Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Year It Was Made


It is hard to imagine the age of some sewing machines and the clothing styles they made when new.  This is especially true of the very old ones.  Now they are still commonly found.  Seen in thrift shops and antique stores.  They inhabit hallways, garages and spare bedrooms.  They had their days of glory, their time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Singer Gauge Presser Foot

Gauge Presser Foot making a felled seam.
For those who like to make things, whatever it is, there is a good feeling that comes from finding and using a new tool.  For those that make things like clothing, the possibilities are near endless for tools to improve the process.  Here is a good one.  The Singer Gauge Presser Foot.  I got one for myself as a business need mainly but it has turned out to be generally helpful too.  They are not common or cheap, but in my opinion, they are very useful for low shank strait stitch machines.
Gauge presser foot, unlocked.
The gauge foot comes with metal measures.  I have three parts but this is an incomplete set.  What does it do?  It does several things but one thing really well.  It can make a perfect channeled seam and edge stitch.  When using a zig zag machine that has a movable needle position, a normal edge stitching foot can work.  For edges, a edge stitch guide can work.  When edge stitching on the top of a garment, it gets tricky.  I do this a lot when making corsets as the has to be a channeled seam for the boning to fit inside.  Here is an example of how a seam for a corset looks when made without a  gauge.
Free hand top stitched seam
Here is a seam made with a presser foot gauge:
Top stitched with gauge presser foot
It is much more strait and so looks much better and will wear evenly with time. 
The measures can be used for left or right, another handy feature.  Measuring a seam from the bed is easy with tape or seam guide but not so for the other side.  Here is a photo of it in use:
Left measurement alignment

The lack of adjustable needle position was one thing that kept me from using the old Singer 201 and Pfaff 131 for this type of project.  Despite this one thing, the machines are better as they can handle the heavy fabrics with ease.  Now I can have the best of both worlds.  Yeah!

Quiltmaking by an Ignorant Quilter

I just had to have this fabric.  There are a few babies soon to be entering the family circle so I actually have a reason, unlike the usual scenario for impulse fabric buying.  The problem is I am not a great quilter.  I have made a couple of projects but they involve squares only.  Big ones and little ones.  The problem now is I have the fabric but not pattern or directions telling me what to do.  Fun fabric, an idea and penciled equations are all that's needed right?  Here is my story.

OK, cutest fabric set ever.  Pokey Little Puppy fabric sold in panels, just like the book from way back when.  It can be made into a soft book (but with no words) or it be used as I did, in a quilt.  I cut out the "pages"  and thought it would work as an Irish Chain style, as that pattern requires a big square in the center.  Good so far, then it became obvious that this square was not an easy 8 or 6 inch, it was 7.5.  Math!  When making up the squares problem two came up, the puppy squares were not square - but more off grain.  Some trimming  was in order but it was minimal.   From there things progressed with the usual goofy mistakes.  Has anyone done this before?

The border and back went together as planned, amazingly.  The machines worked well and were great to use.  The one I used for piecing was a Necchi Mira.  The quilting was done with a Pfaff 131, with the exception of the little bit of free motion work on the borders done with my Bernina 730.   It seems each machine has something it does better than the rest.

The backing was off and did not fit perfect, I poked myself with a needle when hand sewing the binding and ran out of thread while quilting the borders.  Then........
It came out just fine.

I can't wait to make another one!  The directions need some serious revamping, and so they can not be posted for your own protection and sanity.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Using A Handcrank Sewing Machine

Singer 66 Handcrank

One of my favorite sewing machines is also an unusual one.  It is operated by turning a handle.  They were many made by manufacturers in many countries with a lot of variety.  The hand crank sewing machine was more popular in Europe but there were many in North America and the world as well.  Many can still be found today.  My particular model is a Singer 66 from 1909 and decorated with a lotus floral pattern, part of a very popular Egyptian art style of that time.  I take this one out from time to time to use and to demonstrate how sewing machines work in slow motion.  It is not just show, however, and I'd like to point out that this type of machine can do more.

I feel that hand crank sewing machines do two things exceptionally well: Purse making and doll clothes making.  It's all about control.  The handcrank sewing machine is best when you need close control of stitching for best results.  This is handy when closing the edges of purses around handles.  The large harp area of the Singer 66 also helps.  The photo above shows rick rack that was inserted quite easily.

Projects that require precision, such as doll clothes shown here, are perfect for the handcrank sewing machine.  The small size of doll clothes make them a bit finicky but a great way to learn to sew.  This is especially true when combined with the slow speed of this machine.   So many great seamstresses started this way, as the clothes are made much like the real thing.  You can see that here, with the bodice of a Barbie dress. 
Barbie dress bodice with turn under facings and darts.

Beginning a seam
What's Different?
 There are some things about using a hancrank that take some getting used to.  One of those things is that the beginning a seam, for me, is handled differently.  Because you have one hand to control fabric and there is no reverse motion your normal routine will change slightly with a handcrank.  Keeping the thread from tangling at the beginning is one problem.  I prevent this by holding the thread with my index finger,  I also pin up close at first then remove it after a few stitches.  To keep the first stitches from unraveling, lock the stitch it is done by re-stitching the first two stitches  This is just what is done with treadle machines or those with no reverse.  To re-stitch, I simply give the fabric a slight tug while beginning the seam so the first stitches get stitched over. 

As an aside, I use this little tool a lot: the Clover Mini iron.  It can be used right next to the machine.
Connecting the bodice to skirt.  Just like a real dress.

All done!

How does it work?
One question I hear often is how can I turn the handle and sew at the same time?  It does take some practice but can be done with great success.  Turn the handle but don't look at it.  Keep your eye on the presser foot.    Keep your other hand on the fabric.  An advantage to this process is you can really look at what you are doing and slow or pick up speed accordingly automatically.  That is not as easy with electrics or treadles.

Feeding fabric through strait is the goal.  The machine should pull it fairly evenly.  If does not, the main issue is usually the tension with mine.  If your machine thread tension too tight, it will want to distort and pull the fabric off center.  With correct tension, proper needle, and slow speed you can lightly guide fabric right on through.   Presser foot pressure is also sometimes a problem.  Check to make sure you do not have it too tight.  This is adjusted by a top screw above the faceplate.  If you are not sure about this subject, check your manual.  It's good to know how it all works. 

If you have not seen a handcrank sewing machine in action, here's a quick view.

Can I Make My Own Handcrank?
Sometimes older machines are converted to hand crank.  There are inexpensive  modern kits to do this.  The machine needs to have a place to mount the handle.  Good candidates are the Singer 27, 28, 127, 128, 66,  99 and the Singer Spartan.   I have heard good things about the Necchi BU machines as well.  There are many reasons for wanting to convert.  I have done it for a Singer 128 that was in a broken treadle cabinet.  Finding another 3/4 sized cabinet for that model would have been tough due to rarity.  Not all machines can be changed but some can.

All in all, these are a great addition to anyone's home.  They are portable, beautiful, can be used by children and most important...they take up little space!