Monday, February 9, 2015

New Sewing Machine for 2015

Due to the Bernina buttonhole debacle, I decided to take it in for service at another repair place (not my local Bernina dealer). This is when I found out there was nothing wrong with the electrical board, and that the buttonhole issue is most likely in the sensor foot. It was supposedly repaired by my local Bernina he said. I called another Bernina dealer and asked about a replacement foot. This was over a week ago, and I heard nothing from them. So much for customer service. I did find that it was available on Bernina's main website, and the cost was about $200. Wow.

The real question I faced was, how happy am I with my Bernina these days? Not very I guess... After sewing with my Juki for the past few years, I have become to rely on my Bernina less and less. I know it's 25+ years old...but I never expected to be disappointed with its sewing quality. Maybe I just sewed that machine to the ground...or did I just outgrow it? Maybe more of the later. I will tell you one thing though, had the other Bernina dealer called me back with ANY information whatsoever, I would have hightailed it down to their store, and probably would have bought a new Bernina. The idea of owning a new machine was burning a hole in my pocket. But they lost that sale.

I decided it was time...but I had a few questions. Did I need to spend a lot to get all the features I wanted? Do I really need a machine to last another 25 years? It might have been true back then when Swiss machines were made in Switzerland, but most of the quality machines are no longer made at their headquartered countries. I found out that Pfaff is made in Shanghai, Bernina's are made in Thailand, and Viking and Singer are both owned by the same "holding" company as Pfaff. Janome bought Elna, which is probably a good thing for Elna. Juki home machines are mainly made in China. If this is the case for sewing machines, then does it really matter if I'm paying $6,000 or $1,000 for a machine with similar features? I think not. I know I would feel a lot better about being disappointed in a less expensive machine than one that cost as much as a car.

Enter...the new addition to my sewing room...the Juki Exceed F600, and also made in China. For $1100 out-the-door, it was a fair price, and money spent at a local dealer. I will admit that if I actually liked my local Bernina dealer, the final outcome might have been different and $2,000 more out of my pocket.  Several machines could have fit the bill here...Babylock, Janome, Pfaff, and Bernina all had models that had more or less of everything I wanted. After narrowing down features, I just went for the best price. BTW, Bernina was the most expensive for the least amount of features. But it doesn't mean I won't ever get another Bernina. Just not right now.

Since opening this machine and setting it up (where my Bernina used to be), I have played with the computerized stitch functions, made some buttonholes, and learned to use the auto thread, and wind a bobbin. I've also ordered a rolled hem and invisible feet, which I was surprised did not come with the machine. But a smooth foot (similar to teflon presser foot) did. I also ordered a set of 50 additional bobbins, to add to the measly four that came standard.

Everything about this machine feels a bit flimsy. Everything is plastic. But the big plastic case looks sturdy, and I do love the gigantic extension table as a standard accessory. Basically, this machine is well thought out, and has everything on my wishlist. The only thing missing is a bobbin sensor...a feature I liked on the Pfaff machines. But I'm not a quilter, and rarely run out of thread with a full bobbin for garment sewing. It helps that the door to the drop in bobbin is clear plastic. But I also don't like that the door is plastic and breakable? I basically can't drop or step on anything without risk.

The built-in embroidery stitches are not bad for machine stitched. Because there are a couple hundred stitches, it takes time to learn how to set them. But it's not impossible. Whew! I found a video tutorial on Youtube put out by Juki with some specific features and stitching options. It was helpful as an introduction, but I really want some good examples on how to apply some of the unique stitches to clothing construction. Most of the examples were designed for quilting. But if anyone is thinking of purchasing a Juki F600, viewing the video in advance might be helpful. You can view it HERE.  

Unfortunately, my local Juki dealer does not offer any training or support. They don't have anyone in-house to help. But they matched the cheapest online price I could find. I wouldn't have gotten support if I had bought the machine online either. At least they'll take it back for repair if needed. I want to encourage other sewists in my area to support this shop. I think they could have a real market for Juki machines for quilters if they updated their marketing. This is the shop website HERE.

Besides a new sewing machine, my 15+ year-old Rowenta iron finally died. I was surprised to find an upgraded Professional line still made in Germany. The new model is just like mine except this new one has a lot more steam and heats up faster. It's on sale at for $74.99, and more expensive at the actual Target store. I showed the cashier, and received a price adjustment and took it home for immediate use. Score! Happy Sewing!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Asian Steampunk - Edwardian Ball 101

Procrastinator is one of the labels used to describe me by my brother-in-law when I was 13 years old. Back then, I didn't know what the word meant, and after he explained it to me for about 20 minutes, I felt insulted. I was a misunderstood teenager. (Who isn't?) Having raised four of my own's probably not realistic to accuse a budding adult of procrastination in the middle of their transition years. I think it's only fair to criticize after one has reached at least 50 years old.

I procrastinated until the final week before the Edwardian Ball to sew partial outfits for me and my hubby. I was left with only seven days, which included the hours before the Ball. If nothing else, it was a test of my sewing skills, and whether or not my machines had the chutzpa to get me through the crisis (I mean fun). There's no better time than being under pressure to make cuts from the sewing list. If nothing else, forced clarity happens quickly.

I wanted an Asian Steampunk theme, and roughly knew which direction to go. But I was thwarted by many things...but TIME was my main nemesis. I began with a kimono pattern, that I painstakingly cut out of a velvety peach silk charmeuse. Once the lining was cut, I ditched the idea due to creative indecision.  (As of this blog, the cut kimono top has yet to be sewn.) What I really wanted was a Mandarin collar blouse closer to the classic Chinese style. I had a pattern from the authentic, and "not-so-fast-to-sew" Folkwear...nope...I was slow sewing if I went that route. Luckily, I only had to go as far as my closet to retrieve the black silk one I bought in Thailand. First piece done, and I didn't have to even lift a presser foot.

The striped heavy cotton I bought for my husband's vest and pants arrived on the exact day I started sewing. BUT the background was Summer-white rather than beige. I wanted it to look rustic...not like resort wear, which would look really weird on a man attending the Edwardian Ball. Crisis alert.

Fast forward to this...

Beautifully done and ruined first vest.
I tried removing the stitches, but it kept snagging.
My husband ended up with two vests. The first was ruined by one, the waxed chalk marker (which was my stupidity), and two, my Bernina 1130's malfunctioning automatic buttonhole foot.

Slight segue about this Bernina repair issue...

This was supposed to have been fixed last year, but of course it wasn't. I was charged $140 for a maintenance which included $40 in parts, but in reality, there weren't any parts replaced at all...just extended repair time. But there was nothing broken except for the foot sensor...which required a replacement, and if I had just done that, I would have saved the $140 and applied it to the $200 foot sensor. It was a sewing repair shakedown from my local dealer. Hatred and resentment set in pretty quickly after that. And when a perfectly sewn brocade vest gets ruined by the final buttonhole really, really burns. Then I begin to hate everything-including my 1130...but my Bernina dealer more.

Deep breath. I decided against making any buttonholes...not by machine or by hand. (Besides I didn't have time to order any buttonhole twist.) Blah...blah...blah.

I sewed a second vest...which was understated but elegant. I got around the buttonhole problem by changing the front to utilize snaps, and adding a frog closure at the top. (I discovered that I can hand sew extra large snaps.) The vest ended up being very wearable outside of the Edwardian Ball, and I was pleased as punch. Because I had to make the vest twice, I sacrificed the time I needed to make him a pair of pants and shirt. So he had to utilize RTW pieces from his closet. No resort wear for hubby.

Second vest without buttonholes with more Asian look.
Selfie was taken at the Edwardian Ball, so the lighting
was not very good.

This is the back of the vest. It was made with a lovely gold, embroidered silk dupioni.
My husband is also a jazz pianist, so a nicer back on the vest is great for gig-wearing.
My outfit went through a couple of transitions too. The first skirt was made with curtain fabric, and it was heavy and bulky. The faux bustle felt like 10 pounds by itself. My daughter's description was: "It looks like a diaper on you Mom." Enough said, and back to Joann's Fabrics for affordable brocade with my 50 percent-off coupon. Rewind..this soon-to-be-purchased brocade was also used to make my hubby's FIRST vest. That's right, I started on my skirt before his vest. I'm just a bit too disorganized to rewrite this post chronologically...

This was the first "heavy" curtain skirt.  I don't have a
picture of the skirt with the bustle attached. But you don't
need it to see how big and bulky it is already.
It doesn't look so bad in the photo. 
I really liked the new skirt fabric. But wanted something different for the bustle. I told my husband that there might be a chance that my friend sewed the same skirt, so I should consider redesigning it a bit. I decided to use a synthetic organza for the bustle instead of the brocade, which gave it a better puff and nearly eliminated all the weight issues. I used four yards of 45-inch wide organza, and created the bustle without using the original pattern. My pattern, which was the fabric folded in half at the grain line (no cutting at all). The only real fancy thing I did was narrow hem it, and it's really easy to do on organza! Whew!

I had to hand stitch the side pleats so it could drape nicer in the front.

The original pattern did not include securing the side pleats,
which would have ended up being very poofy in the front.
This is the skirt after the pleats were sewn in. 
The corset was more challenging because I ran out of time to get the proper eyelet tools to create a lace up in the back. I also did not have a separating zipper (I thought I did), and then decided just to use a regular one I had. Bad idea on both parts. I knew it would be difficult to put on, but that was not the real problem. As the evening went on, having a lace-up, would have allowed for "loosening" options, none of which I had in a zip up. Eh...I live and learn. I did discover that using plastic bar locks from Home Depot were great in lieu of metal boning. I made a muslin corset last year, and even without the steel boning, I felt like I was suffocating. Corsets aren't for me...but using the bar locks gave me good form without feeling completely tied up. If I had added the lace-up feature...all would have been perfect. Excuse the wrinkly corset dressform is not as wide as me.

My outfit was complete with some lace-up boots, fishnet stockings, and an Amazon purchased mini-top hat.

In case you're wondering what pattern I it is. I really liked this pattern, and found that all the instructions were well explained, and the pattern pieces excellently drafted. Be warned though, it takes about five-plus yards of fabric to complete the shirt skirt with the bustle. And only friend who showed up to the Ball also made this skirt. I thought it was really cute.

Negative ending alert...

How was the Edwardian Ball? There were many creative costumes, a handful of truly authentic historical pieces, and some really crazy stuff. I don't know if I would ever go back. The organizers crammed too many people in the space. Getting from one location to another was like moving cattle. I felt claustrophobic for most of the night. It was a lot of money and effort for very little entertainment. There was also no place to sit and rest for the entire evening, except the floor. And depending upon what floor we were on, it could have been covered with spilled drinks. It was nearly impossible to have a good time unless one was passed out drunk.

After all the sewing, I ended up with stains on my brocade skirt and silk blouse from a woman who had not finish her sugary citrus drink before being squished with us into a box-sized room to watch a weird live performance. She rendered no apology or acknowledgement...nada...even after I reached across her body for my husband's handkerchief to wipe myself down. This costume ruiner also cut my friends in line. She was immediately added to the same list alongside my Bernina dealer .

Happy sewing!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Forward to 2015

I knitted everyone a modified slouchy hat for the holidays. It took me about three to four days to finish each hat. The last one was completed on Christmas Eve. Here's a picture of my family wearing them on Christmas day. I have yet to knit mine...sigh. That's it for 2014 knitting folks!

I decided that this new year will not be filled with a long list of resolutions. I am tired of pointing out the obvious over and over again. Let's be done with all that silliness shall we?

But a bit of early Spring cleaning is in order. I'm going to make room in my closet and get rid of everything that is ill-fitting and uncomfortable. This includes donating those handmade pieces that I never liked but held onto because I made them. I'm also done with fancy dresses, unless I'm making them for educational purposes. They just don't get worn enough. I go to maybe two fancy parties or less a year, and I don't expect that number to grow anytime soon.

So what's in store for 2015? I'm getting ready for the Edwardian Ball. I have two weeks to measure, cut, and sew two outfits (me and hubby) for this event. I'm leaning toward an Asian Steampunk mash-up. But there's got to be a corset somewhere! Yes...but...I decided that I don't like wearing them, so I may make a comfy "fake" corset to keep me from feeling claustrophobic. Stay tuned...

I'll be going back to the tried-and-true sewing of 2014. Smocks, smocks, and more smocks! I freaking love them. It's like wearing cute scrubs to work, but not. It's a good substitute for a lab coat, because lab coats are too warm (even though they make me look all doctorey...doctorey is not a real word...I stole it from one of my patients who commented on how "doctorey" I looked one day at work).

Fourth quarter SMOCKPALOOZA sewing...

Kokka cotton smock from one of my Japanese pattern books. This is a remake.
Instead of seam binding the neckline, I just added elastic, and it's SUPAH comfy!

Another remake also using Kokka cotton fabric. This one turned out really big, and looks maternity.
I have not worn it yet, because I'm still debating if I want to look preggers or not at work.

Rayon Challis Smock Dress. I lengthened the smock top into a dress. This is the most
comfortable dress ever...and according to my daughter, looks a bit like a hospital gown.
Eh...what does she know about smocks anyway.

Too big again...but I cut the right size for my bust. It was technically a muslin...using some fabric
I got from FABMO. So there's always the possibility of a second, smaller version.
I might be moving at the end of 2015 so clearing out clutter is not going to end after Spring. It's going to be stressful working down my stash. But I have some incentive now to cut into all those beautiful silk pieces I bought from Hong Kong. I picked up a bunch of polyester charmeuse to serve as muslin pieces for the silk-intended projects. My family will be getting some handmade pieces in 2015. I'm cutting back on selfish sewing because my closet can't take it anymore.

Remember how proud I was at having six sewing machines? Here's a question...if I only had room for one sewing machine, and one serger, which one would I choose? What are your machines of choice if there was a fire, and you could only save two?

Happy 2015 sewing everyone!!!