This morning I woke up with a Plan.
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:
And Figment for creativity and whimsy:
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. 🙂