Monday, January 31, 2011

Singer 127 - winding the bobbin and trouble therein.

I don't know if this might help or interest anyone out there, but I'm putting together a series of Getting to Know my Antique/Vintage Singer Sewing Machine (Singer 127). Today I learnt about The bobbin.

I would like to ask any sewing machine experts to please point out anything I'm doing wrong. I'm a self taught sewer and am learning about the machine by working my way through the manual.

Hidden underneath a shiny silver face plate is a shuttle and bobbin. These magical treasures are what makes the sewing machine stitch lock in place. Two threads, one on top, one beneath, working together to make sewing happen. What could be more wonderful than that?

My Beautiful Sphinx, a Singer 127, came with a selection of bobbins and I figure it's time I learnt how to wind them.

The manual tells me to begin by disengaging the balance wheel. There is a smaller wheel inside the bigger wheel at the right of the machine. You turn the smaller wheel towards you and it stops the needle from going up and down while we wind the bobbins.

But I figured a better place to start would be to give the winding device some oil. It's been almost 50 years since last used.

I put a scarce drop of oil in the hole. I couldn't think of anywhere else where oil might go on the bobbin winder.

Put the bobbin in place, buy pulling on the left knob. Thread the bobbin winder and tuck the thread under the right end of the bobbin. Make certain the thread guide is all the way to the right side, press bobbin winder so that the wheel rests against the balance wheel. "Operate the machine the same as for sewing".

The instructions say it so much better.

But at the end, I had a happy little bobbin all ready for sewing.

And the sewing went lovely for a while. That is until the bobbin began acting up.

Somehow it didn't wind evenly so now the thread keeps getting tangled up at the same point.

ps. I have no idea what's going on here with the fonts the last couple of posts. Things I try to format remain unchanged, and for no apparent reason random parts of the text acquire random formatting. Look. Now it's underlined!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Singer 127 - tension

I don't know if this might help or interest anyone out there, but I'm putting together a series of Getting to Know my Antique/Vintage Singer Sewing Machine (Singer 127). Today I learnt about Tension.

I would like to ask any sewing machine experts to please point out anything I'm doing wrong. I'm a self taught sewer and am learning about the machine by working my way through the manual.

Because the first thing to do when you bring a new toy into the house is play with it, I decided to dive right in and see how this baby works.

Please note: all my sewing machine parts moved freely, there are no nasty grinding sounds, and everything seems to be in working order. It things wern't in such a happy state, I wouldn't have dived right in and started sewing. Sometimes these machines get all rusty or the oil used by previous owners has gucked up the works and needs cleaning out. More on oil and antique sewing machines another day.

Also, before I go any further, I would like to ask any sewing machine experts to please point out anything I'm doing wrong. I'm a self taught sewer and am learning about the machine by working my way through the manual.

Now, back to the good stuff.

How exciting. Beautiful Sphinx has pride of place in my front room right next to the big window. I can look up from my sewing and admire the chickens scratching for worms outside.

Careful to obey the list of don'ts on pg 5, I am ready to take her for a test drive.

Something's obviously gone wrong. It must be tension.

According to the manual I can adjust the tension of the top thread by using this little nob here.

Apparently it's extremely naughty to adjust the top tension when the pressure foot is in the upright position. I have no idea why that is.

And I can adjust the tension of the bottom thread by turning this little screw in the hidden shuttle.

It is recommended that once you have the shuttle tension adjusted just so, that you don't touch it again. I think that if you were changing your thread size like from jeans thread to regular sewing thread, maybe you might need to adjust this.

In the end, it wasn't the tension that was the problem. Not really. Well, sort of. The tensions were both set so tightly that the thread couldn't get inside. I backed the tension right off at the top and a bit on the shuttle, rethread the machine, and things magically started working perfectly. I'll be sewing on this in no time.

Antique Treadle Singer Sewing Machine - 127

This is a Singer model 127-3 build in 1918 in St. Jean, Quebec. How do I know this? Most of the old Singers have serial numbers on them which you can look up on their website or you can do what I did which was to ask some fellow enthusiasts at any of the online group of vintage sewing machine collectors.

I downloaded a free manual from the Singer website. There are lots of sewing machine manuals out there on the internet, some free, some not. The one on the Singer site had much clearer pictures than the others. It's still not very easy to make out what the pictures are about, but if you squint hard enough some sort of magic eye effect happens.

So why did I get this sewing machine anyway. The house is lousy with antiques already (in a good way) what do I need this treadled powered monster for?

Although it is very pretty, I didn't get this sewing machine for it's looks. I want to sew on it. I have a perfectly good electric machine that even has a zig zag stitch. The treadle gives a greater feeling of interaction with the sewing machine. It works during power outages (although I jokingly thinking of adding a bicycle headlight to the drive wheel - you know the ones that only work when you are moving). There is a sense of being connected with the past by using such an old machine.

There is also the fact that it is SO old and it still works as well as it did the day it was made. I know it cannot make stitches in the shapes of smiley faces. But can you imagine 93 years later these plastic, electronic, computer driven machines still working?

My vintage Singer was manufactured before planned obsolescence. With the right attention, I suspect that it will keep on working for a hundred or more years to come.

That's why, I hate to say, my special find is not so special. There are literally hundreds for sale locally every year. Some of which are free some are priced at over a thousand dollars. The price is no indication of the condition. Although the free ones usually go before I have a chance to grab them up. If you are in the market for buying an antique or vintage sewing machine. Do you homework, keep an eye on the local Buy and Sell websites, and be patient.

As for the clothes in the photo: That's just me showing off my recent sewing adventures. No, not sewn using treadle power.

I still have to get to know the old gal, so I thought why not make a series of blog posts about getting acquainted with Singer 127.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

2 at once!

I need to learn how to do this!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wavy Slub yarn

Lovely, soft, and consistently slubby.

I'm really pleased with this yarn and am about to rush out to get more Corriedale from Knotty by Nature so I can spin some more.

I was asked to spin a novelty yarn, plied, that displayed the qualities of this fibre. So I tried a trick out of the Intentional Spinner where I spin one ply slubby and one ply smooth with high twist, then ply them together. The slubs are more or less evenly spaced and more or less evenly sized. I think this would look splendid dyed as the different areas of twist would capture the dye differently.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

weaving fabric, card weaving, and a corset

I've had lots of little projects on the go lately. I've been sewing (more on that another day), taking care of ducks, chickens and alpacas, spinning, and getting ready for weaving

These are the little scraps left over from cutting the pattern out of the fabric. They are too small to do anything with, so I decided to cut them into strips of various sizes and use them for a weaving project.

I figured since I made a skirt and some blouses, why not make a matching vest? The SAORI weaving book has a very simple pattern for one that takes only 1 meter by 0.5m of handwoven fabric. So, if I like how this weaving turns out, I'll transform it into a vest.

I was about to warp the loom the other day, when my friend and mentor arrived with some cards for tablet weaving.

Now I'm totally hooked on this technique. I have all sorts of projects in mind for it! Only problem is that I don't quite have the ergonomics of back strap weaving down yet and am getting quite the back ache.

The back ache could easily be due to the fact that I need more support for my 'endowment'. I'm a rather unusual shape: small ribcage, large endowment. So, a new bra usually sets me back 100$, if I can find one that fits! It's no use getting any old bra as a badly fitting one just makes the back ache worse! Even with all that, it has been years since I've found one with less than 10% synthetic fabric. Anything more than that creates blisters on my skin. (do I hear the world's smallest violin playing?)

Don't worry, I wouldn't be complaining to you about my undergarments unless I had a possible solution in mind.

Aside from being an excellent excuse to use my fountain pen, it's also my first attempt at drafting a corset paten. Instructions for drafting your own Elizabethan Corset available online at the amazing Elizabethan Costuming page.

I'll sew a mock up corset to see if I have the size right - I think that I'll use hemp cord for the bones instead of spending a lot of money on the plastic ones they sell locally. Besides, I'm trying to get away from the whole plastic thing. If it works, then I'll invest in some nice fabric and make another one.

It's nice because this pattern gives an Elizabethan shape to the figure which is a smooth line from the bust to the waist. Most patterns I've come across for corsets are Victorian in style with a clenched waist. Some of them have quite the wasp waist.

There is a kit that I'm very keen on. It is not much more than I would usually pay for a bra, so I think I'll get it, if I have good luck with the Elizabethan pattern. It is Victorian, but the shape is very moderate and well within the range I want. But that's for later.

I know that corsets are considered constrictive, but people have been wearing something like them for hundreds of years. I think it's when you go to the extreme and try to condense yourself into a 10 inch waist, that's where things go wrong. I tried one on once, and it was very comfortable. It instantly got rid of that pesky back ache. I think that this project is worth a try at the very least.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wonky Spring Chicken

An extremely good friend of mine has recently given birth to a beautiful baby boy. This handsome young fellow is so tiny, but I don't think that's going to last long. Before you know it, he will be as tall as his dad and into all sorts of good-natured-trouble.

I found this rather wonderful tutorial on the Sew Mama Sew! site. It's teaches you how to sew a Spring Chicken. Since I'm in the middle of a sewing bender, I thought why not.

And here you have it: a Spring Chicken.

I haven't decided if I want to put eyes on it yet. I cannot use buttons for an infant, so it would have to be embroidered on, and I don't know where my floss is... so I think maybe the chicken doesn't need eyes. It's all about colour and texture at this age anyway.

At one part of the tutorial, the author suggests that I "Embrace the wonkiness. This gives you
chicken more character."

This is definitely a Wonky chicken.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Saori skirt made by pulling yarns

There is an big old apple tree right next to the hen house. In the yard, Lucky, the big white rooster, stands guard over his hens, protecting them form monsters of every variety.

Be it an eagle or a bunny rabbit, a mink or a raccoon, Lucky is ready to round up his hens and herd them away from any perceived danger. Certain other things fall under the category of monster: Plywood for example, cardboard, and skirts blowing in the breeze. That last 'monster' - a skirt blowing in the wind - makes it much harder to take a photograph of my new Saori Skirt than I had hoped.

The goal was to make a photo with the chickens gather round the dressmaker's dummy, pecking at the ground, looking all pastoral. Instead most of the photos are of the chickens running away from the dressmakers dummy.

Silly Chickens!

The skirt is woven on a Saori Loom. It is constructed by pulling warp yarns, then sewing the bits together. In the Saori book (the one with English) it is called: Skirt Made by Pulling Yarns. I used a linen warp with mostly wool and alpaca handspun for weft.

I like how the weft strips help to give the skirt a very slimming look and the overall shape of the skirt is very classic.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Here is something I found on the local CraigsList. It made me smile so I thought I would share it with you all.

I have a functioning time machine (i know it sounds unbelievable, but I assure you it works) that I need a 2nd person to operate with me.

I'm looking for someone who is adventurous and reliable. Preferable a male; or a female that can do heavy lifting.

I am leaving on Jan 30th, 2011, in the morning and plan to return October 2nd, 2010. I am going to June 1983 to handle some business.

If you are serious about time travel and are reliable, then please contact me. You do not have to pay anything, but you would have to provide someone to watch my cat for the time we are gone. The only qualifications needed are that you are reliable and that the circumferance of your head is no more than 64cm.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Three homespun yarns

Yesterday was a very strange day. 10 inches of snow may not seem like much, but it's enough to knock out the power and worse, even when the electricity comes back on, the cable, phone and internet remain offline most of the day. Yesterday I was snowed in with almost no contact with the outside world. It is a weird feeling.

But, not all was lost. I got to shovel the driveway, see to the animals here on the farm, and play with yarn.

I've been spinning yarn to sell at Knotty by Nature. It is very nice of them to sell my yarn. I cannot make huge amounts like a commercial mill, but I do think I make quality. I aim to make something that a large company could not make, and maybe that's why it takes so much more time to create that special yarn.

I've been playing with different ways of pricing the handspun yarn. I think I've found a way of pricing that I'm happy with. It's determined per yard and per times it goes through the wheel. So a plied yarn will be more than a single, and the like. It's works out to be less expensive than people sell on, but more than commercial yarn. Still, I'm only getting about $2 per hour of work I put into the yarn, but when I priced it so that I get around $5 per hour, it didn't sell.

Even still, I hear complaints that it's too expensive, it's not the exact colour they want, I'm not fast enough at spinning, stuff like that. (so far no complaints about quality which makes me happy - mostly just complaints about there not being enough which I suppose should make me happy)

I am not a huge spinning mill. I can only make it the colour of the fibre I have available to me- I use dyes very seldom and when I do, it basically doubles the price because of the kinds of dyestuff I use and my lack of facilities. Quality handmade goods, yarn included, take time and skill. Because of that handspun yarn comes in smaller batches and cannot always be made to order and ready the next day.

But, no matter... I complain too much.

There is compensation for my rantings. Yarn photos:

These two photos taken prior to blocking

So pretty! I love how this Single Boucle turned out. I feel that I am really getting the hang of this technique. This last batch turned out much better and stronger than the yarn I spun before Christmas. This is spun from English Leicester. I buy the locks already dyed, and thus the yarn has a random colour sequence and effect.

There is more of this Singles Boucle at the shop already, I just forgot to take photos of it before I sent it off.

Someone had recently given my some samples of Alpaca. So I hand carded them into little rolags and spun a random colour sequence of natural colours.

Aren't alpacas amazing to have such a variety of colour? I love it!

My aim with this yarn was to give it a homespun effect. I left in small slubs and encouraged slight variation of texture throughout the yarn. The different lengths of the fibre that I was given helped to achieve this effect. It also fluffed up quite nicely when it washed, so I imagine it will provide a nice halo to the finished fabric.

Each colour lasts for about 2-4 yards and the total length of this yarn is over 300 yards. As I spun it I imagined it being knit into a lace scarf, but it would look good as anything.

This is not a yarn I can produce any more of as I only had a handful of fibre. It's limited edition. However, my new alpacas are very similar colours, so if someone likes this yarn, I should be able to make something like it when they are shorn in late spring.

And then there is the grey Romney.

I had intended to spin this with a lovely homespun texture like the alpaca, but I stopped paying attention early and it ended up as a rather constant yarn.

There are over 400 yards of this heathered yarn. It has a wonderful hand. It would be lovely as lace, mitts (maybe with some brightly coloured yarn?), or maybe someone could dye it for that lovely depth of colour that grey fibre adds to any dyeing.

To be honest, I'm not altogether certain I want to sell this yarn. It would be strong enough for warp or weft and given the amount of weaving I've been doing lately, I could see using it for my own project.

I'm actually rather attached to all three of these yarns. But, I could do with the money. I hear a rumour that there might be a half day Saori workshop twice a month. Now, it's just a rumour, but it sure would be nice to have some money just in case it turns out to be true.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Saori Weaving - another workshop

One of the things I like most about Saori, is that each time I take a workshop it's different. I'm not only inspired by the instructor, but also by my fellow classmates.

Have a look at this wonderful fabric. I wish I could say it is mine, but it's not.

I love the contrast of texture.

For my part, I made yet another grey and pink warp. I have a grey and pink warp at home, I did a grey and pink warp last class... I just seem to be going through a grey and pink warp phase in my life.

I wasn't in the mood for a very strong contrast of colour or texture yesterday. I was actually feeling quite ill, but I didn't want to miss the workshop. Attending a Saori workshop seems to be one of those few times when I can interact with people and feel healthier at the end of it. But all the same, I was in a pretty bland, grey and pink mood.

Here's the fabric I wove yesterday. I think it's GORGEOUS! I have all sorts of ideas for what I can make with this technique. I'm especially excited about a vest that I can make with fabric scraps from my recent sewing and yarn... I just have to finish the sewing projects first.

And this is my favourite photo from yesterday:

It is a photo of calm concentration and love. The extra fabric spilling over at her feet.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Treadle powered sewing machine

I've been wanting to use a treadle sewing machine since the first time I sat down at an electric one. I always imagined that it would provide a feeling of control and responsiveness that is missing from the electric ones. Sure, it's not as fast, but what about me makes you think I like doing things quickly?

I believe it's a Singer model 127 or 128. The cabinet is in need of serious repair, but from what I can tell, everything is there and the timing is good.

This machine came up at a good price, and surprise, it had a whole world of accessories!

There is also about 3 dozen different feet and gadgets galore. What I really like about it is that the bobbin that goes underneath is a long spool shaped thing instead of a squat fat thing.

I also like how decorative these old machines are. It oozes a sense of pride in the workmanship. Sure, these old Singers are a dime a dozen, but that's because they last so long. Can you imagine a current day sewing machine working 100 years from now? I can't.

For those of you who complain that it doesn't surge the edges or offer a zig zag stitch. Well, it has the zig zag attachment. But I very seldom use that stitch anyway. It means changing the foot.

I think it's going to be a perfect machine for me. I can't wait to get sewing on it.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Waiting for Distaff Day

You know about Distaff day, right? It's the day after the 12 days of Christmas.

The tradition is spinners and weavers did no work during the 12 days of Christmas. On the 13th day, the spinners returned to their spindles and wheels. As the weavers, usually men at this point in history, had an extra day off, there was much fun and games between them and the spinners.

Locally, they take this tradition very seriously. There are several Distaff day celebrations every year, usually on the Saturday after the holidays. Hopefully I can attend one of them.

But in the mean time, I have been preparing fibre for when I can return to spinning.

Blue Face Leicester. Isn't it pretty?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Button, button, who's got the button?

Yesterday was New Years day. With the new year arrived an opportunity to learn a new skill.

After three days of working on this sewing project, all that remained was the buttonholes and a couple of buttons.

In a brief moment of detraction, instead of cutting between the buttonhole stitches, I also cut through the stitches that the machine so carefully placed to prevent the fabric from unravelling.

I was devastated. I had never done this before and had absolutely no idea how to fix it.

After I walked away, drake some coffee, and consulted the interweb (who wasn't as helpful as I had hoped, but my sewing book is currently in storage, so oh well), I sat down and taught myself to hand sew a button hole.

Hand sewing a button hole involves picking out the machine stitches, something I've never been very good at...
And then waxing some thread, and using it to sew around the slit in the fabric.

So I'm chuffed at learning a new skill, but it just reflects how little I know about this sewing thing.

Basically I'm a self taught sewer. I have one of those Reader's Digest sewing books (somewhere) but it never really spoke my language. What I tend to do, is buy a pattern, some fabric, thread, &c., and then do my best to follow the pictures. More an IKEA style of assembly rather than actual sewing.

While it is satisfying to make the clothing, it would be even more satisfying to understand what I'm doing.

What I would really like is for someone to sit down with me over the course of a few weeks, and working with my own measurements, help create some basic patterns (skirt, shirt, &c) and teach me how I can modify these patterns to accommodate things like fashion, different fabrics and size change.

Just being able to understand how and why we do these different things in sewing - how this two dimensional fabric suddenly becomes three dimensional clothing - that would be a start.