Jan 23

Le Mieux Est l’Ennemi Du Bien

In case you have forgotten your high school French or chose a more practical language elective, that’s a quote from Voltaire: 

Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

(In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of the good)

This is one of my maxims. I used the aphorism constantly in technical project management. Perfect never comes. Good enough is — good enough. Ship it.

So today I’m practicing my own advice, and damn but it’s hard. 

I’m making a pinning wall/flannel wall for my studio to be. It will be canvas on one side and flannel on the other, with cotton batting. It will be a sampler and practice piece for more free motion quilting. Today is the day I allocated to getting the thing pin basted, and I’m going to get it done. Dammit.

First issue I found was the carpet was too small without moving the dining room table. 

Ok. I have mats I use for blocking out knitting. I can do this.

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With a poodle’s help, of course.

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I started laying it out. About that time I realized I should have vacuumed BEFORE I started pinning something out on the floor, but too late for whining. If a few bits of schmutz are in between the layers of my pinning wall it’s not going to change the world. Anything on the outside can get washed off when the project is completed; it’s going to spend time on the floor during the quilting process. Onward.

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Next up the batting had been folded for a LONG time. Almost a year. And it was all rumply.

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Ok. It’s lunch time anyway. Lay it out, let it relax, come back. Done.

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Trimmed to fit, looks fine.

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Checking the quilting spacing for this batting I discovered it’s a local product.  Go me.

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Next I set up the ironing board and unfolded the flannel. (Ironing board cover still gives me a big smile!) I discovered I hadn’t cut and seamed the piece to fit the canvas top when I put the project away, but no matter. I ironed it out nice and flat, folded it in half just to be sure it was big enough, and laid it on the canvas.

And it wasn’t. Not by a lot. 

I pulled and poked and prodded and fussed and fumed and considered alternate layouts and nothing would change the fact that the fabric had shrunk about 10% in the wash. I bought 3.5 yards. I have the receipt to prove it. I need 120 inches, so I thought I was allowing an adequate amount for shrinkage. Nope. Now I have about 116 inches. The 45 inch fabric is now 43.

There are no photos of this process because, well, I take photos when I’m having a good time, it seems, or when I can already see the humor in a situation.

So I sat me down and had a little think. I don’t have the car, which makes it quite an outing for me to get to a fabric store. And even if I did I would have to wash and dry and stitch it up. It was already afternoon. I could chuck the idea of completing the pin basting today if that was my decision. 

Dammit.

I decided it was enough. Is it what I want? nope. Is it good enough to be a tool in my studio? Yup. I can work on this. That’s all I really require. I will use the selvedges to get evenly close enough to the size of the canvas. I will make some sort of wide border for the edges of the flannel side, perhaps with the scrap canvas from the front.

Ok, moving on. I clipped the middle of the flannel and ripped it— I believe in staying on grain and I hate cutting so I more or less ALWAYS divide fabric this way. I set up at my Rocketeer and got the fabric fussed into a pile I could manage relatively easily and reached for my edge joining foot.

Uhm.

There was no edge joining foot.

I had been pleased to read about it in the manual and assumed it was a tool I had at my disposal, but no. That was an optional extra, and didn’t come with this machine. 

There was more swearing. It was quite loud and creative.

And after I had my little tantrum I got out my over edging foot instead, and set up to zig-zag over the edge.

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This is a trick I learned from serging: If I bind an edge in a way that allows the fabric to  slide a little when tugged I get a nice decorative edge join. With a serger a three stitch seam will generally do this. With an interlocking machine the stitch I want is zig-zag. Essentially it needs to put one line of stitches in the fabric and one on the outer edge, and the seam ends up acting like the wire on a spiral bound notebook, allowing the sheets or pieces of fabric to open up. Loose tension helps.

The over-edging foot is a wonderful tool. If I just zig-zag an edge it tends to crumple it up, causing an unsightly bumpy edge that tends to show through whatever I’m making. The over-edging foot has a little metal finger over which the stitches form. This stretches them out so the edge of the fabric doesn’t get compressed. It’s important if you use this foot to be certain the machine is set to zig-zag wide enough to avoid driving the needle into the finger. 

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Pro tip: don’t try to reverse more than a couple stitches when using one of these feet. It causes stitches to bunch up on the little finger that keeps the stitches spread apart, and that causes all sorts of problems.

After applying my seam ripper to the problem and restarting, I had a nice over-edge zig-zag joining the selvedges. 

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A bit of a tug opened it out flat.

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Mostly.

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I could have done a better job keeping the outer edge of the fabric from drifting too wide. I wanted to capture as much of the fabric as I could between the stitching lines of the zigzag, but I caught too much. There were areas of the seam that didn’t open out because one or the other or both pieces were caught in both lines of the zig-zag.

At this point I was past swearing and into resignation. I got out my trusty iron and alternately tugged and pressed the seam until I had it mostly flat.

And you know what? When I flipped it over to the right side it was absolutely good enough.

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You know what else? I’ll have this damned thing pin basted before David gets home. 

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I’m channeling Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project and Brene Brown’s speech about being in the arena. I’m imperfect. But dammit, I’m doing this thing. And you know what? It feels good to do it, even if it’s not perfect. It never was going to be.

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Jan 22

Cleaning and Restoring Charlotte “the Free”

I wish I had gotten “before” pictures of Charlotte, the “Free Sewing Machine Co” treadle powered machine I picked up a couple weeks ago. This is about the best I have: 

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Her lines are lovely and the stencils are very pretty, but hidden beneath a century of grime and corrosion. Her Japanned finish was matte, and her brightwork was so corroded I couldn’t tell if it had been brass or chrome. 

I thought to get pics of the back side before cleaning it, and took photos of the whole process. So here are the before shots of the back:

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Closer, look at the grime around the screws and oil ports: 

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Even closer: 

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Ew. 

I started with the recommended method of rubbing with lubricating oil, but that wasn’t really getting very far. It removed some of the dirt, but was doing nothing to get through the grime or oxidization.

I decided I could find a polish for the brightwork at least, and after consulting with my favorite local hardware store guy I took home a product called “Flitz:”

71AduP4L79L SL1500

 It did a spectacular job on the brightwork. It is odorless, doesn’t seem to irritate my persnickety princess skin, left no scratches, and removed the corrosion admirably.

I kept reading on the bottle: “Restores paint too.” and thinking hmm. hmm.

I had noticed on ebay someone was selling a drive band cover identical to the one on my machine with better paint for $12. I felt like this left me very little to lose. I took it off, and tested on the underside first. One gentle rub and the Japanning brightened right up. I very carefully worked over the stencils, and they gleamed with no sign of damage. 

I cleaned up carefully and did some research. It seems there are a number of products folks successfully use to do this job, including TR-3. I haven’t tried it and don’t much care for the materials data sheet, but the existence of polishes that would safely clean up sewing machines without damage bolstered my confidence. I worked over the machine, and was thrilled with the result. 

This was my set-up:

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I started with tri-flow and a rag to get as much loose as I could:

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then switched to the Flitz polish with an extra soft natural bristle toothbrush:

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Working an area small enough to let me remove it before it dried, as per the instructions: 

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Then wiped off:

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Buffed and stropped: 

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Carefully cleaned out the polish left behind in crevices: 

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Then went back to touch-up stubborn areas with more Flitz on a cloth with my finger:

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I rubbed carefully, wiping away occasionally to see progress: 

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The result was amazing. Here are the dirty rags and shiny machine: 

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… and the corroded faceplate. That’s next! First Flitz:

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It found some shiny parts, but just wasn’t getting through the worst. When I was visiting The Captain he recommended polishing paper or fine 0000 steel wool for cleaning tension disks, and I decided to try something similar. I had some “Norton Soft Touch Mico-Fine Sanding Sponges,” so I decided to try them:

Nor soft touch sponges 26190 1347663082 1280 1280

Note these were 1200 – 1500 grit. The result was spectacular: 

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That’s the same plate, and the corrosion from it on the sanding sheet. Which is thankfully washable, so that sheet is the one I used on the whole machine, with some cleanings.

The sanding sponge left a bit of a haze, so I used another round of Flitz? 

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And, wow. What a difference:

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It’s hard to capture shininess, but notice the table is now casting a reflection from the column and the needle bar. And that filthy spot from the beginning of the post is now clean: 

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Cleaner than the picture, actually. I hadn’t seen the splotch of goop between the leaf and stem on the head until I post-processed the images. That’s gone now, too, as is the little bit of remaining oil stain under the oil port.

Next up: waxing. I want to add some protection to the stencils, and I’m hoping to get a little bit of fill into the scrapes on the table.

I’m thrilled with the progress, and have been sewing with her. VS machines do NOT like free motion work. At all. but she makes beautiful stitches quietly and smoothly. 

Jan 15

The Free Sewing Machine Company

Another treadle machine followed me home. I couldn’t help it. She’s beautiful, and her cabinet is probably the nicest piece of furniture in the house. Beauty pics later; this is sort of a drive-by post. For now I’ll post the craigslist photos:

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I have a lot of work ahead of me to fully restore this machine. She’s in by far the worst shape of the machines I’ve acquired so far, but oh, my. This machine is a whole nuther level of engineering up from the Singers. Wow.

Everything is lubed up and moving freely now, so I can start evaluating. The only thing stuck is the throat plate screw, which I worked around for lubrication purposes. I doused it liberally with WD-40 and I’m hoping that will remind it what the purpose of a screw is.

With just a little oil on its ball bearings the treadle spins 50 times from one kick before reversing directions, and then will sit there oscillating indefinitely. 50. My other irons go about 12, and I thought that was nice. I’m used to the momentum of spinning wheels, not these monster iron things.

Which, by the way, I have the bruise to prove. I was working on the drive band and pinched my thumb in the works. OW.

Awesomized

On the machine side of the engineering, I’m impressed by how finely pitched all the adjustment screws are. No need to turn the knobs 1/10th of a turn on this beauty. A full turn will barely make a perceptible difference in tension settings. The machine will also go a sizable number of stitches with one spin of the hand wheel. I didn’t count, but at least a dozen. Will C. Free appears to have been a big fan of ball bearings. All the major junction points have bearings that let the machine just glide. Quietly. Check out this YouTube video:

It’s even better in person.

There is a lot of corrosion and some pitting on the formerly shiny parts, and I haven’t gotten all the dead spiders out of the cabinet yet, but not too much rust all things considered. All of the functional parts are brightening up now that they’re moving.

And she makes stitches:

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Pretty stitches, once I frobbed the shuttle a bit so the top thread could glide past without catching things got much nicer. Things are a bit lumpy in the background, but that last line of stitching is perfect. Flawless. Just what I would expect from this level of engineering.

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I also noticed the stitch quality seemed to improve when I pushed the bobbin winder into play enough to tighten the drive band up, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. And two footed treadling was definitely better; I can’t keep my treading smooth when I one-foot this beast.

I’m naming her Charlotte after my granny, who got me started with textiles. She had me knitting and sewing at 4, though even she couldn’t teach me to crochet. :-) Granny always appreciated the finest things in life. She lived modestly, but well. I believe she would have liked this machine.

Jan 13

More Quilting Progress

First, the finished ironing board cover photos! I have been quilting all day, so it’s pretty compressed. I’m pleased with how the wool batting rebounds as it dries— those photos were about an hour ago and it’s already mostly recovered— but the light is gone so I can’t get another picture today. Calling it done and moving on!

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****

Next!

I completed connecting the blocks for the first quadrant of my new bed quilt last week:

Quilt!

 Today I finished a second quadrant, and sewed them together:

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Er, I should say I sewed them together wrong. Twice. There is no photographic evidence of the second mistake. Third time’s a charm:

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I was going to work all day on this and try to get the whole thing together, but given the two mistakes I think I’ll leave off for another day.

****

Over the weekend I picked up another vintage machine: a Singer 15-90. SN# AH 542337, commissioned on April Fools Day, 1948. 

I’ve named her after Marie Tharp, who began work on the project that changed the way we see the world in 1948. She researched and constructed the first map showing the topography of the sea floor as well as the continents, fueling interest in plate tectonics, which had been an extremely controversial theory prior to her work.

First thing I did was strip off the motor, oil her, then put her on the treadle base.

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She makes fantastic stitches once I got her tension dialed in. Started from the right and worked towards the left, so you can see how the adjustments progressed:

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Look how perfect the last row is:

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Free motion quilting with this setup is going to be awesome!

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Very happy.

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Jan 12

Rocketeer Feed Dog Cover Repair

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Someone posted to one of my mailing lists that they were having trouble removing their feed dog cover plate because the lever wouldn’t move all the way, and the plate didn’t lift sufficiently to remove the plate. I’m having the same issue with Ada, as well as an intermittent power issue, *and* she needed an oiling, so I decided to give her some love and take some photos of the feed dog issue.

This is the lifter for the feed dog cover on the 500 series. It’s all the way across the body of the machine from the feed dogs:

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When you do this: 

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It’s supposed to do this: 

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The posts that hold the feed dog cover plate are up, and there should be sufficient clearance to remove the plate. There is also a middle position in which the plate is high enough to keep the dogs from engaging with the fabric. In practice I don’t find the middle position functions as designed; Ada doesn’t make stitches when I raise the plate, and this is a common complaint on these machines. Not the problem I want to address today, however.

The issue, which may or may not be apparent, is that the posts don’t lift high enough to allow the plate to be removed. When I switch from the straight stitch plate to the zigzag I have to remove the needle and turn the hand crank to where the feed dogs are at their lowest and then jiggle and wiggle and curse a little to get it out. Annoying. So I’m fixing it.

First, I removed the cover plate and two lower plates for the lever:

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There was some lint and no lubrication, but generally things looked fine. I didn’t expect the lever to be the source of the problem since mine would move to all the way to the left, so I flipped the machine up to examine her underbelly. Here is where the lever passes through the case:

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There is a looooong bar across the machine to the bottom of the feed dog posts.

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Here are some close ups:

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They should get elevated by the bar pressing on springs when the lever is moved to the left, but mine were reluctant to budge much.

At this point there are two possibilities that occurred to me. Either it’s a lubrication problem, or the springs are dead. I can’t fix the latter, so I decided to address the former. I set the machine back into the surface of the table, and started lubricating.

First I lubed and reassembled the lever.

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BE VERY CAREFUL replacing the screws. The lever makes it challenging to align the screws with the holes without binding the screws, and potentially damaging the threads. I found it was easiest to set the screws if I pulled the lever up and to the left. 

(No shots of the reassembly. I guess I was cursing too much to think about it.)

Next I started lubing the posts.

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I added a drip of oil, wiggled the lever a bunch, added more oil, wiggled the lever more, and kept doing that. Eventually yucky brown oil started coming back out of the hole where I was putting clean clear oil. I wiped the icky stuff off and kept applying until the lever moved smoothly and the oil coming back up was clean.

I found it easiest to apply the oil effectively when the posts were raised, not when they were lowered as in the pictures. That way I could get a drip on the back of the post and carry it down into the channel. I didn’t get any good pictures of the ick at its worst, but you can see some on the edges here: 

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Once the oil was nice and clear and the posts were moving more freely I replaced the feed dog cover plate, and it slipped into place nicely. I’ll keep after the lubrication for a couple weeks, but I’m hoping that’s all that was wrong.

Ada also appreciated getting lubed, and I’m appreciating the light staying on without having to jiggle the plug. There was a loose connection, but nothing a pair of pliers and a little electric tape couldn’t solve.

 

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