Wool Felt and Sand Pincushion

In a rather roundabout way, I made a new pincushion. I wanted to fill it with something that might sharpen my disappointingly dull new glass-head pins. I happened to have some fine sand, so I thought I’d give that a try for the filling. For the top, I wanted something that would keep sand in, but would let the pins slide through easily. Wool felt is ideal for that, but I didn’t have any. So I thought I’d make some.

I had a ball of somewhat lumpy wool yarn that I’d spun years ago while learning to use my spinning wheel. Weaving it into fabric and then felting it was a good project to involve the kids in. It was good math practice, too, figuring out how many warp threads and heddle strings we would have.

I made a frame loom out of scraps from a broken clothes drying rack. A paint stirring stick made an excellent shed stick, and the shuttles are made from an old yardstick. I found a good reference for using a simple loom, if you’d like to make one.

After I took the wool fabric off the loom, I sewed down the ends and ran it through the washer and dryer a few times to felt it. You can see it shrank quite a bit as it felted.

The wool fabric before and after felting.

The wool fabric before and after felting.

Now for the pincushion:

It remains to be seen if the sand will do anything to sharpen the pins. The pins slide into the pincushion very easily – in fact they slide in so easily they always end up pushed in as far as they can go, which makes it hard to grab a pin to pull it out, so I don’t think I’d like a sand filled pincushion for regular use. This large pincushion sits next to my sewing machine stuck full of my extra pins.

Posted in Sewing, Weaving

Zig-zag Treadle Sewing Machine

Singer Fashion Mate 252 TreadleI learned to sew on my mother’s treadle sewing machine when I was about seven years old. I thought our neighbor’s electric zig-zag sewing machine was super cool, so as a teenager I saved up my babysitting earnings and bought myself an electric zig-zag machine. After sewing on this for a few years, I really started to miss sewing on a treadle sewing machine, but I didn’t want to give up that nifty zig-zag stitch, so I decided to try to make a zig-zag treadle sewing machine.

I searched ebay* until I found a zig-zag sewing machine with a handwheel that stuck out over the edge of the sewing machine base. I found a Singer Fashion Mate 252 from the early 1970’s, in (not so) lovely shades of green. There are a few other Singer 200 and 300 series zig-zag models that also can be used with a treadle. Janome now makes a modern sewing machine to be put in a treadle base, too.

I didn’t have a cabinet the sewing machine would fit in, but apparently they fit right into a Singer 66 cabinet. I cut out a hole in a scavenged particleboard desk top and attached it to a treadle base I bought at a garage sale. I keep meaning to replace that particleboard with something prettier, but it works just fine, and I’m more into function than form, so it’s never made it to the top of my priority list.

This sewing machine is harder to treadle than a straight stitch machine, but my back gets tired from bending over the sewing machine before my legs get tired, so its not really an issue unless I’m doing a lot of satin stitching.

I like how universal the older Singer short shank machines are – I can use all of my vintage Singer attachments as well as modern attachments for short shank sewing machines.

I’ve sort of hacked this sewing machine. Here are the other modifications I’ve made:

  • The Fashion Mate 252 comes with straight stitch, zig-zag, and a blind hem stitch. In mMulti zig-zag cam in Singer 252y many hours spent looking at sewing machines on ebay, I’d noticed some flat black special stitch cams that looked like the ones inside my sewing machine. I took a chance and bought them, and luckily they fit, so I replaced the blind hem stitch cam with the 3-step zig-zag cam. You can also sew a blind hem with the 3-step zig-zag, so I’m not losing that function.
  • Usually stitch lengths are measured in millimeters these days, not stitches per inch as this Singer Fashion Mate 252 Stitch Length Thread Spoolsewing machine is marked with. I got tired of making the conversions, so I made a new label for the stitch lengths.
  • The thread holder is a section of a knitting needle that I glued in place with a huge glob of hot melt glue underneath, since the original thread holder had broken off.
  • I re-wired the light directly to a cord and re-attached it on the back of the sewing machine.

When I’ve told people about this sewing machine, they’ve commented that I could sew when the power is out. Which seemed kind of silly, since I’m not usually thinking about sewing when the power is out. I’m usually thinking about how I can keep the food from spoiling, and where the heck did I leave the flashlight. But we lost power several times this summer due to thunderstorms, and one of those times I noticed an article of clothing that needed mending sitting on my sewing machine and I took care of it, just for the novelty of sewing when the power was off.

I have been sewing with this sewing machine for years, and I love it. I have an electric sewing machine that’s only a few years old, but I hardly ever use it.

*I don’t recommend buying sewing machines on ebay. I bought three, and they all arrived damaged. Fortunately I was buying two of them for parts, and most of the parts were still good. Most people don’t know how to package sewing machines for shipping.

Posted in Sewing

Easy half scale dress form

The dress form cover pattern I have on Craftsy can also be stuffed to make a dress form.

Use firm non-stretch fabric to make the cover. Sew the pattern as in the instructions, but with one modification: Instead of leaving one side open, sew both sides closed.

If you want to keep the neck and armhole from bowing out, you could cut pieces of cardboard to fit the neck top and armhole areas and glue them on the inside with fabric glue. I didn’t do that in the pictures below, and you can see the armholes pushed out a bit.

To stuff the dress form, I rolled up some denim until I had a firm cylinder that would fit in the neck, then stuffed the rest with a combination of fabric scraps and polyester fiber fill. When I had stuffed it about halfway full, I inserted a vase, then stuffed around that. At the bottom I just pulled the drawstring tight. You could experiment with putting an oval of cardboard, wood, or foam in the bottom to give it a better shape. I stuffed the one below quickly – with a bit more effort, you could make one that is not as lumpy as mine.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Sewing Jeans

I’m now voluntarily and gratefully unemployed, my kids are growing out of their clothes, we moved to a smaller house, and I don’t have room for my huge fabric stash. What is this a recipe for? Sewing kids’ clothes! And what do they usually wear? Jeans and T-shirts. I’ve made a couple of T-shirts, and I decided now it was time to tackle jeans. I couldn’t find much in the way of kids’ jeans patterns. They all seem to be skinny jeans, and Kid 1 isn’t exactly skinny. I took a chance and bought the Jagger pattern on Craftsy, hoping I would at least learn something from the instructions. I made these up for Kid 2 as a test. I did learn a couple of things from the instructions, although they were at times vague and confusing – so at least it wasn’t a wasted purchase. I think I have the skills now to make my own pattern by rubbing off and grading up an outgrown pair of classic jeans.

Here are a few tips for sewing jeans or anything else with thick fabric:

  • I used to think you couldn’t sew jeans on a regular home sewing machine. You don’t need an industrial machine, you just need a hammer! I learned about this at fashion-incubator, and it has been an invaluable sewing tip. No jeans hemming or sewing should be done without a soft face hammer. Any time you have a thick area where multiple seams meet, give it a few whacks with a hammer before you sew over it. The results are amazing – the sewing machine goes right over the bumps with even stitches, and I sewed a whole pair of jeans without breaking a needle. I rarely even need to use a jean-a-ma-jig or folded scrap of fabric to level the presser foot. You can use a regular hammer, but put a scrap of fabric over your garment first, and be careful not to hit too hard.
  • I figured out how to sew on the belt loops with perfect bartacks. I used to completely mangle these. First, make sure the belt loops are extra long so you can fold under extra on the ends. That way you won’t have a lump on the end. You’ll trim the ends after the belt loops are sewn on. I hand basted the belt loops in place, but I’ll try using glue stick next time. Once you have the belt loops basted in place, flatten the ends with a hammer. Fold up two scraps of fabric until they are the same thickness as the belt loops and position one on each side of the belt loop. Then put on a buttonhole foot and center it over the belt loop. Lower your presser foot (It’s easy to forget on thick fabric, since you can’t see that the foot has been lowered). Sew a bartack with closely spaced zig-zag stitches.
  • Don’t buy jeans zippers from the fabric store. I will never buy one of those again – it was poor quality and did not slide smoothly. Now I save zippers from old jeans. If I run out of those I’ll either use regular nylon zippers or order YKK zippers.
  • Shorten a metal zipper at the top by pulling out the extra zipper teeth with pliers. I did end up ripping the zipper tape a little when I did this (on a re-used zipper), but a spot of fray check will fix this. Plus, the top of the zipper tape will be covered by the waistband.
  • Use a presser foot with an edge guide to keep your stitches straight when you are edge stitching or top stitching. Use a quarter inch foot when you need to topstitch a second row of stitches, guiding the edge of the foot along the first row of stitches. I bought a very inexpensive set of snap on presser feet that will fit on any short shank machine. They actually seem to be decent quality. My sewing has improved quite a bit since I got these. It is so easy to switch feet, I actually bother to switch to the proper foot. The blind hem foot that comes with this set can be modified to make it into a top stitching foot. The foot comes with a little plastic lip that goes under the edge of the fabric. Here’s what the foot looked like originally. I cut that lip off with a razor knife so I can use the foot for stitching on the edge of interior seams as well as along the edge of the fabric.
Topstitching foot

Blind hem foot with the lip cut off

  • I didn’t bother with topstitching thread on this pair of jeans. I have used it before, though. I don’t use topstitching thread in my bobbin, because I don’t like to change the bobbin tension, and I can never get the stitches on the underside to look good anyway. I just sew the hem from the right side. The main things to remember when using topstitching thread are to use a large needle and increase the upper thread tension until you don’t get loops on the underside of the fabric.
Posted in Sewing

Home-made serger thread spools

A year or two ago I came across a tutorial for dividing serger thread onto empty spools to avoid having to buy so many cones of thread for small projects, and I thought – “What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that?” I was able to remove the bobbin winder stopper on my Janome machine’s bobbin winder and stick an empty thread spool upside down right onto the bobbin winder without having to mess with attaching a bobbin to the spool. The spool didn’t fit on my older Singer’s bobbin winder, though. I filled a couple of spools and used them on my overlock machine, and it worked pretty well, but I ran into a couple of problems.

The first problem was that the thread built up too much twist as it unwound off of the small spools. After sewing for a while, the thread would kink up quite a bit. The other problem I had is I didn’t have any more empty spools, and I couldn’t find a source to buy any inexpensively. I tend to use serger thread in my sewing machine a lot of the time, so I don’t empty a lot of small spools. I know, I know, some people say using serger thread for general sewing is bad … but if it was causing my garments to fail, I’d stop doing it, wouldn’t I?

To solve these problems, I decided to make paperboard cones about the same size as the serger cones, so there would be less twist added to the thread as it unwound off the top of the spool. Since I am one of those irritating engineering types, I carefully calculated out the geometry and drafted out a pattern to make a perfect cone. I made a couple of these, with a cut-out circle of paperboard glued on at the bottom to keep the thread from going off the end as I wound the thread on. My solution for winding the thread wasn’t the greatest, but it sort of worked: I cut a piece of firm packing foam to fit inside the cone and hot glued a bobbin with the top broken off into a hole in the center of the foam. Well, not quite the center – it wobbled a bit when I used it on my sewing machine’s bobbin winder.

Here’s my original cardboard thread cone with the foam and bobbin thingy.

Here’s my original cardboard thread cone with the foam and bobbin thingy.

One day after making these spools I was eying the pile of toilet paper tubes that I’d been saving for kids’ craft projects, and I thought gee, those look sort of like the serger cones I spent all that time making. I cut slits most of the way down opposite sides of the cardboard tube, overlapped the upper edges about 1/4” (6 mm), and then glued and taped it back together. I traced around the bottom of the tube on a cereal box, then cut just inside that line and 1/4” (6 mm) outside of it to make a ring to fit on the bottom. I set the cones upside down and ran a bead of glue on the underside of the rings to keep them in place. In a few minutes, I’d made a half dozen cones. I felt kind of stupid for spending so much time designing and making the previous version.

Cut slits in the tube on opposite sides, stopping 1/2″ (1.3 cm) from the bottom. Glue edges.

Overlap the cut edges 1/4" (6 mm) or more.

Overlap the cut edges 1/4″ (6 mm) or more.

Tape it all together, but don't tape on the lower 1/2" (1 cm)

Tape it all together, but don’t tape on the lower 1/2″ (1.3 cm)

Set the cardboard tube on some paperboard (like a cereal box) and trace around the bottom.

Set the cardboard tube on some paperboard (like a cereal box) and trace around the bottom.

Cut 1/4" (6 mm) outside of the line, then just inside (not on) the line.

Cut 1/4″ (6 mm) outside of the line, then just inside (not on) the line.

Slip the circle onto the bottom of the tube, then apply glue to the underside of the circle.

Slip the ring onto the bottom of the tube and apply glue around the underside of the ring. Leave it upside down to dry.

To avoid having too much twist (or too little, depending on which way your thread is wound) build up in your thread, you need to unwind the thread from the original cone from the side, not the top. Here’s one way to do that:

Find two thread spools that fit inside the serger thread cone and push them tightly inside it. A bobbin might work for the narrow end. It’s OK if the larger spool sticks out of the end of the thread cone.

Hand wind some thread onto the new cone in the same direction it is wound on the original cone.

My toilet paper roll spools didn’t fit on the foam and bobbin contraption, so I slipped them over the chuck on my drill and wound them that way. It worked really well. If you don’t have a drill, you can try winding the thread with a kitchen mixer. To wind the new cone, unwind the thread off the side of the original cone and wind it onto the new cone in the same direction than it is wound on the original cone. Looking at my serger cones, I noticed some are wound one way, and some the other way, so check each time which way the thread is wound. Another tip is to to use your hand to move the thread quickly back and forth as you guide the thread onto the new spool so the threads are criss-crossed. Otherwise you’ll end up with a tangled mess if tight outer threads get embedded underneath looser inner layers.

Mount the thread cone on a knitting needle poked through the sides of a small box. I used a drill to wind the thread. Use your hand to guide the thread back and forth onto the new spool.

The cardboard spools are lightweight and don’t fit tightly on my overlock machine’s thread holders, so I wrap scraps of fabric around the thread holders until the spools fit tightly.

I wrap fabric around the spool holders so the cardboard spools fit snugly.

I wrap fabric around the spool holders to keep the lightweight cardboard tubes from jumping around.

Here they are, finished! And yay, I only had to buy one spool of fushia thread, which I will probably never use up.

Here they are, finished! And yay, I only had to buy one spool of fushia thread, which I will probably never use up.

Posted in Sewing

Another half-scale dress form

So, I guess I got a little obsessed with the half scale dress forms. I made another version that you print out on card stock and glue together, then cover with paper mache or kraft paper tape. The paper dress form pattern is for sale on Craftsy. I also listed free patterns for a knit fabric dress form cover and a princess line dress, as well as a pattern for a woven fabric dress form cover that can also be sewn in firm fabric and stuffed to make a dress form.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Printable French Curves

I was playing around with Inkscape and I ended up making a set of printable French_Curves. I really like how the curve turned out. I made full size, half scale, 3/8 scale, 0.39 scale (1 cm = 1 inch), quarter scale, and 1/5 scale.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

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