Astonishing!

A couple of years ago I jumped onto the Pinterest train in earnest and suffice to say it’s been an education! Although I’d previously experimented with Pinterest when it was first introduced several years ago, I didn’t spend much time adding things or cultivating any real collections other than a pinning a few photos here and there.

When I started educating myself about how to use my new embroidery machine, I noticed someone’s Pinterest “pin” about an embroidery design they liked and where they found it. This prompted my subsequent Pinterest search for the design source and suffice to say, Pandora’s box was opened.

I loved seeing what other people were pinning for embroidery design inspiration and relished exploring options beyond the stock designs that came pre-loaded with my machine, I frankly didn’t have a clue where to begin sourcing quality embroidery designs up to that point. What a wonderful resource for sparking additional design ideas the Pinterest site proved to be.

On a whim, I decided to enter a search for “Antique Singer Sewing Machines” and was astounded when the Pinterest floodgates opened wide. In addition to Singer sewing machines, there were hundreds of additional varieties, brands and manufacturers to behold, so much so that I was inspired to create my own board on Pinterest entitled “Antique and Vintage Sewing Machines”. This, along with my “Sewing Inspiration” and “Extraordinary Recipes” boards have proven a very time-addictive research pastime. The whole activity now feels akin to being an electronic stamp collector, especially when learning about international brands of machines, such as my most recent discovery the “Tula” model from Russia.

I knew from my previous sewing machine restoration research that Singer sewing machines were widely popular throughout the late 19th and the majority of the 20th centuries. What I didn’t fully realize was how many hundreds of different brands and manufacturers of sewing machines existed early on. I knew about Pfaffs, Berninas, Vikings, Brothers, Whites, Elnas, and Necchis to name a few, but the Pinterest search engine quickly educated me that those machines were only the tip of the iceberg.Photo credit: New York Sewing Center

So far, I’ve created more than 185 different sections of sewing machine manufacturers within my Antique and Vintage Sewing Machines Pinterest board. Some of my favorites include the old anchor-shaped British-made machines, the earliest Singers and Pfaffs of course, but what also delights me is seeing the Art Deco-inspired Morse Machines, space-age/Flash Gordon-influenced Singer “Rocketeer” models, the mod colors of machines from the 60s and 70s.

Photo credit: Stephanie Moore

Photo credit: Possumjimandelizabeth.com

Some machines made in the 30s-50s seem to mimic the look of vintage radios complete with tuner dials and frequency-gauge details.

Photo credit: quiltingboard.com

Many sewing machines seem to reflect the decor and characteristics of their specific time and era. If you enjoy exploring Pinterest, I hope you will check out several of my boards there. I’m sure I’ll be adding more pins sometime soon.

“E&W Automatic” American History Textile Museum

Here is a link to my Antique and Vintage Sewing Machines Pinterest board:

https://pin.it/jn6mbvv343krsl

Another restoration tale

In my previous blog entry entitled “The Singer and the Singer”, I wrote about my earliest sewing experiences using my mother’s Singer 221 “Featherweight” sewing machine.

What I didn’t mention was that after my mother and I acquired newer sewing machines in the early 1970s, the trusty 1953 Featherweight was loaned to one of my aunts with a loosely-specified, long-term use arrangement. As it happened, many years elapsed during which time both my mother and aunt subsequently passed away. I never knew what happened to this special little machine. I do remember my mother telling me she thought my aunt had loaned the Featherweight to a friend in the late 1980s or perhaps eventually donated it.

Fast forward to a recent visit to my uncle’s home, where a major move was imminent including the packing up of decades-worth of accumulated possessions. Upon entering each room, it was apparent that a major attempt at “down-sizing” had begun in earnest. Near the end of our visit, my uncle asked me if I wanted what he thought to be my grandma’s old sewing machine. I told him I would. At that point my uncle pulled out a familiar-looking little black case and low and behold, it wasn’t my grandmother’s sewing machine after all, (hers was a circa 1935 Singer machine with a bentwood case). The sewing machine my uncle presented to me was actually my mother’s original 1953 221- Featherweight! What a delightful and unexpected surprise!

Upon returning home later that afternoon, I unpacked the little 11 pound wonder and took an initial inventory, noting that though the original presser foot was still on the machine, none of the extra feet, tools or attachments were there. I rotated the flywheel by hand and the needle/hook mechanism still seemed operational. There didn’t appear to be any rust and the machine decals seemed to have favorably stood the test of time.

The electric power supply and foot pedal were still connected to the machine and both cords were cracked in several places, revealing exposed wires. I elected not to plug anything in to any electrical outlets and resisted trying the machine’s on/off switch until taking everything to my trusted local repair tech who faithfully services my other machines.

As for the manual, I already knew I wouldn’t find it within the case. Thinking my Mother’s Singer 221 Featherweight machine was long gone, I sold the original manual on EBay four years ago!

And so began the process of bringing my Mother’s Singer 221 Featherweight back to her previous glory.

After dropping off the Featherweight at the repair shop, my second order of business was to source out a replacement manual which, after a comprehensive search on EBay, I’m happy to report proved ultimately successful. It’s a reprint and larger in scale than the original, but I like the larger photos and print. The next step was to look for a box of Featherweight accessories. Thankfully a couple of options were available on that front as well. I also found a source for bobbins.

This most recent search activity felt a bit like a scavenger hunt and fondly reminiscent of my previous Singer 66 part replacement quest undertaken during that machine’s restoration process described in my earlier post, “The Singer and the Singer”.

If all the accessory gathering activity described above wasn’t fun enough, I discovered a favorite vendor of mine was running an extraordinary special on “Sew Steady” tables. As luck would have it, there was an option for a Singer Featherweight cutout. Since I’m planning to be using my little vintage machine for quilt piecing and top-stitching after she returns from her restoration adventure, I decided to add a “Sew-Steady” table to my new setup with the idea that it will be great to have an extended sewing surface option to work with.

********

Update!

After over four weeks in the shop, she’s back in her new home at last! Thanks to Paul Howell of Howell’s Sewing Machine Repair in Paso Robles, CA. Lots of TLC and patience later, here is my Mom’s little Featherweight, all polished and ready to fly into action.

Not only did she get all new rubber feet but also an updated power cord.

An unexpected bonus was thrown into the mix, a vintage button-hole maker with templates!

Lastly, here she is with her custom “Sew Steady” table, ready for some serious quilt-piecing in the near future.

Yardage in my closet

This old favorite, an over-sized tunic top of mine, was really close to being moved into the donation bag until it’s transformation earlier today.

I believe I’ve held on to it for so long because I loved the loose weave fabric and the color. Even though it’s technically a size “small”, my 5’3 frame was and always has been “swimming” in it.

As I pondered the fate of this particular article of clothing, I remembered something I saw Peggy Sagers of Silhouette Patterns demonstrate not long ago, treating an over-sized garment as “yardage”. She shared an effective method of how to create a new top into a smaller size. Brilliant.

Using Peggy’s inspiration as a guide, here’s how I did mine:

First, I bravely got out my super sharp Kai scissors and cut the side seams open up to the shoulders, also cutting off the sleeves in the process and leaving both the shoulder and sleeve side seams in tact. Oddly liberating…..

Next, I opened out the front and back sections and folded them in half at center front and back. I laid down corresponding front and back pieces from a pattern I like directly on top of the folded sections, extending each pattern a bit beyond the shoulder seams to allow for the already sewn seam allowances. I then cut out my front and back pattern pieces as usual.

As you can see, since I wanted to preserve the length, circumference and knitted hem of my original garment, I used my French Curve ruler to blend the side seams of the pattern to those on my tunic. I then folded my sleeves in half the same way as I did with the tunic body sections and cut these following the lines of the pattern sleeve. Since my tunic sleeve side seams were already sewn, I first stitched the side seams of tunic body and then set in the sleeves following with a serged finish for both.

Without really planning it, my new sleeves ended up being exactly 3/4 in length whereas previously I had to triple-roll them up to be above my wrists.

All in all, this remake took me less than an hour to accomplish. I was able to preserve the woven neckline treatment, shoulder seams, knitted sleeve and tunic hems and now have a much more flattering “go-to” piece that I dare say will be worn much more often than the original.

This entire process was ultimately satisfying on many levels. Whatever one might want to call the process, “upcycling”, “repurposing” or simply a “remake”, it feels great to know I’ll continue to get use out of this newly-fashioned piece for some time to come.

Made it!

After several weeks of holiday activities, making gifts, cooking detailed recipes and hosting house guests, I haven’t found time to blog in a while. It is now February and low and behold, 2018 has come and gone. While this past year held some inevitable challenges, there have also been noteworthy triumphs to report. These are what I choose to write about today.

First, I’m happy to report that I made it all the way through 2018 without buying any “ready-to-wear” clothing. (this is in reference to my previously-mentioned, self-proclaimed RTW fast (inspired by Sara Gunn of goodbyevalentino.com fame). Now I find myself already into my second month of my second year without buying any RTW. What has this particular challenge taught me? A number of things as it turns out.

But first, I’ll begin by reviewing what was already in my closet at the beginning of 2018.

It’s been over two years since moving to the Central Coast region of California from the wonderful, sometimes bracingly brisk, state of Minnesota where I lived for 22 years. While I successfully donated and consigned a significant amount of my clothing and fabric stash prior to packing up everything into the moving van headed West, I’ve continued the process of wardrobe reevaluation and subsequent donation ever since, systematically redefining what I really need and what I don’t with each passing month. For example, the majority of my professional activity in the years prior to our cross-country move was defined by my University teaching position in MN.

My professional wardrobe for a typical academic year included a variety of jackets, dress pants, skirts and dresses (not to mention lots of coats!). Where I live now, I dress MUCH more casually.  Aside from my month away in the summer, teaching at a music academy in the Midwest, the majority of the private voice lessons I teach now happen in my home studio or online, via Skype or FaceTime. My goal in these circumstances is to continue to dress professionally but not too formally. (Artsy tops and tunics with dressier, stretch-woven jeans or slacks)

Years ago I had my colors done and was told I was a “Winter” at that point. I still have many pieces of clothing in my closet within that particular color palette, especially blacks and whites. However, a close friend recently shared the “Dress Your Truth” (liveyourtruth.com) color palette model with me which, among other things, takes into account, specific factors such as personality traits, facial features, skin tone and hair texture.

I was curious about this concept and started exploring the “DYT” philosophy of color and style in the past year. It appears I’m most probably a “Type 2” primary with a “Type 1” secondary. The DYT color and pattern model translates for me personally into more muted shades, fluid lines and s-curve patterns, inspiring some changes in the colors I’m regularly wearing (and sewing) while reinforcing, if sometimes previously-suppressed, inclinations toward color and expression of my personal style. I’ve started experimenting with adding new colors to my wardrobe, the most significant being mauves and coral pink. I began to suspect I was on the right track with my color experimentation when people began commenting on how flattering a piece of clothing looked on me, especially when I started wearing one of these newer (to me) colors. Another interesting thing to come out of all of the above is the realization that some of the fabrics I’ve chosen to wear from the “Winter” color palette in the past have been “wearing” me instead of me wearing them.

With the addition of developing my machine embroidery chops and viewing current fashion catalogs, it’s safe to say my sewing creativity has been stimulated a great deal in the past year.

Finally, things I’ve gleaned from engaging in a year-long+ RTW fast:

While I haven’t spent any money buying RTW clothing in 2018 (save a few pair of shoes and a couple pieces of accent jewelry), I have definitely purchased a LOT more fabric this past year. To be fair, this most recent textile investment trend was strongly influenced by visiting iconic fabric shops while on recent trips to New York and San Francisco. This said, one never needs to leave home these days to find extraordinary fabric-buying options, especially with access to fantastic online resources such as MarcyTilton, SilhouettePatterns, Emmaonesock, Etsy, EBay, Mood, Fabric.com, VogueFabrics and so many more. Our daughter’s reaction to the above activity prompted the following recommendation: “Maybe you should embark on a fabric fast this year Mom”. Interesting suggestion….

I’ve discovered that I’ve become even pickier than ever before regarding how my clothes fit now. All alteration skills aside, in the time I have designated to exclusively making my own clothes, I find I no longer have any excuses regarding wearing poorly-fitting garments moving forward.

Will I continue with the RTW fast in 2019? Maybe so, for a time. We’ll see…I currently have some fantastic material to sew with, more pattern muslins to experiment with and these will keep me venturing forth to my designated sewing space almost every day.

A stitch in time……

Denim!

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at machine embroidering on jeans for some time now. Katrina Walker’s Craftsy class, “Machine embroidery on denim” had been sitting on my wish list queue for quite a while. I finally took the plunge and invested in the online class, watching each of the sessions all the way through. Ms. Walker’s teaching style is clear, practical and inspiring. She demonstrated how to achieve the best results with machine embroidery on both woven and stretch denim, using specific designs, choosing stabilizers and planning out design layouts using grain lines and position reference points. A recent addition to my machine embroidery practice includes printing out a design chart which is a useful visual aid when planning sizing and layout of my designs on clothing, dish towels etc., as many possibilities as one’s imagination may allow.

Earlier today I pulled out a pair of stretch denim jeans, measured where I wanted my design path to start and set about picking out the inseam of one of the legs. Fortunately this pair didn’t have top stitching on the inseam so the reassembly should be pretty simple.

My next step was to draw my chalk grain lines and cross hair markings, lay out my design and plan out my placement on the jean leg.Thread choice was a bit tricky since this was a spontaneous effort. I decided to “audition” some poly thread spools I had on hand.

Once my thread colors were chosen, I positioned my stabilizer in place (I used one layer of Pellon water-soluble sticky stabilizer then laid in a layer of sturdy cut-away) and into the hoop everything went. I also changed my needle to a size 16 denim needle.

After fine-tuning my precise-positioning tool it was time for stitch-out at long last.

As you can see from the videos, everything was going well with the first step of the design. The only real issue I had was with the dusty pink-colored thread which was of a lesser quality and from some of the older (20+ years) thread I had on hand. But I took a risk because I liked the color. The dusty pink thread broke more often than I care to admit, reminding me that you get what you pay for when it comes to all things related to machine embroidery. There was also a brief bit of bobbin drama during the dusty pink thread stage of the stitch out….okay already, no more cheap old thread!

Once the first design was completed, I reversed it to a mirror image on my machine screen then re-hooped, drew a new chalk cross hair, then stitched out the second design, connecting it with the first. ***What I will do differently next time= cut an extra long piece of stabilizer so I won’t have to double up on layers of stabilizer when re-hooping.***

Here is my finished first attempt, all ready for the inseam to be re-sewn and the hem top-stitched (I will change the color of the hem thread so as not to clash with the new embroidery design though).

All in all, I’m happy with my first attempt and will actually wear these jeans sometime soon.

Yoga Pants Fitting Frenzy

I’m happy to report that I’ve successfully emerged from the period of sewing inertia described in my last post and have been actively at my sewing machines again with mostly positive and illuminating results. An interesting and unanticipated added benefit of being productive these last few weeks is that this increased activity has yielded improvement in other areas of my life, including regular exercise, vocal practice and maintaining a healthier diet. Funny how that works.

My main focus these last several days has been to finally nail down the fit of a basic pair of yoga pants and leggings. You, the reader of this blog may ask, with two to three simple pattern pieces, just how hard could it be? Let me tell you, although the actual sewing part is not particularly difficult, creating flattering, comfortable and usable yoga pants is more challenging a process than it may seem. Add the variables of body shapes, different fabric content and drape and it becomes an ongoing lesson in discovery.

As a pear-shaped individual, the fitting challenges of length, circumference and depth are an ongoing issue, especially when it comes to crotch length/depth. I personally need more crotch length in the back, but the conventional default method of adding inches to the top of the pant doesn’t effectively fix my particular fitting issue. Ask me how I know? Many women have various curves and length issues that occur at the hip line (depth) as well as just below the intersection of the inseam, center back and front, (length=sagging wrinkles in the back thigh area). These sagging lines can occur in even the slimmest of women. The above fitting issues are instances where fitting darts added to the initial muslin come in so handy.

In my case, cutting a horizontal slash at the hip line, adding length at the center back seam, filling in with extra fabric (pinning or sewing in place) then tapering to nothing at the side seams works much better in creating the extra length I need to prevent the top of my waistline pulling down, especially when sitting. Creating a horizontal dart just below the top of the front and back inseam then tapering to nothing at the side seams fixes the sagging back at the upper thigh area beautifully. Of course, these extensions and darts are for the fitting muslin only, then I alter my pattern accordingly.

I’ve compared various rises, front and back, from several patterns, both leggings and yoga pants. As it happens, the pattern that fits me best right out of the envelope (or my printer in the case of a downloaded pattern), is Style Arc’s “Margaret” stretch pant. I was curious why this was the case so I compared my altered Vogue, V1440 Donna Karan leggings pattern with the Style Arc “Margaret” pattern, laying the front and backs of each, one on top of the other, I was amazed to see they were almost an exact copy of one another. Then I had an idea; I would re-draw the front and back rises from the Style Arc Pattern on to my traced Silhouette Patterns Yoga Pant patterns and voila! My next attempts at the Silhouette Pattern yoga pant patterns fit me much better.

Variances in fabric content also make a remarkable difference. I like my yoga pants and leggings to fit relatively snuggly but not uncomfortably so and certainly not baggy, especially in back. Even with a well-fitting pattern, it’s tricky when working with knits, especially when considering the differences in weight, stretch and recovery memory after bending and sitting. The heavier the fabric, the snugger the fit. Experience teaches me that it does not pay to buy cheap knit fabric when making your own pants. The seams tend to ripple and the stretch memory is almost non-existent. Tops are more forgiving in this regard, but when it comes to active wear, it’s worth investing in fabric that behaves well (drape and stretch memory-wise) throughout the day.

In the midst of all my experimenting, I’ve raided my fabric stash and used a variety of low-priced, yet decent quality fabrics I’ve picked up on sale over the years with the express intent of making knit muslins. Some of my recent yoga pant attempts will now be used as pajama bottoms and the others I will potentially wear around the house or may serve as fabric references the next time I make up each pattern.

Here are the Silhouettes 3400 yoga pants with the altered rise (still a little sagging in back thigh area):

Here are the Style Arc “Margaret” pants (no alteration other than shortening the hem):

Much better.

A word about stitching choices. I either use the “stretch stitch” on my regular sewing machine or the four-thread overlock stitch to sew all the pant seams. A woman in the sewing workshop I attended last Fall shared a story where she made a pair of yoga pants and sewed them together using a regular straight stitch. The first time she wore them in public was when she was out walking her dog. Within the first ten minutes, the thread in her pant seams began breaking as she walked, yielding the seams to pop open with every ensuing step of her stride. Needless to say, her dog got a very short walk that day and those pants needed to go back to her sewing machine.

My new serger (also a coverlock machine) has a wonderful safety stitch combo option that I hadn’t tried previously. I been experimenting with using it these last couple of weeks and find I now want to use it almost exclusively when sewing active wear. The safety stitch combines a chain stitch with a 3-thread overlock stitch and allows for great mobility while being incredibly strong. This said, figuring out how to thread my machine correctly for this new stitch option took over an hour. I was referring to the printed diagram in my machine manual but this was an instance where watching the companion DVD yielded quick success at long last. I’m definitely a visual learner when it comes to sewing.

My enduring take away from this most recent flurry of pants fitting activity is that after much trial and error, it’s been worth taking the time to compare patterns and risk some failures. It’s true that I ended up with some duds, but in the end, I now have a customized and usable base for several different yoga and leggings pant pattern styles to choose from. I will now proceed with renewed confidence and resolve to cut and make some flattering and usable pants from the beautiful knit and stretch woven fabrics I’ve invested in in recent years.

Lastly, I’m happy to report that I’ve now made it to my ninth month of my self-prescribed ready-to-wear fast for 2018. Aside from shoes and jewelry, everything new that I’ve added to my wardrobe this year I’ve made myself. I’ve also donated just as many if not more items of clothing to charity. It’s been an interesting experiment so far and believe I can successfully make it to the end of the year without buying any ready to wear clothing. I’ll will report back on this front again soon.

Just Do It

I was watching Peggy Sagers’ most recent webcast earlier in the week and realized from something she said, that lately I’ve been somewhat in a state of paralysis when it comes to deciding what I want to tackle next in my sewing room.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I’ve been away from home working for a month, followed by a trip to the Seattle area after that, for the sum total of nearly six weeks in all. During my time away I’ve dreamt of diving into all sorts of sewing projects when I returned home, but the odd thing is, once I faced my fabric stash again I found myself overwhelmed in deciding where to begin and determining what was at the top of my priority list. Before I left, I made muslins, fitted them, traced patterns and invested in beautiful fabric. Now I find I’m hesitant to spend time making something only to find it doesn’t turn out the way I hoped it would. What is this about? Do I sew only out of necessity? No. Creative expression? Yes. A blend of all of the above? Yes.

All of this said, when Peggy said “just do it” during her webcast last Monday, I realized I just needed to start moving forward again, embracing the trial and error process anew. So today, that’s what I did. I cut out a pair of yoga pants from the newly-fitted pattern I created after my last muslin experiment and a cardi from a new pattern I bought last Spring. I chose a basic, neutral-colored knit fabric from my stash which will be useful if the new items turn out well, but not hugely disappointing if they don’t. I’m considering this effort “wearable muslins” stage two.

So, now I will take Peggy’s and actually my own advice too, something I’ve told my voice students for years, simply that there comes a time when we must stop planning and just do it. Thanks for the reminder Peggy!

What distance from my passion for sewing teaches me

I’m away from home at present, teaching and performing with Lutheran Summer Music (a music academy and festival for High School age music students) at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, IN.

It used to be easy to pack up my sewing machine along with the other things I needed for the month when I lived in MN and could drive to the various Midwestern Lutheran College and University sites for this particular job. Since moving to California, I’ve now been flying to these respective destinations, which has resulted in a reassessment and adjustment of what I bring with me each summer. Sadly, traveling with a sewing machine is one of the things I’ve had to do without in recent years.

At home, I’m at my sewing machine nearly every day, working on a number of projects throughout each week. As rewarding as serving on the voice faculty with LSM each summer is for me, I tend to miss sewing while I’m here. This said, an unexpected and positive benefit of being away from my sewing machine is the opportunity for reflection and perspective; for past projects and inspiration for future and partially completed projects when I return home.

In my down time here in Indiana I’ve been able to re-watch some of the Craftsy classes I’ve invested in, sewing webcasts, webinars, and YouTube tutorials. These video outlets as well as online sewing blogs have proven rewarding and educational when I can’t actively be sewing.

Another thing I look forward at LSM each summer is reconnecting with one of my favorite music colleagues and fellow sewists, Cheryl, who not only is a highly-accomplished Collaborative Pianist, but also seriously talented with a sewing machine. We compare notes throughout the year via text and e-mail, sharing photos of our projects and links to our favorite sewing blogs, websites and more, but it’s even better to discuss these shared things together in greater detail in person each summer as well.

There is great wisdom in delayed gratification, yielding patience and clarity for what is most essential and meaningful. I’m grateful for this time away from my sewing machine for all the reasons above but I’m also looking forward to being back at it again soon.

In closing, here is a photo of a tee-shirt quilt I made with some past LSM tee-shirts I’ve collected through the years. It will be displayed during our final “festival” week this summer 7/23-7/29.

To trace or not to trace?

I can’t even count how many years I’ve purchased a commercial pattern, cut out my size from the tissue, then constructed whatever it was that I was making. This pattern tissue-cutting practice worked relatively well for me until at some point my body measurements changed, I learned more about alterations and how to fit a pattern or I wanted to make up the same version for my daughter, a friend or client who may have required a different size. Sometimes a particular pattern I wanted to use again had since gone out of print and was no longer available.

One solution to what I describe above was to alter my previously-cut tissue pattern pieces, adjusting lengths, circumferences etc., sometimes estimating sizing grading to suit the specifications required. I’ve found these modifications and sizing tweaks tended to require a lot of extra pattern work, less than accurate results and considerable wear and tear on the already flimsy, previously cut up tissue paper pieces. To save time, if the pattern is still in print, I could potentially buy a new one and cut out a different size, or utilize an option that I find to be a simpler and sometimes cost-saving solution; tracing pattern pieces and sizes from a pristine, uncut pattern either newly purchased or already in my pattern stash.

To be sure, the practice of tracing patterns and making muslins adds initial prep time prior to cutting my fashion fabric. This said, I’ve found the baseline sizing variables, grading information and ongoing versatility to be gained from tracing uncut patterns to be so satisfying that I’ve continued this practice with all the new patterns I’ve invested in for the last ten years. I love this method and have never looked back.

Several differences in opinion exist within sewing communities throughout the world regarding best practices for sewing construction methods. There are almost as many schools of thought in this same group of people regarding the practice (or necessity) of tracing patterns and preferred medium/methods to use. For example, several “old school”, “couture” professionals prefer the use of wax/carbon paper and a tracing wheel in transferring pattern information from tissue to thicker (butcher grade) pattern paper. I’ve used this method with some degree of success while continuing to experiment using different mediums and methods for transfer of information throughout the years, eventually narrowing things down to three workable alternatives.

The first is a thick, gridded and fibrous transparent paper/fabric made by the Pellon company (similar in weight to the heavy interfacing). The material works reasonably well for copying pattern pieces if you have a steady and accurate hand and are tracing the pattern lines with an indelible marker like a “sharpie” or a ballpoint pen. Colored pencils also work relatively well, but they need to be sharpened often and don’t really erase. I’ve also used a graphite pencil on this type of product which yields cleaner lines but again, if you need to correct a mistake, the lines don’t erase completely and tend to smudge or tear the surface in the process. If you’re using ink, you either have to cross out your mistakes or start anew. The 1″ square printed grid on this particular type of pattern paper/fiber is wonderful for lining up grain and fold lines. I think this product works best as a final pattern preservation solution, when you are confident your pattern pieces have reached a finished state. The approximate price point for this product is $20. for 44″x10 yards.

On the recommendation of a sewing class instructor, I decided to try “Swedish tracing paper”. I found it to be a very user-friendly product to work with. It is a thick, fiberous paper and works well with both ink or pencil. If you’re tracing with graphite pencils, your markings are technically erasable, but the erasing process must be done with a light touch or the lines will smudge. Both the gridded Pellon product and Swedish tracing paper can be sewn on if necessary. They also iron well and sewn-in changes remain intact. The price point for Swedish Tracing paper is approximately $16. for 10 yards x 24″ wide.

After much trial and error, I’ve ultimately landed on a product I really like called “Bee paper”, a tracing paper often used by “old school” architects.
While admittedly not as thick as Swedish Tracing paper, it’s sturdier and more durable than pattern tissue paper. It’s also highly transparent, easily erasable, smudge resistant and irons well. Though smooth to the touch, the paper has just enough surface texture to allow for scotch tape or painter’s tape to adhere to it and stay in place. I’ve found Bee Paper relatively easy to iron, but be careful around taped sections or the tape might melt and gunk up your iron surface. Ask me how I know! It’s 24″ wide and comes in 50 yard rolls for under $20. A great overall value.

Even though the ink from a sharpie pen is more visible, I personally like to trace with a mechanical pencil. It’s precise, doesn’t need sharpening, erases well and is less messy. I also trace patterns using my clear plastic quilting ruler and French Curve. Tracing with pencil doesn’t stain these like permanent markers do and doesn’t create ink-bleed on my fabric or gridded cutting table mat. This said, I do like using sharpies on my fabric muslins. Instead of pins, I like to trace my patterns using fabric weights and often use metal washers for this purpose which are very inexpensive and can be found at your local hardware store.

My personal storage method for my traced patterns is to fold the pieces so they will fit into a gallon-size ziplock bag then place the original pattern envelope/tissue into the same bag. When I want to use the pattern, I carefully iron out (dry iron) my traced pattern pieces prior to cutting out a garment and I’m good to go.

For a more permanent pattern preservation solution, I’ve observed professional tailors and pattern designers making a practice of cutting pattern pieces out of card stock, marking all notches, grain lines and other pertinent information in indelible ink. They punch holes near the ends of the pattern pieces and hang these on hooks, organized by pattern number and stored vertically to avoid creases and the need to iron pieces prior to cutting into the fashion fabric. With tried-and-true patterns and for those fortunate to have the extra vertical storage space, this might be the ultimate way to go.

In closing, though it may take extra time, I personally love the process of tracing a pattern. It’s the point of learning and discovering the potential of each piece, making appropriate alterations without permanently changing the original tissue and envisioning how everything will eventually come together. I also enjoy the ability to share my patterns with people who may want to experiment with a different size and have already cut out a specific size from the tissue of the same pattern. This happened at a sewing workshop I attended last Fall. I had the same pattern one of workshop participants was looking for and she was able to trace out a larger size from my original. The process worked like a charm.

The singer and a Singer

954b35703965236ec3b71c82c64dcf5c As I’ve mentioned previously, I am a professional singer who loves to sew. I also get a kick out of the fact that one of my sewing machines is also a “Singer”, a Singer-66 to be exact. This wonderful gem and family heirloom was made in 1908 and is fitted within a beautiful, quarter-sawn oak cabinet complete with a cast iron treadle mechanism. The original owner of this machine was my maternal great-grandmother, Lydia. I’m not exactly sure what kind of sewing she did with her machine, but I’m guessing Lydia made clothing for her family and various things for her home, including quilts. Similar to my maternal grandmother, Katherine, my great-grandmother, Lydia, was a talented quilter in her own right. Both of their names are hand-embroidered on a (circa 1930-31) “Dresden Plate” quilt my mother passed down to me when she died. Here is Lydia’s “signature” block:Lydia Strain Renshaw's Quilt Block

My mother’s machine of choice was a “Featherweight” Singer sewing machine from the 1950’s and this is what I orginally learned to sew with when I was in Middle School. What a great little invention that machine proved to be; simple to operate and wonderfully portable as well. I created my first sewing “room” in one of the closets in our home and loved having a quiet, designated space where I could sew with the Featherweight and work on my various projects uninterrupted and without having to move everything at the end of each day.

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Around that same time, Lydia’s Singer-66 was passed down to my mother from one of her (Lydia’s) daughters, my great-aunt, Edith. The machine’s original oak treadle cabinet was fifty years old by then and badly in need of refinishing. My parents elected to paint it with an “antique white” finish. “Antiquing” wooden furniture was all the rage in the late 1960s. As I remember it, the technique included applying a base paint color which was followed by brushing on a patina/gloss layer. This second layer was then rubbed off while still wet and the residual gloss pigment remained in the crevices and carved bits of the piece. The finished result reminds me of  what one sees in “shabby chic” decor and surface “distressing” methods currently in vogue today.

As it happened, after the “antiquing”, the treadle cabinet (and Singer-66) was moved into my lime-green with white trim bedroom, a color scheme reflecting my personal taste at the time. I don’t remember any machine cleaning or maintenance done on the 66 at that point, but I know my dad installed a new leather belt to facilitate operating the treadle mechanism and flywheels. Once this was done, I taught myself how use the machine utilizing the treadle action soon following.

A few years later, when my sewing skills improved, I started making my own formals (often out of velvet!) for our High School dances and proms. Right before Christmas, during my Sophomore year, my Mom bought me my first brand-new machine, a Singer “Genie”. It had bright, orange and yellow “flower power” decorations and could sew zig-zag stitches! I had such fun sewing with that machine and enjoyed using it for many years following.

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Back to the Singer-66; I’m sorry to say that this cast-iron, industrial-grade workhorse and model of ingenuity became neglected once I began sewing with newer machines over the years and became increasingly dependent on the various bells and whistles each model would subsequently provide. The old 66 and it’s treadle cabinet stayed in my former lime green room when I went to college, moved into my first apartment, married and eventually became a mother myself. After my Mom died, we moved the then, seldom-used, antique white treadle cabinet and 66 to my home in Southern California where it was stored in our garage until our cross-country move to Minnesota in the early 1990s. It had always been my intention to re-finish the treadle cabinet myself at some point, but after nearly twenty years in our MN basement, I finally bit the bullet and started searching for a local refinishing shop in the Twin Cities. Old Science Restoration in Minneapolis came highly recommended, so in late 2014, the process of bringing this family treasure back to life finally began in earnest.  Here are some before photos:

When the treadle cabinet and cast-iron assembly were being prepared to be striped and stained, I was asked if I was interested in also having the machine restored while it was out of the cabinet. Fortunately, Terry at Old Science had an excellent recommendation for this work, Steve at The Bobbin Doctor in St. Paul. What a find!

Steve is a self-described “old school” craftsman who truly loves working on vintage sewing machines. Not only did he lovingly and carefully bring my 1908 Singer-66 back to life, removing decades of “grint”, soaking, releasing and re-engaging previously frozen parts, and miraculously preserving the machine’s original “lotus” decals, he proved to be an astonishing source historical information about this particular era of machine and its uses. For example, Steve told me that Singer-66 sewing machines were widely used in textile factories in the early part of the 20th Century.  Using New York as an example, the majority of sewing factory employees in that city not only had to provide their own machines, but were also paid by the piece. On a typical work day, these factory employees would carry their sewing machines (weighing approximately 24 lbs each) into work (often on the subways) then take them back home at the end of each day to finish sewing more pieces after hours.

Back to Singer-66 decals; although one can still purchase beautiful replacement decals for Singer-66 machines, I remain grateful to Steve for successfully preserving the orginal “Lotus” decals on my machine.* The various machine decals serve as identity markers in association with where a particular machine was manufactured. For instance, the widely- popular “Red Eye” decal is linked to Singer manufacturers located in the United States (Chicago for one). The so-called “Lotus” decal (which looks like more of a thistle to me) indicates that my machine was most likely manufactured in Clydebank, Scotland near Glasgow. Here are “after” photos:

 

For maintenance, the owner’s manual of the Singer-66 machines advises the user to lightly rub down the outside of the machine with sewing machine oil after each use to prevent rust. (this seems like wise advice as many early home sewing “studios” used to be located in poorly-insulated attics and damp basements). In addition, there are at least twelve different oiling contact points throughout the machine mechanism that one should put a drop of sewing machine oil into just prior to each sewing session (Steve advised it’s a better practice to oil right before sewing instead of after each use because the excess oil one might apply prior to storage may attract dust in the interim between uses).

Apparently, for quilters, nothing sews a straighter line than the Singer-66. I have since pieced some of my grandmother, Katherine’s, previously unfinished quilt blocks using my 66 and it worked wonderfully for this purpose.

As for other uses, in addition to lighter weight fabrics such as cottons, knits, wools, silks, linens etc..it seems that with the right needle and foot, the Singer-66 can also steam right through leather, thick upholstery fabrics and canvas without struggle.

In the age of YouTube, I’ve discovered more videos than I can count regarding how to repair and maintain these types of  sewing machines. There are also numerous tutorials about how to utilize the many foots and amazing assortment of attachments available. Through eBay, I was able to track down and replace many of the missing parts for my machine that had been lost through the years such as a “back clamp” presser foot, specific types of screws and the belt release spring mechanism. While it’s true that many people have seen fit to re-purpose the old treadle cabinets into tables, desks and vanities, discarding the rusty old machines into landfills, there also seems to be a large group of people who treasure the process of restoring both the cabinets an machines as well. There is even an impressively large group of people, male and female, who prefer sewing exclusively with these vintage machines on a regular basis.

In closing, the restoration process of my great-grandmother Lydia’s Singer-66 treadle sewing machine has proven quite an educational odyssey. Even though I don’t use it regularly, it still feels wonderful to respect this particular family heirloom in such a positive way.

The following “Song of the Sewing Machine” seems a fun way to end this blog:

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*For a decal replacement source, check out http://www.singerdecals.com or http://www.singer66.decals.com