Monday, August 12, 2013

When Anders Met Judy: First Sewing Lesson on the 1951 Featherweight

When Anders Met Judy: Getting to Know the 1951 Singer Featherweight

Anders' first sewing lesson was a success yesterday!  We reviewed what he read about fabric grain, and he tugged his fabric along the crosswise, lengthwise, and bias grain to confirm that the bias grain really DOES have the most stretch and the lengthwise grain really IS the most stable.  Then we pressed, straightened, and lightly starched his fabric  so it's all ready for cutting into strips on another day.  Anders learned the steps and the reasons behind what we were doing, but Mom ended up controlling the iron to avoid steam burns. 

Lockstitch slow
Lockstitch Animation by Nikolay S via Wikimedia Commons

We had plenty of time left after that, so we talked about the difference between a hand sewn running stitch and a sewing machine lockstitch, and I did a demo of each version on a little scrap quilt sandwich for him.  I used a second, contrasting thread for the "bobbin," hooked it around the needle thread on the underside, then brought the hand needle right up through the same hole for the next stitch.  I used two different colors of thread so I could show him the difference between a balanced stitch (locked inside the batting), needle tension too tight (pulled top black thread until pink thread dots showed on top) or needle tension too loose (pulled the pink "bobbin" thread until black thread dots showed on the underside).  I also showed him this fantiastic Wikimedia animation of how a sewing machine forms a lockstitch with a rotary hook.  After watching this animation and discussing what it showed, he got to look "under the hood" of my 1951 Singer Featherweight, where he found and identified the parts of the rotary hook shown in the video animation. 

Next, I demonstrated how to thread the machine a couple of times, identifying and naming the parts as I went along, and then had Anders thread it on his own a couple of times, repeating back the names of the parts.  He wanted to know what the stitch lever did, so I showed him how the machine would sew backwards if we flipped the lever up, and that we could increase or decrease the length of the stitches by moving the screw on the lever.  Then I took away all the thread, switched to an old needle, and got out the lined composition paper.  Anders spent some time practice "sewing" along the blue lines with the machine unthreaded, trying to make the needle hit the blue line every time it went down.

(I wish I could take credit for this idea, but this is actually how the saleslady at the Husqvarna Viking store in Charlotte had me practice "driving" my very first sewing machine in a straight line back in 1999).

First Efforts

Not bad for his first try!  As you can see in the photo above, Anders had a tendency to press down so hard on the paper "fabric" at times that the feed dogs couldn't pull it through the machine properly -- that's what caused those clusters of very closely spaced needle holes, most noticeable in the bottom row of stitching.  He also often forgot to take his foot off the "gas" to stop the machine before repositioning his hands, which would cause a slight wobble like you see in the top and bottom rows of stitching.  Overall, though, he improved with practice.  After I explained about letting the feed dogs move the paper through, he wanted to SEE the feed dogs, so he had to run the machine a bit without any paper or fabric, forwards and backwards, so he could watch the circular motion of the feed dogs with each stitch until he was satisfied that he understood how they worked.

Oops -- I Should Have Adjusted My Chair for Him!

You know, I didn't notice it at the time, but now that I'm looking at the pictures it's obvious that Anders' chair was MUCH too low for him, causing him to reach up to the sewing surface of the machine.  I didn't adjust the chair height after I sat in it to use my serger at this station a few days ago.  Next time Anders is sewing, I'll raise the chair and I'll bet he'll be able to sew a lot straighter when he doesn't have to hunch up his shoulders and stick his elbows out to the sides like a praying mantis!

Lars's Counted Cross Stitch Project

Lars won't get his lessons on straightening fabric grain and basic sewing machine operation until next weekend, when it will be Anders' turn to go to Grammy's house for oil painting.  Meanwhile, he begged me to help him get started with a counted cross stitch project that he bought at Michael's at the beginning of the summer (using some of the money he was awarded by the school for his science fair project). 

I thought he was wasting his money when he bought this kit.  I had taken him with me to Michael's to get some embroidery supplies for my Jingle BOM and he got very excited about a large, expensive cross stitch kit to make a highly detailed wolf embroidery.  I said no and explained that a kit like that would be too difficult and the instructions would assume he already knew a lot about how to do cross stitch, and he had to do a smaller beginner project before I would let him buy the wolf kit.  He thought all of the true beginner kits, especially the ones labeled "kid friendly," were "lame," so we settled on this small "Laundry Today or Naked Tomorrow" kit even though I told him the directions in the kid friendly kits would be easier to follow.  When Lars opened the kit at home and saw that there were no colors marked on the fabric and the directions didn't make sense, he nearly agreed with me.  But I helped him get his fabric hooped straight and taped the edges with masking tape so they wouldn't unravel on him, and I loaned him one of my embroidery books that had color photos and much clearer explanations of how to do a cross stitch, demonstrated by stitching the first row for him, and he spent about an hour working on that this Saturday afternoon.  When he ran off to play video games, I checked over what he'd completed and saw that he kept going with yellow Xs right over where he should have left a blank spot for a green, so I picked out a row and a half, left the space for the green, and then redid his row of stitching so he wouldn't feel too discouraged when he came back to it. 

Stitching Chart Enlarged and Colored In

To make the stitching chart easier for him to follow going forward, I enlarged it to 160% on the photocopier, and then I colored in the squares with colored pencil so it would be more obvious when he needed to leave space for another color.  When I finished, I was struck by how much the cross stitch chart resembles a LEGO instruction diagram.  Hmmm.  Lars is already talking about how he can take pixelated computer images of Power Rangers or Dragonvale characters to create his own cross stitch designs after he finishes this one.  Funny how everything always ends up connected to everything else.

So, both boys are taking well to their needlework so far.  At the very least, they will come away from my sewing lessons knowing how to iron their own shirts and sew on their own buttons!  Lest you think they inherited all of their sewing aptitude from me, I should disclose that both of their great-grandfathers on Bernie's side were schneidermeisters (master tailors) in East Germany before World War II.  As their Opa likes to say, we are who we are (at least in part) because of our genes.


Fred and/or Marlies said...

Slight correction here. While the Rump side of the line practiced their sewing in what was then West Prussia (now Poland), the Vogel side did their thing in West Germany. Bernie's maternal side had tailors going back to his Great Grandfather. On his paternal side it doesn't go back that far but to make up for that both his Oma and Opa were tailors. I doubt if any of them had it in their genes though. Everybody had to make a living at something.

Rebecca Grace said...

I stand corrected on the location and specifics, but I was talking about Lars's and Anders' great-grandparents on their father's side so that includes Mom's family as well as yours (all of Bernie's grandparents). Also, I am quoting your "in the genes" comment from your family history page where you blame your father's genes for your own difficulties with authority figures in the military. If that can be hereditary, so can an affinity for needles and thread! ;-)

Kay Greene said...

Nature via nurture seems to be beautifully illustrated with you and your sons. You are doing a great job with the nurturing.

As a former 6th grade teacher I appreciate that you don't "dumb down" your instructions and expectations.

Please keep us up to date on their progress. Give them a cheer from me!
Kay G in DE

Jenny K. Lyon said...

What a beautiful thing! Your sons are lucky to have learned this from you. I have never quite understood how the rotary bobbin thing worked and that is the coolest animation!

Bernie said...

My boys are in training to be true Renaissance men....

Ivory Spring said...

Love that paper idea!

And I so agree with Lars re: children's needlework kits. I say give him the hardest!! He seems like a really sharp kid. :)