Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Interviewed by Leah Day!




Andy Warhol said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame.  This is my moment, and it lasted longer than 15 minutes.  Take that, Andy Warhol!

Imagine my thrill when I got an email from Leah Day a couple of months ago.  I have followed her almost from the beginning of her online career.  Yes, I confess, I am a fan girl.  She is an awesome machine quilting guru, among other things.  Check out her site at the link above.

And check out the video podcast with my interview too.

I ALSO have to confess that one of my posts was written as a reaction to a post of hers back in 2013 in which she was contemplating buying a new and expensive sewing machine.  This led me to write  FMQ The Cheapo Way.




She emailed me to ask about which vintage or antique sewing machines would be good for free motion quilting.  I figured she had found me through my blog.  But no, Bonnie Hunter from Quiltville recommended me to her.  Be still my beating heart.  I don't know if I can handle the thinner air up here in the stratosphere of quiltyness.

Before my head explodes from my inflated ego, let me tell you the stone truth.  Only a handful, maybe a couple of handfuls by now, of us blog about the restoration of old machines.  So people can find us easily online, even quilting world superstars like Leah Day and Bonnie Hunter.  Doesn't make me special in any way other than rarity, lol.

Y'all know how much I LOVE to talk about old sewing machines.  Several emails followed.  And then Leah asked me if she could interview me for her podcast, Hello My Quilting Friends.  Oh, yes!  Then I found out it was a video podcast.  Oh, no!  I do NOT consider myself photogenic.  But on the other hand I have come to terms with being an old fat lady.  So I said yes.

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So, you want a treadle powered vintage sewing machine for piecing and free motion quilting (FMQ)?  Good idea.

First, lets talk about power.  Real power.  Sewing machine power.  There are three possibilities:

  • Treadle, in which the machine sits in a cabinet and a foot pedal drives the action
  • Hand crank, in which the machine sits in a case (usually) and the user turns a crank on the right hand side to drive the machine.
  • Electric motor, the machine can be either in a case or cabinet.  Electricity provides the power, which the user controls by a foot pedal or knee lever.  And those are totally interchangeable.

Singer 99 with an added hand crank

The hand crank option is ideal for any sewing where you need total control and precision.  Think of it as machine-assisted hand sewing.  It's great for teaching sewing, whether to children or adults, because it starts and stops on a dime.  Well, really, not a dime, more like a fraction of a grain of rice.  It is great for sewing tiny seams on doll clothing.  It is perfect for paper piecing.  Any of the machines discussed below are good candidates for hand crank conversion and you can read more about it here.

Comparing sewing with a treadle versus sewing with a motor:  You might be surprised.  THERE IS NO PERCEPTIBLE DIFFERENCE.  It's a sewing machine.  It goes.  It stops.  Once you get the physical rhythm of the treadle you never even think about the power source while you are using it.  At least I don't.  YMMV.

So why have a treadle?  Because it is really, really, cool?  Because you can keep on sewing even if the power fails?  Because it puts you in touch with previous generations?  with history?  Choose your own reasons.  All of those are my reasons.  You may have more, please leave them in the comments below.

Here's what you do:  Buy a Singer treadle.  There are millions of them.  There are LOTS of great vintage sewing machines NOT made by Singer which will fit in a Singer treadle.  The footprint of sewing machines was pretty standard.


The bed opening should measure 14.5 inches x 7 inches.  There MAY be a metal piece to the left (shown above) designed to hold the cord so that it does not get pinched when it folds down into the machine.  That MAY or MAY NOT be missing.  This adds another 2 inches to the width of the opening.





Why specifically a Singer treadle?  There are lots of antique treadles out there, but Singers are the only ones where I can PRETTY MUCH guarantee that the non-Singer postwar Japanese machines discussed below will fit.  There are always exceptions, so make sure you have a working tape measure while hunting.

Where should you look?  I have written detailed advice about searching for a good vintage sewing machine, and much of it also applies to treadles.

What should you pay?  Whatever you are comfortable with.  The more you are willing to pay, the more treadles will be available to you, and/or the faster you will find one.  Here in the Piedmont of NC I have paid as little as $25 and sold one for as much as $150 .  My friend Linda sells them for $250, fully serviced and with a fully serviced working sewing machine in it.

What should you look for?  Check carefully for any cracks or breaks in the cast iron, which are costly and difficult to repair.  Push the foot pedal.  Does the big flywheel on the right hand side turn?  If so, this is a working treadle.  Cleaning and oiling are all it needs and you can read about that here.  The leather drive belt connecting the big flywheel with the machine will probably be dry-rotted or gone, but it  can easily be replaced.

I advise against buying a treadle that is not already in good working order (most of them are) but if you have inherited a family treadle with problems, there are complete instructions on how to break it down and rebuild it on the TreadleOn site.

There were two versions of the Singer treadle (and many different cabinets),  The most common one is black cast iron with logos that were originally gold, but may now be obscured by dirt.  Please note that by "treadle" here we mean specifically the cast iron beneath the machine and the cabinet.


Cast iron:  Singer logo in gold over foot pedal

Cast iron:  Singer logo in gold on sides of treadle
A less common type is made of aluminum and known as the "straight leg treadle".  I have one and it works just as well as the heavier one.  They are painted brown rather than black.



But we're not talking about ALL sewing machines, we want something specifically good for FMQ.  And what you need there is a machine with a class 15 bobbin system.  That's the kind where you insert the bobbin into a case and then insert that into the machine.


There were MANY different bobbins and therefore bobbin systems and cases and this is not the place to go into all that.  Google is your friend.


One thing I will tell you is that class 15 bobbins are still in wide use and plastic ones are available.  Modern metal ones have problems and one of my suppliers now refuses to sell them.  The vintage metal ones may or may not have holes in them as shown above.


And this is where you insert the bobbin case into the machine.  On this machine the access cover flips up.  Some of them slide open to the side.


Singer's most popular class 15 machine was the 15-91, which CANNOT be treadled.

Singer 15-91
The 15-91, and the later 15-125 in green, have a "potted" motor and direct gear drive.  The fact that the motor is permanently connected to the machine with gears is what prevents it from being treadled.


Singer 15-125

The potted motor is easy to spot on the back of the machine.  15-91s potted motor looks just like this but in black (which is harder to photograph).

Singer 15-125

Singer 15-125 potted motor
So if you see the potted motor, that is not what you want for treadling because you just can't do it.  You need a machine with a removable motor.

Singer also made class 15 machines with an external motor, such as the 15-88, but these are much harder to find, at least around here.  As a result, I have no photos of them!

But I have lots of photos of the post WWII Japanese machines which were line-for-line copies of the Singer 15.  These are often referred to as "15 clones".  Serious vintage sewing machine people are invited NOT to yell at me for using this term.  It's a good term if you limit it to the machines that are line-for-line copies.  Although the Japanese made them in a rainbow of pretty colors,



The identifying characteristics of the 15 clones are the fact that the tensioner is on the left hand nose of the machine rather than facing you on the front.  And that distinctive round stitch length lever.



Tensioner sticking out, view from the back


Tensioner, head on view

round stitch length lever

And all of the clones have external motors, which are easily removed for treadling.



not the same machine, but you can see where the motor was removed

Underneath the hand wheel you can see the motor mount, where the motor was attached with a large bolt.  It is a matter of a minute to remove the motor.

And here's another pretty one.  Note on this one and the pink ones that the Japanese added a feed dog drop feature, pretty handy for free motion quilting.  (although on the Singers it is an easy matter with a screwdriver to drop the dogs or remove them entirely).




The Japanese produced machines in enormous numbers and eventually came up with new designs (and produced some wonderful zigzag machines too).

Modernage, class 15 but not a clone
This machine uses the class 15 bobbin system but is stylistically different.  So I don't call this one a clone.  But you can if it makes you happy.  Just prepare to be chastised by the purists.

Back to the pretty clones.



This one is labelled "Gibraltar" but the names are meaningless.  Japanese companies naturally did not want to sell machines with the names of Japanese companies on them to American consumers in the years after WWII.  So they came up with random appealing names.



Clones came in black too.  I fitted this one with a hand crank.


And boring beige.  Whatever its name was, the nameplate is gone now.

Now for a word about presser feet.

There are many, many ways for presser feet to attach to a machine, especially if you go back into the 1800's machines.  But in this post we are really only talking about postwar machines.  And by that time the three most popular kinds were:
  • low shank.  this is still the most common style.  when you see presser feet at your local big box retailer, they are low shank.  
  • high shank
  • slant shank, made by Singer
These are NOT interchangeable.  (And, btw, some companies have feet specific to their own machines.  I'm looking at you, Bernina).

All of the line-for-line 15 clones I have seen have been low shank.  I have seen many high shank postwar zigzag machines, and low shank ones also.  That is all I, or anyone, can tell you.  There may be high shank clones that I am unaware of.  There is no international database of all the machines ever produced.

So how do you know what you are seeing?  Print out a copy of this shank guide provided by sew-classic.com.  

If you have a low shank machine, almost all low shank presser feet and attachments will work on it.  Take note of that if you own a Featherweight, a low shank machine.  You really don't need presser feet advertised as being specifically for Featherweight (and at an inflated price).

And one more presser foot note:  if you want a walking foot for a straight-stitch only machine YOU MUST BUY A STRAIGHT STITCH WALKING FOOT.  Your usual walking foot is designed for zigzag machines, and the spacing of the feed dogs is different.  You will need a walking foot designed specifically to fit on the feed dogs of a straight stitch machine.

So I had better tell you where to find one, or anything else vintage-machine-related, presser feet, attachments, parts, and supplies such as treadle belts.  I am not related to this company and receive no financial or any other kind of benefit for recommending it.  But they have been providing me with good no problem service for years.


But hey, Jenny, if you read this and WANT to pay me for recommending you, just let me know.  I'll take payment in parts, thank you very much.

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So, now you have your treadle and your machine.  How do they fall in love and marry?  It's easier than you think.  Slightly tricksy, but easy.

What you do NOT do is take the hinges out of either the treadle or the case or cabinet that your machine is in.  No, no, no, do not do this.  And I see it all the time.  My own, admittedly limited and amateurish, experience with wood is that every time you take a screw out and put it back in, you are degrading the strength of the object.  So don't do it.  Clear?

What you do is first discover the way in which the machine is actually attached to the machine.  It's not the hinges.  The moveable part of each hinge has a post on it.  The sewing machine has two holes into which the posts fit.  There is a set screw that tightens things down.

Describing the step by step removal and installation technique using words and still photos would be a silly waste of my time when we have YouTube. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million.

Dave at Super Mom -No Cape! has a good video titled How To Remove and Reinstall A Vintage Singer Machine From Its Cabinet.   I like his removal technique but unless you have a helper (and a helper willing to get their fingers pinched as a 40 pound machine descends onto those hinge pins) I would not follow his re-installation technique.  It is hilarious to see that pair of extra hands coming up into the machine opening from below however.

For a better re-installation technique, StagecoachRoad Sewing has a great video that shows how to install a machine into a cabinet.  Same process for a treadle (or a portable case for that matter).

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So:

  • Buy a Singer treadle
  • Buy a class 15 straight stitch machine
  • Put them together
  • Piece* or free motion quilt to your heart's content
It really is that simple.  Have fun and let me know your own experiences in the comments below.

*And, oh, yeah, piecing.  Haven't talked about it here because this is all about FMQ.  But if you have never used a vintage straight stitch only machine for piecing, you just have not LIVED.   Do you know any quilters who rave about the quality of the stitch their oh-so-trendy vintage Featherweight makes?  They are not lying.  But what they don't know is that ANY all metal vintage straight stitch only machine will do the same.  They only do the one thing but they do it supremely well.

And welcome to all of Leah Day's followers who wander over here and find this blog.  I'm glad you're here!  Hope I was useful or maybe just interesting to some of you.



























Wednesday, March 21, 2018

My Studio Does Not Look Like This





First of all, let me tell you that it does not ever quite look like this.  I move stuff around ALL THE TIME.  Stuff comes in, stuff goes out, stuff gets moved around.  It is a very dynamic space.  Not to mention the usual chaos and mess.

My studio space has evolved over the years.  I have a ranch style house built on a hillside, and underneath half of it is a basement space that opens out to a small patio.

Originally it was a space that collected junk.  The road from junk room to studio took years. The photos shown here span the last few years and some of them show things that have moved or moved on.

But wait!  There's more!  I had a water heater leak slowly over a period of months and it ended up destroying ALL of my treasured Stretch N Sew patterns and damaging ALL of my even more treasured Folkwear Patterns.  (Threw away the SnS.  Dried, wiped down with bleach to remove mold, dried again and finally stored in plastic bags each one of the FWs).

The leak resulted in some MAJOR changes which are NOT shown here.  There will be another post later with the after photos.

But back to the studio history:

One of the first things I did was build some shelves along one wall to hold the ever-expanding fabric stash.



So this was Studio 1.0.  A basement with a bare concrete floor, accumulating junk, including but not limited to sewing-related junk.  And a sewing machine, the Singer 348 that I bought in 1968.



Over time I made a few changes, including painting the floor with exterior latex paint to brighten it up.  Not the best choice.  Now they have special paint that bonds to bare concrete, but if that existed at the time I was not aware of it.  The latex is mostly OK, but where my chair wheels roll over it, it tends to peel off.


Exterior latex paint, several years old, peeling up where the chair wheels have loosened it

At some point I bought a serger, and then an embroidery machine.  The embroidery machine required a computer, so an old laptop went to live down there. I bought a 12' quilting frame at a thrift shop and stored it there until I had a chance to learn to use it. We will call this phase Studio 2.0.

Studio 3.0 began after I retired.  I did a lot more organizing and began clearing out non-sewing related junk from the space.  I hung thread organizers on the walls. I bought a large work table at the thrift store because it had an indestructible surface, only to discover (AFTER I had paid for it and they were trying to load it into my truck) was that the reason it was indestructible was that it was made of CONCRETE.  I had to hire guys to move it out of my truck, down the hill and into the studio.  Which cost me twice as much as the cheap thrift store table.  Worth it?  Absolutely.


Above you can see a bit of the concrete table and part of the Wall of Thread.

Two of the in-ceiling single incandescent bulb light fixtures were replaced with full spectrum fluorescent light fixtures, brightening up the room considerably.  I caught a bad case of VSMAD (Vintage Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder) and more sewing machines came to live with us. I learned to quilt on the frame with some of the vintage machines.   It started looking better and was less embarrassing as a guest room.  Oh, did I mention there was also a king sized bed down there?  It's a lovely big space.

Andre installs the cradles he designed and created.

There were several submodels at this stage:  Studio 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, etc. as I upgraded the storage and got it more and more organized.  Our friend Andre modified some standard shelf hardware and created cradles to hold large bolts of fabric.  He's also the person who installed the new light fixtures.  The late DH and I used to joke that Andre was single-handedly keeping us out of assisted living as he did all the things we could not do.







I found three 3-drawer lateral file cabinets at a church yard sale for $10 each.  Lateral file cabinets are terrific for storing all sorts of things.  A bunch of matching laundry hampers from Walmart created even more long-term bulk storage.










Notice throughout this post that EVERYTHING is labeled.  If it is not visible or labeled, it does not exist.  I am no good at remembering where I put things.

The 12' quilting frame lived in front of this storage.  I snapped this photo while it was moved temporarily so that I could repaint the floor.






New paint, the cheapest possible solution to many problems
I began giving sewing and quilting lessons in a casual way, and wanted the space to look better.  Every few years I slapped another coat of exterior latex on the floor, right over the dirt and scuffs.










Eventually one of the bedrooms upstairs got converted from an office back to a bedroom, a guest room.  By then I was really ready for the studio to be JUST a studio.  I still wanted a bed down there for one more possible sleeping space, but I didn't want it to look like a bedroom.  I puzzled over this for a LONG time (more than a year) and then one day in a flash it came to me:  four lateral file cabinets with a mattress on top, and a removable plywood surface on top of the mattress.  Cutting table height.  (The bed idea did not work out and quickly got nixed, btw.)

It took me another year to find four matching lateral file cabinets.  And now I am going to tell you a story that you probably won't believe.  I'm Irish in the maternal line, and we have The Sight in a minor way.  My mother had waking visions of things that later happened, most notably the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, which she saw two weeks before it happened, although without knowing where it was or when it would happen. Frustrating for her not to be able to warn anyone.  I don't have this ability, but sometimes things call out to me from thrift shops.  I told you that you would not believe this.

In August of 2014 I was visiting BFF Amber in California.  I heard the lateral file cabinets (that I had been seeking for a year) calling me from the NC State Surplus Store in Raleigh.  When I got home, I went there.  There they were.  Go ahead, be all rational and skeptical and refuse to believe.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 
Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio


Thus began Studio 4.0.  Just having this at all is the space of my dreams, but now it has everything that I have ever desired in a studio.  I bought a mid-arm machine for the frame.  My laundry room is down there.  A powder room is down there.  The total square footage, including those rooms and the stairway, is 800 square feet.  I have sliding glass doors leading to a brick patio overlooking the wooded valley in back of my house.  Bambi (and her mother) have come to visit me on that patio.  Mr. and Mrs. Barred Owl and their baby came to perch on a fallen tree out there.  Pretty much paradise in my little town.


The  back wall has shelving units with bins, all nicely labeled



three units in all

I found cubicle dividers at a local thrift shop for $5 @.  They are just leaning against the shelves and can be slid to the side.  This is not ideal, but it WAS very cheap.  And the fabric surface means that quilt blocks will stick long enough for an audition, and straight pins will also go into the panels if they need to be better secured.


And even more long term fabric storage up top.



I created covers for the embroidery machine by finding some cardboard boxes the right size and cutting holes in them.  The smaller box, which covers the embroidery unit itself, slides into the larger box.


Both boxes are then slip covered with quilted yellow gingham.  The vintage embroidered cloths are just laid on top of the quilted covers.



All of this sits on top of a cabinet that holds all of my parts cabinets.


The parts cabinets have all been painted white by now, but the following earlier pictures will give you some ideas about their contents.  Every size of needle has its own little drawer.  Every type of presser foot.  Every tool small enough to fit into one of these drawers.  You get the idea.  I can lay my hands on anything in a couple of seconds



I repainted the floor yet again.  I bought some colorful rugs.



One of the VERY BEST things I did was slip cover all the chairs with red fleece. The chairs are from various thrift shops, and although all were functioning well they were all different colors, all various shades of UGLY.  I bought the cheapest possible red fleece to make the chair covers.  Getting them all the same color made a HUGE difference.

Fleece has a little stretch, so I just cut each piece the size of the chair element to be covered--with NO seam allowances. I put the fuzzy side to the inside and the smoother side out.   It was super easy (with the serger) and fast and looks FABULOUS.  One of the best upgrades I have ever done.  And cheap, did I mention cheap?  I was worried that the fleece would not hold up well, but I did this several months ago and they still look great.



Another big upgrade happened by transforming the funky storage space under the stairs into a display space.  In the back of this tiny space you can see the door to the powder room.



Lots of vintage goodies have accumulated from years of frequent thrift store visits,  It's a lifestyle/obsession.


I used Dharma Trading Company's color card to pick the perfect shade of dye to transform a light green curtain to match this spot.  Aquamarine.  I dyed the curtain and the little rug in the washing machine, first time I have tried this.



The powder room gives me lots more space to display vintage sewing goodies.



It took several years to find the second display shelf to match the first one.





Faithful blog readers have asked me several times to post pictures of my studio.    Now is the time, because as soon as I start a project it will begin to descend into chaos again.

History ends, back to the present time now

As a result of the water heater disaster an entire wall of stuff got taken down.  Totally.  And in the end it was totally unnecessary.

Under the wall  of stuff is a floor drain.  Building all of this on top of the floor drain was NOT one of my brighter thoughts.

I thought that drain had been burping muddy water up behind the wall of stuff and the first plumber who came over here to assess the situation did not figure out that this was wrong.  But in order for the plumber to fix it he obviously had to be able to get to it. So the entire wall of stuff had to be moved.  Or so we thought.  Once the wall of stuff was gone and a different plumber came back he immediately discovered it was the water heater.   Fixing that did NOT require moving the wall of stuff, but it was already gone. 

This turned out to be a good thing.  I go to a couple of thrift stores per week and bring stuff home.  Lots of it goes to live in the studio.  It was long past time for a good turn-out.

Here's what the now-gone wall of stuff looked like.

The stairs are behind this wall, and are open as you come down them, but the wall of stuff hid the view.


Can't get it all in one photo.  above the top of the whole thing.  Below, the right hand side of the whole thing.



From the ground up:  three two-drawer file cabinets.  In between the cabinets, more storage.  Hiding the file cabinets and storage:  a set of bulletin boards (foam insulation covered in red flannel, inside of old picture frames).  The bulletin board thing seemed like a good idea but was not.  They didn't want to stay together. 

On top of all of this, one of my most prized possessions:  a twelve foot long aluminum counter-top that was discarded from a factory in Baltimore.  One of the daughters took it for her home office.



On top of the counter-top:  the last four grad school particle board bookcases.  "Particle board" and "bookcase" are words that should NEVER be used together.  They have held up this long only because extensive engineering was done on the backs of them to hold them together.

Inside the bookcases:  books, d'oh.  And other goodies.  Lately I have been acquiring dolls from different countries.  They make me smile and most of them can be played with.  Extremely superior and well behaved children are ALWAYS welcome at DragonPoodle Studio.  And I DO know such children.  Notably the offspring of Heather and Agustin, and Linda and Phil. And my new friend Anna, daughter of Jenn.  I assume it is the parenting that gets these results.

Gryphon.  One of those extremely superior children I was just telling you about.

In an earlier incarnation of the studio I could pull out the top drawer of this dresser and create an ironing station whenever I needed it.  You can see the embroidery machine peeping from behind the iron.



The boxes below have been replaced with plastic drawers the same size.  And the wall unit is now full of Kaafe fat quarters and yardage.  Lucky me!  (Fabric outlet nearby).

Fat quarters in boxes, special project fabric on wall, monogrammer and buttonholer, and a peek into the very messy laundry room



Floor lamps have weighted bases and are perfect for storing large rolls of stuff.  It isn't difficult to remove the lamp part, although if you look closely you will see that one has been left in place.

The floral basket WAS very cool, but all of my ironing stuff has now been stashed in a cart with the big presser on top.

Tailor's ham and other ironing accessories in a basket covered with fake flowers


Did you survive to the end of the post?  it's one of the longest ever.  it could be ten times as long (or more!) if I showed you everything.



Do you have the studio space of your dreams, as I do?  Or do you have to set up on the kitchen table when everyone else is out of the house?  Wherever I have lived I have always been able to claim a space for sewing, no matter how tiny.  It's really, really important, isn't it?