Wednesday
Apr262017

It's a Mystery

The accountant made a house call today to update the journal entries in QuickBooks for me. I didn't want to be too far away in case he had any questions while he was working on my computer, so I got out one of the Necchi Supernovas and set it up on the kitchen table to work on it. It's a given that what I think is going to happen when I work on these vintage sewing machines is never what actually happens. The only question is how far off the trail I am going to go. 

I have four Necchi Supernovas in the house at the moment. One is an olive green Supernova that came from Spokane last summer. I cleaned that one a few months ago. It has a knockout in the bed so it can be converted to a treadle, and that is probably where it is going to end up. 

Supernova #2—the one I worked on today—is also olive green. I bought it in Libby, Montana, about two years ago. I assumed that it was the same model as the first SN, but when I started working on it, I noticed a few differences. Both models have this very cool circular needle plate:

There is a lever underneath the machine that elevates the needle plate and allows it to spin on that pin in the center. I went to look for the lever on SN #2 in the same place that it's located on SN #1 and it wasn't there. Hmmm. Eventually, I found it in a different spot. That's when I had the bright idea to look at the badge on the back of the machine. SN #1 has this badge:

(I appear to have missed a few spots when I cleaned this machine. Ahem.) 

The "Automatica" designation normally refers to those Supernovas that use cams to create decorative stitches. However, a few of us on the Necchi Facebook list also have Supernovas that are cam-capable but are badged like this (including my SN #2):

(This is before cleaning.) 

There is nothing on the machine to indicate this is an "Automatica" and yet it has a cam drive. It is missing the knockout that would allow it to be used as a treadle, however. The lever for the needle plate is in a different spot. It also has a different power cord terminal with three prongs as opposed to the four prongs on the other Supernovas. 

I posed a question about this and a long conversation ensued on the Necchi Facebook group. Sharon, the incredibly helpful group moderator, says she thinks that the BU Supernova was originally sold as just a zig-zag machine without a cam drive, but dealers could offer the cam drive as an option to customers who wanted to pay extra for it. That may have been the Necchi company's way of gauging consumer interest in a cam drive before switching over production and making cam drives standard on all Supernovas. But just to keep it interesting, one of the guys on the Necchi Facebook group has two machines, both badged as BU Supernovas, both with cam drives, but one has the needle plate lever in one spot and the other has it in the other spot. And one has a 3-pin terminal and one has a 4-pin terminal. Of course, in any manufacturing business, there are going to be situations where parts from one production run get used in subsequent production runs rather than being tossed out. It all makes for a lot of lively speculation. As Jeff, the owner of the two BU Supernovas, quipped, "You know how it goes ..... it's Friday and you want to go home and you just ran out of Automatica badges so you grab a label off your co-worker's machine cause he left early." 

My other two Supernovas are both pink. One is a Supernova BF, which is a straight-stitching Supernova (no zig-zag and no cams). I purchased it from Sharon last year. It's a great machine and I should use it more often but I usually default to Vittorio. I also have the Supernova Ultra Mark II, which came from Tera. 

Vintage Singer owners are spoiled; the Singer records are all extant and thus it is possible to nail down the exact date of production of a Singer machine from the serial number. Apparently, there was a fire in the Necchi factory and many of the records were lost, so we do a lot of guessing about models based on what machines people have with what features. I say Vittorio was "born" in 1948 just because that's a good ballpark guess, but I really have no way of knowing for sure. 

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The Bohemian Carpet Bag has gone to project time out, at least until I can get the Necchi industial up and running. (Hopefully I can get the treadle irons painted this weekend if we haven't floated away by then.) I am just not feeling the love for this project right now and I know better than to push when that happens. I've redone the main panels and I am satisfied with them. The Godfather Necchi is actually doing a really nice job with the faux leather. I am quite amazed at how easily that machine sews through even four layers of it. I did handles yesterday. It's only going to get tougher from here, though, when I have to sew those handles—with all that thickness—to the bag. I think it's better just to wait and sew it on the industrial. I just have to come to grips with the fact that it might be next fall before that happens, although if it doesn't stop raining, I may be doing more sewing than I planned on. 

I don't think I am in danger of becoming obsessed with bag making. I don't enjoy it as much as other kinds of sewing. Or perhaps this was just the wrong time of year to take on a new challenge or start a new big project. April was just a strange month all around. I have not felt so discombobulated in quite a while and I don't like it when things are so off-kilter. 

Monday
Apr242017

Mending Fences

A tree blew down the other night and took out part of the fence in the piggy pasture. The tree was on our property but it fell onto the neighbor's property. The husband cut it up yesterday afternoon and cleaned up the neighbor's land, and tonight, he is rebuilding the fence:

We're just glad it didn't happen while there were pigs in the pasture or they would be halfway to Missoula by now. It's always something. While he was out there, he cut down a few more dead trees. We don't need any more of them falling down on our fences. While he was busy with that project yesterday, I dug up and transplanted a dozen lavender seedlings from my herb garden to the big garden to make another hedge. A few years ago, I put a lavender hedge in the middle of the garden and it is covered in bees for most of the summer.  I am sure they will appreciate even more flowers. 

The chicks have outgrown the brooder box. We moved them to their own section of the coop, safe from the big chickens:

They appear to be enjoying all the extra space. That brooder box was pretty cramped. They'll stay in here for a couple of weeks until it's warmer outside, and then the husband will section off part of the chicken yard and we'll open the door and let them go out. It's always funny to watch them learning how to get in and out of the coop. 

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I have started on Bohemian Carpet Bag 2.0. That was not my intention, trust me. When I tried to sew the faux leather accents on the second side of the bag last night, it seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I finally narrowed it down to the Gutterman thread I was using in the bobbin. I am not using Aurifil because the consensus seems to be that polyester thread is better than cotton for bags, especially ones with vinyl or faux leather. I have had trouble with Gutterman thread in my vintage machines before and I should have known better. Sure enough, when I switched it out for some Mettler polyester, things improved dramatically, but by then, the second half of the bag was just shot. You really only get one chance to sew faux leather or leather because the needle leaves holes. With all the issues I had already experienced, I decided it was best just to start over. 

The husband says it is not possible to do everything perfectly 100% of the time (this is the pot calling the kettle black). I said I would be happy with 95%. 

I had to buy another yard of chicken fabric today. Thankfully, I had plenty of interfacing and fusible fleece and faux leather left. This second iteration is going much better, although all I have done so far is to cut out the fabric and fuse the interfacing and fleece to it. This time, I steam pressed the chicken fabric first to pre-shrink it. That worked nicely. I'll save the sewing of the faux leather accents for later this week. No sense tempting fate. Hopefully I can figure out a way to salvage some of the fabric from the first attempt and make a smaller bag out of it. I am determined to finish this bag (and the Ritzville quilt) before I have to stop sewing for the summer. 

Sunday
Apr232017

Theory Versus Practice

I've said before that I strongly dislike just jumping into a project without having done a lot of research ahead of time. I am definitely not a "Let's try this and see what happens" sort of person. I have been learning all I can about bag making. I joined the Creative Bag Making group on Facebook (it is a fun bunch of people). I read up on how to sew with faux leather. I gathered all of my supples. I read the pattern about 50 times. 

As the husband says, though, no battle plan ever survived first contact with the enemy intact. 

I worked on the Bohemian Carpet Bag again on Friday. I had to iron interfacing to the back of the fabric. My plan, based on reading about others' experiences, was to iron Pellon SF101, which is a medium-weight woven interfacing, to the fabric before ironing on the fusible fleece. The chicken home dec fabric is a jacquard weave and tends to be a bit unstable. 

The SF101 was a good choice for that first layer of interfacing, but it never occurred to me that the process of applying the interfacing would shrink the chicken fabric by half an inch in length. Normally, I pre-wash all my cottons and other natural fibers to avoid shrinkage surprises. This fabric, however, likely would have fallen apart in the wash. It frays very easily. 

Note #1 to self: Pre-shrink home dec fabric that can't be washed by going over it with a steam iron before fusing interfacing.

This is not a huge problem; mostly, it means that I have to cut the lining fabric a bit shorter to compensate for the shrinking of the main fabric. As it turned out, the SF101 was a great choice for the first layer because it really did help to stabilize the weave of the home dec fabric, stopped the fraying, and made fusing the fleece a lot easier.  

Last night, after I got home from the funeral, I sewed the faux leather pieces to the first side of the bag:

Not perfect, but I am okay with it. I sewed this on The Godfather, my Necchi BF with the extra-powerful motor. He sewed through the layers of fabric, interfacing, fleece, and faux leather like it was quilting cotton. (I did several test pieces, first, to adjust the tension.) I had the stitch length on 4, which is the longest for that machine, and I lightened the pressure on the foot a bit and used a roller foot (I need to get a Teflon foot). Still, the faux leather stretched a little bit, although I don't think that's going to be noticeable when the bag is put together. I added a bit more double-sided adhesive tape to pieces for the other side of the bag to keep the faux leather more firmaly adhered to the bag. We'll see if that makes a difference when I sew it.

I was trying to describe to the husband the difference between making that Cargo Duffle Bag that I did a few weeks ago and making a bag like this. Making that Cargo Duffle was an enjoyable experience. It involved materials I had worked with before—cotton, canvas, and batting—whose behavior was predictable. The pattern only involved a few new techniques, ones that were relatively easy to master. This Carpet Bag, on the other hand, is requiring me to go up a pretty steep learning curve pretty quickly. I am using materials I haven't used before—home dec jacquard, faux leather, and fusible fleece—without knowing exactly where the pitfalls are. There is little margin for error in some cases. I am right smack in the middle of my discomfort zone. I haven't screwed anything up beyond saving, but I am not sewing to my usual high standards. I just want to work through this bag, painful though it may be, so that I have the experience for future projects. My biggest problem is that I don't enjoy having to learn by making mistakes. I would prefer to do something perfectly the first time. 

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Some day I need to videotape the conversations that the husband and I have while I am working on a sewing machine. They can probably best be summed up as "The immovable object meets the irresistible force."

[Oh wait, that describes most of our relationship.]

It's largely a difference in our working styles. I look at a problem and think to myself, "What is the best possible fix for this that I can accomplish (mostly) by myself and that doesn't require a lot of exotic supples?" The husband, on the other hand, looks at the same problem and thinks, "Which power tool should I use?" Thus, I fixed the terminal on the sewing machine with a couple of machine screws and nuts. He was all ready to go get his rivet gun. 

It's very useful to argue discuss these issues with him, because between the two of us, we do look at the problem from every possible angle. And sometimes I need to tap into his much vaster experience with all things mechanical. He says he is still waiting for me to completely dismantle and put a sewing machine back together.  (I think he secretly wants to help. #relationshipgoals) 

That machine is back together and I did some test sewing on it yesterday. It probably won't outlive a vintage Singer machine, but it should give this lady a few more years of solid use. 

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Cathy's memorial service was yesterday and it was beautiful. The church was packed. I had prepared 35 minutes worth of prelude music and I played every minute of it while people were getting settled. And I was struck, once again, at how interconnected our community is. Kalispell is not a huge place and we have lived here for 23 years. I ran into several people yesterday who also knew our other friend and were mourning his passing, too. We live in one giantic web of interconnectedness and at times like this, that interconnectedness is a huge comfort. 

Friday
Apr212017

I Am Done with April

This has just been a lousy month. Another friend of ours died yesterday. It was totally unexpected. I actually had heard the medical call on the scanner while I was working but I was unaware who the patient was. When I got home from town last evening, the husband gave me the news and I put two and two together. This all just sucks.

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I did manage to fix the sewing machine. I'll take whatever victories I can get at this point:

I went to Fastenal and explained to the guy there what I needed and he set me up with the correct size hardware. (For $1.78, I now have enough screws and nuts to fix about 65 sewing machines.) I stopped at Jo-Ann Fabrics on the way home to buy fusible fleece and ran into the lady who had brought me the sewing machine the day before. She was happy to hear that I thought the machine was fixable. She also gave me all of her leftover coupons, which was lovely of her. The terminal is now firmly attached to the metal plate behind it. I am going to suggest that she not unplug the power cord lead from this terminal and instead just unplug the cord at the outlet. That will save some stress on this terminal which, after all, is still plastic and still prone to disintegrating. I plugged the machine in and ran it last night. It definitely needs a good oiling. It should make decent stitches, though, provided I don't uncover some other problem. At least it isn't headed for the landfill. Yay me. 

Thursday
Apr202017

One Wasted Afternoon

Have you ever had one of those days when you tried to work on a project but things just kept going awry?

[Let me just say that I try very hard to keep those kinds of days to an absolute minimum by planning down to the last detail before I even start something. It's a testament to how badly the universe thought I should be doing something else that it was able to thwart me as thoroughly as it did yesterday.]

I decided that the home dec chicken fabric I bought at Hobby Lobby a few weeks ago would make a great one of these:

I have had this pattern forever. I think I bought it five or six years ago, back when my ambition way outstripped my sewing abilities.  I unearthed the pattern a few days ago and moved it to the top of the queue. I have the correct thread and needles. I even have the proper hardware for it. I just needed a day when I had a few hours to devote to getting all the pieces cut out and organized. I finished working at 1:30 yesterday and thought to myself, "Yay! I can go work on that bag!"

Then I looked outside. It was beautifully sunny and 60 degrees. I thought to myself, "I should go spend a few hours in the garden."  I stood there and argued with myself about whether I should be outside working or inside sewing. In the end, I decided that there would be plenty of sunny days requiring me to work in the garden in the coming months, and that I should take advantage of one of my last sewing days. 

[The husband is much better about this kind of stuff than I am. I have a hugely overdeveloped sense of duty which often means I am out doing the things I think I should be doing instead of the things I want to be doing. He works harder than anyone else I know, but he also knows when to indulge himself and take a nap. I am trying to learn from him, which is why I decided to go sew instead of digging up lavender plants and moving them. I think that was the wrong decision.]

After dithering for 15 minutes about the proper placement of the pattern on the fabric—this needs to be "fussy cut" and I am really not good at that—I got the two main bag pieces cut and set aside. The pattern calls for fusible fleece to be fused to the main pieces before sewing. On one of my archeological digs through my fabric stash recently, it registered in my brain that I had a package of fusible fleece. Alas, when I went to retrieve it, I realized that it was Insul-Brite, not regular fusible fleece. Insul-Brite has special reflective fibers throughout that make it suitable for things like lunch bags and insulated curtains. I don't need to keep my clothing warm, however.  

I did have a package of regular fusible fleece, but the piece inside wasn't large enough. I was also thrown by the directions on the package that said, "Soak in hot water for 15 minutes and let air dry to pre-shrink." I had never seen that advice mentioned with any patterns using fusible fleece. Perhaps it was just this brand. In any case, I had stalled out and couldn't go any further without enough fusible fleece.

The sun was still shining. You would think I might have gotten a clue, but no. I was irritated that I couldn't move forward on this project when I had this rare block of free time in which to do so. And I was not going to make a special trip to Jo-Anns just to buy fusible fleece. 

I looked at the other bag patterns I have stacked up and thought that I might work on one of them, but I could not for the life of me get my focus back. I wandered around the upstairs looking at patterns and fabric and basically wasting precious sewing time—which just irritated me further—until I tripped over the box of thread on the floor. I have lots of thread, much of which came with sewing machines and boxes of stuff from thrift stores. I sat down on the floor and carefully separated all the spools into four categories: the 100% polyester thread, cotton or cotton/poly thread, heavy-duty thread, and specialty thread. That took a good hour and made me feel marginally better. 

I came downstairs to get a glass of water (the sun was still shining) and looked at the sewing machine sitting on the kitchen table. Earlier in the day, I had gotten a phone call from a lady who lives up the road, near my friend Susan. She said she had a Janome sewing machine that wasn't running well and could I take a look at it? I said sure, so she brought it down and left it with me. It's a Janome model that's about 20 or 30 years old. She had acquired it from another friend of ours who is on the fire department. It had belonged to his late wife. 

I figured I had nothing to lose by at least plugging this machine in to see what it was doing. I never got to that point, because the terminal for the foot pedal/power cord was loose and moving back and forth. I sighed, got out the screwdriver, opened up the side of the machine, and discovered that the reason that the (plastic) terminal was loose was because it was—or had been—screwed to another (plastic) piece. The second plastic piece had disintegrated and pieces of it were rattling around inside the machine:

The engineer who designed this ought to be ashamed of him- or herself. No doubt this person is now designing parking lots at strip malls. The power cord terminal on a sewing machine takes an incredible amount of stress from having the power cord plugged in and pulled out repeatedly and this was designed to fail from day one. The problem now is how to attach the terminal to the metal piece behind it. (I have no hope of finding this replacement part; any donor machines out there probably became donor machines when this part failed on all of them.)

I had a meeting at church, so I said goodbye to the wasted afternoon. When I got home, I showed this mess to the husband and asked for his advice. He went and got a container of machine screws for me to see if there was one small enough to attach the terminal to the metal plate with some nuts. The metal plate had been situated between the plastic terminal and the broken piece, so it had the proper holes. Unfortunately, they smallest machine screws he had were just a smidge too big. I'll have to go throw myself on the mercy of the guys at Fastenal today and see if I can find something smaller. If I can't fix this terminal issue, this machine is destined for the landfill. 

Lesson learned—when the sun is shining, go work in the garden. It's supposed to rain for the next week, though.