Sewing As Engineering

Sewing involves a lot more engineering than people think it does. Engineering is just another word for design, after all. Maybe sewists aren't putting people on the moon, but we do keep human beings from being naked, and some days, I think that's a more noble profession. 

My purse contains one item that causes me no small amount of panic if I can't immediately put my hands on it, and it's not my phone. It's this:

This is the case that holds my cheaters. I wear bifocal contacts*, but I still need my low-power cheaters to be able to see my piano music on Sunday mornings. I guard this thing like the crown jewels. I have had it for probably 10 years. My mother gave it to me; she bought one for me and one for herself and I think she got them at some kind of craft show or Women's Club event in the town where I grew up and where she still lives. I like this case because it holds two pairs of cheaters, my regular ones and my sunglass ones:

Believe it or not, I wear those sunglass cheaters at church sometimes. Our church has large windows on both the east and west sides of the sanctuary. The piano faces east. Depending on the time of the year, I either get sun in my face or sun behind me which creates glare, so I do pull out those sunglass cheaters on occasion. I love having a case that holds both pairs. It's looking a little worn, though. And my mother, sadly, lost hers on a recent trip to visit my sister. She said I should make some new cases. (I take that as a subtle hint.)

I am lazy about some things, and one of those things happens to be "not spending my time inventing a wheel that someone else has already invented." I thought that surely there would be a pattern for this type of eyeglass case somewhere on the internet. I scoured Pinterest and Google images to no avail. There are lots of eyeglass case patterns—even ones that hold two pairs of glasses—but nothing exactly like this design. I find that bizarre. Did the person who made and sold these so many years ago invent this design? Perhaps. In any event, it appears I am going to have to reverse engineer it. Honestly, it's NOT complicated. It's three pieces of fabric sewn together in a tube, then folded up onto itself. The third piece of fabric—it's hard to see in the picture above, but it's there—forms the divider. The glasses look like they are sitting next to each other, but the divider is actually vertical and hard to photograph. It'll probably take me 10 minutes to get the measurements and cut out a prototype. Stay tuned. 

*Yes, I wear bifocal contacts. I only wear them when I go to town or when I am playing at church. Here at home, I wear my regular (not bifocal) glasses. I wear my distance glasses if I am driving and don't have my contacts in. The eye doctor wanted me to try wearing one distance and one close-up contact—which apparently works better for most people—but I have trouble seeing my music if I do that, so I put up with the bifocal contacts and a pair of cheaters over them. It's not a huge issue for me unless I lose my cheaters. 


The husband has been working next door at our neighbor's house, so he has a short commute this week. Our neighbor lady trains horses and she and her husband are building an arena on their property. The husband is doing the concrete. Fortunately, the weather has been decent. From about October on, pouring concrete in Montana is a crapshoot. The winter we built our house—1995/1996—we poured the foundation the first week in December and the temperature went down into the low single digits overnight. The husband had the entire thing tented with heaters going. He spent most of the night out there babysitting the slab. It wasn't ideal, but the bank had only given us four months to get the house built and we couldn't wait. 

At some point, unless we have a ridiculously mild winter, the concrete pouring will cease for a few months. We could use much more than the few inches of snow we got at the beginning of November. No one wants another fire season like we had this past year. 

I am enjoying having DD#1 around for a few weeks. She is a good cook and we like the same foods. She made a really delicious curry the other day. Yesterday, she even asked if it was okay if she cleaned the house. I told her to knock herself out. As long as she doesn't rearrange my kitchen, she can clean whatever she likes. 


I Am Officially a Farmer

At least according to the US Department of Agriculture. 

This came in the mail yesterday, addressed to me:

The USDA Census of Agriculture happens once every five years. I suspect that we appeared on the USDA radar screen as a result of having our pigs processed at a USDA-approved facility, which is why the letter came addressed to me and not the husband. I am the producer of record on file with the processor because I handle all of the scheduling and payments. 

I was curious to see what kinds of questions they asked in the census, so I completed it this morning. My response is required by law, after all. We're small potatoes (see what I did there?) when it comes to farming operations and a lot of the questions didn't apply. We don't rent out our land to others or lease land for additional production by us (at least not until we can clone ourselves). We don't hire workers, undocumented or otherwise. We don't use commercial fertilizers. We don't participate in any kind of government program for loans or conservation. The funniest question was the one that asked how much of my/our time was spent on farm-related activities. Was it more than 50%? I didn't know how to answer that. There are plenty of days when we spend more than 50% of our time on farm-related activities, but in sum over the whole year, I'd have to say no. The census included a fair number of questions related to the financial aspects of our operation. I said to the husband that those were really tough to answer, not because I don't have a handle on the cash flow (I do—down to the penny), but because our farming "profit" also includes things that are hard to track by dollars and cents. I know how much I save at the grocery store, for instance, because we grow so much of our own food, but that's not reflected in the P&L generated by QuickBooks at the end of the year. Our farm is not a self-sustaining operation when viewed purely in terms of money. In fact, on the advice of our accountant, we run the income and expenses through the construction company LLC rather than having a separate LLC for the farm. From that standpoint, the farm is subsidized by the construction company. 

I messaged my friend Cathy to see if she had gotten the same letter. We'll have to get together and compare notes. First I have to go polish up my muck boots. 


I quilted a bit on the Christmas present quilt last night and then spent the next two hours picking out what I had quilted. (I see a theme emerging here.) I wasn't happy with either the quilting pattern or the thread color. I will try again tonight with a different thread color and pattern. (I do audition threads and patterns, but it's not always easy to extrapolate from a small sample how something is going to look on a larger item.) The thread color needs to be darker. That is kind of counterintuitive; you would think that a lighter-colored thread would blend in better, but in this case, the lighter-colored thread was standing out way too much on the multicolored fabrics. It's hard to explain without a picture. You'll have to trust me. 

I know that after the holidays, I am going to be ready to get back to working on something other than quilts. I still need to make an overnight bag for myself. I've had one on the to-do list for almost two years now. It's time to get it done. The benefit of having waited so long is that now I have a lot more bagmaking experience under my belt—and an industrial sewing machine—and I feel much more confident about tackling something like the Amy Butler Weekender, for example. I'll be up for the challenge. 


A Change in the Workflow

A good amount of my sewing stuff got put away yesterday, where it will stay for the next month or so.  I kept out the things I will need to finish the quilts I am working on. I also have a stack of pillowcases and some basic quilt blocks to work on, but any designing or spur-of-the moment projects will have to wait. 

[That felt rather like having my security blanket taken away. I am so used to having things out in the open where I can work on them as I have time, or play with an idea when inspiration strikes. I know I am luckier than a lot of people who share space and have to take things out and put things away every time they want to sew. I also know that if that were my situation, I'd probably sew a lot less. I will just suck it up and deal with it for a few weeks.]

The binding has been sewn onto the loopy quilt and just needs to be turned to the back and tacked down by hand. I basted the second Christmas gift quilt yesterday. I can start quilting that any time now (and should). I also basted that low-volume/low contrast quilt from a few months ago. I had everything ready to put it together and it seemed silly to put the pieces back into storage rather than assembling it. Slowly but surely, the backlog of quilt tops is getting dealt with. 

My cutting table is going to be the last thing to get put away. It's in DD#2's room and she won't be home for two weeks yet. It can stay where it is for the moment. I also need it available to process this:

Some of you may remember me talking about my friend Cathy, who died last March after a battle with kidney cancer. She was the executive director of The Nurturing Center, a non-profit in Kalispell that helps to support local families. After she died, the center asked our church ladies if we would make some simple cotton drawstring bags in Cathy's memory; they would be used to hold some simple items for new babies and given out to anyone who needed one. Cathy was partial to ladybugs, so we made the first batch out of ladybug fabric. I did all the cutting and other women sewed the bags. 

A few weeks ago, my friend Twila—Cathy's sister-in-law—came to church and said we had been asked by the center if we would be willing to make another batch of bags. Apparently, the bags had been a huge hit and had been showing up in schools and daycares all over town as they got repurposed by older children in some of the familes who had received them. The answer was an enthusiastic "Yes, of course!" This is the bag of fabric I brought home yesterday. There are probably three bolts of fabric in there, some with ladybugs and some with cats. I'll work on getting this fabric cut here and there. Twila said I didn't need to cut all of it at once, but cutting fabric is actually rather relaxing. We're all missing Cathy, especially at this time of year. It's nice to have a reminder of her. 

[The sewist in me cannot help but notice that the tote bag that contains the fabric in the picture, above, is of really nice design and construction. I may have to reverse engineer something like it before I return it to The Nurturing Center.]

One really positive side effect of having DD#1 home and helping me to put sewing stuff away is that several closets are getting cleaned out and stuff organized to donate to the thrift stores. 


Loopy Lines

There is going to be a fair bit of quilting content here on the blog for the next couple of weeks. If you were hoping for other content, I'll rotate through to that eventually (I have got to get the sewing machines under control starting in January), but I tend to write about what I am working on at the moment, and at the moment that happens to be quilts. 

The Great Sewing Machine Tension Debacle is in the rearview mirror and as if this afternoon, the quilting on that project is complete. I can show you because this one isn't a surprise:

After some deliberation, I decided to go with loops (shocking, I know). The first iteration of this quilt was done on Tera's longarm in an allover pattern, but this version has horizontal bars of Kona Royal in between the scrappy sections. I just didn't think an overall pattern would cut it. I stitched in the ditch along each long edge of the Kona sections, so it made sense to echo that in the scrappy sections with another kind of horizontal pattern. The scrappy sections differed in width, as well. A horizontal pattern that could be scaled up or down to fit was a plus (some sections have one line, some have two, some have four, etc.). And let's face it, I am good at loops. 

The stitch length/tension on the back is pretty darn nice:

No top thread showing through, hooray!

Now it's a matter of trimming off the excess backing and batting (squaring up the quilt in the process) and putting on the binding:

I'll make the binding tonight and get it sewn down this week and then I can cross this one off the list. The last two quilts I've done had Kona Royal and Kona Rich Red for bindings, so for this one, I am going with Kona Kiwi. It's kind of a grass green. 

This morning, I also made the backing for the other Christmas present quilt. I went totally OCD on that one and matched the pattern across the back because anything worth doing is worth doing in excess. I am hoping to get that one all basted together tomorrow so I can start quilting it. I am still on schedule for all Christmas present projects—so much so that I am considering adding another one. We'll see how this week goes. I don't want to get too cocky. 


We are waiting for DD#1 to arrive; she is driving home from Boise today, having finished her second fieldwork session. She'll be here for most of the month while she prepares to take her board exams. A peds clinic in Seattle has already expressed interest in hiring her and she goes back in a few weeks for a second interview. 

DD#2 went to Budapest this weekend on the second of her Gonzaga-sponsored trips. The Florence students had 10 days off over Thanksgiving so she and a group of friends went to London, Edinburg, and Dublin. She was back in Florence for four days and then went to Budapest. Once they get back to Florence, they are not allowed to leave Italy again until they all come home on December 21.  

I told her she needed to have some chicken paprikas while she was in Budapest. I am curious to see her pictures. It's been eight years since I was there.

It will be good to have everyone under the same roof for a few weeks. I am panicking a bit about where I am going to put all my sewing stuff. I've taken over most of the upstairs. People need to sleep here, though, so I have started moving things into bathrooms and other out-of-the-way locations.  


The Next Generation

I got a call from our friend Tommy yesterday. He's on the fire department with the husband. He's also an auto mechanic with an upholstery business on the side. I've sold him two vintage sewing machines in the past: a Necchi BU Nova and a Singer 78-1 industrial. He was calling to tell me that his daughter—who is a senior in college—picked up a Singer 185J at the thrift store for $13.99. He said that when she brought it home, he said to her, "What were you thinking?" but then he started researching it online and realized that it was a good, solid machine. I told him that she had chosen well. (She has been sewing all through college on a little Brother that he bought her at Costco.)

This isn't her machine, but it's just like it. (This is one I picked up for somebody else a couple of years ago):

Tommy's daughter's machine came in a case—although those cases are notoriously brittle with age—but because it is a 3/4-sized machine, cabinets for them are a bit harder to come by. Tommy wanted to know if I had any leads on one. "As a matter of fact," I said, I have an empty cabinet that will fit this machine sitting in our upstairs bathroom. I'd be happy to sell it to you." (We're using it for extra storage.) The husband is going to bring it down and load it into my car and I'll take it over to Tommy's this afternoon on my way into town. 

[And this, dear people, is why I buy sewing machine stuff even if it isn't immediately apparent that I am going to need it. One never knows where it is going to end up.]

I am thrilled that this young lady knew enough to appreciate the value of a vintage Singer. I hope she has many hours of fun sewing with her new machine.


I could hardly sit still to work yesterday. I really wanted to spend the day machine quilting one of the (many) tops I am trying to get done before Christmas. I finally sat down at the machine just after dinner, got everything set up to free motion quilt, and took off—except that I had forgotten to adjust the tension to compensate for the heavier thread I am using on top. I have the special blue dot FMQ bobbin case for my machine, but the top tension still needs to be tweaked a bit. I then proceeded to violate Rule Two, which is to turn the quilt over and look at it to make sure everything looks okay on the back, too. I had done two full rows before I bothered to turn it over, and I was horrified at how sloppy the bottom stitches were. And this is a quilt with a solid background, so there is no hiding sloppy stitching (not that I would, but especially not on a quilt with a solid back). 


There was nothing for it except to take the quilt off the machine and rip out those rows of stitches. I went and settled in on the couch and watched YouTube videos with the husband while the seam ripper and I got to know each other. I'll take another stab at the quilting tonight. Once I get the machine set up properly, the quilting should go smoothly. I only have two quilts I NEED to get done before Christmas, and this is the first of them. If I get these two finished in the next 24 days, I'll be satisfied. 

It happens to all of us eventually. I should know not to be in such a hurry. 


All of the pork got delivered Monday night and amazingly, all of ours fit into our freezers. The processor was offering Canadian Bacon this year, so I had him do some of that for us. I'll try it this weekend. It's good to have that finally crossed off the list, and I am also thankful that the husband was able to drive up to Eureka and pick it up. He's still working, but the lack of daylight limits how much he can get done. He is very happy when the solstice rolls around and the days start getting longer again.