on how I acquired my sewing machines, Part I

April 30, 2010 § 4 Comments

This is the first sewing machine I owned, on my own, separate from my mom, who taught me how to sew. She’s a fearless sewer, herself. She still irons!

The Bernette 65, made for Bernina (but doesn’t have the capacity of a Bernina), worked for me and got me hooked on sewing. I bought it from an authorized Bernina dealer for $300 in 2007 and was always really happy with it. I really wasn’t interested in a huge array of stitches, nor did I want to get into quilting. For a basic, hobby sewer, this machine was great. Back then, I didn’t know anything about sewing machines and needed something that would simply get me sewing. I didn’t want a life of repairs, or headaches with tension, etc.

My first project on my Bernette was the brown with polka dots dress for bilingual baby- a dress that wouldn’t fit her for a year. I learned then that I like 1/4 inch seam allowances and regardless of how many times I remind myself to do the 1/2 or 5/8 inch allowance, I’ll always, always do the smaller 1/4. I also made all those diapers for my sweet boy. I made my first podaegi on it, and still haven’t made an entire pod with any other machine but this one.

You can see it holds sentimental value more than the depreciated value.

Then, I started teaching sewing classes and found that the people coming to class didn’t always bring a working sewing machine. I started loaning out my Bernette and figured I should get another back-up machine for times when student’s machines went kaput in the middle of a seam. (That’s really no fun and I want my classes to inspire people to sew, not to curse at the plastic and metal in front of them.)

I found this Montgomery Ward sewing machine from the 1970s on freecycle and after a full service it was humming along, sewing everything I put under it. I got lucky, I thought. It does have its moments, but you have to treat it like a machine and remind it that humankind had been sewing everything by hand before it came along… and it could be replaced. Harsh, I know. I only treat machines like this. ūüėČ

When I was in the repair shop, I saw this Elna Air Electronic SU 69 and was intrigued. I asked about it and found the used sticker price of $295 to be way more than I had anticipated a used machine to be worth. When it was new, it was the top of its kind. There were few reviews online but the ones I found raved this machine as a keeper. Some even went to say that in the event of a fire, this would be the machine to go back for. I kept searching for the problems with this machine- there are glitches in every model. I joined an Elna heirloom sewing machines yahoo group and found some other sides to this story… but still nothing that swayed me against it, as you can see.

I asked if the guy would accept a trade and started to say goodbye to my Bernette. It took several weeks for me to take my Bernette to the shop, hand it over and begin to pay the difference. The repair shop gave me $100 for my Bernette, so I still have some to pay. I did get some early birthday money which sealed the deal for me.

Since bringing the Elna home, she’s slowly working herself up to being my workhorse. She’s got cams, or fashion disks, to get different stitches, and while I like the variety, I do agree with the following assessment of someone from a vintage Singer yahoo group I joined, who said:

Please keep in mind that a machine¬†that zigzags will never have the nice straight stitch of an early¬†classic Singer… such as the 15-91.¬†A ZZ machine is always trying to zz even when it is set to straight¬†stitch, and will have a slight wobble. Not enough to upset most folks¬†but for those who know the difference……..

The Elna’s straight stitch is nicer than the Bernette, but I really appreciate the Elna’s power and I can only imagine I’ll continue to enjoy the speed. It comes close to the speed of my serger.

Then, one day, I ran into my friend Meg who also sews. She mentioned that she wanted to start a sewing school and that she wanted me to take part. Fun! She had ideas for a summer camp for teenagers (11-13 years old) and I knew I wanted to continue the beginner adult classes. It was perfect.

Knowing that we’d be teaching teenagers, we decided that the first (of many) steps would be to acquire some more old, metal sewing machines- though we’ll take anything that’s working, so that each participant in the summer camp would have a machine, and we’d have extras as back-ups.

Part II coming tomorrow…


The 5 dollar three wheeler

April 15, 2010 § 3 Comments

From the moment the kids and I woke up, I was in a bad mood and they just followed suit. That made for a very annoying morning. I couldn’t shake my mood, so the kids did the same. We all stayed grumpy.

After a short nap for baby brother, the kids were rearing to go and I was frustrated at my inability to get a muslin done of the pants I want to make. Ugh. So, I finally got food in the kids and I decided I was going to send some things off in the mail. One was a jumpsuit for my sister’s second child, whose birthday was in December. The other was a package for my cousin in Veracruz, Mexico who wanted some patterns for sewing kids clothes. Big sale at the fabric store made that happen. Yay.

Let me back up to us leaving the house. I wanted to get at least one kid in the stroller. I needed the distance…. and I got it. Bilingual baby decided she was going to bike all the way downtown. I had only gone with her within the neighborhood to our friend’s house- not more than two blocks away. But the whole way?

I didn’t want to carry the three wheeler and push baby brother in the stroller. I wasn’t going to push her if she had a hill. Can you tell what kind of a mood I was in??

She said she could do it and I believed her. So, off we went. She made it to the post office,

to Rhapsody to tank up before riding home

and then to Onion River Sports to get a helmet, since I’m seeing a bigger bike in her future (the Bike Swap is on May 1st and I’m gonna be there at 8:30am with my coffee in hand!):

But once baby brother saw his sister wearing a helmet, he wanted one, too:

I know it’s pink and purple. He wouldn’t go for the blue one or the yellow one. He actually gravitates toward pink and looks quite good in it. He had a pink shirt on yesterday and kept pointing at himself saying: Pink! You can also see his train pants… pants I meant to make for the kids for the winter. Oh. well. He loves those, too. Oh and the t-shirt has an ice skate on it but all he sees is a boot, which he also loves these days.

So, pink and purple for everyone!

The only problem came when I went to pay. The kids had been playing with my wallet and I forgot to return the pile of cards and IDs to their places. I opened my wallet and found it empty. I did have some cash so I payed what little I had and tried to figure out who would be less of a disaster leaving without a new helmet. The woman working was really nice and said I could leave what I had and treat it as layaway. I promised I’d come back and even gave her my phone number, for reassurance.

This meant that bilingual baby had to bike all the way home and back to the store, which she seemed glad to do.

I should have taken a picture of the kids at bedtime. They put up no fight at all when we got home, played in the yard some more (it was already 6:30), had a little more to eat, headed up to a bath, did teeth, and nestled into carriers; baby brother nursing in front, and his big, long legged sister on my back. They played kicky (annoying if you’re trying to get kids to sleep) and quickly fell asleep.


tinymouse designs trunk show

April 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

The show was a huge success. In part, I felt so good about it because I could look around the room at the women sitting in my living room and remember really good conversations with each and every one of them. I have a really great circle of women here in town. It’s a tragedy I don’t get to get them all together like this more often. It felt really great to be so supported by this group. There were a couple of women who couldn’t make it and I really missed each one of them.

So, after everyone came in, hung out a bit and served themselves some tasty treats made by my friend Jana, I gathered them all together to talk tinymouse designs.

I started out by talking about where the idea came from and how, just a year ago, several of the women sitting in front of me, knowingly or not, helped me along toward what I was standing there doing at that second- starting my own line of clothing.

I then talked about the designs. I told them about how each item comes from another. It’s recycling at it’s finest. I tried to show them how I take a t-shirt, men’s shirt, (and should have shown the dress I cut up), and cut and shape them to transform them into distant cousins of what they once were. I had a couple of “ah-ha!” moments where their brains worked my work.

I also went into my trade-in system. I am giving points toward tinymouse designs for items they bring me that I can use at a later date. It’s not a dump and run. Rather, I have to go through everything and then decide what kind of discount they’ll get, based on what I can use. I’m sure this system will refine itself in time. I’ll probably be giving stuff away for a while… but then again, that’s how I figure I’ll get my business going. Slowly. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

Once questions were answered, the shopping began. I didn’t want to use “China prices” but I also wanted to make sure I knew my audience, which is why I chose the trade-in system. This trunk show was intended to teach me a lot about what I had made, what would sell, and what I needed to start making.

My list goes like this:

I didn’t make enough culottes, pants, and skirts for women.


Everyone seemed to like the designs, if only for themselves, in their sizes. So, I’m going to work on getting more clothes made for women. It’s fun. I’ve got a bunch of orders to fill so I really shouldn’t go on and on here, but I wanted to share in my delight.

I have a couple people coming in so I can take their measurements. I like the idea of having hard copies of patterns for the women that want them. That way, they could just call or email saying, Hey, I need a skirt like the one you made me last time… I’ll drop off the fabric this weekend. There. Done.

I went fabric shopping, seeing that I wanted to try things out on myself- poor me, new clothes. I also wanted to use what I wear as a show of what I can make so that people don’t have to just look at drawings. They can feel the fabric and tell me, oh yeah. I gotta have me one of those skirts! You get the picture.

So, this is me. A year or so ago I was dreaming this big dream and now I’m starting to live it. I’ve got friends who have high hopes for me and my business and can see me in a downtown location- which frightens me to no end. But, this part, what I’m living now, frightened me a year ago. So, who knows what the future will bring.

baby brother is growing up

April 13, 2010 § 3 Comments

I’m seeing more and more of the signs that tell me that baby brother has noticed that he and I are actually different people. I say up, he says down. Just to be contrary. Not to be annoying but just to be.

This morning he really wanted the cinnamon and after he held it a while and started figuring out how to open it and shake it all over me I put it out of reach. He had a really hard time with that and let me know. The lovely thing is that I was so calm. He had a chance to have some big emotions and I was his rock. The whole time I kept saying: I’m here. Big sister was quiet through the whole scene. She just watched and was present for her brother. It seemed like baby brother got that we were here for him and we didn’t mind that he was having big emotions.

There was nothing we could have changed for him. So, waiting worked.

I blog about this because I don’t always have it ¬†in me to be so present. It’s really a nice feeling to be so grounded when my kids need to vent (aka. have fits). Yay for me!

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