Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Volunteer Sewing, or Stitching Meets History

I am in a long, dry spell of unemployment.  Having decided late in life to start a new career path, I went back to school to get a degree in History (yes, I know, not exactly a blazing path to success) and now find myself virtually unemployable.  The diploma looks nice hanging on the wall, but I have found out the hard way that youth pretty much trumps experience in the job market.  All my 20-something classmates have found jobs while I languish in the ranks of the unemployed.

In the meantime, I am doing volunteer work in my field. I sit on a local Historic Preservation Commission and I work part-time at a history museum. (This is exactly what I wanted to do when I went for the degree, only I hoped to be PAID for it!)

One of my jobs at the museum is deciphering 19th century letters like this and transcribing them:
(If this doesn't look like fun, then I can't explain it.  Either you love this kind of thing or you don't.)  ;)

When they found out I could sew, I was quickly given a project.  This, of course, is a costume, not an authentic reproduction dress.  (It has a zipper up the back and everything.)  But this was the pattern they asked me to make.

Keeping in mind that I am not the best seamstress - or the best photographer - on the block, this is the dress on the girl I made it for - not yet hemmed.  She wasn't available for fittings, so the waist turned out a tad too big, even though the size matched her measurements.  She said not to worry, since she will be wearing an apron with it (which I will undoubtedly make as well!)

I thought the dress looked awfully plain (they didn't want any of the trims included with the pattern) so I picked up my crochet hook and made a collar.  It looks great with the dress, I think, and the museum staff was duly impressed.

Then they asked me to make some vintage-style aprons.  Joann actually had several prints reminiscent of the 1930s and 1940s.

I loved this print, especially!

Anyway, this sort of thing keeps me busy until I can find paying gigs... 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Knitting Socks for the Red Cross

This is a slight diversion from vintage Singers, but it relates to history, which is what I study.  I am preparing for a demonstration in an upcoming exhibit related to the home front efforts in WWII.  The exhibit will be primarily about Victory Gardens and canning foods, but I volunteered to demonstrate how women knit for the GIs during the war.

Several years ago I bought a really neat commemorative Knit Kit from the Red Cross which had a replica of the man's sock pattern they issued to knitters along with yarn for the project.

I made a sample pair for the demonstration:

The history included in the kit explains the Red Cross "Knit Your Bit" campaign.  

Socks could obviously be knit faster and more efficiently by machines in factories but manufacturing was allocated to the war effort as much as possible. Anything that could be produced by alternate means freed up factories for war production.  (And this, of course, is why sewing machines weren't being manufactured during the war either.)

But there was another benefit to the home knitting initiative.  Every American wanted to be involved in working for Victory.  Kids collected tin for scrap metal drives, women worked in plants producing war materiel, and older people tended Victory Gardens.  Knitting was something anyone could do - young and old alike - so the Red Cross urged Americans to "Knit Your Bit" and supplied the yarn and specifications for the garments that were needed.  I imagine that to women on the home front, worried about their men on the front lines, it could be calming and therapeutic to knit with other women and know they were providing warm, comforting items to the troops.  And for the men who received these items, I imagine that just knowing they were hand-knit by the women back home gave them an extra measure of encouragement.  It was a human connection that reminded them of what they were fighting for.

So in the spirit of the Knit Your Bit campaign from WWII,  I am reflecting on those who fought and sacrificed for our freedom while I knit these socks.  Even though a GI won't wear them, I still think about the young men who fought and died overseas while their mothers, wives, and sweethearts did their part back home.  I have four sons of my own, so I can imagine how knitting socks like this would have been an outlet for the constant stress of knowing my boys were in danger.  I hope that during the demonstration I will be able to convey some of these sentiments while I knit the socks.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

How to Blind Hem on a Straight Stitch Machine (Just for Kicks)

I will acknowledge is that it is unlikely that anyone (myself included) will ever actually do this.  I usually either blind stitch by hand or on my ZZ machine.  But part of the fun of using vintage straight-stitch Singers is exploring the ingenious methods they had for doing tasks that require a zigzag.

There is an attachment made specifically for blind hemming.  I used to have one of these and sold it on eBay, figuring I'd never use it.  It is only available for low shank (as far as I know) so wouldn't work on my slant shanks anyway.
Singer Blind Stitch Attachment for low shank straight stitch machines.

But just supposing I want to blind hem on one of my straight stitch Slant-O-Matics.  Then I'd reach for this:

This is a gadget Singer made to do zigzag and other decorative stitches on straight stitch machines.  Mostly those would have been low shank machines like the 15-91, 201, or 221.  The 301 and 404 are (as far as I'm aware) the only two straight stitch Slant-O-Matics, and there is a slant shank version of the Automatic Zigzagger for these machines which is harder to find, but not impossible.

This thing is HEAVY, it weighs almost a pound with the cam inserted!  This is the basic zigzag cam.

So getting ready to make my hem, the first thing I might do is finish the raw edge with a zigzag stitch.  This was done on that unwieldy gizmo shown above, and it did an acceptable job.

Now I'm ready to do the blind hem, and this is the cam that does it

Set it up to blind hem in the usual way.  I have adjusted the bight so that the zz will fall right on that left guideline on the foot.  I just keep the folded edge on that line while I'm stitching

Unlike a typical blind hem stitch that does several straight stitches followed by a left zigzag stitch, this one makes a half-circle between each zigzag.

And this is how it looks on the right side.
(same fabric, different lighting)

Yes, I have just made a blind hem on an old straight stitching sewing machine!  There is something kind of satisfying in knowing it can be done this way, even if you would never actually do it, right?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

That Little Green Box

I've always assumed that everyone was familiar with all the common feet that came in the little green box with old Singer machines.  I've used them all my life and never gave it a second thought.  But recently I've noticed people asking about these attachments as if they aren't familiar with them. And I've also noticed that some of the modern versions - like the ruffler foot - are rather pricey.  But if you have a low shank sewing machine, you can use any of these vintage attachments.  They are dirt cheap - you can usually get an entire box of assorted attachments like this on eBay for about $20.  If you haunt Estate Sales, like I do, you can get them for almost nothing.  

(DISCLAIMER:  I don't make great videos, these are from my iPhone. And I just did samples on various scraps of fabrics here, not real projects.  Don't judge!)

First up is the binder attachment.  Most of these have multiple slots for different widths of bias tape.

I used 1/2" single fold bias tape.  I inserted it into the second largest slot which is easier to do BEFORE attaching it to the machine.

Slide your fabric in between the folded tape and sew.  Easy as that.

Even better, you can use unfolded bias strips of 15/16" that you make yourself.  You insert this into the largest slot, and it will fold and apply the strip all in one step:

How about that?

Next is the ruffler.  In spite of being the most intimidating looking of all the feet in your box, this one is actually one of the easiest to use.  And its kind of fun too. 
Those numbered notches indicate how many stitches will be made between each pleat. (The * setting is for doing straight stitch without removing the foot.)  You can adjust stitch length along with these settings to get the fullness you want.     

Here I have it set on 6, which means a pleat every six stitches.

Perfect pleats in seconds, and so easy to do.

One of the trickier feet to master is the rolled hem foot.  But once you get the hang of it, it makes a beautiful, perfect hem.  Just keep in mind that the softer and lighter the fabric, the trickier it can be. For those fabrics, try lightly starching the edge to be hemmed to give it enough body to behave in the hemmer.
The trick is to finger press the hem a couple of inches before you start.  Take a couple of stitches, then lift the presser foot and wiggle your hem into the scroll, then lower it and stitch away.  

Once you get going, just make sure to feed the fabric evenly into the scroll so it doesn't turn under too much or too little.

  On a medium-weight woven fabric like this, the results are great. (And honestly, isn't the stitching just beautiful on the 404?)

Then there's the edgestitcher.  The simplest thing is does is stitch right on the edge of the fabric.  

If you're into heirloom sewing, you can use it to join two pieces of lace right on the very edge:

Right on the very edge, barely the width of a thread

And you can use it to make French seams;

For a 5/8" seam allowance, sew the wrong sides together with a 3/8" seam, then trim to 1/8"

Turn wrong side out, with seam inside, and press 

 Tuck into the edgestitcher slot for 1/4" and sew the seam from the wrong side, enclosing the raw edges on the right side

There is your French seam from the right side and the wrong side. 

                 And of course the zipper foot is a common, every day foot and needs no explanation

There are a few more such as the adjustable hemmer, which I've never used (I just don't get it, honestly), and the shirring/gathering foot.  There is also the tucker, and a few other speciality feet which I will cover in another post.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

More Repurposing for American Girl Doll Clothes - Best One Yet!

My daughter-in-law gave me an old pair of jeans - at my request - so I'd have some authentic looking denim for the doll clothes.  It had great back pockets with lots of "bling,"

I picked it off the jeans, cut it right down the middle, and used it for the front of the vest.  It didn't quite fit the pattern piece, so I laid a plain piece of denim underneath to cut it out, then I satin stitched it into place with a decorative thread.  That is the line of gold stitching at the bottom left.

And WOW, this made the cutest vest!  I still need a skirt to go with this outfit, maybe out of the same denim.

I did break down and buy fabric for this little dress because at this point I'm kind of getting carried away by the whole project.  Besides, I needed a knit for this dress and I didn't have anything suitable. 
(sleeves aren't hemmed yet.)

All these pieces are from Simplicity 8041

I'm not done yet!  I have knitted little crop sweater from a glittery red yarn which I will pair with a skirt from the red/white striped fabric so each girl will have one Christmasy dress-up outfit. 

To be continued....

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...