Sunday, 1 May 2011

Happy Sewing Birthday!

I've been sewing (with a machine) since I was 16 but now I am onto my second Fashion Design and Dressmaking Course with the Regent Academy, I need a machine that does a little more than the Toyota 21DES. That's a good sewing machine, but it's very basic.

It was my 21st birthday this April 22nd, so my Mum got me a sewing machine that I chose on Ebay (I really recommend going there if you are looking for a new sewing machine -- we got £207 off the RRP before postage!). It's a Brother XR6600. Here's a picture:

I did have a little trouble with the tension and that took up my attention for nearly a week. It wasn't until the needle bent (I used the wrong stitch for the overcasting foot) and I had to replace it that I found there was nothing wrong with the tension -- the needle was just too small for the fabric. We live and learn.

That round thing in the middle is a thread box and it's just the right size for Gutermann Thread spools and for bobbins. As it turns out the bobbins from my Toyota machine are nearly identical to the Brother ones, except for a little number 16 on the Brother ones.

The blue thing you can see under the presser foot is just a little denim mat I made as stitch practice. I leave it there so that I can keep the presser foot down when not in use (which saves straining the spring inside) and save damaging the presser foot so much on the feed dogs.

Anyway... it came with 7 presser feet! I'm going to have fun playing with those. There is a button sewing foot, an overcasting foot (which can also be used for edgestitching and topstitching), an embroidery foot, a blindhem foot (which I suspect can be used as a stitch-in-the-ditch foot with practice), a one-step buttonhole foot and a standard presser foot. Now, I did get an adjustable zip foot from Hemline (separately) but as it turns out both of my machines are two of the few that don't fit it -- it nearly entirely covers the needle hole! Update: I was wrong -- I just didn't tighten the screw on the back of the foot enough. It does fit both of my machines!

Look. On the front of the machine there is a little door that is a photo frame! It hides the stitch selection and presser foot pictures. The stitch selection buttons and the stitch width and length buttons are very easy to use. The hand wheel is too hard for my mum to turn (she has arthritis) but it's fine for me. The bobbin winder and the drop feed switch however are rather tough. Maybe they'll ease in time.

I could come to love this machine as I get accustomed to it. It's got some very pretty embroidery stitches, a scallop stitch, 5 one-step buttonholes and a bar tack.

The buttonholes' stitch width and length can be adjusted to suit different fabrics and they look a lot more professional than the 4-step buttonhole on the Toyota machine. These one-step buttonholes are also always balanced on each side, which I hope will save making so many test buttonholes!

The embroidery stitch that looks like triangles on the picture is actually really long (3cm?) when sewn and dosn't look very pointed at all, which to me is a good thing. There are two cross-stitch patterns, one pretty, simple one and one with more stitches to it. The latter requires medium-slow speed for good results, otherwise it dosen't look as it should.

Oh, and the purple rectangle on the door is actully a place for you to put your own pictures! The machine comes with a template for you to draw around and cut your pictures and photos to the right size.

It's a little lighter than my Toyota and a little smaller (until I put the hard cover on). Is this a great little machine or what?

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I also got two books for my birthday: Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong, and Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide. They're both about A4 and roughly 3cm thick (I haven't measured).

 I don't want to take photos of inside the books in case I'm not allowed to (copyright laws).

Let's look at the first one: Patternmaking for Fashion Design...

This should keep me busy for a while. It uses the American system of patternmaking, not the European one, and all the measurements are in imperial (inches) but it shows you all kinds of garments, except underwear and accessories. (Though I have a suspicion that the bikini pattern could be used for underwear because the book says it can be made in any fabric.) There is a whole section for children's wear (ages 3 to 14) and a chapter for menswear. In that chapter it also shows you how to sew a jacket and line it by "bagging" the lining, rather than the traditional way of handstitching it in.

I'm not sure I will use the American system for drafting torso blocks -- the metric European one may be better for me. I think I will combine the systems for designing.

Claire Sheaffer's Fabric Sewing Guide is a veritable encyclopeodia of fabric advice, with shopping lists for things like feet and needles that help you get better results. It advises you on fastenings and care instructions. But it's not just about fabric. There is a rather large chapter in the latter half of the book full of sewing techniques for buttonholes (handstitched), seams, and zips. There is more detail there than in the module in my course!

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Now let's look at my zipper feet. On the left is the Toyota zipper foot, my best one. The one in the centre is the Hemline Adjustable Zipper foot. It's very small compared to other feet, but it dosen't fit either of my machines -- it covers the needle hole! The one on the right is the one that came with my Brother machine. It's not as good as the Toyota one -- it is a bit wiggly on the shank.

In this photo the zipper foot on the left is the Brother one and the other is the Toyota one. Can you see that the centre bit on the Brother one is almost non-existant in the front? I'm not a sewing machine expert at all, but it seems to make the foot less stable. The Toyota one has a little extra metal there. That seems to help, so I use the Toyota foot.
Now I have to go and put dinner on, so it's goodbye for now. Happy sewing!

If you would like a similar sewing machine to mine, I found this one. It's like mine, but with more features.