Fabric Shopping in LA (and Online)

I got back from a one week stay in California this past Wednesday evening. I was quite busy yesterday dealing with things like laundry, banking, sorting mail, and thwarting potential identity theft. Just the usual coming home from vacation routine. 

Today I turned a year older. I'm now 52, which really isn't that big of a deal to me. I can't have cake, which, to me, is the best part about having a birthday. I hope someone out there had a slab of something thick and chocolatey and thought of me.

During our vacation-planning phase, my husband had asked me what I wanted to do while we were there. My response (in order of priority)

  1. See our daughter
  2. See my sisters
  3. Go to my home church on Sunday (this was its 50th anniversary)
  4. Spend time on the beach-especially right before sunset
  5. Go to Mood and The Fabric Store Los Angeles
We managed to do all of the above, for which I felt both content and grateful. 

So, about #5:

I was there.
We visited Mood first and, when I initially walked in the door, it felt overwhelming. I quickly discovered, though, that one half of the store is dedicated to home dec fabrics and, since I wasn't looking for any, this eliminated that feeling of not knowing where to look first. A store employee directed me to the boucles and, after that, we just browsed the other aisles until it was time for the parking meter to expire. I decided that I will want a solid black boucle for my first French jacket. It's my best color, the backbone of my wardrobe, and there will be no plaids to match. For the lining, I'm leaning towards either a deep turquoise/teal or rich berry red. The silks were gorgeous; the jewel tones especially simply glowed. I didn't get a picture in the silk aisle, but my husband did snap one with his iPhone while I was examining the novelty wools:

We also looked at the cashmere (I confess there was some fondling) and I quickly eyed the heavily embroidered laces as we walked past. I have no idea what I would use it for (and doubt that I ever will), but a heavy metallic silver one definitely caught my eye.

Then we drove a few blocks to The Fabric Store Los Angeles. This is the first US location of a New Zealand company and, though they carry a lot of beautiful textiles, I was there with one purpose in mind: buy merino! And so I did.

The topmost piece is a medium weight 100% merino jersey with a nice drape. The color is a very rich, deep magenta though it looks more like a hot pink here. (I still need to learn how to use my DSL camera). I plan on using it for a top, though I'm not sure exactly what kind of top yet. Maybe a long sleeved ballet wrap.

The next 2 pieces are solid black. The first is a heavy merino ponte with some lycra in it. I've never used ponte and felt like this was the time to find out what the all the fuss is about. I'm planning to use it for leggings or a skinny pant with some interesting seaming details. The second black piece is a medium weight 100% merino jersey. It's got a nice drape and will be used to make a dress-unless I use the ponte for a dress instead of a pant, in which case I'm going to have a lot of nice black merino tops (I bought 4 yards of it),

The final piece is a gorgeous heavy charcoal gray and I have no idea what type of fabric it is. It was shelved with the jerseys, but that doesn't mean it is one. I can't see a distinctive knit pattern in it, nor a weave. Maybe it's boiled?  It is 100% merino and has some stretch, which makes me think it's a knit. I'll use it for a jacket or a cozy dress or tunic to be worn with leggings or tights.

After The Fabric Store, we went across the street to The Sycamore Kitchen so my husband could pick up some treats for one (or two) final indulgences before our trip ended. He highly recommends the flourless lemon custard almond cake. 

I also ordered some more fabric from Alabama Chanin last week. There was a discount code available on Halloween and, since I buy from the site quite regularly, I never pass up one of their sales. I picked up a couple yards each of the black and dark gray organic cotton jersey. I'm still working on fitting the AC top and dress patterns and am almost the point where I can start making them. I  hope to have quite a few tops made by next spring so that I have something to wear with my hand sewn AC skirts. I'm also going to work on some boleros and shrugs to layer over them. I'm always happy to see that stenciled box on my porch with a neatly tied bundle of yardage inside.


Cotton Jersey & Indigo Dye: My Most Ambitious Alabama Chanin Project So Far

I mentioned in my previous post that I am currently working on a couple of Alabama Chanin skirts. The first was started during the Summer months, but was set aside while I fiddled with slopers and shirt and dress patterns for awhile. By the time I thought about getting back to it, Fall was here and I figured there was no rush to work on it because I don't plan wearing it until the weather is warm again.

This is the Swing Skirt from Alabama Stitch Book. I cut a size large and plan on taking deeper seam allowances if I haven't gained weight by the time the applique is done.

The top layer is black and the bottom layer is white. I applied the Facets stencil with white paint and will use reverse applique throughout.

The white backing will show when the top (black) layer is cut away within the stenciled shapes
As for the second skirt, I have always admired the indigo clothes from Alabama Chanin. I've been thinking about making something in indigo and recently decided it was time, but first I needed to choose which garment to make. I really like the AC jackets and coats, but I have yet to use my sloper to draft a jacket pattern and am waiting to start working on one until the newest Alabama Chanin book is published in April (it's going to include a coat pattern!)

Alabama Chanin Fitted Jacket (no longer available)

Anna's Garden Dolman Coat

I also love the long dresses and skirts made up in the indigo jersey.

Annas Garden Long Skirt

I decided on the long skirt from Alabama Chanin Studio Sewing + Design. Now all I needed was the fabric. Unfortunately, indigo dyed cotton jersey isn't cheap-understandably so, considering the labor intensive process required to produce it-and a long skirt would require a lot more yardage than the short ones I've previously made. I was on the fence about this for awhile, wondering if maybe I should just forget about the indigo project altogether. Then, while searching for some dye for another sewing project, I found a reduced indigo dye that was reasonably priced. A few weeks after that, Alabama Chanin had a sale, so I was able to get enough yardage for the skirt without breaking my budget.

I dyed the jersey on a mid-October day when I was feeling particularly brave. Here is one of the pieces right after it came out of the vat following its second dunking. The fabric was green when it came out of the vat, but was already beginning to change to blue before I got it on the clothesline:

The piece on the left had just had its second dunk, while the one on the right had been dunked 3 times at this point:

And here are the same two pieces again after the one on the left had hung on the line for 15 minutes or so. I dunked it one more time to get it as dark as the other piece. Both pieces faded a shade or two after rinsing and laundering (this was expected):

After the fabric was rinsed, laundered, and dried, I cut out the skirt and transferred the stencil design. I chose the Angie's Fall stencil and used ultra fine Sharpie markers to transfer it to the fabric. I was inspired by this inked indigo tunic (swoon):

Alabama Chanin Inked and Quilted Magdalena Tunic (no longer available)
Indigo skirt panel, inked and basted
On the following day I layered the top and bottom layers of each skirt panel and basted them together. Then all of it was bundled up to await my return from a 1 week trip to California. I got home last night and am ready to get started on this later today. (Progress photos to come in a future post!)

My fabric has some mottled areas where the dye didn't take evenly, but I rather like the effect. I would think that the Alabama Chanin indigo jersey is more consistent since this is something they have done for quite some time now. My final verdict on dyeing with indigo: totally doable, very economical, quicker than I expected but a bit tricky when handling long pieces of yardage without a helper. I'll definitely dye with indigo again (the dye vat can be kept for a few months). I'm going to experiment with dyeing some completed garments next.


Alabama Chanin Pattern Fitting: Using My Slopers Again

Alabama Chanin Corset Dress

A few years ago a fell down a rabbit hole into a wonderland. I discovered a collection of beautiful handmade clothing from a designer who generously chose to share her techniques and patterns with home sewers.

I have since made several Alabama Chanin garments, mostly skirts because fitting a skirt has always been much easier for me than fitting a garment for my upper body. Up until this year, I knew very little about pattern fitting and even less about pattern making. In the past I have tried to adapt Ms Chanin's patterns for tops and dresses, but was never quite satisfied with the results. Looking back, I realize that I was on the right track, but just didn't have the skills to produce a final piece with which I was happy. Since that time, however, I've learned how to draft my own slopers and patterns and so decided that it was time to work with the patterns from. Alabama Stitch Book, Alabama Studio Style, and Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.

Since I was able to get a good fit with my woven princess seam shirt, I decided to start with the Alabama Chanin pattern that uses these same seams: the Camisole/Tank top/tunic/dress from Alabama Studio Style.  Since the skirt of this garment is quite flared, I knew it would accommodate my hips with no issues, so I focused my attention on fitting from the waist up.

Since a princess seam draft starts with darts, I traced a copy of my woven bodice sloper, then removed the ease along the side seams to give me a zero ease bodice. I also sliced the shoulder dart off of the back bodice piece at the end of shoulder, since I knew it would not be transferred to the new princess lines. I did not, however, bring in the end of shoulder point, nor the cross front and cross back. I decided to wait on that until I knew how wide I wanted my shoulder straps to be. Also, because I knew that I initially had some armhole gaping in my woven princess seam pattern, I increased the armhole dart by 1/2" (it was a huge dart!) and also drew in a 1/2" dart on the back of the armhole at the level of the cross back. This new dart would be incorporated into the princess seam line where it curves to meet the edge of the armhole.

So now I had what was essentially a darted sloper for knit fabrics. From there, I moved the shoulder and armhole darts and drafted my princess lines following the instructions in Suzy Furrer's Creative Darts and Seamlines class on Craftsy.  Then I drafted my neckline, decided how wide I wanted the straps to be, and drew those in as well. This particular pattern has 2 necklines and strap widths; the Camisole version's neckline is lower and wider than the Tank version, which means the camisole straps are narrower. After that, it was rather simple to add the skirt portion to it by tracing the pattern in the book and adding it to my bodice.

Completed pattern for Alabama Chanin Camisole and Tank Dress/Tunic

At this point I was ready to sew a sample to check the fit. I have been saving scraps of black Alabama Chanin cotton jersey for just this purpose; I think some of my earlier attempts to fit these patterns were thwarted by using different (cheaper) jersey to test my pattern changes. I wanted to be accurate this time and had enough scraps to sew the sample more than once if necessary.

I was pleased to find that I was already close to a good fit. The apex, bottom of armhole, and waist are in their proper places. The neck isn't so wide that the straps fall off of my shoulders-though I think it needs to come in just a bit more. I have already adjusted my pattern by taking 1/4" off the end of shoulder and 1/8" from the cross front and cross back. I also felt that the apex point on the side front pattern piece needs a bit of smoothing; the angles created by my armhole dart as well as the deepened dart under the bust created a bit of a peak there that looks weird, so I used my curve to draw in a softer, less pointed shape there. 

The slightly too-wide neck and cross back are more noticeable here, but I think I can get away with wearing this as is-maybe with a bolero. I also decided to scoop about 1/4" from the back armhole where it's hanging up and causing some rippling below. I'm not sure if it's just the way I'm standing or if the skirt got hung up on my jeans (I used a camera with a timer on a tripod and so there was quite a bit of running back and forth during this photo shoot), but it appears that I have some fabric pooling at the lower back and will need to take a bit more waist shaping there to correct it.

Overall, the fit could be a bit snugger, but I decided to leave it as is for two reasons: First, I've been losing weight (again) lately but know that this trend could suddenly reverse itself at any time. Secondly, the appliqued and beaded garments I plan to make won't stretch as much as this unadorned one. This "fit insurance" reduces the odds that I'll labor on an intricate piece only to find it too small. A loose garment can always be taken up with a slightly wider side seam allowance if necessary.

I"m looking forward to making something more intricate with this pattern soon-maybe a dress? I've already used my sloper to draft the Corset top pattern; all it needs is some fine tuning before it's ready to be sewn. Then, on to the Fitted top, which I think will be the most challenging because it has no darts, though I may end up using some anyway. And I definitely want to draft the Bolero as well.

In yesterday's Journal entry, Natalie Chanin wrote that the presale for her next book, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns, begins on Thursday. I found this brief description of a class that incorporates the book here. Although I might be done fitting the patterns from the first 3 books by then, I'm sure it will be a valuable and inspiring reference. I'm definitely buying a copy. And that class? Sounds like a dream come true. Speaking of dreams, here's my dream dress:

The Dress
Updated to add: The new Alabama Chanin book will include a coat pattern!!!!! I've already pre-ordered my copy.


Final Verdict on Those Sloper Classes: Worth Every Penny (I Made Some Clothes and They Fit)

Aunt Nina finally made some clothes! 
It's been several months now since I detailed my sewing plans for Spring/Summer 2014. In fact, it's been an entire season since I posted it. This was not the first time that I had written a long list of clothes that I wanted to make. This was the first time, however, that I actually made some of them and liked them enough to actually wear them. So, I'm a bit of procrastinator, but hey, I'm making progress.

The biggest difference between this and my previous sewing experiences has been the fact that I now own personalized slopers. I can't believe how much easier they have made the process of making my clothes. Because the creation of the slopers (and the creation of each pattern) took longer than I had expected, I didn't end up completing as many warm weather garments as I had hoped. On the plus side, all of the clothes that I did make fit really well and are pieces that I'll be glad to wear again next Spring.

First, I made a simple v neck t shirt in red (my favorite color).  I had already made a few samples (from icky fabric) while I was finalizing the fit of the pattern, but still felt it necessary to test out the basic t in some nicer fabric because I knew I would be using it as the base for several other knit garments. I didn't get a decent photo of the t shirt (red is so hard to photograph), but it does sneakily make an appearance further down the page. (And speaking of photos, I know that I'm a terrible photographer. Getting better is on my to-do list.)

After I made sure that I was happy with the fit of my basic t shirt pattern, I used it to adapt a couple of commercial patterns that I wanted to try. Below are my first and second versions of the Plantain T-Shirt from Deer and Doe (with quite a few modifications). Both fabrics are medium weight stretch jersey. The gray is made up in a cotton/lycra and the black in rayon/lycra. I gave both of them elbow-length sleeves and the black one has a slight high-low hem:

That is actually a true black, though it looks faded out in the photo. I had enough of the fabric left to cut a pair of capri length leggings, but didn't take a photo of those.

This next t-shirt is my adaption of Megan Neilsen's Briar. I have no idea where I bought this fabric, but it's a lightweight cotton/lycra jersey and I love it and wish I had more. I also made this pattern in solid black, but forgot to photograph it:

This one is another Plantain adaptation in lightweight cotton stretch jersey. By the time I cut it, Fall weather was here, so I decided it should have long sleeves:

And then, since I was happy with the fit of my sleeve pattern, I went ahead and adapted Vogue 8817 to make a tunic dress. It hits me around mid-thigh and will be worn with leggings or tights. I made it from the same fabric that I used for my gray Plantain t shirt:

For all of the above garments, I used the same process: First, I traced off my self-drafted basic t shirt pattern from the top of the shoulders down to the bottom of the armholes. Then, I found the size on the commercial pattern sheet that most closely matched the width of my t shirt pattern straight across at the base of the armhole and traced the commercial pattern from that point down. I discovered that there is a huge discrepancy between my pattern and the commercial patterns through the neck, shoulders, and upper chest, which explains all of the gaping necklines/armholes, and shoulders that slid down my arms on the clothes I made before I had slopers. Because I used my self-drafted t shirt pattern through this area, I was able to also use my self-drafted sleeves, which saved a lot of time.

I also made a couple of summery pieces to test my woven slopers. First, I made an A Line skirt in some stretch cotton twill I found at Mood.com:

I added some black poplin corded piping and lined the front of the pocket bag with white poplin. The lining was cut from stretch silk charmeuse (from Dharma Trading). I used French seams for all but the center back seams, which were machine overcast for the twill and finished with rayon binding for the silk. This garment represents many firsts for me: first self-drafted pattern, first insertion of an invisible zipper, first use of French tacks (to secure the lining to the skirt near the hem). It fits beautifully and I'm so happy with it (the front hem looks higher than the back because of the waist shaping I needed and it hangs straight when worn).

Then I moved on to my bodice sloper and drafted a sleeveless shirt with princess seams:

Fact: Fitted shirts for full busts look rather odd when laid flat.
The fabric is a Michael Miller clip dot, which was sheer enough to require an underlining, for which I used a soft cotton voile. I used tiny French seams throughout (instead of flat felling) and bound the armholes with bias strips cut from white poplin. I followed most of the instructions in Pam Howard's The Classic Tailored Shirt class for the order of construction and, again, this shirt represents many firsts for me: first collar with stand, first time using my vintage Singer buttonholer (love!), first time to use underlining, and first time ever to make a sleeveless garment that didn't gape at both the front and back armholes. There were some serious darts involved with the drafting of this one. I had to increase the front armhole dart as well as add one to the back armhole to properly fit my shallow upper chest/narrow shoulders/full bust. There was one error in my draft that I didn't catch until the shirt was finished: the front placket facing is 1/4" too wide. This isn't enough of an issue to keep me from wearing the shirt and the pattern has already been corrected.

My basic t shirt (in red) totally photobombed this picture
Now that I've had some (long-awaited, hard-won) success with pattern drafting/alteration, I've decided to use my new skills to revisit some patterns from my favorite designer, Natalie Chanin. I'll be putting the finishing touches on the first garment resulting from this endeavor within the next few days and will report here on the process once it's finished.


Oh Boy.

I'm beginning to think I may have a problem.
Another Singer 66 made it's way to my house last month. It has the same Red Eye decals as the first one. I bought it for parts and it was cheap. After it arrived, I realized that the decals were in pretty good shape. Since the other 66  (which I have dubbed "Nicky" because of its nicotine coating) is still waiting to be repainted, why not clean this one up and put it in the treadle cabinet?

Here it is, straight out of the box:

Like the first one, this machine appears to have been stored in a sewing cabinet that doubled as a plant stand for many years. The back especially was rusted and caked with something that so obscured some of the decals that I initially believed them to be gone.

Fortunately, this time there was no nicotine and, though there was all of that rust as well as a rather large quantity of oily old lint, it didn't take much time to clean this machine. Maybe I'm getting faster? After cleaning, the decals looked even better:

The finish isn't in great shape and I'm thinking about trying this method to refresh it (using, of course, my protective gear and working outdoors or at least in the garage with all of the doors open). Since this is just my parts machine, I figure it can't hurt anything. And, because the cover plates were in really bad shape, I decided to use some nicer ones I picked up on Ebay when I started working on Nicky (those plates were deeply corroded as well). When the paint job on Nicky is done, I'll transfer the shiniest, prettiest parts over to it (her?).

This machine is a few years younger than Nicky and has a somewhat different bobbin winder and the spoked wheel is slightly smaller. It also has what looks like a motor mount on the side of the column, which seems to indicate that it was originally a belt-driven electric model (though I could be wrong). No problem. I can still put a treadle belt on it. 

I learned a new trick while working on this machine. On both of the Red Eyes I removed the stitch length mechanism (following this tutorial) in order to thoroughly clean it and, after several failed attempts, I finally managed to re-install it. I probably should have taken pictures, but since both of my hands were inside the machine (and I felt like I was standing on my head), that wasn't possible. Perhaps when I finish old Nicky I'll take notes on how I did it.

The only part that this machine was missing was the slide plate but I already had one of those. The bobbin winder tire was ancient, so I replaced that as well, though it might not be necessary once the treadle belt is in place. I've noticed some of the machines in the Singer 66 bobbin winding videos on youtube have a tire and some don't. 

Last night I finished putting everything back together and threaded the machine to see what it could do. I haven't put it in the treadle cabinet yet, so just turned the wheel by hand and found that it produced a very nice stitch after a few minor tension adjustments. Now all it needs is some TLC to the painted areas and a couple coats of wax. 

In between working on this machine, I've been sewing t shirts from my self-drafted pattern. I now have 3 of them-as well as a completed A line skirt-to photograph and plan on doing that soon. 


Musing On My Return to Sewing After A Decades-Long Hiatus

My mother once called me an assembly line artist. I suppose this was due to the fact that I worked quickly and was able to produce a lot of whatever I was making in a short amount of time. It seems like I was always in a hurry back then, with meals to make, children to care for, a house to clean, and, usually, a job to get to. I had little time for sewing, so had to make the most of it and could usually sew a dress from start to finish in a day (as long as there were leftovers for dinner and the kids were in school). If I had a blog back then (if blogs had existed) I could have called it "Slapdash Seamstress" because that would have been the perfect description of my style of sewing: "done hurriedly and carelessly".

During the 80's and 90's I used my slapdash, hurry-up-and-get-it-done approach to make most of my clothes. This was the period when puffed sleeves, lace collars, petticoats, dropped waists, ruffles, and cabbage rose prints were trendy (and white hose. I wore white or cream colored hose back then with everything. I'm almost certain I even wore them under my pants.) My style was inspired by Victoria Magazine, the Anne of Green Gables movies, Laura Ashley, Jessica McClintock, and the Princess of Wales (the pattern for my bridesmaids' dresses was based on her wedding gown).

She was so lovely.
This look didn't require much in the way of fitting skills, which was fortunate for me because I had none. The most I could do was add 6" to the bottom of my skirts and dresses to compensate for my height. I can't count how many versions of these dresses I made, all of them in cheap cotton prints. If you were to turn up the hem of one of my handmade garments, you would have found unfinished seams, uneven hand stitches, hanging threads, and shoddy workmanship in general. I had very little training in garment construction and it showed.

I quit sewing for a few reasons, but mainly because I was tired of spending time and money on something that didn't fit well. I also didn't want to dress like Pollyanna any more. At some point, it dawned on me that I was a grown woman walking around dressed like a little girl and the look no longer appealed to me. I moved on to ready made clothing, a more classic silhouette, and lots more time for other things (this was when I picked up quilting and then later knitting). I figured my home-sewn wardrobe days were over.

But, in the intervening years, the internet happened. I eventually found sewing blogs (I think Gertie's was my first), online tutorials, even online classes taught by professionals. My kids grew up and left home, I was no longer able to work, and I found myself with plenty of time to learn the right way to do this.

I'm sure that I have spent more time reading and learning about sewing than I have actually spent making clothes. During the past couple of years especially, I've really started to focus on learning good fit and construction. I figured out that I have very narrow shoulders (often narrower than the smallest size on a multi-sized pattern), forward shoulders, a full bust, and a swayback. I began by studying how to adjust a pattern for each of these fit issues, but had only moderate success with the actual process. There's something about morphing a narrow shoulder into a full bust that creates problems at the armhole which I could never fully address on my own and this is where the sloper classes on Craftsy came to the rescue.

My woven bodice sloper. I'm terribly proud of it.
I now have a customized woven skirt sloper and both woven and knit bodice slopers hanging in my closet. The process of getting to this point has taken longer than I expected, but the results were worth it. As I sewed and then altered each successive muslin, I learned more about the particular fit needs of my body and how to turn a piece of fabric into something that really does look like it was made for me.

Now I have moved on to the pattern drafting stage and, once again, have found that it takes a little more time than I anticipated. Each new pattern needs to be tested in a mock-up (or two) of cheap fabric before I commit to cutting into the good stuff and I suppose that, even then, every pattern will go through a series of tweaks with each successive garment sewn from it until I finally arrive at the one that says "this is it".

Right now I have an A line skirt halfway through the construction phase and a T shirt pattern that is finally ready to cut from the jersey I planned to use way back in May. I'm fine with the delay in starting my summer wardrobe. I'll make less pieces this year so that I can be sure that I'm doing things right. For the first time in my life, I'm enjoying the making of my clothes, rather than plowing through it like an odious task that just needs to be over and done.

(That's my skirt fabric on the left. It's a stretch cotton twill from Mood. I'm adding some piping made from black poplin and will line it with stretch silk charmeuse to add some opacity).

I'm hoping that my garment-making will speed up a bit once I've nailed down my patterns and gotten used to using them. The next one to draft will be a *sleeveless fitted shirt. I'm toying with my design options: princess seams vs darts, yoke vs none, what type of collar, which size button, etc., because all of those options will affect the pattern in some way. It's pretty cool, actually, that I can have that much control over the clothes that I'll make and wear.

While sewing my Alabama Chanin skirts last year, I discovered that I actually enjoyed the slowness of hand stitching each piece. There was a meditative quality to it that I found to be relaxing and rewarding. Although my machine sewn clothes will be finished more quickly, I've found that appreciation for the process has carried over into this as well. It's somewhat like encountering an old friend I hadn't thought of in years and suddenly realizing just how much I had missed them. I don't know if it's the newly acquired skills or the luxury of having extra time or just the appreciation for things that comes with maturity, but sewing doesn't feel like a chore any more and I'm actually having fun this time.

*Edited to add: the fitted shirt pattern is nearly done, all it needs is a collar (and yay! Suzy Furrer's Sleeves and Collar classes are now available on Craftsy!)

Also edited to add: I'm not employed by Craftsy. Just a very pleased customer.


I Know I Said That I Was Done, But This Time I Mean It

Since I've acquired five vintage Singer machines over the past couple of years, I've begun to think that maybe I should get rid of my computerized Viking. The one thing that has kept me from putting the Lily up for sale is the fact that it's the only machine I've ever used to sew knit fabrics. I'm still rather new to sewing knits and had felt it best to hang on to the Lily-at least until I could figure out if knits could be sewn with the 401. So, sometime during the winter, I sat down  to see if I could get comfortable sewing knits with it. After testing several stitch/needle/tension combinations, I concluded that a narrow zigzag (stitch width about 1.5), a stretch needle, and a walking foot would give me an acceptable seam.

Then, I decided to really get to know my Singer zigzag machine by taking it apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together. I have done this with my 201 and both of my Featherweights and have had no problems, though I should add that I never go so far as to remove gears or shafts and will only remove a hook if it's absolutely necessary. I figured that the zigzag machine would be a bit more challenging, but there's always Google, so how hard could it be? It actually didn't end up being that difficult and I felt I got a better understanding of how this machine works and feel much less intimidated when I open up the top and look at the cam stack.

However, it quickly became apparent that something was different now. The 401 began to skip stitches. The thread kept either breaking or jamming in the bobbin area. I turned to Google again and followed all of the advice and troubleshooting that I could find. I re-threaded the machine. I wound new bobbins. I tried different bobbins (plastic, metal reproductions, orignal metal). I tried different needles, different fabrics, different threads. I pulled out the bobbin case to check for lint or thread underneath (there was none). I inspected the needle plate, hook, and upper thread path for burrs (none). I took off the tension, took it apart, put it back together, and installed it again, but the stitches kept skipping and the thread kept jamming and breaking.

After several long sessions of trying to figure this out, one afternoon I happened to glance at my 201 which was sitting just a few feet away and I noticed that there was something very different about its tension assembly. It dawned on me that the take up-spring guard on the 401 was incorrectly positioned behind the tension discs rather than in front of them. I had done this, not just once when I cleaned the machine, but again for a second time when I removed and re-installed the tension while troubleshooting. This, despite the fact that at least 2 other machines with the exact same part (correctly installed) were sitting within a few feet of me the entire time.

So, obviously, all I had to do was remove the tension assembly one more time and put it back on in the correct order, right?

Wrong. This time I dropped the teeny, tiny set screw that goes into the nut on the front of the assembly. Without it, it's impossible to adjust the tension, so it had to be found. I've dropped set screws before. They usually roll to the same spot behind my desk where I can easily find them. Not this time. There was no screw to be found anywhere. I swept the floor repeatedly. I dust mopped. I moved furniture. I lay on my belly on the floor and and peered with a flashlight into air vents, small cracks, and the slots in the walls where the pocket doors go. Nothing. After several days of searching, I gave up and decided to just buy another tension assembly.

Except, they are no longer being made. I found a vintage machine dealer online who had one for sale but the price was much more than I wanted to pay for a tension assembly. So I headed to Ebay and searched for "Singer 401 for parts" and "as is".  I ended up finding one that was just $20 more than the asking price for the tension assembly and its only missing parts were the slide plate and top lid-both of which I don't anticipate losing.

But wait, there is another sewing machine in the above photo. While looking for the 401 parts machine, I also found a 201 that was missing the spool pin plate. My husband offered to buy it for me (he was about to leave town and I think he felt badly about leaving me behind again), so of course I accepted.

Although some of the parts on both machines can be replaced with new ones, most of them can only be gotten by stripping another vintage machine and the individual parts don't come cheap (I bought a motor for my mom's 15-91 a few months ago and paid about $50 for it). Now I have a complete set of parts for both my favorite straight stitch and zig zag machines and won't have to spend time hunting for them when the time comes that they're needed.

So I spent the last few weeks taking apart, cleaning, and putting back together these 2 new lovelies. I even pulled the hook out of the 401. I have no idea if it needs to be timed, but it doesn't matter since I'm not going to sew on it. 

With the addition of these parts machines, I now own seven vintage Singers.  It's probably time to stop looking at any more (my brother-in-law called from a thrift store again a few days ago; fortunately it was a plastic Singer so it was easy to say "no"), unless, of course, I found something dirt cheap. Or with really pretty decals. I'm a sucker for pretty decals and think that the Gingerbread/Tiffany ones are especially pretty.

Now it's time to get back to sewing. I stitched together my sloper muslin yesterday and need to get some photographs to upload to the class for feedback. It's almost ready and, once it is, I'll be moving on to drafting some sleeveless shirts (both woven and knit). I also have an A line skirt pattern that is finished and ready to be cut from fashion fabric. The lining arrived in the mail this week, so I hope to put that together next week. And Suzy Furrer has a new class on Craftsy for drafting sleeves and I'm eager to get started with that so that I can sew some T-shirts on my now complete Singer 401.