Friday, July 13, 2018

How to buy a good sewing machine

I am thrilled to hear people say they want to get started with sewing! Sometimes it feels like it's a dying art, but Pinterest has really opened some wonderful avenues for crafting inspiration!

The question I often hear online is, "What sewing machine should I get? Is this a good one?"

My first question is, "What do you want to accomplish? Are you sewing garments, home decorating, quilting?" To me, it all depends on what you want to do. And how much you want to spend.
The beloved Singer Touch 'n Sew

From what I've seen, the Brother models available through places like Walmart are very popular. They're a mid-priced machine for someone looking to spend a little money but not break the bank who might be just starting out. However, I'm not sure how great it is when you need technical support or repairs done. Often many ladies in sewing forums or through Facebook groups have advice to offer on using them and what they think.

My suggestions:

• Find out what you want to use it for. If you're getting into quilting, you may want something that offers more stitch options. If you're doing more garment sewing, something with a buttonhole feature - either manual or automatic - might work best for you.
• How much do you want to spend? There are some great used ones that often go for a song, and even if you factor in repairs and tune ups wouldn't cost you that much to get started.

• Ask questions and then read reviews. Ultimately it will probably come down to personal preference and what a person is used to. When I bought mine, I had only really sewn with Singer sewing machines and was ready to spend some money and get something a little more sophisticated. After much research, my personal preference is Pfaff,  but someone else's might be Bernina or Janome. If you go to a repair shop or dealer, you will be able to try out the machine first, something you can't do as easily when ordering online.

• Look in thrift stores or garage sales. Even a repair shop probably has several great models for less that are used but still work great. The dealer can tell you something about them, knows about their strengths and weaknesses and can repair them. Plus they are more likely to be worth repairing should something go wrong. I have seen several old Singer Touch 'n Sew models (a terrific machine for a beginner!) like the one I learned on, and if there's a problem you can either opt to get it fixed or chuck it since you didn't invest that much in it to begin with (I think I spent $7 on the last one).

• Avoid toy sewing machines. I've seen these at places like Target (I think my mom even bought me one one time, for some reason) and while it seems good for a kid starting out, I can see where it would be frustrating and end up in the donation pile pretty quickly. Find a relative with one they're not using to teach your child a few basics and see how they like it. Otherwise, if they decide to continue, I'd suggest looking for one at one of the thriftier options mentioned above.

• Some newer machines are partially or fully computerized, which can lead to more costly tune ups and repairs. If you're willing to commit to that, go for it. If not, you may want to stick with an older machine. I hear from many dealers that newer Singers are more plastic than metal like the old workhorses, but again, that is up to you, your personal preference, and what you want to use it for.

Happy sewing!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Celebrating Handmade: Japan's Indigo Farmers

As part of a celebration of all things handmade, I would like to regularly feature a post or article about craftsmen and women who create one-of-a-kind items: whether it's intricate and elaborate, simple and heartfelt, reflects a long tradition or is quirky and unique. In our era of mass-produced fast fashion and disposable culture, it's often easy to forget there is a real person and talent behind these amazing items!

This week: Japan's indigo farmers, a passionate, dying breed of talent that is threatening to be replaced completely by mechanization. Check out the link to find out how these amazing pieces are created in what is a tremendous labor of love. Great Big Story: True Blue: Indigo Dyeing in Japan

Japanese indigo cloth. Source:

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Celebrating Handmade: Parachute wedding gowns

As part of a celebration of all things handmade, I would like to regularly feature a post or article about craftsmen and women who create one-of-a-kind items: whether it's intricate and elaborate, simple and heartfelt, reflects a long tradition or is quirky and unique. In our era of mass-produced fast fashion and disposable culture, it's often easy to forget there is a real person and talent behind these amazing items!

This week: parachute wedding gowns?

Months ago I came across a FaceBook post about a woman who had made a silk wedding gown for herself out of her soldier-husband's military parachute during World War II. If there isn't anything more romantic than that, I don't know what is. 
Smithsonian National Museum of American History 
Major Claude Hensinger was forced to bail out of his aircraft in August 1944 and both he - and the parachute - survived. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth, who took the dress to a local seamstress and had her make a Gone With the Wind-inspired bridal gown out of the material. In those days, many materials - including silk - went straight to the war effort, so fancy fabric was in short supply. The couple married in 1947, and since then two other brides have worn the gown before it was donated to The Smithsonian

Not surprisingly, there are many other examples of parachute wedding gowns that survive the war and some dire circumstances. 

Jewish bride Lili Lax used her war-time cigarette rations to pay a seamstress to sew her wedding gown, made from a parachute that her fiancĂ© had obtained from a former German airman in trade for "2 pounds of coffee and cigarettes." After her miraculous survival from a number of concentration camps, she met her husband Ludwig, in 1945, and together they and their daughter arrived in New York in 1948. After Lili's wedding, she sent the dress to dozens more brides for their special day.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Accession Number: 1999.7.12. a 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Celebrating handmade: Antique cross stitch samplers

Think back to a time before iPads and television, to a time when young girls had little to do on a rainy day but sew. While now we debate the merit of even teaching kids cursive in school, young girls would while away the hours killing two (or three) birds with one stone while doing these samplers - memorizing Bible verses, alphabets and practicing their stitchery skills all at the same time.

One of the earliest samplers on record dates between 200 BCE to 300 CE - that's pretty amazing. The oldest European samplers in existence date to the 16th and 17th century, but many have been lost to the ravages of time.

Historically materials used often included cotton, wool, linen and silk, as well as gold and metal thread. As material was often expensive at the time, early samplers featured stitches that were often very neat and intricate, adding much importance and sentimental value to the piece, which could often be found among a family's willed possessions and passed down from generation to generation.

Some were done by children as young as nine

Later in the 17th and 18th centuries, samplers because common in schools, and designs became much more informal and practical. School themes would often include alphabets, maps, multiplication tables and other educational elements. By the 19th century, the work was much more utilitarian, displaying knowledge rather than sewing skills. Many of them have been reproduced today for modern stitchers to recreate.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Crafter disaster: tile coasters

Every year I do crafts for my kids' school's annual Christmas bazaar, and I've been dying to try these because they look simple and can give a super return on your investment. I've seen several tutorials on them but rarely any posts about how they held up after long-term use, and figured if I was trying to  sell these things, that'd be pretty important info to have. 

Don't these look cute? In theory, anyway
I found some basic white tiles at Lowe's that were about 17 cents each, I think. I also found a roll of cork at Hobby Lobby that was about $5, and used a coupon for it. If cut into four-inch squares, I reasoned I could do about twelve of these to start, or something like that. (You can check dimensions online, I'm too lazy!) At any rate, I needed more than one roll, but it was very reasonably priced and comes in several thicknesses, although the super thin grade is probably not what you'd want for this project. I used an acrylic ruler and rotary cutter to measure and get nice, clean cutting lines. 

Then I adhered them to the back with my trusty stinky glue, E6000. This stuff is like hardcore rubber cement type stuff and STINKS. You'll probably want to run a fan, but it's pretty good stuff and I found that Walmart is probably the cheapest place to get it. Pretty sure I saw posts of people gluing it on with Mod Podge, and I'm not sure I'd do that because I'm betting money the corners would peel up. In fact, when I glued it down, I put a teeny tiny dab in each corner (which has a slight indentation on each tile back) just to make sure it stuck. I ended up having to use several rubber bands wrapped around to make sure it made constant contact with the glue until it dried and didn't leave an air bubble in the middle, and also to make sure those corner edges were pressed down. 

Now, here's one part I would do over: STICK THE CORKS ON LAST! More on that in a minute. 

I then found cool beer carton artwork from local distributors and a very nice grocery store manager guy. I love the colors, fonts and designs on the cartons, but you could do just about anything. These were great because the thickness of the cardboard made them much easier to work with, so I'm not sure how things like thin paper or scrapbook paper would work, unless it was really thick. I cut them on interesting angles, which kind of added some visual interest.

Now, what to cover them with? That was my next dilemma. Many Pinterest posts say to cover them with Mod Podge and act like voila, you're done! Except, I read while clinging to the edge of my seat, that doesn't make them waterproof. And if you're actually using them as coasters, well, they need to be waterproof. It might offer some protection, but some bloggers discovered that it left rings over time, and that's not very attractive.

The resin to end all resins 
I decided to use some crazy &^@ resin stuff to get a good, hard waterproof coat on top. It came in an inconspicuous box and I thought back to a project a family member had done with it and given to my parents. Looked harmless enough and I figured it was worth a try. It wasn't cheap - normal price like $25 - but I used a Michaels coupon for half off, which really helped and didn't drive up my overall costs as much. Then I looked at the directions - and read tips online - because holy hallelujah, it looked confusing! 

It came with pretty elaborate directions. It took probably an hour for me to set everything up: you need two containers, stirrers, and something to prop up your work because basically you pour it on and it drips down the side. Drop cloths and gloves galore, because you do NOT want that sh!t in your hair, on your skin, your clothes, on anything but your project. 

So I did all my research and was ready to go. I stirred and mixed, mixed and stirred, timed it for two minutes and all that jazz, then poured it on. You can use a straw to blow air onto the project to get air bubbles out, which works really well. I had a fan running but the fumes weren't too bad. Or maybe they were worse than I thought because ... I sat back to admire my work so far and then realized, I mixed it wrong. 

Basically you're supposed to keep the two bottles it comes in separate, mixing it first individually, and then mix it together. I poured and then mixed, which could ostensibly mean it wouldn't harden or turn out right and might get soft if someone put a hot drink on it. I admit it, I cried. And then had to move on from the idea that hey, I could buy more and make more of these things last minute because I still have three days before the bazaar. 

Um, nope. Had to slap myself on the hand and move on. But thankfully, I guess, I learned a lot from the fiasco. And thankfully no one has thrown them out yet because hey, I needed a picture for this blog post. 

And that entire bucket of leftover resin that I completely ruined - well, guess what. It turned clear and hard as a rock, just as it should be, so I'll never really know if perhaps it could've worked out. I wasn't about to try and then sell it to someone, only to have their coffee cup covered in soft, sticky mess accidentally. I actually scraped off the resin from each tile as if to somehow salvage them, and some of them actually looked pretty near what they did before I poured it on - which might be okay if you're only using them for yourself and not giving them as a gift. But otherwise, it was a complete mess - and I ended up with it all over my hands - which comes out slowly with vinegar and a lot of hard work. 

One more thing about the cork that I realized, you should put it on last, because if the resin drips and runs underneath and gets on the cork, it looks icky like this. Not a very sellable product. 

So... maybe better luck next year. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Adventures in Antiquing! Vintage linens

If there is one thing I do not need more of, it's vintage linens. I have tons - a basket full of them in my craft area, I think another basket somewhere in the back of the bathroom closet. I made pillows into some of them, but there's only so much you can do.

Until I saw these.

Something about those dancing radishes (strawberries?) caught my eye. That is the oddest embroidery design I've ever seen. I must have them….

The kitty cats immediately reminded me of my daughter, who absolutely loves animals. And the glasses one, well, I don't know what to think of that. It was definitely different. I loved the lily pad design, a big table runner with a repeating design on the other side - and the price was right: 99 cents!

I might try and work the two cats and the dancing vegetables together into a pillow top, or put them in a frame for her bedroom. So cute!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Adventures in Antiquing! Vintage "piecrust" mirrors

Ever since I saw this Martha Stewart Living cover, I've been addicted to these beautiful mirrors:

I, at least, have run across very few of them in my travels, so when I do, I usually snatch them up right away. I've never paid more than $25, and have found two in antique shops in Ohio and one in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I would love to find more unusual shapes like rounds and ovals, but in the meantime, will take what I can get!

The two I have are more like the rectangular shaped one at top right, with the square bottom and rounded top, and just recently, found a lovely round one at one of my favorite Ohio antique stores.

I hung this beauty up in my basement craft area until I was ready to use it, thinking it would be out of the way from the kids. But then I thought, I should probably move that somewhere else in case it breaks.

Really, I should probably listen to my intuition, because a few days later it inexplicably fell from the nail it was hung on and is now in three giant shards (perhaps a testament to thick, vintage glass?). The rope-like material it was hung from just pulled apart from age, I guess. Note to self and perhaps a tip: always inspect hardware on vintage art and mirrors, especially heavier pieces! and restring with brand new, heavy-duty wire. *sigh*

I decided to stop in one antique shop I usually avoid (because they have lots of signs saying "NO this!" and "STOP that!" kind of stuff, which can really kill the atmosphere. LOL Case in point:

"We're NOT buying or appraising your items. PLEASE
remove your vehicle to shop elsewhere." Whaaaat??
With a bit of in trepidation I went in, and quickly found a wonderful gem hidden under a bunch of ugly dishes. I think I've seen it in there before, but just never paid much attention. This time, I noticed it had two holes for hanging …. double bonus!
A bargain at $18! 
The shop owner was pleasant enough (despite her signs, and the fact that I accidentally dumped all of her business cards all over the floor. She thanked me for picking them up). I wonder how long this thing sat there before I bought it - years, maybe?

The best part is that I can use the hardware from the broken mirror to hang the new one!

Then yesterday I found this - an even better bargain at $6! (marked down from $10) A totally crummy picture, but you get the idea. The best part was the stamp on the back, that had the manufacturer (still haven't been able to make out who it is) and the date: February 28, 1951. Cool!