Frolic

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bonding with my Singer 404 and Making a "Stash" Wardrobe for American Girl

So every time I bring home another vintage Singer, I have a routine.  I clean it, oil it, and make any minor repairs.  Then I sew with it for a while until I feel comfortable with it (and can work out any bugs), then nine times out of ten I end up reselling it.  I'm not sure about this one yet, it may be a keeper.

Like many vintage Singers, this 404 is Perfection in Straight Stitch.  As seen in the following pictures, I've sewn satin, lace, tulle, fake fur, corduroy, and denim - and I've made buttonholes. There is something very peaceful about sewing on a no frills machine that never talks back - in all the hours I've used it so far, I haven't had a single hiccup, just perfect stitching with perfect tension every time.


On to the projects...

I was blessed with four sons, and loved raising boys.  There was only one thing I kind of missed when they were growing up and that was sewing girly things.  Happily, my boys have provided me with granddaughters so now I get to make up for lost time and indulge myself.  The girls are getting new dolls for Christmas, so I've been doing a little stash-busting to make them clothes.

Oh, and I scoured the local thrift stores for an 18" doll to use for a model (only $6.99!) and although her hair is kind of whacked up, she'll do.


Everything is from my stash, even the buttons. The corduroy is from a jumper I made for myself.




Stash fabric that I used to face the jumper made of the corduroy above. Stash rickrack.





Blue satin left from granddaughter's Cinderella costume and yarn remnants. More stash buttons.





This was Estate Sale fabric, probably a vintage piece - at least it looks like it.  Tulle from the half-price remnant bin at JoAnn.




Pink knit left from making t-shirts for the girls.  Denim cut down from a pair of my old jeans.  Crocheted edging from thread stash.  Iron-on appliqué from JoAnn.





The faux fur was stashed from a Christmas stocking I made last year. The satin and tulle were from the half-price remnant bin. Only the striped fabric was bought off the bolt.

I'm not done yet, I'll be making as many outfits as I can until Christmas and I have lots more remnants to use.  I think I can say that I've now officially bonded with the 404.  I really can't find any fault with it, and other than needing to zigzag on my 503 occasionally, I could use this for everything I sew.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Driving a Stick Shift and Other Mechanical Machines

Okay, so in this post I'm going to go somewhat off topic but it will relate it to sewing machines. You'll see...

First I want to preface this by saying that I am a modern gal. I'm not stuck in the 20th century, or out of touch with technology.  I have all the Apple devices - iPhone, iPad, Mac Book - and one of my favorite games to play with my family is Rock Band on Wii.  (No, I don't knit by the light of a kerosene lamp while listening to Pa play the fiddle or anything like that.)


Yet there are a few things from the past that I still prefer to their modern counterparts.  For example, this is in my sewing room:


Yes, I love listening to vinyl records on my vintage 1970s stereo receiver. (I'm in a glam rock phase right now, and I'm getting down with the Sweet and Mott the Hoople.)



And I am a confirmed devotee of the manual transmission.  This is the stick-shift in my Honda Civic Si:



I don't understand why people don't like to drive these anymore - less than 10% of new American cars are stick-shifts.  To me, it is the only way to drive, and I'm never really comfortable in an automatic (I am one of those people who stomps the floor where the clutch should be, while grasping for a stick-shift that isn't there.)   

When driving a stick-shift, I feel like I have better control and performance.  For example, if I need a burst of speed to get around someone, I can drop it down to a lower gear and GO - ditto if I'm going up a hill and need extra torque.  I don't have to wait for the automatic transmission to figure out what I need, I already know.  I already know when I'm slowing to turn a corner at exactly what speed I will resume and I can shift accordingly.  An automatic doesn't know that, it has to figure it out as you go.  Basically it all comes down to the difference between shifting pro-actively, with a manual transmission, or re-actively with an automatic. 



So what does all this have to do with sewing machines?  The connection should be pretty clear when you're looking at a mechanical machine like this:


This is a machine that you control manually, just like my car.  It has actual knobs and levers that move actual working parts inside.  I can adjust my stitch length while I'm sewing to fine tune it - just move that lever up or down like a stick shift!  It even has a clutch (the stop-motion wheel) to disengage the motor, like my car.


Most of all, it is a tactile experience.  I feel in control of the machine, and it responds to my manipulations.  I can actually feel what I'm doing, there is nothing lost between me and an electronic pad that tells the machine what to do.  As for the stereo, that is also tactile device, even if it is an electronic.  I like the feel of the vinyl records and even the way they smell.  I like the texture of the sound you get from needle on grooves.  I like holding the record in my hands and putting it on the turntable. I like tweaking the faders on my tuner.



We used to get up and walk over to the TV and turn a knob to change the channels.  (While we were there, we adjusted the antennae and the vertical hold - remember?)
(This is one I found on eBay)


We rolled down the windows in our car by hand, too.
(from Pinterest)

We touched, turned, and pushed things directly and they responded.  If they broke, they could be fixed with common tools.  I miss that!  

In today's world we seem somewhat removed from our actions. We push a button on a backlit electronic pad to operate our appliances, change the channel, or roll down the window. These innovations make life more convenient, but I submit that they also rob of us of the satisfaction of doing simple things for ourselves.

Even so, there are some mechanical devices I would not want to use today.  I don't want to go back to manual typewriters, for example.  If you have ever typed on one, you know it is hard work and the results are not that great. While it might be amusing to type on a manual typewriter for nostalgia's sake, I wouldn't want to actually use one again. (Remember messy carbon paper, correction fluid, and typewriter ribbons?  Keys jamming up? Returning the carriage every time it dinged? Backspacing to underline a word or to center your text? No thanks!)


I'd be interested to hear what other people do and don't miss about mechanical machines...








Monday, October 10, 2016

More Fun with Singer Deluxe Monogrammer

Okay, I now have 18 letter templates, and I think I can confess here that I have found a method for obtaining them .... well actually I believe I'll wait until I've collected the rest of them before I reveal my method (sorry, but you know how it is!)

Anyhoo...


You start out by installing the feed cover plate and then the attachment.  While the Singer 503 has an elevated throat plate to bypass the feed dogs for FM stitching, it just doesn't work with the monogrammer (I'm not sure why, but take my word for it.)



You insert the plastic letter template (flat piece sticking out on the left) and crank it in, then you use the plastic letter guide to show you where to begin stitching.



Then off you go!







This is a fantastic attachment that makes spectacular monograms.  How nice is this?  (And how cute is this vintage fabric?)






I'm using it as a tab on a wallet I'm making for a friend.














(Don't look too closely because it didn't turn out quite as well as I hoped!)


This is a second variation on the theme, with the zipper pouch in front.  Mostly I just love this fabric and want to play with it!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! (you never know WHAT'S under there!)


In my last post I showed the chair that came with the Singer 404 I just bought (I took it out of the cabinet because I don't need it.)  I said the chair had hideous fabric and I don't know if the pictures show just how ugly it is.  A nasty bright blue polyester, inexpertly tacked on.  YUCK!

I figured "okay, I can recover it" with no particular fabric in mind yet, but in the meantime that disgusting blue polyester just had to go.  So I removed it and VOILA!

WOW!!!
This is the fabric that was underneath!  It is in perfect condition, not a rip, stain, or even worn spot on it.

But what makes this just too good to be true is that I was uncovering this chair right in front of my Featherweight card table that is covered with a cloth that has also has an Early American themed print.  (Its a piece of fabric I found at an Estate Sale a while back, and will be a perfect Thanksgiving table topper.)



Now I realize that this kind of print isn't everybody's cup of tea, but I just earned my degree in American History and it does appeal to me. The coincidence, though (whether you like the prints or not) is amazing.








Saturday, October 1, 2016

Singer 404 - Just Visiting!

Singer 404, Slant-o-Matic straight stitch machine

I don't need any more sewing machines, since I have what I consider the perfect line up for my needs:

  • 301 for straight stitch and majority of my sewing 
  • 503 for zigzag and decorative stitches
  • 221 for sewing on the go, and occasional backup topstitcher (the Featherweight has very precise control, making it easier to do fiddly topstitching sometimes)
  • BL3-408 for serging
(There's a 15-91 lurking around in there too, but its so big and heavy I rarely bring it out to play.)


That's really all I need for the sewing I do. But I have a soft spot for Slant-o-Matics and I've heard raves about the 400 machines.  So when I saw this one on CL I snapped it up.  It came in the nice table with its matching chair (in a godawful ugly upholstery, but hey - I can sew, can't I?) and the accessories.

(I'm selling the table, which I don't have room for, so its not pictured here.)

So what this machine is, basically, is the 301 with a drop-in bobbin and the spool spindle on top. Otherwise they're not much different.


The bobbin is identical to the 503, so I'm familiar with it.



The bobbin winder, though, is identical to the 301, and folds down flush with the machine. Oh, and it has the elevated throat plate like the Rocketeer rather than a feed-dog drop like the 301 - one other significant difference.


What matters most, of course, is how it sews.  And it sews beautifully.  Very fast, very smooth, and a perfect stitch just like the 301.

As you can see, it stitches so fast, I had trouble keeping up with it.


Here it is on six layers of heavy corduroy:




And for comparison purposes, here is the 301 on the same six layers:



Perfect stitching results on both. Offhand, I don't see a lot of difference in either speed or stitch quality although the 301 may be the teensiest bit faster.  Even so, I have a natural preference for vertical bobbins which would be the tie-breaker if I had to choose a favorite (well that, and the fact that I have a BLACK 301, which is really beautiful.)


BOTTOM LINE:  This is a very sturdy, basic machine.  I've heard they were used in Home Ec classes because they are durable and easy to use, and I can see why.  The threading and operation is all very simple and there is hardly anything a hapless student could do to wreck it (other than throwing it out a window.)  It would give great results with little fuss - exactly what a basic machine should do.

If someone wanted a good beginner's machine, especially for teaching purposes, this would be at the top my list of recommendations.  Forget the cheap plastic machines at Wal Mart for a beginner, they are (pardon my French) crap.  Why not get a fuss-free, reliable, fast, and strong-stitching machine that will make learning to sew fun and easy?  And I only paid $30 for this machine - anyone can afford that! 







Saturday, September 24, 2016

Vintage Love

I never get tired of playing with my vintage machines or hunting for new ones.  I look at the contemporary models that do with a touch of a button what I have to do manually - like adjust stitch length/width and tension.  They have automatic threading, needle up/down features, hundreds of stitches, and automatic buttonholes.  They have cute little storage compartments for sewing feet and flashing LED displays. They promise to make sewing FUN and EASY.  But don't appeal to me at all.

Finally I put my finger on it: they don't just don't have the character of the beloved older machines.

Compare them to vintage cars, for example:


Retro Cool   vs.   Ho-Hum




        

                                     



       




        


This is without even taking into account that every machine on the left still WORKS, while those on the right will be toast in just a few years.  (Even if the cars are still running, their computerized systems will be obsolete, and no one is going to want to restore them like the ones on the left - because why would they?)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Still On the Prowl, But Not Having Much Luck

As I mentioned in my last post, I have found that the vintage Singer sewing machines I covet are getting harder and harder to come by at the give-away prices I used to find.  I guess the secret is out!

Anyone who has followed my blog knows that

1. I don't hoard machines, and

2. I don't buy/sell them solely to make money.

Its a hobby, and the little bit of profit I gain just goes back into the hobby.  Whatever I make from buying a machine, fixing it up, and re-selling it goes towards the vintage sewing notions, attachments, and fabrics that I actually use.

Here is just one example of a one-of-a-kind item made from a piece of random, repurposed vintage print fabric:
Seriously, now, how cute is this?  I bought the piece of fabric at an antique store for a few dollars and the size and shape of it (it is identical on both sides) could be nothing but a tote bag.  I added my own decorative stitching around the print and a button from my collection.

Back to the machines: I have had two experiences lately which gives me an idea of where the trend is heading.  I subscribe to EstateSales.net and the advantage is that it gives me a heads-up on sales and includes photos and lists of the items. That way I can save time skipping sales that don't have what I'm looking for.

The disadvantage is that they don't list the prices up front.  So last week I saw one of these pictured at a sale.
(Not the actual machine I saw)

Now while I haven't particularly wanted a white Featherweight, I had to go take a look.  Best case scenario I bring it home, have a blast playing with it for a while, then find it a new home and replenish my hobby fund.

I drove 20 miles to get to the sale at 8:30 and I was the second person in line.  The man ahead of me was there for - you guessed it - the white Featherweight.  But then we saw the price - $495!  That is at least the full asking price you see on eBay so I took a pass.  When I left the sale, I heard the other shopper trying to talk it down to $250.



This week I saw a Rocketeer 503 in the cool modern table with the brass tipped legs like this:
(not the actual one I saw)




Once again,  I got to the sale at 8:30.  Again I was second in line but this time it was the guy behind me who was there for the sewing machine.  (I'm not fighting other women for these machines, its the men who are after them!) This one was priced at $125, which is also about fair market value but not in my budget so I deferred to the other buyer.

What I'm seeing in this trend, then, is that these machines are being used as bait to get buyers to the sale (and it clearly works.)  Its also clear that Estate Sale professionals are doing their homework and asking top dollar.  But it was only 3-4 years ago that I was picking these up for $40 or $50.

What I want to know, is how did everyone suddenly catch on to this?  ;)