcoming block exchange
 Stripes and dots for an upcoming quilt
 Dragon scale fabric.  Well, that's what it looks like to me.  And someday there
WILL be a dragon quilt.  I bought a LOT of this.  Love it, knew it would not photograph especially well.  Trust me on this one.
 Two flamingo fabrics because you can never have too much flamingo fabric.

 Some classy African ladies.  I collect fabrics with images of women.  Don't have the slightest idea what I will eventually do with them. 
 Sewing themed fabric.  Surely I don't have to explain.

 Street scene from the early 1950's, when I was a tiny tot.  There's a quilt coming with topographic maps and aerial photos of places I have lived and/or loved, and various fabrics that will also tell the story of my life.  The images are mostly printed.  One of the printers eventually recovered but the other one never did.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.  Printers + fabric = a really, really bad idea.

yes, I have said this before.  I feel pretty strongly about it.  I could buy 3 or 4 vintage sewing machines with what it costs to replace a printer.

The ultimate haul of fabric, including some not pictured above and, not including all the toys and tools, mostly mundane replacements or upgrades of fascinating things like thread, scissors, etc.

I did branch out and buy two sizes of yo-yo makers.  Will they sit in the studio forever, keeping the needle felting tools company in their lonely drawer?  Or will I actually use them on that bin of recycled silk shirts? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ready to TOGA

It's probably not what you think.

I'm getting ready to go to Monroe NC for the annual NC TOGA, which stands for Treadle On Gathering and Academy.  I have never attended a TOGA before, but from what I read it is a wild and wooly gathering of treadle and hand crank sewing machine enthusiasts.  And any gathering that includes a field trip to Mary Jo's Cloth Store is obviously meant for me.

This seems like the perfect opportunity to "pay it forward" on the gift that will arrive soon from Wilma at Wilma's World.  The idea is to give a small craft gift to three people, then instead of paying you back, they pay it forward by giving gifts to three more people.  According to Wilma (if I've got this right) the recipients have to commit to paying it forward, but neither one of us cared much for this.  Gifts should not be given with strings attached!  So I will be bestowing three swan pincushions on three recipients at the TOGA and they will not have to promise to do a darn thing. 

Thrift shops are just full of these swans and I adore them but I have no idea why someone would buy them in the first place.  What are you supposed to do with them?  I have NO idea.  So I rolled up some funky handspun yarn (not the best I have ever seen) and wrapped some OLD but new cotton batting (old stock still in the package) and used my hand-dyed fabric to turn them into pincushions.  The idea is that the lanolin in the wool will help keep the pins from rusting.  Pretty cute IIDSSM.

I'll be taking some classes and I got my gear together.  I made an ironing board/cutting mat out of a wood scrap, a piece cut from an old cutting mat, a scrap of pre-quilted fabric, spray adhesive and staples.

The rest of the old cutting mat now lives in a turntable, and very handy it is indeed.  I used this to cut the blocks for the block exchange that will take place at the TOGA.

The exchange blocks. Decided to stick with the quick and easy rail fence block.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Machine For Michael: Blunders #2 & 3 and the one that got away

Blunder #2:  The Pink Necchi
GRRRR!  Some kid advertised this on CL for $25 and claimed everything was working.  I called and told him I wanted it and made an appointment for the next day to go pick it up.  I called that morning to tell him we were on the way and he said he had already sold it.  I hung up on him as an alternative to cussing him out.  His blunder:  not telling me that he would not hold it for me.  My blunder:  not driving over to Greensboro IMMEDIATELY to get it.  Oh well, Michael might not have wanted a pink machine anyway.

Blunder #3:  The Green Dressmaker
This machine had been at the Alamance Hospice League store since it opened in January.  Originally marked $10, after a couple of months the price mysteriously jumped to $40.  I’ve been drooling over it since the beginning, but the tensioner had completely fallen out.  Except for that fatal flaw it is a gorgeous machine inside and out—clean as a whistle.  And it is green.  BTW, it sounds pretentious to me to call it a “tensioner” but the word “thingy” would get you banned from some sewing machine bulletin boards.  So I won’t tell you that in real life I would call this the “tension thingy”.

Last week the price dropped back to $10 and I fell.  When I was shopping for myself I successfully resisted this.  When I was shopping for Michael I could not resist it.  I just WANTED to be able to believe that I could just get the tensioner back in.  The triumph of optimism over reason.  Functionally this machine is almost identical to a flawless 50’s beige Emdeko I already have, which made it an even sillier purchase.  But it is green and it just looks so cool.  

Up until now I have felt the same way about both tensioners and electricity:  no way.   No wires, no motors, no tensioners.  I will, however, do windows.  The idea of branching out has been creeping up on me and since this tensioner was already busted (in a couple of non-repairable ways) I actually disassembled and reassembled it, thus beginning that long, slow, painful climb up the learning curve.  Have I mentioned that springs intimidate me almost as much as electricity?  Well, that’s what a tensioner is:  plates and springs and the things to connect them.

And since Michael will eventually read this and wonder if I really did lose my mind over this whole project, let me assure all readers that there are more than $10 worth of parts in it if I wanted to go that route (the motor is green also).  But I will be holding on to it until the day I find a cheap machine with that type of tensioner to cannibalize.   

The One That Got Away:  The Lavender Kenmore
This one really wasn’t a blunder, but it was frustrating.  My favorite charity shop is closed on Mondays, which is the day they restock.  I usually drop by on Tuesday mornings.  Yes, being retired is TERRIFIC.  Thift shopping IS my profession now. 
The only problem is that they will put machines out without pricing them.  I know from experience that there is no way they will sell them without a price, and that only certain people are authorized to price them.  Unfortunately I think I helped create this policy soon after they opened.   That was the day the volunteer sold me a Singer 99 in a cabinet with a manual for $25.  The store manager got wind of this too late and she was NOT HAPPY.  To give her credit she stood by her volunteer and let me have it for the price he quoted, but I think they had a serious conversation once I was gone!  Anyhow, this is now verboten.  No price, no sale, period.

So there was this absolutely adorable lavender Kennie with no price, a Singer 603e and something else I have forgotten about now.  I left my phone number and asked to be informed once they were priced.  They called me a couple of days later, but the Kennie was gone by then.
Far as I can see, the only way to get around this would be to stop by there every day, or even every couple of hours!  It’s a half an hour drive, so I will just have to learn to live with the disappointment of missing some good ones. 

And, like the pink Necchi, Michael may not have wanted a lavender Kenmore!
Eye Candy:  Cute Shoes
Now, just because it is summer, some summer eye candy from my favorite consignment store, Secret Closet.  Don't you just love cute shoes?  And believe me, they are even better when you don't have to pay for them.  I always have a healthy credit at the Closet.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Machine For Michael: Blunders # 1 and 1A. And a useless giveaway

About a month ago I ran into my old buddy Michael at a party.  We got to talking about sewing, since that is the only topic in my brain these days.  Michael reminisced about a time back in the day when he hung out with theatrical costumiers.  He said he would love to learn to sew and was thinking about buying a machine.   He wants to duplicate some high-end home dec items at low-end prices.  I made him promise to let me find him a machine and he had no trouble with the concept that the old vintage machines are a hundred times better (conservative underestimate) than the new plastic ones, even plastic ones costing thousands of dollars.  Some people can’t wrap their minds around this.  I told him I was sure I could put a package together for under $50.

So the hunt was on.  I used this as an excuse to comb the thrift stores near and far.  And I always check CraigsList every day.

And along the way I made some serious blunders and learned a lot.  I don’t mind the blunders if I learn something.  My low income prevents me from making costly mistakes.

Blunder #1:  The Singer 457
No excuses for me here:  I WAS WARNED.  The vintage singers yahoo group has a wealth of information, and I know how to search the archives, so I knew in advance that this puppy had plastic gears.  But I have always thought that its configuration would be perfect for a beginner:  straight, zig-zag AND a blind stitch.  That’s 99.9% of what anyone needs.  $25 at habitat and it had TWO foot controllers.  I didn’t fire it up, but turned the handwheel and it looked like it was working.  But when I got it home, guess what, the plastic gear was broken.  And yes, it would make a stitch or two before stalling out.  I spent a pleasant Sunday morning cannibalizing it for parts and discovered a mint green bobbin winder tire inside, perfect for my “new” Singer 15-125.  Or maybe this is bait for the pristine, mint green, Singer 319 that I long for.

No net loss anyway, the parts are worth more than $25.

Blunder #1A:  The OTHER Singer 457
Prior to all this I got into a conversation with a woman at Habitat over another 457.  She was considering buying it for the cabinet for a machine she already had.  We later exchanged a few emails and I knew she wanted to offload the 457.  I offered her the $10 she had paid just for the machine.   All this took a while and by the time she got back to me about it I had bought the 457 mentioned above and discovered the broken plastic gear.  Anyhow, this one has worked out well enough because we met for lunch and had a terrific time.  Our only dispute was over payment:  I wanted to pay her, she wasn't willing to take money for a broken machine!    It has no foot controller and the bobbin was not turning, so this one is just another dead 457.  I cannibalized this one also, but sadly it had an ordinary black bobbin winder tire and not the mint green one I was hoping for.

The first one I bought came with a manual.  I will never buy another 457, although I would take donations just in case there was another mint green bobbin winder tire inside.  I really, really hope that none of you own a 457, but if you do and need a manual, send me your snail mail address.  First come, first served, no charge.  

You could however, if you liked, pay it forward and do something nice for someone else.  Or you could send me a pristine, mint green, 319.  I wouldn't say no to that.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stash Mastery #2: 2.5" Strips and Squares

I spent many, many, many hours getting my fabric stash organized.  Although it took hundreds of hours over a 16 month period, it was soothing and enjoyable to sort, iron, trim and fold each piece.  Other, more normal people would probably find it mind-bogglingly tedious.  And now I can see everything, lay my hand on anything at a moment's notice, and know the approximate amount/size of each piece.  Well worth the investment of time, IMO.  Time has a different meaning once you are retired, BTW.

During the stash organization project I also trimmed up the ends of each piece and cut all the leftover bits and pieces up into useful sizes:  2.5" strips of anything 16" long or longer, and 2.5" squares of anything smaller. Long ago I experimented with a more complicated scrap system.  But I never did anything with them so I decided to simplify to just these two sizes.  The 16" length works for the bargello quilt pattern.

I bought 8 large glass candy jars at Walmart to store the squares and strips:  red/pinks/purples, yellows/oranges/browns, blues/greens, and black and white.  These are lined up on top of a shelf unit in "Studio North" (aka the living room) and look terrific.

I've already used the strips to piece two twin sized bargello quilts, one of which is quilted and finished.  The other one is waiting to go on the frame. 

BTW, replacing a worn out king sized quilt with two twins for the DH and me turned out to be a brilliant move.  We've got a super king sized down comforter (regular king with half a twin sewed to one side, needs custom covers of course, but keeps the aforementioned tushes covered from the cold air).  Sometimes one of us wants an extra quilt, and the other one doesn't.  The DH also likes to use the quilt as a sheet.

Quilts for our bed have to survive frequent washing AND the action of tiny dogs trying to tunnel to China.

I also pieced 130 4-patches from the squares.  On this quilt I was playing with values and only used the lightest and darkest of the squares.  Every block has a solid navy center.  I kept the reds out but other than that didn't both much about color or what goes with what.  It's all about the values.

Set them on point, alternating with solid magenta blocks.

I used the design wall for the first time to plan this quilt, which is now ready to have the blocks sewn into rows.   The design wall began life as office cubicle panels, a thrift store find. The panels are just leaned up against some steel shelving.

The second photo only shows the top half of the quilt in progress.  The entire thing went all the way down the wall and flowed onto the floor.  I was surprised at how well the blocks stuck to the wall.  Any movement (or air flow from the vacuum cleaner) dislodged them, but if left alone they stayed up for days.

Those yellows are jumping out too much.  I had my doubts about them when they were on the wall, but one of my design principles is to put in something that jars just a bit for liveliness.  But now that I see the photo I think I will replace them.  More piecing ahead.