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. 🙂


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!




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.


Achievement Unlocked: Free Motion Quilting

January 10, 2014 - 7:55 am

So the ironing board cover is complete (photos before the elastic was inserted): 


Here’s another picture: 


For those who are watching the tiny space I live and work in, that’s the poodle pup’s crate behind the ironing board, with the fleece drying rack on top, and the kitchen counter behind that. My sewing table with the Rocketeer is to the right. I should do a layout diagram; not sure if that would be fun or depressing.

Not sure if I mentioned, but the cover was made from a $.99 flat king sized sheet I bought at Goodwill, and a crib sized wool quilt batt I bought to see how I liked the brand. Jury’s still out on the latter; it compressed a LOT when pressed, and doesn’t seem to be recovering. I wanted to use wool on the board, though, because wool can absorb 30-50% of its weight (depending on breed and processing) without feeling wet. That seems like a good property for an ironing board cover.

I’m also planning on making a laser cut 3mm plywood backing between the cover and the wire mesh surface of the “board” frame. Because I find it inexplicable why anyone would want a vented ironing board. The whole point is to build up steam and heat …. Right?

Anyhoo! Here are some quilt in process pics.

First (after the quilting) I tacked the edges of the top and backing together all the way around. I used a zig-zaggy stitch that goes three stitches left and then three stitches right, which is my favorite edging stitch for stability. I find it holds better than a simple zigzag, and doesn’t pucker the way zig zagged edges do, so it doesn’t cause a lump in the finished product. I went around once in the top side, and then a second time from the bottom, making sure I tacked the edges of both surfaces all the way around. This photo is from the end of the edging stitching, so you can see both passes, and how nice and flat the fabric is:


I got the brilliant idea of using the top edge of the sheet as the elastic channel. The channel is in three pieces, one for each long side and one for the back edge, with openings at the corners. This makes it much easier to thread the elastic.

The top edge wasn’t long enough so I had to try to duplicate it, and I had to open up and re-hem the edges of the tube, and blah blah blah. For the underside of an ironing board cover, which NO ONE will ever see. This probably added two hours to the project time. Would have been better to just cut 8” strips to length, hem the short edges, fold them in half, and been done with it. I got caught up in being clever. If you ever see the board in person please look at the underside and appreciate the pointless waste of time. 🙂

Next I cut the front lip for the cover, which is the only part that isn’t channeled for elastic. This pic shows me laying out the front edge of the cover and tracing on part of the sheet edge, which was not what I actually cut for this piece. I ended up using two thicknesses of sheet with one of the original hemmed edges creating the finish.


Then I tacked the front lip and the channels together, making a generous estimate of the right length for the channel. Too short would have been problematic, but 2” too long just means there was a little pleat at the back end of the board. 

I sewed the curved front lip first using a 1/2” seam allowance, then continued down one side to the corner, tested fit, and sewed from the front edge around the back to meet the first seam, placing the pleat sort of in the middle of the back. Here’s the stitched up backside:


detail pic, with evidence of blood sacrifice made to the project: 


detail pic of the front edge. Doesn’t that channel look FANTASTIC?: 


Another detail pic of the edge, clearly showing the sacrifice as well: 


I washed off the puppy’s muddy footprints, but I’m leaving the blood stain. 🙂

It’s finished and on the board, but still not dawn here yet so I don’t have enough light for a proper photo. Later, I promise.

I’m getting up to get ready for driving my sweetie to work so I can have the car to go visit Richard of TreadleOn. David is bringing up the base from the basement RIGHT NOW. gotta run!

Free Motion Quilting Set Me Free

January 8, 2014 - 8:30 pm

Actually I think it may have been the Daily Pages I’ve been doing since we got back from Texas at the suggestion of Donna Druchunas more than the Free Motion Quilting. But lookkit:


I’m not slavishly following the Artists Way. I may look at the occasional exercise if I get stuck in the future, but mostly I’m just getting back to a basic truth about myself. I’ve known since I was a teen: 15 – 20 minutes of scribbling in the morning pulls the bung from my creative spout.

Less than a week into this— in fact only 4 entries— and I have found a voice for telling a story I’ve wanted to tell for years, started free motion quilting, gotten back to blogging, and started belly dancing again. Oh, and cleaned the house and my desk. This is around caring for a sick dog and recovering the house from holiday and vacation madness. 


I know this about myself. I know I need to write inane drivel every morning. Life is better if I get that stuff out of my head and onto a page or committed to bits, but somehow it gets shunted to the side. Most of this should never be read by anyone but me, and possibly not even by me. It’s write once, read never data. Perhaps in 20 years it will be interesting to look back, but 90% of it is minutia and the rest is crap. 

I think I end up feeling like I should be doing something Productive and shouldn’t waste my time writing stuff that’s not readable or shareable. I call bullshit. I need this more than anything else I do for myself in a day. It’s probably more important to my well being than showering. Though I don’t intend to put that to the test. Ever. I can have both. 

So let me tell you about this here free motion quilting thing.

Firstly, thanks and kudos to Craftsy and Leah Day for a fantastic class. 

I’ve shown pictures of the quilt I’ve been working on with the Rocketeer. The one I drew in 1995, and have been   v e r y   s l o w l y   piecing ever since. The blocks are all pieced now. I completed the layout and I was 1/4 through sewing up the blocks when my iron exploded at the same time my ironing board cover ripped. (I can neither confirm nor deny the allegation that there was a chasing dog and a fleeing cat involved.) Which pretty much put an end to any sewing together of blocks, since I am a crazy believer in pressing. Here’s a crappy cell phone pic of the completed quarter quilt:


And here’s a pic of the layout in progress from a couple weeks ago. Stupidly I forgot to take a picture of the final layout before labeling the blocks:


The piece of paper is the pattern. Here’s more of a closeup:


The version with the pencil on it is the final layout, but the difference from the blue one is small. The Liberty of London Tana Lawn reproduction of the Strawberry Thief by William Morris was the inspiration for the color palette, and is used in a bunch of the blocks. If I could pick a historical figure to spend a year apprenticed to, Mr. Morris would be high on my wish list. But that’s a topic for another day. 

With the quilt top approaching completion and my desire to actually put the damned thing into use I realized I would have to figure out actual well, you know, quilting. Which I have never done on any scale larger than a practice block. The big blue section in the pic are designed for color-on-color highly textured quilting work, so I kind of really need to learn free motion quilting. Therefore the class.

I had plans of using the fabric wall project I have on hold as the quilting test project. I wanted practice managing a large piece and I don’t really care how that comes out looking so long as it’s together for March 22nd and the Seattle Mini-Maker Faire.

The ironing board disaster gave me another option for beginning to learn this stuff, since I need to make a new cover. I figured at worst case it could be a seekrit layer under a dressy cover, and at best it would be AWESOME. I think it’s leaning towards AWESOME, assuming the Isacord thread I am using can handle the heat of the pressing.

I was going to use cotton thread but, well, Ada the Rocketeer is not fond of free motion quilting and flatly refused to work with cotton thread. She snaps the Isacord if I try to “travel stitch” immediately on top of an existing line of stitching, which has caused me to embrace the idea of thread build-up and travel adjacent to stitching lines rather than on top. But I get ahead of myself.

Last night I cut two pieces of fabric and a piece of wool batting for the cover. The fabric is 1.5” larger around than the surface of the board. For reasons that defy my understanding at the moment I chose to make the batting the exact size of the table. I’m sure I’ll make it work somehow. Here’s a pic of me stretching out the backing and laying in the batting:


The white zigzag scrap thing? sacrificial bit of fabric from cutting waste knotted up to make a dog pull toy. The ziploc full of colorful things? That’s my answer to Leah Day’s PinMoor system. I am certain they are a wonderful tool, but they’re WAY too spend for someone who has never quilted. I read of a number of substitutes, but they all took work to make from various sorts of foam. Instead I’m using animal face foam craft beads from Amazon:


$8.95 vs $150. The beads are kind of gumming up the pins, probably because of the glue between the layers of foam. So this may be a sacrificial set of pins, and there may be a tiny bit of residue on the quilt, but I can live with that trade-off. Especially because of the monkeys smiling at me.


They are friends with Rafiki, who I’ve put to use helping me get thread from the Isacord cone to the machine:


The thread stand is a serious McGyver. There’s a boring metal one on the way from Amazon, but I wanted one NAO. So I put this together:


The colorful widget is a glass candleholder that has Sculpy surfaces on it. I’ve had it since my Santa Cruz hippie girl daze, and I adore it. It has a spool pin pulled from the Viking Designer I’s thread holder, shoved all the way through a spool cap which is under the cone, and smashed into a gob of that tacky putty for putting up posters that keeps it steady in the candle holder. The arm for the thread guide is a large knitting needle shoved through the base for my yarn swift with a binder clip on the top.

Please laugh. I am. 🙂 It was the best I could come up with this morning at 7am. And it’s working well enough!

I started working through the class last night, starting with “U” shapes and working towards stippling. That’s the bottom left corner in this picture:


What, doesn’t everyone have a poodle puppy helping them with every task?

It’s not apparent from the pictures, but there were dozens of thread breaks and bobbin snarls in that tiny area while I sorted out the machine. Ada the Rocketeer wants:

  • Straight stitch throat plate
  • Straight stitch foot (I’m using a modern clear 1/4” quilting one)
  • Stitch length lever in the middle of the “fine” area on the lever
  • Thread tension up a whole step from where I was getting good tension with seaming
  • Presser foot tension dialed down to zero
  • Darning plate in normal position, leaving the thread dogs engaged
  • 100/16 (“Jeans” or denim) needle

Oh, and NOT cotton thread, at least not the Mettler thread I had on hand. I may try Aurafil at some point, but I generally prefer poly anyway.

I tried three free motion feet before trying the metal straight foot that came with the machine, by the way. I am not thrilled with the poor visibility, but it’s working.

It’s still twitchy and I have to be in tune with the machine to catch bobbin thread snarls and snapping top thread plies if I go too fast, too slow, or run over existing stitches. I can’t find the teflon sheets I’d bought for approximating the Supreme Slider Leah Day uses, so I’m working without. I know from past experience I loathe wearing gloves to sew.

I have hopes that some more equipment tuning will make this even more delightful, but that’s hard to imagine. I am thrilled. I started out dutifully following the exercises, but at some point I cut free and just started playing. 




I started with the exercise shape, repeated it a couple times, and then riffed off it with my own take. Feathers should look like feathers. Preferably Ostrich. The paisley snake things needed curly flames sewn around them, I mean, duh. Can’t you tell?

I didn’t want to stop, but my hands were getting tired, and my patience was getting as frayed as the top thread. It was time to put it down for the night. 

I should be able to finish up the cover in the morning. My new Rowenta was delivered. I’ve used binder clips to attach the torn cover to the table well enough to press the seams for the new one. I am still hoping to get the rest of the top together this week. 

Wow, this free motion stuff is fun. I’m looking at the quilt top with glee. Can’t wait to start on it. 🙂