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Stay Calm and Get the Hair Dryer

A few months ago, Lara spiffed up one of her vintage sewing machines with new rubber leg cushions.

The cushions on my 1960’s Singer had deteriorated and flattened over the years, to the point where I had to pry the bottom of the machine off of them to get to some of the oiling points. This was annoying. Even more annoying, the machine was basically resting on the screws that hold on the cushions, so I was getting a little shimmy from the machine when I ran it at high speeds. Those cushions have a function (damping vibrations), and these more-than-50-year-old cushions were unable to do that job anymore. This machine is very fast, so this was A Problem.

I added replacement rubber leg cushions to my most recent order with Sewing Parts Online at https://www.sewingpartsonline.com/ (not affiliated, but I have been a happy customer of theirs). All together, the four feet were less than $15.

The parts sat in my sewing basket for about a month, then this weekend I decided it was Time To Do This Very Easy Thing.

I was so confident that the old cushions would pop right off, I didn’t even lay a towel down on the table. I rested my machine on its side, then unscrewed the little nut that holds the base together and pried off the base. I unscrewed the first leg’s attachment point and carefully put the screw aside.

Then this happened.

 

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The old, rotten rubber just tore in half in my fingers. The years of compression and general advance of time had made the rubber stiff, sticky, and friable!

Choice words were said.

I took a breath and texted Lara and a few of my friends. My friend offered his dental tools to help extract the old feet, but I was in too much of a panic even to go to his house and get them.

I was so worried I had messed up this machine, which has sentimental value as a wedding present from my husband’s grandmother on top of its value as The Machine That Helped Me Learn To Enjoy Sewing.

Lara advised me to make a cup of tea and post to a Facebook group we are both on for Vintage sewing machines. The suggestions and commiserations promptly poured in. Of the many ideas, the one that did not require new equipment was, “Dump a lot of sewing machine oil on it, then run a hair dryer on it, and pry it out with a blunt tool.”

Honestly, on these Vintage machine groups, I’ve yet to see someone mention that they REGRET trying that first.

So, I carefully oiled all four feet with a cheap paintbrush, then let it sit for a few hours on a towel while I took my daughter to her afternoon play date.

I got home, found my oft-ignored hair dryer (which may be nearing Vintage status itself…I think my mom bought it for me in the very early 1990’s), and set a timer. Three minutes of steady heat per foot got me the result I wanted. This time I expected them to crumble and put down some paper towels.

 

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None of the feet got out in one piece, but they all came out eventually!

The new cushions installed easily, and now my machine runs rock-solid, even at speed.

This weekend’s lesson: Stay Calm and Get the Hair Dryer.

 

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Pattern Spotlight: Sweet Sixteen Bralette by Beverly Johnson

It’s called the Sweet Sixteen Bralette, but it’s not just for teenagers. It’s called that because there are 16 different style options within one envelope!

Bralettes are great entry points to sewing bras and other lingerie for a few reasons.

1) They use almost all of the techniques needed for a bra, except for the underwire. So you can practice 1/4 inch seams, top stitching, and elastic application.

2) Bralettes are easy to fit – just two measurements, with this pattern, and you’re off to the races!

3) It’s easy to make something better than what you can buy. To be frank, I’ve never found a bralette in a shop that fits well and feels supportive enough for me.

4) It doesn’t take very much fabric or a lot of notions to make a bralette, so even if you have to try a few times before you get a result you love, it won’t cost much to practice and learn.

This was my first time making this pattern, so I kept it pretty simple style-wise, while focusing on getting pretty firm support. I followed the pattern as written, except for two things: I only used powernet for the back (an option the pattern has is to line with powernet) and I glue-basted the (also optional) nonstretch fabric for the frame lining to the very stretchy rib fabric I used as my fashion fabric. The instructions were to baste at the sewing machine, but I was afraid that connecting a nonstretch to this very stretchy rib would drive me nuts.

I used the optional foam lining. Cut and sew foam is just about my favorite thing for anything bra-adjacent. I also used the hook-and-eye back (you can also choose a one-piece back). I love not having to pull the bralette on over my head.

When I make this pattern again (and I will, I see a lot of these in my future), I will either choose a less stretchy fabric or be more aggressive when basting it to the foam lining. On this version, the fashion fabric is a little more baggy than I would like.

If you’ve never sewn cut-and-sew foam or fold-over elastic, this is a great pattern to try both of those techniques for the first time. Beverly’s instructions and diagrams are very clear.

Hiroshima and Sajou Needles

We love a good machine-sewn project as much as the next person (we use five sewing machines between us!), but sometimes hand sewing is best for finishing, mending, or for special projects. Using the right needle is ⅓ of the battle in using quality materials for your hand work.

We have a theory that a lot of people who “hate to hand sew” haven’t used the right hand needles for them or their task.  If shoes came in one size, everyone outside of that size wouldn’t like shoes very much. Needle length/ type should match the person’s hand size and what they are trying to do.

We currently carry two brands of needles: Sajou and Hiroshima.

Both Sajou and Hiroshima needles are very high quality even though they come from different manufacturing traditions. Sajou needles are made in France by a firm that began in the 1830’s.  They are packaged in cardboard books printed with designs from the 1830’s- 1930’s. The books protect the needles during shipping and in your sewing basket, and make it easy to find the one you want to use. If you practice historical sewing from the 1830’s forward, Sajou is a good choice if you want your sewing kit to have an era-specific look (or if you just love cats, the Eiffel Tower, or any one of the other adorable designs that Sajou produces).

Hiroshima Needles have been made in Japan for more than 300 years by a firm that currently produces about 90% of the needles and pins made in Japan.  Sometimes sold under the Tulip brand name, they are packaged in a plastic tube closed with a cork. This protects the needles and is a sturdy, reliable needle case, but can make pulling the right one from an assortment a good reason to have a magnet handy!

For needles of the same size and type (the two brands produce speciality needles that do not entirely overlap), here is how they compare.

Sajou Hiroshima
Eye Slightly smaller and rounder, with a larger landing area Slightly larger and longer, with a smaller landing area
Polishing All are smoothly polished Most types are polished lengthwise
Flexibility More stiff More flexible
Length Very slightly longer for the same type

#9 sewing is 34 mm long

#9 sewing is 33.3 mm long
Cost for one standard sewing needle $0.20 $1.20
Highest cost per extreme speciality needle Up to $6.75

Heavy-duty mattress needle

250mm X 2mm

Up to $4.80

Leather needle

39.4mm X .96mm

Range of Types Readily Available 15 types 13 types

 

Do we have a favorite? It depends on the task! That’s why we carry and use them both.

We offer a full assortment of Sajou needles in one lot at https://www.etsy.com/listing/702552637/sajou-needle-assortment-pack-72-needles

Our Hiroshima needles in their original sets are in the “Notions” section of our shop.

 

If you want to try a different type of needle or have a favorite you can’t find somewhere else, contact us at twinsnneedlesevents@gmail.com and we will try to source it for you.

 

Check out: http://en.tulip-japan.co.jp/hiroshima/ to learn more about the Hiroshima brand and https://sajou.fr/en/1512-needles-and-pins to learn more about the Sajou brand needles.

 

Vintage Machines, Stitch Length, and Stitch Width

by Lara Neel

Sewing machine stitch length can be given in Imperial units (stitches per inch), or in metric (mm). Some machines have both scales, which is great, but not every machine does.

I was sewing a bra with my Singer 626. My instructions were in metric. My machine is in Imperial. I was driving myself nuts trying to divide by st/in and multiply by 25.4 in my head. I’m pretty sure I went down in stitch length when I should have gone up at least once.

So, I made a little scale. It’s upside down, because how the stitch selector on my machine looks. I told Lisa about it and she asked me to have it printed on business cards. Thanks to that, it is now available in our Etsy shop as a downloadable image and as a printed card. The photo at the top of this post is a preview of it. Imperial is on the left and metric is on the right.

Until we run out, we will also tuck a printed card into each order we ship. We hope you find them useful!

Stitch width is a little different. Of course, it only matters in zigzag machines. On my Singer 626, I noticed that the scale for stitch width started at 1 instead of at 0. So, I did a little stitch test on a scrap. To make it easier to see when stitch widths changed, I turned the fabric whenever I changed the settings. This sample goes: 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 5.

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You can see a few things on this sample. First of all, I should probably drop my top tension a little (this is easiest to see in samples for settings 3, 4, and 5). The manual for this machine says, “All zig-zag stitching requires less tension than straight stitching…Furthermore, the wider the stitch, the lighter the tension on the thread must be…Notice the stitching on your sample. If the stitching looks too taught, or if the fabric is puckering, lower the needle-thread tension.” As an aside, shorter stitch lengths can also make this problem worse. Thankfully, lowering the top tension is a very easy adjustment!

It’s entirely possible that my top tension is fine for settings 1, 1.5, and 2, but just a little too tight for the wider settings. You can even see the fabric puckering slightly on the widest sample. Reason #27698 to stitch a little test sample before you start in on a project!

Also, why test 1.5? You can hardly see that it zigzags at all – which is the point! This is sometimes called “wobble stitch” and is used when you want a little more give in your seam but you don’t want it to look like a zigzag.

Just in case someone else has a Singer 626 and cares, in this sample, the stitches measure this wide, in mm:

setting 1: 0 mm

setting 1.5: .5 mm (but, let’s be fair, the thread here practically measures .5 mm)

setting 2: 1 mm

setting 3: 2 mm

setting 4: 3 mm

setting 5: 4mm

Pattern Spotlight: Playing with Darts

Are you all reading Barbara Emodi‘s free weekly sewing newsletter? You should be! It’s almost as wonderful as learning from her in person!

One of her recent newsletters was all about darts – how to sew them, why you want them, etc.

Darts are so important for a flattering fit that Angela Wolf teaches methods for adding shaping darts to a finished shirt. Pamela Leggett has tips on sewing darts and serging darts on her website.

If darts have been eliminated from “easy to sew” patterns, they’ve been eliminated even more frequently from patterns for knits. For some applications, you really don’t need them, but there are many styles, fabrics and bodies where a little dart is a big help! Even a tee-shirt sometimes looks better with a bust dart.

Not all knit fabrics will take darts as easily as others. Here’s a quick list I wrote for myself when I first started sewing:

Better for darts: cotton interlock, cotton double knit, wool double knit

Not so great for darts: rayon, bamboo, lycra jersey, mesh, slippery knits, ITY polyester, lycra

Now, I would argue that the “not so great” list could also be the “practice more” list, the “use a stabilizer” list or the “consider using serged darts” list.

Beverly Johnson talked about sewing darts in shapewear in this online class, so if you prefer to learn by watching a video, you may want to check it out.

Here’s a small roundup of sewing patterns for knits that include darts:

Pamela’s Patterns The Perfect T-Shirt

Stretch and Sew 350: Shell, Includes Four Collar Variations

Stretch and Sew 790: Ladies’ Body Blouse

Stretch and Sew 1030: Shawl and Cardigan Jackets

Stretch and Sew 1040: Classic Jackets

Stretch and Sew 1041: Queen Classic Jackets

Stretch and Sew 1050: Set-In Sleeve Jacket

Stretch and Sew 1500: Basic Dress (nylon zipper version)

Stretch and Sew 1500: Basic Dress (invisible zipper or nylon zipper version)

Stretch and Sew 1500: Ladies’ Basic Dress (invisible zipper version)

Stretch and Sew 1510: Ann’s Dress

Stretch and Sew 1535: Jumper