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Saturday, 25 March 2023

Maintaining a Vintage Sewing Machine

Cleaning & Oiling a Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine
My not so regular maintenance routine...
To say that vintage sewing machines are used to taking abuse and not complaining is very much an understatement. These old workhorses just keep chugging along, making their owners forget that a little bit of maintenance is not only a good thing, it's the right thing.

About ten days ago, I flipped back the pages of my little notebook and discovered that it had been over a year since my last sewing machine cleaning. I hate excuse-making, but here's my excuse: I actually sew so infrequently that it's easy to lose track of how much time goes by.

Anyway, in the interim, I had done enough sewing involving both fleece and fusible fleece to know that a lot fluff was accumulating under the throat plate.

Cleaning & Oiling a Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine
A well used brush...
I thought it might be a bit of an adventure for those who sew with modern machines to take a look under the hood of one of these oldies but definitely goodies, and perhaps compare notes regarding maintenance routines.

As this is the only sewing machine I have known in my whole life (apart from those I sewed with in Home Ec classes at school), I have no idea what sort of maintenance one is expected to do with today's mostly plastic, computerized machines. Is there even anything to open up and look at?

Here is what I see when I pull up the base of my Kenmore 15817200. Look how pristine that motor looks!
Cleaning & Oiling a Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine
The heart of this workhorse...

My Kenmore was made in Japan, although I'm not sure by what company specifically (considering that Kenmore was just a Sears brand name and not a manufacturer). My rudimentary research seems to point to a company called Maruzen as the likely maker.

Cleaning & Oiling a Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine
Fluffy bits under the shuttle assembly...

Having owned this machine now for forty-six years, it was only this past December that I finally had to change the lightbulb. (Of course, I'd purchased a spare one some time back in anticipation of that day.)

A 45+ year old bulb!
I did have a brief moment of panic when it happened, however, because the light didn't just go out while I was sewing. When I pushed the button to turn on the sewing machine and it didn't light up, it made me think for several seconds that something was wrong. It was only when I thought to put my foot down on the pedal to see if it would start sewing that I felt a huge relief. It did start, hence it was the bulb that had finally burned out. Whew!

Cleaning & Oiling a Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine
Shuttle assembly removed to clean underneath...

My original accessories kit came with a stiff bristled brush. Despite looking very ragged, it's what I still use to clean out the nooks and crannies around the feed dogs and shuttle.

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Something that I would recommend to add to your sewing machine maintenance kit is a silicone brush cleaner like this one. I found this in the cosmetics aisle at a local discount shop for a couple of bucks. Not only is it handy for sweeping up a sewing table, but you can see how it grabs the dust bunnies from the cleaning brush.

Brush cleaner
A silicone brush cleaner is quite helpful... 

My Kenmore manual shows exactly where to apply oil during regular maintenance. Essentially any joints that move should get a drop. After applying, I typically hand crank a few times to let the oil work its way into wherever it needs to go. 

Cleaning & Oiling a Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine
Adding oil where oil is needed...

Oiling a sewing machine is much like changing out the needle. You can instantly tell the difference. I really must make it a point to do it more often. Just because this old beastie can take the punishment doesn't mean that it should!

Cleaning & Oiling a Vintage Kenmore Sewing Machine
Underneath the top of my Kenmore...

Now that you've seen the bottom the machine, take a gander at the top. There are nine spots to oil here. Because the drawings in the manual are two dimensional, I find it helpful to stand right over the area and look down into it to establish where the points are located. (If it doesn't immediately match the drawing, turning the wheel helps.)

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By the way, it's important to use sewing machine oil to oil your sewing machine. That might be a pretty obvious statement, but it's worth making because some people think that a lubricant is a lubricant. That said, I don't think that any specific OEM version of sewing machine oil is needed. The one that I use is a brand called Unique, which also makes a variety of sewing notions and supplies (such as the replacement light bulb).

Anyway, back to my original query. For those of you who sew with modern computerized machines, what sort of maintenance is required and are you fastidious about doing it regularly? Is it necessary to "take them in" for tune-ups?

Just a short note to let you know that Makerist (link on sidebar at left) is having a $2 sale right now that runs through March 28. I'm not participating, so this notice is not about my patterns. But I have found gems in the past during similar promotions (like the Fritz Frog — yep, that and all of Angela Jardine's sweet patterns are on sale for just two bucks each), so it may be worth a browse if you're looking for a new project at a great price point.

'Til next...

Saturday, 18 March 2023

Do You Sew With a Stiletto?

Clover Hold It Precision Stiletto
My sewing stiletto...
It's sorta weird that this topic comes up this late in the game (in terms of how long I've been "here"), but how many of you regularly use a stiletto when you sew?

For whatever reason, it didn't occur to me to check to see if I'm an outlier on this until now. I am one of those who does regularly use something to guide my fabric under the needle when I sew. 

Mind you, it's not often that I use the actual stiletto that you see pictured here; more than likely, I'll just grab a pin and use that.

And I know, it's generally not recommended to use something metal that may accidentally strike the needle and break and then perhaps fly into your eye. (Yikes!)

That said, the likelihood of that happening is probably quite small for an experienced sewer. A fairly experienced sewer might still be more likely to stitch a finger by accident, which is another reason why using a stiletto is a good idea.

For many reasons, we tend to reach in close with our fingers while we sew. Depending on the kind of safeguards that may or may not be built in to any particular machine, catching a finger may not be that difficult to do. (If you're into gruesome things, do a search for I sewed my finger by accident and check out the images.)

So why are we doing this?

image courtesy of Don Kim (YouTube)
YouTuber Don Kim using his stiletto...

The short answer is to control the fabric. I attribute it to two problems: fabric drag and insufficient pressure on the top piece.

Most of us have experienced "fabric drag" while sewing, particularly if the piece is larger than a sheet of paper. Those who have their sewing machines sitting flush inside a sewing table are the lucky ones who don't have this problem. For the rest of us, we have to put up with the sliding that occurs when the part that's already sewn goes back, down, and to the left, dragging the remainder of the piece being sewn off kilter. (Know what helps? An extension table!)

I find that to control this "off to the side" movement, I need to keep the sewn part straight with my left hand while my right hand guides the fabric as it feeds under the presser foot. This is when we stick our fingers where our fingers shouldn't go. So use a stiletto, please.

image courtesy of Estadistica Datos del Mundo
YouTuber Ulyana using a pin as her stiletto...

A second, less acknowledged problem is that the top fabric of what we're sewing often needs a little extra guidance. The feed dogs of a sewing machine move the bottom fabric along quite adequately, but the top fabric (even if the presser foot pressure is set properly) can stretch, resulting in uneven results upon completion; i.e., the top fabric is "longer" than the bottom. This can be especially noticeable with knits. Gently pushing and evening out the fabric as you sew — with a stiletto held horizontally — can be helpful.

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I have another example of my own to show when a stiletto is supremely useful. Thick seams can be difficult to keep pinned at the ends, where they are often even thicker due to the confluence of two seams.

using a stiletto (eSheep Designs)
Getting in close with a stiletto to ensure that a thick seam is held down...

I'm sure you've experienced the common outcome of having the ends of a seam like the one shown here come out crooked. Depending on what it is, it may be a superficial defect, but to ensure better results, use a stiletto to help you push down on the protrusion.

using a stiletto (eSheep Designs)
...aided by a hump jumper...

In this case, you can see that to ensure even greater success with thick seams, you should also employ a hump jumper to level out the surface of what you're sewing. You can probably tell that the one I'm using in the photos here is merely a notebook, but what a helper it's been in the sewing room! 

Another use for a stiletto is a timesaver for quilters. I've seen them use stilettos to "page" through a stack of quilting squares more easily.

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The stiletto shown above is from Clover (Hold It Precision Stiletto) and is a bit pricey, if you ask me. (At least it seems to be so in Canadian dollars, between $18 and $24.) I came by mine from a gift certificate that I won from AllFreeSewing back in 2016. It is versatile, however, with a silicone tip at the other end that assists with pressing seams open at the ironing station. I also like that the pointy end is angled unlike most other stilettos.

But there are other stilettos that you can buy (or DIY, like a sharpened wood BBQ skewer or "make do", like a tiny screwdriver), so it's a worthwhile addition to your sewing kit.

That said, sometimes an ordinary pin is enough, too. So... are you a regular stiletto user?

'Til next...

Saturday, 11 March 2023

Nifty Things I Thought I Might Make [Pt 1]

Nifty things I thought I might make
Lost opportunities or "never meant to be"s?
When I did a quick review of my subscriber stats in terms of which posts people were opening, it initially surprised me to see that my "Nifty Things I'm Never Going to Make" series had a high readership.

Then I thought, well, maybe that shouldn't be surprising since so many of us are looking for alternate sources of inspiration. Obviously, if what I'm actually tackling on a week to week basis doesn't ring your bell, you'd be happy to look at what else I might bring to the table.

Which leads to this new series of posts, titled rather appropriately, nifty things I thought I might make... as in, these are projects from my computer archives, saved over the past decade for "later". As of this writing, my Other Peoples Projects folder contains 262 items, ranging from folders to PDFs to JPGs.

In truth, the vast majority of these projects likely belong to that "never gonna make" category, but they differ in that — at some point — I definitely thought I might attempt them. Maybe they'll turn into "must makes" for you? To facilitate that, I've confirmed that all of today's projects can still be found online. I will leave the actual finding part up to you, however, by providing sufficient information to locate them in lieu of live links. (To reiterate, I try to use as few external links as possible these days to avoid future 404s. I am constantly finding them in links throughout the blog from years ago, which then requires me — as a conscientious person — to edit the posts to remove them.)

Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness has released many, many free bag patterns over the past decade (of which I've only made one apparently), with this early one catching my eye, due to its unique look.

Sara Lawson's Convertible Clutch pattern
Sara Lawson's Convertible Clutch (image courtesy of SewNews.com)...

The image above is from a PDF released by SewNews.com (the site no longer exists under that banner). If you check out the current PDF (available at PellonProjects.com), it has a name added to it — as in, it's now called the "Caliti" Convertible Clutch — and the tutorial features a version done up in red, white and blue fabric.

When I first came across this, my thought was that unless I had some nice fabric to use, I wouldn't be able to do the project justice. At the time that I downloaded it (May 2013), my fabric stash was pretty much non-existent. By the time I started accumulating some conventional fabric, I was already somewhat governed by my sewing dilemmas and realized that I really had no need for a clutch like this.

Therefore, did not make. Still think it looks nifty, however.

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I found this next PDF in October 2015. (The pattern itself dates back to 2007!) It's an Amy Butler project called Sweet Greetings, a set of small and large portfolios.

Believe it or not, this project calls for the use of chipboard. Had I gotten around to it, I would have substituted in some Peltex. (Otherwise, I have made similar folders using cardboard as the foundation.)

Amy Butler Sweet Greetings Portfolios
image courtesy of Amy Butler, Art of the Midwest...

Given that I went on to make this and this, I think seeing the possibilities offered by this project definitely inspired me. However, the tricky thing about a portfolio is that more than likely, you'll want different types or sizes of pockets (see photo below for what the large one looks like on the inside). That being the case, it's often easier to make your own from the start.
Interior of Amy Butler Sweet Greetings Large Portfolio
Interior of large portfolio (image courtesy of Amy Butler, Art of the Midwest)...

That said, as is, this would still make a lovely handmade gift set for someone. I would add a full size slip pocket to the large version above, however; not having one seems like a lost opportunity for maximum functionality.

Another Amy Butler design that I have had since May of 2013 is her Blossom Bag pattern. It was made available for free after the release of her book, Style Stitches, where it is one of many (mostly ginormous) bag patterns featured, and from where I found this small project to make.

Truthfully speaking, this horizontal barrel style doesn't appeal to me. I'm pretty sure I saved the pattern for reference and learning purposes more than anything, in that I thought some elements might be worth replicating in other bags I might make down the road. Oftentimes, just reading through a tutorial is instructive.

Amy Butler Blossom Bag
image courtesy of Amy Butler Style Stitches...

By the way, with the book being published in mid-2010, notice how the bag looks almost naked with its total absence of exterior hardware. Fascinating how things have changed in the bag making world over the past decade.

If you want to get your hands on this PDF, you'll have to jump through a couple of hoops. I recommend that you access the project via AllFreeSewing. The link from their page is a Wayback Machine link that takes you to the archives of SewMamaSew, which — quite surprisingly — has a functional download for the PDF.

[Speaking of SewMamaSew, it appears to have resurfaced after having been gone for a few years. However, it's a mere shell of its former self with only nine categories of (mostly clothing) sewing patterns, the oddest inclusion being rice heating pad patterns and the most egregious omission being purse patterns! A rather sad comeback, IMHO.]

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Finally, here's a project that I thought for sure I'd end up making: the Sewing Date Traveler sewing caddy. I found this in January of 2016 at RobertKaufman.com. (Designer of both the pattern and the fabric line is Cynthia Frenette, a fellow Canadian who is very active on Spoonflower these days.)

The layout of this is not entirely clear from the picture, but there is a divided slip pocket on the inside front, a large slip pocket on the inside back, a zippered pocket in the middle that acts as a divider for the unit, and slip pockets divided into three compartments on the exterior front. Finished size is 12” x 9-1/2” x 6-1/2”.

Sewing Date Traveller by Cynthia Frenette
Image courtesy of RobertKaufman.com...

The reason for not making this just might be because the year prior, I'd made this organizer which was already functioning as a sewing caddy for me. But oddly enough, about two years later, I saw a different sewing caddy and was inspired to replicate it instead. Don't know why I never got back to this one; I think I just forgot about it.

In any case, I still like this; it looks to be both simple and highly functional.

So did I bring anything new to your attention? Might any of these wind up on your "to make" list this year?

'Til next...

Saturday, 4 March 2023

An Origami-ish Basket

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
View of the interior of my new basket...
Last week, I previewed today's project by running a "clip show" of past projects I've done that started with a circle. The variety represented by that list surprised me.

Generally speaking, I love sewing projects that start off simply and then get transformed in unexpected ways. Most projects that start with a circle grab my attention in that sense.

I also love origami, so to find a project that starts off with a circle and is somewhat origami-ish, well, how could I resist? (And aren't you happy that I couldn't resist, so that I could have a topic for a blog post??)

All kidding aside, I was drawn to this project by the opportunity to do my own thing with it. (Sort of like how I made the magic box pouch my own.) So while I give full credit to Ae PooiM on YouTube for her tutorial (search for New idea!.. Make a Basket from a piece of circular cloth) from August 3, 2021, I did make several changes to her version in arriving at the basket shown here, which I think has its own charm.

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Quilted and riveted...

For one thing, it's quilted. And for another, it's finished off with rivets. I also wanted it to be bigger, so I cut my fabric circles to 20" in diameter instead of the stated 45cm (which is under 18") in the video. (In fact, I will provide my adjusted measurements in old fashioned imperial for those of you still stuck in the dark ages. ಠ‿ಠ)

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Only a portion of the (exterior side) circle is quilted...

While I encourage experimenting with patterns to make them your own, I will always remind that it takes planning to be able to do so successfully. After I'd watched this video a couple of times, it occurred to me that quilting just the exterior front and back would be relatively easy if I established what the divisions were for the cone shaped pockets before sewing.

As in, the area not used for the pockets would end up being the front, back and base of the basket. This part of the exterior side would then be interfaced with some fusible fleece and quilted. (Why not quilt the whole thing? Those little cone pockets would get too thick to handle.)

Don't know if you can see it clearly, but the fusible fleece in the quilted area was pieced together from large scraps left over from my Christmas table topper project. (I don't know about you, but I hate to waste interfacing!)

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
This was one continuous free motion squiggle...

I hadn't done any free motion quilting in quite some time — and therefore will likely never get good at it — so I gladly welcomed this opportunity to practice. I will admit, however, that I did not use my free motion quilting foot; it had seriously been a while since I used it and I didn't trust that I'd be able to do it well enough over such a large area. By using a regular presser foot, however, I wasn't able to make small movements, so my quilting is just a series of big squiggles.

But at least it was done in one continuous stretch of stitching, with only one small hiccup (which I can't even find anymore on the finished item).

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
First project using my new extension table!

The DIY extension table performed wonderfully in its first real use. I felt in total control of the large piece that I was quilting, able to swing it back and forth with no dragging issues at all.

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This project is actually a very "simple sew", except when you get near the end and are required to sew the inside edge of the cones to the outside edge of the basket (where the four clips are in the photo below). Just from watching the video, I knew it would be a challenge to get "in there" with my sewing machine. 

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Preparing to finish off the pockets in a different way...

When I got to this point, I decided to do a combination of hand sewing and rivets to secure those pockets. (The clips holding the two pairs of cones together is where I hand sewed; the tutorial leaves them separated.)

Now, back to my promise to provide you with some imperial measurements, refer to the following diagram if you want to make my version of this project.

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Adjusted measurements for larger version of this project...

I found that it was quite unnecessary to draw most of the lines that you see. All you need to make are the markings that I've indicated in red (on each half of the circle, of course); i.e., the six "X"s and the two diagonal lines joining a couple of those "X"s. Those will actually end up being sewing lines.

For quilting purposes, the area in gray below is what you need to cut for fusible fleece. Fuse it onto the exterior fabric and quilt as desired. (Note that whenever you quilt something, it will shrink a bit. To deal with this, you may need to adjust the other circle of fabric to make it match when you sew them together later.)
Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Template for fusible fleece...

Some kind of Vilene interfacing was used in the video for the exterior fabric. I decided to use my supply of Decor Bond for extra firmness. However, fused Decor Bond tends to wrinkle and crease when handled excessively (like when you turn something right side out), so if you choose to use it, do what I do and fuse it after turning. (I gave instructions for how to do this in my Collapsible Christmas Tree tutorial.)

Finished size is about 9" in "diameter" across the top, and about 6" tall. The base is approximately 3" x 6". For me, it's a nice size that's not too large and not too small.

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Giving an idea of size...

The YouTube video provides excellent instructions for what to do, so apart from the above, I have no other advice to add about making this. It's very straight forward.

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Front/back view...

Installing the rivets took a bit of pounding, as there are two quilted layers to go through, plus the pocket. All went well, however, with the largest rivets from my rivet kit being just the right size for the job.

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The fabrics used here are two selections from a purchase made five years ago from old Craftsy. They are part of a collection designed in 2013 by Ann Kelle called Remix Metallic for Robert Kaufman. My decision to go with a 20" circle meant that I couldn't use a fat quarter; these are some of my (relatively rare supply of) complete yardage fabrics.

Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Side view...

I've had these fabrics for so long that it's definitely time to use them up. Seeing the finished basket, however, if I had it to do over, I would probably choose a different fabric for the lining. The navy chevron doesn't provide enough contrast.
Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
Base is rectangular...

That said, I really like the gold toned accent on these; definitely adds a touch of elegance. 

Oh, and for what purpose do you think I'm using this origami-ish basket? Might you recall me stating that hubby started an indoor garden this winter? (For which I got him a book this past Christmas.) Well, when I'm called upon to lend a hand with said garden, I take this with me.
Origami-ish Basket crafted by eSheep Designs
It's my gardening bag!

It fits right inside the top of this sturdy paper bag. The bag itself carries discards and trimmings back home to our organic waste bin. The fabric basket on top is for any actual harvests. In the above photo, there are a couple of stalks of rapini (one of which flowered way too quickly) and some carrots. I've used the little cone pockets to carry sprigs of basil, green onions and arugula.

It wasn't my intention to make the basket for this purpose, but it's always nice to find a purpose for whatever I make!

'Til next...