Yesterday morning I finally took the time to create some quilt sandwiches to practice free motion quilting with. I wanted something to work on that was just for practice, so I found high quality $3 king sized cotton sheets at Goodwill, one dark green and one white, some inexpensive poly-cotton batting, and a can of spray adhesive. I tore the fabric down to 12×24” rectangles, which seemed like a pleasant size to work with, glued up some sandwiches, and set them on my free motion quilting table.
This morning I got up, did some necessary paper work and a bit of clean-up after my son’s birthday party weekend, and then sat down at the machine. This is my free motion quilting set-up:
It’s a Singer 15-90 that was sold with an electric motor, but I removed that and put the machine on a treadle base. I have festooned it with two totems: Rafiki for patience and Zen:
They keep me smiling when I’m quilting, which can be quite a task. Rafiki was given to me by an engineer I worked with at a particularly tough contract many years ago, and Figment & I go way back. He’s always been one of my favorite Disney characters, and David is also fond of him. One of the first times we video-chatted we noticed that I was drinking from a Figment mug and he had a dilapidated stuffed Figment on a shelf that was in frame. I’ve never seen the Lion King and Figment only appears in the ride at Epcot, so I only feel a little bit squeamish that they’re both Disney “properties.” In my world they have important personal significance. Anyway.
The machine was not making consistent stitches. It would sew a few and then skip a few. Feh. This is not the experience I was hoping for.
I changed out the needle and re-threaded the machine. No joy.
I pulled up my pdf of the manual to make SURE I was installing the needle correctly (flat to the left, thread right to left). I was.
opened everything up looking for lint. There was a little, but it was pretty much clean. Put it back together, and it still skipped.
Perhaps it was the quilt sandwich. I wanted to experiment with a double layer of batting, which I haven’t used previously, so that’s what was set-up. Pulled out a scrap of the cotton sheeting, but no change.
Perhaps it was not happy with the poly thread. Switched to Aurafil. No joy.
Bleargh. I had re-timed and adjusted this machine in the spring, after it was abused at MakerFaire. Perhaps I hadn’t tightened everything down correctly and something had slipped? Got out the feeler gauges and confirmed that the bobbin area spacings were perfect. The timing marks were also lined up correctly; the needle and hook were engaging perfectly as far as I could tell. No changes were made.
I listlessly re-threaded and turned the hand wheel watching it make stitches. Put the machine back down into the treadle, got out my fabric, and stitch stitch skip. stitch stitch stitch stitch skip skip stitch. Feh.
I noticed there was some binding at one point in the cycle, and a bit of investigating showed me the finger guard I had installed was interfering with the needle clamp just enough to provide some resistance. It was binding in a way that shifted the needle ever so slightly away from the hook. Took that off, hopefully re-threaded and tried again, same behavior.
By now I was feeling more or less awful. The 15 is one of the simplest machines out there. I’ve put several back in service. Not being able to fix it was really making me feel incompetent. What was wrong with me?
Tried again with another new needle. Same thing. I did notice the thread was getting slightly shredded when it stopped making stitches, and also there was a change in the sound from the bobbin race.
Tipped the machine up:
pulled apart the whole bobbin race assembly again, cleaned and inspected the parts:
and reassembled it. Started trying to make stitches, and the behavior hadn’t changed.
Tried turning the hand wheel and watching the thread move with the bobbin and without. Inspected all the linkages on the underside, and they were all perfect.
Removed the feed dogs and tightened the feed dog lift screw back down. No change.
I was listening to the Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer while working on the machine, and I was almost in tears when she started talking about “the Fraud Police,” which is her name for imposter syndrome. Here I am starting a business teaching people to sew and to fix up these old machines and I can’t get a fucking 15-90 to sew. I am such a fraud. What the hell am I thinking?
It didn’t help that today was the day I had scheduled to do a portfolio review on my retirement plan, and had dealt with the young advisor’s condescension and disdain as we talked about what I’m doing with my life. Never mind that he’s looking at a healthy fund balance, we both knew I couldn’t retire on it. I don’t intend to, by the way. I’m starting this business with the intent of creating a residual income and working at it for the rest of my life. This is a vocation, not a job. But still. To your average financial planner this sounds just plain weird.
So I started just watching the hook move the thread. Over and over and over.
And then it happened— it caught on something. I carefully inspected and saw it was getting stuck in a gap behind the “shuttle race back.” right here:
I removed the part again, for probably the thirtieth time today, and inspected it minutely. And then I saw it:
Here’s another picture:
It’s the teeniest, tiniest little chip off the tip of the race back. Who knows how it happened, or when? The machine has been fussy since MakerFaire (hence the rebuild and re-timing) so my guess is that was when it was damaged, but I’ve done quite a bit of free motion work since with no trouble. So I don’t know. But it’s not working now, and I figured out why.
I feel kind of wrung out, but no longer like I’m a fraud doomed to fail at my life’s work. I can do this. Really. Persistence, attention to detail, and more persistence. I have the tools and the knowledge. I just need to get things moving forward and stitch by stitch I can make it happen.
I’m swapping out the machine head for a baby blue Japanese clone after I post this blog entry:
Hopefully tomorrow I will have some new free motion quilting to share.
Last week I ended up with two Surprise! machines: a Free parts machine the same model as Charlotte but with battered finish, and a Franklin Rotary. I might not have thought to try to put the two together if they hadn’t come home at the same time, but there they were, sitting next to each other, and it just seemed to make so much sense.
The Free was 6 hours from being taken to the dump when I called about it, so I am trying to feel happy to resurrect it in some form rather than guilty for taking it apart.
I know people who rave about the White Family Rotary as one of the nicest machines out there. I have not had the pleasure, and had been thinking towards putting one of my Japanese 15’s on these Free irons to be a free motion treadle, but I’m flexible. I’m talking to a friend about fabricating a hopping foot for a White style bottom clamp, which seems to be the big impediment to people trying this. If it doesn’t work out I can always switch back to using one of the several 15’s I have to do the job.
Because I am lame I didn’t get any pics of the Free in its cabinet before I started disassembly, but I have a good set of the disassembly itself. Relatively good. Still don’t have the lighting sorted in the studio, and I was shooting with my iPhone in ambient light, so, well, these shots won’t win awards but should give you the general idea.
The cabinet was blessedly assembled almost entirely with screws. I expect this made some of their carpenters and cabinet makers extremely sad, because there was no real joinery needed for anything but the drawers. It makes me very happy, though, because non-destructive disassembly was trivial. Also, I love the scroll work in the dress guard:
The most accessible screws were on the back panel, so that’s where I started:
They sensibly used backing nuts rather than trying to thread the casting. Here’s one half unscrewed:
This shot shows some of the damage this poor cabinet has suffered over the years:
The cabinet, irons, and machine tell the story of a treasured antique that was toted around and kept up with furniture polish, and used in a hallway as a catch-all for keys, drinks and whatever other random things needed a place to sit. The top is badly scarred, and the whole cabinet has been knocked about. Two of the wheels are missing entirely, and the other two were replaced at some point with Bakelite that is crumbling.
The machine was cleaned thoroughly of all of the gold in its decals and down to the Japanning over most of its surface, but there is no sign of rust, very little dust, and all the parts turn freely, especially given that they haven’t received a drip of oil in anyone’s memory.
These irons should be an excellent treadle base, and the brightwork on the head is in far better shape than Charlotte’s was. Unlike most irons, the Free’s were painted brown. There is not a speck of rust to be seen, they’re just sort of rust colored.
I need to keep reminding myself that it’s a better fate for this machine to get broken down for spare parts and its irons to build up a new treadle; far better than going to the scrappers.
Anyway. On with the disassembly! Here’s the back off:
And the fronts to be removed. I love screws!
Top screws will require an angled driver to get them out:
but they broke free without much fuss. Here’s the top:
And the naked irons! That’s my other frankentreadle lurking in the background:
Next I needed to break down the Franklin’s cabinet to extract the top. here’s the Franklin’s oogly cabinet— scratched, battered, and … unfortunately styled:
I took a lot of pictures of me trying to figure out how to get this apart. Unlike the Free, this cabinet was held together almost exclusively with glue. Once I got the hinges visible in this picture off and the lift mechanism and machine plate removed I had a glued up box. Here’s a terrible shot of the inside:
These are the hidden hinges for the machine plate:
It took me a good 15 minutes to discover that once I removed the lifting mechanism I could swing the plate up out of the top and get to these screws:
At which point I started looking at the plate for the Franklin:
Comparing it to the top from the Free cabinet:
Which looked like they might possibly maybe be persuaded to mate up:
But the lift hardware on the Free cabinet was in the way, so I removed that. It had two opposing nuts that are used to adjust the height of the machine head plate:
They were easily broken free with a pair of adjustable wrenches I keep for just this job:
And the plate and lift were removed:
Allowing me to compare the Free top and the Franklin plate and see that mating them up was not really in the cards:
I can sit the Franklin plate on the top and make that work, but I won’t be able to drop the head into the irons and close the lid:
I spent quite a bit of time trying to come up with some way to make this work, but finally had to accept that the proportions of the Franklin dictated by the left facing bobbin case mean it really doesn’t want to fit nicely. This picture shows where the treadle band needs to be, and how far off that is for the Franklin:
So I decided to break up the glue joints to see if the top from the Franklin cabinet could be mated to the irons. These are the remnants of destruction:
Here’s what remains of the base:
And here’s the reassembled plate + surface:
So I put that on the Free irons and…
FAIL. The top is too narrow and the machine head too deep to drop into the irons. If I want to have this head fold neatly into a cabinet on these irons I will be starting from scratch. That’s not sensible, given that this is sort of a lark of a project. Here’s another view:
And from underneath:
Nope. not going to work. The machine heads are just too different in proportions:
Last night David and I went to Amanda Palmer’sThe Art of Askingbook tour/show. There was singing and silliness and good-hearted buffoonery and it was a wonderful, memorable experience for us and, I would venture to say, much of the audience. Firstly, if you aren’t familiar with the TED talk she gave on this subject, go watch it now:
To say the talk changed my life would be a bit of an overstatement, but I would say that her talk, Brene Brown’s talk, and conversations with friends and mentors are what gave me the courage to decide to pursue Hack Your Clothes instead of another traditional job. Jury’s still out on whether that will prove financially sustainable, but I remain cautiously optimistic.
I’ve just barely peeked into the book, but what I’ve seen and what was read last night at the show was an extension and elaboration on the talk. I’m looking forward to reading it. You should too.