Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Which Otto, My Rottweiler, Teaches Machine-Embroidered Applique on the Bernina 750QE

Otto Supervises Embroidery on the Bernina 750QE

So my Rottweiler has been doing a bit of embroidery with my new Bernina 750QE...  :-)  Otto was fascinated by the noises and movement of the embroidery module.  It was very cute.
I came up with an Inaugural Project to help me get to know the new sewbaby.  It's going to be a mini quilt, smaller than a place mat, with our last name appliqued in large capital letters. It's the I'm Too Cool for School Carpool Tag to replace the boring, laminated name tags that were distributed to us by the school.  After I do the machine-embroidered applique I'll add some borders, layer it with batting and backing so I can test out the BSR function with some free-motion quilting (maybe can incorporate one of the 2012 Free-Motion Quilting Challenges that I still need to complete).  Finally, I'll test out the dual feed feature when I attach the binding.  By the time it's finished, I should be pretty comfortable with my new sewing machine.

Applique 4 Alphabet from Embroidery Arts
I selected the Applique 4 monogram font from Embroidery Arts, and I combined the letters in my Artista Designer Embroidery Software, sizing the letters to completely fill the Mega Hoop (which I have owned for at least 7 years and have never taken out of the box!) and using the vertical alignment tool to fine-tune the spacing. 

Disclaimer: I am not what you'd call a frequent machine embroiderer.  In the past, my embroidery module has only come out every 6 months or so, for quilting "in the hoop" or a monogrammed baby blanket gift.  The actual embroidery process is very easy -- all you have to do is thread the machine, press the start button, and then clip the thread and rethread with the next color when prompted by your machine.  The tricky part of machine embroidery is getting your fabric into the hoop properly so that it is taught, but not stretched, correctly stabilized to support the density of your chosen embroidery design, and positioned in your hoop so that your design can stitch out exactly where you want it to go. 

See that pesky puckering?
I hooped my solid black, quilting weight cotton fabric with one layer of lightweight tearaway stabilizer, and noticed puckering around the very first letter as the design began to sew out.  Grr!  The puckering didn't look too severe, and I figured I could probably steam it out with the iron later, so I kept going.  I floated an additional layer of the tearaway stabilizer under the hoop for the last 3 letters of our name, and that almost completely eliminated the issue.  Yay!

Completed design.  Additional stabilizer was used with the "MPF" to eliminate puckering.  Not bad, right?
...Except, NOT yay.  It turns out that inadequate stabilizing was only part of the problem.  I must have stretched the snot out of my fabric when I hooped it, because once the embroidery was complete and I removed the hoop, the fabric relaxed and even MORE puckering appeared!  I was able to steam most of it away around the letters that had the additional layer of stabilizer, but the first two letters look pretty bad. 

Stretched In the Hoop -- See all those awful wrinkly puckers now that the hoop is removed?!
Could I "quilt this out?"  Maybe -- but the point of this whole project was supposed to be a learning exercise, so I'm decided to start over.  I'm not wild about how severe the lettering looks against the black background, anyway.  Puckers aside, I'm just not loving the combination of fabrics, thread color and font style.  I chose those fabrics based on the need for the name to be visible and legible from a distance, viewed through the windshield of my car -- but I think it ended up looking like a neon sign at night.  I didn't realize how heavy that satin-stitched edge was going to be.  The letters looked really cute in that fabric when I cut them out:

Pre-Cut Applique Letters, Prior to Stitching
So the next day, I tried again.  This time, I hooped my fabric along with TWO layers of OESD Clean and Tear tearaway stabilizer, and tried to be more careful about stretching.  I chose a red Eiffel Tower print for the background and a black and white stripe for the lettering.  This particular alphabet was inspired by the Art Nouveau artistic style that was very influential in Paris around the time when the Eiffel Tower was conceived and constructed for the 1889 and 1900 World Fairs, so it felt appropriate to pair them together. 

Second Attempt with 2 layers of OESD Clean & Tear
Still not perfect, but much better, don't you think?  I was really careful to keep my towers straight.  Also, I should mention that I printed out full-size templates of each applique letter from my embroidery software, then traced them (upside down!) to Wonder Under fusible web.  I cut each letter out as a rough square, fused that piece to a scrap of striped fabric -- carefully aligning the stripes -- and THEN carefully cut out each letter with a small, sharp scissors prior to starting the machine embroidered applique.  I took some photos of this process with the original applique fabric:

Lettering Traced BACKWARDS onto Fusible Web, then Fused to WS of Applique Fabric
That way, after the machine has sewn the placement line, I carefully remove the hoop from my machine, place it on my ironing board, positioned my pre-cut letter inside the stitched outline, and fuse it in place with my mini iron.  Once the letter has been fused in place precisely where it belongs, I reattach the hoop and the machine is ready to do the tackdown, underlay, and satin stitches with no additional fabric trimming required. 

The directions for machine embroidered applique designs usually call for putting an oversized scrap of fabric down over that placement line and trimming the excess fabric away in between the tackdown stitch and the satin stitch, but I think it would be a nightmare to try to cut these letters after they were already stitched down in the hoop.

See, I still have a bit of a wave at the edge of this piece, but it's much better than the first attempt and I think I can work with it.  I really, REALLY love the way the fabrics and font style work together.

Mega Hoop has TWO screws, not just one!
I should mention at this point that, when I was packing away my Mega Hoop, I noticed that it has TWO adjustment screws -- the one at the top left that I had been loosening and tightening to hoop my fabric (near the R), and ANOTHER adjustment screw at the lower right corner that I hadn't even noticed.  Did I mention that I've never used this hoop before?  Now I'm thinking that, if I had loosened BOTH screws the way I was supposed to, it would have been much easier to get the fabric into the hoop smooth and taut WITHOUT stretching it.  Note to self: the Mega Hoop has TWO SCREWS!

So, to sum things up: today I learned (again!) that I probably need more stabilizer for embroidery than I think I do, especially when I'm working with light weight fabrics and heavy satin-stitched designs.  I also learned that I need to loosen the outer hoop more (with BOTH screws) before I cram the inner hoop, fabric, and stabilizer into it so the fabric isn't stretched and distorted in the hooping process.  In fact, since I'm planning to quilt this piece anyway, I probably should have layered a thin cotton quilt batting between the fabric and stabilizers prior to hooping it -- the batting would have provided even more support for my embroidery design.

Next time I show you my Too Cool For School Carpool Tag, I'll probably be adding borders of some sort.  I haven't decided what I want them to look like yet.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Last Book Review and Studio Remodeling Update: Creating Your Perfect Quilting Space by Lois L. Hallock

Creating Your Perfect Quilting Space: Sewing Room Makeovers for Any Space and Any Budget, by Lois L. Hallock, is a good reference for anyone who is reorganizing, remodeling, or creating a brand new quilting space.  Hallock offers sound ergonomic advice as well as planning worksheets for taking inventory of your fabric, tools and equipment.  She also includes budget planning worksheets and advice on scheduling and executing your studio so the project goes as smoothly as possible.  The book contains a number of real quilting studio makeovers, including before and after full-color photographs and floor plans with dimensions, and the rooms featured range quite a bit in terms of size and budget, so most readers will be able to find useful ideas and layouts for their own available space.  I like that, along with explaining how to do a scale floor plan of your space to audition possible furniture placement, Hallock also explains how to do an elevation drawing of each wall, which you definitely need to do if you'll be hiring contractors.

I found this book most useful in conjunction with the two other books I reviewed here earlier this week: Carolyn Woods' Organizing Solutions for Every Quilter: An Illustrated Guide to the Space of Your Dreams has much more creative and original storage and organization solutions for fabric and quilting tools, and Lynette Ranney Black's Dream Sewing Spaces: Design and Organization for Spaces Large and Small contains more thorough, up-to-date information on lighting, many creative ideas for maximizing even the smallest work spaces, and -- most important -- discusses sewing room design in a general way, with special sections at the end of the book addressing the unique requirements of sewing spaces for professional dressmakers, quilters, and drapery workrooms.  This was crucial for me because I need my studio to be a flexible space that works well for all kinds of sewing, not just for quilting.  However, quilters who only want to purchase one book about setting up a quilting studio would not go wrong in choosing this one.

My Studio Today, Not Finished but Ready for Sewing!
So, what's next in my own studio remodeling project?  A Test Drive!Bernie cut a larger hole in the top of my existing custom sewing cabinet to accommodate the larger size of my new sewbaby, the Bernina 750QE. I can't believe it's been almost a month since I unwrapped that machine, and I haven't been able to sew a single stitch with it yet! Now that the electrical and painting mess are complete and I have a temporary cutting table in place, I am planning to get in there today and sew something -- anything! -- to see how the new setup and new machine work for me.
My Existing Custom Sewing Cabinet, Adapted to Fit New Machine, with New Electric Lift Installed

In case you're curious, Bernie built my existing sewing cabinet (see above), using an 18" wide kitchen drawer base cabinet that we ordered from The Home Depot and painted red and a Bernie-built 18" wide cubby unit on the left.  The knee hole opening is 32" wide, which allows me to sit centered on the needle and easily accommodates the movement of the machine on the lift (it goes up for free arm sewing, and all the way down to completely recess the machine when I'm not using it).  I have 22" of surface to the right of my machine, where I keep thread snips, pin cushions, and enormous cups of coffee, and I have 26 1/2" of surface to the left of my machine.  The current counter top is some kind of particle board or something that I'm planning to change (I want something lighter in color for better light reflection, with a more comfortable bullnose edge in the front where my forearms rest when I'm quilting, and with a matte but slippery finish to facilitate free-motion quilting).  I do, however, like the size of my cabinet top -- it's 28 1/2" x 73". 
I either want to enlarge the depth of this cabinet or have Bernie build another one just like it that can butt up to the back side of this one.  My serger will go there, and will completely recess beneath the cabinet so it's not in the way when I'm not using it.  I just don't want to go too big, though -- still trying to preserve room for a seating area in the new studio!  I found a birch-veneered conference table top from IKEA that could be a possibility for my cutting table AND an enlarged, two-machine sewing cabinet:
IKEA GALANT Conference Table Top, 76 3/4" x 43 1/4"

I wish they had dimensions on their web site showing where the cutout for the cords is in relation to the edges of the table top.  A quilter on the 8 Series yahoo group posted that she bought this table top and was able to plug the cord hole with a piece of wood.  I like the light color of the birch veneer and it's a nice size, with no annoying seams.  It's only $299, and it's even cheaper if you order the white one.  I haven't shown it to Bernie yet, though, and he's not a fan of IKEA.  He'll probably want to cut down an old-growth cherry tree, mill the lumber himself, and finish it by hand with some elaborate stain recipe out of Fine Woodworking magazine that requires fifteen hundred coats, sanding, and waxing with butterfly wings or something.  We all have our hobbies, don't we?  ;-)

Time to fire up my new sewbaby and see if big girls really do have more fun!  Vroom, vroom...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Dream Sewing Spaces by Lynette Ranney Black, 2nd Ed.

If you only buy one book about designing and organizing your sewing workspace, THIS is the one you should get.  Dream Sewing Spaces: Design and Organization for Spaces Large and Small, by Lynette Ranney Black, is the most thorough, authoratative guide I've come across.  The author, who has a background in kitchen and bath design and remodeling AND sews herself (she's even written a book on serging home dec projects) walks you through absolutely everything you need to think about when you plan a new or improved sewing space.  I do want to point out that I'm reviewing the second edition of this book, published in 2010, not the original 1996 edition. 
She gives you a handy Inventory of Needs checklist, a form for recording your body measurements for ergonomic planning purposes, and a nice overview of how to do a scale floorplan so you can work out the most efficient layout for your space.  Black explains how to set up efficient U-shape and L-shape work stations to maximize efficiency.  She covers how to do a full lighting plan for your space, including options for ambient, task, and accent lighting, and explains how wall and surface color choices affect how much light is reflected from surfaces -- and that wall color actually tints the light that bounces off the wall, so that you won't be able to view colors with as much accuracy in a room with pistachio green or hot pink walls, for instance.  Some of my favorite specific storage ideas from this book were creating 3" deep recessed shelves between drywall studs (on interior walls) for serger thread cones and incorporating pull-out "bread board" style landing areas to the right and left of your sewing station.  I'll be incorporating both of those into my own studio redesign. 
This book includes lots and lots of big, full-color photos of very different sewing rooms for inspiration, and includes a floor plan -- with dimensions -- for each one.  In the back of the book, the author even addresses the specific needs of specialty sewers: quilters, professional dressmakers, and drapery workrooms.  Whether you're blessed with a large room dedicated to your sewing or trying to make the best use of a corner or closet, this book will help you to use your space wisely and efficiently.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How High is My Cutting Table? And How Big is TOO Big?

Now that I've bored you all with my dry-as-dust discussion of ergonomic sewing table heights (click here if you missed that one and can't bear to go on without it), we're moving on to the second-most-important work station in a sewing studio: The Cutting Table.  Dum, dum dum dum.....

New Cutting Table In-Progress

This is my fourth custom-built cutting table, believe it or not.  It consists of a kitchen drawer base cabinet that I bought and painted red for the sewing room in our last house, along with two ClosetMaid modified wire drawer units on either side.  I saw these wire mesh drawer bins in Carolyn Woods' book, Organizing Solutions for Every Quilter, which I reviewed here yesterday.  These are the bins that Alex Anderson uses to organize her own fabric stash, and I bought two of the 40" tall, 17" wide 5 Drawer Kit units online and then had Bernie cut them down for me. 

The surface of my cutting table, for now, is an old 67" x 35 1/2" Pottery Barn kitchen table top that was previously repurposed as a kiddie arts and crafts table in our play room. Honestly, I'm torn about the cutting table size, which is why I want to try this setup out for awhile and see if I can live with it.  My former cutting table (below) was a whopping 54" x 72".  That table was sized large enough to accommodate 54" wide bolts of drapery fabric and was a nice size for quilt basting, but it ate up a lot of space in the room since it was positioned as an island, accessible from all four sides.

Previous Cutting Table, 54" x 72", 35 1/2" height

The old cutting table was impossibly heavy and was balanced on four little wooden book cases with dead space at the corners and beneath the center of the table where all sorts of stuff would get piled and forgotten.   I rarely ever sew any drapery stuff anymore, but I liked knowing that I could if I wanted to.  I also liked having a table roomy enough that I could be rotary cutting on one end and sorting/staging my project on the other side of the table. 

However, one of my major goals from this rework/remodel is to free up enough space for a small seating area.  It's nice having a Room of One's Own, but who wants to quilt in solitary confinement, after all?  So we're testing out a much smaller (and much more NORMAL) sized cutting table, and I've positioned it up against the wall beneath the window to free up even more space.  If I decide I can live with this size, then Bernie will morph this into something sturdier with additional storage space, perhaps on casters with a drop-down leaf in the back so I can pull it out and get additional workspace every once in a blue moon when I need that larger size.

OSHA Cutting Table Dude
The height of my new work-in-progress cutting table is currently 37 5/8".  Of course my attempt to find a consensus about the "ergonomically correct" cutting table was a big flop -- recommendations ranged anywhere from 34" to 40" for me.  Everyone says to stand and bend your arms at about a 90 degree angle, and have someone measure from your elbow to the floor.  One book said that my cutting table should come up to the bottom of my elbow, but most sources, including the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA guidelines, said that the table should be at elbow height or just a few inches below that, and a couple sources suggested slightly different ideal heights for cutting tables depending on whether you'll be cutting with shears or with a rotary cutter (elbow height if you cut primarily with scissors or shears, and a few inches below that if you primarily use rotary cutting tools).

I knew the table had to go a little higher than the 35 1/2" I had before, because I had that lovely red base kitchen drawer cabinet that I wanted to use and it didn't fit beneath my old table.  So I decided to go up about 2" to a 38" table height -- remember that I'm 5'8" tall, my elbow height is 40" from the floor, and your mileage may vary!  The idea is that I will be able to cut longer and more comfortably (sans back pain) if I don't have to bend down and stoop constantly at the cutting table. 

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  My turnaround for edge-to-edge quilting is currently running about 2 weeks, and you can click here to find out how to book your quilt with me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Organizing Solutions for Every Quilter

Professional organizer Carolyn Woods immersed herself in the quilting world to write Organizing Solutions for Every Quilter: An Illustrated Guide to the Space of Your Dreams, visiting the sewing spaces of quilters near her home in Arizona as well as consulting with quilting celebrities like Alex Anderson, Libby Lehman, Diana McClun, and Nancy Arseneault.  I found quite a few storage ideas in this book that I really like, including the ClosetMade wire mesh drawer bins (shown on the cover) that Alex Anderson uses to organize her fabric stash.  I also loved the idea of repurposed library card catalogs used for thread storage, and a number of really good solutions for storing embroidery hoops, acrylic rulers and the bazillion tools and notions we all have piled up in our work spaces.  However, I can only give this book 2 out of 5 stars because the ergonomics section of this book is so misinformed.  

I have consulted two other sewing studio design books, several sewing web sites, and the U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA recommendations for ergonomically correct sewing and cutting stations. Woods' recommendations are so far out of whack with everyone else that, if her advice was followed by hard-core quilting enthusiasts, it would CAUSE back, neck, shoulder and wrist pain! 

OSHA Guidelines for Ergonomic Sewing Posture
Woods has degrees in political economy and business administration and runs a professional organizing business -- she does not have any credentials as an expert in ergonomics, which is fine, except that she does not appear to have consulted with any ergonomics or medical experts, either.  Woods' suggests a sewing surface height between 5 1/2-7" HIGHER than your elbow when you are seated with your arms bent at right angles -- this is in direct contradiction with current OSHA guidelines; OSHA and every other reputable source I consulted says that having to reach up like this to sew is stressful to your wrists, shoulders, and can cause muskeloskeletal disorders.   

If the author didn't want to research ergonomics for sewing, she should have left that part out of the book and focused on storage and organization, her strongest suits.  Misinformation is so much worse than no information at all.

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  My turnaround for edge-to-edge quilting is currently running about 2 weeks, and you can click here to find out how to book your quilt with me.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fabulous DIY Sewing Cabinet: Badskirt's IKEA Hack

Amy Gunson's Modified IKEA Table and Rolling Drawer Unit

I just stumbled across the coolest budget-friendly DIY sewing cabinet project right here on Amy Gunson's Badskirt blog.  Amy and her husband took a very inexpensive white melamine Ikea desk and rolling drawer unit and customized them to fit her Bernina Aurora sewing machine.  Since most of MY do-it-yourself projects tend to be ridiculously impractical and unaffordable, I thought I'd share something sensible with you for a change!
Amy is using an IKEA Alex drawer base on casters ($119) along with an IKEA Melltorp dining table ($119.95 for the table AND IT COMES WITH FOUR CHAIRS!). 
Since I already have the kitchen cabinet drawer base for my sewing machine cabinet, I'll be reusing it.  However, I want to do another sewing cabinet behind it for my serger, and I'm thinking that I need to check out IKEA before I start ordering more kitchen cabinets.  I especially love how Amy's drawer unit is on wheels so she can pull it out when she wants to use the top as a rotary cutting surface, or to support the weight of a large quilt.  If this was my sewing cabinet, I'd want some room to the right of my machine for pin cushions, notions, and a cup of coffee, but I'll bet IKEA has another small unit that I could position to the right of the desk.
For more cool DIY adaptations of IKEA products, check out IKEA Hackers here

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What Height My Sewing Table? Ergonomics, Schmergonics!

Photo courtesy OSHA
All the experts agree that it's important to take ergonomics into consideration when setting up a sewing room.  If you spend long hours working at sewing, cutting, and pressing stations that are too high or too low for you, you're putting yourself at risk of injury to your back, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, etc.  Since my custom-built sewing cabinet and cutting table have been dismantled and I am already redesigning them as part of my studio remodel, I have been researching the ergonomics of sewing in attempt to figure out the optimal height for my work stations so we can customize my sewing furniture to fit my body, kind of like altering a commercial pattern for the perfect fit before sewing a dress.  Or so I've heard from folks who actually sew dresses...

The trouble I'm having is that there seems to be more consensus in Congress about tax reform than there is from the experts on sewing ergonomics.  I've consulted five different sources (The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, Sewing.org, Carolyn Woods' Organizing Solutions for Every Quilter: An Illustrated Guide to the Space of Your Dreams, Leslie L. Hallock's Creating Your Perfect Quilting Space: Sewing Room Makeovers for Any Space and Any Budget, Lynette Ranney Black's Dream Sewing Spaces: Design and Organization for Spaces Large and Small, 2nd Ed.), and I'm getting wildly different advice from all of them about the correct height of sewing, pressing, and cutting surfaces.  Today, we're going to discuss the height of the sewing surface.

Proper Sewing Surface Height, per OSHA

I want to clarify that, in ergonomic discussions, the sewing surface is the STITCH PLATE OF YOUR SEWING MACHINE.  If your machine is recessed into a cabinet like mine will be, then the surface of the cabinet is the sewing surface.  However, if your machine is sitting on top of a table, then your actual sewing surface is going to be several inches higher than table top. 

All of the experts I consulted recommend that your sewing cabinet or table allows you to sit with your body centered on the needle of your sewing machine so you aren't constantly twisting your spine and leaning sideways in order to sew -- this sounds obvious to someone who sews, but the carpenter/handyman/husband building your sewing cabinet might think your body should be aligned with the center of the sewing machine if you don't tell them otherwise.  To determine the height of your sewing table or cabinet, start with a good, adjustable, supportive chair that enables you to sit with your knees and hips bent at approximately 90 degree angles, with your feet flat on the floor.  Once your chair is adjusted properly, sit down and bend your arms at right angles, palms down with your forearms parallel to the floor, and have someone measure from your elbow to the floor (some sources just said to measure from your elbow to the floor, others specified measuring from the bottom of your elbow or from the midpoint of the joint -- and this wass the beginning of the confusion).  Got that measurement?  Okay.  Depending on whose advice you're taking, that elbow-to-floor measurement is either your correct sewing surface height, OR you should add anywhere from 5 1/2 to 7" to get your ideal sewing surface height.  This means that my own ideal sewing cabinet should be anywhere from 29" to 34" tall.  Well, it was 30 1/2" tall before we took it apart, and the commercial sewing cabinet manufacturers offer their cabinets in standard heights ranging from 29" to 30 1/4".  I did notice that I was hunching my back and shoulders when I was free-motion quilting with my old setup, but that could have had more to do with inadequate task lighting than with the sewing surface height.  It's hard to know whether raising my sewing surface would be helpful or whether it would create a whole new world of pain and suffering! 

Koala's Quilt Pro Plus IV, 29 1/4" Sewing Surface Height

With the exception of the folks at OSHA, none of my experts has a professional background in ergonomics.  Woods is a professional organizer, Black's background is in kitchen and bath design, and Hallock (whose recommendations are closest to OSHA's) is a quilter herself with a background that includes mechanical engineering, professional organizing, and factory environments.  I know that the OSHA guidelines are geared towards assembly-line sewing in a factory environment versus free-motion quilting on a domestic sewing machine, and that someone sewing the same side seam in the same shirt over and over again might not need to get their eyes as close to their work as someone who is doodling thread pictures on a quilt for fun, but I still feel like the OSHA recommendations are more likely based on science than on hearsay.  I'm taller than average at 5'8" and I have a long torso, so I'm going to ask Bernie to build the new sewing cabinet 32" high, just an inch and a half above the "standard" cabinet height I had before.  That way my custom sewing cabinet will "fit" me the same way a commercial sewing cabinet from Koala, Horn, etc. would fit a person who was 5'5" or 5'6" tall.  One decision has been made -- wahoo!

Tomorrow we'll look at the correct height of the other two main work stations in a sewing room: the cutting table and the pressing station.  Onwards and upwards!

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  My turnaround for edge-to-edge quilting is currently running about 2 weeks, and you can click here to find out how to book your quilt with me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lars and Anders Come Up Winners at the Science Fair!

Lars at Far Left Standing, Anders Second from Left in Front Row
The Science Fair is a BIG DEAL at our school.  The kids in grades 4-8 begin these projects early in September, coming up with their topics, conducting background research and writing their research papers, coming up with their hyptheses, methods, and materials.  Then the experimental phase takes up the entire month of November, and in December they are analyzing their data, writing up their results and conclusions and their abstracts, neatening up their notebooks and putting it all together into one big, impressive-looking science fair paper.  Last weekend was a flurry of construction paper, rubber cement, Elmer's glue and other craft supplies as they designed and assembled their display boards for the school science fair.  A LOT of work went into both boys' projects, but the competition is pretty fierce at a charter school for gifted students.  We were just glad the projects were finished and turned in on time, and hoped they would earn respectable grades -- so we were delighted and proud when BOTH boys' work was recognized with awards at the science fair on Tuesday evening.  Way to go, Lars and Anders!

Anders took 5th place in the Elementary School division for his project "Does Water Affect Aerodynamics of Paper Airplanes?" 

Anders with his Display Board
Lars was recognized with the Mrs. Roberson Award in the 6th Grade division for his project, "The Effect of Piano versus Symphonic Music on Bean Plants."  He says that decorating the display board was his favorite part of the science fair project.  Child after my own heart...  :-)

Lars with his Display Board

Both boys are now eligible to represent our school at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Regional Science and Engineering Fair next month.  Anders is not sure he wants to participate (because he's suspicious that additional work will be involved!) but either way, they have done well.

Rewards will be selected at the LEGO store this weekend... 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sewing Studio Makeover: Task Lighting for the Cutting Table

After sulking for five days, I am now officially OVER my Corian countertop obsession.  I decided that, deep down, I really do not want a $2K countertop surface on my sewing cabinet.  For one thing, if I splurged on that countertop, I'd really feel stuck with it -- and who's to say I won't want to change or reconfigure my setup again a few years down the road?  What if I want to upgrade a machine or add an additional sewbaby to the family, requiring yet another countertop surface with custom cutouts to fit the new machines?  Nope -- no Corian for me.  We'll just have to figure out something else for the surfaces.  Let me know if you have any great ideas up your sleeves!

My Desecrated Currey & Co. Chandelier
Meanwhile, I've been on a lighting lark.  I already showed you here how I desecrated upcycled a chandelier from storage to replace the ceiling fan in my sewing studio, spray painting over its lovely hand painted finish with a can of Krylon Metallic Satin Oil Rubbed Bronze and switching out the chandelier pendants.  (It's looking a lot better now that the additional crystal chandelier pendants and replacement candle sleeves have been installed).  Then Bernie added four sloped can lights (just finding the right can lights and trim rings was an adventure in and of itself) while I embarked upon a grand quest to find the perfect pendant fixture to mount over my cutting table. 

The best information I found about designing an adequate lighting plan for a sewing studio came from Deb Luttrell, owner of Stitchin' Heaven Quilt Shop in Minneola, Texas.  Deb says that sewing requires at least twice as much light as casual reading, and says to plan for 2 watts of incandescent light (or 1 watt of fluorescent light) for every square foot in your workspace -- and that's just the ambient lighting.  She suggests a pendant light with a minimum of 150 watts hanging over the cutting table for task lighting, with the edge of the shade 14" above the work surface.  Wow -- compare that to the NO light I had over my cutting table before.  I also read some depressing statistic about forty-year-old eyes requiring twice as much task lighting for fine detailed work than twenty-year-old eyes need for the same tasks.  Ugh -- even my eyeballs are middle-aged, now?! 

Of course my husband wanted to just install additional can lights over the cutting table and "be done with it," as he put it, but the vaulted ceiling is way too far above the worktable and light disperses -- you get much better task lighting from a bulb that hangs 24" above your work surface than you would from that exact bulb mounted 8' above your work surface. I'm done using razor-sharp rotary cutters and shears in the dark. Not only was it difficult to get accurate rotary cuts after dusk with my old setup (because I couldn't see the markings on my rulers), but it's also dangerous.  I'm lucky to still have all ten fingers!  As it happens, it is not an easy feat to find a reasonably priced, moderately attractive pendant light with 150+ watts. 

Rejuvenation's 600 watt Dakota Warehouse pendants
The first pendant I crushed on was the Dakota Warehouse Pendant from Rejuvenation.  It comes in different finishes with different shade options, and you can customize the length for an upcharge.  Best of all, each of these pendants takes TWO bulbs with a maximum wattage of 300 watts EACH.  That's six hundred watts of luxurious lighting spilling across my cutting tables -- what's not to love, right?  Well, this fixture costs over $450, for one thing, but the deal breaker is that it can't install on my sloped ceiling.

I found quite a few pendant fixtures from other manufacturers with a similar industrial vintage style (not surprising, since this type of pendant is trendy right now in all sorts of residential settings), but I couldn't find anything that gave me the amount of light I was looking for until I came across the Ivanhoe Sky Chief Warehouse Pendant from Barn Light Electric Co. 

Barn Light Electric Co.'s Ivanhoe Sky Chief Warehouse Pendant
I ordered one of the Ivanhoe Sky Chief pendants with a 20" diameter Cherry Red shade.  It comes with an 8' black cord that can be shortened at installation to position the light precisely above my table, and it takes a single 200 watt incandescent bulb.  It's not going to be the prison searchlight that the Rejuvenation light would have been, but it should be more than adequate -- and it will install on my sloped ceiling with no customization or modifications required, all for a mere $238, less than half of the cost of the Rejuvenation fixture.  I think it will be perfect.

Next post, I'll share some conflicting advice about ergonomics in the sewing studio as it pertains to the proper height for sewing cabinets, cutting tables and pressing stations.  I know you're excited but, please, don't hold your breath -- I'm still working on gradually emptying the studio.  I'm hoping Bernie will have time to put in the additional dedicated electrical circuit for my iron (so the lights won't dim every time my iron cycles on and off) and the floor outlet for my sewing cabinet (no more cords to trip over) and complete drywall repairs this weekend so we can start painting.  I can't believe I unwrapped my new sewbaby over two weeks ago and I still haven't sewn a single stitch with it -- I want this room finished ASAP! 

That's not going to happen unless I get EVERYTHING else out of the room, though.  Here's a reminder of what my room looked like just before Christmas:

My Studio Disaster "Before"

...and here's what my room looks like today:

Studio Half Emptied, Today

See?  My sewing room may only be half empty, but my cup is almost half full or something.  Whatever that means! 

By the way, I did order a finish sample of that Cherry Red pendant shade so I could check that it was the right shade of red for my custom sewing cabinetry, but then I just ordered the fixture anyways, because I'm impatient (and because I have a very good track record with dangerous color-matching like this -- don't try this at home!).  If the two reds don't play nice together when my pendant arrives, I'll repaint the sewing cabinets to match the pendants. 

Time to get those kids to bed so I can go back to emptying the studio!

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  My turnaround for edge-to-edge quilting is currently running about 2 weeks, and you can click here to find out how to book your quilt with me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Custom Sewing Cabinet with Corian Countertop?

Margaret Sindelar's Sewing Room, designed by Pamela Porter
I saw this gorgeous sewing room makeover on the Better Homes & Gardens web site that designer Pamela Porter did for her seamstress client, Margaret Sindelar.  Besides the beautiful built-in kitchen cabinetry she used for storage, do you notice anything?  Margaret has a solid surface countertop on her custom sewing cabinet!  Eureka!

Solid surface countertops like Dupont's Corian would make an ideal sewing cabinet surface for so many reasons.  Corian isn't shiny, so no glare from your sewing machine's light or task lighting.  Pins shouldn't damage the surface, but if you ever did get a scratch it would buff right out.  Corian is slippery, which would be great for free-motion quilting.  Best of all, you can get Corian in any color you want, custom fabricated all in one piece to the shape and dimensions you specify, with no seams or sharp corners for your fabric to catch on.  I especially like how Corian is smooth all the way around the edge and on the underside of the countertop overhang, unlike laminate countertops, which have a sharp points at the top and bottom of the corners. 

I stopped by my local Lowe's Home Improvement Center and picked up some Corian samples.  Witch Hazel was one of my favorites, because it's light enough to reflect a lot of light without being a stark white that would create glare and eye strain.  It has just a bit of beige streaks, giving it a stone-like appearance that would be gorgeous in my sewing palace:

DuPont's Corian in Witch Hazel

Beauty plus function -- what's not to love?  I was all excited about this idea... until I calculated the COST of a Corian sewing cabinet surface.  The sewing cabinet configuration I'm leaning towards would have room for my main sewing and embroidery machine on one side and my serger on the opposite side, each with machine lifts so they could recess completely into the cabinet when not in use.  I planned a cabinet that extends forward on the left side of my main machine, to give additional support for large quilts and also to provide a place for a small cutting mat or secondary ironing station, as needed for different types of projects.  It's a BIG cabinet, with lots of workspace on top and lots of storage beneath (basically a counter height kitchen island) -- and it turns out that this beast of a sewing cabinet I've designed would require around 33 SF of Corian.  Even the cheapest, plainest, brightest white Corian is around $39/SF, and 33 SF x $39 = around $1,300 before we even add in sales tax.  The lovely Witch Hazel Corian that I selected costs almost twice that amount.  And that's just for the sewing cabinet -- I had been thinking of how nice it would be to use the same Corian for the big layout and cutting table as well.  Ugh!  This project was supposed to be an exercise in RESTRAINT and thriftiness!  I hate budgets!

Back to the drawing board...

Meanwhile, I've filled two giant leaf bags full of junk from my sewing room, and am about halfway finished emptying the room.  Bernie has been cutting lots of holes in the drywall and I think he managed to install two of the can lights today while I was battling with a son who INSISTS that his science fair paper does not need an abstract.  Time to open a bottle of wine and saunter upstairs for a look-see, don't you think?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year, 2013! Don't Waste Your Paper!

Dear New Year's Resolutions of 2012:
I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. I have not completed my Works-In-Progress, I quit practicing piano, and I failed to finish all twelve Free-Motion Quilting challenges by the end of the year. I have not loved my treadmill as I have loved my Godiva truffles, I never did organize those junk drawers, and I was not on time for anything... 

Where did this "year in review" thing come from?  You know, the annual blog posts where writers catalog their accomplishments for the year that has just ended and publicly confess to a year's worth of shortcomings and missed opportunities.  Some of them read like confessions, but others are more like those Self Evaluations some people have to write in conjunction with their boss's Performance Evalutation.  You know, open with your strengths, move on to briefly touch upon your screw-ups and discuss what you've learned from them, then finish strong with your biggest achievement and state your goals for the next 6 months or whatever.  Blech! 

But fast away the old year passes; hail the new, ye lads and lasses!  2012 is over and done, but 2013 is stretched out before us like a great, big, blank sheet of paper.  The new year is fresh, clean, and limitless in its possibilities.  You can do whatever you want with your paper.  You can write any story, you can draw beautiful pictures, you can dream up amazing adventures or even redraw yourself as the person you have always wanted to be.  Or you can take that blank sheet of paper, that fresh new year full of opportunity and possibility, and scrawl across the top with a Sharpie marker: "NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS for 2013: 1. I will exercise every day and lose 15 pounds.  2. I will reorganize the garage/closet/my office.  3. I will give up cigarettes/alcohol/chocolate/buying shoes.  4. I will internalize the obsessions and norms of my culture, believing them to be my own goals and desires, and I resolve to end this year as I have ended years past, feeling guilty and inadequate for my perceived shortcomings..."

Happy New Year, everyone!  Don't waste your paper.  ;-)