Monday, 30 January 2012

The manual never tells you everything...

This week I found out some things about my Brother XR6600 sewing machine that weren't even mentioned in the instruction manual, all about measurements. Alright, I wouldn't expect some of them to be mentioned because they were just happen-stance, but the first ones on the list, I think, ought to have been mentioned.

Needle Plate and Bobbin Cover Markings

You see on the bobbin cover those three lines? Well, I thought they were there just for aesthetic purposes, but it turns out that they are measurements. The smallest one is 1/2" away from the needle; the middle one is 5/8" (16mm) away; and the longest one is 3/4" (20mm) away. The end of grid on the needle plate is 3/8" (about 10mm) away. This information should help in turning corners. I used to just gauge it.

Also, the white bevelled edges at the ends of the needle plate (as indicated in the above photo) are both 5.5cm (about 2 3/16") away from the needle when it's in it's original position. Obviously, moving the needle to the right is going to reduce the width-wise measurement. But that can be used to your advantage - if you move your needle 5mm to the right you have a 2" (5cm) gauge.

Presser Feet Measurements
The next set of measurements are to do with the presser feet, specifically the Blind-hem foot (R) and the Overcasting foot (G).

This one is the Blind-hem foot which you may recall from the series I did on its many uses. I mention it here because when the needle is farthest to the left you have a 3mm (about 1/8") margin. This is good for edge-stitching.
This one is the Overcasting foot (G). When the needle is farthest to the left, you get a 6mm (about 1/4") seam allowance, so I guess you could use this foot instead of a Quarter-Inch foot!

I Think I Found Out Why the Stitch Shortens When I Use the Adjustable Zipper Foot

Apparently it's to do with the presser foot width and the feed dogs. The wider your machine can make stitches the farther apart the feed dogs are so you need a wider foot to hold the fabric in place on top of them. Imagine pushing fabric like a sewing machine does, but with your hands. You would have both hands matching; you wouldn't have one hand widthways and the other lengthways. I guess that's how sewing machines are.

Because my sewing machine has 7mm stitches it needs a wider foot or else the stitch shortens. I wonder if the Brother Adjustable Zipper foot would be better? It kind of looks wider in the photos. 

I wonder if the same is true of a Genuine Brother Ruffler? Mine is a no-name one I chose off eBay from America. The product name said Brother Heavy-Duty Ruffler, but lower down on the page under "Brand" it said "For Brother". Very sneaky and not far off false advertising.

An Update on Mum's Singer 533
I tried to fix it but I think I just made it worse, except for getting loads of fluff out (enough to fill a coffee cup) so I'm going to book it in for a service. It's never had one, and we know a man who started out by servicing Singers. Now he has a Janome shop.

It turns out that the machine's upper thread tension should disengage when I lift the presser foot. It doesn't, so something must need fixing. And it was like that when Sarah brought it, so it's not my fault.

I think I'll ask the repairman (Mr Hall) if he can get replacement presser feet because we have only the universal foot and according to the instruction book, it was supposed to come with a zipper foot, a special stitch foot (i.e. a satin stitch foot), and a blind-hem guide (which fits onto the presser foot bar) as well. As it turns out, the presser feet do clip on and off, but it takes quite a bit of effort to get them back on again, not like our modern ones!

Mum's machine is FAST. On the side of the machine it says "Not to exceed 1400 spm". Do you know what you would have to pay to get a machine that fast nowadays? No wonder is was so expensive in 1976! A fast sewing machine actually makes sewing more enjoyable. Mum didn't tell me before, but she always thought my machine was annoyingly slow.

A Bit of Hemstitching with an Ordinary Needle

On of the features of the Brother XR6600 is that you can do hem-stitching with it, which is good if you like heirloom sewing. I had a go at this (only briefly) on a scrap of fabric. You can see the results  in the gold stitching to the right. (Actually the thread is fawn colour, but often ends up looking golden.) 

The hemstitching in black is what I did by hand. I think that is the wrong side of the hand-hemstitching, but it still looks nice to me. I have to say that I prefer my hand-hemstitching, but then I have practised that a bit before, and this was the first time a tried it by machine.

Wouldn't the hemstitching look nice around a short sleeve on a Summer blouse?

P.S. Please ignore the stitching at the top of the fabric - it's WS up so it doesn't look very good.

Have You Tried the Dress-making Courses on Craftsy?
Around Christmastime they had a special offer: two-for-one. So I bought Gertie's Sew Retro Bombshell dress course. (Gertie of Blog for Better Sewing). It's very good. When I bought it I got an e-coupon for my free course, which I saved. 

Then last week or so I got the newsletter advertising the Couture Dress course by Susan Khalje, R.R.P. about $80 with a free Vogue pattern, so I bought it. It's very interesting.

I'm looking forward to Gertie's Starlett Jacket course as well, which I plan to get when it's on special offer because I want a smart jacket.

Benefits of the Craftsy Courses:
  • These courses certainly take the fear out of fitting. It's not as hard as you might think. : ) 
  • They also make me appreciate that you can make many different garments from one pattern, instead of having to buy a new pattern every time you want a new garment. It's more affordable this way, and saves on fitting sessions. 
  • Something else you come to appreciate is that you don't need a bells-and-whistles sewing machine to make wonderful clothes. The machine Gertie uses is a simple entry-level Janome, and Susan Khalje only uses straight stitches on her machine in the video. 
By the way, Craftsy are not paying me to write this; they don't even know I am writing this.

I wish we could put the videos on disc or something so that I don't have to be on the PC to watch them. I'm kind of allergic to computers and hand-held video games. I think it's something to do with the screen. They just numb my mind. I go quite blank. I'm almost zombie-fied - just on autopilot! Once I almost gave away more change than the customer had given me! That doesn't happen if I avoid computers. Now you see why I only blog once a week. : )

Well, that's about it this week.
Until next time, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery

Monday, 23 January 2012

"Home at Last!"

Yesterday my elder sister Sarah, her husband (Mike), and their two little children (Nathan [5] and Libby [almost 3]) came to visit because it was Mum's birthday last Thursday. They would have come on Thursday but Sarah had a bad cold. Anyway, they also brought my Mum's old SINGER 533 sewing machine that she bought in 1976 (when Sarah was about 1 and a half). It's home at last!

It has been up in Sarah's attic for who knows how long getting rusty and changing colour slightly. My first impression after noticing its being rather dirty is that it is very heavy. I could lift it, but I was nearly straining myself. No wonder my Brother XR6600 is considered lightweight!

Something else I noticed is the Singer Red "S" logo. It's not like the one they use now. Look at the picture: In the red S there is a silhouette of a woman sewing. The logo looks big in the photo but it's really only about 12mm (nearly 1/2 ") tall.

Once I scratched the rust off with foil I switched the machine on. It is noisy. Also, having a front-mounted tension assembly, every time I remove the work I have to turn the tension to 0 (unless I'm missing something) because the tension does not automatically disengage like it does on our modern sewing machines.

This machine was quite modern when Mum bought it for £200 (on a payment plan) in 1976. But now even the most basic machines do more and cost less. Imagine what sewing machines will be like 36 years from now - what will they do that people will take for granted? Do you know this machine didn't even come in a box?! The man just delivered it in its snap-on case!

The presser feet are screw-on so Mum didn't change them very often. The zipper foot has gone missing now so there is only the standard presser foot. Even when Mum bought the 533 it didn't come with the special purpose presser foot or the Blind-hem guide that are in the manual. I guess that must be the difference between British machines and American ones - the American ones come with more stuff. Humph.

The machine has (I count) six stitches and no automatic buttonhole. The stitches are:

  • straight stitch,
  • zigzag stitch,
  • blind-hem stitch,
  • straight stretch stitch,
  • ric-rac stitch (stretch zigzag),
  • and slant over-edge stitch. 

The latter three can only be used when the machine is set on Flexi-stitch as it is called. (I found the manual at Singer's US website). This is like the S.S. setting on a lot of modern machines. (By the way, what does S.S. stand for? Satin Stitch? Special Stitch? Stretch Stitch?)

Technically you can make buttonholes on this machine but it takes some practice. Mum just made hers by hand. She was taught how to in school. After all, the machines they taught on in those days were hand-crank Singers.

Interesting things about the Singer 533

It has a top-loading bobbin but the bobbin is flatter than my other bobbins. The free-arm is smaller than on both the Toyota and my Brother XR6600, which is better for cuffs and children's armscyes.

It may be because it has been standing redundant for a long time, but the stitch length dial is a little hard to turn and the reverse stitch button takes some getting used to.

Something this machine has that neither of my machines have is a presser foot pressure dial. When you turn it all the way down, it says "D" for darning.

Something that is neat about this machine is that it is "Made in Great Britain" (it says so on the back). Doesn't the gold writing look nice? Try finding a sewing machine (or any machine) nowadays that is made in Great Britain!

There is lots of room to the right of the needle - about 7 3/8"

The bobbin winder has a neat knob to move the bobbin over. It's much easier than having to push the bobbin over. I hope they bring this feature back. : )

Isn't the presser foot small?

I'm not sure how well you can see in the photo, but the seam allowances are in eighths of an inch!

That's about all I've got to say about the machine at the moment. What do you think? Do you have one? Please share your comments below. : )

Until next time, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery, 41 Market Place, Hornsea, East Yorkshire, HU18 1AP, Great Britain.

Monday, 16 January 2012

How To Sew Cuffs That Don't Fray At The Opening

When I was taking my first course in dress-making I set a goal to finish all the assignments and pass with a Distinction by the end of August that year. So I went quickly through the assignments and posted them. When they came back I was rather disappointed. I had not passed. I had got merit on most of them and some required re-doing. I was also asked to send only one or two at a time.

 One of the assignments that I had to redo was making and attaching a cuff. The course taught only one way of sewing a shirt cuff. The placket was not what we are usually taught to make (you know, bound edges, a facing, or a shirt placket). Instead it was snipped at the ends and folded under. Whenever I made it following their instructions, it turned out wrong and frayed at the corners (as you can see in the lower photo). I knew that this would not pass so I found a way around it.

In the photo below you can see that I cut the fold about 1/4" longer on each side and sewed ever-so-slightly on the fold when I attached the cuff. Also, I made a horizontal buttonhole instead of a vertical one so the cuff stays in place better. It's a lot better like that and I got a Merit (I would have preferred Distinction, but never mind).

So that is how I made a cuff that doesn't fray. I hope that helps, especially if you are doing the same course (The Regent Academy's Fashion Design and Dressmaking Course 1). By the way, if you are doing it, please let me know if they have updated it. My file talks about the fashion of 1996 as though it's next year.

Until next time, Happy sewing.
Sabrina Wharton-Brown

Monday, 9 January 2012

My Second Assignment: Fabrics that Require Special Handling

Sorry I didn't post last week. With having that series about How to Make a Dress, I got into the habit of not thinking ahead about my posts, and when Monday came I couldn't think of much to blog about.

During the week I remembered that I had taken photos as I did my second assignment (well, most of it - I haven't finished yet). So I thought I would post them.

My assignment is to collect samples of fabrics that require special handling and to make seams and hems for some of them. There are four categories: Pile Fabrics; Lace; Plastics and Skins; and Silk and Silkies.

This is the Pile Fabrics Sample Sheet. The first is corduroy, then fake sheepskin, stretch crushed velvet, and faux fur. I had to make a seam sample of the faux fur so I ordered half a metre of it to make sure I had enough. It's very easy to sew, a least when  you are only making a 4" seam. And it gets very warm when you wear it!

When you have sewn the seam, you have to pick out the hairs from the seam and then comb the seamline with your fingers (or a comb if you prefer) until the seam is pretty much invisible. If you press it, you need a press cloth or some tissue paper. Pressing makes the faux fur shinier and flatter.

The faux fur is on a knit backing, so it would need lining because it's very rough on the inside. The selvedge is even rougher and it is stiffer. In the picture, the piece with the white in it is the selvedge and the other piece is from the main fabric.
This is the laces sheet. There are only three on it because the online retailer was out of the one I ordered and sent me a blue guipure lace sample, even though I already had a pinkish guipure lace sample in the order.

The samples are: Spiderweb lace (guess how it got its name); Queen Anne Lace (which is £60+ per metre!), and guipure lace. I didn't have to make a lace seam sample. Maybe because laces vary so much so the techniques for sewing them vary too much for my course to specify just one.
 These are the Plastics and Skins samples. Don't worry - I didn't use real animal skin. I don't fancy handling it before it's treated, do you?

They are: Mirror Vinyl, Stretch PVC (think catsuits and secret agents), Faux suede (which is not very soft at all), and Leatherette (faux leather, fake leather, pleather, whatever you want to call it).

I had to make a seam sample of the leatherette. Well, actually I had to make two. I forgot when I was sewing that I was supposed to make a lapped seam sample, and instead I made a regular open seam. Upon checking my instructions (lucky I did) I noticed my mistake.

Note: unless you have a special foot, you must put tissue paper under the presser foot when you sew fabrics like these otherwise the fabric will stick to the foot. It's sometimes okay on the wrong side, because that is sometimes a knitted fabric.

Note 2: Don't use any fancy stitches like satin stitch or cross-stitch on plastics. The needle going in and out of the fabric so much perforates the fabric so that it comes apart. By the way, you don't need a Leather needle to sew faux leather. Actually, I think the wedge-shaped tip would damage the fabric. I used a universal needle and it's absolutely fine.

These are the silks and silkies fabrics. The first is Embroidered Beaded silk. The beads have a tendency to fall off. When they do, it's a good idea to save them to use later.

The next fabric is Satin-backed Dupion. Did you know that Dupoin is made from the silk of a cocoon with two silkworms in it? It has an uneven surface with bumps in the weave.

The next (the red one) is Duchesse Satin - made of polyester. This is nice and opaque and rather too stiff for a blouse. It's more suitable for evening dresses, jackets and things that you won't sit down in very much.

The last is Habutai silk. This is very lightweight. It's translucent. Because it's so thin, it's often used for Hong Kong finishing seams and hems.

For my sheers seam and hem samples I used Double Georgette. It was on sale and I soon found of why: it's off-grain. (There's a lesson for me.) It's a lovely fabric, when you've got it on grain, but I don't think I will use it very often. I think it's better suited to making ruffles.

Here is a picture of "squares" of the fabric. The one of the left is totally off-grain even though I cut it as a square. The one of the right is better. If you cut the fabric off-grain it immediately goes into a funny shape when you move it. (The square in the middle is the paper pattern I made.)

When you sew this fabric you must put tissue paper underneath it, otherwise the machine will eat it.

Here is a buttonhole on Double Georgette (I carefully tore away the tissue paper after stitching). Isn't it nice? I know I keep going on about the buttonholes on my sewing machine, but they are so much easier than on my last sewing machine!

When I get my other samples I can send off my assignment. But I have a long way to walk because our post office is not there any more. Really. One day my brother went and found it had been demolished! (It's like saying "I won't be here when you get back!") Now we have to go up a steep hill. And my later assignments are full garments and A3 size envelopes. "Why don't you take the car?" I hear you say. "I don't drive" is my answer. I would rather use the bus and save myself thousands of pounds per year, so I suppose I oughtn't to complain when I think of it that way. : )

Until next time, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery, 41 Market Place, Hornsea, East Yorkshire, HU18 1AP, UK

P.S. I still want to get a TOL sewing machine. What do you recommend? I'm looking at the Brother 4000D. I want to get a used machine from a good dealer. They're at least nearly as good as new and about £1000 cheaper. I think sewing machines are like cars: the minute you buy it you loose a lot of the value. Why pay the extra in the first place?