Sunday, February 18, 2018

Whaddya get for Christmas?

if you know what this is, we are soul mates.  If not, tell you later. 

The daughters and I are really, really good at Christmas.  We would all tell you that Thanksgiving, hands down, is our FAVORITE holiday.  We're good at Thanksgiving too.  But we really excel at Christmas.

Our ways would not be everybody's ways.  Our goal is to make everyone feel lavished.  Is that a word?  It's our word.  We go all out and always have.  Back in the student days this involved less $$ and more creativity.  Now we are creative about spending the $$.  We don't hold back.

Now this does not mean new cars, and none of us have ANY credit card debt.*  Really, truly.  So when I say we go all out we are not being foolish or doing anything we shouldn't.  We are just expressing love in terms of material objects.  In the true spirit of Christmas.  Yes, tongue is firmly in cheek.

*one of the proudest statements I can make as a mother.

There was some silly talk over the Thanksgiving table about whether or not we should take a more restrained approach to Christmas.  I laughed and said they could go ahead but not to expect me to change at this point in my life.

So I was curious (not worried, just curious) to see what the addition of two more people would be like this year.  Both daughters now have a person in their life with whom spending Christmas is a good thing.  This unexpected turn of events was two of the highlights of 2017.

Fork pins!

Spoiler alert:  It was fabulous.  They fit right in. They both brought mountains of presents to go with the mountains under the tree.  We spent HOURS opening presents (one at a time so everybody gets to see and enjoy everybody else's gifts.  Like I said, we do it RIGHT.)  The presents were right on target (Amazon wish lists help a lot) and others were surprising and unexpectedly apt.  There were lots of very funny presents.  We are very funny people.

And many of my presents were sewing related.  Which is my excuse for telling you all about how we celebrate.  There WERE other presents (thanks for the dragon head, Jim) but I'm only showing the sewing things here.

Oh, yes, bring on the tools and trinkets!

What a trip! (Using the word in the 1960s sense)


And the American Duchess book had just been published!  Hot off the presses!

The sewing presents continued in the week after Christmas as I caught up with friends.

Many of the presents came from thrift stores, too.  We're not stuffy about that.  These patterns are from Barbara, who has often witnessed me going into raptures over vintage patterns in the thrift shops.

Becky walked into a thrift store the week before Christmas and discovered an entire thimble collection.  And bought it for me.

As a displaced Midwesterner I really love the covered bridge and the memories it evokes.


Did you recognize the Nebra Sky Disc?  Bronze disc from the Bronze Age, circa 1600 BCE, one of the oldest known depictions of astronomical events.  And yes, this DOES fit my sewing theme because there are perforations around the outside of the disc suggesting that it had been sewn to something.  Since it is 12 inches in diameter I'm guessing a shield rather than a cloak.

This is a 4 inch tile rather than a 12 inch bronze disc

I have long wanted to re-create this in some way.  I'm not a bronze smith though.  I have a bunch of ideas and have had them for years, if not decades.  If I ever do anything about it you will certainly see it here.


Did you get (or give) any cool sewing themed gifts this year?  Tell us about it in the comments.  If it is really, really cool, send me a photo and I'll add it to this post.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

One down, 99* to go

*just a rough approximation

all photos containing sewing machines by DragonPoodle, and I don't have to give myself permission

So, my sister-in-law Patty came to see me.  We did our usual:  fine dining (Waffle House this morning) and boutique shopping.  If charity run thrift stores can be called boutiques.  We wouldn't know, we don't go in actual boutiques.

photo by Pat Byers, used with permission.
Why is there a room with no sewing machines here?  Keep reading

We also attempt to unload lots of stuff on each other, as our respective studios tend to fill up with the junk treasures we buy at the thrift shops.  I got off easy this time but she went home with a 3 foot tall stack of cotton velveteen and my entire collection of neatly cataloged embroidery thread in every color there is.  Never use it (and saved the silk embroidery thread in case I ever do). 

photo by Pat Byers, used with permission.
And an Irish pub.  Again, why?..........

I have tried unsuccessfully in the past to give her a vintage sewing machine, because I had heard her cuss her more modern machine.  I gave up a long time ago, but this time she mentioned a friend who was sewing tiny clothes for miniature dolls and I said that a hand crank was what was needed.  And then Patty said that maybe she needed one herself and that she had given the modern machine to her daughter.

Folks, you will NOT be surprised to hear that I had just the thing. 

I had always planned to convert this to hand crank, but I had other plans as well that didn't happen.   You can see the chips on the bed, especially in front. I was going to try some cosmetic disguise procedures involving fingernail polish and decals, but Patty is ready for this machine NOW and the only other one I had ready to go out the door was a questionable Taiwanese 15 clone.  In black.  This is pink.  So, no decision at all really.

It needed a new bobbin case, and I had a little drawer full of them.  Old machines sometimes come here to die and become organ donors.  Although a new bobbin case is pretty cheap if you need one.

I had oiled it when I bought it but hadn't even wiped down the surface.  It was very clean inside though, which is what really matters.  It had been sitting on a shelf for at least 4 years waiting for me. 

not the best photos you have ever seen, but hopefully you can note the absence of grunge and varnish.

We got it out and when I say "we" I mean Patty.  It was turning pretty freely but after I showed her how to oil it, it spins like a top.  Even the reproduction hand crank works very well.  They don't always do that, btw.  And it makes a perfect and perfectly balanced stitch.

Modernage, made in Japan.  Straight stitch only.  Very cool looking stitch length dial and reverse button.  Feed dog drop, although FMQ on a hand crank is a thankless task.

Took off the original balance wheel to add a spoked one and hey presto--the bobbin winder still engages and works perfectly.  That doesn't always happen either.

A feature I REALLY like on class 15 machines is when the bobbin cover flips up out of the way instead of sliding.  And if you use the machine table top WITHOUT a case it is even easier. In fact, this is the ONLY easy way to change a class 15 bobbin.  Take note, Patty, because I forgot to tell you this when we were talking about cases.

Not all machines will function naked like this.  Some models HAVE to be in a cabinet or case because otherwise some of the working bits attempt to slam into your tabletop, and it just won't sew that way. 

So, did you figure out why a castle and a pub are featured above? 

Because Patty's craft obsession is with miniatures and she makes fabulous ones.  I have one with a dragon guarding its jewels.  One daughter has a scene with Marie Curie discovering radium. 

All photos in this section by Pat Byers.  Used with permission.

had to include a sewing themed one for you, dear readers!

She has a Facebook page, Pint Size Spaces, and there are lots of photos there.

and a web store Pint Size Spaces

and she recently exhibited at the Southern Christmas Show in Charlotte.

Why not stop by her web store?  And while you are there, go ahead and buy something.  You know you want to.  Tell her I sent you.  You won't get a discount but we will ALL feel warm and fuzzy about the whole thing.

Long time readers will know that I never plug products or businesses.  I will tell you by brand name what worked for me and where I got it, but that's all.  But hey, this is my sister-in-law.  And miniatures!  Who doesn't love miniatures?  Anyway, it's my blog and I can break my own rules whenever I want to.


So, the blog post title?  One machine out the door, approximately 99 still here.  Always.  I always want to downsize, but they keep finding me and sneaking in here.

How many machines do you have?  Has that number stabilized, like mine?  How many are for your own use?  How much do you worry about your own sanity?  How much do your close family members worry? 

Do you have a plan for what happens to them when, ahem, you no longer have a use for them?  Do you have it written down and stored with your will?  (I do, lol, but really, I do!)

Love to hear from you on this!  Younger readers may find this morbid, but me and most of my friends are old ladies.

Not my sister in law Patty though.  She is MUCH younger than me.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Starry Starry Bed

Kenmore 158.441, 1958 or 1959

So I told Jenn I would give her a sewing machine as a graduation present (she is now Dr. Jenn).  Yes, she does actually WANT a sewing machine.  The day has not yet arrived when I give sewing machines as presents unasked.

I always have around 100 sewing machines sitting around, but the category in most demand is always the simple zigzag machines.  They do 99% of everything 99% of the sewing people want to do 99% of the time.  And I do have a few available.  So the logical thing to do is to take this opportunity to thin the herd and give Jenn one of those.

But then I saw an aqua Kenmore "challenge" model in a local thrift store.  Aqua!  How could I resist?  Model 158.441.  Class 15 bobbin, high shank, left homing needle.

Got it home, oiled it, tested it, replaced the bobbin case, sewed wonderfully.  Great.  Took the motor off so that I could clean the machine thoroughly.  Lots of dirt comes off.  So far so good.  But as I put the motor back on I notice teeny tiny cracks in the insulation on the wires.

I poke it with my finger

. . . . . . . . .

flakes of insulation fall off

so much for that motor.

For at least five years at around this time of year, when thinking of what the New Year will bring, I think "I will learn about motors and wiring".  Hasn't happened yet.

I do have boxes of motors, however, and they are even separated into boxes of working motors and boxes of motors with bad wiring.  And in the box of good motors there was the PERFECT motor.

And when I say perfect, I mean perfect.  The color match is, what's the right word?  Oh yes.  Perfect.

Way better than the original Kenmore motor, which was a sickly shade of green and not aqua AT ALL.

And the bonus is that I have a lovely lavender Kenmore, acquired from Linda in a trade, which was missing that three-hole Kenmore power cord.  And now I have one for it.  Nifty.  And the sickly green Kenmore motor can go in the box of bad-wiring-motors.

But the bed is badly chipped. All the chips are right of the needle, meaning the flight path of the fabric to the left of the needle would be a smooth glide.  But it wasn't very attractive as a gift item.

Folks, I spent a couple of weeks mulling this over at odd moments.  The chips extended up the pillar but the vast majority were on the bed.  I didn't want to sand down and paint the whole darn thing.  I have lots and lots of little bottles of automotive touch up paint, model paint, and fingernail polish.  But it is not as easy as just matching the color.  You also have to match the pearliness and opalescence of the paint.  Or not.  I knew from painful experience that any touch up would be glaringly obvious.  You can only really get away with black on black. YMMV of course and you may be much more skilled than me.  If so, chime in in the comments section below.

A close look at the chips shows that the majority are not the result of external blows, but are the result of bubbles forming as the bond between paint and bed gives it up.  If this process has started already it will continue.  And I will tell whoever takes it home.  But I don't know how long the process will take.

I used a dental pick to pop a couple of unbroken bubbles and to chip away at all the loose edges of all the chips.  You could probably use an old sewing machine needle for this but the dental pick has a nice handle.

I dragged out all those little bottles of paint (DOZENS of them.  Have I ever mentioned hoarding?  Or did the 100 machines make that obvious? Or the box of non functioning motors?) and dug out all the aquas.  After testing and mixing I settled on the closest fingernail polish.  And the touch ups ARE glaringly obvious.  As I knew they would be. But there was a PLAN.

color close, but did not even try to mix a match. 

Because when I dug out the little bottles I found a bottle of clear nail polish with tiny iridescent stars suspended in it.  And I thought I could scatter a hundred stars or so around and disguise the painted chips, which would then theoretically blend into the background.  And then put a thick clear coat of lacquer over the whole bed to make that nice slick surface for pushing cloth across.

Might work.  Might not.

You've got to be willing to take some chances in life.  And, btw, although I don't talk about $$$ here, the machine was a thrift store price to start with, had sat on the floor for long enough to get marked down to half price, and I got it on double discount day.  So not much of a financial risk.

* * * * * * * * * *

Before I tell  you how it turned out, what if Jenn does not want a machine with sparkly stars on it?  Glad you asked.  I figured from the very beginning that a) it might look horrible when finished or b) Jenn might find the sparkly stars just a bit silly.  Personally, I think the world needs as much silliness as it can get.  But Jenn might not.  And when she comes over there will be 4 or 5 machines out for her to choose from.  Including that pink Necchi Nora that I wrote about recently.

I still thought about it being for Jenn as I worked on it.  And for me, this is vital:  A project is 10 times as much fun if I am doing it FOR someone.  Sometimes that person is me.  Sometimes I know for sure that the person will want it (Nellie's pink machine).  And sometimes it is merely a possibility, like with this one.  Doesn't matter to me.  Won't bother me a bit if Jenn chooses a totally different machine.  What I want most is for Jenn to get the machine that is right for HER.

When I am getting a machine ready to sell on CraigsList I'm aware of the replacement cost of every additional item that I include in the price.  I want it to look good and function perfectly but I am less willing to spend 20 hours making this happen than I was a few years ago.

When I am working on a machine with someone in mind, none of that matters.  I take my time and get all the little details right. I pick through all the great vintage presser feet and goodies and accessories I have accumulated at thrift shops over the years and pick out the very best stuff to go with that particular machine.  Completely different mind set.  Tremendous fun.

* * * * * * * * * *

Without further fanfare, here is Aqua Ken, as I have been thinking of him as I worked on him.  And yes, he did always seem quite masculine to me, even after he was be-glittered with sparkly stars.  Make of that what you will.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.  And now I am going to follow my usual practice and not only tell you how I did it but also analyze the heck out of it and tell you every little thing that is not 100% perfect.

People misunderstand this and think that I am running myself down.  Nope.  Really, nope.  This is just a fun hobby.  I don't take it, or myself, very seriously.

What I DO take seriously, very, very seriously, is giving you information that is as accurate as possible, and that means pointing out what can, did, or might possibly go wrong.  I experiment.  Believe me, lots of things can go wrong.  (Occasionally making for funny blog posts btw).

I dipped the nail polish brush into the starry nail polish, and each time a few stars came up.  I used a toothpick to transfer the stars one by one onto the already painted chips on the bed.  The nail polish sticking to each tiny star was all the glue needed.  No way to take photos of this definitely two-handed procedure!

After I had enough stars on there, I started applying this lacquer, a modern product not the original kind.  My goal was to seal and coat the stars so that they would be totally embedded in the lacquer and the surface would be totally smooth and flat.

The first coat of lacquer sealed the stars but left the surface very bumpy.

That was the goal.  Didn't work out quite that way.  Those tiny stars were thick enough to resist the efforts to encase them in lacquer.  I ended up with 5 coats of the stuff, and the last two coats were globbed on as thickly as I could.  (Not the recommended technique, btw.)

At that point I decided to settle for the fact that even though the surface was not level, it was smooth and glossy with no pointy star bits sticking out any more.  It was impossible to get a picture of the rippling surface it has now.  You can see and feel the ripples but it is glossy and slick.  And slick is really all that matters.

The photos also don't show how cute the effect is.  The photo below comes closest.  Because the stars are iridescent they twinkle at you as your head moves.

As with most chipped sewing machines, the front edge of the bed was chipped the most.  There is a whole constellation of tightly packed stars there.  And round about coat #3 of the lacquer I figured out that the lacquer was NEVER going to cover them, so I blobbed on clear nail polish in layers until they weren't scratchy.

The effect is decidedly three dimensional.  And I do question how well it will hold up.  Of course, if it chips off a quick trip to the dollar store for some cheap fingernail polish would fix it right up.

The lacquer was applied to the bed only but that does mean that where the bed meets the pillar gets coated.

The yellowing at the junction of pillar and bed is NOT dirt.  There was dirt there when I bought it, of course, but this is what it looks like after cleaning.  The original clear coat has yellowed.  I don't know why, perhaps it really is dirt, just so deeply embedded that cleaning won't touch it.  And now it is encased in lacquer.  Just so you know.  I have run into this several times before.

can you see the knee lever hanging down?

So, far from perfect but still quite charming.  I installed it in a Singer cabinet (model name unknown to me).  This particular cabinet is wider than most and that means that if you use the knee lever it is MUCH more comfortable (because the lever takes up several inches of knee space).  If you prefer the controller (aka foot pedal) on the floor you might have enough room in a narrower cabinet.  FYI.

Once I had it in the cabinet I tested it again.  And the zigzag jammed and the whole thing froze.  Whoops.

When I cleaned and oiled it originally it was not obvious to me how to get the top and nose plate off.  So I didn't, just oiled it through the holes.  Now on closer look it WAS obvious that two of the oiling holes were also slotted for a screwdriver.  With those out and the presser foot control unscrewed and removed, the top and nose plate come off in one piece.  And then I could lube the gears inside.

RED ALERT:  One of the gears is NOT metal.  It's brown and I don't know enough to have any idea what it is.  But it is not metal.  I assume this means it will not last another 70 years.  But who knows?  It looks perfect now, no chipping or wear.

The lube and more comprehensive oiling inside fixed the problem and it is back to sewing beautifully now.  The thing to do though is let it sit for a couple of weeks and check it again to see if it jams, is frozen or even sluggish.  Or if it is really fixed and ready to go to a good home.

* * * * * * * * * *
Aqua Ken's accessories

I found FOUR sewing chairs at a thrift store recently.  Two are from the 70's, but this one (and its identical twin) look more like 1950's to me.  The wood matches Ken's cabinet, right down to the small areas where the finish has flaked off.  It's a remarkably sturdy chair.

I recovered the seats.  And I need to finish stapling down the edges as is obvious below.

A sewing chair, if you did not know, is a chair with a seat that removes or flips up, with storage underneath.  As I accumulated accessories I tossed them in there. I don't go crazy with the presser feet when preparing a machine for a person who does not sew passionately.  Just the zigzag foot on the machine and a zipper foot.  That's all that most people use anyway.

That's the original motor controller (aka foot pedal) in lovely matching aqua, btw.  I swapped it out for a Singer button controller, which works with the knee lever.  If Jenn (or whoever gets it) wants the machine but NOT the cabinet, I will restore the original matching controller.  This process takes about a minute and is within YOUR skill set.  If you can use a screwdriver, that it.

Let me know if anyone out there wants a tutorial on motor controller swapping.


2017 was a rotten year for me health-wise and it is going out with another semi-crisis.  No CraigsList sales of sewing machines for yet another year.  I really don't care at this point.  And lest you are all concerned about me and my health, don't be.  No matter how annoying or debilitating this year has been, nothing life threatening is happening to me. Unlike many others in my age cohort. I usually don't mention these things at all.  But every once in a while I like to get real just in case there is someone else out there dealing with this kind of stuff. 

May I recommend creating your own blog?  It is really cool to have all these imaginary friends to share your passions with.  It lessens the sense of isolation if you are stuck at home with lousy health.  It's free and super easy.  OK, there IS a learning curve to anything, but really it is easy.  And fun.  And in my case I have made several real-world friends who found my blog and discovered that they live nearby.  Little Hillsborough NC, let me know if you are nearby too.

If you start your own blog, be sure to let me know and I will "follow" you.