Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Her Name Is Judy: My Featherweight Has an I.Q. of 172

Judy Holliday in the film Born Yesterday, 1950
My Featherweight now has a name -- it's Judy, after comic actress Judy Holliday.  Judy Holliday won the Oscar for Best Leading Lady in 1951 (the year my Featherweight was "born") for her performance in the film Born Yesterday -- and my little Featherweight hums along as if she was only "born yesterday," too!

Actress Judy Holliday, the Dumb Blonde with an I.Q. of 172
Furthermore, although Judy Holliday's fame was built upon her role as a "dumb blonde," she was actually a bookworm with an I.Q. of 172, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that only 0.4% of the population is estimated to have an I.Q. above 140.  To further put this into perspective, consider that Bill Gates had an I.Q. of 160Stephen Hawking has an I.Q. of 160, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has an I.Q. of 170.  This is also like Judy the Featherweight, whose diminutive size and cutesy appearance belies her reputation as one of the best engineered, most reliable, and most beloved sewing machines ever created.  Maybe I should get an obnoxious bumper sticker for my car that reads, "My Featherweight is Smarter Than Your Honor Student?"  It would look great with my Skull and Scissors Decal...

Judy the Featherweight: Judge Me By My Looks, Do You?
Judy the Featherweight has been set aside for the time being while we wait for her new electrical cord, foot pedal, and missing thread guide to arrive.  I did talk to my Bernina dealer about her this morning, and he's going to service the machine for me once I get those parts -- which is wonderful news, because he takes great care of my Berninas and is only a few minutes away from where I live.  That will give me the peace of mind of knowing that all the electrical parts are safe, but I also know that Berry (my dealer and service tech) will be able to make any timing or tension adjustments needed and help me keep her in top shape.

As you might imagine, I have accomplished ABSOLUTELY NOTHING today, except for naming a sewing machine and answering a couple of emails.  Ahem.  Back to work!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Score One for Habitat for Humanity, and Score One for Rebecca! This One IS Mine!

1951 Singer Featherweight 221
She is stinky.  She has dirty brown oily gook in her nooks and crannies, and she is not very shiny.  Her toggle light switch is broken off, there is rust on her stitch plate where the chrome plating has worn away, and she is missing the last little thread guide that belongs just below the needle clamp.  Her electrical plug is cracked and has a chunk of plastic (bakelight?) missing, exposing live wires (immediately covered with electrical tape by my horrified and ever-watchful husband).  However, she has a gorgeous scrolled chrome face plate, she has a complete bobbin and bobbin caseand she runs and stitches beautifully -- (at least, she was stitching beautifully until I started monkeying with the needle tension dial...)  But, most importantly, this Featherweight is MINE!

I bought this Singer Featherweight 221 sight unseen from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore located about an hour away from where I live.  They had listed it on Craig's List for $200 with a 30-day guarantee, and I was afraid someone else might snatch it up before I was able to get up to Salisbury to take a look at the machine.  My son Lars told me I should just buy it over the phone -- "Mom, if you don't like it, you can just sell it on eBay."  And he was absolutely right.  

1951 Singer Ad for My Exact Machine, the Same Year Mine Was Made

According to the Serial Number Chart on the Singer web site here, my Featherweight was manufactured in the U.K. in 1951, then sent to the Canadian Singer factory to be fitted with a 110-120 volt motor so it could be sold in the United States.  She came to me with her original Type 3 black leatherette carrying case, which has one broken latch, an intact original handle, and no keys.  The case smells like something died in there, like the something that died is still IN THERE, actually, rotting away...  I'll deal with that later. 

Unfortunately, the machine did not come with any accessories or with the instruction manual, but I was able to purchase a reproduction manual from an online Featherweight parts dealer -- and then I discovered that I could download the Featherweight owner's manual from the Singer web site for free, here.  I printed it out so I can highlight and take notes.  As for the original accessories, they would have added value if I wanted to sell the machine, but I don't need rufflers or hemmers for what I plan to do with this Featherweight.  She's in great working condition, but cosmetically she's not up-to-snuff as a collector's item and she isn't one of those really rare iterations that would command a high price in any condition.  The machine hasn't been abused, just used well over the years, as attested to by the finish wear and all the pin scratches on the flat bed of the machine.  Did she sew children's clothing?  Hem trousers?  Someone's wedding gown, or treasured quilt?  What stories could she tell if she could talk to me? 

The original straight stitching presser foot is on the machine, and the various quarter inch patchwork feet that most quilters use on Featherweights are all after market parts, anyway. 

Hmmm...  Is That Nancy Drew with her Featherweight?
I have ordered a replacement foot pedal and electrical cord for safety, that missing thread guide, a reproduction stitch plate with seam width markings (the original plate has chrome worn away around the feed dogs and did not have the markings), a little spring that goes on the spool holder at the top of the machine, and some Singer sewing machine oil and motor lubricant.  Most importantly, I've ordered a replacement for the wool felt liner inside the bottom of the machine, which is soaked with old oil and probably mold as well, and is the most likely culprit for my Featherweight's embarrassing body odor problem. 

I'm in the process of learning how to clean out the gook and shine her up again. I have read that the factory clear coat finish on a Featherweight is a shellac that is very vulnerable to water and most contemporary cleaning products, as are the mostly intact gold decorative decals on my machine.  Since she's not so shiny to begin with, I certainly don't want worsen that problem or accidentally remove any of the decals in my cleaning zeal!

Nancy Drew Again, or Is This Trixie Belden?
I don't know whether I really got a great deal by the time replacement parts and repairs are factored in, but if I did pay too much, at least it went to a great charity.  Proceeds from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore directly fund Habitat for Humanity, helping them to fulfill their mission statement: "Habitat for Humanity believes that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. We build and repair houses all over the world using volunteer labor and donations."   So not only has my little Featherweight churned out countless sewing projects over the past 62 years; she is also helping to provide affordable housing for a family in need. 

She's a cute little machine, an icon of an era when machinery was built to last a lifetime.  She only sews forwards and backwards, but Featherweights are legendary for their perfect straight stitch and reliability.  I will use this machine as it was intended, as a portable sewing machine that I could take on vacation or to a workshop, and it will also be convenient when I'm doing crazy quilting with bobbinwork decorative stitch embellishment on the seams, because I can stitch the seam on the Featherweight, flip it open, and then stitch the decorative stitch pattern on my snazzy Bernina 750 QE without having to change settings, rethread, and monkey with the bobbin tension after each and every seam.  Sewing on this machine is like traveling backwards through time.

The Singer 221 Featherweight was a modern marvel of design and engineering when it was unveiled at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, just like my Bernina is in 2013.  But I don't think for a minute that anyone will want to sew on my Bernina 80 years from now.  When it comes to sewing machines, they really don't make them like they used to!

Friday, April 26, 2013

This Is Not My Featherweight... But It Should Be!

Quilty Joy: Someone Else's Featherweight
I got sucked down a black hole of Featherweight obsession this week, and I can't even remember what set it off.  I found this gorgeous image on Pinterest (another time-sucking black hole of Internet temptation and delight), which sources back to a post on a blog entitled Anyone Can Quilt here.  Look carefully at that picture, and what do you see?  A modern, snazzy Bernina in the background.  Which just proves that I'm not the only Thoroughly Modern Quilter who has been bitten by the Bewitching Featherweight Bug.

She was introduced at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933.  She was one of the first truly portable sewing machines, weighing in at approximately 11 pounds due to the use of some aluminum instead of the cast iron of other sewing machines at that time.  She was perfectly balanced, sewed a beautiful straight stitch and was sold until about 1970, when home sewers demanded zigzag machines and the built-to-last-generations Featherweight was no longer cost-effective to manufacture.  Probably the single most popular sewing machine of all time, over 3 million Featherweights were sold between 1933 and 1970, and quite a few of them are still around, sewing just as beautifully as the day they were made.  Quilters rediscovered this little gem of a machine in the 1990s -- they are perfect for piecing quilt tops, which only requires a straight stitch anyway, and the Featherweight is small and light enough to bring to classes, guild meetings or retreats.  A Featherweight is quite the conversation piece, and they are just plain GORGEOUS.

Do I need one?  Of course not.  Do I want one?  Duh...  And am I going to get one?  Oh, it's just a matter of time...

Immaculate Pre-War Featherweight with Scrolled Faceplate and Chrome Handwheel
I am in Research Mode right now.  I downloaded the Kindle version of Featherweight 221: The Perfect Portable and its Stitches Across History, by Nancy Johnson-Srebro, from Amazon and have been reading it on my iPad.  I've learned that nowhere on any of these machines does it actually SAY Featherweight.  I've learned about the manufacturing changes over time, how to guesstimate the age of a machine and pin it down to a "birth year" by serial number, how to thread the machine, and how to trouble-shoot the most common problems.  I've been trolling eBay and Craigslist to see what the machines are going for.  But I'm torn -- I really love the craftsmanship of the pre-war Featherweights, like the one shown above, but I also like the no-nonsense mid-century appeal -- and the addition of seam width markings on the stitch plate -- that the mid-1950s Featherweights feature:

1955 Featherweight 221, for sale here
You know I really want one of each, don't you?  So now that I know what I'm looking for, I'll just keep this in the back of my mind until the right machine turns up at the right price.  I'm still learning the ins-and-outs of my new Bernina 750 QE sewing machine, which due to size, weight, and modern technology is the polar opposite of a Featherweight machine that pre-dates the zigzag!  I also have some hand applique for my Jingle BOM that I've been avoiding starting for some ridiculous reason.  After all, the worst that can happen is that the first attempt comes out ugly (do it over!) or that I stab myself with a needle (get a Band-Aid!). 

I'll leave you with one last glimpse of another lovely Featherweight that doesn't belong to me:

Photo by Linzee McCray, read her Featherweight blog post on etsy here
Anders' Suzuki Violin recital is tomorrow morning and Lars is headed to a computer programming class at Central Piedmont Community College.  Twenty-six kids between the ages of 10-13 will be learning how to program video games.  You should have seen his eyes light up when I told him about it!  I hope it's as much fun as he's expecting.  Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jingle BOM Quilt Pieced Block No. 1 and School Musical Wrap-Up

"Jingle" BOM Quilt Pieced Block #1 Completed!
I managed to finish my Jingle BOM Pieced Block No. 1 today after the kids' play wrapped up.  Since I'm catching up on this BOM (Block of the Month), I'm doing the blocks out of order and have already completed Pieced Block No. 2.  After this, I have the first two appliqued blocks to do and a big, scary, appliqued center medallion for the quilt, and then I'll be caught up.  The pattern was designed by Erin Russek of One Piece at a Time, and you can visit her blog here to catch up if you'd like to join in.

I've never done one of these BOM things before, but I'm finding that there are some advantages to working this way.  For instance, usually when I start a quilt, I pick out all of my fabrics and cut out every single piece before I start sewing anything together.  This way, doing only one block at a time, I find that I'm not rushing as much because I don't have an intimidating stack of little squares and triangles waiting to be pieced together.  I am doing a lot more frog stitching (Rip it!  Rip it!), taking seams out and redoing them until they are perfect before moving on to the next unit.  I can't stand when my crisp little triangle points get eaten in the seam, and I want those seam intersections to match up perfectly

Well, this year's school musical officially wrapped up after the final matinee performance this afternoon.  Dads disassembled the sets while moms sorted out costumes, and now the Willy Wonka Jr. production is just a memory.  I thought I would be relieved, since the late night rehearsals (and even later nights fighting with small actors who think theatre should exempt them from other schoolwork) have been running me pretty ragged.  Naturally I'm glad the let's-make-lederhosen experience is behind me (what was I thinking?!).  I volunteered as a "child-wrangler" for two of the four performances, which entailed patrolling backstage and shushing actors who were not currently on stage.  It turns out that I am a terrible child-wrangler -- since the kids were all quiet, I sat down in the hallway where I could intimidate them with my presence (hopefully) and control them with an occasional scowl or shush.  I took out my iPad and stylus, opened the Paper by 53 drawing app, and started practicing quilting designs:

Before long, I had a flock of kids huddled around watching me draw, which I thought was great, because they were quiet, right?  Except that some of them were so interested in my doodles that they missed their cues and did not appear on stage when they were supposed to.  Oops.  Don't tell the director -- I don't want to be the first parent volunteer ever to be fired!

I don't think the kids were as interested in my drawings as they were in the app I was using to draw them. 

In any case, the show is done, the lederhosen is done, and the two pieced blocks for the Jingle quilt are behind me now.  That makes next week a fresh page, perfect for starting something new -- like needle-turn applique!  I may sneak in a little free-motion quilting on Monday, now, too.  After all of that doodling, I feel like quilting some feathers!

Enjoy what's left of your weekend!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I Have a Design Wall!

Design Wall Installed!
Yay -- I finally have a design wall in my sewing studio!  See my lonely little block up there?  I'm hoping to get more of those done next week, after the madness of the school theatre production wraps up this weekend.

My design board is a 4' x 8' sheet of foam insulation board from Lowe's Home Improvement, and I decided to wrap it with English Bump drapery interlining because I had a partial bolt of it sitting around.  English bump is 100% cotton, thick like table felt, but with more of a "bumpy" texture to it, so I knew it would be perfect for sticking blocks and fabric pieces even without pins.  I like to use English Bump for all of my silk draperies because it creates a gorgeous drapery with substantial body and luxurious thickness, the interlining provides excellent UV protection for silk, and it's also a great insulator and sound muffler.  I think it runs somewhere between $12-16 per yard, but like I said, I have a bolt of it on hand that I don't need for anything in the immediate future so it's free-to-me!  For my design wall, I also love that the bump is so similar in color to my walls so it doesn't jump out at me.  It's also so soft and smooth, like an expensive blanket, so you might catch me rubbing my face against the design wall like a kitty cat if I'm having a rough day...  ;-)

Close-Up of Fuzzy English Bump on Design Wall
We used a permanent spray adhesive (outside!) to adhere the bump fabric to the foam insulation board.  Then we wrapped the raw fabric edges to the back side, secured them with duct tape, and my husband used industrial-strength Velcro hook and loop tape to secure it to my wall.  I wish it was wider but this is my only full height wall in the room that isn't broken up by windows, and as you can see, I can't go any wider because of the ceiling slope.  I'm going to use a step stool to position things on the upper portion of the design wall when I need that space.  Oh, and one more thing -- the design wall is opposite several windows, but I have ceramic UV film on all of them to protect my fabrics and furnishings from the sun without blocking out my natural daylight. 

Several people have asked me about the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) that I use for my computerized sewing machine, and I'm planning to put together a post about that soon.  I just need to do a little research and fact-checking first to make sure I'm not contributing to the abundant misinformation already out there on the Internet.

What's next for my studio remodel?  Well, now that I've got my design wall, we need to enlarge the cutting area, build in additional storage beneath, and find the perfect surface for the cutting table.  One step at a time...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lederhosen FINISHED!

Final Lederhosen Fitting -- SUCCESS!!
...And they FIT!  Which is fabulous, since I had NO backup plan in case they didn't fit and tomorrow is the first dress rehearsal.  After the young actor tried them on, I took the lederhosen back to my studio to decorate them:
Finished, Decorated, DONE.
That's better, isn't it?  I cut the fake welt pocket leaves out of felt and used 505 Temporary Spray Adhesive to position them next to the side seams.  Same with the extra leaf that I added on the placket thingy.  Then I used my BSR foot, stitch length 3.0, to free-motion the edge stitching to the lederhosen with jeans thread.  I added the little swirly things around the placket leaf the same way.  What did I learn?  Well, I thought that free-motion quilting was challenging with a flatbed setup, but it's MUCH more difficult to FMQ when you have to use the free arm because the pants are already assembled -- if I had this to do over, I'd have done the "decorating" before sewing the side seams together.  I did it this way because I didn't want to waste my time embellishing something that didn't fit and had to be scrapped.

Could I add more decorative swirlies around the faux pocket decorations?  Would the lederhosen look more authentic with a little knife pocket on the side seam?  Absolutely -- but this is a costume for a school play, that will only be worn for three performances, and I have put plenty of time into it already.  So I'm calling it Good Enough!  Back to my Jingle BOM!

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Puppy Portrait Plea and a Lederhosen Update

Proposed Formal Portrait of Otto

Now, how funny is that?  Bernie took some really great photos of our Rottweiler puppies the other day, and I just couldn't help myself...  I found some photos of oil portraits from my trip to the Louvre and used my design software to stick my puppies' heads in place of the people.

Proposed Formal Portrait of Lulu

This one is Lulu, my Puppy Princess Extraordinaire.  I think the hands would need to be replaced with paws, and the background might need to be lightened up a little so she doesn't blend into it and disappear.

My mother does some oil painting, and she painted a fantastic portrait of my sister's dog once from a photo.  If she loves me as much as she loves Janice, don't you think she should whip up these paintings of my sweet doggies as well?  After all, they are her grandpuppies.

I think it would be hysterical to hang large oil paintings of my dogs like this, in matching ornate frames, in my living room.  Did you hear that, Mother?  I would hang them in a PLACE OF HONOR IN MY HOME, where everyone would see them and marvel at your mastery.  Please please please please please...

And now, back to the lederhosen, which are almost actually finished.  I just need to sew on seven buttons and three buttonholes.  If I have time, I'll add that little knife pocket to the right side seam and maybe some decorations to make them extra-snazzy.  But even at this point, they are wearable with safety pins.  I think that all the top stitching with jeans thread helps to make them look more like leather, don't you?
Lederhosen Costume In Progress

These need to be finished TODAY, in time for rehearsal at 3:30 PM.  And they had just better fit the boy, because I can't really make any adjustments at this point and there isn't enough time to start over.  I used a strip of drapery buckram, trimmed to 2" wide, to stiffen the waistband, and I found some jute ribbon at Michael's to simulate the leather lacings at the sides.  I have some red and green felt that I'm thinking of using to recreate the effect of the oak leaf pocket design on Bernie's authentic lederhosen, as well:

Bernie's Real Lederhosen

We need to use the real lederhosen straps with our costume, and they are a hunter green embossed leather with red leather trim, like the decorative pockets, so I think that adding those red and green leaf pockets would help to make our brown lederhosen coordinate with the straps better.

Of course, nothing is getting done AT ALL as long as I sit at the computer, clickety-clacking away...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lederhosen Procrastination and Fabric Auditions

This is Not Lederhosen...
The first dress rehearsal for the school play is Tuesday, just three days away.  You would think that I'd have finished that lederhosen costume by now, wouldn't you, or that I'd at least be putting the finishing touches on it?  Nope -- I played with fabric and cut out all the pieces for the next pieced block in the Jingle Block of the Month quilt instead.  Do you like how I fussy-cut the little corner squares?  You would not believe how much time I spent mulling over fabrics and auditioning them together, and trying to decide which snippet of this glorious Christmas print should be featured on the corner squares of the block.  I can't wait to sew this block together -- but NO!  I have to make a lederhosen costume.  Ah, regret soaked in procrastination...

 Some helpful folks on the Yahoo Bernina groups alerted me to Burda's lederhosen patterns, but unfortunately the children's pattern does not go large enough for this actor, who wears a size 12 husky in ready-to-wear, but the men's pattern is way too large.  Also I have waited until the last minute, and now there is no time to order a pattern anyway.  My husband has been making helpful comments like "why don't you just buy a pair of brown shorts?"  He does not understand that I TOLD PEOPLE I could MAKE them out of fabric that I already own.  If I just went out and bought a pair of shorts, that would be like Bernie hiring someone else to fix a hole in the dry wall or put up crown moulding.  Plus, the little button flap front of the lederhosen is what makes them look authentic, and they do NOT sell any shorts that look like this at Gap Kids!

So I turned Bernie's old lederhosen inside-out and carefully traced off a muslin pattern along the seam lines. 

Since this is just a costume, I'm ignoring the pockets.  I carefully added an inch or so all the way around, trued up the seam lines so the pieces would match up and fit together properly, and then added seam allowances to that.  I basted the muslin pieces together and brought them to play practice for the little boy to try on.

Well, somehow I goofed because the legs flared out like an A-line skirt, but the waist was WAY too tiny and the boy couldn't close it!  I think I forgot to add back in the bulk of the darts in the back pieces or something.  Now that I look of that picture of my pattern piece for the back of the shorts, it's obvious that it's all goofed up.  I mean, LOOK at it!  So, do you think I went right back into my sewing room to fix the problem on the muslin and get busy on the real costume?  Of course not!  My ego was bruised, and I needed to do something that I'm good at to restore my confidence. 

I'm good at picking out fabric.  ;-)

I cut a 1 1/2" square out of an index card to create a little window for selecting which part of this big, busy print I could feature on the corners of my block:

Isn't that fun?  It's called Florentine Something-Or-Other and I've had it in my stash for years, just haven't found the right project for it yet.  The hardest part was finding a motif that fit into a 1 1/2 inch square, and the next hardest part was finding one that I liked that had the right colors and value, and that I had four repeats of in this piece of fabric. 

Anyway, back to the wretched lederhosen, which I have decided NOT to embroider.  This is a costume that will be worn only three times, and it isn't even for my own child to wear.  It would be crazy for me to slave away over this too much.  Especially since just making a pair of shorts that are shaped somewhat like a human being is proving to be such a challenge!

So I made the legs narrower, made the waist wider, and cut the pieces out of the microsuede yesterday.  I started sewing them together today, and now I'm working on the button flap thingy for the front.  Tomorrow is a busy day -- Anders has a friend sleeping over tonight, then Lars has Chinese tutoring in the morning and they both have piano lessons in the afternoon, but I hope I manage to drag myself back into the sewing room to finish the lederhosen costume.  My quilt block pieces will be flirting with me from across the room the whole time...

Monday, April 8, 2013

As Ye Sew, So Shall Ye RIP! Jingle Quilt BOM, Pieced Block No. 2

Jingle BOM Pieced Block #2, Finally!
Sometimes, I think I'm really good at something, and then I discover that I'm really NOT.  Does this ever happen to you?  Well, it happened to me this weekend.  Erin Russek of One Piece At A Time is doing a Christmas themed Block of the Month (BOM) quilt this year called Jingle, and I'm determined to make this quilt.  Erin designs and sews the most beautiful appliqued quilt patterns, and her extensive needle-turn applique instructions on her blog tutorial have encouraged me to let 2013 be the year I finally learn to do hand applique.  I've admired others' applique work forever, but it's kind of scary to think about going Old School without my fancy schmancy Bernina technology to make me look better than I am. 

Erin Russek's Jingle Quilt BOM, patterns and instructions available here

Erin's pattern for the central poinsettia applique medallion for this quilt is available for $10.00 here.  The remaining blocks, 8 applique and 8 pieced, will be posted one at a time as free downloads on Erin's blog, One Piece At A Time, between now and November, and so far she has posted two applique blocks and two pieced blocks.  I'm a little behind already, but if I focus on just one block at a time, I should have a beautiful new quilt just in time for holiday decorating.  It's kind of fun not knowing what the whole quilt will look like until the end, too.  I love flowers, birds, Christmas, and red and green color schemes, so I know I'll really enjoy this project.

So far I have purchased the center medallion pattern and downloaded the four block patterns that have been released so far, and I finally picked out all of my fabrics and collected all of the supplies I'll need for the applique work, so it's time for me to catch up!  Naturally I am too chicken to start out with the huge 27" square center medallion for my first-ever applique, and even the smaller cardinal and floral applique blocks look kind of intimidating.  But the pieced blocks?  I've done plenty of pieced blocks before.  I'm good at pieced blocks.  Piece of cake, right?  WRONG!

Pieced Block #2
I chose Pieced Block #2 to start with, because the 3" center square is perfect for fussy-cutting my red poinsettia print fabric.  After auditioning scraps of fabric for about an hour (seriously!) I finally settled on the ones I wanted to use for this block, carefully cut out my squares, half square triangles, and quarter square triangles, and started piecing this block together on my Bernina 750 QE sewing machine with my #37D Dual Feed Quarter Inch Patchwork foot, dual feed engaged.  I started from the center square, first adding the gold triangles and then the green print triangles after that.  It was a disaster -- since the long side of the triangles (hypotenuse) was longer than the side of the square piece they were sewn to, I had trouble lining the pieces up correctly and the sides of the resulting square did not match up accurately -- easy to tell, because the sides of the square did not meet up at all.  So I ripped those stitches out and sewed the seams again, and the second time, my yellow square with a red square inside was actually a square.  So I sewed the green triangles on next, had more jagged sides, and had to rip those seams out and redo them.  I was so careful to get perfect little points on each and every triangle and I was delighted with how my block was coming along...  Until I MEASURED it. 

First Try, After Ripping and Restitching Twice, Still a Failure!
This block is supposed to finish at 9" square.  That means that the portion of the block that I'd sewn so far should measure exactly 6 1/2" square (6" plus a 1/4" seam allowance on all four sides).  As you can see in this photo, a combination of factors had combined to cause my block to finish too small and not even square.  And that's when I realized that I have never attempted to piece a block with this many pieces before.  I've done a strip-pieced Roman Square quilt, a double 9-patch quilt (also using the strip technique for the 9-patch units), a maple leaf pieced quilt with squares and HST (half square triangle) units, and the Drunkard's Path quilt that I finished most recently introduced the challenge of a curved seam but there were still only two pieces to each block.  The more pieces in a quilt block, the more seams, and the more seams, the more imperative it is that each and every one of those seams is EXACTLY 1/4" or else the pieces won't fit together properly and the blocks won't end up the correct size.  So all this time I thought I had mastered that perfect 1/4" seam, and apparently I just couldn't tell I was off because the blocks I was piecing were so easy that I was "close enough."

Well, when I get stumped, I go to my books to find solutions from people who actually DO know what they are doing.  This time, the expert advice I turned to came from Sally Collins' book, The Art of Machine Piecing, available from Amazon here.  Collins specializes in piecing on a very small scale, reducing traditional quilt blocks down to just 3" blocks, which requires fanatically accurate piecing skills.

The biggest light bulb for me was Collins' recommendation that you determine the grid for each block and from there, calculate the size of each and every unit of that block including the seam allowance.  Collins measures her block units after sewing every single seam, so that if something is off she discovers the problem immediately and knows that it had to be the last seam she stitched.  Why didn't I think of that?  The block I was attempting was a 3x3 grid, and my pieces were all supposed to finish 3", 6", or 1 1/2" (plus 1/2" seam allowances). 

Chalk Lines for Positioning Triangles
So the next day, I cut all new pieces of fabric, this time using my Kaye England Cut for the Cure specialty rulers so that I could cut everything from 2" strips instead of doing the traditional but convoluted "add 7/8" and cut the square diagonally" method of cutting that I'd done the first go-'round.  I was REALLY careful to cut my pieces to exactly the right size -- after all, if each piece was too small by even a 32nd of an inch, by the time you multiply that by all 41 pieces in this block it would add up to a significant error no matter how perfect my quarter inch seam was.  Then, for the triangles that needed to be sewn to the straight sides of the red square, I decided to mark the center with a chalk X to help me position the triangle points more precisely.  That made a HUGE difference!

Perfect this time!  No "Squaring Up" Trimming!
I was REALLY careful with the seam allowances today, too, watching the right side of the presser foot to make sure the fabric edge was aligned exactly with the edge of the foot, without even a thread of fabric sticking out to the right. 

Measuring Each Unit As It's Sewn: A Perfect 1 1/2" HST Unit
I know a lot of quilters say you shouldn't press during block construction or that you shouldn't press with steam because of the potential for distortion, but I suspected that I might be losing some of my block by not pressing my seams flat enough before sewing the next piece on top of them, so I pressed my little units as flat as little pancakes.  I found a Husqvarna Viking padded ironing surface with a 1/2" grid in my sewing room that I've had forever and never used (it came in some kind of Quilting or Home Dec kit, I think).  This made it really easy to check my units for size and squareness at the same time, and allowed me to use some steam with my iron without worry of distortion.  Why did I never use this before?  It's fabulous!

#57 Quarter Inch Patchwork Foot with Guide
I experimented with different presser feet today, too.  I decided that the #37 D Dual Feed Patchwork Foot might be nice for piecing long strips together without shifting or bowing, but that I wanted more support for my fabric at the back of the presser foot because some of my tiny triangles were getting "eaten" and pulled down into the stitch plate when I was using the dual feed.  I switched to my #57 Quarter Inch Patchwork Foot with Seam Guide, which was nice because it has a barrier at the right side of the foot that prevents you from sewing your seam allowance too wide.  However, once I was sewing different pieced units together, I discovered that you can't sew over pins with the #57 foot because the pins cannot pass under that guide plate, and I NEED to pin whenever seams need to meet up precisely.  At that point I switched to my #37 Quarter Inch Patchwork Foot, the plain one without dual feed or a seam guide, and that worked best for me for assembling the block units.  I always use a straight stitch plate on my 9 mm machine when I'm piecing, and for this block I followed Collins' recommendation to piece with a Schmetz 70/11 Microtex needle.  I used Aurifil Mako 50 weight 2-ply cotton thread. 

And finally, after three days, I have finished the block AND it measures 9 1/2" x 9 1/2" just as it should.  Yay!

Finished!  Perfect Triangle Points!  Perfectly Square, AND 9 1/2" x 9 1/2"!
Hopefully the next blocks will go together easier, now that I've worked out my kinks.  There are so many different methods for cutting and piecing these units; if one method doesn't work for you, just try another one.

Before I can move on to the next block of my Jingle quilt, I'm going to have to get back to that lederhosen costume I promised to make for the school play.  In fact, I need to head to school right now to pick up my kids from rehearsal and hopefully get Augustus Gloop to try on the muslin shorts I whipped up over the weekend.  They are enormous, but the plan is to have him try them on inside out, pin the side seams and mark the muslin, and then use that for my pattern when I cut into the microsuede.  I'm reconsidering the embroidery, though -- this is a costume that will be worn for 3 performances, so it doesn't make sense to slave over them and make myself crazier than I already am!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Let's Sew Embroidered Lederhosen! Or, The One Where Rebecca has Lost her Mind

Strange Men in Lederhosen, photo courtesy of Google  ;-)
So my kids' school is doing a production of Willy Wonka Jr. in a few weeks, and they sent an email out to parents with a list of props and costume items they were hoping someone could donate or loan for use in the production.  One of those items was lederhosen for Augustus Gloop.  We have a pair of lederhosen that belonged to Bernie when he was a child, so I brought them in...  Alas, our Augustus Gloop is bigger than Bernie was when he fit into these leather shorts.  Then, because I am that rare combination of an insane person who is also a showoff, I heard these words coming out of my mouth: "I'll bet I could make him a pair of lederhosen out of some brown microsuede fabric that I have sitting around in my sewing room."  There were witnesses to this lunacy, and now I am officially responsible for costuming Augustus Gloop.  In lederhosen.  With no pattern, and no experience sewing any kind of shorts or pants, EVER. 

Bernie's lederhosen weren't embroidered; they were just decorated with leaf-shaped leather appliques, but my internet search for photo inspirations turned up quite a few embroidered versions.  Embroidering microsuede is sure to be a nightmare, which is right up my alley.  Fun, fun fun!

Here's the plan: I'm going to attempt to make a muslin pattern from the existing lederhosen by turning them inside out and tracing along the seamlines.  Then I'll add an inch or two to the length and width, sew the muslin together, and have the Augustus actor try them on for fit.  If the muslin fits, it's my pattern.  If not, I tweak it until it does fit.  I'm going to raise the waistband a bit, like the lederhosen dude on the right, so I can use the straps from Bernie's real lederhosen instead of having to mess with buckles etc.  I just have to put buttons on my shorts that fit the buttonholes on the lederhosen straps.

My microsuede fabric is soft and drapey, not stiff like the leather lederhosen, so I'm going to try to interface it with some Pellon stuff.  Can you fuse interfacing to microsuede?  I don't know -- but I'm going to find out!  The embroidery will be the fun part...  Here are some of the things I found online:

I am NOT going to attempt to put pockets on my lederhosen, but the shoe lace ties on the green pair might be fun...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pernicious Puckers and Detestable Thread Loopies: Trouble-Shooting in Machine Embroidery

Okay, so remember the Big, Bodacious Birdie that I spent the better part of two days embroidering for the Machine Embroidery Blog Hop a couple of weeks ago?  I promised I would do a follow up about some of my trouble-shooting, and here it is.

I really need to do a huge disclaimer here first to let you all know that I am NOT a very experienced machine embroiderer.  I have embroidered monogrammed gifts here and there, a quilt label or two, and a couple of Bob the Builder designs on tiny little sweatshirts, and I have done some outline quilting with my embroidery module, but that's about it.  Now that I've invested in a new machine with superior embroidery capabilities and a great, big Jumbo Hoop to go with it, I'm determined to do more embroidery than I did in the past, and I'm hell-bent on solving the most irksome problems that have plagued my machine embroidery projects from the very beginning: Pernicious Puckering and DetestableThread Loopies of Doom!

Puckering with Organ Titanium 80/12BP Embroidery Needle
So, for the ME Blog Hop, I tried to follow the Anita Goodesign directions to the letter, but the directions were specifically written for the applique block designs and I was embroidering an individual, NON-applique motif that I had enlarged by about 10-12% in my Bernina embroidery software.  I noticed some puckering around the fill stitching with the very first thread color, but I didn't stop and start over because I honestly didn't know what to change and I had to get the design stitched out and the post written up for my blog hop deadline.  I decided to use this as a learning opportunity, knowing that I could use the finished design for free-motion quilting practice if it turned out really awful and unusable.  So I stitched away...

I take a scientific approach to these kinds of problems.  Step one was the research phase, where I read several books on machine embroidery and compared advice from different authors.  (See my book reviews here).  As soon as I noticed that my birdie design was puckering, I got the books out again and started hunting through them for ideas.  I had learned that puckering is usually a symptom of stretching the fabric when you're hooping it, but that puckering can also be caused by insufficient stabilizing or by using a ball point needle when a sharp needle would have been more appropriate for your fabric.  Since my silk fabric had been interfaced with Pellon Ultra Weft, then spray-basted with 505 to a piece of muslin that was spray-basted to a piece of midweight tearaway embroidery stabilizer, I thought for sure I had the stabilizing part of the equation under control.  With all four layers sandwiched together and then starched, it felt like I was hooping a piece of card stock instead of fabric. 
The first color in this design was a dense fill stitch for the top bird, but most of the subsequent colors were satin stitched elements, and lordy, how the Loopies of Doom reared their ugly heads! 
Behold, the Detestable Thread Loopies of Doom!
I knew I could fix these ugly upper thread loops after the design was finished (I'll show you how later in the post), but there were SO many of them and honestly, I knew I must be doing something wrong and I was determined to figure out what it was.  These upper thread loops have plagued my embroidery projects from the very beginning, when I tried just cutting them off (bad idea -- it makes your whole design unravel!).  My preliminary internet research revealed that many people think this problem is just inherent to domestic embroidery machines, or that it's more of a problem with certain machine brands than others. Not so! These upper thread loops, which are most common with satin stitches, indicate that there is an issue with the upper thread misbehaving as your needle passes down into your fabric to form a stitch. Our variables are the needle, the thread, and the fabric.  So I experimented with changing one variable at a time, taking notes about what I had tried and what results I noticed, before changing a different variable.  The first suspect is the needle, so I started changing them out after each color change and taking notes on what I had tried so far and what results I was getting. 
H80/12TBP = 80/12 Titanium BALL POINT!
I had started out with one of what I thought was the best embroidery needles in my drawer, an 80/12 Organ Titanium Coated Embroidery Needle.  Titanium coated needles last 5-7x as long as chrome plated needles, so they are worth the higher price point.  But what did this give me?  Thread loopies!  I put in a new needle of the same type, brand and size, in case the first needle had a burr or defect.  Still thread loopies.  That was when I noticed that my package said BALLPOINT embroidery needles.  One of my books had explained that most of the flat shank embroidery needles sold for domestic (non-commercial) embroidery machines had a ballpoint tip, whereas the round shank embroidery needles for commercial machines came in a much greater variety to suit a wider range of fabrics. 

90/14 SHARP Embroidery Needles
Aha!  I dug around in my drawer (it helps to have a stockpile of lots of different needles) and tried a size 90/14 Organ Sharp Embroidery Needle.  Guess what?  Once I had switched from a ballpoint needle to a sharp point needle, I saw no more puckering with this design, even when the second bird stitched out with the same dense fill stitch that caused puckering right out of the gate.  I still was seeing thread loopies, but fewer than before. 

I consulted my book again, the one about embroidering on "difficult materials," and saw that the author recommended using a MICROTEX needle instead of an embroidery needle when embroidering a densely woven silk fabric like mine.  More digging in the needle drawer yielded a pack of 70/10 Schmetz Microtex needles.  DISASTER!  Uber thread loops!  Eek!  The size 70 needle made a hole that was much too small for the 40 weight Isacord embroidery thread to pass through smoothly. 

The Winner!!!
Finally, I put in a larger 90/14 Schmetz Microtex Needle, and my thread loopies were almost completely eliminated.  If you think about it, this makes sense.  Microtex needles are designed with a very slim, acute point, for precise stitching through densely woven microfibre, silk (like my silk shantung!), satins, and artificial leather, and the larger 90/14 size was better suited to my thread.

I said that the 90/14 Microtex needle ALMOST eliminated all of the thread loopies.  I eventually figured out that the remaining loops resulted from the way the slippery embroidery thread was falling off the spool too rapidly, reducing the tension on the upper thread even though it was properly threaded through the tension disks.  I had started out with my embroidery thread on the horizontal spool pin, then tried it on the machine's vertical spool pin (I didn't like how the larger embroidery spool wobbled around there) and finally put it on a free-standing cone thread stand next to my machine to facilitate speedy color changes (this was before I got the adapter to attach my Multiple Spool Holder to my new 750 QE machine).  I was using the thread net thingy with the first couple of colors on the horizontal spool holder to keep the thread from unwinding too fast and getting caught, but I stopped using the net when I went vertical with the thread because it was slowing down my color changes, I was lazy, and didn't believe the thread net was doing anything anyway.  Wrong! 

No Thread Net
See how slack the red embroidery thread is in the photo above, how it drapes between thread guides on its way to the tension disks?  Somewhere I read that these ugly thread loopies can be caused by upper thread tension that is too loose, but I couldn't believe that the default embroidery tension on my fancy-schmancy new machine would need to be adjusted for plain old Isacord thread. 

Thread Net to the Rescue!
Noticing the slack in my embroidery thread as it fed to the machine, I decided to try putting the silly little net thing on the thread (it reminds me of the hair nets worn by lunch ladies in school cafeterias).  Believe it or not, this silly little fishnet stocking thing immediately corrected the upper thread tension, eliminating the remaining thread loops.  Who knew?!

This is how the thread looks at the back of the machine when I have a thread net on the spool:

Thread Delivery is Taut When Using Thread Net on Embroidery Spool
See how nice and taut it is, with no loose slack between the thread guides?  So finally, after 3+ hours of embroidery, testing out four different kinds of needles and several different setups for upper thread delivery, I finally figured out that Microtex 90/14 needle + Thread Net = No Puckering or Thread Loops on Silk Shantung!
Here's that finished design again, still in the hoop.  You can see the initial puckering and horizontal wrinkling that I had with the first ballpoint embroidery needle around the body and tail of the top bird.  All of my thread loopies are still in the design at this point as well.
Remember that ugly thread loopy photo I showed you at the beginning of this post?  Here it is again:
And here is that same portion of the embroidery design, after I pulled the thread loops to the back of the design with a simple sweater pull repair tool that cost less than $2:
Thread Loopies Gone!
Essential Embroidery Tools: Hemostat, Curved Scissors, and Snag Repair Tool for Thread Loopies
These are the three most important embroidery tools that did NOT come with your machine.  The curved scissors at the top of this photo is perfect for trimming jump stitches while your design is stitching out.  The snag repair tool at right gets inserted into your completed embroidery design from the right side, right next to a thread loop.  You simply twist the tool slightly as you pull it through the embroidery design, and it catches the thread loop and pulls it to the back side of your work. 
So, what's the other tool in that photo, at bottom left?  It's a hemostat.  It looks like a scissor/tweezers but it has serrated edges that tightly grip as little as a single slippery embroidery thread when the handles lock together. 
Because I hate to waste bobbin thread, I keep sewing until my bobbin completely runs out, and I end up with 5-7 satin stitches of white bobbin thread on the top of my design that I have to remove before I can back the machine up and continue embroidering my design.  I use my curved scissors to clip through the center of those satin stitches from the right side of my design (without severing the top embroidery thread), still in the hoop, and then I can grab one side of the clipped satin stitches with my hemostat tool and pull them all out with one tug.  Easy-peasy!  Then I just back the machine up those few stitches and continue embroidering the design. 
Lest you think that I have finally solved all of the mysteries of machine embroidery, let me show you what happened when I unhooped this design:
This excess fabric and puffiness in between embroidered areas is a different kind of puckering from what was happening with the ballpoint needle around the top bird.  I think the slippery silk fabric slipped loose at the edges of my hoop, and I think this because my "embroidering difficult fabrics" book advised wrapping the inner hoop with self-adhesive VetRap to prevent this problem with silks. 
Remember how I said that I tried to follow the Anita Goodesign instructions as much as possible, but their directions were for an applique block?  They were having you hoop only your muslin and stabilizer, and then overlay your silk fabrics as applique pieces that would be secured individually as part of the embroidered applique process, so their silk wasn't in the hoop at all.  Although I had four layers sandwiched together for this design, I noticed upon completion that the Pellon Ultra Weft interfacing was pulling away from the silk in places and that the 505 spray had not prevented my silk fabric from separating and moving away from the muslin and tearaway stabilizer that it was hooped with.
Since I had spent over four hours stitching out this design, I tried to "fix" this problem by ironing the completed design from the back side, face down over a terry cloth towel, as I have heard many people recommend.  Hmmm...
After Ironing!!!  :-(
I am NEVER GOING TO DO THIS, EVER AGAIN!!!!  Surely you heard my lunatic screaming reverberating around the planet?  Apparently, I don't know how to iron, either!  Soon after this picture was taken, my darling husband spilled COFFEE on this design, too.  So this stitch out is destined for free-motion quilting practice after all.  It will be interesting to see whether I can quilt out all that excess waviness in the design with close echoing or pebbling or something, and I can practice other designs around the embroidery.  But I have NOT given up on this.
I'm going to try this design again, using the 90/14 Microtex needle, but next time I'm going to:
  • Wrap my inner hoop with self-adhesive bandage tape to better grip the slippery silk
  • Engage my machine's basting function to secure all layers around the hoop's perimeter prior to stitching the design
  • Try a different fusible interfacing for my silk fabric.  I brought home two different options from Sew Much Fun the other day, products specifically designed to support dense embroidery designs on lightweight fabrics without changing the hand of the fabric
I'll let you know how that works out!
UPDATED 6/17/2013:  I was able to save this project with free-motion quilting!  You can read about that in this post.