Saturday, May 29, 2010

Searching for a sewing machine...

I learned to sew on my mother's 1960's Singer which she bought when she first moved to the US and married Dad.  It is a wonderful machine (and one of these days I'll check to see what model it is - green, heavy, and runs like a tank).  When I moved out on my own, I tried to take the machine with me as she doesn't use it that often anymore - she made our clothes when we were young. Mom said NO!  She did give me a Singer later for my birthday - but neither of us realized how much quality had changed over 30+ years.  Her old Singer runs so much better than this new(er) one. It never occurred to us to consider other brands - after all - Singer was THE machine wasn't it... I never bonded with the machine, though I did make a few dog beds and curtains, and sewed on some Girl Scout badges/patches for my troop.

So, when I started this project, I also started to research machines.  Let me digress a moment to say how much I love Google - and the plethora of information that can be found.  Working from the rave reviews on my Scrapbook message board, I started reading about various machines.  I realized early on, that I did want a high end machine (Bernina, Viking, Pfaff, etc.) and also that there was no way my budget would allow for a new one at this time.  I also thought long and hard about what I need the machine to do - and came to the conclusion that at this point, I need a straight stitch and a zigzag.  I don't need a lot of fancy embroidery stitches considering I haven't once used them on the other machine, and I definitely don't need a computer.  This helped me narrow my search considerably.

My next stop was Craigslist.  After searching under several word combinations, I was able to narrow to actual sewing machines rather than getting used cars (why?? how??) in the list as well. There were several in our area and several still well out of my price range.  I expanded to several other cities in NC to get a larger pool of possibilities.  Then I started searching for reviews on various machines as I was going into this rather blindly.
Using Google, I stumbled upon - which has an amazing, if not overwhelming database of sewing machine reviews.  I quickly realized that I was going to have to narrow to specific models of specific machines if I didn't want to spend the next 6 months reading reviews.  I started out with the Bernina 153QE because that was available locally within my price range.  A solid machine, but ultimately, I was a bit concerned about the computerized portion - as my laptop runs on Windows 7.0 and there was some question in my mind as to the compatibility with the programming.  An ad on Charlotte Craigslist featured a Bernina 801 Sport, and the more I read about it, the more interested I became.  Now Charlotte is a good 2.5 hours away and the price was higher than I wanted to pay, so I put it to one side.

On a whim, I looked at e-Bay and found an intriguing auction - actually a Buy It Now - so even better.  On faith, I spent the most I have on e-Bay at one time and settled down to wait for it to arrive.  As I've told my husband, the accessories and extra feet that arrived with it made it an incredibly GOOD deal.  Similar machines for sale did not have the walking foot which I knew would be important.  Since it arrived, I've also added the #13 foot, a thread holder for cones and am waiting for an additional seam guide to arrive so that I've got one for the #13 and one for the walking foot.

I tested the machine out by using it to construct the rag quilt and was very pleased with the way it runs.  Then took "Welcome to your Machine" at Thimble Pleasures last Saturday.  During the class, I learned to disassemble and clean parts of the machine and was quite amazed by how much lint I had not managed to brush out before.  After the class, I left it to be serviced since it had not been used in at least 7 years.  I was told that the machine was quite clean and she oiled it and adjusted the tension slightly.  If I want, I can replace the speed control capacitor at a later time, but for now that isn't bothering me.  This was a great relief as when the machine arrived it had clearly been bounced around by FedEx.  The door to the bobbin case had opened and the bobbin and case freed themselves and danced around wrapping thread around all of the cords and the machine... I was a bit concerned about the possible results to the tension. Thankfully the machine is forgiving and works wonderfully.

So, my next step here is to determine the perfect placement of the seam guide.

Reflections on the Rag Quilt...

Soon after finishing the TarHeel Rag Quilt, I started to read Quilter's Academy, the Freshman Year and numerous lightbulbs went on.

Even for something as simple (deceptively so) as a rag quilt, there are a few things that needed to be done.

First - I completely skipped pressing the fabric. I chose not to prewash in order to ensure maximum fuzziness at the end, BUT it turns out that pressing something that I want to look wrinkled in the end is still quite important.  I'll be working through Class 120 this weekend to better prepare my next projects.

Second - an inch isn't necessarily an inch. It never occurred to me that rulers could measure differently - as thinking back - I used a Creative Grids Ruler to cut the 8.5 inch strips (butted up against an Omnigrid square ruler) and then the Omnigrid square to cut the squares.  A few threads difference really DOES make a difference. No wonder I couldn't match the edges exactly as I assembled the squares.  Classes 110-Lesson 4 and 120-Lesson 4 were eye openers.  I've now added a rectangular Omnigrid to my collection and will eventually add some Creative Grids Squares - as I do like both brands - but definitely need to stick with one brand per project.

Third - when I realized that my squares were not square - I should have gone back and squared them up and accepted that the finished blocks would be slightly less than 7.5 inches once everything was stitched together (for the rag quilt, I was working with 1/2 inch seam allowances). Here are the trimmings from Rag Quilt number 2...

Fourth - the Class 120 lessons regarding seam accuracy are enlightening - and now that I have my machine back, I'll be checking carefully and setting up the seam guide - likely would have helped a lot for the occasional wavy seam as I eyeballed it into the night.

So - at this point, you may be wondering where the Corgis come into all of this?...  As I type, Miss Monkey sneaks up on the chair with me to rest her head on the keyboard and is rather offended at being unceremoniously removed. Dash is/was sleeping quietly on a pillow on the floor next to me but appears to have moved to the other side to divert the air from the a/c vent.  They've been wrestling in the living room this morning - amusing us as always and contributing fur for future projects.  When you live with Corgis, you understand that Corgi Fluff is actually a fashion accessory - so inevitably, some will end up stitched into the quilts (it is already incorporated into my cross stitch projects...).  Additionally, they will remind me to get up and move around - something very important for general health.

The Rag Quilt Adventure ...

After finding directions and deciding on a pattern - combining ideas from a few sources - and ordering fabric online, I decided maybe I should try something simpler first.  So off to the fabric store where I picked out two fabrics to coordinate with a UNC Tarheels print for a baby quilt for a friend.  Then, I learned she was having a girl... so back to the drawing board...actually the fabric store...  found a pink tonal pattern to pick up the pink in the teddy bear blocks.

And then the REAL collecting began.  Tools, lovely tools!  Rulers, cutting implements, storage... and of course... MORE FABRIC. Did you know that Fiskars makes specialized scissors just for rag quilts - snips.  They are spring loaded to make it a little easier on your hands. More on those later...

Now - to preface this project - I started and cut everything BEFORE the Quilter's Academy Freshman Year arrived at the house, and definitely before reading any of it. I'll describe my steps and missteps first then reflect on what the project taught me.

Step one - cutting.  I'd never used a rotary trimmer before, so was a little hesitant to start.  I started off with the flannel - after a few missteps with the ruler slipping I felt confident enough to start on the patterned fabrics.  A few more ruler slips later with minimal wasted fabric, I had a nice stack of blocks ready to go.

Step two - pinning.  Hmmm - thought that the 8.5 inch squares would line up a little better (2 matching fabric squares sandwiching a flannel square) - somehow, they weren't square.  Also - how many pins to a side should I use?  I experimented with 1 and 2 per side (6-8 per square).  Not sure if that was the reason for the funky matching (it wasn't) or if it was something else (it was).

Step three - sewing.  My new-to-me machine arrived just in time (especially as the baby arrived three weeks early) for me to stitch everything together.  Happily I had read about chain stitching during my initial research, and let me just say - it rocks!  I'd never tried it before and am totally sold on it. Though, it does take careful organization.  Let me just say, it pays to look at the direction in which you are pinning your pieces... I managed to sew quite a few seams in the opposite direction of the rag side of the quilt (and no, there are no pictures - and I got some good practice removing seams).  Sewing the rows together, I again pinned backwards - but was able to simply reverse the order of the rest of the rows without having to rip out more seams.  I still haven't figured out the secret to which way the seams should go together (butting them seems to work - but stitching them open on the edges didn't).  Before snipping, I zigzagged around the entire quilt edge on the sandwich seams in order to protect the seams from undoing themselves later.

Step four - snipping.  The recommendations are correct - DO NOT try to sit down and do this all at once. Your hand will thank you.  Three ice hockey games later, spreading lint liberally around my husband's car, my sweatshirt and the bleachers at the hockey rink - everything was snipped.

Step five - washing.  Off to the laundromat with a nine-year old in tow.  Gus had end of grade exams this week - so he headed out with me with the intent of practicing for his reading exam.  Though I think he spent more time watching the quilt spin in the dryer than he actually did reading. I put the quilt through their washer and dryer first then took it home and washed and dried it again to increase the fuzziness and softness.

Overall, I'm pleased with the quilt - from a distance it looks great - though if you look too closely you can see where seams went awry or where I didn't line things up the way they should have. I did have several nice spots where the corners came together.  Ultimately, my friend was thrilled with it, and I'm glad I made it. Gus hammed it up for the pictures and is looking forward to getting his quilt.

Next stop - the lessons I learned...

Friday, May 28, 2010


A few months ago, an online friend posted a picture of a rag quilt she just completed. The compulsive crafter in me said "hey, I could do that." Thus begins a delayed love affair with fabric. My husband and son are currently groaning over the added craft supplies which appear to be taking over our household - I am an avid scrapbooker, do some card making/stamping and have done counted cross stitch for over 30 years now. In addition to my craft activities - which do ebb and flow - my son plays Ice Hockey (thank goodness the spring season is now open), we have a garden plot to tend to in our community garden, and I am a leader in Gus's Cub Scout pack. Oh - and I work full time...

Never one to do things by halves, I started searching the internet for instructions to make a rag quilt. is a wonderful source - and this is where I started.

Then I went on to search for fabric - looking with specific themes in mind and finding a whole new world. There are a plethora of choices out there. Through the process, I discovered that we have a quilt store here in Chapel Hill - Thimble Pleasures . The ladies are delightful and extremely helpful.

And in the process of the start-up, I decided that if I was really going to do this, I need to do it right. Through a series of links and references I learned about the Quilter's Academy series of books by Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave. And inspired by a blogger in Australia - I too am going to attempt to work my way through the course(s). Lesley's work is amazing! I'll be taking it a little more slowly.

So - off to pick up my sewing machine and hopefully spend at least a part of this holiday weekend playing and learning.