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!





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


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


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


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.


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:


Look how perfect the last row is:


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


Very happy.


Jan 12

Rocketeer Feed Dog Cover Repair


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:


When you do this: 


It’s supposed to do this: 


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:





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:


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


Here are some close ups:




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.


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.



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: 



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.


Jan 11

Rita Makes Stitches!

!!!! End product of the morning’s efforts:


Rita and the treadle are together, and look! she makes stitches!


I am so pleased with myself I just can’t stand it.

I woke up this morning REALLY wanting to get the machine and the treadle married up this weekend after my visit with Captain Dick yesterday. Which was awesome, and I will also write up. He knows so much! And makes it all look so easy!

!!!! The exclamation police should come get me.  I’ve already exceeded my monthly quota with this post.

Last night I was looking at the treadle base and lid, and coming up with ways to mate them up and build some sort of surface to support machines and frankly I was getting despondent about it. Here’s why:


I had forgotten while I was with the Captain and when I hatched this plan that there’s not really enough wood to securely fasten the treadle base to the top. And what wood is there was deeply scored for reasons that escape me: 


The flash is lighting up the deep gouges in the wood. I drew in the “X” representing the screw line and the outer edge of the base— the screw would actually be placed smack in the middle of the middle groove. Which is kind of a non-starter, and in other corners the wood is even more damaged.

I was thinking about getting some bar stock and bolting it to the top of the treadle base to extend it long enough to bolt on properly, and contemplating the tools I would need to make that happen, and that was before I even started on designing and making the surface. 

So I woke up and tried to talk myself into shelving the Rita project until “later,” but it just wasn’t budging. I wanted to treadle. Today. I sat down to look at the problem of cleaning the machine, which was back in the $2 Goodwill sewing table, and it dawned on me.

This table has a top. 

There is a lot of clearance between the back of Rita and the end of the opening— enough for a treadle belt. 

I pulled Rita off and flipped the table, and sure enough it was just screwed onto the base. (note I need to do a better job installing the hinges; I want to make a backing plate and through-screw them, sandwiching the particle board. Project for another day, hopefully before Rita drops through the hole.)


I turned 8 screws and had the base clear of the surface:


It passed poodle inspection: 


And then I set it on top of the treadle, and it fit beautifully:


I added Rita and confirmed the clearance was sufficient and alignment would work:


Did a little happy dance, and set about collecting tools. I knew from talking to Captain Dick and from my antique spinning wheel resurrection efforts how important it is to align the path of the drive belt so it won’t hop off. My goal in simple terms was to align the surface to the treadle base such that Rita’s drive wheel is directly aligned with the base’s wheel. That means I needed I needed a plumb bob. 

I don’t have a plumb bob.

A plumb bob is just a weight on a string, at its most basic. I have lots of string, and plenty of things that are weighty enough to vector towards the center of the earth when suspended. I pulled a couple big nails out of a junk box and some thread, and connected them up. 


I pulled off Rita’s bobbin winder:


Thanks to Richard for giving me a tour of the machine yesterday, so I could easily and confidently do this!

Next step was to mark the line on the surface that the drive band needed to pass through to be aligned with Rita.  

A true plumb bob has a point at the bottom of the weight so the tip of the weight can be used for alignment. In this case the weight will hang off center, and so must be ignored. What I’m aligning to is the string, which will point in the right direction. If I tried to align to the nail it would come out wonky:


I needed to drop the weight below the surface so I could use the string for the measurement line. I also confirmed that Rita was square to the base, so I only needed one plumb line and a measurement in from the edge of the surface to draw the correct line:


Which I did with an erasable pencil:



For the next step I needed to square the base to the surface, which meant I needed two plumb lines. I extended the line to the edges of the surface, wrapped strings around the lines so they hung off the edge of the table and extended the line down past the top of the wheel. Forgot to snap a pic, but imagine thread wrapped twice around the edges over the lines and taped down with blue tape, and you’re there. 🙂

I now could sight across the treadle, aligning the strings with the wheel, adjusting the top so they all lined up in a row: 


There really are two strings there; here’s a picture slightly off center:


Once I had the spot I needed to find screws. I chose 1” wood screws, because they appeared to be the perfect length to bite into as much wood as possible without coming through the top:


I pulled out my drill and installed the first screw. One of my favorite drill attachments is the little slidey thing that holds the screw for me. It seriously reduces the amount of swearing from dropping screws:


After the first screw I wanted to install the diagonal opposite corner. I went around behind the treadle and made sure I was still aligned:


Then installed the screw, which was the back left as you’re facing the machine. This locked the two pieces together so I could just install the other two screws.

Er, wait. 


The treadle had a screw through its guard and into the wheel, locking it in a fixed position. The Captain and I removed it. I dropped the screw in the top of the treadle and forgot about it yesterday. The treadle’s been flipped upside down and right side up again half a dozen times or so. Somehow the screw knew that if it stayed in the hole it would have one more chance to cause trouble. Grr. 

I backed out the back left corner screw, rotated the top so the BAD SCREW could be removed.


I then realigned the surface and the treadle which fortunately was still well centered on the back left screw hole, so I could just put the screw back in. I installed the other two screws:


Assembly finished! Rita then got put onto her hinges and tightened down:


She won’t quite drop under the surface; I should be able to file a corner off the support for the front flap and get her in, though:


I DEFINITELY want to improve the way the hinges are installed before I trust them to support her, though.  

I can also tip her back to get to her guts: 


Note that I couldn’t do this before on the Goodwill table because she would tip it over.

Better and better!

Next up: treadle belt.

I don’t have a treadle belt.

The Captain and I discussed using a strong bungee cord as a treadle belt for a universal table. One of the things I have on deck this weekend is (hopefully) picking up a 15-90, so I’m hoping it can also get installed on this treadle base. At any rate, I have a ton of bungee cord and no other option, so I figured I’d try.


I ran the cord over Rita’s wheel and around the treadle wheel and stretched it tight, cut it, melted the ends of the nylon, sewed it up, went to put it on the treadle…

Oh. I know from spinning wheels that the drive band has to be tied in place because of the footman. Not sure why I thought I could sew this one together sitting in my comfy chair and have it all work out swimmingly. heh. 

Cut another one, routed it through the belt path, and this time remembered to take a couple pictures of sewing it up:


The trick to sewing bungee together is to sew through the nylon casing, not through the elastic. Trying to put a needle through elastic is unpleasant and damages the elastic. running it through the casing and tying it down tight works well. I use waxed nylon thread for this job, and find a curved needle to be the best tool.

For this application I debated between lapping the ends (stronger since the two ends are joined more completely) and butting the ends (smoother since there’s no big bump) and chose the former. Here’s a progress pic on the sewing, again I forgot to take the final pic:


I criss-crossed and tied the two ends of the waxed cord several more times so the cord was quite compressed and there aren’t big bumps at either end. I suppose I can take a pic of the knot in situ if anyone wants to see.

The end result is: Rita sews!


The cotton thread broke twice while I was testing. This is the same cotton thread the Rocketeer was displeased with for free motion quilting. It’s now in the garbage. 🙂

Jan 10

Achievement unlocked: Free Motion Quilting

So the ironing board cover is complete (photos before the elastic was inserted): 


Here’s another picture: 


For those who are watching the tiny space I live and work in, that’s the poodle pup’s crate behind the ironing board, with the fleece drying rack on top, and the kitchen counter behind that. My sewing table with the Rocketeer is to the right. I should do a layout diagram; not sure if that would be fun or depressing.

Not sure if I mentioned, but the cover was made from a $.99 flat king sized sheet I bought at Goodwill, and a crib sized wool quilt batt I bought to see how I liked the brand. Jury’s still out on the latter; it compressed a LOT when pressed, and doesn’t seem to be recovering. I wanted to use wool on the board, though, because wool can absorb 30-50% of its weight (depending on breed and processing) without feeling wet. That seems like a good property for an ironing board cover.

I’m also planning on making a laser cut 3mm plywood backing between the cover and the wire mesh surface of the “board” frame. Because I find it inexplicable why anyone would want a vented ironing board. The whole point is to build up steam and heat …. Right?

Anyhoo! Here are some quilt in process pics.

First (after the quilting) I tacked the edges of the top and backing together all the way around. I used a zig-zaggy stitch that goes three stitches left and then three stitches right, which is my favorite edging stitch for stability. I find it holds better than a simple zigzag, and doesn’t pucker the way zig zagged edges do, so it doesn’t cause a lump in the finished product. I went around once in the top side, and then a second time from the bottom, making sure I tacked the edges of both surfaces all the way around. This photo is from the end of the edging stitching, so you can see both passes, and how nice and flat the fabric is:


I got the brilliant idea of using the top edge of the sheet as the elastic channel. The channel is in three pieces, one for each long side and one for the back edge, with openings at the corners. This makes it much easier to thread the elastic.

The top edge wasn’t long enough so I had to try to duplicate it, and I had to open up and re-hem the edges of the tube, and blah blah blah. For the underside of an ironing board cover, which NO ONE will ever see. This probably added two hours to the project time. Would have been better to just cut 8” strips to length, hem the short edges, fold them in half, and been done with it. I got caught up in being clever. If you ever see the board in person please look at the underside and appreciate the pointless waste of time. 🙂

Next I cut the front lip for the cover, which is the only part that isn’t channeled for elastic. This pic shows me laying out the front edge of the cover and tracing on part of the sheet edge, which was not what I actually cut for this piece. I ended up using two thicknesses of sheet with one of the original hemmed edges creating the finish.


Then I tacked the front lip and the channels together, making a generous estimate of the right length for the channel. Too short would have been problematic, but 2” too long just means there was a little pleat at the back end of the board. 

I sewed the curved front lip first using a 1/2” seam allowance, then continued down one side to the corner, tested fit, and sewed from the front edge around the back to meet the first seam, placing the pleat sort of in the middle of the back. Here’s the stitched up backside:


detail pic, with evidence of blood sacrifice made to the project: 


detail pic of the front edge. Doesn’t that channel look FANTASTIC?: 


Another detail pic of the edge, clearly showing the sacrifice as well: 


I washed off the puppy’s muddy footprints, but I’m leaving the blood stain. 🙂

It’s finished and on the board, but still not dawn here yet so I don’t have enough light for a proper photo. Later, I promise.

I’m getting up to get ready for driving my sweetie to work so I can have the car to go visit Richard of TreadleOn. David is bringing up the base from the basement RIGHT NOW. gotta run!

Jan 08

Free Motion Quilting Set Me Free!

Actually I think it may have been the Daily Pages I’ve been doing since we got back from Texas at the suggestion of Donna Druchunas more than the Free Motion Quilting. But lookkit:


I’m not slavishly following the Artists Way. I may look at the occasional exercise if I get stuck in the future, but mostly I’m just getting back to a basic truth about myself. I’ve known since I was a teen: 15 – 20 minutes of scribbling in the morning pulls the bung from my creative spout.

Less than a week into this— in fact only 4 entries— and I have found a voice for telling a story I’ve wanted to tell for years, started free motion quilting, gotten back to blogging, and started belly dancing again. Oh, and cleaned the house and my desk. This is around caring for a sick dog and recovering the house from holiday and vacation madness. 


I know this about myself. I know I need to write inane drivel every morning. Life is better if I get that stuff out of my head and onto a page or committed to bits, but somehow it gets shunted to the side. Most of this should never be read by anyone but me, and possibly not even by me. It’s write once, read never data. Perhaps in 20 years it will be interesting to look back, but 90% of it is minutia and the rest is crap. 

I think I end up feeling like I should be doing something Productive and shouldn’t waste my time writing stuff that’s not readable or shareable. I call bullshit. I need this more than anything else I do for myself in a day. It’s probably more important to my well being than showering. Though I don’t intend to put that to the test. Ever. I can have both. 

So let me tell you about this here free motion quilting thing.

Firstly, thanks and kudos to Craftsy and Leah Day for a fantastic class. 

I’ve shown pictures of the quilt I’ve been working on with the Rocketeer. The one I drew in 1995, and have been   v e r y   s l o w l y   piecing ever since. The blocks are all pieced now. I completed the layout and I was 1/4 through sewing up the blocks when my iron exploded at the same time my ironing board cover ripped. (I can neither confirm nor deny the allegation that there was a chasing dog and a fleeing cat involved.) Which pretty much put an end to any sewing together of blocks, since I am a crazy believer in pressing. Here’s a crappy cell phone pic of the completed quarter quilt:


And here’s a pic of the layout in progress from a couple weeks ago. Stupidly I forgot to take a picture of the final layout before labeling the blocks:


The piece of paper is the pattern. Here’s more of a closeup:


The version with the pencil on it is the final layout, but the difference from the blue one is small. The Liberty of London Tana Lawn reproduction of the Strawberry Thief by William Morris was the inspiration for the color palette, and is used in a bunch of the blocks. If I could pick a historical figure to spend a year apprenticed to, Mr. Morris would be high on my wish list. But that’s a topic for another day. 

With the quilt top approaching completion and my desire to actually put the damned thing into use I realized I would have to figure out actual well, you know, quilting. Which I have never done on any scale larger than a practice block. The big blue section in the pic are designed for color-on-color highly textured quilting work, so I kind of really need to learn free motion quilting. Therefore the class.

I had plans of using the fabric wall project I have on hold as the quilting test project. I wanted practice managing a large piece and I don’t really care how that comes out looking so long as it’s together for March 22nd and the Seattle Mini-Maker Faire.

The ironing board disaster gave me another option for beginning to learn this stuff, since I need to make a new cover. I figured at worst case it could be a seekrit layer under a dressy cover, and at best it would be AWESOME. I think it’s leaning towards AWESOME, assuming the Isacord thread I am using can handle the heat of the pressing.

I was going to use cotton thread but, well, Ada the Rocketeer is not fond of free motion quilting and flatly refused to work with cotton thread. She snaps the Isacord if I try to “travel stitch” immediately on top of an existing line of stitching, which has caused me to embrace the idea of thread build-up and travel adjacent to stitching lines rather than on top. But I get ahead of myself.

Last night I cut two pieces of fabric and a piece of wool batting for the cover. The fabric is 1.5” larger around than the surface of the board. For reasons that defy my understanding at the moment I chose to make the batting the exact size of the table. I’m sure I’ll make it work somehow. Here’s a pic of me stretching out the backing and laying in the batting:


The white zigzag scrap thing? sacrificial bit of fabric from cutting waste knotted up to make a dog pull toy. The ziploc full of colorful things? That’s my answer to Leah Day’s PinMoor system. I am certain they are a wonderful tool, but they’re WAY too spend for someone who has never quilted. I read of a number of substitutes, but they all took work to make from various sorts of foam. Instead I’m using animal face foam craft beads from Amazon:


$8.95 vs $150. The beads are kind of gumming up the pins, probably because of the glue between the layers of foam. So this may be a sacrificial set of pins, and there may be a tiny bit of residue on the quilt, but I can live with that trade-off. Especially because of the monkeys smiling at me.


They are friends with Rafiki, who I’ve put to use helping me get thread from the Isacord cone to the machine:


The thread stand is a serious McGyver. There’s a boring metal one on the way from Amazon, but I wanted one NAO. So I put this together:


The colorful widget is a glass candleholder that has Sculpy surfaces on it. I’ve had it since my Santa Cruz hippie girl daze, and I adore it. It has a spool pin pulled from the Viking Designer I’s thread holder, shoved all the way through a spool cap which is under the cone, and smashed into a gob of that tacky putty for putting up posters that keeps it steady in the candle holder. The arm for the thread guide is a large knitting needle shoved through the base for my yarn swift with a binder clip on the top.

Please laugh. I am. 🙂 It was the best I could come up with this morning at 7am. And it’s working well enough!

I started working through the class last night, starting with “U” shapes and working towards stippling. That’s the bottom left corner in this picture:


What, doesn’t everyone have a poodle puppy helping them with every task?

It’s not apparent from the pictures, but there were dozens of thread breaks and bobbin snarls in that tiny area while I sorted out the machine. Ada the Rocketeer wants:

  • Straight stitch throat plate
  • Straight stitch foot (I’m using a modern clear 1/4” quilting one)
  • Stitch length lever in the middle of the “fine” area on the lever
  • Thread tension up a whole step from where I was getting good tension with seaming
  • Presser foot tension dialed down to zero
  • Darning plate in normal position, leaving the thread dogs engaged
  • 100/16 (“Jeans” or denim) needle

Oh, and NOT cotton thread, at least not the Mettler thread I had on hand. I may try Aurafil at some point, but I generally prefer poly anyway.

I tried three free motion feet before trying the metal straight foot that came with the machine, by the way. I am not thrilled with the poor visibility, but it’s working.

It’s still twitchy and I have to be in tune with the machine to catch bobbin thread snarls and snapping top thread plies if I go too fast, too slow, or run over existing stitches. I can’t find the teflon sheets I’d bought for approximating the Supreme Slider Leah Day uses, so I’m working without. I know from past experience I loathe wearing gloves to sew.

I have hopes that some more equipment tuning will make this even more delightful, but that’s hard to imagine. I am thrilled. I started out dutifully following the exercises, but at some point I cut free and just started playing. 




I started with the exercise shape, repeated it a couple times, and then riffed off it with my own take. Feathers should look like feathers. Preferably Ostrich. The paisley snake things needed curly flames sewn around them, I mean, duh. Can’t you tell?

I didn’t want to stop, but my hands were getting tired, and my patience was getting as frayed as the top thread. It was time to put it down for the night. 

I should be able to finish up the cover in the morning. My new Rowenta was delivered. I’ve used binder clips to attach the torn cover to the table well enough to press the seams for the new one. I am still hoping to get the rest of the top together this week. 

Wow, this free motion stuff is fun. I’m looking at the quilt top with glee. Can’t wait to start on it. 🙂

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