Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Machine

So this is a sentimental story about a man and his sewing machine.

It's an old machine, a 1973 Kenmore, back when they made 'em out of metal and therefore fairly indestructable. It isn't great, and it certainly isn't fancy, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm able to use it for the rest of my life.

I was in graduate school when I learned to quilt, so there was really no possibility of buying something as extravagant as a sewing machine. I planned on, for the foreseeable future, doing my designing and cutting at home, then pieceing everything together as quickly as possible on my mom's machine at Christmas and Summer breaks.

While this was happening, my older brother was buying his house in Ashland, Oregon. It was one of those "as is" home sales, meaning that he also ended up buying lots of miscellaneous crap stored in the basement. Amongst that crap was the old Kenmore.

"What should I do with this sewing machine?" he asked my mom.

"You know, your brother would really love that as a Christmas present," she told him.

"Really?" he asked.

And that's how I got my sewing machine. He gave my sister a circular saw. It was the best Christmas ever.

Why I Love My Sewing Machine

1. It's old enough to be cool. Keepin' it real!

2. It does everything a sewing machine needs to do: it makes a straight stitch, on very rare occasions a zig-zag stitch, and a couple times a decade a buttonhole. All you need.

3. It took a while, but I found a walking foot for it. (That's a gizmo that grabs the fabric from both top and bottom, instead of just the bottom, to feed fabric under the needle.)

4. Also, although I can't "lower the feed dogs" (never mind), I can still do free motion quilting with a "darning plate." I like having a "darning plate". How many guys do YOU know who have a "darning plate"?

5. That metal indestructibility thing is O.K.!

6. And, not to get all after-school special on you, but hey! My brother gave it to me!

Why I Will Get Another One Next Year

Next fall, I will send the last student loan check into the black hole. Then, by way of celebration, I'm gonna get me a new machine. Here's why.

1. The actual sewing surface on the Kenmore is only about three inches by eight inches, which is waaaaay too small for quilting.

(although things got much, much better when I got a custom "Clutter Gutter," which is an awesome supplemental sewing surface made for exactly this purpose by a woman here in Portland. I can't recommend it highly enough.)

2. It doesn't have a very wide "throat." The opening on the right side of the needle is average at best. When you are working on a full-size quilt, you have to ram a lot of twisted up fabric and batting through that space, so you don't want it to be small. A big throat is the main thing I'll be looking for in a new machine.

3. A few modern gizmos are cool. Getting the top and bottom threads at the same level of tension is a technicality that's important, and a real pain in the butt on an older machine. On lots of new machines, that's super easy. Also, you can set most of them so they always stop with the needle down. That's important, because it gives you more control when you're stitching around a corner.

4. The old machine is, well, old. It needs to be repaired every few years.

5. It's a HUGE pain to oil. Really. It takes, like, a half hour.

6. If I had two machines, I could host a little craft night sort of dealie. Or maybe take a student. That sort of thing.

Audience Participation Time

So that's the story with my machine. What's YOUR machine like?

[Last Year in SotC: I was working on my machine quilting skills, and my practice pieces were looking pretty cool. I'm not doing anything very intricate right now. But, I'm actually machine quilting real quilts, instead of just practicing, so that's a big improvement.]


Clare said...

My machine cost me 60€. It has 24 different settings, none of which I hardly use. Like your machine, the feeds don't drop and I need a darning plate. However, as I don't machine quilt at the moment it doesn't matter. I wish I could afford a Janome, Bernina or similar, but they are, as yet, out of my reach. I've managed to track down a company in the UK who sell universal "feet". Have just ordered a 1/4 inch foot and am thinking about a walking foot. Would love to have a quick turn around on the quilts.

Rebel said...

"And that's how I got my sewing machine. He gave my sister a circular saw. It was the best Christmas ever."

LOL! I'll bet it was. Ooooh & aaaah re: the clutter gutter, I might have to get one of those.

Yeah the older machines are awesome in many ways, but for someone who quilts as much as you do - it's important to have the extra features.

loulee1 said...

My old machine was pretty basic too, dogs didn't drop, and zigzag was the only 'fancy' stitch.
I found my new machine in an online store, I pointed to it and said "Hunney I want that one" LOL I also emailed him a link to the page! Happy Birthday to Meeeee!

Anonymous said...

I got my first kind of fancy sewing machine this year. We had a financial winfall, and after a bit of looking around I bought a "middle of the line" Pfaff. There are a 119 stitches, needle up and needle down, and an awesome needle threader. I can drop the feed dogs which is good. It also has something called IDT which is a little like an integrated walking foot. You don't have to use a walking foot for straight line quilting on a Pfaff because of this. It also helps keeps seems evenly matched while sewing anything. A feature I use more often than I would have imagined is the needle right and left. It is useful to be able to reposition the needle relative to the presser foot sometimes. Overall, it is a pleasure to use. Going from a mechanical machine to an electronic one is a big change. It has a screen, for goodness sakes! It makes much less noise than my old machine. It is oh, so easy to change feet. The paper manual and the insructional DVDs that came with were well done and useful. The sewing center where I bought the machine is a big plus. They have been very supportive and helpful. I was a little disappointed that while the machine was sold as a quilting machine, I did have to buy some basic quilting gizmos separately, like a 1/4 inch foot! It would have made sense for that and a few other things to be bundled in. I owned two older Kenmore machines before buying my Pfaff. I bought my first very basic Kenmore myself around 1992. I have passed it on to a younger quilting friend who can make good use of it. I also inherited my Aunt Holmes' Kenmore machine. It is a good straight forward sewing machine. It is hinged into a flip top wooden cabinet, so there is a huge flat surface, and I can drop the feed dogs. Like Michael's machine, it is old enough to have a metal case. I am hanging on to it for sentimental reasons. -Lisa

julieQ said...

Ok, I have a $ 99.00 Walmart Brother sewing machine. It goes forward, and sometimes backward. It works for me!!



Exuberant Color said...

Michael, Thank you for all of your comments on my blog. You are not the first guy to get into quilting because of colorwash, I had a student who made his first quilt a colorwash and gave it to his wife for their anniversary. Anyway onto machines. I have had many over the yrs. and love the bells and whistles and I use them.
The Pfaff with IDT is the very best for pieceing with both layers going through evenly.
Be sure to look at the Babylock Professional Quilter with a larger area to the right of the needle. It comes with 8 feet, including a 1/4" and a walking foot that is wonderful and narrow. It only does straight stitch but it is a beautiful stitch!
As far as feed dogs dropping, I forget to put mine down half the time so it works with them up. Just turn your stitch length to 0 and they only hop straight up and down, not pulling toward the back in a stitch length.

Feed Dog said...

I guess I'd be the greedy one--I'll take the circular saw AND the sewing machine for Christmas!

My mum bought me a White 2037 last year 'cause I'd been talking about making curtains and it was deeply discounted when she was in town. Neither of us knew I'd start quilting then, or we would have bought a different machine. It came with a 1/4-inch foot, but I've only just been able to find a walking foot. It's not the ideal machine for free-motion quilting, either, but it's decent for piecing and a bit of machine appliqué.

Those curtains I was meant to make? They never happened.

Camille Panu said...

I have a 1963 Singer Touch n Sew. It weighs more than I do, it's that olive green color and solid as a rock. It was my mother's and I learned to sew on it. I do love it, but if someone donated a Bernina 630E I wouldn't hesitate to package the thing up and let it RIP. I'm a dumpster diver and I've been blessed with finding a 1973 Singer and a 1953Featherweight fold-up, but my TNS is my best friend. I call it my 4th child.

scoburn said...

Hi there! Looking for my machine online, I came across yours! I'm a new sewer and I have the same sewing machine. I am having trouble with the bobbin. The thread got jammed and now I can't get the bobbin back in correctly. Any advise? Thanks so much!

Michael5000 said...

@scoburn: I wasn't able to answer you in person because of your privacy settings. In any event, I don't know if there's much I can tell you without more details or maybe a picture. Is the problem in getting the bobbin into the bobbin case, or the bobbin case into the machine?

If there are threads caught where they aren't supposed to be, you can usually fish them out with some gentle probing with tweezers. Jiggle the flywheel while you are doing this; that will help stuck threads come loose.

You might have to bite the bullet and have your machine serviced. It costs a lot, but it will hum like a top afterwards. Contact me directly if you are reading this, and let me know how it's coming.