Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Where being a procrastinator has led to my inability to sew knickers at a whim.

My trusty Janome 6260 is wounded...perhaps seriously.  I have known this from the time that I first heard the ominous rasping sound coming from her bobbin-y bits and noted that she failed to make a stitch, but I thought perhaps it was something that could be remedied by a good clean, an afternoon's googling and a bit of a fiddle.  At any rate, I was in a hurry to complete a project to a deadline so I resumed sewing on the Singer and set aside the repair for when I had more time up my sleeve.  Surely it couldn't be that serious?

Sadly I was wrong.  Whatever is the matter is definitely beyond my pathetic abilities to repair and so I must spend some money, cross my fingers and hope that whatever I have done to her isn't mortal.  As the damage was done a good month ago now, you'd think that I would have sorted it out straight away so that I could have the machine back in working order as soon as possible, but no, that's not how I roll.  Instead I shoved the machine into the dark recesses of my sewing room and hoped that perhaps it would spontaneously remedy itself or maybe be not quite as bad as I had feared.

I have loads of projects I could be working on that only require straight stitch, but I have gotten it into my head that I must make knickers.  I must make them now.  Trouble is, without the modern convenience of zig zag, it ain't going to happen.  Obviously, I need to have a back up machine, you know, like an emergency sewing machine.  A nice vintage zig-zagger perhaps?  Oh yeah, I have one of those - the machine I got secondhand for my 16th Birthday.  I'd dig it out and all would be sweet only something horrible happened to the bobbin and I shoved it into the depths of my sewing room to be fixed "one day".  Obviously, it's still broken.

It serves me right!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

On Painting a House...

I can remember my father painting the house when I was a little girl.  Back then, it was considered pretty normal to take care of that kind of maintenance yourself if you had an able bodied guy about the house.  It would never have entered either of my parents minds that my mother would also be out there paint brush in hand - the painting of the house was serious men's business.   I remember climbing fearlessly up the trestles to bring him drinks and sitting up there dangling my legs over the edge keeping him company sometimes, but mostly I remember Dad being irritated about the drudgery and scale of the task and grumbling about the heat as he plodded outside every day...and now many many years later as we paint our own house I can completely understand how he felt.

We have been working on it for 4 months now.  When we started, it was the beginning of an unseasonably wet winter which resulted in wasted equipment hire and precious days of leave lost.  Now it is the middle of a record breaking hot Spring, we don't have the luxury of trestles or cool weather and we are far from finished.  When we began we were flush with misguided enthusiasm.  We actually believed that we would have it done in a month or two.  Oh how I laugh to read that now!  We still have so much more to do and it's the really time consuming fiddly stuff complete with lots of irritating but necessary little repairs.  When we first began we would give ourselves goals - "We'll have this wall done by this afternoon" and "By Monday this will be ready for painting".  Now, we just wearily try to get as much done as we can, when we can - in between running our daughter around to extra curricular activities, social commitments and bad weather.  We have learned that an unexpected repair, a change in the weather, the heat or just being too sore to continue can put paid to any goal that we might come up with.

Progress the last month or so has been especially slow and it is somewhat disheartening at the end of a weekend painting session to realise that all you have managed to achieve is paint a small section of guttering!  Also throwing a spanner in the works is the fact that everything we touch seems to need to be repaired in someway first, and we have had spectacularly bad luck in terms of availability of replacement materials.  Our home is not all that old, but it would seem that it was made of an assortment of oddly sized timbers that simply are not available any more.  If something is needs replacing (and lots of things seem to), we can't just nip out to Bunnings and pick up a replacement board/post/slat.  This makes for lots of swearing at timber yards and difficult and costly decisions that I'd rather we didn't have to make.

People look at us like we are crazy when we tell them how we spent our weekend (usually up a ladder, covered in paint) and I can understand their reasoning.  It is a VERY big job and more labour intensive than I had ever imagined, but at the same time everyone but the very wealthy or the infirm used to do this themselves once.  Perhaps we have become a bit lazy in recent years and so used to outsourcing every unpleasant task that it's unthinkable to do otherwise.

To be perfectly truthful, our reasoning behind tackling this ourselves is not through choice, but  financial necessity.  Our house is not large by modern standards but it is very high.  We would need to pay for scaffolding to have it painted by someone else.  Also it has a lot of fiddly bits - verandahs, gables, finials and battens that take a surprisingly amount of time to paint.  It would cost an absolute bomb to pay a professional to paint it.  The money we save will go a long way towards updating other parts of the house that need some TLC.

All the same though, I cannot wait until this task is done!  It feels as though we have been painting the house forever.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Sewing Pattern Review - New Look 6048

Look what I made!  If it wasn't just slightly too big at the top I would be thrilled with it!

Here's the pattern...

And here's mine. 

Let me start by saying that I have not made a garment from a pattern without having to change something drastic about it for a really long time, so it was really nice to be able to follow the instructions without having to think too hard about the next step.  This is a really simple dress to make and quite fast as well.  I made this one over a few days, sewing for 2 or 3 hours at a time but I was really taking my time with it as I had some issues with fit.  It's the first wearable item I have made on the Singer 201k and I am quite pleased with it.

Miss B chose the pattern and fabric herself and I made this cotton version up as a wearable muslin.  She wants to use this pattern for her graduation dress (made up in fancier fabric obviously).  While I like the dress very much, there are a few things that I'd like to change for the "proper" I guess there shall be no more mindless instruction following for me!  The next version will have a straight neckline and a fuller skirt, maybe with just gathers rather than the pleats.

I did have a bit of bother with the zip on this for some reason but the fault was all mine.  The stitches underneath were not right and after I had unpicked it twice and figured out the issue (the thread wasn't running through the tension disks properly) I really didn't want to have to unpick it yet again so I did a hand picked zip - my first one - with the help of this excellent tutorial here.

I had always thought that they were super fancy, but really they are very easy.  Much easier than trying to insert the zip with a machine.  I was worried that it wouldn't be strong enough, but it seems to be just fine.  It was relaxing to do, no unpicking, looks lovely and gave more control in terms of matching waist seams and the top of the dress.  I think I may do them all that way now so I can say that I give my garments a couture finish, Daahling.  If you haven't ever done one and enjoy a bit of leisurely hand stitching I really recommend trying a hand picked zipper on your next skirt or dress.  I was in the mood for hand sewing so the hem is all done by hand too.  Fancy!

Now onto the pattern review.

New Look 6048

It does look quite like the packet finished, although I thought the skirt would be a little fuller.  It's not a swishy kind of skirt but the pattern uses only a little over 2 yards of fabric, so I guess sacrifices had to be made.  I made it up in a medium weight cotton with some left over homespun as the contrast band at the top.  The method that you use to attach the contrast band to the bodice is different to how I thought it would be but quite clever.  I did think that it should probably have a lining in the bodice and I will probably do one on the next version.  I was really pleased to see that this dress has pockets - that's almost unheard of in a chain store dress and my daughter really likes them.

The only thing I struggled with was the sizing - which is a pretty big issue in my opinion.  According to the pattern envelope my tall skinny 12 year old daughter was a ladies size 14.  Wah?!  I dutifully made up the bodice in that size, fully expecting that it would be too big and it was.  Waaaaay to big - like 5 inches too big at the waist.  So I made it up in a size 8 and let the waist out a little.  The top part of the dress is still too big - I think she might be a 6 up top and a 10 in the waist.  I was a bit disappointed as it is so nice to make something up and just have it fit, but I think that the issue is that these patterns were designed for women, not tweens and because the bodice is quite fitted it isn't very forgiving if you make it up a little larger.  I think that for an adult you would be well advised to make a muslin in your off the rack size and adjust from there.

At any rate, she loves the dress, I enjoyed making it and I will definitely use this pattern again, with a few tweaks.  And here is another photo of her enjoying her dress, but not enjoying being made to pose for photos.  Just because I can :)

She has her "so over this" face on.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Choosing a Vintage Sewing Machine - To Actually Sew With

I am now officially a woman obsessed.  Obsessed by obsolete crusty old sewing machines.

I think it could possibly also be a sign of getting old.  As a Young interested in sewing it was always the Old Girls who exclaimed over the wonders of their Singer Featherweights and the zen properties of treadle sewing machines.  I always thought they were crazy.  Who but a hoarder could possibly want a collection of  decrepit old sewing machines incapable of an automatic buttonhole....that needed oil for christ-sake?!

Yet here I am...stalking ebay and scouring the internet for information on old old machines that have faded from memory.  What's worse is that I already have a working vintage machine.  I have no need for another....but I want one!

It seems that I am not alone in my obsession because the blogosphere is suddenly filled with crafters discovering these cool old machines and giving them new life.  If you think you might be falling victim to this madness yourself, here's a few things you might want to consider before you hit buy or drag that dusty old Rocketeer home from the thrift store.

Antique/Old fashioned Type?  

The really old machines are generally the really old fashioned looking black ones with the gold decals.  Usually they are Singers or Singer clones.  They are old, but they made them to last!

The good:

They are everywhere, and there's lots of information on the internet on how to do them up and identify them.
Easy to come buy parts and accessories.
Lots of cool accessories (rug makers, embroidery hoops, sock darners and fancy button holers just to name a few) and feet often come with the machine.
Sews through heavy fabrics like butter.
Easy to find manuals online.
Easy to use.
Beautiful stitches.
Some machines have a lot more room in the harp - great for quilters.
Easy to repair and maintain yourself.
Really, really well made.  Which they should have been, since they were hellishly expensive back in the day.

The bad:

Not terribly portable...with the exception of the Featherweight, they weigh a tonne and are pretty big.
Ancient wiring can be dangerously deteriorated.  It will almost always need replacing.
Sellers tend not to know anything about them at all so you will need to identify the model yourself.
Usually does only one stitch - straight stitch.
Some models can't even reverse.
Strange presser feet or knee bar controls to get used to.
The really old ones can take bobbins or needles that are really hard to come by. have to be prepared to oil it pretty much every time you use it.  It's not that big a deal, but it's something to keep in mind.
Some sellers think that just because it's old, it's valuable.  Machines can be grossly overpriced, even if they are a rusted pile of junk that doesn't even work and were produced in the thousands.
While the mechanical parts might be almost indestructible, the pretty finish can be delicate.  Don't even think about cleaning the grime of ages off it before you have researched.  Even water can silver the decals.

Zig Zagger?

The more modern looking machines are known as Zig Zaggers...because they are capable of doing a zig zag stitch.

The good:

Zig zag!
Retro good looks and a variety of fun colours (important!).
Some machines have cams that allow them to do more decorative stitches...and monograms!
More lightweight than their antique counterparts.
Foot control is more in keeping with modern machines.
Usually in better condition...but not always.
Often come with the manual.
More likely to be able to pick one up cheaply as they are perceived as an obsolete item, rather than a valuable antique.
You don't have to worry so much about accidentally damaging the finish while cleaning.

The bad:

A bit more complicated to repair and maintain yourself.
Wiring could still be dodgy.
More to go wrong, harder to adjust.
Can be harder to find missing parts/feet accessories.
Cams for decorative stitches might be missing/hard to find.
Some more obscure brands have no information on them online so you might be on your own if you have a problem....or even can't figure out how to thread it correctly.
A little more complicated to use and thread.
More dodgy models/lemons.  Some of them were really bad!

Regardless of you decide to purchase, you should always research first to see if the particular model you are considering was a good one or a dud reknowned for some particular issue or quirk.

And last of all, make sure you check:

What needle does it take?  Are they still being made?
What bobbin does it take?  Can you easily find replacements/extras?
Where does the bobbin go? Some of them are right under the machine so you have to flip it up to replace the bobbin - annoying!
Can you drop the feed dogs?
How do you drop the feed dogs?

I hope you found this helpful and that perhaps by reading this you have saved yourself from being lumped with a paperweight or collectors item rather than a usable sewing machine.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Craft and Quilt Fair 2013

Had a great but busy weekend, which ended with a wander around the Craft & Quilt Fair - blissfully child free for the first time in a few years.  I love doing the mother/daughter thing, but Miss B gets bored so quickly and I feel like I can never have a good wander around the quilts.  Also, it was rather nice not to be asked to buy her things endlessly too! I got away with it lightly this year and just bought her a little pattern for a sock monkey bunny.  She seemed impressed, but I suspect this will join her collection of other patterns and kits that languish in the sewing room.

This quilt won best in show.

One of my guilty pleasures about attending quilt shows is eavesdropping on other people as they comment on the quilts.  The people who go to craft shows are a mix of novices and experts so it's always interesting to lurk about and hear what people of all quilting abilities think of the exhibits.  I overheard a few women exclaiming that they simply would never have the time or patience to make a quilt, others who were in awe of the workmanship and some who were completely daunted by how perfect the work on display was and that they would never be able to do that.  I always have to resist the urge to walk up to those women and tell them that anyone can make a quilt - it's just sewing pieces of fabric together in interesting ways but I never do. 

This year I noticed that there were very few hand quilted or domestic machine quilted quilts on display and I think that seeing nothing but professionally long-armed quilts sends a message to the general public that quilting is too hard for the average person, or that in order to be considered well quilted a quilt has to be professionally finished.  Not to offend the long-arm people, but I find it kind of boring to be honest, and somehow the quilts seem less handmade and lacking in diversity because of it.  People viewing them seemed to have less of a sense of wonder in the way appreciating the quilts as a piece of art and saw them more in terms of a thing to put on the bed/home decoration, which is the one place that ironically most of them won't be! 

The quilts that really spoke to me this year tended to be bright and leaning towards modern in style.

I really loved this one - it was the only quilt that I noticed that had been quilted on a domestic sewing machine.  'm surprised that I was so drawn to this as the bright colours and solid fabrics are very different to anything that I have ever made.  I think I like it so much because it's so simple, but such a great use of colour and the quilting pattern that the artist chose really suited it - it was an organic kind of brick pattern done freehand.  I really like freehand machine quilting and finish most of my own quilts like that so I guess it struck a chord with me.

Obviously the people who set up the display did not share my love for it though.  Look what was in front of it!

Surely they could have found a better spot for it.  It was annoying to have to squeeze behind that to get a good look at it and frankly, I found it disrespectful to the artist.  I would have been very upset had that been my quilt.

The colours in this are amazing!  I think I have the pattern for this somewhere, but have never got around to making it.  There's so much work in this, just in the piecing.  Realistically I would never have the patience but I can always admire the hard work and tenacity of others :)

This is really simple, but so striking.  I believe this is one of the quilts they are using to drum up members for their Modern Quilt Guild.  I'd like to join, but I am scared of the "quilt police"!

My photos are a bit blurry and for that I apologise.  I always feel so naughty taking photos at quilt shows because sometimes they don't like you to, but they don't always have a sign up that lets you know!  Lots of other people were snapping away so I was in good company and I couldn't see anything asking me not to but I guess I must have been a bit rushed because almost every shot I took was out of focus!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

My Vintage Sewing Machine - A Singer 201K-3

When I was in the throes of quilting my very large Swoon quilt and researching quilting designs, I happened upon this post by fellow Aussie Swooner Melanie Ham that would change the way I felt about sewing machines forever.

She had struggled to quilt her Swoon on her domestic machine and had come up with the idea of using a vintage machine to make the job a little easier.  On her blog was a picture showing the difference in harp sizes between her modern machine and her vintage Singer 201.  The actual difference is a mere 1 3/4 inches, but when you are trying to shove a king sized quilt under there, that difference is huge. The Singer has a lot more room between the harp and the bed of the machine as well.  I was sold and within a day or two I was obsessed with finding a shiny black 201k of my own and stalking ebay like a crazy woman. 

I missed out on a few as I was afraid to invest too much money in a machine that might not even work and was outbid, but eventually I snagged one that looked to be in good condition (and fully working) for $90.  My heart sank when I went to collect it though - the woman I bought it from greeted me at the door and told me that she'd just set it up to show me and discovered that it had a serious electrical fault and understood if I no longer wanted it.  The machine ran all by itself as soon as it was switched on - spooky, and probably dangerous.  I was so disappointed as the machine was in even better condition than I had hoped, all shiny and black and the decals were just like new.  Her husband told me gloomily that it was unfixable.  I had a feeling that I'd be able to get it running though, even if I had to spend a bit to have it serviced.  She offered it to me for a mere $30 and I accepted.  They were moving and just wanted to get rid of it she said.  She was the second owner and had bought it from the lady who originally purchased it when she moved into a nursing home.  It had been sitting in her sewing room unused for over 10 years.

I took it home and looked up the serial number - my machine was one of a batch of 4000 made on September 10, 1952 in faraway Clydebank, Scotland.  I love that you can find that information so easily!

A lot of research, a lot of cleaning, oiling, tinkering and some new cords and my machine was up and running.  My Janome has since broken down, and I have just been using the Singer. It runs much quieter than the Janome, sews through thick fabric and multiple layers like butter and has a far superior stitch.  It really is a joy to use - and so pretty!

My machine is currently out of her wooden case in preparation for being put into a sewing table so that the bed is at the same level as my worktop.  Please excuse her naked legs :)

 For anyone on the fence about buying an older machine, I say go for it.  They are easy to find, and you can pick them up for a bargain.  Even if you have to take it in to get looked over/serviced before you can use it the machine is far better than anything you could hope to buy for under $500 - and as I mentioned, I feel it is superior to my $800 machine and better still, it is possible to repair mechanical issues yourself.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Budget Halloween Invitations

As I mentioned last post, we are having a little Halloween do here and as Halloween is fast approaching, I thought it was time to get those invites out.  I found the perfect ones as a printable pdf...but the Mr objected to the price tag, given that it would probably cost us an additional $20 in printer ink to produce them.  I read somewhere that printer ink is more expensive than Chanel No. 5 and I am sure that is probably true!

Anyway, necessity is the mother of creativity so Miss B and I set to work creating our own budget, printer ink friendly invites and we were both really pleased at how they came out.

Our house is currently being painted and the front of it is half sanded and looking distinctly Miss Haversham-esque so inspired by that and some some very creepy portraits I bought to use as decorations, I decided to go for a haunted/tattered/Victorian kind of vibe.

My favorite part is the blood spattered envelopes!

Spooky Halloween Invites - a quick how-to

1.  Find yourself a creepy font reminiscent of old fashioned handwriting.   I used Jane Austen from available here.

2.  Decide how you would like to word your invite.  I decided upon a formal tone to make it sound more old fashioned - here's my wording if you would like to use it:

Dear "name",

You are cordially invited to attend a Halloween celebration on "date" at my haunted house at "address".  Please come dressed to scare.  The party shall begin at nightfall ("time") and will conclude at "time".  Refreshments will be provided.

Please RSVP by "date" to "name" ("contact number").

I look forward to seeing you, 


2.  Print out your invites.  Believe it or not, cheap copy paper actually works better for this because of the next step....

3.  To age the paper...  Make up a small amount of strong instant coffee.  I used 2 teaspoons in half a cup of warm water.  It doesn't need to be hot, you just want to disolve the granules.  Scrunch up your invite into a ball and smooth it out.  Then use a large paintbrush or a sponge to gently apply coffee all over your invite.  Be careful not to rub or you may smudge the ink.  As I said, cheap copy paper seemed to absorb more of the coffee than the premium kind.  Hang them up to dry so that they don't touch each other and stick together.

4.   Singe the edges.  You could probably just tear the edges before the aging step if you wanted, but Miss B was keen on burning them.  Run a lighter around one edge at a time and blow out the flame if it catches rather than just chars.  You have to be vigilent or you will end up with too much burned away....ask me how I know this.  Older kids might be able to do this themselves with supervision.

Ta Da!  You now have some spooky invites for the cost of a few sheets of paper and a little coffee!

To make the envelopes

Find yourself a suitable envelope.  I like plainface C6 ones with the triangle flap - much more old fashionedy!

I had to write my names by hand because my printer stubbornly refuses to print envelopes.  I don't know why.  If it was more cooperative I would have simply printed them using the same font but since that was not an option I used this tutorial for fake calligraphy from after drawing some guidelines on the envlopes in very light pencil.  It is very easy, even for those with horrid handwriting like myself.  I did not use her lovely lettering style because writing is so bad I couldn't emulate her but even with my childlike penmanship it looks OK.

All that's left to do is erase your pencil lines and then it is on to the fun bit - creating the blood spatter!

I experimented with using paint, but the most realistic 'blood" was actually Pillar Box Red food colouring purchased from Woolworths, used undiluted.  I think it is the perfect bloody red. 

The Mr tells me that the best way to get a good spatter effect is to use a knitting needle dipped into a long thin vessel filled with your faux blood (I have no idea how he came to know this!), but having neither a suitable vessel or a sacrificial knitting needle I opted to use what I had on hand - a cake pop stick.  You could use a skewer and get the same effect.   Just dip it into the bottle all the way to the bottom and a little flick and voila - gory blood spatters!

It goes without saying that this bit is messy and could potentially stain just about anything and everything.  Cover your work surfaces and preferably do this outside in an area where a few stray bits of red food colouring won't matter.  I did this myself to minimise the mess and still managed to get a few drops of colouring here and there.