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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Flypaper thoughts: well we are still here version


  • Needless to say we are all still homebound
  • On some level I am enjoying it
  • There is a relief in limits
  • Got to remember that when this is done
  • I am working with what I can find in the house
  • Turns out I can find a lot
  • Turns out good thing I never kondo-ed my life
  • Clutter, particularly in my sewing room
  • Is what you live off of in hibernation
  • These notions, this fabric, these patterns
  • Are to me what nuts are to a squirrel
  • Something to live off of until spring
  • We are making masks
  • Like crazy people
  • For the nursing homes, for the food bank, and even for some of my daughter's patients
  • My husband has gone into full obsessive mode
  • Developing systems and timing his unit production
  • Sometimes that guy is my hero
  • Food comes slowly by delivery
  • We are cooking what we have on hand
  • Simple
  • I am noticing that all the selfie shots in social media
  • Are now replaced by pictures of people doing things with their households
  • More pictures of kids not being rushed around
  • Board games
  • Cards
  • Baked bread
  • The dog and the cat
  • Notice how much people are not missing
  • Not the stuff but the people
  • I try to not think about that part
  • I have one family in California on the other side of a border I can't cross
  • I can't get closer that a few meters to my grandchildren just a few streets away
  • I have another son who is thankfully in this country for once but I can't go visit
  • Will he be gone when I can?
  • These are little hardships
  • My big lesson from these weeks is that I already have every thing I need
  • And everyone
  • How much of our baggage have we laid down during this?
  • How much do we not really need?
  • How much do we really not need?
  • How clear it is what is precious
  • Like the FaceTime chats with a one-year-old
  • Like the fact of living with a hero
  • Like the kindness of my neighbours
  • Of women on bikes dropping elastic off at my door
  • Or the sight of a neighbour who carries an ancient dog outside for the fresh air
  • Wrapped in blankets and immobile in a cart
  • But with his nose lifted to the smells of the breeze
  • How beautiful is that?

Friday, March 27, 2020

Flypaper thoughts: still in quarantine edition

  • Well we still have a pandemic don't we?
  • I only hope it doesn't get too bad too fast
  • There will be many stories out of this
  • Hardships that are invisible
  • I am thinking of my friend whose marvellous husband 
  • Just went into a memory care facility
  • Because he has early onset
  • Now she can't go and see him
  • I wonder what he thinks
  • My mom said to me
  • We got through the war, we got through the flood (Winnipeg in the '50s)
  • We can do this
  • Of course we can
  • My first father-in-law was in forced labour in Russia in the war
  • He walked back to Hungary in the winter
  • How did he do that?
  • The secret he said
  • Was that he made sure, even if it was with snow
  • He washed every day
  • Now that was a something
  • We are at the end of week one of self-isolation
  • Daisy has a ruptured disc in her neck
  • So she is on bed rest for a month and a half at least
  • She's in the dog stroller in the day and not liking it
  • But that's the way it goes
  • Ever tried to keep a dog from moving their neck?
  • But we can do it
  • Main crisis at the moment is the shortage of flour
  • My husband is a stress baker
  • And I am a stress eater 
  • A very successful marriage
  • I made a decision to dress every day like I was still going to the office
  • I sorted my enormous button collection on Tuesday wearing my pearls
  • I knew I had them for some reason
  • I had a female boss early on who told me
  • If I was going to have a decent career I needed pearls
  • Never wore them
  • Thought I was too young
  • Too matronly for me
  • But turns out they are perfect quarantine wear
  • So this is what I was saving them for
  • Tomorrow I think I am going to put on stockings
  • Covid-19 what do you think of that?
  • You will be hearing from me again

Monday, March 23, 2020

Flypaper thoughts: quarantine version


  • Home now after an odd trip home
  • Double time
  • In the house for two weeks now
  • All good except Daisy
  • She has a very bad foot/shoulder
  • Trying to do telemedicine with the vet
  • If all else fails will have to leave her in the yard 
  • And have someone take her in
  • Strange times
  • My DIL in Berkeley has a a cough
  • They aren't tested but she's been told to behave as if she has the virus
  • Two front line health care workers here
  • And a son and his girlfriend now separated by a border
  • Hard when they sail out of your own safe harbour
  • Not entirely patient with those who are noncompliant
  • We need to get this done
  • However
  • My neighbour left muffins at the end of the driveway
  • My son put his hand to the front window
  • My husband is cheerfully stress baking
  • I discovered a pattern piece I lost
  • I am getting that sock knitted
  • I folded the laundry as soon as it came out of the dryer
  • I am making sure I wear jewelry and my lipstick every day
  • I am using up all those Christmas bath bombs
  • And eating peppermint patties
  • I had a group chat with four seven-year-olds
  • I made a lesson plan for my virtual home schooling
  • Bees, capitals of the provinces, and creative writing
  • I am modifying my old 4th year writing syllabus
  • Work with what you have
  • I think later in the week we should do cover letters 
  • And how to address an envelope
  • 6,8 and10, seems to me to be about time
  • I have an idea for fractions with coloured water and measuring cups
  • It occurred to me that I am living the life of a '50s housewife without a car in the Canadian winter
  • Pretty close to being that person anyway
  • Unpacking so I can get sewing
  • Need to see those stitches form in a line
  • Just want my dog to get better
  • Happy with our leaders here
  • That matters
  • Someone smart I worked with said to me once
  • Never stand too close to insanity
  • It is contagious
  • So true, so true
  • I think I will sew small things tomorrow
  • Important to sew in different proportions to events
  • I am thinking of you
  • One day this will be past

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Flypaper thought pandemic edition

  • I have been in the woods of Texas lately and offline
  • Spent a lot of time with the wildlife and my own life
  • Felt due after retiring from teaching this year
  • In a few days we head home
  • Early because of this Corona thing
  • The Canadian government is calling us back to the mother ship
  • A cooperative healthcare system means you cooperate
  • We will be going back for two weeks of self isolation
  • You know what in other times we called a sewcation
  • Completely fine with being stuck in the house with food left at the end of the driveway
  • Of course we have to get there first
  • Only thing on my mind is my niece who nurses in long term care
  • And my daughter with her own immune issues due to MS
  • But of course she will be working because her patients are kids with cancer
  • And they need her
  • I am thinking of all I know about epidemics
  • My mom nursed polio and TB patients
  • She terrorized us all through our childhoods
  • My dad used to say with pride "your mother could stop the bubonic plague in its tracks"
  • When she used to come to visit she starting disinfecting the kids' toys before her coat was off
  • Books people gave us when we were kids were baked in the oven before we could read them
  • I only found out that all books didn't have warped pages once I was old enough to join a library
  • Home sick
  • Quarantine
  • Isolation
  • Used to be a thing
  • Remember germs?
  • Even those rounds of measles, mumps, and chickenpox we all had in grade two one after another
  • Meant long stints in dark rooms and no one to play with
  • Now there are commercials on TV for a pill you take so your flu vanishes and you go out the door to work
  • Hard for that generation to get this lie low thing
  • Time for thinking about the public good
  • Which would do us all good
  • So even though it broke my heart to tell the kids in California I wasn't coming to babysit
  • And even though I had had patterns and fabric shipped there ahead
  • That house didn't need someone flying in to see them
  • Another time, a better time
  • In the meantime on my way home
  • Restored by the trees and the owls and the camping life
  • To sit tight until this cloud passes
  • And try to learn the lessons that this time offers
  • While I sew myself some seams

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Vintage sewing machine attachments : the binder



 The Binder



A binder, sometimes called a bias tape attachment in its modern version, can be used to attach pre-folded or unfolded strips of fabric to any raw edge. I find the older versions far more effective and precise than those sold today.

Concept:

Different generations of binder are available. The oldest, and simplest, have a scroll that feeds bias strips of fabric around a raw edge of fabric and while it turns the edges of the strips under before the fabric reaches the needle.


Binder for a 70-year-old Singer Featherweight
Later versions of the binder, called multi-slot binders, also have spaces along the scroll that will accept pre-folded binding or finished tape or ribbon of many sizes to bind or cover an edge. Here is the binder used with the first and largest slot to turn under a bias fabric strips:



Some of the multi-slot binders, particularly those made by Singer for slant needle machines, also have posts to help the binding feed into the attachment. Honestly aren't these beautiful pieces of engineering? These are my favourite of the binders because they are almost hands free.




Tricks for using it

If you are getting used to a binder it is probably easier to practice first with purchased pre-folded bias binding which has been stiffened. This just makes it so much easier to feed through the unit without a lot of attention. You can of course replicate this by spray starching your own custom made binding and pressing under a fold along each long edge. Once comfortable with how the attachment works you can make your own custom binding with the help of a bias tape maker.

At the machine it is important to adjust the binder so the needle will fall close to the edge to be bound. This is done by a screw in the older models, or in the slant machine post binder below, by pushing on a thumb lever to the left of the needle opening in the foot.



As with most attachments holding the binding up slightly, rather than flat to the bed of the machine, is also helpful.

The binder takes a bit of practice but is worth every minute of that. Early eras sewists used these attachments continually. Think of all those vintage patterns we see like aprons, now in the original or in replicate, with miles of bias bound edges. We copy the garment but we haven't imported the time saving tools that were used to make them. I sometimes think my grandmother would be amused see us laboriously stitching on bias tape, pressing, turning it under, and topstitching. Busy women with households to run didn't have time for that, not with a binder handy.

Note all binders can be used to make ties too. Simply feed in the folded tape and start stitching:





Sunday, February 23, 2020

Vintage sewing machine attachment project: the adjustable hemmer

 Adjustable hemmer:



Concept:  Although the adjustable hemmer looks very complex it is actually quite simple. There are two parts- on the front, a hem depth measuring scale and on the back, a hem folder-underer  (hope you can follow the technical terminology). Once set up, the adjustable hemmer will turn under the raw edge of the hem allowance and situate the needle to stitch an exquisitely tiny and precise distance from that edge, while at the same time it evenly turns down the larger hem allowance – all without pre-pressing or pinning.




Uses:

The adjustable hemmer can be used to machine stitch down hems of a variety of widths without the need to press or pin first.

How it works:
The adjustable hemmer can be used with the measuring ruler engaged to fold under and stitch hems from 1/8” to 1” .





With the measuring ruler moved to the left and front, possible when the screw that attaches it is loosened, the adjustable hemmer can also be used to stitch down much wider hems, although the hem allowance will need to be turned under and pressed. The hemmer will then only turn under and stitch the raw edge of the hem allowance. Below the measuring gauge, which controls hem depth, has been moved out of the way so only the hem edge will be folded.






Tricks for using it:

Understanding how the numbers on the measuring scale work can be a bit tricky. The large screw clearly seen on the gauge can be loosened to move, and then set metal pointer to any number on the scale. Each of these numbers corresponds to a finished hem depth:

Pointer set at:                                   Creates a hem of this depth (inches)

1                                                                                                                           1/8
2                                                                                                                           1/4
3                                                                                                                           3/8
4                                                                                                                           1/2
5                                                                                                                           5/8
6                                                                                                                           3/4
7                                                                                                                           7/8
8                                                                                                                           1

(Source: A manual of family sewing machines. Guildford, Surrey: The Singer Company (U.K.) Ltd., 1963, p. 44)
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Friday, February 21, 2020

Vintage sewing machine attachment project: introduction

Thank you all for your feedback on the cover. This gives me something to work with, appreciate the time that those of you who left comments took to help me.

Now here is the introduction. I did these pictures myself by putting white paper on a shelf in the fridge and turning the inside of the fridge into a sort of light box. This was my own idea. Sewing teaches you to improvise.

So here we go. Let me know what you think!


Vintage sewing machine attachments for the modern sewist


The attachments designed for and heavily used by the home sewers from the early to mid+ 20th can still be very useful to the modern sewist.

 To understand why requires first that the sewing person of today consider one very interesting idea- that we might have lost touch with some of our best technologies. We need to think of what we may have have left by the wayside in the assumption that newer, by definition, is always to be better.

This is why I think a modern sewist could benefit from learning more about vintage sewing machine attachments:

·      Vintage attachments work so well. No human is capable of stitching a hem with the stitches consistently 1/16” from the finished edge with the accuracy and ease of an adjustable hemmer. And certainly not capable of doing it simultaneously with folding up the hem too to an exact width – all without pinning or basting.
·      Vintage attachments are made so well. First, all of these vintage attachments are made of metal, carefully. Secondly they tend to all be incredibly ingeniously engineered – to manipulate the fabric in intricate ways under the constant of a straight stitch (or in the case of mid ‘60s buttonholers, also some zig zag stitches. So often purely mechanical methods of manipulating fabric are simply more consistent and precise. Metal grooves, the cam, or template leave no room for movement. In my view fancy zig zag stitch made with a drop-in cam will always be more accurate than one driven by electronics, which doesn’t have the same direct steady control over the needle.
·      Vintage attachments are inexpensive. Compared to newer attachments vintage attachments are a bargain. Look on eBay and Etsy and in box of attachments sold along with older machines at yard sales.
·      Vintage attachments can be used on your modern machine. Many older attachments were designed for straight stitch machines that had a low shank. A low shank is means a presser foot bar fairly close to the throat plate, measuring about ½” from the bottom of the presser foot to the centre of the screw that attaches the foot. Many commonly available machines, and certainly many older ones, have a low shank and can accommodate these feet directly. 

However most industrials and upper end modern machines have a high shank – the bottom to the foot to mid screw measurement is about 1”. If you have a low shank machine you can just use the vintage attachments. To fit the old attachment to a modern high machine all you have to do is purchase a shank adapter, in this case basically a shank extender, that will allow you to fit the older low shank attachment to a modern machine. Take your time and search out the shank adapter for your model – I have had great success with online sellers like www.sewingmachinesplus.com

There are even adapters for Bernina’s, which have their own breed of all-in-one feet, as opposed to the snap on time. Using a Bernina adapter I have been able to use all my low shank vintage feet on my Bernina. Note there are two exceptions to this rule. Really old machines, like treadles or rotary hooks like the classic Whites, use feet that attach with a toe clamp.

These feet will fit only those machines and can not to be adapted to any others.

This is what toe clamp attachments look like:



Finally there is another shank style to consider these are the slant shanks used in a series of machines Singer produced in large quantities in their factories in the 1960’s. Slant needle machines were designed for the larger work area they were able to provide in front of the foot (a very nice feature actually) but feet with a slant shank can fit only on those machines.

Many vintage attachments were also manufactured in both low and slant shank  form – just be careful to but a specific slant foot when sewing on a slant needle machine, like the Singer Rocketeer or Touch and Sew.



·      Vintage attachments open up to the possibility of including a vintage machine your sewing arsenal. Older machines are so easy to find and so inexpensive. In many cases, since they were made of metal, a good cleaning, oiling and a new needle are all they need to get them up and running. One of my own favourites, a 1960 Singer Rocketeer, was stored in a garage and a six year old and I cleaned and oiled it to perfection. These older machines often have a superb straight stitch, either because that is all they do, or because they have a much narrower opening in the throat plate for the swing of a zig zag – both of which contribute to a more secure and reliable straight stitch. Once of course you have experienced the potential of vintage attachments you might find it handy to have an older machine set up ready to use them – many sewists do this with the buttonhole attachments.

Favourite vintage sewing machine attachments and how to use them

What follows here is not a definitive guide to all older sewing machine attachments, but a list of those that might be most useful to the modern sewist, sewing the clothes we wear today. References to other sources on the subject are included in the bibliography.

Note many of these feet work by exaggerating the natural action of the feed dogs, either by pressing the fabric into them to force pick up as in the case of the shirring foot, or to use stitch length to form tiny pleats that look like gathers or mini pleats in the ruffler.  

Others are essentially elaborate devices to hold or set up fabric so it can be stitched with greater control, accuracy and regularity than is possible by a sewist operating free hand. The edge stitcher, narrow hemmer and adjustable hemmer fall into this category.

Finally a few other attachments are template driven mechanisms in themselves that actually move the fabric with precision under the needle, enabling highly accurate stitching of complex functional and decorative embroideries like monograms, motifs and of course the legendary template buttonholes, yet to be surpassed in quality by even the most expensive modern computerized machines.

Of the feet listed here the narrow hemmer, binder and ruffle are still manufactured and sold for contemporary machines. Of these only the ruffler, and some of the narrow hem feet made now, are the same as their vintage counter parts. (Modern binders are quite less sophisticated). All the other attachments listed here exist only in their vintage form – all excellent examples of “lost technology.”

Note although some of these attachments can just be attached just like any other presser foot some of the more complex ones with a lot of movement – the ruffler, buttonholer and monogrammer as examples – need to be both screwed onto the needle bar as well as having a stabilizing fork hooked over the needle screw. I find it always easier to fit this fork over the screw first and then screw on the rest of the attachment. 

Attachments will moving parts, like the ruffler and buttoholers also benefit from the occasional oiling with only a drop of oil at any points where you see metal moving against metal.