Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Old Black and Gold Singer

Today I pulled out an antique sewing machine, cleaned and oiled it, and tested it on some scrap cloth.  It's an old black-and-gold Singer, solid metal construction, and she sews smoothly.  Just a straight stitch, unless I pull out some attachments and experiment with them.  Maybe later.  90% of my sewing is straight stitch.  I often get annoyed with modern machines with 98 different stitches that I'll never use.
Like many makers, I like using antique tools.  It's a direct connection to the past, to someone else who used this same tool.  A woodworker once said that when he grasped a well-worn handle and his fingers fitted into polished grooves that he felt he was shaking hands with an earlier carpenter.
This machine is 65 years old.  I picture a new mother with curling blond hair and blue eyes, sewing baby clothes for her infant son.  My brother.  The machine was a gift to celebrate his birth.  Later she would sew little dresses for her new daughter.  Me.
I remember this machine so well.  My brother and me designing our Halloween costumes (no store-bought stuff for us!).   My purple velvet pants.  I got it into my head when I was about 10 that what I wanted most was purple velvet pants--which were nowhere to be bought.  She wanted them to be a surprise, so she sewed while I was at school and then carefully cleaned up all the purple velvet scraps before I came home.
The big challenge came was when a friend built his own airplane, and she sewed the fuselage cover on this small Singer.
I remember an ever-so-sophisticated dress for my 8th grade graduation, a cream colored sheath with a floaty sheer overdress.  A lavender crepe dress to be worn at my brother's wedding, carefully fitted and all the alterations noted so she could use the same pattern for my own wedding dress a few months later.
It's taken me several years to bring myself to open this box and get out the machine.  I can't remember the last thing she sewed--but I know now that it used lavender thread.  But the part that hit me, that had the tears rolling down my cheeks, was seeing this area where the paint and finish had been worn off.

That's where she would rest her wrist while sewing.  Many hours of stitching love for her home, her family, her friends.  I rest my own wrist there.

Maybe I'll sew myself something pretty.  Purple velvet pants?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Winter, Spring, Summer

I don't know about the rest of the country, but here you can have winter, spring, and then summer all in about a two-week period.  It leaves me disoriented (and changing the clocks tonight won't help any) and rather restless, resulting in a bad case of Startitus (the condition where one feels compelled to begin many projects and work on them all simultaneously).  Maybe it's the temps going from highs in the 50's to highs in the mid-80's, so one does winter stuff and summer stuff at the same time.

The mad knitting spree has slowed down (there's a scarf and vest that just need to be washed and blocked).  There will, of course, always be knitting on hand because I'm not capable of riding in a car, watching TV, or doing anything that requires waiting around unless I have some knitting.  But the projects at the moment are down to a scarf and a pair of socks.

Some things have been useful.  We have a new owl in the education department at work, which meant that he would need his own transport box.  I wrote about making one of these a year or so ago, for the hawk.  You can buy transport boxes, but they tend to a) start at about $250 dollars, and b) weigh about 20 pounds.  Or you can make one for about $30 that weighs 5 pounds by using coroplastic (the sort of stuff that political signs are made
from).  Do some cutting and scoring, a bit of plastic origami, and pretty it up with paint, and voila--carry box.
I also saw a cool owl "display box" at the Ren faire last month.  We have a table perch that can go with us when we take the birds to events, but it's large and very heavy.  It also leaves the bird out in the open.  This box is enclosed and makes them feel more secure.  And it's just heavy enough not to tip over.
(OK, so he doesn't look very happy.  This one turned out to be a bit small, so I've since made a larger one.  And yes, it started out life as a couple of plastic flower pots).

I've been compulsively dyeing fiber for spinning (and spinning it).  I found a "break the rules" technique which is just too much fun.  Normally when you dye you're supposed to do everything you can to make the color come out evenly.  I'm doing the opposite--encouraging the dyes to separate out.  It spins up to the most beautiful heathered yarns (and yes, I've been spinning them--I'll figure out what to do with the yarn later).
I also dyed some yarn in this most amazing tangle--but there be method in my madness.  After untangling, it's knitting into striped socks (that are striping all by themselves with no help from me.

I was asked to teach a felt-making class for an upcoming textiles and fiber festival next month.  This caused a bit of angst on my part--I often complain that Tallahassee never has that sort of thing, and therefore if someone is putting one on I feel compelled to help.  But the woman organizing it is someone who makes me crazy (and hopefully doesn't read this).  Noblesse oblige won out, and I agreed.   I wanted to make sure I had some wool that would make decent felt (not all of it does) and then I got involved in making all manners of samples and spent two days massaging wool into felt.  Then I got an email from Crazy Lady saying that someone else would do the class (I get the impression that I was Plan B in case the other person didn't come through).  Oh well--I had fun and now I have a bunch of samples to do something with.

I've also done my more-or-less annual attempt at setting up the loom and weaving.  This led Bob to coin the phrase "project induced Tourette's."  I really love the idea of weaving--I've just never gotten the hang of actually doing it (maybe if I tried more than once a year . . .).  For a simple set of dishtowels you measure 480 pieces of cotton yarn all the same length.  You tie those onto the back roller of the loom and roll it up--with all the thread of equal and even tension.  Then you take each one and thread it through a wire loop called a heddle in a specific order to create a specific pattern.  Then you thread each one through a thing called a reed to keep everything spaced out.  This all has to be in a straight line, otherwise they tangle together.  Then you check it out, and rethread it through the reed again because you found mistakes that will cause a long skinny gap to show up in your fabric.  Finally you tie it to the roller in the front, make sure every thread still has the same tension, and weave an inch or two to discover the mistakes you make in threading the pattern, untie those yarns and rethread and re-tension them, try it again, correct it again, and then you're ready to weave.  Who came up with this?  Or, more accurately, what Bob heard reverberating from the room was more like "WHAT SICK MASOCHISTIC SON OF A ****** INVENTED THIS????"

Fortunately I got through all of this before Bob found an injured cardinal that is now recuperating in the room (because that's the only no-cat room in the house).  Mr. Chips gets upset easily so I have to be quiet in the room.  But I'm now down to the weaving, which is actually quite peaceful and going well. (no picture of Mr. Chips--he freaks out if I take the cover off the cage, or even peek under it.  I change out his food at night.)

It hasn't all been run-around crazy, though.  I saw this lounge  on sale and didn't even try to resist.  The weather has been glorious (when it hasn't been Too Cold or Too Hot) and I and a good book (or two) have been spending some quality time together.
Maybe I should take more lessons from Apache.
(and forgot to mention that we were also in the annual Camp Gordon Johnston parade--it is definitely ADD time for me.)