Saturday, December 31, 2016

Home for the Holidays

During the holidays I've been working on two quilt projects on my Singer 301a. Nine-patches and half-square triangles are a theme. The 301a is pleasant to sew with and I'm getting a pretty accurate seam. I tried a new bobbin case with the machine; it sewed okay but the case fit so tightly that it was difficult to remove to change the bobbin and it was noisier than a vintage bobbin case. I lucked out and found a vintage bobbin case in a "lot" of spare sewing machine parts on eBay. She sews quieter now.

My main Christmas present is all set up. The backyard now has something in it, so maybe we'll use it more.

My latest vintage sewing machine find was $10 at a garage sale. It is another Kingston, but a later model than the other one, and not made by Brother.

I got the machine cleaned up, oiled, and adjusted. It needed a new tension spring, belt, and bobbin winder tire, so I replaced them. I haven't gotten around to working on any projects with this one yet. The case is structurally sound, but the fabric covering it is coming off or shredding. I haven't tried re-covering a sewing machine case yet. Maybe I need to pull out the mod podge.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Quilting Through the Winter Blahs

Winter has arrived, and I don't want to do anything.

So mostly I have been quilting, with some reading and tv and napping. I can't even watch a documentary without falling asleep these days. We stayed in town for Thanksgiving and I finished Crap Quilt No. 3. It pretty much sums up the entire season. I don't do a lot of quilting with a walking foot, but I straight-line quilted this one on a 2-inch grid because that was what it needed.

This all-scraps-all-the-time quilt was one I finished a month or two ago but just recently got around to getting a photo. It has a Noah's ark panel on the back. I still have 3 plastic bins of scraps left, and I'm pretty sure I'll never get to the bottom of them.

I also took some time to finish putting together the Argyle Sweater quilt top over Thanksgiving. I put the borders on and it is now basted and ready for quilting. I have a stack of quilts ready for quilting that I've been procrastinating getting started on. It's just that time of year.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How many quilts did you start this month?

I finished a quilt last month and a quilt this month. This scrappy 1/4-log cabin quilt was made for my sister-in-law. I tried out a quilt pattern that looks like puzzle pieces (it looks cool, but it took ages to quilt, and the quilt is so busy that the quilting doesn't even show. I probably should have just done a fast, easy meandering pattern on it instead).

I don't have a picture yet of the other quilt I finished. I am not the kind of quilter that works on one quilt at a time. And so I started 5 quilts this month. Excessive, I know, but one quilt led to another. This fast, simple pattern was made of 5-inch squares. The pattern is called 'Stretched Star' and is in one of the 'Nickel Quilt' books. I started piecing it on my hand-cranked Singer 99 when the electricity was out after Hurricane Hermine. This quilt top is finished.

I also started some pinwheel blocks from the 'Nickel Quilt' book with the box of 5-inch squares that I took up to Atlanta (yes, I sometimes take my sewing machine on vacation). I decided the blocks weren't dark enough, so I added darker sashing. I finished the blocks and am in the process of adding the sashing and sewing the blocks together.

This is what I am calling the Argyle Sweater quilt; it will be a Christmas gift. It is a Bonnie Hunter pattern called 'Oregon or Bust.' It's simple, but I used a lot of fun fabrics and I am really looking forward to seeing how it turns out. I finished the blocks but haven't started sewing the sashing on yet and I haven't laid out more than a few blocks at a time, so there is still some mystery about how the final quilt will look.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Tumbler Quilt(s)!

I've been working on sewing together tumblers on the Singer 301a. My cat has not been helping.

I started this as a leader/ender project, but didn't get much accomplished on it over the past year or so, although I did cut a LOT of tumblers and got a few rows half-way sewn together. I've discovered that I mostly like to use different blocks from whatever project I am working on as my leader/enders rather than an entirely different quilt. So I gave up using the tumblers as leader/enders and decided to put some serious effort into finishing the tumbler quilt top.

The quilt will be queen-sized, and it will be a summer quilt so I'm not going to put any batting in it. As I was putting this together, I realized that I cut way too many tumblers (I had to cut even more, because I didn't have enough darks). I cut so many that I had enough for another quilt, which is nearly twin-sized. I don't have a picture of that one yet, but I used a different setting so it looks a bit different than the summer tumbler quilt. I've been basting quilts on the living room floor this week. There are 3 basted quilts in the closet, plus a quilt I didn't finish when I worked on it last December. It's time for a machine-quilting binge. I spent some time winding bobbins and getting the machine threaded and set up for quilting so it's ready to go.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Singer 301a

Soo--was checking out Craigslist and what to I see? A 301a at a reasonable price! So it involved a day trip to Panama City (there is a nice quilt shop there), but what a nice machine (even though it is very, well, beige).

Overall, it's in pretty good shape aside from the lack of a bobbin case and a bad electrical cord. The cord is no big deal, but the bobbin case suffers from Featherweight syndrome. Featherweights are nice, cute, super-lightweight machines that have become a collectible fad. This drives the prices way up, and it also drives the prices of parts up. And the 301a uses the same bobbin case as a Featherweight. Vintage bobbin cases for these machines cost more than I paid for the machine. So, I'm taking a risk and ordering a new, reproduction bobbin case, despite stories of some of them not working well. It still was not cheap, but is half what a vintage original costs. I'm going to view this as an experiment. I found a TOWA Japanese-made case, and I am crossing my fingers and hoping it works.

I have been cleaning and oiling it and trying to make it sew well. I borrowed a bobbin case and power cord from my Featherweight. I have had some problems with thread breaks, but they seem to happen less often now. I cleaned some thread out that was wrapped around the bobbin assembly and took apart the tension. I still need to do some more testing and wait for parts. I wonder if the bobbin winder works.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sewing Machine Tension

So, I took apart the upper tension assembly on the Kingston Japanese clone machine.

It's a little difficult to see in the photo, but the check spring was broken; it should have a little wire loop sticking out. It's interesting seeing how the tension units are designed. Really all they are is a bunch of plates, springs, pins, and washers. It can be tricky to get all the pieces back on in the correct orientation, especially if you have been handling them to clean the parts, so take lots of pictures as you go. And try to get a service/adjuster's manual that shows what orientation the parts are supposed to go in. Just because it was that way when you got the machine doesn't mean that is the correct orientation for the parts. Who knows what kind of moron owned the machine before you got it and what they did to it.

It took me a couple of tries to get the tension assembly back together correctly. The first time I had a pin in backwards (it popped out of the machine while I was disassembling the tension unit & I didn't see what direction it was originally in). I've taken apart the tension assemblies on 3 machines now, & I'm getting better at figuring it out.

Finally got it all put back together again! New check spring on and I'm good to go.

On a quilty note, I've been sewing a rainbow of string blocks on the vintage machines (plus the Megasaurus, whhich is only about 12 years old). Here they are up on the design wall. BAM!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Kingston DeLuxe

And to continue my appreciation for midcentury sewing machines, I found a Kingston DeLuxe on Shopgoodwill. This is a Japanese clone of the Singer Class 15 machine. They badged these machines under lots of different names, and they were made by a variety of Japanese manufacturers after WWII. I've had my eye out for a colorful clone for a while now. This one is made by Brother, probably in the late 1940s to early 1950s.

The pictures really don't do the color justice, it has a faintly pearlescent crackle finish and is such a beautiful blue.

The base of this portable machine was a casualty of shipping. Why people at Goodwill think that some crumpled up kraft paper is sufficient padding for a 40 lb. sewing machine is beyond me. Luckily the machine itself appears to be relatively unscathed. The foot pedal snapped back together easily. The leaf spring on the bobbin slide plate was broken, but that part is readily available.

Most of the machines I've had shipped have had some case damage during shipping. I actually sort of expect it and temper my bidding accordingly. Luckily, the top of the case sustained little damage and the base was salvageable.

My primary enabler (AKA husband) cut a new piece of plywood for the bottom and glued it back together.

Check out the gorgeous scrollwork on the faceplate. I'm looking forward to sewing on this once I can replace the broken check spring on the upper tension assembly (that probably was broken prior to shipping). I'll be taking apart the tension unit this week after the replacement spring arrives. I haven't taken the tension apart on a Class 15 style machine before, but I've done it on a Featherweight and the TFSR site has a pretty good manual that covers refurbishment of Singer 66/99/15/201 machines; this should be close enough to the Class 15 that those instructions will work.

Friday, March 25, 2016

eBay Strikes Again!

So what do you do with your spare time in the evenings? Cruise eBay looking for vintage sewing machines, of course! I saw this one and I just couldn't resist:

What a beautiful piece of 1960s industrial design! I have several classic black Singers, but to be honest I prefer mid-century design. I've been feeling warm and fuzzy about this machine all week, even though it needs to go to the sewing machine mechanic, since I don't feel comfortable messing with the maze of metal inside it. While I could totally take this apart, I am less confident in my ability to put it back together again correctly.

The eBay ad said the machine works, which I interpreted correctly to mean "when I plug it in and push the pedal, it hums and the needle moves up and down," not that it actually sews. (Well, it did sew 4 stitches when I threaded it, then the thread broke.) On further investigation, although the handwheel spins just fine, the zigzag mechanism is seized, the needle positioner not working correctly, and I found a thread behind the bobbin assembly that refuses to be coaxed out with tweezers and handwheel wiggling. I had read that these machines were built to very tight tolerances and tend to seize up when left unused for long periods of time, so I suspected that the machine would need work and factored that into my bid (as well as shipping). I got it for a fair price, and I'll take it in for servicing and hopefully spend many happy hours sewing on it. I oiled it and ran it without thread for a few minutes and it sounds nice. I love a nice-sounding sewing machine.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Do I have too many scraps?

I've been spending some time sorting my scraps. I had no idea I had this many, hiding in various places in my sewing room.

I've been sewing more 1/4-log cabin blocks. And then when the strips get too short, I've been cutting them into 2" and 2 1/2" squares. And when the pieces are too small for that, I've been sorting them by color and sewing "crumb" blocks. I sewed up most of the yellows and now I'm working on the oranges.

I'm going to do a quilt with the rainbow of crumb blocks, but I haven't decided on the design yet. I've been thinking of trying some applique, which I rarely do. And that means learning how to draft my own patterns in EQ7 (quilt design software). I ordered a book on working with applique in EQ7, and I'm going to try to work through some of the design lessons. I've also been thinking of designing a quilt based on vintage sewing machine decals, and that will definitely involve applique. Here are a couple of pictures of the decals on my Singer 27:

I think I will work on using my monthly Art Quilt Challenge projects to experiment with using different methods and designing blocks for that. It will give me some direction for the work (which has so far been random), and be more useful. I think I work better with a more concrete guiding principle--"make a 12" quilt each month using different techniques" was too vague for me.
On a different note, I talked my husband into wiring in an electronic foot pedal for one of the cordsets that fits both Singer 15-91s and the Featherweight. It had one of the old mechanical "button" foot controllers before, and I've never liked sewing with those. This is much more comfortable to use. Sometimes it's all about the little things...

Sunday, February 28, 2016

February 2016 Art Quilt Challenge

I've been toying with several ideas for the art quilt challenge project for this month, and I went on a business trip, and then on a mini-vacation, and came back and realized it was the end of the month and I hadn't done anything. So, here is the quickie, no pattern February art quilt:

Okay, so it isn't actually a quilt, it's a quilt creature inspired by the sock monsters in John Murphy's Stupid Sock Creatures.

I used a string-pieced block with poofy polyester batting, and buttons for eyes.

I cut the limbs out of red scraps, added batting, and sewed them together. Luckily the Megasaurus came back from the shop this month (it needed some gear grease and cleaning), because it sewed through all the layers just fine when the Featherweight was being cranky and either sewing tiny stitches or skipping them. This machine is a tank.

There were a couple of extra limbs left over at the end, but that's okay.

I went to the AQS Quiltweek in Daytona Beach on my mini-vacation. Amazing quilts, I should probably go to shows like that more often in order to improve the ambition of my quilting projects. It was about the same size as the Jacksonville show, although the average difficulty level of the the quilts was higher. The day after we went to the show, we drove to the Kennedy Space Center. They've changed the exhibits around quite a bit since we were last there. The Shuttle Program ended, and they retired the Atlantis to the Space Center. I was surprised to look at the shuttle and see quilting!

Much of the sides and top of the shuttle are covered in a patchwork of quilted thermal blankets made of silica-fiber. That's right, they quilted the space shuttle!

Monday, January 18, 2016

January 2016 Art Quilt Challenge

Some folks in Sit and Stitch wanted to do an art quilt challenge in 2016, so I'm joining in. The idea was to play with new or less-familiar techniques in a small (48" perimeter) format, on a monthly basis. For January, I thought I'd experiment with water soluble wax pastels.

I ordered some PFD (prepared for dyeing) muslin and started coloring. These look and color a lot like crayons. Which is more or less what they are. Crayons for grown-ups.

After coloring, I just took a paintbrush and some water and started painting the fabric. It's best to line your table with plastic before beginning. The colors blended and soaked into the fabric, creating a nice watercolor effect.

I heat-set the fabric with an iron (the heat will help the pastel to stick, but I wouldn't wash the fabric). Then I sketched a simple landscape on paper. I used a freezer paper pattern to iron to the back of fabric for a machine applique project. I turned the edges under and starched them.

I haven't done a lot of machine applique. I was never really pleased with the results because you can see a stitching line and it's difficult to keep that stitching line right on the edge of the applique piece and not wander off. This time I decided to try using the Singer 99, and it worked great. Using a hand-cranked machine gives you great control and accuracy with machine applique. This will definitely be my go-to machine for precision sewing tasks in the future.

After the top was finished, I sewed it to the backing with right sides together and then turned it right-side-out so it didn't need binding. I machine-quilted it on the Megasaurus. The interfacing that I used added another layer to the quilt, and I definitely felt the difference in thickness during the quilting process. The machine quilting is much more dense than usual, and it was difficult to get a smooth line when working on such a small scale and with such a thick quilt.

The quilting is done and the January art quilt is finished. I experimented with tying off and burying the thread tails from the machine quilting. It took some time but looks good--no thread build-ups where you begin or end a line of quilting. From a critical perspective, if I had it to do over again I would have used a different fabric for the sky--the colors are too intense and it looks too much like the landscape below it, so it flattens the quilt--a lighter, grayer, less-intensely-colored fabric would have given the quilt more depth. Overall, not a bad art quilt experiment, though.