Friday, April 4, 2014

A Personal Note...

So a double post today, and this one is nothing to do with sewing.

IF everything goes as planned - and this is still in the works but is looking good at this point - I will be spending four months in France later this year.  When I decided to go back to college well into middle age, I figured why not go for the whole experience just like any other coed (wait, do they still say "coed"?  I didn't think so!)  So I am going to do Study Abroad to complete my minor in French.

I will likely spend the summer raising money for the trip by selling everything I possibly can.  One connection I can make to sewing, I guess, is the fact that I sold my beautiful Centennial Featherweight.

Yes, this gorgeous machine has gone to a new home and raised just enough money for my application fee for Study Abroad (!)  

So I'm not sure how much time I will have for sewing and/or playing with sewing machines for a while after I finish the Easter dresses.  Final exams are coming up in about three weeks, then I have a visitor from France coming in June who will hopefully spend the summer getting me up to speed with my French.  

I am no longer on Facebook so I am toying with the idea of another blog which will chronicle my adventures as a middle-aged student attending a French university... we'll see...

Vintage Hankie Dress

I've done a couple of posts about vintage hankies and little projects I can do with them.  But until now I haven't actually made one into a garment.

I forgot to take a picture of the hankie before I started, but I decided to use it as the bodice of a toddler Easter dress.  Since it was such a sheer fabric, and because it had scalloped edges that didn't quite fit the pattern pieces, I fused it to a lightweight cotton.

  Then I zz-ed around the edges to make sure it stayed put.

Made the little dress from McCalls 6017.  The purple sateen cotton was bought on Etsy.

And best of all found a seersucker fabric that EXACTLY matched this 50-60 year old handkerchief!  I was absolutely thrilled when I found it at Hancock.  They couldn't have matched better if they were designed to go together!  

So I used it for the flounce.  Adorned with yellow rick-rack which is just about my favorite thing in the whole world (I love yellow and I love rick-rack!)

I always dreaded the thought of cutting up one of my hankies, but I love this little dress so much I might actually take the plunge and do it again!  (Hankie I used is in the middle of this picture.)

Easter Dress Number Two:  McCalls M4817.   My nod to vintage sewing here is the old Boiltex Rick Rack from the 1940's.  I've had it in my stash for quite a while waiting for just the right project to use it.  I LOVE the color!  And it worked perfectly here.   My attempt at an applique wasn't perfect, but if you don't look TOO closely, its not bad.  ;)

Oh...and the back zipper is also from my stash of mid-20th century notions.  It is an old metal Talon zipper "Orient Blue".  Again, it perfectly matched the blue in this fabric print.

I also got to have some fun with my ruffler attachment on these dresses.  I used it for the bottom flounces on both of them because they are so long - 130" on the pink one - that it would have been difficult to gather it and keep the gathers even.  So instead I have nice, perfectly pleated ruffles.  Love!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Who You Gonna Call? Stashbusters!

Stuck at home while it snows and sleets.  A good time for Stashbusting!  No need to buy anything new,  I have remnants and notions galore.  I have lots of vintage fabrics in a yard of this/two yards of that, bought at various estate sales because they were pretty.

So the challenge (to keep myself entertained and use up some of this stuff) is coming up with fun little projects.  And being a sucker for any kind of bag, that is the first thing I do:

A couple of items out of my stash... hour later a small project done.

I had the hardware, the zipper and the ribbon - a perfect match! - all in my stash.  I LOOOVE this fabric.  It looks like Spring and it makes me smile.  :)

Then there was something I actually needed to make, and pulled it off for $1.  Yes, $1 for Simplicity 3647 on sale at Hancock and I have a Greek costume.  (Don't ask me why I needed this costume, but I'll give a hint that it involves a Greek tragedy and an assignment in one of my classes.)

What makes this so cool and so cheap is that I got the fabric from my linen closet.  Like this:  I had an old king-sized dust ruffle that I didn't need anymore.  I cut the ruffle part off and that is the gold-striped sash you see here.  The dress was made out of the middle part (the part that goes under the mattress.)   The head band is made from a piece of stretchy sequin trim.  Quick. Easy. Cheap.  Costumes are fun!


When I got tired of sewing, I turned to eBay to fritter away some time and money.  Only my blog is privvy to this little secret:  I paid nearly $30 for two top-hat cams for Bud (my Singer 503).  


 Cam #22 on the left is an overedge stitch (basically a reverse blind stitch) that is used with the overedge foot.  Supposedly this is intended as a "stretch" stitch.  I don't know about that, but I have the overedge foot so I'm going to try it out.  On the right is cam #17, the curlicue stitch.  Okay, I know.  When am I ever going to make this stitch pattern when I already have all of THESE?

Fashion discs for Singer Slant-O-Matic

I guess I needed those two cams like I needed the complete set of cams for my Singer Automatic ZigZagger (which I will never use.)  Because they're there and I want them all!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pssst...Jim and Margaret may be getting a divorce! Putting my 201-2 on the market...

Yes, I must share the bad news, we may soon be losing part of the family.  I need to downsize this collection before it gets out of hand and through the process of elimination I have decided that Queen Margaret will probably be the first to go.

Recap of the inventory:

Margaret - Singer 201-2
Classic Singer favorite and usually regarded as one of their finest machines and I can understand why.  The stitches are sheer perfection and this machine runs so smoothly and quietly it is a joy to use.  It has the horizontal rotary hook configuration which means drop-in bobbin (Class 66).   An occasional searing of the flesh is the payoff for the lamp located on the front of the machine.  Tension is located on the front as well.  This machine is installed in a cabinet now and I rarely bring her out to play anymore because truthfully I enjoy sewing on my other machines more than this one.  

Betty, Singer 15-91

The Runner-Up in the full size, mid-century, straight stitch Singer category.  I'm not sure why this machine gets second billing because to be honest, she is faster and more powerful than the 201.  With a vertical, oscillating hook this machine isn't quite as smooth and quiet but it stitches much faster and with more assurance (it will plow through anything without complaint - up over thick seams and down the other side with no hestitation).   The upper tension is located on the faceplate making threading somewhat awkward.   Inserting the vertical bobbin (Class 15) is no big deal once you've done it several hundred times.  :)
But above all else, Betty belonged to my Mom and was handed down to me.  She absolutely stays.

Kathy, Singer 221 Featherweight

There just isn't anything to say about a Singer Featherweight that millions of people don't already know.  The Perfect Portable and all that.  Cute factor off the charts.  This 1956 model is a beautiful, shiny specimen.  There is some slight wear to the front edge decals which makes it "okay" to actually use this machine.  Her case, manual and accessory box are all in excellent condition and she has all the toys and goodies.  A little black box full of fun!  She stays.

Liz, Singer 221 Centennial Edition

Liz is all that and a bag of chips!  Which is to say that not only is she a beautiful machine - nearly pristine in every way - she has the blue 1951 Centennial badge for Singer's 100th Year.   She is too beautiful to actually use and strangely enough she doesn't sew nearly as fast as Kathy and I have never been able to figure out why.  (That is the subject of a previous entry.)  This one is for Show, not for Sew.

Bud, Singer 503 "Rocketeer"

This machine will never win any prizes for straight stitching among its peers (although I suspect it can sew circles around many machines made today.)  But it is, quite simply, one of the coolest sewing machines I've ever seen.  Its not my fastest, most powerful, or best straight stitching machine.  But it is my only zigzag model and it has 20+ cams for decorative stitches.   This is also my only mocha machine - everyone else is Classic Black.  He stays if only to do the tasks that the others can't do and to make me smile when I look at him.

Jim, Singer 301

Jim just joined the family last week and is now my favorite, bestest, most wonderful fantastic machine EVER!!  Why didn't anyone ever let me in on this secret?  I have never particularly coveted a 301.  I figured it was just another variation on the theme and I didn't perceive that it had any outstanding feature other than being a bigger edition of the Featherweight.  WRONG!  Don't let the folding bed and carrying case fool you into thinking that this is just an overgrown cousin of the darling, dainty Featherweight (like I did.)   Let your Featherweight do her thing - charming machine that she is - and show her off at your quilting classes.  But for real sewing oomph, snatch up one of these if you are ever lucky enough to find one.  

Let me try to explain it this way:

Take the smooth sewing action of the 201, the speed and power of the 15-91, the portability of the 221 and the slant shank of the 503 (just for good measure)...wrap them all up into one machine.  You now have this ultimate machine.  It really does have the best of ALL features from my other machines.  And it is the hands down winner for speed.  None of the others even come close...


A while back I did a speed test of all my machines then I compared the 301 and the results were stunning. In 15 seconds (at 12 sts/inch), the machines stitched the following number of inches:

Singer 201 - 11 inches

Singer 221 (1951 model)  - 13 inches

Singer 503 - 14 inches

Singer 221 (1956 model) - 18 inches

Singer 15-91 - 19 inches

Singer 301 - 31 inches !!!!   That is nearly THREE TIMES faster than the Queen of Machines!

Now I will concede that there is undoubtedly some variation among individual machines - obviously between my two 221's there is quite a difference.  But for the 301 to reach speeds DOUBLE the average of all the other machines, that leaves it the indisputable champion.  

UPDATE:  Margaret has gone to a new home.  The new owner tried her out and loved her.  She wasn't too concerned about the speed, but she was VERY impressed with how quiet this machine is and how beautiful the stitches are.  (I have to admit that yes, this is the quietest sewing machine I have ever heard.)  She has been teaching her daughter to sew and found that the cheap modern machines were only causing frustration because the stitch quality wasn't good.  This machine will totally meet her needs.  It doesn't need to do 1500 spm, it just needs to be simple to use and give a good quality stitch.   I am very happy that she found a machine that meets her needs and will be used and loved. :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Babylock BL3-408 = The Best $50 I Ever Spent

Not a vintage Singer this time, but a "nearly" vintage Babylock Serger (BL3-408) aka "The Best $50 I Ever Spent".

Actually it does rather look like an antique! 

I learned to sew in the 1970's before sergers were commonly available for home use.   In the 1980's-'90's I didn't sew a lot, and certainly not enough to consider buying a serger.  In fact I was still sewing on my Singer 15-91 - I didn't even have a zigzag machine!  

Like lots of old school sewers I figured I didn't need a serger, I was happy to do everything the old-fashioned way.  Besides they looked WAY complicated and too modern for my sensibilities.  

But as I began to step up my sewing in the last decade, it occurred to me that having a serger to finish off seams would really give my sewing a nice touch.  It wasn't until I came across a CL ad for this machine a few years ago that I finally took the plunge.  I actually liked the fact that it was older and didn't have the bells and whistles (the owner was selling it because she was getting a boss new machine herself.)   Yep, just $50, and she still had it in the original box with the original manual and accessories.  

First of all, here's what it DOESN'T do:  

It doesn't have automatic air-jet threading or differential feed or half a dozen threads (just three).  It doesn't do a cover stitch or fancy decorative stitches.  There is no automatic tension or anything else.  Everything is done manually.

What it DOES do:   Finish seams.  Narrow rolled hems.  Period

Today's example:  a child's flannel nightie

I needed a narrow, rolled hem for the collar.  And as much as I love my vintage Singers, I will admit that no attachment I've tried will make a narrow hem on a curve like this (no, not even that little rolled edge hemmer foot.  It works best on straight hems and even then is tricky to pull it off.)  

So in only "14 Easy Steps", I change from 3-Thread serging to  Narrow Rolled Hemming. 

(You think I'm kidding?) 

 And here we go - a lovely narrow rolled hem.  

My other favorite application is the seam finish.  14 steps to switch back to the 3-thread overlock and I'm ready to serge the yoke seam on the nightie.  I have never used any other serger, so don't have any basis for comparision, but I am pleased that it zips right through these layers - including the gathered layer - quickly and easily.  The result is a nice finish that I couldn't duplicate on a sewing machine.

(The zigzag stitches in this picture were for gathering.  On full skirts, I like to ZZ over a heavy thread for gathering.  It is much quicker and easier than the double rows of long basting stitches and much less likely to break.)

A neat seam and facing finish with layers of thick fleece. No balking even when crossing seams.

And THAT, my friends, is all it does!  It is a bee-atch to thread it.  It involves contortions, instruments and a few bad words to get the job done.  The tensions have to be manually tweaked and adjusted.   But I've been using it 4-5 years now and its never once let me down.  It is all metal like my sewing machines and weighs a good hefty 18 lbs so it stays in place no matter how heavy the fabric I'm running through it.   It handles a range of fabric weights with ease even though changing stitch length requires a screwdriver.   I have to oil it just like my sewing machines - but I am used to that so no big deal.

Do I want one of these?  No!  Really and truly, I don't. :)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A New Addition to the Family - Just in Time for Christmas! Singer 301

Well this was a nice surprise!  I already posted this story on PR but I'll tell it here too.

Of course I've barely had time to sew, look at sewing machines, or even think about sewing machines for almost a year now.   Being a full time college student has kept me busier than I ever imagined!  But finals were over last week and I've been doing the frantic holiday preparation thing.  Yesterday - gray, drizzly and completely dreary - I had dragged myself through a day of volunteer work and errands and was heading home when I saw a sign for an Estate Sale.  I was hungry, tired and irritable and the sale was out of my way.  Besides, I had too much Christmas shopping to do anyway so why bother with an Estate Sale?  But still... I love Estate Sales... (Not yard sales, but bona fide Estate Sales - big difference.)

There was a ton of stuff there - the usual furniture, china, pots and pans, clothing, household items.  I didn't see anything I really wanted and was just about to leave when the owner spoke to me on the way out the door.  I kind of asked him offhand if they happened to have any sewing items, just in case I missed something - fabric, patterns, notions, that kind of thing.

He said, "Did you see the sewing machine?"

Yes, even the slant shank buttonholer was included in the $10 purchase!

And he pointed to this beautiful, pristine 301, sitting on the floor in the corner.

Just as I headed towards it, another shopper, overhearing this exchange, headed it for it too.  I quickly asked how much it was and when he said $10 I said, "I'll take it!" and grabbed it a moment before the other guy could get his hands on it.  I could hardly get the $10 out of my pocket fast enough.

I saw it first!!!  ;)

What a deal.  It is a beautiful, clean, well cared for machine.  The decals and finish are nearly perfect. It came with the original green box and all the feet (that alone is worth at least $25) and even included a buttonholer.  It has the cradle which you use to insert into a regular Singer cabinet and then release the machine when you want to use it as a portable.  Cool!  (It has the power cord - but alas was missing the controller.)

I've never used a 301 so this is a new adventure for sure.  It really rounds out my collection of vintage Singers.  From what I've read, this was the last of the beautiful black & gold Singers.  With this model, they were updating their look and you can see in the styling that they were going for a more sleek and modern look - although curiously it is rather Art Deco in style.   The spool of thread stays out of sight behind the machine so as not to detract from the lines, I guess (also to make it easier to put in a case for portability maybe?)

Although it is often compared with the 221, I see little resemblance since this is a full sized machine.  It does have the aluminum body which makes it "light" (for an all metal machine, anyway.)  The only other thing it really has in common with the 221 is the vertical rotary hook and bobbin.  But it is Singer's first slant shank model, which was a big innovation for them at the time.  Fortunately, it not only came with a collection of feet AND a slant shank buttonholer, but I have plenty of slant shank accessories for Bud, my 503.  Since it has the same bobbin case as my 221, then I have plenty of bobbins for it as well.

Name?   I guess its gonna have to be Jim.  And that makes sense, he looks rather masculine with the clean, square lines - even the decals are geometric.  So Jim it is and that pretty much completes the family.

Stitch length regulator - very Art Deco looking!

UPDATE:  Jim took a little tinkering to get the perfect stitch.  I don't think this machine had been used in quite a while.  It was very clean inside (no lint, crud, rust or grease build up) although quite dusty on the outside.  I had several minor - though frustrating - issues.  But RESOLVED - and the results are worth it. Beautiful stitch.  Notice how it twists perfectly off the end.  Lovely!  (Blue is top side/white is bobbin side.)

And this machine is super fast

Just for comparsion, here is my 201...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Getting My Vintage Fix On

So.... the months have gone by and the sewing room has been unused.  Flea markets and yard sales have been unpicked and Craigslist postings have come and gone - leaving great deals for other buyers, I imagine. Going back to school full time is *ahem* FULL TIME work!  Then having a houseful of visitors all summer has kept me busy as well.  With a quiet week until school starts back, I wanted a quick sewing fix.  

In the past couple of years I have grabbed vintage fabrics wherever I could find them and somewhere I picked up this.  I can't even figure out what the items were, but I believe they were cafe curtains (they have rod pockets.)  This is quite a heavy fabric for curtains, though, so I'm not sure.  Anyway, the print is VERY cool!

 Also, along the way, I have stocked up on vintage notions like this rick rack (100% cotton, like you can't find anymore) and old metal Talon zippers.   Rummaged around in my stock and made a little zippered pouch out of these odds and ends.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this print!

Okay, I could do this all day long .... make useless little items out of salvaged fabrics and with my vintage sewing machines while listening to "Leave it to Beaver" in the background... poke around estate sales looking for old fabric.   What fun!

But next week its back to the books...  :)