Saturday, 19 August 2017

Basic Patch Quilt Blanket

My daughter received a gift of a quilted blanket before her birth, and she loves it to this day. I didn't sew back then (2002) and since learning to sew had it in the back of my mind to learn this art form.
Well, first one finished this morning.
Here are the steps:

  1. Select fabric.
  2. Decide how big your squares will be and how many you'll need.
  3. Add seam allowance, then cut out the number you need.
  4. Lay them out to see how it will look.
  5. Sew them together in strips.
  6. Sew strips together.
  7. Select and cut a backing, same size as sewn front.
  8. Cut wadding, slightly bigger than the backing.
  9. Sandwich the wadding between front and back.
  10. Pin the centre of it together.
  11. Push from the centre outwards a little at a time and pin as you go.
  12. Either free motion sew from the centre outwards, or fit a walking foot to your machine and just follow the same lines of stitching as the top. 
  13. Cut binding in long strips (not on the bias) then diagonally join into a single long strip.
  14. Stitch this strip onto the back of the quilt.
  15. Fold over, then blind stitch to the front.

Here is a little more detail:
Selection of fabric is okay if you have an eye for it, but make sure you lay it out on a flat surface first. Choose similar weights of fabric or the result will feel a bit strange.
Make sure your calculations are all good. A lot of work goes into this, so screwing it up isn't desirable.
I selected an old wool blanket as my wadding. It's 100% natural, warm and recycled. Obviously, you need to wash it if you choose this option.
old wool blanket, with finished quilted top

It's really important to cut squares accurately, so use a rotary cutter, self-healing mat and metal ruler.
It's important to be accurate sewing the squares together and even more important joining the strips together. Inaccuracy looks like a dog's breakfast.
Fit a good walking foot to your machine, unless you have a Pfaff with IDT (built-in walking foot). I was surprised that my Singer 201 didn't feed the layers well at all until I put a Janome walking foot on it. The WF was made in Japan. I wouldn't recommend using a cheap one.
Sandwich the layers and pin the centres. As you sew, the layers will want to move against each other. A lot of quilters use a spray on glue to hold them still, but I didn't have any, nor am I inclined to put glue on my work. I used a whole box of quilting pins instead, which held it reasonably well. Flatten the quilt outwards as you pin toward the outside.
An alternative to what I did (stitching along the grid lines) is to free motion quilt. This involves the use of a hopping foot, whose only task is to prevent the work from moving when the needle is in the fabric. The feed dog should be dropped (or set to no motion if your machine doesn't allow dropping) and the best machines for this have a vertical bobbin. Drop-in bobbin machines have trouble with tension when doing free motion work. Free motion quilting allows you to put beautiful swirly thread designs on your quilt. Since this was my first one, I kept it simple.
The binding needs to be folded in half, then the raw edges gets sewn to the backing side. The corners need to be handled in a specific way, so I recommend these videos from McCall's quilting.
Fold it over and blind stitch the other side by hand. Ensure the thread travels along the edge only inside fabric, so it is always hidden.
Back of finished blanket

The front. Not perfect, but not bad.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Which way does my needle go in? Which way do I thread it?

If you're something of a vintage sewing machine aficionado (hoarder) you may occasionally experience some confusion when you go to change the needle or just thread it.

Luckily there are two rules that are always true with sewing machines, but you have to look closely to check the first one.

Simple rule #1: The flat side is nearest the hook.

This one requires you to look at which side of the needle the hook is on. In Singer 66 and 99 the hook race is very large, and the hook actually passes the needle on the outside. That is, the hook is to the right of the needle. Following simple rule #1, that means we have the flat on the right.

Models 66 and 99, the hook is to the right,
so the flat is too.

Model 201, smaller race means the hook
is on the left, so the flat is too.

Simple rule #2: Thread also goes toward the hook

That means the thread always exits the needle on the hook side.

Vertical bobbin machines are a bit harder to see, but as soon as you see the hook, you know how to put in the needle and how to thread it. This will maybe save you a lot of time looking for manuals.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Peerless buttonholer

The Peerless company were (I believe) the first to come up with an attachment for straight stitch sewing machines which would enable the machine to make a buttonhole.  They did this in the 1880s, and I bought one of these first ones a couple of years ago. Today, I disassembled it, cleaned it, reassembled it and eventually got everything working. There was some rust, for which I can forgive the almost 130-year-old attachment.
Peerless "Singer V.S.." on late '50s 201K treadle
They're ingenious devices, and have adjustments for stitch width, stitch length and distance between the two lines of stitches.
After getting it to work I quickly got out the video camera and made a video. A tweak here and there would have been more sensible, as the resulting work was a bit sub-standard.
The video is here.
Afterwards, I set the machine up properly. The feed cover is essential even though the 201 can drop the feed dog. I removed it to see what would happen and it wasn't good.
Following are the pictures of a 'good' one, but still a bit lacking. The mechanism is a little loose, likely through wear, and this would make it just about impossible to get a perfectly straight line of stitching. Still, they're very rare and it works after all this time.

Top of buttonhole
Underneath of buttonhole

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

How to insert sleeves with ease

Sleeves are always larger than the holes they fit into due to 'ease' which makes the garment easier to wear but also means the sleeves are always larger than the space they go into. You must therefore sew the larger sleeve into the garment without creating any tucks or pleats. Without using a special technique, you're up against a difficult task. The first time I tried this, I used the technique laid out on the pattern instructions (this one). The second time, I tried to not do this and the result was immensely inferior.
The lesson I learned was that shortcuts will waste your time. If you care about the result, you'll rip out the seam, fix up the work and go back to the old techniques, which work. This technique is described in all the older sewing books and pattern instructions. Over time you'll do it automatically and although it takes a lot longer, it will be perfect. 
The summary is that you make two parallel loose stitches inside the seam, the inner one quite close to it, and use the threads to gather up the ease evenly. Here are the instructions:

Loosen your machine's tension a bit and sew two lines of thread inside the seam allowance. I make them 1/4" (6mm) from the edge and 1/4" from there (inner one should be about 1/8" from the seam allowance). It doesn't actually matter if one is on one side of the S.A. and the other's just outside, it will still work.
Only stitch between the single notch (front of garment) and first of the double notch and use the longest stitch length.

Loosely stitched, longest length, between notches

When you've done this the bottom threads will be a bit loose, so hold the thread ends and pull the fabric away so the sleeve gathers. 
Hold looser threads, push fabric, smooth it out
Match the notches (especially the central one, halfway between the front and back notches) to those on the garment and pin in place. Adjust the gathering so it's even and exactly the right size (this will take some practice) and when it's right, carefully hand baste it in place and remove the pins. The basting takes the place of the pins, which are nowhere near as good at holding the two pieces together properly.
Re-set the tension for normal sewing (was loose for the gathering thread), remembering to:
1. Sew it on your machine, with the gathered side down at normal stitch length. 

2. Sew very slowly and have your hands feeling the fabric before it is sewn and smoothing out the gathering. 
3. Stop every few inches to check underneath, to ensure you don't sew anything else.
4. Check on the right side that it's perfect, and make corrections if it's not.

When finished, perform a check. Look for tucks/pleats, and if there are any, just unpick that area and re-stitch it.
If all is good you can now remove the gathering and basting threads.
I've sewn well over two hundred sleeves and this is how I get it right first time with no tucks. It takes a lot longer and some practice but you'll rarely have to reach for the seam ripper (at least for sleeves!) and your sleeves will be perfect.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Advantages of a spool holder with vintage machines

On a Facebook group I'm in someone just posted that they saved a machine that was going to be dumped because the spool pin had broken off. Sure these can be replaced, but whether you do or not, I thought about it and would probably not bother.

What has changed

Until the 1970s, domestic machines had only vertical thread spools because domestic thread was wound on from the side in a neat stack and was expected to be placed onto a vertical spool pin where it spins as the thread unwinds.
Top is from the 1960s, only straight-wound here.
Nowadays thread is wound on in a crisscross way and is designed to come off the top of the spool (as is industrial thread on large cones). It tends to twist if taken off from the side (or untwist - neither is good). Apparently the older style thread is still available but I don't see it often.

What to do

You can easily overcome the disadvantage of hard to find straight wound thread.
Before buying a thread stand, I simply stuck a pin in the wooden window frame above my treadle cabinet and placed a cone of thread under it. The thread was brought straight up and around the pin then down to the machine.

I would (in fact I did) replace this with an industrial thread cone stand and now have the thread go directly onto the first guide. I happen to have a lot of industrial thread cones I paid nothing or almost nothing for, from op (thrift) shops, hard rubbish and garage sales, and it would be ridiculous to waste this. It works for modern thread too so I can use any thread now.

A More Technical Explanation on YouTube

Someone far more experienced than I has made a video about this and made it available on YouTube. I urge everyone to watch it if you have a vintage machine.

So buy or make one and you can feel happier that your stitches won't be twisted, your thread won't break as easily and you can save money by buying in bulk.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bernina 708 Broken Gear Replacement

A neighbour sent me an SMS and asked if I repaired sewing machines. It was broken, as in the bobbin gear was jammed. I freed that up then cleaned and serviced it for her (she and her husband are lovely people).
I noticed the zig-zag doing bizarre movements and took a close look under the top.
Very common problem on Berninas
Okay, ordered one from England, an eBay store. I won't mention which one because I don't want to be giving recommendations. Just search for Bernina 708 cam gear and you'll find it.

Replacing the gear

Searching for instructions led me to here. It's for a 730 sure, but both have cams right? His looked a bit complex, hence the delay. I was planning on making the tools at my dad's tomorrow then just out of curiosity unscrewed the (three) grub screws. The shaft started sliding out very easily!
I got it all the way out and lifted the gear out.
Putting the new one on was a matter of removing the screws holding the cam to the gear (two flat screws) and transferring it, then putting it into the machine and replacing the shaft.
I tightened up the grub screws and of course the zig-zag wouldn't work.
After half an hour of removing the gear and replacing it in a slightly different position, I realised what a waste of time this was. Regardless of what I did, the swing always started at the bottom of the needle's travel!

Setting the zig-zag timing

The hard bit was fixing the swing. Before doing this you should look at the cam and see how it works. The swing happens only in the ridge between the lower flat and the raised one and you can set it like this:
1. Loosen the two screws holding the worm gear
Unscrew both of these
2. Now the worm gear can move freely.
3. Make sure the zig-zag width is at maximum.
4. Move the hand wheel toward you until the needle is on its way up and has already passed through the needle plate.
5. Now move the cam until the flat is just about to start swinging and tighten one of the screws.
6. Check that the swing occurs only when the needle is above the plate. The swing must finish at the same needle height on the other side. You have to make sure the swing is the same on both sides. Once you do, tighten the other screw. You don't want the worm gear to move.
7. Check it again, then test by sewing at maximum zig-zag width.

Certainly a lot easier than expected. The replacement gear has an aluminium base, and the original was steel. Not sure if this will affect the machine but if the plastic is the same quality as the original you can expect it to last 40 years. Not bad!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Bernina Favorit 540 1958

This machine was, let's just say, a bargain.
It's a home industrial machine with built-in cams! It came with an 80 watt Sew Tric motor which was almost fouling the knee lift mechanism. Yes, it has a knee lift! Just about everything here makes this an exciting machine. It's Swiss, knee lift, industrial, full rotary hook and pattern cams in a single machine. Additionally, it can be connected to an external industrial motor or a treadle. Can you see why I'm excited about this? It  is exactly the same size as a Singer and the hinge holes are in exactly the same place, but the front is chunkier than a Singer and in my treadle cabinet the front flap wouldn't go back in place. A little disappointed but to be honest I might have been overwhelmed and had a stroke if it got any better.

 The 540, 640 740 and 840 are all designated as 'Favorit' by Bernina (as opposed to the 530 etc. which are all 'Record'). All of them have a full rotary hook (they go faster), patterns, etc.
They also all have a plastic (nylon) cam drive gear. They do break, so I checked mine carefully but it is intact at this time. They're a royal pain to put back (I have one waiting for the drive gear to arrive from England so will make a blog entry about it).
There are 12 patterns on the 540 and 640 and 20 patterns on the 740 and 840. All of them are basically a heavier, faster flat bed Record.
Mine was missing its knee lift (slightly annoying) and the foot controller (more annoying). Since the motor was kind of generic anyway I replaced it with an 85W Wernard, with new wiring and a Wernard foot controller. To me this is still rather under powered for this machine and I'd really like to get the cabinet inside and mount the 1/4 hp Singer motor to it. It will easily handle the power and I'd only be worried about low speed control.
The picture from the ad
After a good clean and oil (with tri-flow)
Someone asked me the difference between the 540 and 640, and the manual has a whole page dedicated to answering this:

This machine will be a keeper, I'm pretty sure. It's extremely smooth, has the flexibility of zig-zag, and tough enough for anyone. Can't wait to get her into production!