January 30, 2010

It's Called a Stop-Motion Screw for a Reason: The Sewing Saga Continues

After my last post I sat down and tried out the sewing machine again. I set up my work station and with the sewing machine manual by my side I began to thread the machine, which again posed a certain level of difficulty. Although the picture for threading the machine in the manual was vastly more clear than the other manual, I still had some trouble figuring out how to get my thread looking like the thread in the picture. Once I got everything set up, I took a deep breath, secured some fabric with the presser foot and eased my foot on the pedal. And...the machine stalled: it made a few stitches and then stopped with the needle still in the fabric. I used the hand wheel to bring it back up and then proceeded to scroll through the manual for the solution to my problem.

I made sure that I had everything set to the right setting and, thinking that the thread tension was the culprit, I fiddled around with that for a little bit. After a few minutes I concluded that I had everything ready to go. Ever wary of stalling the machine again, I used the hand wheel to make sure that everything was in working order. And to my surprise and delight, it worked! Happy with my moderate success I pressed my foot on the pedal and was sewing! That is until the needle got stuck and the machine started to make terrible revving sounds. My newly achieved glee soon dissipated into frustration.

As I had done many times before I turned the hand wheel towards me in order to bring the needle back up. When that didn't work I turned the wheel slightly away from me: a maneuver that, although forbidden, had worked for me in the past. But that didn't work either. Naturally I turned to the manual, and then the Internet for answers, but came up empty handed. The manual offered no help regarding needles stuck in the down position and Internet forums regarding this problem assumed that one was able to lift the needle back up, which I, unfortunately, was not able to do. Finally I abandoned my teach-yourself troubleshooting efforts--which have served me well in the past--and called my aunt, the owner of said machine.

Pretty much how I was feeling. (Disclosure: original artwork by one of my favorite Internet peoples, NatalieDee.)

I explained to her the issue at hand and she did her best to solve the problem. After about five minutes of tech support, we decided that it would be best to meet up the following Saturday for a little one-on-one sewing lesson. A time was set and I then proceeded to fiddle with machine some more in order to release the needle and get everything back in pre-fiasco order. Thankfully I was able to accomplish this task and put everything away. But I found myself growing increasingly more frightened that I had broken the machine: I knew that the stalled motor noises that it had made and and the fact that the take-up lever didn't move when I turned the hand wheel were not a good signs.

Which brings us to today: my aunt came over and worked her magic. We sat down together at the machine and she helped me set it up, which was actually quite helpful because not only did she demonstrate how to thread the machine correctly (I was soooo close last time!) but she solved the problem. Apparently I had somehow loosened the stop-motion screw--a component of the machine that I didn't even know existed as its own entity separate from the hand wheel--which had rendered the hand wheel useless. She tightened it by holding the hand wheel in place and turning the stop-motion screw clockwise. And then: everything worked!..and I felt like a dummy.

I sat down in front of the machine and she gave me a few pointers on how to get things running smoothly, for which I am very thankful. So I've been practicing a little bit, trying my hardest to sew a straight line and to keep track of when I put the stitches in reverse. Things are going pretty well. *fingers crossed* Moral of the story: call a buddy when you get into a jam and keep your stop-motion screw tight.

Next step: make stuff!!! My short list includes a tote, some t-shirt modification patterns , an apron and hemming/altering a dress.

(My latest felt creatures and goodies coming soon!)

January 24, 2010

Sewing 101 Update

I just know that all of you--all three of my official readers--are just dying to know about the crash course sewing lesson that I took last week. I've been delaying this post for the past week; not because the class was disastrous (although it did have its moments), but rather because I am lazy and felt like cooking, relaxing, and gorging myself on reality shows and otherwise frivolous television programs. But I think I am ready now. Here it goes...

The class went quite well. Including myself, there were about 10 pupils and the instructor, Nicole, did a pretty good job of introducing us to our sewing machines and fielding any questions or concerns that we had. We were instructed to pick out a sewing machine and a station at the work table. Rather than mull about and contemplate which machine I wanted (much like nearly everyone else did) I just grabbed the one that was closest to me. As I set it up at my station I found myself becoming sentimentally attached to this hunk of metal and plastic that was so lovingly named Bernina #8. More than anything else that a sewing machine represents or can offer to a (hopeful) budding seamstress, I think I was more enamored by its name; as someone who names nearly all of her inanimate objects, I was understandably excited to be taking a sewing course at a fabric store that did the same to their machines. This feeling last only a few seconds and quickly dissipated when I connected "Bernina" with "#8" and realized Bernina was the brand of sewing machine that I was using. Nevertheless I continued to adore my Bernina #8 because I found her name to be quaint and pretty, and because for the next two hours she would be mine.

We all sat down, plugged in our machines, and after the obligatory lets-introduce-ourselves portion of class, Nicole got down to business. She had us stand behind her while she showed us how to thread three different sewing machines--a instructional tool that in theory may have been a good idea, but in practice faltered. Personally, I would have preferred to have been sitting in front of my machine and doing the steps while she gave us verbal and visual instructions. I am a tactile learner; I learn best by doing a task in real time. Although I can see how demonstrating how to thread a sewing machine on three different models helps to demonstrate that they are all basically the same, I found this technique to be a waste of time and confusing. And despite the fact that her voice rose a couple of octaves when she was in front-of-the-class teacher mode, which made me feel like I was back in kindergarten, and she kept comparing sewing machines and sewing to cars and driving (I don't drive), her instructions were clear and she did a good job at explaining how to work a sewing machine.

When she finally released us to thread our own machines, I was excited and a little apprehensive. Nevertheless I grabbed by spool of pink thread and got to work. I felt really clumsy--much like how I felt when I was learning how to knit--but was able to put the thread where it was supposed to go. Then a mini disaster struck: I was fiddling with the machine and accidentally dismembered the presser foot. I wasn't quite sure how to put it back in place and I was convinced that I would somehow stab myself with the needle in the process. So I made sure that my foot has no where near the foot pedal and proceeded to reassemble my machine. I reattached the presser foot and was quite proud of myself for figuring it out all on my own.

Next, Nicole showed us how to insert a bobbin and guide fabric through the machine. She then released us to do the same with our machines. I picked out a bobbin with black thread (a good contrast to the pink, I thought) and a piece of hideous scarp blue cotton fabric. I re-threaded the needle and inserted the bobbin, but forgot a couple of steps. I tried to sew, but ended up creating a rats nest or snapping the thread. I wound up re-threaded the machine about four or five times, each time either forgetting to hold my pink thread taught while bringing up my bobbin thread, pull the threads behind the presser foot or lift he presser foot altogether when I tried to pull the fabric away from the machine.

I was getting a little frustrated, but in the end these mistakes were blessings in disguise: I got tons of practice on threading the needle and inserting the bobbin and learned that even with the most rudimentary of instruction that I could troubleshoot on a sewing machine. Once I recognized the mistakes that I was making and had finally gotten everything in its proper place, I grabbed a new, prettier piece of fabric to practice on. Albeit small, this change was refreshing, almost like turning a new leaf, and I was able to produce a couple of seams that I was proud of:

my stitches (!)

I left the fabric store feeling energized and confident in my newly learned abilities. The next day I set out to take my aunt's 1960s era Singer machine for a test drive. Running on the optimism from the day before, I set up the machine and got to work. Or at least I tried to. This machine is a lot different than my Bernina #8 and I was instantly dumbfounded. I tried to figure out the machine myself, but soon recognized that my 2 hour crash course did not prepare me for troubleshooting this machine.

The Bernina #8 (top) and the Singer 223 (bottom).
Not exactly similar.

So naturally I turned to the Internet and found a free instruction manual for the Singer W223 on the Singer website. I figured that this model would be close enough to the Singer 223 that I was using and downloaded the manual. I sat down and tried to familiarize myself with my machine. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that the W223 and 223 models were not as similar as I had thought and that the the quality of the photocopy was extremely poor: the first two and a half words of each paragraph were cut off, the drawings of the machine were big black blobs and that the terminology was so inconsistent. Working off my crash course knowledge and that god awful manual, I tried to thread the machine as best I could but still couldn't get it to work right. I was able to get the threads in order, more or less, but the tension of the top thread was completely thrown off because I hadn't thread it correctly and I ended up stalling the machine every time.

I kid you not, the drawing for threading a machine from the pdf for the 223W:

Recognizing that I needed help, I went in search of a manual for the model I was actually using. I was hoping for a free copy but ended up buying a pdf version from MasterSewUSA for $5. I figured that $5 and (near) instant gratification was a pretty good deal; way better in fact than paying $12-17 for a hard copy that would need to be shipped. Although I got the pdf manual on Monday night, I have yet to try out the machine again. My plan is to do that a little later today. I can't wait to get started; but first I need to get my effects in order. More to come regarding my (mis)adventures in sewing for sure.

January 16, 2010

Sewing 101

I have my first sewing class tomorrow. It is a crash course type of class at a local, Bay Area fabric store: $20, 2 hours, 1 seasoned instructor, all supplies and machines included. I've been planning to take this particular course for months, but in all honesty have been too lazy to give up a Friday evening or rare Sunday afternoon off from work. So understandably I've been looking forward to it for quite some time and am both anxious and excited.

I hope for many things: ideally I would love to find myself pleasantly surprised that using a sewing machine comes naturally to me thus making me the star pupil of the class. However, I recognize the fact that this is less than likely and therefore I would also be grateful to discover that I am not completely inept at operating this piece of machinery that for obvious reasons scares and intimidates me. And although I am hoping for the former scenario and fear the later (because I really do want to learn how to sew), I would happily settle for an outcome that is between the two. Lets hope for the best.

January 11, 2010

Plan it Out: Ringing in 2010 with a Snazzy Collage

Last fall I quickly realize how utterly dependent on a planner I had become. As I had used a planner since high school and only (somewhat) recently found myself without the need of keeping track of papers, assignments and other drudgeries of student life, this dependency makes complete sense. So I went in search of a trendy little weekly moleskin planner. I searched everywhere for one to no avail. After double checking the moleskin racks at Blick, I decided that I would just make my own planner/calendar notebook. I bought a three pack of brown soft cover, plain paper moleskin notebooks and got to work transforming it into a planner.

My first planner notebook was not very aesthetically pleasing. I was definitely more concerned with producing a functional product as quickly as possible. To do so, I found, downloaded, printed, cut out and pasted monthly calendars into one of the notebooks. Thankfully I had enough foresight to leave a few pages in between the months--all of which quickly filled up with "to do" lists, notes and doodles. Despite my DIY solution, I wasn't quite satisfied with the final product because it lacked the signature elastic closure that moleskins are known for. I tried to devise my own elastic closure, but opted for a rubber band instead. Needless to say, this first planner worked out really well, but lacked aesthetic appeal...especially after months of heavy use.

With the beginning of the new year I needed a new planner. My old one had little life left in it and I still had two blank notebooks. But my new 2010 weekly date book would be different; it would be a dressed up version of the first one in every way possible. I decided to collage the cover of my new one and use calendars that were more decorative.

The mock-up.

I like to lay my composition out before I glue it down, and I used this photo to help me remember where everything goes. Except I forgot to look at the photo. Thankfully everything ended up where it was supposed to go.

The final product

I originally intended to collage the front cover but ended up extending it to the back cover as well. (I just have too much good stuff!) The majority of my collage supplies come from magazines or the Internet. The 60s dancing couple and cotton candy tree, for example, are from the blog This isn't happiness; the little girl with the bunny on the back panel is by Naoko Stoop, and along with a bunch of other cool graphic works, can be found on and downloaded for free from Feed Your Soul.

Probably my favorite three components: 1960s dancing couple, cotton candy tree and fungus.

On the spine. Wrap-around Butterfly .

Back panel

The insides.
I downloaded a carnivorous plant calendar from a blog called A Print A Day. I just downloaded the files, increased them a little in photoshop, printed them, then cut and pasted them in place. Pretty sweet, I know...

January 3, 2010

Applique Madness!

As you could probably tell from my previous posts, I've working a lot with felt and appliques lately. Here are my most recent creations:

Fried Egg iCozy

This is the first felt cozy I made. For some reason, the idea of a fried egg gracing an iPhone cozy really amuses me. So naturally, I made it. I was quite pleased by this design, but decided that any future cozies needed a flap and closure apparatus of some sort, and stitching along all edges. Hence:

Wolf Man iPhone Cozy

(A close up of the ferocious beast, and an innovation in design.)

The inspiration for this particular cozy came from an opportunity and a challenge. About a month ago--while shopping for the felt for our Christmas stockings--I found some awesome little stencil booklets. Each booklet had about 6 stencils and cost $1.50. My brain instantly went into overload with all the crafting possibilities and I bought a booklet each of monster, farm animal, dinosaur, and zoo animal stencils. The monster booklet caught my boyfriend's attention and he instantly demanded that Dracula grace his Christmas stocking.

Later that day, I mentioned that I had been collecting and creating designs for electronic cozies. Our friend, Louis, suggested that I use the monster stencils. I must admit that I had thought of this, but I had already discovered that the stencils were just slightly too big for an iPhone of iPod cozy. But he was adamant. And, once he pitched the idea to my boyfriend he was impossibly adamant as well.

(Monsters galore!)

And so I got to work trying to figure out how to 1) pick the most suitable stencil and, 2) shrink it to fit a 2"x4" square of felt. Louis and Evan had advocated for the skeleton, but I settled on the werewolf stencil for one simple reason: it was the only stencil with which I could fuse its multiple pieces and still retain the essential shape while making it just the right size.

The color palette was simple enough: wolf man had to be brown, and the only color that would accentuate his shape while standing the test of everyday use was red. Using my fabric pen, I traced the wolf man shape onto the brown felt and then carefully cut the pieces out so that I couldn't maintain the intricate details. I then used a little felt glue to set the applique in place. After the glue had dried a bit, I used a blanket stitch to anchor him in place and sew the cozy together.

50/50 Wallet

Why 50/50? Well...I didn't actually make the wallet. Rather, I bought from Island Provisions and then embellished it with my own, first-ever iron-on applique.

(What can I say, he likes squirrels.)

I'm quite proud of my new semi-self-taught skill that I learned mostly from this video. I do, however, take credit for figuring out the specific characteristics of my iron-on material and how to properly use an iron.