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.


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.

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. 🙂

To the Moon!!!

January 7, 2014 - 9:02 am

On a lark, I got a vintage sewing machine. I showed her picture to David, and he decided we needed to have her. I drove down to Tacoma and picked her up from a lovely woman whose hobby is restoring vintage machines. She fixes them up and then is done with them, so she sells them to have $$ and space to buy the next one. I got a perfectly cleaned and tuned machine for a song. Machine, table, and stool were $100. There were also a bunch of attachments that came with, and I’ve only explored a few of those. 


She’s a Singer 500, manufactured in 1961. Her name is Ada, after Ada Lovelace.

And now she has friends. I need to give them their own photo shoots, but they are not yet so beautiful. Or, rather, you have to look beneath the grime to see their beauty, so they will have “before” and “after” shots. They are a 1909 Singer 66 Lotus (web pic from Frugal Stitches):

Lotus 1908 

 And a Singer 503A, little sister of the 500 (web pic from linked site):

S503 3

The Lotus is named “Rita” after Rita_Levi-Montalcini. The 503A will have a name starting with “B” of a female scientist, tbd.

One of the things that’s been holding the “Hack Your Clothes” project back is the lack of tools and space for teaching sewing classes. I am going to fix that. I don’t know where the space will be; perhaps in the new house we are hoping to buy soon, or perhaps in a maker space or community center, or who knows? I may pursue a grant to set one up.

To that end I have decided to acquire a “flock” of vintage singers that can share parts and attachments with the 500, so I have student machines. I’ve given myself a budget of $50 for a working machine and “less” for a non-functional one. I hope to have 8-10 machines in the next couple months.

I couldn’t bring myself to spend the money on cheap plastic student machines; they start in the $200 range and they are cantankerous and prone to breaking. These vintage machines are from the height of Singer’s quality curve. They benefit from 100 years of progressive improvements, and are the last generation before the decline into planned obsolescence began. They are inexpensive and plentiful, easy to service with great documentation, and there’s a huge community of enthusiasts to support me as I learn to maintain them. 

I welcome any input and support on how or where to set-up a textile lab for Hack Your Clothes. I will put the majority of my fiber tools there, and have it available for community use as many hours as I can arrange to have at least one responsible person available to support users. I want to provide the space for other fiber artists who would like to teach classes, and for community members working on projects. It should be well lighted, convenient to transit, and convenient for *me*. I currently live in West Seattle, and will be staying in the Seattle city limits, most likely south of the city center.

I love the Metrix model of an open space with knowledgeable staff and quality tools available to anyone for a modest hourly fee or a comfortable monthly membership. I also know I’m not inclined to manage the business side of such a space, so I will need to partner with an existing organization or some other folks to make this happen.

Putting it out there. Let me know if you have ideas and resources that would align with my vision. I have to think this is possible in Seattle.