Give Big! join me in helping the Seattle Somali Center

May 5, 2015 - 8:06 am


Today, 5/5, is the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big! day, on which they encourage folks to donate to local non-profits to help out with whatever needs we see in the community and further.

Through Hack Your Clothes I’m donating sewing machines and other sewing supplies as well as my time as a teacher to assist the Somali Center in getting their Sewing and Fashion Design program off the ground. Do you have anything you can give? They’re starting out, so they need lots of help and supplies! Donations of money will allow us to buy what we need, and we also appreciate donations of materials and time. Everything helps!

Below is Sahra’s statement about the center and what they are requesting.

Please join me in Giving Big!


Somali Community Services of Seattle (SCSS) is excited to announce a brand new Sewing and Fashion Design Training Program at our center

Back home, many Somali Elders enjoyed sewing as both a social activity and as a way to create beautiful clothes and accessories for themselves and their families. Here in Seattle, very few members of the Somali community have regular access to sewing machines and the necessary equipment to practice their skills in a comfortable environment.

Somali Elders and Youth have requested this training program as a way for both generations to come together to celebrate Somali culture and fashion, to learn the fundamentals of creating hand-crafted apparel, and to express themselves through design. SCSS is currently recruiting experts to help design our training curriculum and lead classes that begin in July 2015. The program will be completely free and open to Women and Men of all ages.

SCSS has already received generous donations of sewing machines from Hack Your Clothes (a local business), Horn of Africa Services (a local non-profit), and donors from around the country to help us launch the program this summer! We are incredibly excited to begin and we can’t do it without your help!



Lapped Zipper and Waistband

February 28, 2015 - 3:09 pm

Still working on the Brown Linen pants, at least here in blog land. In the real world I wore them out yesterday and they were awesome! 

So! zipper! I like side zippers on pants. I think a fly is distracting and adds lumps where they are not wanted. I always like a refresher on these things, so I went looking for a nice tutorial, and found Gertie’s instructions. They are excellent.

First was cutting 1” strips of interfacing for the seam allowances where the zipper will be installed: 


Then pressing them into the seam allowance. Note that I did this after sewing the side seam to the bottom of where the zipper will start, but it would have been better to apply the interfacing and then seam:


Ad then I got engrossed in the actual installation and completely forgot to take pictures. If you follow Gertie’s tutorial I pretty much did the same thing, until I got to the L shaped seam on the front side of the lap. Here I wanted to merge the zipper nicely into the top of the pocket, so I put in a little bar tack at the top edge of the pocket. You can kind of see it in the pic below parallel with the pin and near the seam: 


After placing the bartack I started sewing down the front side of the zipper tape in the way Gertie recommended, which was, of course, when I ran out of bobbin thread. There may have been bad language at this point.


Once I got to the bottom of the zipper I folded the pocket back over the bartack, and sewed the bottom of the L inside the pocket:


Then closed the pocket, and put another bartack along the pocket seam at the bottom of the zipper. I’m quite pleased with the final result.


Trial fit and front pleat adjustment:

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On to the waistband! I always cut waistbands a couple inches longer than I want them, and clip off the end once they are set onto the waist of the garment. I cut and interfaced the waistband in the first article in this series. 

First I sew up the end that will be on the inside, where the button will be attached:

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Then turn the waistband right side out, and pin it up to the top edge, starting at the button end. 

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 Then sew it up:

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 stopping about an inch from the end of the pants:

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 Decide how large of an overlap I want for the button hole, factor in seam allowance, and clip off excess. In this case about an inch:

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 Then sew up that end, and finish seaming the waistband to the top of the pants: 

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 Interfaced seams are basically impossible to turn into nice corners without clipping. Just a tiny triangle makes all the difference:

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 Perfect square corner!

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 To finish off the buttonhole tab I clipped the inside of the waistband where it would clear the zipper:

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 then tucked it in and pressed it:

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 And finally topstitched all around the waistband. Done except for the button, button hole, and hems!

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Brown Linen Pants, continued

February 27, 2015 - 6:00 am

I decided to sew up the new pants with “Byron,” my Singer 401a from about 1957, which was named after Lord Byron. I have lots to say about Byron and the Luddites, but that’s not how this machine got its name. When I started collecting vintage machines I decided they would need names, decided the theme would be women in STEM, and my first one was a Singer Rocketeer I named “Ada,” for Ada Lovelace. This machine was the model immediately prior to the Rocketeer I named “Ada,” so naming it “Byron” seemed appropriate, since Byron was Ada’s estranged dad, and this machine looks frumpy and old next to it’s sleek and racy daughter.


That’s “Margaret” in the background, which is a Morse Apollo from the early 70s. Morse named the machine in honor of the moon missions, so it only seemed fitting to name the machine after Margaret Hamilton.  I don’t know why sewing machines from the 50’s to 70’s had names inspired by spaceships, but hey. Who am I to argue?

So, pants! Last post I had gotten through all the cutting and prep, and was ready to start sewing. 

First up was putting the pockets together: 


Here they both are laid out after sewing: 


Except, uhm, there’s a problem. That is two right pockets. I need a right and a left. That’s why the seam ripper is out. This is better: 


Next I needed to transfer marks from the pattern sheets to the cut pieces:


I also write the piece names on each piece. This shouldn’t be necessary, but it really helps me not be stupid and connect the wrong pieces. It also makes it much more clear which is the right and which is the wrong face for fabrics like this one that are hard to distinguish. I honestly chose one face arbitrarily as the face since I couldn’t see a difference, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they looked different under some lights and from some angles. It’s prudent to make sure all pieces are cut with tops facing the same way on the piece, and keep track of inside and outside. This is proof against tears the first time I wear them outdoors in bright sun, which is where different nap and finish tend to show up most blatantly. 

Once the pieces were marked the next task was fixing the edges. I find this easier to do right off the batt before anything is sewn: 


You can see the little zig-zag stitches on the edge in that shot. If you look closely the machine is taking three stitches to the left and then three back to the right as it moves the fabric forward. I find this does a nicer job finishing the edges than a plain zig-zag, which tends to crumple the edge a bit.

I will also note that I hate this part. When I start sewing on a pattern I want to get started with the construction seams right away! but I’ve learned enough patience to zip around the edges. Again it saves me from tears later when trying to zig-zag an edge during finishing that’s tucked deep in a seam, or worse, having the garments start unravelling while I’m wearing it. 

Next I sewed the crotch seam and back darts on the back pieces: 


And then topstitched the back seam, to give it extra strength. I’ve had back seams pop open twice. Not a fun experience!


Next I marked the front pieces: 


Pinned up the pleats on the flutter/gauntlets:


Attached the pockets: 



Next up is inserting the zipper. I used Gertie’s write-up from Coats and Clark. I think I’ll end here for today and write up the zipper in the next post.

Brown Linen Pants

February 26, 2015 - 6:00 am

Monday I made another pair of the flutter leg pants, which Hunter insists looks more like gauntlets: 

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That was my TRIUMPH! photo at about 10pm Monday evening, so I’m certainly not looking my best, but I am, again, thrilled with the pants. This time I took some process photos of the assembly. There are a lot, so I may break this into a couple posts.

First, I had to fix the pattern. I discovered when I assembled the silk pants that I had shaped the flutter/gauntlet on the inseam rather than the outseam:


That’s the pocket towards the wall and the crotch seam towards the front of the table, so you can imagine when I close up the triangle shaped pleats they are going to be on the inside of my legs rather than the outside. On the silk pants I solved this by slashing the fronts at the knee line and swapping left for right. It’s pretty much unnoticeable, and to the extent anyone ever does notice I assume they’ll think it was a deliberate style choice. 

For this go-round I slashed the pattern at the knee and flipped it over and reconnected it:


Then I started looking at laying out the pattern on the available fabric.

This fabric has no give in the direction of the warp— the long direction of the fabric— but does have some in the weft, which runs from selvedge to selvedge. I don’t want the pants to get longer but wouldn’t mind some give in the other direction, so I definitely wanted to cut the pieces with the grainline parallel to the selvedge:


Unfortunately because of the shape of the piece I can’t cut both left and right fronts from a single width of fabric. After some contemplation I realized I could easily cut a front and a back from a width: 


So I ripped a length of fabric adequate for one side of the pants: 


Flipped it over and laid it so it was right sides together with the main length, and trued up the grain for the back:


Pinned it:


Cut it:


And then repeated that sequence with the front: 



I had plenty of length to cut the pockets out of the remaining fabric, but chose instead to cut the pockets in two halves from the strip under the ruler in the above pic. I did cut the waistband from the remainder. So here are the cut pieces: 


But there was one more thing to cut. It’s important that the waistband has some structure, so I wanted to apply interfacing. I cut that to match the waistband: 


ironed it on: 


pressed the waistband in half, and was ready to start sewing! I think I’ll split this account here and put that in the next post.

All The Pants!

January 22, 2015 - 9:35 am

Well, not quite all. We ran out of light before the linen pants got their photoshoot. But most of the pants. First, the silk ones: 




As I mentioned, sufficiently tailored for business casual, but sufficiently funky for a fiber artist’s wardrobe. They have deep, deep pockets, which is wonderful.

Next, the silly bloomers:




Fun! Silly! Comfy.

Finally, the PJ’s:



Wonderful deep pockets! They are exactly the depth of the tips of my fingers.

They also make excellent yoga pants for chilly mornings:




Calcifer the kitten is helping me with my finger placement. 

And, of course, they are delightful for lounging and knitting:


An Eighth of an Inch

January 20, 2015 - 1:52 pm

I have pants! To be specific, a pair of natural linen pants, a pair of taupe silk pants, fleece pajama bottoms, and a pair of ruffly bloomers for under skirts. But to get the pants to work I had to refine the block I posted about. 

The silk pair are the last effort, and I believe a fully refined pattern. I’m thrilled with how they fit, and they have enough style and fun to amuse me while still being refined enough for more staid company. There will be pictures of all tomorrow, weather and time permitting, and a couple more pairs will get made up shortly. 

Today I want to talk about test fitting a block. Here are the first pictures taken after I had basted the seams on my first test cut:




Basically pretty good! Already far better than anything I would be likely to buy at the store. Notice that I’m trying it on inside out, so I can easily pin and adjust the seams.

But there are still a couple problems. The obvious one is the crotch- easy fix. There is also an extra inch that snuck in on the back leg below the hip. There’s an awkward bulkiness there that I corrected out; not sure how that curve got thrown off in the pattern, but a small correction fixed it. I just left it alone in the muslin, which was actually a linen, and got made into pants. The pattern comparison pic further down will show corrections.

The more interesting thing is small but important. Notice the waistline isn’t quite level. It’s lower on the right. I didn’t take a pic that showed a corrected crotch before I also corrected the dip, but it was more obvious at that stage.

The problem? My dart mark on the fabric was an eighth of an inch off, meaning the back right piece was 1/4” too wide at the waist. 1/4” was sufficient to noticeably throw off the fit of the pants. Trust me when I say that’s a very small percentage of my total waistline, but it points out how important it is to mark and measure carefully. Here’s the corrected back view:


The crotch still needed one more little tweak after this, but it was pretty close to the final. I should take a pic of how I keep track of muslin changes. Essentially I cut off excess and staple it to the pattern where it came from. That lets me easily track what bit came off where and recreate the final line in the pattern. Below is an overlapped layout of the original block from my measurements (green), the refined block in purple (though it doesn’t show the corrected back piece with the excess removed below the hip) and a complete pattern in red. It does show the hip correction, which has been copied back to the block now!

pants comparisons

Doesn’t that knee look funky? Wait til you see the silk pants I made from the pattern. 🙂 I’m thrilled with the fit. I also have patterns for pjs and bloomers, which I can share later when I have photos of all the finished pants.

Pants! a surfeit of pants! I haven’t had pants that fit this well, ever. 

Davis NVF: The ultimate treadle for quilting

January 6, 2015 - 11:36 am

Yesterday I mentioned the Treadle Quilters on Facebook, and the quilt-along that Damascus Annie is putting together. I’m committing to going through this block-of-the-month project to improve my piecing skills, which are… not what they might be.

A quarter-inch seam sounds like an easy enough thing to manage, but it seems to be entirely beyond me to maintain it with any consistency. I can cut well enough and press diligently, but my attention wanders while sewing and takes my seam line with it. Not enough to affect the fit of clothing or soft goods, but a thread or two off on every stitching line across the width of a quilt is far too much.

I decided as part of this project that I will get all my people-powered machines running. I have five treadle machines and six machines destined to be hand cranks. The hand cranks are all Singer 99’s, and will be my beginner and quilt piecing machines when I open the shop. Three of the treadles are running, one is completely disassembled awaiting restoration, and the last one is a Davis New Vertical Feed (NVF).

Here’s a picture from the craigslist posting in which I found my Davis:


The Davis NVF is a machine spoken about in hushed tones and sought after by treadle enthusiasts and quilters. It’s the only consumer machine ever sold with a “needle feed system” instead of the friction feed that all other domestic sewing machines use to move fabric under the needle stitch by stitch. The difference between a needle feed and a friction feed is that the multiple layers of fabric can’t slide past each other while the fabric is being advanced, because the needle is pinning them together during the movement. Here’s a nifty video:

A standard machine, by contrast, relies on friction to hold the two layers of material together. The “feed dogs” in the bed of the machine pinch against the presser foot and move the fabric along while the needle is up in the air between stitches. This is notoriously unreliable when layers are slippery or stretchy, so much so that an attachment called a “walking foot” has been created that grips the top layer of fabric just like the teeth on the feed dogs grip the bottom. It helps some, but is still an imperfect tool. Particularly for quilters, who are moving three layers of material instead of two when they quilt, and it’s the middle layer of fluffy batting that tends to be the most slippery.

Needle feed machines are relatively common in industrial settings, where they are used to sew leather, silks, and various other fabrics, but somehow the Davis is the only domestic machine ever sold with this mechanism. Davis sold machines for about 50 years, and that link is a fascinating history of the company. (Spoiler: Davis became the Huffy Bicycle Company after they lost a bicycle contract with Harley Davidson)

The New Vertical Feed model was the last needle feed machine produced by Davis, and has two important improvements on it’s predecessors. First, it has a reverse button for back-tacking. Second and more importantly, Davis switched to the needles and bobbin shuttles that Singer had made standard. Older Davis models are much harder (and more expensive!) to operate, because antique shuttles and specialty needles must be searched out. For the NVF I don’t have to look any further than the closest fabric store to find what I need.

I am not ready to do a full restoration on this machine yet. It’s filthy, and the original finish has not aged well, but the decals are nearly perfect. I want to get more practice restoring sewing machine finishes before I attempt to do justice to this one. But it doesn’t have to be perfect to be functional!

First up I pulled the head out of the cabinet and oiled all the parts well:

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I used a bamboo skewer to clear the solidified grime off the bobbin winder and other moving parts sufficiently to allow everything to move freely. Then I put it back in the cabinet and gave it a spin, and right off the bat it made stitches!!

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I stitched on rags until I had worked out all the extra oil from lubricating the machine, and tweaked the tensions a bit, until I had clean and even lines of stitching:

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Then I cut the strips for our first block of the month, which is Rail Fence:


Attached a seam guide to the Davis (the original attachment for this purpose has been lost) and sewed up the strips:


Pressed and cut the assembled strips into the required 6.5” squares:


Decided on block layouts for the three complete blocks I could make from the strips I cut:


And sewed and pressed them:


At some point in this process I noticed that the magnetic seam guide I had purchased a while back was a waste of money. The magnet is deeper than the guide, and the guide is badly formed, such that there’s a gap underneath it when it’s used. This allows the fabric to slide under the edge of the gauge instead of riding against it, which rather defeats the purpose. My seams wandered, but were close enough that I could trim the blocks up and end up with more or less the desired size, albeit without perfect point alignment at the centers of two of the blocks. Given the layout, though, that won’t be noticeable.

I attempted to repair it this morning, and gave up after about an hour’s effort. So this gizmo:

F17d 1

is garbage. Don’t buy it.

I will continue on my quest for a perfect quilter’s seam.

New Year’s Plans

January 5, 2015 - 2:43 pm

I am not one for resolutions, but I do make plans. 

This year there are two big ones:

1) Open the Hack Your Clothes Studio and online store.

This has been in the plans since we bought the new house, but I haven’t mentioned it til now. That studio I’m building? It’s not just for me. I’m going to teach lessons, photograph, and film tutorials in that space. Expect big things in 2015!

I’m doing the last bit of organization and prep work so I can open the studio for workshops before the end of the month. I’ll post details when I pick an official opening day! I will start teaching formal classes in February, once I have a good gauge of the needs in the local community.

2) Switch to a wardrobe I am proud to wear, with handmade and refashioned garments from responsibly produced fabrics from renewable fibers.

The linen pants I made in the last week of 2014 are just the start. By the end of the year I will have made an entirely personal wardrobe. Any items I keep will have been refashioned in some way to make them more awesome. I want to practice what I preach in the Hack Your Clothes movement. Right now I’m using myself as a guinea pig for the tutorials I’ll be developing and selling.

I also have a few smaller goals related to my recent interest in quilting:

1) Complete the 2015 Free Motion Quilting Challenge.

2) Complete the 2015 Block of the Month people-powered quilt-along with DamascusAnnie’s Treadle Quilters group. Never thought I’d be posting a Facebook link, but there you go. I want to be part of this tribe, so I have to go where they are. 🙂

I would like to finish at least three bed sized quilts in 2015, but that may be a larger goal than I can fit around the Hack Your Clothes effort, so I’m considering that a “stretch goal.”

Onward into 2015!

Getting in gear

December 22, 2014 - 7:08 pm

I want pants. Not just any pants, but glorious linen pants with personal flare and fabulous fit. I want to be able to walk around in clothes I made that look awesome, so I can better advocate for the Hack Your Clothes project.

I also want a few pairs and different styles; some of them like bloomers to wear under long tunics and dresses and skirts, and some of them loose but shapely. I found a style referred to as “Lagenlook” that gets kind of close. I’ve been posting all sorts of ideas to my sewing board on Pinterest, if you want some eye candy. Think these trousers from


Another Pair from Oska:


and these bloomers from Bohemian Angels on Etsy: 


I drew up a concept for the waistline I want in Paper: 

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In order for the pants to wear well under layers as well as with a cropped or tucked in shirt I want a tailored waist with a lot of flare between my waist and my hips. I have a much smaller waist than hip size, and so like to accentuate that. 

This concept is a front placket with two hooks on each side that can be hooked into different loops depending on my desired style and wearing ease from moment to moment. There’s a front pocket on each side that takes up the slack. I had a skirt designed this way when I was in college that I adored, and have seen a similar concept in tux pants for men. 

I took all my measurements this morning, then set about drafting a pattern. But I want a bunch of these, and I want to be able to manipulate details easily and might like to be able to grade the patterns and sell them, so I decided to spend the afternoon investigating pattern drafting software.

Most of the packages out there are absurdly expensive, made only for PC’s, or both. I downloaded a demo from the only one I could find with Mac support and got nowhere with it. There is no documentation, no introduction, demo, quick start guide, user forums, or anything. I opened it and tried poking at things and gave up. 

But I did find a nifty site called that has a reasonable subscription model, and their tutorial/demo seemed quite straightforward for anyone used to working with vector graphics. Certainly FAR better than trying to draft by hand in Adobe Illustrator. This site is CAD-like enough for the software to understand things like “insert seam allowance” and “add a dart.” Look at this groovy instructive video:

I like that there’s a reasonably priced membership system, and they don’t bury the pricing plan behind a “sign up for more info!!” system, but rather put it right up front. $5 a month for an individual/basic membership, $15 for a designer, and $29 for a version that includes an iPad and Mac downloadable program.

The top membership tier for Patternade is about what the bottom rung of the drafting packages cost, and my first impression is that it will be a much better system than those for my needs.

So, frankly, I’m writing this shill in the hopes that I will get a free basic subscription for posting about it, because their website also suggests that option and has a form to submit to request the freebie. 🙂 Either way I will be setting up the free two week trial and start drafting pants patterns tonight.  Hopefully I’ll have something to share tomorrow! 

I haven’t looked for the feature yet, but it might be possible for me to save a design in some way that is shareable, and would allow someone else to insert their measurements to re-grade. If they don’t have that feature they should. 

Studio Time

December 19, 2014 - 11:35 am

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That right there? It’s a panorama of my studio taken with my iPhone. That means it’s all warped, but you can at least see everything except the door and tool racks behind me. It’s still very much in process of becoming, but I’m starting to use it.

Today I made a pressing board! I started with an Ikea hollow-core table top, some batting, some fabric (which was also an Ikea deal) a staple gun, tack hammer and scissors. Quick montage below— there are lots of tutorials on the web for doing this sort of thing:








I then promptly covered it in fabric: 


That right there? Is my winter wardrobe. Or will be, soon. Hopefully at least a substantial fraction will be used before we leave for Texas. In a week. Nothing like a deadline for motivation!

Frustration and Disappointment

November 26, 2014 - 1:51 pm

I do not have sewing to share today. Hit another road block with my baby blue machine head. I will not detail the process of discovery because I need to move on, but suffice to say parts were missing and have been ordered. Photos and brief summary:

The faceplate and tension assembly on the left is the Singer 15-90. The one on the right is the clone. Notice anything missing?

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How about now?

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Here— I’ll make it easy. Top row is the Singer, bottom is the clone:

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So, they look like the same size and shape, don’t they? I should be able to swap parts and get a working set? Nope.

See differences here? Singer parts left and top, clone bottom and right.

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also here; Singer left, clone right. See the notch on the mount for the tension assembly? Also the different thread path? The clone threads left to right, and the Singer right to left. So I can’t do a simple swap of the entire plate and tension assembly. And the notch means I can’t mount the Singer tension assembly on the clone, either. 

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So that was my evening last night and morning. That and researching VAT. But I have a shoulder kitten, so it’s all ok:

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I’m going to go listen to an audio book and spin for an hour, then commence cooking for a feast. Hope your day is proceeding with less frustration!

Baby Blue FMQ treadle machine

November 25, 2014 - 3:48 pm

Today’s job was to get the Japanese 15 clone set up on the treadle and sewing. I managed to complete the first part of that, as well as a cleaning and oiling, this morning. Hoping to try to actually sew something later today.

Here’s the set-up:

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Rafiki and Figment are supervising: 

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This is my sewing machine toolbox, to give you some idea what I carry around to work on these machines:

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Maybe I’ll go through the contents in another post one of these days. Oil, rags, grease, tools, and a few common parts. The shop towels double as fabric for test sewing, by the way. There is one thing leaving the toolbox as of today:

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That bottle was most of the way full when I put it away. The tip telescopes out to make it easier to get oil exactly where I want it, but it also leaked terribly. Fortunately it was isolated in a compartment in the toolbox tray, so the mess was contained and easily cleaned up. I used the resulting oily rag to give the machine a good wipe down.

The biggest challenge to this install was the treadle belt. 

Traditional treadle belts were made of leather cord, and so that’s what many folks use today. They are frequently stapled, but can be sewn. I removed the old belt by prying open the staple:

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And then installing the shorter spare I had on hand and closing its staple: 

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I love these pliers for working on belt staples: 

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I quickly discovered I had mis-measured, and the new belt was too short. To get around this I discarded the staple and elected to sew up a belt with two splices. Fortunately I am the thrifty sort who keeps odds and ends rather than pitching them, so I had the remainder from shortening a couple belts on hand.

Sewing a treadle belt is easy, and I honestly prefer this method of finishing them. It only takes waxed nylon thread and a blunt tipped mending needle, as for sewing up a sweater. There is no staple to scrape and rattle, and the splice is far less likely to open up. The key to an easy job is to open the hole well enough that the needle goes through easily. 

So I made the first splice:

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Measured the belt to see how long it needed to be: 

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Note that I measured twice, and cut between the two measurements. Belts are stretchy. It should end up just tight enough not to slip, but not so tight that it puts strain on the parts.

I clipped it off, poked another hole, and sewed another splice:

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I tie surgeon’s knots and bury them between the ends of the belt, then clip the ends of the nylon thread a little bit longer than the belt is wide: 

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And so I have a double spliced belt!

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The machine was very much in need of a clean and lube. I thought I had done that when it came in; this machine was the last acquisition before we started packing to move to the new house. Short story is, it was NOT cleaned. I pulled out clumps of felted lint and thread that had wrapped itself around every part that turned. It cleaned up nicely, though! 

One tip for taking these machines apart: always put fasteners back in their holes. Notice that I’ve screwed the screws back in that hold the feed dog cover plate:

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Those screws are serving no practical purpose and might even be a bit in the way when I’m cleaning, but what they’re not doing is getting lost, or disappearing into a pile of fasteners that all look the same but are slightly different. I’ve had to try to sort out those piles more than twice. I don’t recommend the game. It leads to frustration and bad words.

This machine has a gold decal marking as a JA-6: 

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And a cast-in brand of J-C2:

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Here’s a full view of the underside: 

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It’s badged “Dressmaker Deluxe 2000,” and ready for testing!

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Plans and Obstacles

November 24, 2014 - 6:17 pm

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:

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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: 

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And Figment for creativity and whimsy: 

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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:

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pulled apart the whole bobbin race assembly again, cleaned and inspected the parts:

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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: 

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I removed the part again, for probably the thirtieth time today, and inspected it minutely. And then I saw it:

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Here’s another picture: 

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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. 🙂

Franklin-Free Frankentreadle

November 20, 2014 - 9:26 pm

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.

posted about the Franklin a few days ago.

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:

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The most accessible screws were on the back panel, so that’s where I started:

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They sensibly used backing nuts rather than trying to thread the casting. Here’s one half unscrewed:

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This shot shows some of the damage this poor cabinet has suffered over the years: 

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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: 

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And the fronts to be removed. I love screws!

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Fronts off: 

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Apron removed:

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Top screws will require an angled driver to get them out:

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but they broke free without much fuss. Here’s the top: 

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And the naked irons! That’s my other frankentreadle lurking in the background:

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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:

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Opened up: 

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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:

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These are the hidden hinges for the machine plate:

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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: 

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At which point I started looking at the plate for the Franklin:

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Comparing it to the top from the Free cabinet: 

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Which looked like they might possibly maybe be persuaded to mate up:

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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: 

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They were easily broken free with a pair of adjustable wrenches I keep for just this job:

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And the plate and lift were removed: 

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Allowing me to compare the Free top and the Franklin plate and see that mating them up was not really in the cards:

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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:

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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:

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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: 

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Here’s what remains of the base: 

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And here’s the reassembled plate + surface: 

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So I put that on the Free irons and…

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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:

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And from underneath: 

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Nope. not going to work. The machine heads are just too different in proportions:

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So, I’m back to this as a plan: 

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Stay tuned for the next installment!


Kenmore 158-540

November 17, 2014 - 2:32 pm

Today I’ve got so many things to talk about.

I’m excited about Curls and want to show off Jasper McTavish and the spinning I’m doing, but I haven’t gotten good pics yet, so I’ll settle for a teaser from The Artful Ewe, a favorite fiber store we visited this weekend:


I finished up the Hex quilt top section, and cleaned up the living room. Again, here’s a teaser:

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I still need to figure out how to work this into a full or queen sized bed quilt.

I could talk about the tree we had taken out this morning, but I think that’s mostly just a story in pictures.

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So I’m going to talk about my Kenmore 158-540.

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I haven’t reworked this machine yet, nor named it, but it’s high on the list of machines to get fixed up. It came with all the gee-gaws:

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And I have it in a lovely cabinet (please ignore the tile stuff and the new toilet staged for the bathroom remodel):

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The cabinet has an inkwell:

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See, it fits here:

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And the next drawer down has spool pins and a pincushion:

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It also came with a knee lever, which I haven’t ever used:

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I haven’t cleaned it yet, but it was nearly spotless:

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It was missing its bobbin case and spool pins, but I found spares while I had it out. 

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I love the lavender and purple bits.

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and its antennae:

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It’s biggest problem is the electrics. The plug was cracked. I glued it up:

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And then I found a replacement on ebay:

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The wiring looks ok, but I’ll give it a hard once-over when I’m putting it together:

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It’s a JA-4 casting:

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Or possibly a J-C16. It has both.

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And takes cams, of which I have a full set:

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But for now it’s put away in the cabinet, waiting for the studio to be put together:

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Just Couldn’t Help Myself

November 14, 2014 - 11:21 am

I just couldn’t help myself. Twice, in the past 24 hrs.

I needed to spin on the new wheel. Needed. Tom did such a beautiful job; it felt like an insult not to put the wheel to immediate use. So last night after sewing and ripping the same seam on the quilt three times I decided I could spin. A little. I kept it to half an hour to wind down, then put myself to bed.

I wanted to wait til I’d spun on him to settle on his name, but I was pretty sure before I picked him up that he would be “Jasper.” I’ve added his last name too now, so please meet Jasper McTavish, fresh from his first spin:


That’s four ounces of Huckleberry Knits BFL silk on the bobbin:


Not that you can really tell from these photos, but it’s delicious, and the bobbins are ample. 4 oz spun point of twist doesn’t even come close to filling them.

The details of this wheel are amazing. I love how the two woods play with each other:


The wheel is part Dogwood and part Walnut:


and pure joy. Four oz spun up effortlessly in about two hours all together. I have another four to spin, and that should be ample for my Curl. I still have to decide which one. Today I’m thinking Icterine:


It looks so lush and cuddly with those big cables, and I think the blue-green BFL silk would show well. 

But that was only half of my falling down.

So there was this machine on Ebay that was local. It was a Franklin Rotary, and stunning. Here’s a photo I blatantly stole from the listing:

Three quarters shot

I love Art Nouveau and Art Deco like no other movement, and the decalcomania of the early 20th century plays beautifully with the graphic flowing lines. Love. It was initially listed for $5, but of course didn’t stay there. I got a notice as I was pulling into my local Goodwill that the auction had settled at $125. I mourned a little, and went inside to browse the fabrics and look for good sheets to use as muslins.

Nothing seemed to need to come home with me, and as I wandered out I walked through the furniture section to look at the machines in cabinets. Our Goodwill gets All The Machines. There was something so nondescript I don’t remember what it was, a lavender Kenmore for $15 that would have been hard to leave if it had its bobbin case, but sadly it was without, and this:

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Please pardon the crappy low light cell phone pic, but note this is in my studio. Which is a mess. Because this Franklin, with the identical decals, was also $15. So it got to come home with me, with David’s blessing. 

It’s also missing a bobbin case, but I didn’t care. I’m trying to track one down now, and if none of my friends has a spare there are plenty to be had on Ebay.

I’m also contemplating whether there were two decal color palettes, as with the Singer Lotus decals, or perhaps the secondary colors were hand applied after the gold bits were transferred to the machine, or if perhaps through some accident of cleaning or light exposure some of them faded from the green and purple on the Ebay machine to the goldenrod and rust of the one I brought home.

Whichever is the case, I’m seriously considering picking up some Testors and coloring in the decals on this one to match the Ebay machine as part of the restoration. I’m also fully intending to follow this tutorial to restore the Japanning. Amusingly I had bookmarked it weeks ago to use when I restore the finish on my Davis, and to apply shellac to Charlotte the Free, but it’s also being demonstrated on the same Franklin. Some things are meant to be.

So. If this is falling down I dun wanna get up. 😉

Change of Seasons

November 13, 2014 - 12:25 pm

So much to talk about I scarcely know where to begin.

Adventures in Home Ownership is approaching the wrap-up of the first big push. Since mid-March I’ve woken up every morning with a list of things I needed to accomplish for the house, and I’m starting to see the bottom of it creeping up. There are still a very large number of things I’d *like* to do, in an abstract “wouldn’t it be nice if…” sort of way, but the “must be completed for house to function” list is decidedly short. Just a few more small but fussy tasks in the downstairs bathroom, some work in the studio, and a couple contractor days. It’s good that the end is in sight because I’ve lost all enthusiasm for the work. 

We got a new kitten, Calcifer:

snoring kitten

He’s named after a character from Howl’s Moving Castle, which is one of our household’s favorite movies. The obligate cute kitten photos will commence:

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And also ob-video:

So, uhm, that’s been a distraction. We were hoping Mickey would like having a kitten friend. He was unconsolable after Pook died; I didn’t sleep for several weeks because he was so needy. Unfortunately, so far he’s terrified. He’s about 14 lbs. The kitten is not yet 2. Silliness.

I’ve been working on a quilt:

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It has taken over the living room:

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I’m not allowing myself to play with my newest toy until it’s put away, and I’m not willing to put it away until the top is pieced since arranging all the hexes the way I wanted was a bit of a nightmare. But I have a beautiful new custom made wheel from Tom Livernois waiting for me, tucked in between the cutting table and the ironing board where it’s safe:

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I’m planning to spin yarn for a Curl. As soon as the quilt top is together. Because we really do need the gaming table, game shelf, and couches to be accessible. And I need a studio to work in so I stop doing this whenever I embark on a big new project. 

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three more rows to go!


September 10, 2014 - 9:28 am

Yesterday I continued sewing up the hexagons from the one block wonder quilt, and have them all complete. I haven’t decided how I want to assemble the quilt, though.

There’s not a lot of contrast in the fabric, not are there any quiet sections to give the eye resting places, so I’m having a hard time getting the sense of motion I would like. It sort of looks like a big blob. I love each hex by itself, but when cozied up to its neighbors I can’t find an arrangement that is pleasing. I feel like I may need to add some solid colored hexes to stand off the swirls. It is certainly a fun and rewarding exercise to make these, though!

Today I did some free motion quilting. I was inspired by Jenny Lyon’s “Morning Breeze” quilt, so tried a similar experiment: 

Dandelion FMQ

I’m generally happy with the color work and unhappy with the background quilting. I was having an extremely hard time seeing my lines and ended up working myself into corners where I had to break thread or sew out of an area blindly. There’s also too much movement in the background to properly show the color work off. But these things are why I’m making a sampler.

As to the red work, other than thread breaking issues related to my treadle belt being overly loose (need to fix that) I’m quite happy. I didn’t think I would like the effect of the overlapping leaves and stems, but actually I don’t find it distracting at all. More experimentation warranted, for sure!

Fly-by picture post

- 9:24 am

I’m starting to emerge from Adventures in Home Ownership!! I have two more projects that are underway but not completed and then I’ll switch from full time home repair person with some fiber stuff on the side to full time fiber artist with a lot of home repair work in my spare time. There’s a bathroom to finish tiling, and studio lights to install. After that the list of things to do either fall into “maintenance” or “nice to have” categories.

In the meantime, to stay sane, one of my occasional projects has been the flannel wall/FMQ sampler. I’m quilting the whole thing on a 15-90 set into a treadle base from a 27 circa 1910.

I’ve worked two corners of the quilt, three courses of blocks in green and two in red. I’m going to work one more red course, then pick two more colors and fill in between them. Probably.

This is the green corner: 

green corner

This is the red corner:

red corner

The whole quilt from the green side: 

whole quilt

And detail pics:

various motifs

various motifs

Nina Paley style cloud practice

various motifs

various motifs


oops, toes!

Now I’m ready for the next course!

set up for next block!




The Swallow and the Rose

August 25, 2014 - 9:40 am

I’ve been interested in the One Block Wonder quilt pattern since I encountered it 6-8 months ago. Yesterday I decided I wanted to scratch the itch. We stopped at Pacific Fabrics on our way home from a weekend in Friday Harbor, and I bought two yards of this:

F851 1a

It’s in the “Light Fantastic” line by Fabric Freedom.

I spent a couple hours last night cutting out strips and then chopping those into triangles:

Swallow and Rose one block wonder quilt

and then a couple hours at the sewing machine this morning making those into hexagons:

That’s about half of the fabric, I think. I have no idea what I’m going to make with it, though the color would go well in my office. I want to practice free motion quilting over a pieced quilt, so that’s the excuse for buying it and sinking time into making it. Plus which I’m loving the rich colors and kaleidoscopic blocks. It’s pleasant and skill building.

I should be able to finish up the blocks in the morning, then on to piecing!

Le Mieux Est l’Ennemi Du Bien

January 23, 2014 - 4:29 pm

In case you have forgotten your high school French or chose a more practical language elective, that’s a quote from Voltaire: 

Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

(In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of the good)

This is one of my maxims. I used the aphorism constantly in technical project management. Perfect never comes. Good enough is — good enough. Ship it.

So today I’m practicing my own advice, and damn but it’s hard. 

I’m making a pinning wall/flannel wall for my studio to be. It will be canvas on one side and flannel on the other, with cotton batting. It will be a sampler and practice piece for more free motion quilting. Today is the day I allocated to getting the thing pin basted, and I’m going to get it done. Dammit.

First issue I found was the carpet was too small without moving the dining room table. 

Ok. I have mats I use for blocking out knitting. I can do this.


With a poodle’s help, of course.


I started laying it out. About that time I realized I should have vacuumed BEFORE I started pinning something out on the floor, but too late for whining. If a few bits of schmutz are in between the layers of my pinning wall it’s not going to change the world. Anything on the outside can get washed off when the project is completed; it’s going to spend time on the floor during the quilting process. Onward.


Next up the batting had been folded for a LONG time. Almost a year. And it was all rumply.


Ok. It’s lunch time anyway. Lay it out, let it relax, come back. Done.


Trimmed to fit, looks fine.


Checking the quilting spacing for this batting I discovered it’s a local product.  Go me.


Next I set up the ironing board and unfolded the flannel. (Ironing board cover still gives me a big smile!) I discovered I hadn’t cut and seamed the piece to fit the canvas top when I put the project away, but no matter. I ironed it out nice and flat, folded it in half just to be sure it was big enough, and laid it on the canvas.

And it wasn’t. Not by a lot. 

I pulled and poked and prodded and fussed and fumed and considered alternate layouts and nothing would change the fact that the fabric had shrunk about 10% in the wash. I bought 3.5 yards. I have the receipt to prove it. I need 120 inches, so I thought I was allowing an adequate amount for shrinkage. Nope. Now I have about 116 inches. The 45 inch fabric is now 43.

There are no photos of this process because, well, I take photos when I’m having a good time, it seems, or when I can already see the humor in a situation.

So I sat me down and had a little think. I don’t have the car, which makes it quite an outing for me to get to a fabric store. And even if I did I would have to wash and dry and stitch it up. It was already afternoon. I could chuck the idea of completing the pin basting today if that was my decision. 


I decided it was enough. Is it what I want? nope. Is it good enough to be a tool in my studio? Yup. I can work on this. That’s all I really require. I will use the selvedges to get evenly close enough to the size of the canvas. I will make some sort of wide border for the edges of the flannel side, perhaps with the scrap canvas from the front.

Ok, moving on. I clipped the middle of the flannel and ripped it— I believe in staying on grain and I hate cutting so I more or less ALWAYS divide fabric this way. I set up at my Rocketeer and got the fabric fussed into a pile I could manage relatively easily and reached for my edge joining foot.


There was no edge joining foot.

I had been pleased to read about it in the manual and assumed it was a tool I had at my disposal, but no. That was an optional extra, and didn’t come with this machine. 

There was more swearing. It was quite loud and creative.

And after I had my little tantrum I got out my over edging foot instead, and set up to zig-zag over the edge.


This is a trick I learned from serging: If I bind an edge in a way that allows the fabric to  slide a little when tugged I get a nice decorative edge join. With a serger a three stitch seam will generally do this. With an interlocking machine the stitch I want is zig-zag. Essentially it needs to put one line of stitches in the fabric and one on the outer edge, and the seam ends up acting like the wire on a spiral bound notebook, allowing the sheets or pieces of fabric to open up. Loose tension helps.

The over-edging foot is a wonderful tool. If I just zig-zag an edge it tends to crumple it up, causing an unsightly bumpy edge that tends to show through whatever I’m making. The over-edging foot has a little metal finger over which the stitches form. This stretches them out so the edge of the fabric doesn’t get compressed. It’s important if you use this foot to be certain the machine is set to zig-zag wide enough to avoid driving the needle into the finger. 


Pro tip: don’t try to reverse more than a couple stitches when using one of these feet. It causes stitches to bunch up on the little finger that keeps the stitches spread apart, and that causes all sorts of problems.

After applying my seam ripper to the problem and restarting, I had a nice over-edge zig-zag joining the selvedges. 


A bit of a tug opened it out flat.




I could have done a better job keeping the outer edge of the fabric from drifting too wide. I wanted to capture as much of the fabric as I could between the stitching lines of the zigzag, but I caught too much. There were areas of the seam that didn’t open out because one or the other or both pieces were caught in both lines of the zig-zag.

At this point I was past swearing and into resignation. I got out my trusty iron and alternately tugged and pressed the seam until I had it mostly flat.

And you know what? When I flipped it over to the right side it was absolutely good enough.


You know what else? I’ll have this damned thing pin basted before David gets home. 


I’m channeling Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project and Brene Brown’s speech about being in the arena. I’m imperfect. But dammit, I’m doing this thing. And you know what? It feels good to do it, even if it’s not perfect. It never was going to be.


Cleaning and Restoring Charlotte “the Free”

January 22, 2014 - 2:38 pm

I wish I had gotten “before” pictures of Charlotte, the “Free Sewing Machine Co” treadle powered machine I picked up a couple weeks ago. This is about the best I have: 


Her lines are lovely and the stencils are very pretty, but hidden beneath a century of grime and corrosion. Her Japanned finish was matte, and her brightwork was so corroded I couldn’t tell if it had been brass or chrome. 

I thought to get pics of the back side before cleaning it, and took photos of the whole process. So here are the before shots of the back:


Closer, look at the grime around the screws and oil ports: 


Even closer: 



I started with the recommended method of rubbing with lubricating oil, but that wasn’t really getting very far. It removed some of the dirt, but was doing nothing to get through the grime or oxidization.

I decided I could find a polish for the brightwork at least, and after consulting with my favorite local hardware store guy I took home a product called “Flitz:”

71AduP4L79L SL1500

 It did a spectacular job on the brightwork. It is odorless, doesn’t seem to irritate my persnickety princess skin, left no scratches, and removed the corrosion admirably.

I kept reading on the bottle: “Restores paint too.” and thinking hmm. hmm.

I had noticed on ebay someone was selling a drive band cover identical to the one on my machine with better paint for $12. I felt like this left me very little to lose. I took it off, and tested on the underside first. One gentle rub and the Japanning brightened right up. I very carefully worked over the stencils, and they gleamed with no sign of damage. 

I cleaned up carefully and did some research. It seems there are a number of products folks successfully use to do this job, including TR-3. I haven’t tried it and don’t much care for the materials data sheet, but the existence of polishes that would safely clean up sewing machines without damage bolstered my confidence. I worked over the machine, and was thrilled with the result. 

This was my set-up:


I started with tri-flow and a rag to get as much loose as I could:


then switched to the Flitz polish with an extra soft natural bristle toothbrush:


Working an area small enough to let me remove it before it dried, as per the instructions: 


Then wiped off:


Buffed and stropped: 


Carefully cleaned out the polish left behind in crevices: 


Then went back to touch-up stubborn areas with more Flitz on a cloth with my finger:


I rubbed carefully, wiping away occasionally to see progress: 


The result was amazing. Here are the dirty rags and shiny machine: 


… and the corroded faceplate. That’s next! First Flitz:


It found some shiny parts, but just wasn’t getting through the worst. When I was visiting The Captain he recommended polishing paper or fine 0000 steel wool for cleaning tension disks, and I decided to try something similar. I had some “Norton Soft Touch Mico-Fine Sanding Sponges,” so I decided to try them:

Nor soft touch sponges 26190 1347663082 1280 1280

Note these were 1200 – 1500 grit. The result was spectacular: 


That’s the same plate, and the corrosion from it on the sanding sheet. Which is thankfully washable, so that sheet is the one I used on the whole machine, with some cleanings.

The sanding sponge left a bit of a haze, so I used another round of Flitz? 


And, wow. What a difference:


It’s hard to capture shininess, but notice the table is now casting a reflection from the column and the needle bar. And that filthy spot from the beginning of the post is now clean: 


Cleaner than the picture, actually. I hadn’t seen the splotch of goop between the leaf and stem on the head until I post-processed the images. That’s gone now, too, as is the little bit of remaining oil stain under the oil port.

Next up: waxing. I want to add some protection to the stencils, and I’m hoping to get a little bit of fill into the scrapes on the table.

I’m thrilled with the progress, and have been sewing with her. VS machines do NOT like free motion work. At all. but she makes beautiful stitches quietly and smoothly. 

The Free Sewing Machine Company

January 15, 2014 - 12:00 pm

Another treadle machine followed me home. I couldn’t help it. She’s beautiful, and her cabinet is probably the nicest piece of furniture in the house. Beauty pics later; this is sort of a drive-by post. For now I’ll post the craigslist photos:



I have a lot of work ahead of me to fully restore this machine. She’s in by far the worst shape of the machines I’ve acquired so far, but oh, my. This machine is a whole nuther level of engineering up from the Singers. Wow. 

Everything is lubed up and moving freely now, so I can start evaluating. The only thing stuck is the throat plate screw, which I worked around for lubrication purposes. I doused it liberally with WD-40 and I’m hoping that will remind it what the purpose of a screw is. 

With just a little oil on its ball bearings the treadle spins 50 times from one kick before reversing directions, and then will sit there oscillating indefinitely. 50. My other irons go about 12, and I thought that was nice. I’m used to the momentum of spinning wheels, not these monster iron things. 

Which, by the way, I have the bruise to prove. I was working on the drive band and pinched my thumb in the works. OW.


On the machine side of the engineering, I’m impressed by how finely pitched all the adjustment screws are. No need to turn the knobs 1/10th of a turn on this beauty. A full turn will barely make a perceptible difference in tension settings. The machine will also go a sizable number of stitches with one spin of the hand wheel. I didn’t count, but at least a dozen. Will C. Free appears to have been a big fan of ball bearings. All the major junction points have bearings that let the machine just glide. Quietly. Check out this YouTube video:

It’s even better in person. 

There is a lot of corrosion and some pitting on the formerly shiny parts, and I haven’t gotten all the dead spiders out of the cabinet yet, but not too much rust all things considered. All of the functional parts are brightening up now that they’re moving.

And she makes stitches:


Pretty stitches, once I frobbed the shuttle a bit so the top thread could glide past without catching things got much nicer. Things are a bit lumpy in the background, but that last line of stitching is perfect. Flawless. Just what I would expect from this level of engineering.


I also noticed the stitch quality seemed to improve when I pushed the bobbin winder into play enough to tighten the drive band up, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. And two footed treadling was definitely better; I can’t keep my treading smooth when I one-foot this beast.

I’m naming her Charlotte after my granny, who got me started with textiles. She had me knitting and sewing at 4, though even she couldn’t teach me to crochet. 🙂 Granny always appreciated the finest things in life. She lived modestly, but well. I believe she would have liked this machine.

More Quilting Progress

January 13, 2014 - 2:46 pm

First, the finished ironing board cover photos! I have been quilting all day, so it’s pretty compressed. I’m pleased with how the wool batting rebounds as it dries— those photos were about an hour ago and it’s already mostly recovered— but the light is gone so I can’t get another picture today. Calling it done and moving on!





I completed connecting the blocks for the first quadrant of my new bed quilt last week:


 Today I finished a second quadrant, and sewed them together:


Er, I should say I sewed them together wrong. Twice. There is no photographic evidence of the second mistake. Third time’s a charm:


I was going to work all day on this and try to get the whole thing together, but given the two mistakes I think I’ll leave off for another day.


Over the weekend I picked up another vintage machine: a Singer 15-90. SN# AH 542337, commissioned on April Fools Day, 1948. 

I’ve named her after Marie Tharp, who began work on the project that changed the way we see the world in 1948. She researched and constructed the first map showing the topography of the sea floor as well as the continents, fueling interest in plate tectonics, which had been an extremely controversial theory prior to her work.

First thing I did was strip off the motor, oil her, then put her on the treadle base.


She makes fantastic stitches once I got her tension dialed in. Started from the right and worked towards the left, so you can see how the adjustments progressed:


Look how perfect the last row is:


Free motion quilting with this setup is going to be awesome!


Very happy.


Rocketeer Feed Dog Cover Repair

January 12, 2014 - 4:57 pm


Someone posted to one of my mailing lists that they were having trouble removing their feed dog cover plate because the lever wouldn’t move all the way, and the plate didn’t lift sufficiently to remove the plate. I’m having the same issue with Ada, as well as an intermittent power issue, *and* she needed an oiling, so I decided to give her some love and take some photos of the feed dog issue.

This is the lifter for the feed dog cover on the 500 series. It’s all the way across the body of the machine from the feed dogs:


When you do this: 


It’s supposed to do this: 


The posts that hold the feed dog cover plate are up, and there should be sufficient clearance to remove the plate. There is also a middle position in which the plate is high enough to keep the dogs from engaging with the fabric. In practice I don’t find the middle position functions as designed; Ada doesn’t make stitches when I raise the plate, and this is a common complaint on these machines. Not the problem I want to address today, however.

The issue, which may or may not be apparent, is that the posts don’t lift high enough to allow the plate to be removed. When I switch from the straight stitch plate to the zigzag I have to remove the needle and turn the hand crank to where the feed dogs are at their lowest and then jiggle and wiggle and curse a little to get it out. Annoying. So I’m fixing it.

First, I removed the cover plate and two lower plates for the lever:





There was some lint and no lubrication, but generally things looked fine. I didn’t expect the lever to be the source of the problem since mine would move to all the way to the left, so I flipped the machine up to examine her underbelly. Here is where the lever passes through the case:


There is a looooong bar across the machine to the bottom of the feed dog posts.


Here are some close ups:




They should get elevated by the bar pressing on springs when the lever is moved to the left, but mine were reluctant to budge much.

At this point there are two possibilities that occurred to me. Either it’s a lubrication problem, or the springs are dead. I can’t fix the latter, so I decided to address the former. I set the machine back into the surface of the table, and started lubricating.

First I lubed and reassembled the lever.


BE VERY CAREFUL replacing the screws. The lever makes it challenging to align the screws with the holes without binding the screws, and potentially damaging the threads. I found it was easiest to set the screws if I pulled the lever up and to the left. 

(No shots of the reassembly. I guess I was cursing too much to think about it.)

Next I started lubing the posts.



I added a drip of oil, wiggled the lever a bunch, added more oil, wiggled the lever more, and kept doing that. Eventually yucky brown oil started coming back out of the hole where I was putting clean clear oil. I wiped the icky stuff off and kept applying until the lever moved smoothly and the oil coming back up was clean.

I found it easiest to apply the oil effectively when the posts were raised, not when they were lowered as in the pictures. That way I could get a drip on the back of the post and carry it down into the channel. I didn’t get any good pictures of the ick at its worst, but you can see some on the edges here: 



Once the oil was nice and clear and the posts were moving more freely I replaced the feed dog cover plate, and it slipped into place nicely. I’ll keep after the lubrication for a couple weeks, but I’m hoping that’s all that was wrong.

Ada also appreciated getting lubed, and I’m appreciating the light staying on without having to jiggle the plug. There was a loose connection, but nothing a pair of pliers and a little electric tape couldn’t solve.