Saturday, March 27, 2010


My kids had a "sleepover" last night.

I don't know why it's called that. There is no sleeping involved.

There is lots of screaming and running around. And Nerf guns outside my bedroom door at 7:00 am.

This used to be my living room. Now it is a "fort."

My son asked why I was taking pictures. I told him it's to keep me from getting too nostalgic when they grow up and move out.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chicken Little

...and not so little!

That's Izzy in both pictures. She was less than a week old in the first and is about four weeks in the second. We call her "Godzilla Chicken."

Maggie is growing, too, but not nearly as fast. She's a smaller breed to begin with. Here she is at less than a week:

And now at about four weeks:

I couldn't get her in my son's hands; she's pretty skittish. Here she is with Izzy for scale:

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get chickens to pose for pictures? It took a whole lot of tries to get this one. Most of them looked like this:

Or this:

Or this (I think they may have been trying to tell me something):

Despite being nearly fricasseed in our little heat lamp mishap, they are both doing well. They are old enough now that we let them out in the (as yet unplanted) vegetable garden for a while every day. They're still too little to be left alone; we have crows and hawks and cats in the neighborhood. In a couple more months they will move out here permanently. We have a chicken coop of sorts to lock them up at night, and the chicken wire will be going up on the fence before the big move. And a couple months after that...fresh eggs!

Monday, March 22, 2010

My New Baby

The trouble with a new hobby is the snowball effect.

In researching and seeking parts for Frances, I learned a lot more than I ever intended to about sewing machines. Among other things, I learned that parts for a Singer machine are cheap and easy to find almost everywhere, no matter how old the machine, whereas parts for Frances, whose maker, National Sewing Machines, went out of business more than half a century ago, are...not.

I also learned that many of the old machines could be purchased with either a hand crank, or a treadle, or an electric motor, depending on the consumer's preference. (Lots of people at the time still didn't have access to electricity. Some treadle and hand crank machines were even delivered with a boxed electric motor, to be converted once electrical lines made their way out to the consumer. Fascinating.)

And I learned that there are still lots of people today who use the old treadle or hand crank machines--or people-powered machines, as they are often called. This caught my interest in a big way. My primary objection to sewing machines has always been the noise and the speed and the whole industrial sort of nature of the things. But a treadle machine...hmmm. That's almost like a spinning wheel, isn't it?

On a lark, I took a little look on eBay to see what the things run. There are quite a few available, often for $200-$400--plus $150 in shipping. This is more than I'm willing to spend on a lark. But it just so happened (doesn't it always?) that there was an auction ending in 20 minutes for a lovely-looking treadle machine for pick up only, about an hour's drive from me.

You can see where this is going, I presume. Straight back to the title of the post. This is my new baby:

She is a Singer 66 "Redeye," manufactured in 1922. She is in surprisingly good shape for an 88-year-old.

You can see that her pretty decals are mostly intact. She has about half of the original attachments. She does need a new treadle belt, and her oak cabinet has a bit of water damage and some paint splatters:

She needs a bit of cleaning and oiling, but her mechanism seems to work properly. She uses modern bobbins and needles (yay!), and original and reproduction parts are widely available, meaning I don't have to worry about breaking or losing pieces as I do with Frances.

As you can see, she has already taken up residence in my new craft room. I am in the process of cleaning and repairing her and I can't wait to try her out! Oh, and the best part? She cost me exactly $81. Probably more than her original owner paid, but a smokin' deal, nonetheless!

Friday, March 19, 2010

FO: Second Skirt

I finished my second skirt. This one is also an embroidered linen blend (I'm sensing a theme here).

I made this using the same basic pattern as my first skirt, only using Frances instead of my mom's sewing machine. I am happy to report that Frances works like a dream.

I did learn something new about her, though. She doesn't have a zipper foot. It's not missing; it was never there to begin with. As a brand new sewer, I thought you could only sew in a zipper using a zipper foot. This is not strictly true. It is possible to sew in a zipper with a regular presser foot--at least it is if you're an experienced sewer. For me...well, it didn't go so smoothly. I had to rip out the zipper at least four times. I tried to use the advice some of you gave me about basting the seam together and then sewing in the zipper instead of making a lapped zipper, but the presser foot kept pushing the zipper to the side so the fabric wouldn't cover it. Finally I just gave up.

So this zipper is wonky, too, but in an entirely different way than the first one. Fortunately, I'm not all that picky about my attire; I figure no one will notice it anyway. (If I'm wrong, I don't want to know.)

If you look closely, you can see that I added a black bias binding to the hem. It adds a little weight and makes for a nice swinginess. It wasn't hard to do, but I mistakenly bought very narrow bias binding, which made it a little tricky to sew on. Next time I'll pick something wider. Live and learn, eh?

P.S. I'm still desperately seeking bobbins for Frances. Again, if anyone knows of a source for obscure bobbins, please let me know!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Knitter's Husband

Our house caught on fire yesterday.

Now don't worry. The damage was minor and everyone is okay. It was one of those freak accidents that couldn't happen, but somehow does.

The chickens have outgrown the fish tank they were living in, so my husband rigged up a new enclosure for them using parts from some of our dog crates. Somehow, the heat lamp on top of the cage got knocked onto the carpet, heat side down. Apparently, the carpet smoldered for some time before finally catching on fire. I had already left the house when the smoke alarm in my son's room went off. Fortunately, my husband was home. When he got to the room, it was completely full of smoke and flames were shooting up off the carpet. He got the chickens out (they were understandably frantic) and put out the flames. [Our next door neighbors, alerted by the smoke alarm, also came running. You've gotta love good neighbors.]

There are two reasons I'm telling you this. The first is that the smoke alarm in the hallway outside the room did not go off. It is working and hardwired into the house, but the smoke had not traveled far enough to set it off. It is only because we also have battery-operated smoke detectors in every bedroom that my husband was alerted to the fire before it engulfed the entire room. This is an important lesson that I want to share with everyone: just because you have a smoke detector in your house, do not assume it will save your house or your family in the event of a fire! Put a smoke detector in every room, especially the bedrooms. The faster you are alerted to the fire, the better chance you will have of putting it out or escaping the fire. I cannot emphasize this enough. If we hadn't had a smoke detector in the bedroom, I have no doubt we would have had a much more serious situation on our hands. Please, if you don't have a smoke detector, or don't have enough, take care of the situation asap. The battery powered ones are inexpensive and easy to install. Put one in every bedroom, every hall, and your garage. [As a side note, none of the dogs alerted us to the smoke. Sophie and Sam didn't wake up, and Heidi ran outside without telling anyone. Great survival instincts, that one, but she's not exactly Lassie.]

The second reason I'm sharing is this: the very first thing my husband thought to do after putting out the flames was to stuff a bath towel into the crack under the door of my knitting room to protect the yarn from the smoke! Dude. There must be some sort of medal for that!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bobbin' Along

First of all, thank you all for the great sewing advice; it's amazing how much easier it is to learn with a cadre of experienced blog friends.

Melissa, I bought these:

They make a HUGE difference. Trek, you'll be happy to know I had a 40% off coupon. Jean, they're under lock and key. Oh, and Sophanne, I took two aspirin before I started cutting this time!

Paula and Susan, you were both right: the little wheel in the middle of the balance wheel is the brake button. It just hadn't been used in so long it took a pair of pliers and a little elbow grease from my husband to get it loosened (don't worry--he used a soft cloth over the pliers). Once it was loosened, it worked perfectly.

Val and Tracy, here are pictures of the bobbin and part info, just in case anyone comes across something that might possibly be one of the bobbins I so desperately need:

Here's the length in inches:

...and in centimeters:

And the end, in inches:

...and in centimeters:

This is the part list from the manual:

This is the bobbin part number:

And I think, though I'm not sure, that this is the model number of the machine:

Oh, and Tracy--you scared me half to death with the broken needle thing. Would it be unreasonable to wear a flak jacket while sewing?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It Works!

This is the sewing machine I inherited from my great-grandmother, via my great aunt and my mother, who gave it to me two years ago. My mom was very close to my great aunt Fran when she was growing up, so in honor of Aunt Fran, I've named her Frances.

I've been wanting to try her out ever since I got her two years ago, but I got distracted by other things, and then I discovered the needles she needs (and everything else, for that matter) are no longer generally available. I have half a dozen of the original needles, but I wasn't willing to use any of them until I found a source for replacing them. I am pleased to report that eBay came through for me again; I have a pile of "new old stock" needles on their way.

With no more excuses, I returned my mother's sewing machine so I wouldn't be tempted to take the easy way out and sat down yesterday afternoon to figure out how to use her. I spent the entire afternoon reading the manual and trying out different things, like this seam guide:

I learned to wind the bobbin, which was interesting. This is the bobbin winder:

It's not intuitive. And the manual is perhaps a bit more vague than a modern one would be. I spent at least two hours trying to locate the "brake button", including a lengthy visit to Google, with no success. Somewhere on the machine is a button that stops the sewing mechanism while you wind the bobbin, but I played with every single part of that machine and never found it. It's not on any of the diagrams in the manual, and there is only the single reference to it, so I couldn't work it out from context. Finally I decided to just wind the bobbin without stopping the mechanism. It worked fine, although it was a little noisy.

After I got the bobbin wound, I realized I had wound it with the wrong color thread (natch). There is only one bobbin, and it is nothing like a modern bobbin. I thought for a long time about how to handle this without having to unroll all the thread on the bobbin. Eventually I had the brilliant idea to see what sort of bobbin my other antique machine has. Sure enough, it looked identical! I popped it into the bobbin winder and wound on the correct thread color. I carefully followed the manual's instructions on how to thread the shuttle (the shuttle in a "vibrating shuttle" machine like this holds the bobbin; the shuttle actually passes through the loop of upper thread under the needle with each stitch to lock it in place). I placed the shuttle back in the machine...and that should have been my first indication that something was wrong. The manual said nothing about having to force the shuttle back in place. I was certain I hadn't had to struggle to get it out. But there was no diagram showing how to put it back, and there was only one way I could get it back in, which wasn't easy. Still, I persevered, and finally got it clicked into the shuttle carrier.

And then I spent two more hours trying to get the needle to pick up the lower thread, entirely without success. I read the manual again. I searched the internet. I turned to my engineer husband. I printed out a schematic of how long shuttle machines work. Nothing. And then it occurred to me to try the original bobbin again. It picked up the thread the first time. It turns out, the two bobbins are not the same. They are very, very similar, but apparently close enough...isn't. Which is a shame, since I ordered ten more of the wrong bobbins from eBay before I realized this.

Another online search turned up not a single source for the bobbins for this machine. It looks like I'll have to make do with a single bobbin for now. [If anyone knows of a source for obscure bobbins, please drop me a line!]

I'm getting ready to start my second skirt now. This one will be made along the same lines as the first, but using Frances instead of my mom's Husqvarna. And then we'll see whether I can get along with this 70-year-old machine, or whether I'll have to break down and buy something from this century.

Friday, March 12, 2010

FO: Skirting the Issue

My first sewing project is done! And it took less than a day. Man, sewing is fast!

I knit because I love it. My motivation for overcoming my long-standing fear of the sewing machine was different: I need clothes that fit. I am tall, with a small waist and curvy hips. It is difficult to find anything that fits when clothing is based on a size and shape that has little in common with my actual measurements. In particular, I've been searching for skirts I like for several years. I don't generally wear shorts--they make me feel too exposed--and long, lightweight skirts are a good option in hot weather, which we have a lot of hereabouts. It's not easy to find skirts long enough, or in the style I prefer.

I was greatly inspired by Stitchywitch of Green Apples, who is an amazing knitter and crocheter, and recently added sewing to her list of accomplishments. She has been documenting her progress in making clothes that suit her style and shape for some time, and apparently it's contagious.

Despite my list of things learned from yesterday, I really enjoyed making this. It's a different sort of thing than knitting, because for me, at least, it's more product-driven. But that's okay when you can whip out a skirt in less than a day! And I'm happy with the results. The fabric is lovely, a linen blend with pretty embroidery. The fit is just what I was going for. The finished product is not perfect. The zipper is a little wonky:

Not too bad, but certainly not perfect. This was the first time I've ever used a zipper foot (obviously), and it was different than hand sewing a zipper. I considered doing it by hand, but decided the object here was to learn to use the machine, so I sucked it up and gave it my best shot.

I'm not at all sure I got the hem straight, either. I pretty much just folded the edge under, ironed it in place, and sewed it down. And I tossed out the pattern instructions when I hit the waistband, because I realized that adding a waist band would make the skirt sit higher than I wanted. In fact, I ended up ripping and resewing some of the seams to create a little more ease around the hips so that the skirt would sit lower than it originally did. I also ignored the length of the original pattern and made this significantly longer. But the pattern was really useful for getting the panels shaped right.

In fact, I've already bought more fabric for another skirt based on the same pattern. And maybe some for a summer dress.

Here we go again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Things I Learned Today

1. Sewing is not as scary as I thought. (It is a lot messier, though.)

2. It's kind of like knitting, only someone has already done the knitting for you; all you have to do is finish it. Not really a plus, actually.

3. Should you fail to measure correctly or cut neatly, frogging is not an option.

4. Measure twice, cut once. Not the other way around.

5. I need to invest in a pair of scissors that have not been used to cut packing tape, wet glue, or steel pipe.

6. No matter how carefully you cut and pin, it is possible to sew the same seam wrong four different ways. (I was particularly impressed by my ingenuity at this.)

7. Mistakes not involving measuring or cutting can usually be fixed. (What do sewers--sewers? can that be right?--call frogging?) This almost always involves the use of my new best friend. We spent the whole day together.

8. Pushing the foot pedal harder makes mistakes happen faster.

9. When all else fails, read the manual. If nothing else, you can distract yourself from your woes by trying to puzzle out what the writer actually meant before it was translated by a team of blind monkeys on PCP.

10. Everyone can use a friend like Bertha.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

FO: My Knitting Room!

There's an excellent reason I haven't been blogging for the past week: I've been busy putting together my new knitting room...and it's done! My goal for this room was to make a functional, beautiful, comfortable space to accommodate knitting, spinning, and a little sewing, spending as little as possible and reusing as much as possible. Want a tour? Thought so!

This room is upstairs and faces west. It has a beautiful view of the trees in my front yard. In fact, that's pretty much all that is visible out the window; it's like being in a tree house. It's 10'x12', with a small walk in closet. We're going to look around the room clockwise, starting at the door (it's to the left in the first picture).

This is the closet door. I installed the mirror so that I would have a spot for trying things on. To the right, you can see hints of things to come. I'm going to make you wait just a minute, though, while I show off the closet (click here to see before pics):

It's all cleaned out now, and I can actually see and access everything in it. The bins on the floor are full of spinning fiber. So are the bins on the shelf. I don't need these out and available to me, since I don't spin nearly as often or as quickly as I knit. I can get to them easily when I want some new spinning fiber. The bags hanging from the rod are my knitting bags.

All my knitting books and magazines are now organized and accessible on the bookshelf, too.

Moving to the right of the closet, we have the part you really want to see...

The Great Wall of Yarn!

This is the IKEA Expedit bookcase that just about everyone who has a craft room seems to own. It is the only new piece of furniture I bought for this space, and worth every penny of its $199 price tag. It is, in my opinion, the perfect yarn storage unit. I know, I know--I just heard a dozen knitters gasp in unison because my yarn is not stored in plastic bags and guarded from moths! I thought long and hard about this. I really wanted my yarn out and touchable. That was one of my major goals in putting this room together, in fact. It always seemed such a shame to me that all my gorgeous, colorful, wonderfully textured yarn was packed away where I couldn't see or enjoy it. I couldn't even remember what I had (as I discovered while unpacking it today). But I was worried about moths. Here's my reasoning on that: I have never, ever seen a clothes moth or any signs of one. I'm not even certain they live in this part of the country, where it is generally hot and dry. Even if they do live hereabouts, I figure, having all the yarn out in the light and the air is likely to discourage any nesting. And, just to be on the safe side, I'm putting lavender sachets in every one of those cubbies to stink the little buggers out. The bottom line it, it's a risk I'm willing to take to have all my beautiful yarns out where I can enjoy them.

On top of the Great Wall of Yarn are my two antique sewing machines. The one on the left (blogged about at length here) was made in the 1940s and belonged to my great-grandmother. She, my great aunt, and my mother all used it to make their clothes. It is in perfect working order, and I had it cleaned an adjusted a couple of years ago. I intend to use it myself, but I am having some trouble finding needles that fit, so for now it's on display. The one on the right came from an old house my parents bought when I was a little girl. I used it as a kid, and it still works.

The baskets in between the sewing machines contain UFOs that I haven't yet decided to finish or frog.

This is another juicy shot of the yarn, just because. This bookcase is six feet square and 15 inches deep. Each cubby can hold at least three sweaters' worth of yarn!

Continuing our clockwise rotation, we move to the inspiration wall:

I did buy the cork board, but it was on clearance for $11.83 (marked down from $49.99), so I'm okay with that. I also bought some ribbon from Michaels to hot glue over the original aluminum frame, so I suppose I need to add the $3.99 I spent on that. The little chests were nightstands in the former guestroom, and they were in pretty bad shape. Here's a before pic:

After some sanding and primer and a couple of coats of white paint, they look a lot better. I found some drawer pulls in the garage that I liked better than the ones that were on these, so I switched them out as well.

The shutters on the wall came from my mom's house several years ago. She replaced her wood shutters with vinyl (why, I have no idea), and I couldn't bear to see all the pretty wood shutters get thrown out, so I grabbed these. They've been stored in the closet of this room ever since. I pulled them out and got hubby to help me hang them on the wall. The shelf used to be in the nursery; I rescued it from the garage. The baskets (as well as the ones on top of the Great Wall) were under my bed, full of paperbacks. I relocated the books, and the baskets now hold WIPs. The lamps were already on the wall; I used them as reading lamps over the bed when this was the guest room. Oh, and all those pictures on the cork board are inspiration pictures for this room. Google "craft room" sometime. You'll be blown away.

Rotating again, here is my new desk:

Actually, it's not new at all. My husband bought this desk 15 years ago for $5 from the aerospace company he used to work for. They were selling off some old furniture. This thing has probably been around since the 1950s. The base is solid steel; the top is heavy particle board with a fake wood laminate. The base was originally orange. My husband painted it black when he bought it. I repainted it cream ($12 for spray paint), and covered the top with self-adhesive contact paper in a black and white floral print ($12.99 for the paper).

Here's the "before":

I much prefer the "after". I can't tell you how happy I am to have a place to leave my swift and ball winder set up permanently. It's always been such a hassle to drag them out of storage and clear a space to set them up every time I need to wind yarn. Now I can wind at will!

The old folding chair will do until the budget allows for something nicer. On the floor next to the desk is a sewing box I bought for a couple bucks at a neighbor's garage sale, and next to that is my spinning-in-progress basket.

To the right of the desk is what I'm calling "Bertha's Corner" (Bertha is my dress form):

This chest was also brown and worn. I used the same paint on this as on the nightstands (it was "oops" paint I got for $5/gallon from Home Depot years ago and have used for multiple projects). This was a yard sale find my husband also bought for $5 before we were married (we don't buy $5 furniture anymore). It's solid hardwood with dovetailed drawers, and the hardware is solid brass. It holds a lot of stuff, including the fabrics for some projects I'm working on.

The basket on top of the chest holds my various knitting tools: tape measure, needle gauge, small tool bag, interchangeable needles, etc. I have more needles in the top drawer of the chest.

The picture above the chest came from my mother-in-law's house. I never met her; she died before I met my husband. But the picture has been in our garage for more than 20 years. I came across it last week and decided I like it, so up it went.

To the left of the chest you can just see my spinning wheel on the floor.

And finally, the last wall:

Very boring. Eventually, I plan to buy another Expedit unit, but one with a cutout for a flat panel tv. That will go on this wall with a new tv and satellite hook up. Someday. My birthday's in September, so, Honey, if you're reading this...hint, hint.

After I took the pictures, my husband hauled an old rocking chair up from the garage--do I even need to tell you he bought it at a yard sale before we were married?.

I think this chair has now been in every room in the house. It's a nice chair. I used it for nursing babies and reading to toddlers and studying for law school. Now it will be my knitting chair in here. It could use a cushion, but otherwise is in perfect shape, and very comfortable.

The bag to the right was my knitting bag in college. I haven't used it in a while, but I came across it while I was shoveling out the closet and thought it would work well here. It's full of the Noro Yuzen I'm using for my Noro Log Cabin blanket (which is going swimmingly, by the way).

So there you have it: a wonderful new space for my crafting activities with a pretty minimal investment of time and money. I spent all day organizing the space and haven't even had a chance to sit down and enjoy it, but I just couldn't wait to share it with people I know will appreciate it as much as I do!