Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Best Sewing Machine Ever

This is the sewing machine that I learned on.  My father taught me, and I figured out a lot on my own after my own skills surpassed his.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the manual for it; I’m pretty sure it was already lost when I was learning how to sew.

I have an absurd love for it.  Whenever I go back to my parents’ house to visit, I at least open it up and dust it off.  No one other than me has really used it in around ten years.  It was a decent machine for 1976, my parents bought it new, and it has a relatively good number of stitches and accessories for that era, but I don’t think that it was anything truly extraordinary.  That being said, it has stood the test of time.  It’s been moved up and down stairs, sometimes at greater velocities than might be recommended, and it’s sewn many Halloween costumes.  It’s been left languishing on its own for months on end, and then used 20 hours a day to finish special occasion dresses.  It’s been disassembled and reassembled, dusted and oiled, and generally been made useful for its whole life.

On the right hand side of the machine, the top lever on the face of the machine selects white or red stitches.  The knob just below this, which is turned by grasping the flat protrusion on the front, selects the stitches, with a white and red stitch available at each knob position.  Turn the knob, flip the lever, and you have your stitch.

The outer ring of the stitch selector knob rotates separately and selects stitch width, while the lower knob selects stitch length.  It’s labeled in stitches per inch, and when you have the tension and presser foot height correct, it’s remarkably accurate.

Off to the right of these two knobs is the reverse lever.  When I went in to buy my new Brother, I had told the woman at the shop that, even though I’ve been sewing for years, I was used to an old machine so I’d need a bit of guidance.  I’m clearly good at intuiting how to thread a machine, I picked up how the drop in bobbin worked very quickly, and I had an easy time understanding the stitch selector mechanism on my new machine, but she laughed a bit when I got confused by the reverse lever; it just didn’t have that reassuring *clunk* when it engaged.

Just below all of these knobs and levers, on a level with the tabletop, are the power button and the feed dog position lever.  Above them, on the top of the machine, are spots for two spools of thread and the bobbin winder.

To the left are various thread guides for sewing and winding bobbins and the adjuster for the height of the presser foot.  The latter is incredibly useful for thicker fabrics.  You just release the presser foot up by pressing on the outer ring of the adjuster, then press down on the center post until the height of the foot is just right to keep the fabric on the feed dogs without squishing it too much.  The lever to actually lift the presser foot is on the very back of the machine.

The upper thread tensioner is the knob on the front here, and the lower tensioner is located in the bobbin housing.  They’re both dead simple to adjust, but an absolute terror to actually get right.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been using this machine for so long, but even with its strange quirks it’s still the easiest for me to get along with.  I like my new machine, and it can certainly do more than this one can, but for simple garment construction when I don’t need anything fancy or remotely portable, this old Sears Kenmore would be my choice every time.

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Doctor Who Marathons Breed Cowls and Fuzzy Pants

I knit up two last minute Christmas gifts in Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick using the very simple GAP-tastic Cowl Pattern from Ravelry. It’s not actually designed for this weight of Wool-Ease, but I cast on the recommended number of stitches and knit for the whole two skeins of yarn, and the cowls turned out huge and warm. Plus I was able to make both in two days, even with shopping and dance classes and family dinners and visits thrown in. I think working through the entire fifth season of the new Doctor Who with my parents helped.

(As a quick aside, that black and white table in the second photo is my great-grandmother’s enamel kitchen table where my grandmother and mother both learned how to make pie crust.)

I also made a good start on my fuzzy pants.  The fisherman’s rib pattern is super thick and fluffy, and progress is slow, but they’re getting easier now that I’m several rows away from the cast on edge.  The trick that I’ve found with the woolly nylon is that you have to pull out a good length of it with the yarn so the strands stick together and the tension doesn’t get uneven between the two strands that you’re knitting with.

I also pulled out the old sewing machine to stitch the elastics on a couple of pairs of ballet shoes (flats, not pointe shoes), picked up some purple felt for knitting needle cases, and made pie.

My next big project is to start thinking seriously about making a new wool coat to replace my L.L.Bean pea coat which is in its 11th winter right now. I love that wool coat. I’ve re-stitched the buttons several times, run it through the washing machine, shoved it in suitcases and dance bags, and worn it over both light layers and the hugest sweater known to man. I’d like to make something like it, since it’s such a flattering shape and fit, but I want something with a bit more neck coverage. I could just make a pattern from it, but McCall and Vogue patterns are both super on sale starting tomorrow at JoAnn, so I’ll probably pick up one or two new patterns and put something together using a combination of all the best attributes. I like McCall 5525 and Vogue 8346.

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Still Planning Christmas Gifts

I should preface this by saying that my family observes/celebrates the Twelve Days of Christmas, so it’s still Christmas at my parents’ house.

Yesterday, my mom told me that for Christmas she wants a “gigantic” (three wraps at least) cowl, made with some of the “really skinny stuff.”  (My mother is not a knitter.  She was talking about the Lion Microspun we saw at JoAnn the other day.)  And she wants an “interesting” stitch pattern, like the honeycomb cable stitch that requires every single two stitches to be cabled every other row.  I told her that would take forever.  She said that that’s why she’s telling me now, so I have time to make it for next Christmas.

She’s funny.

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Progress! Then Frogging! Then Progress(ish)!

Progress on the pointe covers has been all right.

Progress on the hair baubles has been equally exciting.  (Or not.  It depends on how much you love bright colors and novelty yarns and crochet.  I don’t really, but I went through an eyelash yarn phase in high school and the balls have been sitting in my stash for nearly a decade now, so I figure I’d better use them, and they look cute as hair thingies.)

My little yarn cakes are squishy and adorable, too.

I also cast on for the narrow ribbing at the bottom of the legs.  And, yes, they’re on size 0 needles, and, yes, I’m totally insane, and, yes, it’s going to take forever.  I like knitting on small needles (this will change to a US 1 for the legs and a US 2 for the skirt/waistband) and I have several long plane trips scheduled in the coming year, so I’ll have hours of uninterrupted airplane and airport time.  I’m also under the impression that smaller needles are easier to get through airport security.

That being said, casting on with these tiny needles is a pain in the butt, and I’ve already done it twice.  The first time, I cast on and went to knit the first row when I realized that I hadn’t carried the reinforcing nylon along with the yarn.  Seeing as that edge is the one that falls apart first on this type of pant, I decided to rip it out.  The second time, I cast on, knit two rows, and on the third row realized that I’d cast on the wrong number of stitches on one of the pieces.  I’d counted those stitches three times, and I still ended up with the wrong number.

There are 72 stitches on the right needle here, and 71 on the left.  I’m proud to say that there was no swearing when I discovered this.  I just calmly set it down and went to pet my sewing machine for a while (because it soothes me).  Then, I cast on and knit the heel patches, finished them last night, and I felted them with the laundry that I did today.  Now I have to decide between knitting from the waist down, picking up from the heel patches, and casting on those same 71 stitches again.  Twice.  In theory I know that casting on for the waist means that I’ll be casting on more stitches, but at least I won’t be counting to 71 again.

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Yarn Vomit

I tried to pull my Stroll yarn from the center.  It made the skein very, very sick, and it puked out a whole knotted wad of yarn.  I’ve since shoved what came out back into the middle, very carefully hollowing out a little spot for it so it doesn’t interfere with anything, and am planning on working from the outside like I was for the swatches.  This is a total bummer for my planned airplane knitting.  When I’m knitting at home, I can set the yarn next to me on my armchair and unroll it as needed, but on an airplane, there isn’t enough room for that, and I don’t want to set my nice, clean yarn on the unknown entity that is an airplane seat.  Other people’s butts have been on there!  There are probably decades’ worth of farts trapped just under the surface waiting to jump into an unsuspecting yarn skein, and who knows what actual vomit, or at least spilled pop, lurks on the hard surfaces?

I’m toying with the idea of winding some center pull yarn cakes, but I don’t want to hand-wind that much yarn and I don’t have a swift or ball winder.  I think I’d go insane.  The inevitable seems to be putting my individual skeins in individual plastic bags (the horror!  the waste!  the crinkly sound!  the static!)  and then setting them in my lap while I knit.  I think I’ll survive.

I don’t know why this is causing such a problem.  I’m doing fine with the yarn for my pointe covers in a plastic bag.  At least it’s not having to move around in the bag, as the Stroll skeins would have to do in order to unwind from the outside.

My life is very dramatic, isn’t it?

UPDATE: I wound two center pull yarn cakes because the yarn just wasn’t working in the plastic bags.  It only took me 20 minutes per ball, but I’m not quite insane yet, and the yarn is much, much easier to work with this way, so those 40 minutes saved me hours of aggravation.

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And Crochet Too

For Christmas at the dance studio, we do a little gift exchange in each class.  With the little ones, we usually do Secret Santa, but the older classes get a choice between Secret Santa and a White Elephant gift exchange, or just doing class as usual.  (The more advanced dancers are in many classes every week, and doing two gift exchanges a day all week before winter break can get tiring.)  No matter what kind of gift exchange we do, there is a $3 limit, and we always have a couple of extra gifts on hand just in case someone forgets.  I’m bringing in a couple of crocheted flower bobby pins for my pointe class this evening.

They’re small, cute, and wearing a flower accessory in your bun is kind of a fad right now, so I think they’ll go over well but still not overshadow anything that the students might bring in for the gift exchange.  The pattern (which I found through its Ravelry listing) is found in total here.  The yarn is cotton, and from a K-Mart sweater that I got in middle school, ripped apart when it got too small, and have been using for trying out stitch patterns and making stitch markers and provisional cast ons ever since.

I’m really looking forward to my Thursday advanced pointe class, where the students didn’t want to do a gift exchange, but asked if we could do The Great Chaîné Experiment.  Chaînés are little travelling turns done on the tips of the toes, with the feet held close together, and each step rotates the body 180°.  Some of the girls are having trouble with making a perfect half turn with each step, meaning that they don’t move in a straight line, but wander across the floor in a strange zigzag.  I can look closely at their feet as they turn and tell them what the problem is, but it’s better if they can see it themselves.  For Thursday’s class, I’m bringing a roll of paper and they can dip their toes in water to make footprints as they turn so they can see what their feet are doing.  I think paint would be better, but I don’t want to totally make a mess on the super-expensive floor, and we need easy cleanup for the next class.

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Why I Need to Organize My Knitting Supplies

I have lots, that’s why.


This isn’t even everything.

The circular needles are the worst.  The bin that I have them in right now is an upgrade from the small pouch that they used to be in, but it’s still far from perfect.  (Plus, it’s really saying something that a rinsed out salad container is an upgrade.)  The cables get tangled all the time, and it’s impossible to find the right size without going through the whole pile of needles.  I could keep them in their individual pouches, like I try to do with my Knit Picks Options tips, but the bin is a bit bigger and it lets the curl in the cables relax.

My double points also get a bad deal.  I don’t have very many (only 4 sets) but they, and my crochet hooks, and my ruler, always get put in the aluminum cannister that holds my shorter straights.  The cannister is too long for them, so when I need to find a set, I have to dump the whole thing out.  My long straights are getting a bit crowded in their PVC pipe holder although it is at least the right length for them.  Also, since starting to use the holder, I’ve gotten several more sets whose sizes aren’t stamped on the end.

My needle gauge, rulers, stitch holder, and cable needles don’t even have a home.  I had to go dig them out from the bottom of a couple of my yarn stash bins just to photograph them.

So here’s the plan: I’m going to buy felt and make some cases for all of my stuff.  First priority is a case for my circulars, with pockets where they can be separate and relatively uncurled.  Then, I’m going to make three simple roll-up cases for my double points and Knit Picks tips, long straights, and short straights.  Last, my needle gauge, cable needles, and other accessories get a felt pouch from whatever fabric is left.  If I ever get enough crochet hooks to make it worth my while, I’ll make a little roll thing for them, too.

I’d like to do this while I’m at my parents’ house for Christmas, first because they have a rotary cutter and large cutting mat, which will come in pretty handy for all the rectangles I’m going to be cutting.  The second reason is that, while my new Brother (that’s him in the header photo) does beautifully with normal fabric weights, anything too thick makes him cranky.  My parents’ 1976 Sears Kenmore is a bit of a tank, and won’t even blink at a couple layers of felt.  I might have to spend longer getting the tension right, and it’s a pain in the butt to disengage the clutch to wind a bobbin on it, but once the initial set-up is done with, the actual work will go faster.

My pointe covers haven’t progressed any further since last post, so I won’t bore you with another photo.  I have been productive with putting together a good fuzzy pants pattern, though.  I’m using a combination of my favorite traits from my two old pairs, and I have a Doctor Who DVD, so progress this evening on both fronts should not be insignificant.

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