Monday, December 31, 2012

My Goth Chic Sewing Palace Chandelier!

Partially Transformed Currey & Co. Chandelier
Original "Largo" Chandelier
The sewing room transformation has begun!  That hideous ceiling fan is gone, replaced by a very Goth-looking incarnation of a Currey & Co. "Largo" chandelier that has been languishing in my garage for over a year.  Originally this fixture had three different painted finishes: rusty brown, verdigris, and gilt gold, along with silver leafed amber chandelier crystals.  There was a lot going on, and although the dimensions of the fixture were perfect for my space, I wanted to get rid of the gypsy circus riot of colors and make it more neutral. 

I briefly considered repainting it white or ivory so it would disappear into the walls more, but I didn't want the headache of primers, multiple coats, and incomplete coverage, so I went with a satin oil rubbed bronze and just sprayed the whole thing.  Or should I say, Bernie sprayed the whole thing, because apparently I am not to be trusted with spray paint in his garage. 
Bernie as Decorative Painter!
New Candle Sleeves on Order
I ditched the amber faceted crystal pendants, and replaced them with the smooth chandelier pendants that I took off my master bathroom fixtures.  I hated them for the bathroom, but I love them with the "new" look of this fixture.  I had been using these pendants as Christmas ornaments, so they were easy to locate at this time of year.  I had eight of them and they were exactly the same size as the amber pendants I was replacing, so I only had to order four more as replacement parts from Minka Lavery.  The candle sticks have to go, too -- they were too orange and one of them was damaged -- so we left them on during painting rather than removing them first and taping the electrical components.  I've ordered two different styles of ivory/white candleabra candle sleeves from, as well as six clear rosettes in approximately the same diameter as the octagonal amber crystals that were originally wired in place at the base of the leaves. 

Crystal Rosettes on Order
Right now I have six 40-watt "Reveal" candleabra bulbs in this fixture, which is hanging 7' off the ground, and already it's a big improvement over the amount of light I was getting from the wretched ceiling fan.  However, this room is going to need a lot more ambient lighting from cans or track lights in order to light the space evenly, without shadows, as well as beefed-up task light, especially at the cutting table.  So that's next on my husband's agenda, and while he's figuring that out, I'll be going through the mounds and mounds of accumulated "stuff" and hopefully filling some trash and/or donation bags. 

Here's one last view of my room as it looks today:

Chandelier Sans Candle Sleeves, Missing 4 Crystal Pendants
I'm really digging the look of my creepy chandelier!  I love my red painted sewing cabinet, so I'll stay with that, and I'm planning to paint the rest of the shelving and cabinetry red or deep black/brown as well.  Mismatched finishes really contribute to that feeling of overwhelming clutter.  The walls will be a very pale ivory, to keep the room feeling light and bright.

One little disclaimer: I would never, EVER, not in a million years, spray paint a chandelier this way for my dining room or for any of my interior design clients' projects.  A chandelier that originally cost close to $2,000 now looks like it cost about $500.  My faux finish artist could have changed the finish for me much more professionally and created something exquisite, but I keep reminding myself that this is a SEWING ROOM, after all, not a dining room slated for Architectural Digest, and I'm trying to snazz it up as inexpensively as possible.  A $7 can of spray paint is just what the Design-on-a-Dime Design Doctor ordered!

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Sewing Studio Has GPS: Giant Purse Syndrome!

According to The Daily Mail, the average woman's purse now weighs a whopping 5.2 pounds, and it's causing quite the increase in related back and shoulder injuries.  Why would women want to schlep around such heavy bags?  It's partly a fasion-driven phenomenon, but I think we naturally trend towards larger and larger bags over time.  You start out with a small handbag in your teens, which you pack full of makeup and a hairbrush, maybe a travel-sized can of hairspray.  Then you move up to a medium-sized bag as a young adult, so you can fit your cell phone and your planner, your keys and maybe even a novel.  Once kids come along and you get used to having a monster diaper bag to fit bottles, toys, iPads/iPods/kindles, Cheerios, water bottle etc., you get hooked on the capacity of the big bag and you pack it so full the seams are nearly splitting and tell yourself "If I got a bag just a little bigger than this one, I could fit EVERYTHING I need..."  The reality is that, the bigger the bag, the more crap you will fill it with, the less often you will clean it out, and the more difficult it will be to FIND what you're looking for when you need something!
This is my Sewing Studio when we first moved in, before we'd finished unpacking
Which brings me to the current disaster of my sewing studio.  When we bought this house with a 21'6" x 15'6" bonus room to completely dedicate to my sewing, I thought I had died and gone to heaven and I was sure I would never again feel cramped for space to create.  The previous homeowners even had a full-size pool table in this room.  My sewing room has a high vaulted ceiling, is flooded with natural daylight from the beautiful windows, and is located at the end of a narrow hallway on the second floor of our home, so no one traipses through my space on the way to some other part of the house, and I can leave in-progress projects out while I'm working on them.  Perfect, right?
This is what my sewing studio looked like a week before Christmas!
Welcome to my Chaos...
Unfortunately, just like the stuff you "need" in your purse expands to fill your handbag, the stuff I "need" in my sewing room has expanded to fill my room to the point where I don't even have room to work anymore.  My cutting table is overflowing with several in-progress projects, new rulers and other tools that I haven't found homes for, and new fabric not yet pre-washed and added to my stash.  My bulletin boards are overflowing with project ideas and inspiration ripped from various magazines.  My sewing cabinet and several folding utility tables surrounding it are similarly loaded down, and all of my storage pieces are overflowing.  It's time for a change, don't you think?  Since January is all about resolutions, renewal and reorganization, I'm planning a complete overhaul of my sewing studio for the New Year!
Step One: The Painful Purge! 
I've already started the first step, going through everything to figure out what to keep, what to throw away, and what to donate or sell.  I have accumulated quite an assortment of high-end drapery fabric and trim remnants from my interior design business, for instance, things that I couldn't bear to toss in the trash because they were so expensive, but they are mostly in pieces that are less than one yard, that don't coordinate with anything else in my own home, and they are all wrapped around tall cardboard fabric tubes so they take up a lot of real estate.  What am I REALLY going to do with these?  I remember a professional organizer once telling me that you have to consider the cost of storing items that you aren't using -- is that item worth giving up space that you could be using for something else?  Well, right now all those bolts of fancy drapery remnants are costing me the ability to run a vacuum over the carpet, preventing me from seeing or accessing everything that is buried behind them, making me feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed, and making it impossible to even consider bringing a comfortable chair or two into my room so my husband and kids could hang out with me while I'm sewing.  It's time for them to go!
Step Two: Redesign Furniture & New Floorplan

Next, I'm going to redesign my existing custom sewing cabinet, cutting table, and storage furniture to improve their function, ergonomics, and use of space. 

Santa Baby did not bring me a new sewing machine for Christmas -- but Bernie and the boys did!  My new Bernina 750QE is a bit heavier and has a larger footprint than my previous Artista 200E/730E machine, so it won't fit into the opening of my existing custom-built sewing cabinet without modifications anyway. This is a great time to make changes to the size, shape, and storage options of the sewing cabinet as well.  I'm toying with the idea of designing a larger table with two lifts on opposite sides, one for the main sewbaby and the other for the serger, which currently sits on a table top full time, taking up valuable surface space.

I'll do a new floorplan in my design software to come up with the best layout for the room (borrowing some basic principles of kitchen and bath design), and once I know where the main furniture and workstations are going, I can design a new lighting plan for the room.  Although this space has great natural light during the day, it's currently lit by a measly four bulbs on a ceiling fan that was mounted way too high to begin with and a few inadequate lamps and task lights scattered around the room.  The whole room is on a single electrical circuit as well, and every time I plug my iron in, the lights dim.  I keep my computerized sewing machines plugged into a UPS at all times to prevent damage from power fluctuations, but the truth of the matter is that the existing wiring is inadequate for the way I'm using this room. 
Step Three: Structural Upgrades, Electrical & Lighting
"Largo Chandelier" from Currey & Co.
So I'm planning to add two additional electrical circuits, one just for the iron, one for the lighting, and one for everything else.  I'm going to replace the ugly ceiling fan, which I can't turn on when I'm sewing anyway because it blows things all over the place, and maybe replace it with a fun chandelier (I have this Currey & Co. Largo Chandelier in my garage that used to be in my dining room, and I'm already thinking about repainting it in Oil Rubbed Bronze and changing out the amber crystal drops for clear ones).  Then we'll have to add additional can or track lighting around the perimeter of the room to provide even lighting without shadows -- maybe the new LED cans, which run much cooler than traditional bulbs and provide truer color rendering.  I love the red paint on my sewing cabinet, but I think the wall color and surfaces need to stay light, bright and neutral so I can focus on the colors of my project fabrics.

Step Four: Rebuild Sewing Furniture & Built-In Storage

Koala DualMate Plus IV: Pricey, Very Little Storage, and Inadequate Support for Large Quilts
The goal here will be to maximize efficiency and space.  I've looked at commercial sewing furniture from Koala, Horn, and other big name manufacturers, but they all seem to sacrifice storage capacity for the ability to fold up when not in use, and the prices are outrageous for what they are made of.  I'd like to design one large sewing cabinet for my sewing machine and serger to share, with the ability for both machines to completely lower and hide within the cabinet when not in use and no wasted storage space beneath the cabinet.  The cutting table needs to be large enough for basting a large quilt or cutting 54" wide home dec fabrics when needed, but perhaps it can have drop down leafs so that it doesn't eat up so much floor space all the time.  Storage solutions for fabric, thread and notions needs to be sized to fit contents.  Who knows -- hopefully I can even fit a small seating area and a wall-mounted flat screen TV in the redesigned room, to entice my husband to hang out with me more often while I'm sewing?  Right now he sits on the floor with his iPad and both of our hundred-pound Rottweiler puppies pile onto his lap. 

I've ordered a couple of books on sewing room design and organization tips for quilters from Amazon, and I've also been scouring Pinterest and the blogosphere, looking for suggestions and best practices from others.  If you know of any resources I may have overlooked, please share them with me in the comments!  I'm hoping that, if we can start this project in January, we can wrap it up by the end of March so I can get back to sewing again.  Not that I don't plan to commandeer the dining room as a sewing space while my room transformation is in progress...  ;-) 

So, that's what I'm planning for the new year, once the trees and decorations are all taken down and packed away.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Twelfth Birthday, Lars-of-Ours!

It's Lars's Birthday Today!
So, this is what TWELVE looks like!  Our birthday prince has spent his special day in front of the television, watching back-to-back Star Wars movies while simultaneously playing the new Nintendo DS games that he received for Christmas yesterday.  Grammy and Grampa joined us for a birthday dinner (the birthday boy specified that he wanted "pizza from Lorenzos with only cheese on it, AND those breadsticks and fried mozzarella sticks with the sauce to dip them in"). 

Oh Yes, I CAN fit 12 Candles on a Cupcake!
We had cupcakes from SAS with little LEGO brick candies stuck in the frosting, and I crammed twelve candles into Lars's cupcake (despite the disapproval of the other, more sensible adults in the family).  Then Lars opened birthday presents from his relatives.

Of course, when your birthday is the day after Christmas, you have to delay your birthday party with friends in order to minimize scheduling conflicts, so we'll be doing some kind of crazy sleepover party mid-January for Lars and his peeps.

Happy Twelfth Birthday, Lars-of-Ours!

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Christmas Eve!

Some Snowy Church in New Hampshire
Okay, so we're not having a white Christmas here in Charlotte, North Carolina, but a girl can dream, can't I?  ;-)  I just wanted to take a quick moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, especially since I didn't mail cards out this year. 

My parents will be here soon for Christmas Eve dinner, featuring my husband's rouladen and a Pumpkin Gingerbread birthday cake that Anders baked for my dad (with some help and supervision from Bernie).  After dinner, we're headed to the 11 PM Christmas Eve service at church, and looking forward to the service wrapping up the same way it does every year, singing the last verse of Silent Night a capella in candlelight.  We'll make our way home after midnight, and the boys will probably fall asleep in the car -- which is why we packed a bag with their pajamas so they can change out of their church clothes as soon as they get into the car. 

Tomorrow morning, around 3 AM if I'm lucky and even earlier if I'm not, the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies who claim to be my sons will spring out of their beds with an explosion of noisy energy, zoom through the house like Tasmanian devils until everyone is awake, and then whirl down the stairs to see what Santa has brought them.  Tomorrow will be barely-controlled chaos, but tonight -- Christmas Eve -- is all about peace, tranquility, and the only Christmas gift that any of us needs:

Nativity stained glass window, St. Mary's Catholic Church, Dubuque, Iowa
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of Christmas Trees, Candles, and Electric Lights

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn, 1942
Lars and Anders were watching Holiday Inn for the first time this morning, enjoying the silver screen shenanigans of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  Anders, my snappy dresser, especially enjoyed Fred Astaire -- dancing in TUXEDOS?!  What's not to love? 

I was startled when I noticed that the Christmas tree in this scene was lit by actual CANDLES.  In 1942?  Didn't they have electric Christmas tree lights by then?

First Electrified Christmas Tree, 1882
Well, my curiosity was piqued, so I did a little online research and found that, although Edward Johnson, Vice President of Edison Electric Company, first wired up electric lights on a Christmas tree in his home in 1882 as a publicity stunt, the majority of American Christmas trees continued to be lit by candles for another half century.  Wealthy people began electrifying Christmas trees for their parties around the turn of the century, but not only did this require hiring electricians to individually string and wire bulbs together, but they also needed to be hooked up to generators.  The first pre-strung lights weren't introduced for sale until after 1917, but even then they were so expensive that some department stores rented them rather than selling them outright. 

Still, Holiday Inn was made in 1942, and it was a big Hollywood studio production -- surely they could afford electric lights for their sets, right?  So here's the really interesting part, the part I knew but had forgotten: The introduction of electricity was confined to urban areas for decades, creating huge disparity between the lifestyles of city dwellers versus the millions of Americans who lived in rural areas.  This was because the power companies paid to create the infrastructure necessary for providing electricity, and it just didn't make good business sense to spend a lot of money running wiring to rural areas that were sparsely populated, with so many fewer potential customers.  It wasn't until after World War II that the majority of Americans had electrical power in their homes -- so, in 1942, the Christmas Trees in "rural Connecticut" absolutely would have been lit by candles, because the farm-turned-inn and the entire town of Midville, Connecticut would have still been without electricity at that time. 

If you're interested in reading more about the history of electric Christmas lights, I found the most complete history here from the NECA National Electrical Contractors Association.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

5 Days 'Til Christmas: Advent Eye Candy from the Art World to Set the Mood

"Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem," by James Tissot, 1886-1894
Notice that I did not say "five SHOPPING days" until Christmas.  The shopping is finished, the homework and projects and tests and classroom parties are finished.  The decorating is finished, and the cookies have been baked.  Now all that's left to do is "watch and wait, which is what Advent is really all about.

So, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorite depictions of the Christmas story in religious art.  It's interesting to me how differently artists imagine and interpret the Bible narrative, filling in the blanks and injecting much of their own culture and perspective into their portrayals.  My favorite is "Saint Joseph Seeks Lodging in Bethlehem" by French artist James Tissot.  I can almost hear the innkeeper calling down the stairs, "There's no room in the inn!"  Joseph seems frantic, Mary looks nervous, and Tissot achieves a fairly realistic background of what Bethlehem might actually have looked like two thousand years ago.  The depth and perspective in this painting really draws me into the scene and into the story.

"Adoration of the Shepherds," by Angelo Bronzino, c. 1540
Next, we have the "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Angelo Bronzino, a 16th century artist from Florence.  I really love the idyllic, pastoral landscape in the background of this painting and the rich jewel tones of the garments -- even though I know it's preposterous.  Prior to the invention of synthetic fabric dyes in the 19th century, vivid colored textiles could only be achieved through laborious processes requiring thousands of tiny bugs, mollusks, or plant materials, and vibrant fabrics like these would have only been available to the wealthy and powerful.  Actually, the artist probably chose these colors for symbolic reasons rather than attempting to imagine what the holy family was actually wearing when Christ was born.

Which brings me to the last painting I'll share tonight (this morning?  How did it get so late?!):

"The Star of Bethlehem," by Edward Burne-Jones, Watercolor, 1890

Burne-Jones, a Pre-Rafaelite Aesthetic artist, has reinvisioned the nativity in an idealized medieval European forest.  The magi who have come to pay their respects to the Christ child are bizarrely dressed in what appears to be irridescent silk dupioni and an exquisite jacquard tablecloth -- I know this is ridiculous, but I love how this artist depicted these unlikely fabrics so skillfully, with such a high level of detail and realism.   They called it the "Aesthetic Movement" for a reason -- this is absolutely gorgeous.  Can you believe this was done in watercolor? 

Well, I set out to write a nice post about Advent and focusing on the "reason for the season," but (typically) I ended up right back where I always do, obsessing about FABRIC!  Ugh! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ta Da! Paper-Pieced Star for my Advent Table Runner

I finished my 12" paper-pieced star block for my Advent table runner!  Isn't it pretty?  I doubt I'll have any more time to work on this between now and Christmas, but at least it's started.  I played around with fabric choices for a LONG time before I started this block, and I think I achieved exactly the effect I was hoping for.  Hooray!

And now I'm off to bed.  At 1:45 AM, on a SCHOOL DAY.  Morning will be painful, but that is why God in His infinite wisdom has blessed me with espresso beverages, n'est-ce pas? 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Just for Fun: Let's Design a Sewing Machine for BOYS!

Bernina Activa 215, with Custom "Skin" for Lars-of-Ours
This morning, as I was reading V & Co's post about how she's teaching her sons and daughters to sew, I was reminded that my son Lars has asked to learn sewing a few times.  I actually bought him a toy sewing machine from Pottery Barn Kids when he was 5 or 6, but it was a disaster -- even I couldn't get that lump of garbage to sew a straight seam.  The market is flooded with cheaply made SMSOs (Sewing Machine Shaped Objects) marketed for children who are first learning to sew, and not only are most of them guaranteed to frustrate any child to the point that they give up and never learn to sew at all, but almost all of them are also bright pink, covered with flowers, and look like something out of a Barbie Dream House. 
Umm, not for MY son!!
You would think you could buy a decent first machine for a child to learn on from a major sewing machine manufacturer, but they have all fallen prey to the Barbie Unicorn Princess Plague as well.  Case in point: the Singer machine at left.  This is obnoxious and foolhardy on the part of manufacturers, because they are deliberately alienating half of their potential customers.  Yuck! 

Bernina at least has a black Bernette sewing machine geared towards children that sells for around $250, but they had to go and put flowers on the front of it.  They might as well put a big warning sign on the front of the machine saying "BEWARE -- SEWING IS ONLY FOR GIRLS!  SEWING WILL MAKE YOU GROW BOOBS!":

Bernette 46: Would be a great gender-neutral child's machine, but for the flowers

Lars hasn't mentioned wanting to sew in a long time, and honestly, I doubt he is serious about it.  But if he ever did want to learn to quilt, I think I'd have to find him a nice, used Bernina Activa machine on eBay.  I've seen the used Activas selling for anywhere from $400-800 at auction, depending on which model and how old the machine was.  For about $30, you can custom design a "skin" decal for these machines at using any graphics your heart desires, and the decals can be peeled off and changed as the child's tastes change.  Since I was designing this one with almost-twelve-year-old Lars-of-Ours in mind, I used an "Armageddon" image along with another image of a flaming electric guitar.  I wonder how many boys would be interested in sewing if a reasonably priced, entry level sewing machine that looked like this one was part of Bernina's regular lineup?  Hello, Bernina -- is anybody out there???

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sneaky-Peeky: A Paper-Pieced Star for My Nativity Table Runner

First Quadrant of my First Ever Paper-Pieced Block!
I have to leave for church in 10 minutes, but I'm so excited about the project I started last night that I had to post a quick preview.  I have a narrow console table behind the sofa in my kitchen/family room area where I display my nativity figures, and I'm currently using a store-bought quilted runner beneath them in reds and greens, but that table runner doesn't do anything for the muted colors of my nativity figurines.

Auditioning Fabrics with my Nativity Figures
I got an idea that I should make another runner in deep blue for Advent, with a gold star right in the center where the baby Jesus in the manger goes.  I've had Carol Doak's book 40 Bright and Bold Paper-Pieced Blocks (available from Amazon here) for several years, but had never gotten around to attempting paper piecing until now.  I spent several days reading and re-reading Carol's instructions, trying out different fabric combinations with my nativity figurines, and going back and forth between the different star blocks in the book before I finally settled on "Chris's Block."

I made four copies of the 1/4 unit that makes up the block, using special paper for foundation piecing (also already in my stash) that is supposed to be thin, strong, and resist transferring printer ink onto my ironing board.  I planned out my fabric placement with my sons' colored pencils, selecting colors as close as possible to my fabrics to get an accurate sense of how the finished block would turn out.  I wrote the color names of each fabric on the corresponding section of the paper foundations, lined up my pre-cut rectangles in numerical order, and sat down at my machine for some very weird upside-down sewing with my fabrics completely hidden by a piece of PAPER that I was sewing through.  This gave me ANXIETY, and I probably held my breath while I was sewing each seam.  However, I followed the instructions, kept the faith, and when I was finished I ended up with what appears to be a correctly sewn quarter of my star block.  (Note: my camera was crooked; the block is actually perfectly square).  Yippee!

I've got some gifts to wrap up for shipping and homework to supervise this afternoon, and my boys are singing in our church's Christmas concert this evening -- Lars even has a solo -- so I'm not sure whether I'll have a chance to work on the remaining three quadrants of my star today.  I only have a vague idea of what the rest of the table runner will look like, but at least I've made a start.

Happy Second Sunday of Advent to all of my Christian friends and family, and Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends!

By the way, I'm linking up to SewCalGal's Quilter's Christmas Party today.  If you have a moment, please pop over to join the fun, see what holiday projects other quilters have been working on, and learn how you can help make a difference by supporting Operation Homefront.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Santa Baby: Slip a Bernina 750 QE Under the Tree...

Bernina 750 QE Sewing Machine
Dear Santa Baby,

You can skip the yacht, the sable coat, the Tiffany tree ornaments, the duplex AND the checks this year.  I'll pass on the deed to that platinum mine, too -- let someone else deal with the labor strikes in South Africa this year.  I'd trade them all away for the new 750 QE sewing and embroidery machine from Bernina.

Bernina 830E Sewing Machine
Yes, I flirted briefly with Bernina's top-of-the-line machine over the summer, the 830E or the 830LE (the Limited Edition version of this machine even had pretty swirling red graphics on the outside of the case -- pretty, but probably ultimately very distracting).  The 8 Series was released about 4 years ago, and my Bernina dealer made several valiant attempts to sell me on this machine.  However, the staggering $12,999 MSRP on the 830 machine is WAY out of my comfort zone.  Moreover, it's really not the perfect machine for me.  Why not?  Well, having sewn on a top-of-the-line Bernina for several years (my Artista 200E/730E), I know that my current machine has lots of bells and whistles that are not important to me.  Outside of the initial machine mastery classes, I have never ever, not once, altered and combined decorative stitches and saved them in my machine's memory.  I never, ever combine or edit embroidery designs on my sewing machine, even though it has that ability, because I prefer to do that on my PC with my design software.  And, although I had fun using many of my decorative stitch patterns on my crazy quilted Christmas tree skirt project, I don't use decorative machine stitches often enough to need 557 different decorative stitch patterns to choose from.  These are the kinds of features that make the 830 so expensive, but I'd rather buy a machine for half the price that has only the features that will make a difference in the kind of sewing I enjoy.

Carrying an Anvil: Training to Lift a Bernina 830 machine
I have read mixed reviews of the 830 online -- owners either love this machine or they hate it.  It may be that those who are having trouble are the ones venting on the Internet, and those who are happy with their machines are too busy sewing to post on message boards, but the 8 Series bobbin system is definitely tricky to thread and needs to be threaded differently for embroidery versus regular sewing.  But the real deal breaker (as if we even had a deal -- and we don't, not at that price point!) is that the 830 machine weighs a whopping 37 pounds.  I need to use both arms to lift it, and it's bulky and unwieldy.  No way would I ever want to pack that beast up to bring it to a class, and I don't even feel like I could get it up and down the steep flight of stairs to my sewing room safely, since I couldn't hold the railing if I've got both arms around the sewing machine.  How would I get it to and from the dealer just for routine maintenance?  In an alternate universe where money grows on trees and I had a private butler to schlep my sewing machine around for me, it might be nice to have an 830 in my sewing room for those times when I'd like to embroider a 10" wide design, but I don't think I would be happy with it as my one and only sewing machine.

So, back to the new 7 Series.  At 30 pounds, these machines are still heavier than what I'm used to, but I can lift them easily with one arm.  The 720 machine is the least expensive model in this range, but it's out because it does not do embroidery.  The 780 machine is the top model in the range, but it has added bells and whistles and unnecessary (to me) additional stitch patterns and built-in designs that push the price point close to that of the 8 Series machines.  But the 750QE machine is like Baby Bear's porridge -- it's just right. 

Bernina 750 QE with Embroidery Module Attached
Key features of the 750 QE:
  • The harp is much larger than my current machine, which means there are three more inches to the right of the needle, more room for cramming a large bed quilt to the right of the needle so you can quilt the center.  The larger harp is also what enables the 750 QE to embroider a wider design in one hooping, since the entire width of the embroidery hoop is to the right of the needle when the machine is stitching the left edge of the emrboidery design.  This would enable me to use my sneaky Quilting-in-the-Hoop technique for larger quilt blocks than my current machine will accommodate, though not quite as large as what the 8 Series machines could handle.
  • The bobbin on the 7 Series machines holds 80% more thread than a standard bobbin.  For garment sewing, this is not a big deal, but when you are free-motion quilting or embroidering large, complex designs, you go through bobbin thread quickly and repeatedly stopping to refill the bobbin slows you down.
  • Just like the 8 Series, the 750 QE has a built-in dual feed for those times when slippery fabrics are misbehaving, but you don't want to get out the bulky walking foot.
Integrated Dual Feed

  • The new 9 Hook system on the 7 Series makes these machines run quieter and smoother, with less vibration even at top speeds, like a luxury automobile, and the stitch quality is fabulous even when scrutinized under a bright light with your nose touching the fabric -- the only way to properly evaluate stitch quality, in my opinion. 
  • The 750 QE comes with the BSR Bernina Stitch Regulator for free-motion quilting that I've enjoyed on my current upgraded 200E/730E machine. 
  • I love the streamlined designed, simplified user interface, brushed silver and less obtrusive touch screen on the 750 (you can even customize the screen color in the machine's settings).  Also, the 7 Series machines show you exactly where your decorative stitches will form in relation to the presser foot you're using, right on the display screen, making it easy to precisely position decorative stitches on your project, and even the 8 Series machines don't have this feature:
750 QE Touch Screen Shows Where Stitch Forms in Relation to your Presser Foot
  • The 750QE has a maximum sewing speed of 1000 stitches per minute both for regular sewing and for embroidery, versus my current machine's max of 680 stitches per minute for embroidery and 900 stitches per minute for regular sewing.  Now, I don't need to sew at 1000 stitches per minute if I'm inserting a sleeve cap or hemming a pair of slacks, but those higher speeds are very handy for free-motion quilting and MUCH faster stitch-out of large, complex embroidery designs, which can have thousands of stitches in just one design.
So, what would I be giving up when I went from a previous top-of-the-line to today's mid-range machine?  As far as I can tell, the only things I'd lose would be some decorative stitches (the 750QE has 250 decorative stitches to choose from, whereas my current machine has 396 decorative stitches), the sideways-motion stitches (another really cool feature on my current machine that I never, ever use), and the ability to edit embroidery designs at the point of stitch-out, right on the screen on the sewing machine. 
Honestly, I don't expect Santa to be shopping at the Bernina dealership this Christmas, but I do have a Big, Unpleasant Birthday looming this Spring.  A shiny new sewing machine to learn and play with would really help to take my mind off the blazing inferno of candles on that cake...  ;-)
UPDATED February 16th, 2013:
Well, Santa didn't bring me the Bernina 750 QE for Christmas, but my husband and sons took the hint (subtly broadcast over the Internet!) and they snagged the last machine my Bernina dealer had in stock before Christmas.  Now that I've been sewing on the 750 QE for a couple of months, I really love it and have no regrets; this machine is perfect for me and the operation has been smooth and trouble-free for all kinds of sewing.  If you're also a new owner of a 7 Series Bernina, or if you're considering purchasing one and want more information, please feel free to join the discussion on the Yahoo! 7 Series users group by clicking here.  We'd love to have you!

Friday, November 30, 2012

I'm Sew Inspired to Knock Off Mackenzie-Childs Jester Stockings and Christmas Tree Skirt!

Jester and Festoon Stockings, $240 EACH
Aren't these Jester and Festoon stockings from the Mackenzie-Childs catalog adorable?  They would look darling on the kitchen fireplace mantle, next to the kiddos' tree (the one decorated with miniature toys, candies, and all those handmade preschool ornaments that can never be thrown away). 
Unfortunately, the folks at Mackenzie-Childs must have gone stark, raving mad, because they want $240 EACH for these stockings, made of silk and polyester satin fabrics and rayon trims.  There are four of us, so we'd be kissing a THOUSAND DOLLARS goodbye for new Christmas stockings if I was going to order these (which I have NO intention of doing, Bernie, so please stop hyperventilating.  You're freaking out the dogs).
Court Jester Tree Skirt, $740
Anyway, you can't stop with the stockings, can you?  I mean, with these wild and whimsical stockings hung by the mantle with care, you'd need to get the matching tree skirt or no one would notice you had a tree at all.  Since the Mackenzie-Childs Court Jester Tree Skirt is $740, you're looking at close to two thousand dollars just for a tree skirt and stockings.  You could buy a sewing machine for that kind of money.  Not a sewing machine as nice as mine, mind you, but a very good sewing machine...
Which brings me to the point of this post.  For past generations, home sewing represented thrift because readymade "store-bought" clothing and soft furnishings were so much more expensive than the cost of the fabrics required for making them.  Now that so much of what we buy and wear is cheaply made overseas, home sewers can expect to spend MORE to make a garment themselves than they would pay for a similar readymade garment, unless you're talking about super high-end couture.  If someone has the skills to successfully knock off couture garments from Chanel, Dior, etc., they can find fabrics from those fashion houses at Gorgeous Fabrics and Emma One Sock and save thousands of dollars while looking like a million swanky bucks.  Unfortunately, I do not have couture garment sewing skills.
Court Jester Tree Skirt, for Crazy People with Money to Burn
But this Christmas tree skirt and stockings?  The sewing is not difficult, and the fabrics and trims are not expensive, either.  I could definitely make something like this, and have a blast doing it, too.  I probably have a few fabric odds and ends already stashed away in my sewing room that would work for this, I definitely have leftover fringes and cording trims, and I could pick up similar fabrics to the ones used here at or Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia and probably spend less than $50 for the tree skirt AND four stockings!
By my calculations, if I can make this tree skirt and stockings for $50, I will have SAVED close to $1700.  Stay tuned... 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November FMQ Challenge: Cinnamon Roll Spirals with Sarah Vedeler

November FMQ Challenge: Spiral Swirlibobs in Two Sizes
Yay!  I finished the November Free-Motion Quilting Challenge exercise, two whole days before the end of the month!  Nevermind that I still have four more months to make up before the end of the year, plus the December tutorial...  One at a time!

This month's challenge tutorial comes to us from Sarah Vedeler, an accomplished quilter and designer of gorgeous machine embroidered applique designs for quilters.  Sarah provided us with the formula for a basic spiral, template pages to print and trace for practice, and encouraged us to quilt a whole fat quarter sandwich full of rows of spirals in two sizes. 

I prefer to practice doodling new quilting designs in various iPad drawing apps, since I always have my iPad with me when I find myself waiting in the carpool line, the Starbucks drive-through, etc.  So I traced over the PDF template over and over with my stylus, erasing my "chalk" marks and starting over on the same template again and again.

Then I switched to a different drawing app, one with a graph paper background option, and practiced drawing the spirals freehand.  It wasn't as easy as it looks, and most of my spirals were shaped more like the wheels on the Flintstone family car than like actual circles.  After a few days of this, they did start getting better.

So tonight, I layered up a seasonal snowman printed fabric on top, Hobbs Tuscany Silk batting scraps in the middle, and an ugly brown paisley fabric for my backing. 

Sarah had instructed us to mark out 1" and 2" grids on our practice sandwich so we could practice two sizes of spirals.  Unfortunately, I had trouble with ALL of my marking pens and pencils today -- the purple and blue markers, chalk and soapstone pencils -- none of them would make a line on that green snowman fabric that I could see long enough to draw the adjacent line.  I finally grabbed the musty, ancient cigar box full of tailor's chalk that once belonged to Bernie's grandparents who were tailors.  Now, do as I say, not as I do -- you're NOT supposed to mark the front of your quilt with tailor's chalk because it is intended for marking the WRONG SIDES of garment fabric, and it might not wash out of a finished quilt.  But I had this whole box, with so many colors, and I didn't want to put the challenge off another day, so I threw caution to the wind and tried white, gray, yellow, and finally a lipstick red piece of tailor's chalk.  Again, I would never use this to mark a real quilt.  Who knows what kind of dye makes it red?  I'm planning to wash my practice sandwich now that it's finished, to see whether the markings come out or not. 

Also, now that I'm done with this, I notice there are bulges of fabric puffing up between my spirals, and I don't really like that.  So, if this was for a real quilt, it might be worth it to actually quilt the grid lines with water soluble basting thread before quilting the spirals.  Then I'd only have to mark the first line, and I could use that guide thingy on my walking foot to space all the other lines evenly.

Cinnamon Roll Surprise!
Oh, and the surprise?  When I flipped my practice sandwich over after quilting it, I discovered that my "ugly" brown backing fabric had been transformed into cinnamon rolls by the quilting design!  Mmmm...  I wonder if there's any chance I could convince my husband to go out in search of cinnamon rolls at 9:30 at night?  I'm suddenly hungry...

So, my November FMQ challenge is completed and crossed off my list. I still have four more months to make up in addition to the new challenge that will be posted in December.  I wonder if I'll be able to fit them all in by the end of the year?  I want to thank Sarah Vedeler for sharing her spiral tutorial, and SewCalGal for hosting the challenge.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: 163 Favorite Patchwork Patterns, in Japanese!

163 Favorite Patchwork Patterns
パッチワークのお気に入りパターン163 by Shufutoseikatsusha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is amazing -- Someone mentioned it on a blog, and I hunted it down online and ordered it on Amazon here.  I paid close to $50 for the 200+ page paperback book, which shipped from a 3rd party Amazon seller directly from Japan, and nervously awaited the book's arrival, hoping I wouldn't be completely flummoxed by the fact that this book is entirely in Japanese. Well, the clear, full-color photographs of the front AND back side of each block design, as well as clear illustrations with numbers and arrows designating the order of construction of each block, make it easy for anyone with basic knowledge of patchwork construction to follow. 

photo from
Each block is line drawn without seam allowances, so basic drafting skills will be needed to create templates for the blocks in sizes appropriate for your project. And the blocks themselves -- WOW! The patterns get progressively more challenging as you flip through the book, but there are so many vintage block designs that I had never seen before, so many that I know I want to make. This book was worth every penny that I paid for it and then some; it's now one of my favorite quilting books. Highly recommended!

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