Monday, April 9, 2012

Stupendous Students and Their Fabulous Projects. And a Story.

Heather and I are still bartering:  massages for sewing lessons.  I am the best paid sewing teacher in the world, no doubt about it.

I taught college and university students for 40 years, and health care front-line supervisors for about five years.  This is hands down the best teaching experience I have had.  It's not because after all that time I perfected my skills, either.  It's because the student wants to learn.  Heather takes ideas and runs with them.  She sees things in the studio unrelated to the lessons of the day and goes home and figures out how to do them on her own.

Heather wanted to combine the characteristics of two different baby slings, and together we figured it out.  The cool retro fabric of the sling is from a recycled curtain.  We finished this in one session.

The patchwork bag was completely her own creation.  There are quilts in various stages scattered around the studio and Heather has quilters in her lineage.  But we have not done any piecing or quilting together.   You can imagine how excited I was to see this! 

Next she pieced the quilt top on her own (still no quilting lessons).  She brought the top to the studio and we discussed batting and I described the binding process and offered to show her how to do it.  No need, she went home and finished it by herself.  Here's what she said about it on Facebook:
"MY FIRST QUILT IS FINISHED! Henceforth, it shall be known as THE finest quilt in all the land."

Heather and Raven got familiar with the treadle with a string piecing project.  I cut and starched some 6" squares and suggested the strong black and white giraffe print for the center line.  They string pieced outward from that:  one block per student per week, for a total of two blocks each.  That was all it took and they were ready to take the treadle home.

We briefly played with arranging the blocks in different ways to make patterns and the to-sash or not-to-sash question.   She went home and made a lined tote bag with the string blocks.  Now, we did not cover lining tote bags in the tote bag lesson.  Raven's tote bag was made from upholstery fabric with a rubbery lining specifically because it would not need to be lined.  I was going for speed with that first project for Raven.  So Heather figured all of that out on her own too.

My second-favorite teaching experience is totally different yet exactly the same.  The setting:  a nursing home in a fairly tough neighborhood in Baltimore, Md. in the early 1980's.  Back in the day, nursing assistants did not have to have any training or certification.  It was a job that a hard working woman with no educational background could do.  The best of them got promoted to being a shift supervisor, and it was my job to teach them the basics of supervision and management.  I was a 30-something woman with a graduate degree and no actual experience of management or supervision.  Gloria was a 50-something tank of a woman with 30 years of experience in nursing homes.  I arrived for Day 2 of our course and as I stepped out of my car there was Gloria steamrolling her way down the parking lot towards me with a gleam in her eye.  I was terrified of her.  When she said "I want to talk to you about what you said last week" I almost peed my panties.  I figured she had seen right through me and my total lack of experience. 

But no.  She wanted me to know that she tried a technique I recommended (praise employees in public, offer criticism in private) and was astonished at how well it was working.  She had experienced the "light bulb" moment and was seeing her role towards her employees in a new way.  She was transformed as a supervisor.  This is one of my favorite memories out of my entire lifetime.  And again, it wasn't my skill or remarkable knowledge, because I had neither.  It really wasn't about me at all.  I had basic information that she needed, and she knew she needed it. Anybody could have given it to her.

Believe me, although I taught some excellent college and university students in 40 years, none of them could hold a candle to Gloria as a student.  Or to Heather.

Finished skirt modeled over her clothes
Heather's daughter Raven has been a joy in the studio also.  She used a vintage ruffler to apply the ruffle to this skirt.  How many of you vintage sewing machine buffs have ever used YOUR rufflers?

She made a skirt with elastic in the waist, very cute.  I love her choice of fabrics.

also makes a funny hat

And she made more bears.

A lot more bears.  They were destined for a children's craft fair.

Heather was very wise and knew from the beginning that Raven would need her own sewing machine.  Raven made these bears on her Singer 99 hand crank, a straight stitch machine.  At home Heather treadles a Singer 237, a cast iron beast of a zig-zagger.  In my studio she sews on a 237 hand crank.

The 237 always surprises me when I pick it up because although it is styled like the other machines named "Fashion Mate", it weighs much, much more.  The others have significant amounts of plastic, are lighter, and should be considered disposable (they may be working well now, but don't hold your breath).  The 237 is one of the all-metal treasures. It is one of the few all-metal zig-zaggers that can be easily converted to people-power, takes easily available needles and bobbins, and the one that around here is most often spotted in the wild.

I've paid $10 to $20 for my 237's.  This price/value relationship definitively proves that either
a)  all of us vintage machine collectors are brilliant economic strategists who will be able to retire to a private island once the world wakes up to the relative value of one of these to, say, a modern Bernina, or
b)  there IS no relationship between price and value.

photos by Cheryl Warren and Heather James, used with permission.


  1. Hi Cheryl!

    I am amazed with the great talent of your students! I muss also comment here that I love the teddy pattern and the idea of using small clothes' clips instead of needles. Genius! I will pass it to my niece when I give her the sewing machine! :) And thank you also for sharing the story about your teaching experience in the past: a good lesson to all of us!

  2. Hi Cheryl
    What FUN. I am inspired to get into the sewing loft and sew....Wait....I have to work on some treadle irons....wait...I have to service some machines......wait.....I have to groom some poodles....wait I have to plant some peas......!!!!!!!

  3. hahah! great blog! not just because it was about me and mine but you have a fun writing style and I really liked your Gloria story... it's good to be able to admit not knowing/having something if/when you don't. the last line is EPIC... and completely true... "there IS no relationship between price and value." thanks again, Cheryl... we really enjoy coming over to sew with you.

  4. hey, guess what followed me home from the thrift shop the morning after I posted this? Another $10 Singer 237!

  5. I haven't used my attachments yet (bad me). I just haven't had the time. I don't think I've ever seen a 237 before. Zig zag would be nice to have.

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  7. Another Fashion Mate 237 owner piping up! I am so grateful to my aunties for giving me their old machine. They hated sewing, and their loss is my huge gain. Converting it to a treadle, bit by bit. Ebay and internet blogs have been invaluable in the process.

    Got Domestic treadle irons and foot pedal from ebay. Also got a Singer cabinet (Parklane/ style 356) and took off the legs so it would fit on top of the treadle. Got all the fun supplies from Jenny at Sew Classic (treadle belts, fancy presser feet, and cleaning supplies *tri flow anyone?*).

    The very last step was optional but I'm excited about it. Just this weekend I got a Model 66 handspoked wheel and the stop motion knob. I highly recommend scouring ebay for an original handwheel, rather than having to use a repro. Mine was the same cost as a repro: $16 (including shipping).

    Love your blog! Glad to have found it.


  8. Hi, recently I picked up the find that beats all! A sewing machine cabinet with the machine trapped inside! After getting the cabinet open and the machine out and cleaned off a thick layer of dust, webs, etc I was looking at a Singer 306k in decent shape. Next was the cabinet, and after scraping through Many layers of paint, Spackle, caulk and bondo I had over half of what I now believe is a style 356 Parklane. Under the scraps of veneer that remained I found a combination of light and dark wood that I did my best to bring back to life. I couldn't find any good, clear pictures but put what I had together and added what I thought it still needed. The side panel under the fold-open piece is just a nice piece of wood. The other side panel I'm putting in a small notions drawer, there had to be something for thread and needles. Should be done in a few days and I'm going to try to get $200 for the pair. I'll get pictures to you soon.


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