Saturday, December 2, 2017

FIMO for Flat Cams? Nah...

Here at the DragonPoodle Research and Development Department (aka the dining room) we are always striving to find new and unusual ways to fail at machine restoration--so that you don't have to.  You're welcome.

Research investigators for this project were me and FIF* Barbara, shown in the photos.  And I'm not giving up on my favorite joke (FIF) but I'm going to start posting the explanation at the bottom of the post.

Seemed to me that with some FIMO clay, a pasta machine, and a sharp knife, we ought to be able to reproduce Singer flat cams.  I dreamed this up a couple of years ago, but ideas need to marinate to maturity.  Or whatever.

FIMO clay is a modeling clay that hardens when baked at a low temperature in the oven.  I have a bunch of it left over from a binge of making tiny people for a Christmas village when my girls were in middle school.  They are in middle age now.  Been quite a few years.  And, just in case you have some 15 year old FIMO sitting around:  if it is still in the package it is unchanged.  If it was in a baggie it is pretty hard and crumbly, but work it with your fingers and it will be just fine.  Eventually.

The pasta machine is dedicated to FIMO or other crafts (never pasta).  This is also left over from those long ago days of yesteryear.  I'm in the middle of a MAJOR studio clean out right now and discovering that I had saved this is one of the things that makes me question my sanity.  On the other hand, when I needed it, there it was, right where I could find it.  I'm putting it right back there too.

The clay is rigid and stiff when you take it out of the package.  Break off a small piece and work it around in your hands and fingers until it is flexible.  Do more small pieces until you have a hunk of it.  But really, don't bother, because (SPOILER ALERT) this is going to make a really lousy cam.

The pasta machine has settings for thickness.  #1, the thickest, turns out to be just the same as a Singer flat cam.  Run the clay through the pasta machine to get a strip of uniform thickness. Lay the strip on a cutting board.  We used parchment paper underneath to make it easier to remove and move around. 

Put a flat cam on top of it.  Used a knife to cut it out.  And the secret here is that you have to be good at doing this.  I got better with each try.  At first I couldn't find my exacto knife and we used small box cutters (shown in photo).  Found the exacto later and it helped.

I reproduced a zigzag cam, and Barbara reproduced #24.  We transferred them to parchment on a baking sheet and popped them in the toaster over for the required time.  Please notice that I am following my usual cagey practice of NOT giving out specific directions for specific products.  You really do need to read the directions on the packaging.  Which may have changed in the last 15 years.

I wasn't going for perfection, or even much accuracy on the first trial.  I just wanted to see if this was going to be possible at all.

It was immediately obvious that this was not going to be a sturdy cam.  It was a really cute cam, purple with sparkles.  And it had hardened, but it was still a bit flexible.  Seemed too fragile to hold up to sustained high speed sewing.  Like you would do if you were doing long lines of decorative stitching.  One of my favorite things.

The center hole had to be sanded out a bit to make it just large enough to fit snugly on the machine.

The first attempt was successful only in that it did function as a cam to move the needle back and forth. I wasn't unhappy with it as a first draft.

Attempt No. 2 was even better, and I have even saved that one.  In a pinch it would produce a perfectly acceptable utility zigzag stitch.

To store my flat cams I use a thingy originally designed to hang on the wall to showcase your commemorative golf balls.  Commemorative golf balls strikes me as pretty hilarious.  Golf itself seems pretty funny to me.  However this is a good size for cams and I can see at a glance if I have enough extras to share.

Attempt No. 3 looked even better than No. 2, but it cracked as I slid it into place.  I hadn't sanded the hole large enough.  Tried it anyway and it flew apart as the sewing began.

Thus ends the experiment with FIMO for flat cams.  It was fun.  Never bothering to do it again though.  Unless...just had a thought...

Is plain FIMO sturdier than sparkly FIMO?  I've already put all that stuff away or I would just try another one.  Do you know?

Have you ever tried FIMO for making flat cams?  How did it go?

Have you ever tried another way of making flat cams?  How did you do it?  How did it turn out?  Tell us in the comments below!

* * * * * * * * * *

*FIF, Formerly Imaginary Friend.  I refer to people I know online as my imaginary friends.  When I meet them in person they become Formerly Imaginary Friends.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Name This Headgear!

I stumbled upon this ancient piece of headgear and have not been able to identify or date it.

I blame the internet for this purchase.  Reading vintage sewing machine blogs led me to reading vintage sewing blogs.  Which led me to vintage fashion blogs.  Which led me to blogs written by women who recreate historic costumes and then get together for wonderful teas, dinners, and balls in fabulous historic settings.

So all in all I have seen tons of pictures of antique and vintage garments.  And this is clearly something interesting.   I just don't know what.

I have two big Dover books cataloging 19th century women's garments and I don't see anything quite like it in there.

It is hand sewn and the neck drape (dont know what to call it) is knit from wool, as is the trim on the hat (hat?  bonnet?).

 Becky pointed out that the knitted neck drape looks like hair.

It is lined in a blackish wool felt.  This would have been a snuggly and warm head covering, with a long neck protector.

So I am looking for a name for the thing (which will help my internet searching) and an approximate date for this style.

And thanks to the gorgeous BF Becky for modeling!

She insisted on some "serious face" pictures because people did not smile in pictures back in the day.

Let me know in the comments if you can name or date this headgear!

Monday, November 20, 2017

What is this machine worth, mwahahaha?

Update:  Bernadette informed me on Facebook that:
"The Windsor B is a National  sold by Montgomery Wards. In the US it's worth the same as all the other National machines out there, people try to work out value by googling the name on the machine and think it's rare because not much information comes up. "

My friend Pam has an antiques shop in Texas, although she claims it s a junk shop.  If so she has great taste in junk.

She runs into beautiful sewing machines while she is out looking around and often asks me "how much is this worth?"

And I laugh.

The answer is always the same:  whatever somebody is willing to pay.

But I love seeing the photos and occasionally I am able to give her some useful information.

The latest one is a Windsor B in a lovely cabinet, and with nice decals.

I know nothing about Windsor B's, but I;m guessing someone out there does.  Please chime in if you do in the comments below.

Here's how I know Pam.  Once upon a time there was a wonderful woman named Jan.  I considered her my BF.  So did Pam.  So did Becky.  So did Nancy.  And Jan really did have a heart big enough to be BFs with all of us.  Really.  And we are all still friends with each other.  And we all still have, and forever will have, a gaping hole in our hearts where Jan used to be.

btw, before Pam got to the Windsor B, someone else bought it.  Such is life.  But I include it here because I assume you never get tired of looking at old sewing machines.  I know I never do.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hoard to Herd: The Italian Necchis

It had been quite a while since I worked on any sewing machines, but I got back into the swing recently.  And it's about time to get back to blog basics.

The Hoard:  My supply of vintage and antique sewing machines that I MIGHT work on someday.  Untested and uncleaned.  Just waiting for me.  Because when you get the urge to work on machines, it is good to have 50 or so just hanging around waiting for you.  And in this hoard were a bunch of Necchis.  Pronounced, if you are an American "neck' ee".  Everything sounds classier in Italian, so if you know how to pronounce this in Italian, spell it out for us in the comments.

I recently dug out ALL the Necchis I have been hoarding and checked them all out.  All passed and are now part of...

The Herd:  Vintage machines that have been cleaned, oiled, lubed, tinkered with, and tested until working perfectly.  Some of these I think I will keep.  Some I plan to sell.  And sometimes I keep them until EXACTLY the right person turns up who obviously needs a specific machine.

Necchi BU Nova

There are actually three of these, one plain old BU and two BU Novas.  I can see some mechanical differences but I really know nothing about Necchis.  

Except for the fact that all these Italian Necchis just blew my socks off.  If you have only ever sewn with a vintage Singer, bless its heart, it's like the difference between driving an ordinary car and driving a Mercedes.  Not the best analogy, Ferrari would get the country right.  But I have never driven a Ferrari and I used to own a Mercedes.  It was 15 years old when I bought it and it consumed 10% of my gross income keeping it on the road the one year I owned it but it WAS a Mercedes and it was a dream to drive.

The BUs reportedly are great to treadle and I do have such plans.  One of them was sold to me as a parts machine and was partially disassembled.  I reassembled it and it works just fine.  I re-dis-assembled it and have plans to paint it and keep it for treadling.  Once I'm satisfied with this I will sell the other two.

BTW, the word "plans" always means:  something that may or may not happen at an indeterminate future time.

It's easy to spot a zigzag machine:  more than one knob or lever!

Necchi Nora

I don't ever discuss price on the blog, either buying or selling.  Let's just say that I didn't have to think twice.  And it's pink.  That 1950's is-it-pink-or-is-it-beige color.

At checkout the clerk said, "oh, you got the Nietzsche machine."  A mistake I have heard several times, which I why I am telling you all this so you can be spared embarrassment.  For the correct pronunciation of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, click here.  You're welcome.

It didn't come with cams, but I found some on eBay.

Two-speeds!  One for speed, one for power.

Necchi Julia Supernova

I have really slowed down in machine acquisition (meaning less than a dozen so far this year) and have gotten rid of a bunch (half as many as acquired, as per usual).  This was one I could not resist.  And it was in a beautiful and very large midcentury modern desk which I regretfully left behind.  Just.  No.  Room..

The bobbin cover slide plate was missing.  I set up an eBay search and in about 2 months one popped up at a very reasonable price.

It came with ALL the goodies.  This is why I took a chance, spent more than my usual top price, and didn't mind a bit even considering that missing slide plate.  ALL the goodies.

All the cams, one of which claims to be a buttonholer and looks like it would take an engineering degree to master. (top left)

All the stitch designs are shown on this wheel, which you can turn to discover the correct cam and settings.

Flip the wheel over and there are even more stitch designs shown on the reverse.

And lots of feet too.

Necchi Free Arm Supernova

I don't have as many photos of this one as of the Julia, and wonderful as the Julia is, this one is the reigning monarch of the Necchi herd.  Why?  Two words

Free Arm

And another full kit of gear.

Only one thing could make this better.  It could be not gray.  Gray, my least favorite color.  I'm pretty sure this also came in pink.  And I have heard that it came in lavender.  Lavender!

* * * * * * * * * *

Are any of these going in my (possible) Christmas CraigsList sale?  Not on your life.  Eventually, after I paint one of them, the other 2 BUs can go.  Some day.  If that ever happens, I'll offer them to my fellow fanatics around here first.

Some day I will meet someone who NEEDS that Nora.  I'll know it when it happens.  It'll be someone I know, not a stranger from CraigsList.  This is the real reason I have 100 sewing machines.  I get such a thrill out of matching the right machine to the right person.

The really high end ones with all the bells, whistles and attachments?  Hoarded, like a dragon with her gold.  But eventually probably converted to money.  It's the sale of machines like these that keep this a more or less self-funding hobby.

Any Necchi fans out there?  I have been told that they tend to freeze up if not used regularly because the engineering is so tight (you can insert a better technical term there) that if the tiniest bit of oil dries, it seizes.  All of mine were turning when purchased and were oiled on the way in the door, but then sat for two or more years on the shelf.  And all turned freely when I got them out.  What is your experience with Necchis?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thoughts on Sewing with Children

by special request, meaning that more than one person responded to this query:
"Would you be interested in hearing a few thoughts on teaching children to sew?"

Please note that I did NOT oversell this concept.  If you were expecting a full blown tutorial from start to finish you are about to be bitterly disappointed.

A few thoughts are literally ALL I have to offer.  I do, however, think that they are important things to consider when teaching children anything.  But before I get around to that, let me meander around the background.


I'm back from California where I spent time with four of my favorite human beings on the planet.  Two of them are seven years old.  Last year I took each kid a Singer 99 hand crank and we made tote bags on them.

Since then Nellie and her mom have done some sewing and Nellie wanted to do more.  Yay!  The YSIP (Youth Sewing Indoctrination Program) is working!

So the idea is that we will make zipper bags.  Yes, you heard that right.  ZIPPERS.

The master key to teaching kids to sew  

I took one educational psychology course in 1967 and I had 3 kids.  So I'm an expert, right?   (Hint:  none of them wanted to learn to sew when they were kids).


1.  Let the kid pick out the fabric.  There are so many incredibly cute fabrics in the fabric stores.  If, like me, you have a giant stash, preselect some appropriate to the project.  All of this made more difficult by the fact that my fabric is here and the kids are in California.  So I posted a bunch of photos for them to make their choices, samples below.

2.  Chose a simple and quick project.  A bean bag can be done in a sitting.  This is a perfect first project because the kid walks away with something she or he has made.  And making stuff is really, really fun and satisfying and one of the best things in life.  I know you agree because you are reading a blog like this one.

The tote bags we made last year took a couple of sittings.  How long is a sitting you ask?  SO glad you asked, because that is point 3.

3.  Know when to quit.  The lesson has to stop BEFORE the child gets bored.  You have to stop while they are still having fun.  Break up the project into steps and check with the kid before starting the next one.  Kids can have amazing attention spans if they are enjoying something and there is nothing wrong with a long lesson if it remains fun.  In the end you just have to judge when to quit.

When my pre-teen niece wanted to make a dress, we did it all together, from selecting and prewashing the fabric, to laying out, pinning and cutting the pattern, to the actual construction of the dress.  And she enjoyed all of it.  The fabric got washed after one visit, but on the next visit she made the whole dress in one day.  I took a nap in the middle of it.  She was absolutely absorbed and determined to finish.  It was a beautiful thing to see.

I really don't think it would work that way with the 7 year old crowd though.  So

4.  To keep the project moving along at a snappy pace, prepare as much as possible in advance, especially with young children.

For last year's tote bags I cut all the fabric and straps, finished the edges, and folded over and pressed the top hem.  So I arrived with tote bag kits and all the kids had to do was sew up the sides, sew the top hem, and sew the straps on.

This year I made kits for the zipper bags, for elastic waist skirts, and for reversible aprons (more on those later).

5.  Learn to love threading the machine yourself
You do NOT teach someone to sew by insisting that they master threading the machine first.  Your home ec. teacher HAD to do it this way because she had 30 girls to teach all at once and could not spend time re-threading 30 machines over and over again.  (Back in the day.  Home ec.  All girls, and no one ever questioned the gender division of home ec. vs. shop).

So you are going to re-thread the machine over and over until the day that the child's passion for sewing has ignited to the point that he/she wants to get on with things without waiting for you.  And they will then learn to thread it themselves in 30 seconds flat.  As Nellie did.


I told Nellie how many grown up women I know who fear zippers AFTER she had successfully installed one.  She was delighted by this and even more delighted when my guild buddies praised her to the skies on Facebook.  Which was no more than she deserved.  Remember, 7 years old.  And this increased the fun factor for her.  Thanks, Alamance Piecemakers!

The zipper inserted.

and a lined zipper bag completed!

We tackled the zipper bag first because I knew she had a burning desire to sew and was really looking forward to it.  So, challenge first and the reward of conquering something.   I guessed this was right for this kid at this moment and I was right.  Plus, she's not a newbie.  YMMV.

We then moved on to a simpler if not necessarily quicker project:  elastic waist skirts, something her mom had identified as a wardrobe need.

Prepared in advance:  five fabrics, cut to rectangles the right size (there is a chart online of basic sizes).  In some cases I could cut the width along the selvedge, and this formed the bottom of the skirt.  Hence, no hem.  I folded over and ironed the casing at the top of the skirt.  I took a roll of elastic.  Thus making skirt kits.

Skirt construction consisted of Nellie sewing the side seams, me pressing them, Nellie sewing the pre-ironed casing seam (leaving an opening), us measuring the elastic around her, Nellie using a bodkin to pull the elastic through (a large safety pin would do), Nellie sewing up the casing opening, and on some of them sewing the hem.  Lots of straight lines, none of which have to be particularly straight.  Just turn down a wide enough casing to accommodate some wobbles.

She completed two skirts and started a third, which I finished for her before I left.  These photos show the joyful moments when the skirts were completed, popped on over whatever she was wearing at the time.

Last year Clinton was interested in the mechanical operation of the machine but less interested in actually sewing.   Same story this year, he was totally absorbed in building giant but doomed steamships out of Legos.    (Titanic in the background, SS Alexandra in the foreground).

But he recently joined Cub Scouts and got his first Scout uniform.  We used his Singer hand crank to sew the patches onto the sleeve of his shirt.

So that's cool too.  He doesn't share his sister's passion for sewing but he owns a useful tool and knows the basics of using it.

Another bright idea of mine did not work out as planned.  I made kits for reversible aprons, but after skirt No. 2 Nellie's requests to sew slowed down, and we did some other things.  I sewed them up myself, and I had underestimated the amount of time they took. So, just as well.  Because, back to the main principle, the child must have fun at all times, and it is not fun to get bogged down in a project that lasts longer than the child's interest.

In another situation, like a child spending a week with grandma, the apron thing might work out very well.  So I'm going to tell you about them.

Reversible Aprons

Why reversible aprons?  Because there is no need for edge finishing.  When I make aprons for myself I LOVE a funky bias tape around the edge.  I love to make my own bias tape too.  But applying bias tape is not a simple easy task for a beginner.  Much tougher than zippers.

An adaptation to the apron pattern: a fairly heavy grosgrain ribbon for the ties.  Not making the neck and waist ties.  This saves time.

Each side of the apron has a pocket and I not only cut these out ahead of time, I pressed 3/4" hems on all 4 sides and used 5/8" Stitch Witchery (fusible web) to secure these hems.  Part of this overkill was because I was packing the kits in a suitcase.  If you pressed then sewed right away you wouldn't need the fusible web.

The child will sew down the top hem, then pin the pocket to the apron and sew down the other three sides.

In my experience kids love having their names on stuff.

Child and I or Mom/Dad will pin the ties in place and pin the apron front and back together.  Sew around all sides, leaving a substantial opening along the bottom edge.

Turn right side out, press, including pressing up the remainder of the bottom hem.  Topstitch around the whole thing.  Topstitchng will not only secure that bottom hem, it will extend the life of the apron greatly by making the waist ties much stronger.

See?  Do the fiddly or tricky stuff ahead of time, but have the child do the major assembly.  Therefore the child really is making the apron themselves and will have that thrill.

Or, in my case, I had the thrill and the kids got the aprons.


A Sewing Play Date

My daughter, her friend, and the friend's six year old daughter came over recently for a sewing play date.  This was little Anna's first time on a sewing machine.  I have a trusty Singer 192 Spartan hand crank standing by for just such an occasion.

This is the machine I take to public demonstrations

We took almost-blank white aprons and sewed on decorative pockets.  I embroidered their names on their aprons beforehand.

I set out baskets with rick rack, bits of lace and vintage embroidered thingies and ribbons and suchlike.  And pointed out the fat quarters (for pocket material).

We had a wonderful time.  I set up 3 sewing machines:  the hand crank, a Kenmore 1040 and a Singer 223.  Anna's mom needs a sewing machine, and I wanted her to have a chance to test drive those two.

This did not go as planned.

What happened that WAS supposed to happen was that all three of us knew that the sole purpose of the play date was for Anna to have a wonderful time.  And she did.  And she took every bit of my attention, leaving absolutely none for the two adult ladies.  Who did not have extensive or recent sewing machine experience.  And things went wrong with both of those machines.

Never fear, no vintage machines were harmed.  It's hard to kill the beasties.  But nevertheless, they got jammed up and were abandoned.  By the end of the afternoon everyone was taking turns with the hand crank, the simplest machine in the room.

I know you are not surprised.

In the end, Anna had the fanciest apron, having chosen a vintage piece of embroidered and crocheted linen for a pocket with a lace flounce underneath the pocket and fringe around the bottom.  She turned the hand crank and I guided the fabric.  This is a good collaborative experience!

Both ladies went with plain pockets, but in dramatic colors that match the embroidered name on the top of the apron.

It was a wonderful afternoon.

What tips do you have for sewing with children?  What ages have you taught?  How did it go?


UPDATE.  I can't believe I wrote all this and forgot to talk about the sewing machines themselves!  I mentioned hand cranks in the discussion above.  Here's why they are perfect for teaching sewing to people of any age: 

The sewing person is in total control of the situation at all times.  It literally will stop on a dime.  The minute you stop turning the crank, the machine stops.  Much less scary than pushing that foot pedal and having the machine take off. 

Hand cranks are also perfect for paper piecing because of that control which gives you real precision.  Also good for doll clothes.