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The New Year, In a Small Way

January 4th, 2009 No comments

The family has gone, and the house reassembled, so, obviously, it’s time to start sewing again! Several things were left unfinished after a mad final quarter in 2008 when I was frantically filing and organizing the house. On Friday, I got them done.

First was this small valance for the upstairs bathroom. Neither of us is entirely crazy about having this wonderful print on a wall, exactly, but it does fit the personality of our 1952 bathroom just fine:

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In keeping with my new-found resolution to use up as much stash as possible, the curtain is lined with a sheet that’s been kicking around, allegedly as ‘muslin’, for a few years. Instead of sewing a rod pocket across both fabrics, I attached the main fabric to the lining with enough of a seam allowance in the lining to allow me to make a pocket for the rod in in the lining alone.

Making the pocket rod a little snug keeps the valance in place (no lining creep in the top), and lets the main fabric fall directly from the rod. Unless a curtain is gathered, I really don’t like the way the rod pockets (and stitching) look when you can see them from the front.. This was a good way to keep the focus on the print, not on the construction.

(Yes, that’s an awful line on the blinds where my hand-cleaning stopped. It turns out that you CAN remove 30 years of accumulated dirt from fragile blinds — you just have to go very slowly, one slat at a time. I’ll be getting back to that one of these days. I got distracted by all the more necessary blinds that were breaking, and thus in dire need of immediate attention, on the other twenty-six windows in the house.)

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Here Be Katzen

August 15th, 2008 No comments

Yeah, more cats.

The sewing room was meant to be Emma’s, since this unholy duo chase her all over the rest of the house. Somehow, though, Emma’s shelf gets co-opted now and then by Sally and Alex. There’s obviously no good reason to leave all the sewing room shedding to Emma.

These guys are Cat Angel Network rescue babies, too, but a little bolder than Emma. (And they’re siblings, too, so they’re a pack of 2 instead of a solo cat. Strength in numbers, yah!)

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Return of the Pfaff

May 25th, 2008 No comments

On Wednesday, I discovered that, owing largely to circumstances beyond the store’s control, my Pfaff was still waiting to be fixed, and not likely to be touched for at least a few more weeks. So I retrieved it, since I couldn’t live with the idea of storing it at the repair shop.

The problem seems to be the check spring, which keeps the thread from going too slack on the front of the machine on its way to the needle.  That’s it in the picture above — the part is both the spring (normally the thread would go under the spring), and the curved metal part it’s resting on.  The check spring is catching and grabbing the thread where it shouldn’t, for some reason.

The jacket I’m working on right now is linen, so the fabric isn’t particularly demanding. As a result, I’ve been able to use my Pfaff through the expedient of bypassing the check spring, and tightening up the tension discs a bit. It’s working for this woven fabric, but the next garment in the queue will be made of silky polyester, so I’ll probably have to go back to my Singer Fashion Mate for it.

Whatever’s wrong doesn’t seem to affect the buttonhole function (in spite of the fact it’s tension-related), and I really can’t do quick, simple buttonholes with either of my other machines. So I’ve now finished the buttonholes in my black Vogue 8499 pants, and am getting on with my next garment — a Vogue jacket.

So my Pfaff is home, but it and I are kind of in limbo while I figure out the next step. Which may be ordering the part on the Internet, and slapping it in. I haven’t decided yet if this is a less-than-bright move, but the motivation level is high. The fortnight I went without this machine was not fun. If my kind-of-local shop can’t fix it, and I send it away, it could be months before I see it again. That would not be good.

Update 5/26/08 — Added photo.

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Is There a Sadder Sight?

May 10th, 2008 18 comments

. . . than the space where my much-loved Pfaff used to be? Thursday night, as I attempted to sew the last eight inches of the hem on a Kwik Sew top, the tension went all wonky. Irretrievably, unfixably wonky.

I’ve owned my Synchrotronic 1229 for 25 years, having acquired it new shortly after it was manufactured in April of 1983. (Shown here as the disaster multiplied. How about that tangle of thread on the left, eh?) I bought it because it did four things beautifully: the needle stops the minute instant power is cut; the walking foot feeds tricky fabric beautifully; it has a hands-free reverse stitching feature; and the machine edge-stitches with a precision that is amazing. For all these years, it’s done these things, and more, perfectly. Predictably. Wonderfully. I love this baby! So Thursday night was a bit devastating. A quick Internet search revealed a Pfaff dealer only 45 minutes away, which helped. After I called Friday morning, I felt even better — the technician was trained by Pfaff 22 years ago, and periodically since. That’s my era! My baby won’t leave the shop, and I should have it back in two weeks.

Not that it’s going to be a good two weeks. On the plus side, I do have a couple of options, at least for sewing wovens. The Singer Fashion Mate 237 that I picked up in California a few years ago will pinch hit, and, if I want, my 60-year-old Singer Featherweight is available, too. But nothing is quite as versatile as my trusty Pfaff; I’ll be feeling a bit of pain, even though I’ll still be able to sew. My spouse was sympathetic, but not really dismayed. He pointed out that I’ve been wanting to re-make my duct tape dummy, and that this could be the right moment. That’s a pretty good idea, especially since I keep putting it off in favor of actual sewing. We’ll see. Two weeks? I can probably survive two weeks, right?

Update:  It’s fixed!

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Of Course, There’s a Cat

May 6th, 2008 No comments

I write several blogs, and have so far managed to avoid mentioning cats (except once, tangentially, when it was appropriate — and it wasn’t my cat). Leaving Emma out of my sewing blog, though, just seems wrong. Here she is, in her favorite place, just to the left of my sewing table.

Emma is a Cat Angel Network rescue baby with a traumatic history. It took a year to get Emma to this point of bliss, purring in her own window on her own shelf, with her own human and the hum of a sewing machine to keep her company.

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A Chair For My Sewing Room

April 27th, 2008 No comments

Finding a chair for my new sewing room hasn’t been easy. I didn’t want to spend a fortune until I was sure of exactly what I wanted, and none of the inexpensive chairs I’ve seen came with hardwood-floor-friendly casters. (One office supply place did offer to order them for me at $45 for a set of four, but with no guarantee that they’d fit the chair I bought. I declined.)

This week, IKEA came to the rescue. I found this chair, called “Snille”, and discovered that it fits my body perfectly. It has a primitive height adjustment system — turn the seat until it’s where you want it. I won’t miss a fancy hydraulic lift, though, since I don’t expect to be raising and lowering the seat regularly. For a total price of $19, I can live with it.

Snille wouldn’t have solved my problem if IKEA hadn’t just begun selling special casters for hard floors. Oddly named “Paragraf”, they’re about $11 for five. (They’re mentioned on the IKEA site, but only as options for other chairs.) When I snapped them into the chair frame, I was a initially dismayed, since it was a little difficult to push the chair. Once I sat in it, though, it sailed across the floor; apparently the casters need some weight pressing on them in order move smoothly.

It was a real surprise to find a chair this cheap that works so well, but I’m very happy with it. It’s easy to zip between my machines, and even over to the cutting table. Good thing I don’t have a long hallway; I’d be racing up and down it just for fun!

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Simplicity 3583 – Zabuton, Zafu and More

March 28th, 2008 6 comments

If you’re interested in making meditation accessories, this Andrea Schewe pattern has a slew to chose from. The items I made are a little different, but this pattern has instructions for what looks like a fairly traditional zafu, as well as a wedge-shaped cushion like ones I saw at my meditation class, and a zabuton.

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Suggested fillings for the zafu are poly fiberfill and buckwheat hulls; traditional is kapok, which would probably be horrible to work with, but nicest of all to sit on. If you want to experiment with various cushions or bolsters, this pattern could save you a lot of time, and let you get to mindfullness with minimal fuss.

Simplicity are on sale for 99 cents this weekend (March 28-30, 2008) at Joann’s (at least out eastward, where I am); I picked this one up just in case.

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DIY Meditation Mat and Bench Pad

March 16th, 2008 No comments

Over the weekend, my spouse and I attended a meditation class offered by the Philadelphia Buddhist Association. My top goal this year is to learn to relax, and this is one of the tools in my relaxation kit. I was a little dubious at the thought of trying meditation — let’s just say I have an intense personality — but didn’t see how it could hurt. The teacher was kind and helpful and it was a very good experience.

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Most of the attendees sat on the typical zafu pillow, set on a zabuton, but I found them very uncomfortable. Our teacher suggested trying the wooden bench (below), made by a member of the Association. The legs are angled so that the bench tilts forward. It’s set with the elevated side toward the back; you tuck your knees under it, and place your seat on the top of the bench. Your knees are on a zabuton, and your tush rests on a padded cover put over the top of the bench.

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These very simple benches are made for the society by a member, and offered for a donation. It was so perfect for me that I went home with one, and immediately went to work making the pad for the bench, and a zabaton for beneath it.

Purists, you may want to stop reading here! Neither of the items I made ended up being at all traditional, but they let me use up a little bit of my stash, and allowed me to start daily meditation the next morning.

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I chose a totally non-traditional fabric, a cotton-rayon blend in turquoise with embroidered bees sprinkled all over. I wanted something as bright and as inviting as my sewing room; as my spouse pointed out, feeling happy isn’t in any way incompatible with meditation! Zafu pillows are traditionally stuffed with buckwheat, which is resilient and friendly to bodily contours. For my bench pad, I chose a cotton-wool batting. It’s breathable and comfortable to sit on, and, even better, assumes body temperature within minutes of use.

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It was important to make sure that the bench pad went over the edges of the bench, so I cut the top of the cushion fabric about an inch and a half wider than the longer dimension of the bench (that includes an half-inch seam allowance) and about four inches wider than the width.

The underside of the cushion is cut in three pieces, with two inserts in the seams. I attached adhesive-backed velcro to the bottom of the bench, and sewed a matching strip to one of the inserts (the one toward the rise, or back, of the bench). Not traditional at all, but this keeps my cushion in place without distraction. I originally planned to put velcro on both inserts, but it looks as if that’s unnecessary.

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The zabuton at the class were rectangular; apparently, most are square, generally about 30 inches square, like the ones in the first photo above. I liked the look of the rectangles, though, and cut mine about 30 inches by 36.

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My zabuton is stuffed with many layers of polyester bat. Not so organic, but that’s what I had in my stash. Because I was concerned about the bench wobbling, I cut out all of the batting where the bench rests, and whip-stitched the edges of the batt together so that they wouldn’t slip. (I also whip-stitched the outside edges of the batting for the same reason.)

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Assembling the zabuton was easy; the cover is essentially just a huge pillow case. I left most of one side open after stitching it up, and inserted my prepared batting. Then I sewed up the open seam, wrangled the whole thing under my sewing machine foot, and stitched around the cut-outs I’d prepared.

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The bench and zabuton, to quote Goldilocks, are “just right”. I was sensible to cut out the slots for the bench legs; there are no stability issues as a result. My knees rest comfortably on the zabuton, and the rest of me is aligned comfortably and correctly on my padded bench.

Image of many zafu and zabuton from Zafu.net

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Butterick 4373 – Window Valance

March 13th, 2008 1 comment

Once my machine had a nifty cover that’d I’d coordinated with my sewing room walls, I turned my attention to the windows. My room is very sunny and bright, and I really didn’t want curtains, but the windows looked too bare with no adornment at all. A valance was the answer, but ruffles were out, so I was happy when I spied this Butterick pattern.

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On the other hand, view F (on the upper left corner), with its wide sharp scalloped trim, seemed a little too formal, so I mirrored the narrow bias edging I’d used on my sewing machine cover. Fortunately for me, the valance pattern was meant for larger windows, and was made of three pieces – a large center piece, and two smaller side pieces. The center piece fit my smaller windows perfectly, so no alteration was required.

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Assembly was quick and simple. I just sewed the three straight sides with right sides together, turned the piece, and bound the decorative edge. The valance is lined in the same sage as the cover. I ran the curtain rod through a casing at the top, but I’m not sure I like the way it looks. I may decide to change the size of the valance in the future, making it less deep. If I do, I’ll re-do the top as well, running a line of stitching along the top where the casing folds back, and hand stitched the casing closed so that no stitches show from the front.

Here’s an updated picture of my sewing room with the valances in place:

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Butterick 5160 – Sewing Machine Cover

March 13th, 2008 No comments

Naturally, the first project in my new sewing room had to be a sewing machine cover. I’d been using a simple, channel-quilted muslin cover, but it was pretty blah. When I found some inexpensive, very pretty yardage in blues that coordinate perfectly with my walls, I was ready to go.

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I adapted the cover from Butterick 5160, making some major changes. First, of course, it had to be fitted to my actual machine, which meant shortening it width-wise, and making it a bit taller.

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An outside pocket was a requirement, but didn’t need (or like the look of) the two pockets provided. One of the other views (probably for the slipcover) had a slightly fan-shaped pocket. I adapted this piece by exaggerating the fan shape, and enlarging the pocket. The idea was to have enough room to keep whatever spools, bobbins, trims, etc. I am using on current projects right at the machine for fast starts.

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This pattern is one of Butterick’s Waverly series, and the fabrics on the envelope photo look like Waverly home decor products. They probably have some heft to them, but my fabric didn’t, so I decided to use a layer of thin fleece for structure, and to line my cover with a sage cotton. The pattern calls for bias binding, but I didn’t have enough of coordinating binding to handle three somewhat bulky layers, so I assembled it with conventional seams.

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Originally, I didn’t intend to make the handle on top, but it became obvious soon that lifting and moving the cover was going to be a little bit of a pain if I didn’t. Besides, the bias trim and covered buttons were just too much fun — very reminiscent of 1940s aprons. The pattern envelope shows the handle popped up, which looks very cute with the cartoon-y look of the bias-trimmed cover, but I decided to attach mine flat, in keeping with the slightly more sedate look of my cover. I used the same olive trim on the top edge of the pocket, as well as for the buttons.

In spite of the many changes I made, this pattern offered a great starting point, and saved me the time it would have taken to do a careful self-draft. Along with this cover, there’s a chair slipcover (with a bunch of pockets included), basket linings, a sewing tote, a hanging wall organizer, an ironing board cover and, bizarrely, an iron cover, in case you need a flammable place to store your hot iron!

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