Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No Fear

I seem to have overcome my lifelong fear of sewing machines.

Here is my newest baby:

This is a Pfaff 360 automatic from 1962.

I know, I know. I've been sewing for four weeks and have four machines. I've already heard it all. The KH is starting to freak out. (It took him several years to adjust to the whole knitting thing.) But there is a reason for this. As much as I love my old machines, they are all straight stitch only machines. This means exactly what it sounds like: they sew only straight stitches in one direction. Meaning if you want to, say, back tack the ends of your seams to keep them from pulling out, you have to stop, raise the presser foot, turn the work completely around, lower the presser foot, and stitch a few stitches with the fabric going the opposite direction. This gets old really fast. And it goes without saying that they don't do zigzag stitches or anything decorative.

So I've been on a mad hunt for the past couple of weeks for a "modern" machine that would give me the functionality the old machines lack. By modern, I mean 1950s-196os. I wanted a powerful, trouble-free, all-metal machine without anything electronic. There were several machines in the running. At the top of my list were the Singer 401 and 500--both great machines with a huge following. I've been stalking eBay and craigslist like a woman possessed. The prices on eBay are a little nuts (one of the machines I was bidding on went for $355--way, way more than I would pay). And then there's the shipping for a 30-40 pound machine. Yikes. I spent an hour at the thrift mall--the only time I've ever been there. I even made the rounds of the garage sales over the weekend. I hate garage sales. And it was a total bust. (For me. My older son got a gas-powered scooter that needed a little work for $20. He was ecstatic when he went online and found that they sell new for over $500, and used for around $300. So it was a productive trip anyway.)

And then, as I was compulsively clicking back and forth between eBay and craigslist on Saturday evening, a listing popped up for this Pfaff machine only a couple of miles from me. The owner said she didn't know if it even worked, but it was $25, so I instantly emailed and said I'd take it.

I am so glad I did! Although it was almost completely frozen up when I got it, a couple of days of degunking and oiling the works loosened it up and I've got it running almost perfectly now. A quick online check revealed that this is considered by many to be one of the best Pfaff machines ever made. One online dealer I found is selling them for $900. And the cheapest listing I've found on eBay is for $325. It is all metal, inside and out. It has forward, reverse, and zigzag functions, and supposedly sews 1200 stitches per minute. I haven't counted, but it's really fast and powerful. It has a free arm, which is good for working on sleeves and pant legs, with a pop-up deck to make a larger work surface. The feed dogs drop, which is important if you want to machine quilt (I don't--yet). It also has an automatic embroidery mechanism that does all kinds of decorative stitches. I don't have that working quite right yet, but I think I'm getting there.

It didn't come with the case or any accessories, but I've tracked down and bought the most important bits--like a zipper foot and a walking foot--so I should have a fully-functional machine soon!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hear That?

That's the sound of the Knitting Goddess laughing.

This is where I ran out of yarn on the bind off. $#%&!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Knitting Sunshine

Several months ago, I bought some lovely hand dyed British Mohair Kidd Silk from an online clearance sale, intending to use it for a warm, fuzzy shawl. A few days ago, I came across it while cataloging the stash and was seized with the urge to cast it on.

So I did.

This is Multnomah, a free, simple shawl pattern. It's mostly garter stitch, with a feather and fan border. Super simple pattern, and perfect for a beautiful yarn that just begs to take center stage--perfect for this yarn. Knitting with it is exactly the way I imagine knitting sunshine would feel. It's incredibly soft and has a gorgeous sheen from the silk content, and the color is an absolutely perfect golden yellow. [I don't wear yellow. Ever. I don't own a single item of yellow clothing. But I loved this color on sight and I love it more now. I will wear it, even if the brilliant yellow next to my red hair blinds everyone who looks in my general direction.]

The pattern is written for a single skein of sock yarn and makes a pretty small shawl. This yarn is a dk weight (I'd actually call it light worsted) and I have two 100 gram skeins of it, so I'm working it on larger needles and expect to get a medium sized shawl out of it. The combination of warm, fuzzy yarn and lots of garter stitch means this will be a very warm shawl, which is great, since I'm always cold. I anticipate wearing it over a little black dress for going out in the evening. (Yes, I do own several little black dresses and wear them out regularly. I'm always looking for things to put over them to keep from freezing. I'm hoping to avoid a repeat of my friend's wedding, when I had to borrow my mom's polar fleece jacket to wear at dinner in the refrigerated dining room. Not that it wasn't a lovely jacket, but it didn't go so well with my floor length formal gown.)

This is knitting up quite quickly, helped along by the fact that the feel of this yarn slipping through my fingers is a pleasure akin to eating dark chocolate while sipping red wine in a hot bath.

Hmmm. Where did I hide those Godivas?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Before and After, Part 2

In yesterday's post, I mentioned I've been cleaning up my old sewing machines, plural. In addition to Frances (my great-grandmother's machine), and Eliza (my new treadle), I also have a 1928 Singer 127 "Sphinx". Before picture:

This is the machine I've had the longest. It came out of an old house my parents bought when I was a little girl. I was quite taken with it, so my mom gave it to me. I was nine. I still remember writing a letter to the Singer company asking if they could please send me a manual for it. The hand written letter that began, "My name is Suzy _____ and I am nine years old" must have moved some nice person there, because they xeroxed an old manual and mailed it back to me. I don't know what happened to that xerox copy, but I was able to download a pdf of the original manual from the Singer website last week--for free. I love the digital age.

I knew this machine worked because I remember using it as a child, but I haven't used it in decades. The belt was broken, the cord to the motor was crumbling, and the chrome was tarnished. I'd never oiled the machine, greased the motor, or cleaned any of it.

Another before picture:

But I was able to find an original adjuster's manual online (also free--I do love the digital age) which helped me rehabilitate this old machine.

I loosened up all the working parts with WD-40, cleaned out all the old grease, and oiled the machine like crazy. I greased the motor, repaired the crumbling motor cord, and replaced the broken belt. Then I cleaned the exterior of the machine and polished all the chrome.

Here's the after:

I love the shiny scrollwork on the face plate.

You can just see the motor in this picture. It's not a Singer motor, which leads me to believe this may have originally been a treadle machine that was later converted to electricity. There is also an after-market lamp that I removed prior to cleaning--further evidence, I think, that this was converted.

If I had the space, I might turn this into a treadle machine. But then again, I might not. It runs beautifully. It's quieter and smoother than either of my other machines, although I still have a small issue with the stitches that I need to work out.

This is why it's called the "Sphinx":

I've named this one Victoria, after my mother, who gave her to me so many years ago.

I suspect, however, that I may not get to use her too much...

It appears someone else has laid claim to her.

And he's pretty good, too.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Before and After

I've been working on cleaning up and restoring my old sewing machines to working order. I showed you the before pictures of Eliza (my "new" treadle):

Very pretty, but a little dull and worn.

And the top of the cabinet was splattered with paint and had water damage.

Here's the after:

All cleaned, oiled, and polished!

Look how pretty this scrollwork is.

And the hand wheel is shiny again. I also installed a new treadle belt and completely cleaned, greased, and adjusted the treadle mechanism.

I managed to get the paint splatters off and remove most of the water damage. There's still a dark splotch in the middle of the top where I'm guessing someone had a plant sitting.

She sure cleaned up nice. :)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sock Mountain

I am not a sock knitter. We all know that. So how the heck did this happen?

Yes, folks. That's just sock yarn.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Help Us Save the Academy!

Click here to save the Academy!

For those of you who may not know, my kids are fortunate to have attended an incredible elementary school, Los Penasquitos Elementary. This school was the first "No Excuses University" and was featured in the book Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don't Learn. Los Pen, as we fondly call it, wasn't always a successful school. In fact, when we moved to this area, we were told repeatedly, "Don't enroll your kids there." Wondering what all the negativity was about, I scheduled a meeting with the principal before enrolling my kindergartener. I asked him about the school's reputation, and he told me that it had once been earned, and then explained in detail everything that had been done and was being done to improve the culture of learning at the school.

After two hours with him, looking at reports, touring the school, and visiting classrooms, I was sold. I enrolled my son and never looked back. Within a couple of months, I became the president of the PTA. I volunteered in classrooms. I tutored kids. I saw firsthand exactly why this very diverse school with a large non-English-speaking population and federal Title 1 status (meaning more than 40% of its kids qualify for free or reduced lunch) was becoming such a success. In the years since then, Los Pen has become a model of success which other schools seek to emulate. It consistently ranks among the best schools in the state, despite its demographics.

One of the key components of Los Pen's success is a unique "school within a school" called The Los Pen Academy. Kids in this program have a longer school day, longer school year, and a remarkable culture of accountability for both parents and kids. The program is open to all Los Pen students from third through fifth grade, and for students of other schools in the district in fourth and fifth grade. Every year there is a lottery for spaces, and every year there is a long, long waiting list. Parents and students alike recognize the value of this program. The program costs approximately $1000 per child, per year, in addition to regular school funding. Parents are not required to pay tuition as part of this program, and children are never evaluated for admission based on parents' ability to pay.

Although the program is a model for many other schools and has frequent visitors from around the world, it has never had permanent funding. Every year, the task of raising money to fund the Academy falls on a small group of dedicated parents. In prior years, we have been fortunate to receive grants from several different organizations, as well as many private donations from parents and supporters. This year, unfortunately, we were unable to raise enough money to cover the full costs of the Academy. As a result, the Academy is now running on a modified schedule with shorter days and a shorter school year.

Due to California's budget crisis, our school district's funding has been cut to the bone. Grants have become almost nonexistent, and a private fundraising drive failed to raise a significant amount of money due to the current economy. The Academy has not raised enough money to operate next year and faces the likelihood of closing its doors. This would be a tragedy; this is a program that works for kids--all kids, no matter their home situation, ethnic background, or income level.

The Los Pen Academy has just learned that it is in the running for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi which would allow it to operate next year. To get this grant, we need people to VOTE for us! It costs you nothing to vote, but you must register your email address at the Pepsi website. You can vote once a day for the month of April. On April 30, voting will be closed and the idea with the most votes will win the grant. Please, please help us save our school! Click this link and go vote. Vote every day; ask your contacts to vote, or link to this blog post to get the word out.

Thanks for your help!

Click here to save the Academy!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


April Fools! I don't really have FOs to show you. Well, I do have FOs--I just don't have pictures of them. But as I realize I haven't posted any knitting to this knitting blog in...a while...I'm going to share my current WIPs instead.

Yes, I did say WIPs--plural. I am usually a pretty monogamous knitter, but my attention span has been a little short lately. I don't know whether it's hormones, the weather, or just lots of distractions, but I've found myself casting on for multiple projects in the past few weeks. Here are some of them:

I know you've seen this one before:

This is Red Ruffles, which suffered the unfortunate accident with the left front--the one I somehow managed to knit as some sort of mutant half-right, half-left front. The offending section has been unseamed and ripped, but so far, I haven't been able to summon the enthusiasm to reknit it. A shame, that, since it has the potential to be a very nice sweater.

And then there's this one:

This was a test knit of Vera for Snowden Becker, and I love the design. Sadly, I stalled out when I realized the second skein of the hand dyed yarn I chose for this project was a completely different color than the first. I can't bring myself to rip it, and I can't stand looking at it. So it sits in limbo, waiting for a decision that may never come.

And then there's my Tweedy Aran Cardigan:

I've wanted to knit this for ages. I've had the perfect yarn in the stash for months. I don't know why I haven't cast it on before. So I did. I worked exactly 20 rows. And then...I don't know what happened. I only know that every time I pick it up, I put it back down again.

In fact, the only thing I want to work on is this:

Plain garter stitch log cabin blocks, but in a rainbow of gorgeous Noro colors. I think I'm finishing block 11 of 20 at the moment. I'm not sure I can explain the appeal of these. They are incredibly simple. No pattern, no fancy stitches, no cables, no lace, no nothing. Just garter stitch and Noro, around and around and around. It's mesmerizing. Addictive. It's all I want to knit these days. Just...around and around and around. I am ignoring the fact that, eventually, I will have to pick up and knit--and then graft together--all the borders for these squares. That will not be around and around and around and will not be at all mesmerizing. But for now...if anyone needs me, I'll be with the Noro.