October 27, 2010

Things to Consider When Buying a Sewing Machine

I have been asked this question several times so I thought I would share my thoughts and opinions on some basic and more advanced features on sewing machines to consider when making a purchase.  I don't want to get into brand comparisons or any of that, but just explain what some of the most common machine features are and how they are used.  Hopefully this will help you make an intelligent cost/benefit decision on the level of machine that fits your sewing needs.

Make an Investment if you like sewing or see yourself sewing regularly. When I was first out of college, I decided to purchase a cheap machine because I knew I liked to sew, but didn’t know how often I would use it.  I almost gave up sewing because of the frustration from that machine!  So, I suggest making at least a small investment (around $350+ MSRP, but you can always find sales and good refurbished machines for cheaper).  Also, if you enjoy sewing, you will likely outgrow the most basic machine quickly and will be looking at making another purchase in the near future.

Auto Tension is a must!  This was the worst thing about my cheap machine. Every time I switched fabrics, if their thickness was even slightly different, I would have to sew a scrap piece of fabric to test and adjust the tensions every time - maddening!  If you do this when you sew - there is hope out there.  It is absolutely worth the money to get this - it will wind up saving you hours!!  Not all brands/models have this feature, you’ll have to watch for it.

Automatic Buttonhole stitches are obviously handy for clothing, but I have found myself using buttonholes a lot for home décor (curtains, pillows, etc), baby car seat covers, even as jewelry fasteners.  Look for buttonhole features that allow for variable hole length that can be based either on your button size or a specific length.

Walking Foot is used when machine quilting straight stitches.  It has dog feeds (the little teeth you can see under the foot) on the foot itself to help move all the layers of fabric together when you quilt.  Make sure the machine comes with or has a walking foot available for purchase. 

Needle Down feature tells the machine to stop the needle in the down position whenever you stop stitching. I absolutely love this feature and won’t buy another machine without it.  It is invaluable when I do appliqué, make stuffed animals, free motion quilting, even piecing sometimes. Not all brands come with this and in some brands this only comes with the higher end machines.

Free Motion Foot and Dropping the Dog Feeds are used in free motion quilting (not straight stitches, example below), the machine has to be able to “drop the dog feeds” (which prevents the fabric from being pulled to the back of the machine) and come with a free motion foot or have one available for purchase.

Blanket Stitch is used for appliqué (highlighted below). The zigzag stitch can also be used for appliqué either as a normal zig zag or with very short length to get the satin stitch look. I feel like the satin stitch is a little more technical since it takes some practice to get the stitch to look smooth on appliqué.  The blanket stitch, in my opinion, is cuter and easier to sew with. This feature will throw you into the $350+ price range because it tends to only come on machines with more than the standard amount of stitches. Applique is one of my favorite techniques, so I personally use this stitch often.  Below is the very first machine applique I ever attempted (before I had been appliqueing by hand) - click on the image for a closer look. 

Decorative stitches typically come with the higher end machines. The image above shows examples of a few decorative stitches. These are a nicety – they make fun embellishments on clothes and burp rags.

Knee Levers come on some of the higher end machines and allow you to use your knee to lift the pressure foot, leaving your hands free to guide or hold fabric.  This feature is extremely helpful when doing a lot of turns in applique or any time you need both hands on a project.

Embroidery only comes combined with sewing in the very high end machines.  You can expect to pay in the $2500+ price range for a combined sewing and embroidery machine.  I suggest buying a separate embroidery machine from your sewing machine. You can get the 2 machines for less than the price of the combined machine. A combined machine has more points of failure and when it needs servicing, you are out 2 machines until you get it back.  Also, I have found that there have been many times when I am sewing while the embroidery machine is doing it's thing - multitasking at its finest!  :)

Servicing your machine is important.  Find out if you have a store locally that can service your machine - be sure to mention the brand because some machines require special training to maintain.  It's better to know up front if you will have to pay for shipping your machine to get serviced.

Ok, I tried to hold off, but I just have to plug my Janomes. I have 3 - sewing machine, embroidery machine, and serger - and absolutely love them all!

I hope this is helpful information.  Please ask any questions about features you've seen or don't know what they are used for, I'd be happy to answer them or get in touch with someone with answers and pass the knowledge along.  :)

October 25, 2010

A Little Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin Carving - a required tradition for the Fall.  :)  We had a lot of fun playing in the pumpkin guts! 

Tip:  Something my husband and I have done over the years is to put Vaseline on the cut or carved areas to keep the pumpkin from withering so quickly.  To keep your hard work even longer, cover with saran wrap and store in the fridge (when not displaying) after slathering with Vaseline.

We also baked our pumpkin seeds, they turned out pretty good.  :)  The kitchen smelled good with pumpkin and cinnamon!  Makes me ready to eat some sweet potato pie - yummo!  This is our new friend Ann modeling our seeds.  This was her first pumpkin carving - she said that this is not a tradition in her home country of Nigeria. 

October 20, 2010

Projects out, Projects In

I love the Fall!  We bought some pumpkins today at the local patch.  I absolutely love this grayish-green pumpkin!  I had no idea they came in that color.  I'm planning on these guys being my main Thanksgiving display, so if I can steal some time I'd like to add some embellishments. 

I have completed my friend's upholstery project, and she dropped off another as she picked it up.  :)  I think this footstool is going to be a fun to redo.  I took lots of pictures of the finished project as it went, so I'll share that process with you guys soon.

I also made a small care package for my sister's baby.  He's already one month old - the time just flies!

I also got some really awesome neck ties in the mail for 2 Dresden Plate blocks orders.  I'm excited to see how they turn out.  Check out those swirls - I think that one is my favorite!

October 13, 2010

Important Date and Some Eye Candy

A date has finally been set for my next quilting class - yay!  The class will be on Satuday, December 4th - just in time to make a Christmas gift for that special person on your list!  It is designed to be a beginning piecing class but it is still a fun pattern for all skill levels - it works up very fast. 

If you live in the Bryan/College Station area and are interested in attending, please leave a comment or email me at IftheStitchFits@gmail.com and I'll be sure you receive additional information about pricing, times, and location.  If you don't have a machine or yours is in disrepair, don't let that stop you!  My friends at Sew Vac City will supply machines (with the option to purchase, when you fall in love with it, of course) for those who need them.

Also, I am making up kits for the class that will be available to purchase.  Do you like the fabrics above?  That is going to be one of the kits!  The ladies at my quilt store (Lonestar Quiltworks) were giving me a hard time about the blue matching the cardigan I was wearing.  Haha - guess I was just in the mood for brights today!  I also plan to make up a kit in wovens/flannels for a masculine option.

If I have any kits left over, I will make them available in my Etsy shop.  That way, if you can't make it to the class, you can still have fun with us.

October 6, 2010

We Interrupt the Progress to Make a Quick Announcement

I'm juggling quite a few projects at once right now - as always, but I wanted to give a quick update.

The baby quilt really needs another border so it's on the cutting table patiently waiting its turn.

The upholstery project for my friend is ready for fabric to be sewn.  I've stopped cutting and measuring fabric to type this quick note.  I have been taking pictures as I go along so I hope to show you that finished project very soon.

I am working on a beginning piecing class.  I have designed a very simple quilt for the class and I am planning to make kits available.  I am finalizing the date now and hope to give more information on that very soon.

My new sewing cabinet has been designed and my oh so talented husband is working on his cut list right now.  I can't wait, it's going to be so awesome!  I'll have extra storage coming out of my ears!

Sorry to make this so short, but must sew!   : )

October 2, 2010

How to Make Your Own Applique Pattern

Applique is one of my favorite sewing techniques.  Sometimes I have a pattern to follow, but I usually want to do something original or personal (for baby gifts and such).  So how do you go about making your own applique pattern?  I hope this tutorial will inspire you to come up with your own designs and let the sky be the limit.
  1. Sketch out a simple drawing.  Try to keep all the pieces bigger than 1/4 inch so that you will have room to stitch around the edges.  Otherwise the edges will fray - unless that's the look you're going for, of course.  For this tutorial I'm showing a bird I created for my sister's baby quilt.
  2. Once you have a drawing you are pleased with, outline with a marker or thick pen to where you can see the outline from the back of the paper.
  3. Trace the outline to the back side of the paper to get a reverse image.  If you have a light box, they are very helpful with the tracing steps.  If you don't have a light box, any window works well and it works out your shoulder muscles at the same time. :)
  4. Trace the REVERSE image to the paper side of fusible adhesive.  My favorite brand is Heat n Bond.
    • Trace each shape independent of each other.  For example, the head, body, beak, and wing should all be traced separately.
    • For nice joins between the pieces trace them to where they will overlap each other.  for example, continue the shape of the body as if the head were not there and add about 1/8 inch to the length of the beak so it can go under the head.  The dashed line on the beak is the portion that will go underneath the head.
    • Tip:  When doing a very elaborate pattern, it may be helpful to label your pieces. 
    • Tip:  If I have to stop before I can iron the pieces on, I store them in a zip lock bag so no small pieces go astray.
  5. Roughly cut out each piece leaving at least 1/8 inch outside of the traced lines.  You want to go outside your traced lines so that when you cut the fabric, you will have glue all the way to the edges.  Iron according to the package directions to the WRONG side of your fabric - adhesive side down.  I know that's a duh, but if I had a nickle for every silly shape stuck to my iron...
  6. Cut out your fabric and shape exactly on your traced outline. **I used a different method for the wing that is described below.
  7. When you are ready to assemble your pattern, remove the paper from each shape and iron to your background fabric.  Be sure to iron in layered order - so that the pieces that go underneath others get ironed down first or are tucked under as you iron.  Note: Iron according to your adhesive instructions - these instructions may differ from the steps you took to iron the adhesive initially in Step 5.
  8. Once all the pieces are ironed on, you are ready to hand or machine stitch the outside edges.  A blanket stitch is a common stitch to use.  If you don't want to sew the edges, there are some iron-on adhesives that are strong enough to hold in the wash without stitching.  Be sure to read your labels.
** I did the bird's wing a little differently.  I could have easily followed the same instructions and ironed the wing directly on top of the bird's body and stitched around the edges, but I wanted it to stand out a little more.  Here are the alternate steps I took:
  1. Cut the shape traced on the iron-on adhesive out directly on the traced lines.  Typically you do a rough cut here so that you can cut the paper and fabric at the same time - see Step 5 above.  I'm doing this with the intention of the glue not going all the way to the edge of my pattern.
  2. Iron to the WRONG side of the fabric leaving enough room to cut at least 1/8 inch bigger than the paper, then cut around the paper, leaving about 1/8 inch all the way around.
  3. Remove the paper and iron the shape to a coordinating fabric.  This fabric will become the underside of the wing.  Cut the coordinating fabric following your other fabric wing.
  4. Cut very small slits down the top and bottom of the wing about 1/8 inch apart.  This will frey and kind of look like feathers.
  5. Sew a small dart in the middle of the top of the wing to give some shape.
  6. Attach the wing to the bird body with a blanket stitch or straight stitch.