Tuesday, November 16, 2010

sewing machines, part one

Over the past few years, I've started to quilt and sew, strangely enough. I began with a project that still remains unfinished, namely a queen-sized quilt that I've completed about half of the blocks required for the top. After becoming overwhelmed at this project (protip - don't pick a queen-sized bedspread for your first quilt!), I put it away and waited for a little while for another idea to come around. Late in 2008 I visited the fabric outlet down in Portland with my friends Julie and Lindsey, and I picked up the fabric for my first small project - three matching butterfly-print quilts, done as a simple 8x8 arrangement of 6" square blocks, for my mother, my sister, and myself. I finished one in April 2009 for my sister's birthday, one in May 2009 for Mother's Day, and finished mine in December 2009 just in time to take with me to Phoenix on a flyball road trip. Next I made a baby quilt for little baby Finley, which was described in an earlier post, and that's the quilt where I really started outgrowing the capabilities of my sewing machine...and so the trouble started.

The sewing machine I had been working on was actually one that Chris received as a Christmas present in 1998 or so, a Janome L-108 machine which was pretty simple but did its job well for various small projects through college. It's shown in the photo to the left, taken after I rearranged the music/craft room into a sewing room earlier this year. The problems that I started having with it were fabric travel and inaccurate piecing, namely having difficulty doing accurate seam allowances which is critical for doing any complicated quilt work. So I kept working on the baby quilt, while beginning to look up information on what sewing machines were available these days. The answer to that question is a LOT, with many different brands to choose from and price points from $100 up to $10,000 depending on what features and brand you go with! I ended up trying out several different machines with an eye to finding one that I liked for quilting specifically, and ended up purchasing a Janome MemoryCraft 6600P on the weekend of my birthday this year. However, that was just the start of my journey...and this machine will get its very own post later, mainly because I don't have any pictures of it online!

Around the time that I was getting ready to buy the MC6600P, I noticed a post on my local Freecycle for a "Pfaff sewing machine in cabinet" that was available for pickup (free, as per the group rules). It turned out to be just a few blocks from our house, we had Truck Norris, so I convinced Chris to take me to pick it up. It turned out to be a 1951 Pfaff 130 (one of the first zig-zag sewing machines), which is quite popular with many groups including sailors, outdoorsy folk, and dog folk, as it easily handles sailcloth, webbing, and other difficult and thick fabrics. The lady who gave it to me told me it belonged to her grandmother, and that she hadn't used it in years since obtaining it. The drawers were full of items, including accessories, very old spare parts (the extra belt for the sewing machine was listed as $0.75!), and the manual and original warranty card (marked June 1951). We got it home and I figured out how to plug it in and use it, which took a bit since I'd never seen a knee pedal before, and to my great surprise the machine worked! It wasn't smooth and the wiring was downright frightening, but it did in fact work despite the ten years or so of neglect before I brought it home. The cabinet also badly needed a refinish, although it was very solid and structurally sound, and I wanted to change the knee pedal to a foot pedal.

The photo to the right was taken after I refinished the cabinet (an adventure all on its own!) and had the machine refurbished slightly (it needed a new motor, a foot pedal, and a tuneup). I even painted the insides of the drawers a bright purple, and replaced the ugly drawer pulls with some pretty copper-colored ones from Lowes. The adventure of refinishing the cabinet could fill up a whole post on its own, however! The machine is working, although it's been giving me some fits with what I want to do right now (sew webbing to make leashes and e-pen straps), and I need to take some more time with it to figure out what's wrong and fix it. I really like using it, it sounds very nice, and it's awesome to have a machine actually sunk into a cabinet and at the right height for me to use for sewing.

Just a few weeks later, I was perusing craigslist for the heck of it and found another interesting machine very inexpensively at a secondhand store near my house. I was largely interested for the case it came in, as that seemed like it would also fit the Pfaff so I could take that places if I wanted to, so I went to take a look. It turned out to be an unused (still partially in styrofoam) 1997 Singer NL-15, which is a reproduction model of a 15-91 from the early 1900s, so while it has the same look and similar (albeit slightly more garish) decals as those early models, it's very recently made and probably not the best quality. It is a straight stitch only machine, and it does that job reasonably well - I took it with me on our vacation to Cannon Beach and used it to make a crate cover for Phoebe's new crate. There's definitely nothing wrong with it, although I can see where it's not as precise as the Pfaff or either of my Janomes, and so I wouldn't want to use it for anything critical or complicated. However, it is a machine that can also be very easily converted to a hand-crank or treadle model, so between that and the shiny pretty decals I decided to keep it. Right now it's living on top of my storage cabinet in the sewing room, where the lovely decals are visible for all to see.

Wow, this post is already longer than I expected! Stay tuned for Part Two, which will cover my quality Singer machines!

No comments: