Saturday, May 29, 2010

Meet Mabel, She's My Supermatic Sewing Machine

I've sewn on many, many sewing machines.  Many!  I've had top of the line and clunkers.  But this girl, she is an old workhorse and is a dream for quilt piecing.  Meet Mabel.  She is my Supermatic Elna sewing machine. 

She came with my apartment.  The old owner died and her son didn't care for her so left her behind... lucky me!  Lucky Mabel.  Because a sewing machine needs to be loved, you know?  The old owner loved her, I am sure... she even left behind the original receipt (which my husband threw away???!!! - oh you wanted "THAT").  But no matter...  Now, I forget the exact date, but I do have a postcard that says her Elna is due for service and it is dated May 27, 1966. 

Here is a photo of the brochure for this brand new, top of the line sewing machine from back then... it is actually a brochure for 4 different models - a basic, a zig zag (oh, wow!), an automatic (which did have a fair amount of stitch selections) and the Supermatic (mine, oh joy!). 

You can see the price written on the cover for the Supermatic was 7770 Schillings, which for the sake of VERY easy math would be about $770 US$ - in 1966.  And if you run that through a relative value converter - this machine would be just over $5,000 (in 2009 - the on-line calculator doesn't go up to 2010).  I just love the relative value calculator because I can't tell you how many times I hear people say... I remember when X cost YZ or something like that - well run that amount through a relative value calculator and you might find that things cost way more in those "good old days" than today.  SOME things, not all things... I am just saying.  Because I don't know anyone who would plunk down over $5K for this very basic (by today's standard) sewing machine.  OK, so I would never pay $5K for a sewing machine anyway, but don't tell Mabel!  She has lots of good points!

Here you can see that she has cams for the decorative stitches.  But, even more important and exciting for me... do you see those 3 little red dots (they are really holes) on the top and 2 on the bottom?  Those are oiling holes.  Mabel likes oil.  Every day!  And she is easy to oil - just put one drop in each of those top holes before sewing and you are good to go.  The bottom holes don't go through oil as quickly as the top.  And when you open the bobbin case - there are 2 more red dots for oiling. Brilliant, I tell you!  I have sewn on so many machines where you have to unscrew the entire bottom to even think about starting the oiling process.

Now I know you aren't supposed to oil the new, computerized machines, but that does make me wonder exactly how they do work?  Oh - maybe that is why you are supposed to pay $85 per year for an "annual" service - more often if you actually sew on the thing.  Because Mabel - well, if I go away for a year or so (she is my European machine), well - she just won't budge - not even a tiny bit, until she has a good oiling!  To make it easier to get the oil in the exact correct spot - I have this handy, dandy metal oil tip... it cost 5 Euro and so far has been the only "servicing" she has needed.  Plus, Mabel is not picky about thread.  She will sew on ANY thread.  No problems.  Every time I change the bobbin I just run a little brush around the inside of the bobbin casing, add a drop of oil in 2 spots down there and she is good to go!

Here is a sampling of her stitches - I didn't do these - the old owner did.  For the life I me, I can not figure out how to do button holes on this machine, but you can see by the sample that it is possible.  For JUST buttonholes, I have a borrowed machine that I use.  The borrowed machine doesn't sew nearly as smoothly, but it is so much less frustrating for buttonholes, so there you go.

The foot pedal is great - nice and big!  There is a ledge at the heel to keep your foot in place and this thing does not slide around on the floor. 

She came in this cabinet which is very handy.  That is my thread catcher on the left there - I got it from the Dollar Store in Canada and put it in my suitcase!  The machine can drop down into the cabinet if you want to use it as a table top (I don't, but I do put the machine down when I go away for long periods of time.  The knee hole flips down so you do have a bigger area to put the foot pedal away.

A view of my sewing corner.  Even though we live in a multi-level apartment building, yes, we do have a stove in our apartment - it was the law to have alternative sources of heat after WWII when the place was built.  Which is why old European apartment buildings have a ton of chimneys on the roof!   So, that is our coal stove should we ever loose power, which is highly unlikely.  We have basement storage and there is coal down there.  I am allergic to dust so we only have throw rugs and I don't usually keep things under the table.  We have a seperate dining table so I get that table all to myself!  No sewing projects today because my son is borrowing my outlet strip for his train transformer.  Hummm.  Oh - and there is that 2nd borrowed machine - I have to put button holes on a PJ top for my son.

The inside of Mabel's cabinet was full of various odds & ends... and this one is just precious!  Look!  The old owner must have sewn alot to have a bodice pattern piece custom made!  It is very well made too with very small wooden pegs holding the pieces together and everything well smoothed and rounded.  Now, sometimes I will cut favorite patterns from those vinyl tableclothes you can get for a few dollars on clearance (like my son's PJs), but I have never seen a pattern piece custom made from wood!
So, that is a peek into my sewing corner.  I know that making a sewing machine purchase is a big investment.  They weren't cheap in 1966 either.  Actually, I think they were even more expensive.  But the good thing about an older machine (or at least a basic model) is that you don't have to go running to the shop every other month for service.  I have a very fancy Janome (2 actually) and on the big one - tempermental!  And that big Janome - only is happy with expensive thread.  And I never even knew that SOME spools of Gutterman thread was made in Mexico until that Janome totally rejected new thread I had purchased - took me awhile to figure that one out, but every spool made in Mexico - that picky machine spit out!  I'm just saying... if you are willing to pay that much money for a sewing machine... it should work.  And it should work for many, many years.  Like Mabel.  She is a good machine!
After reading this post- I had to come back to add (because I didn't add my point, duh!) ... sometimes the brochures look so enticing for those new, expensive machines.  And that seems to be all that the sales people want to sell too.  But a new, basic machine (but don't skimp on quality - Mabel is certainly basic by todays standards, but she is very well made!) might work better.  And if you can find an older used machine (sometimes, like Mabel - they are even free) you probably will get many years of good use out of it. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Homework Blocks

Well, I went ahead and made more blocks to equal 15 and it looked a bit long and skinny.  So, I kept going and now there are 20 sampler blocks.  I suppose I could make more, but really - that red plaid is down to the very last dregs.  Once the sashing/borders are added, I am sure it will be just the right size!  This is as far as this project can go until I get back to where I left my 12.5" ruler to square up all the blocks before adding the sashing. 
The red and green fabrics and a few of the other snips of fabric?  Scraps from my bars quilt which I made in 2006!  Plus I used 2 fabrics my sister sent to me this winter - I just love putting bits and pieces, adding memories to each quilt.  That is why I love scrap quilts so much!
Most of my quilt in progress photos are taken on the floor and you get that angle when taking photos.  Well, today I took a photo of each individual block and created a Picasa collage - I think it came out pretty good... other than the fact that I cut off some of my points in the photos!

I tried to do some plainer blocks, but it wasn't long before I went right back to a zillion triangles or small pieces.  And stars are just my favorite.  But still, there seems to be a good amount of variety in these blocks so I am happy.
I usually sketch out the block/cutting measurements/colors I want to use on a scrap of paper or in a little notebook and bring that over to my cutting mat when cutting fabrics.

And with triangles - well, sometimes you get those "bonus" triangles.  I sew those too... can't seem to help myself.  The little blocks my son usually takes for quilts for his Lego men!  Eventually these bits and pieces will find their way into a quilt of their own!

It occured to me last night - my son has about 1 hour of homework per night.  While he does homework I have been sewing - on call for help if needed.  Seeing that he is in first grade... if I sew 1 hour every day he has homework - I sure would have a pile of quilts by the time he graduates!  So, I named this post Homework Blocks!  It is something to think about anyway.
Of course, we are as busy as usual and there are a thousand and one things that I could blog about but like everyone else - I only have so many hours in the day and my computer time is up!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Slowly Making Blocks

I started making this set of blocks earlier in the winter and ended up tucking them away in the closet for another day.  I haven't felt like sewing much this winter... call it the aftershock of my husband having cancer, but once he came home from the hospital - sewing got pushed to the wayside.  Oh sure, I've made some clothes, my Disapearing Nine Patch in Feb., am teaching my friend to sew... but truthfully, I haven't had much interest.  It has taken me awhile to pinpoint exactly why I haven't been sewing much lately, but really, I do think that my husband being so ill is the cause.  Thankfully he is fine now, so it is time for me to pull it together and get back on daily talking terms with Mabel (she is my sewing machine).
I started these blocks... probably in January.  I think January because right around the new year I joined the Friday Block Party ( and did a few blocks.  Every Friday a new block is posted, you make the block, post a photo of it and share what you liked/didn't like about it.  It is actually a fun way to make a sampler because you don't end up spending hours agonizing about which block of the many 1000s of quilt blocks out there you want to make next.  Not all weeks have 12" blocks - there is variety in sizes so at this point I think I will just pick and choose the blocks I am going to make.  Some I made from the Friday group and others I just picked out to make... got up to 6 blocks and stopped.
Well, this week I managed to make another 3 blocks from the Friday group and have a 4th one cut out.  I am aiming for 15 blocks for this particular quilt so 6 more are needed.  Sampler quilts are slow going - you can't just go cutting out an entire quilt in one session and then sit at your machine and chain piece away... but I am enjoying it.  The successful completion of each individual block seems like a big accomplishment (sewing wise) to me these days.  It is raining here today so no chance of going to the park - maybe I will get that other block I have all cut out done today... my son is happily occupied with his Legos so I guess I better get to it!
One of my favorite blocks so far - a variation of Joseph's Delight, but really, I like them all.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

He Has New Wheels

For the kids around here, a "Rollie" is a favorite mode of transportation, even more so than a bicycle, especially for the daily commute to school.  We are only a 20 minute walk away, but one of his friends is 40.  Just TRY telling a kid from the US to walk 40 minutes to school - I don't think it would go over really well!  One thing about having to walk to school though - the kids never have a snow day due to road conditions!
He was rollerblading to school sometimes, but the Rollie is just so easy to hop on and go!  Except that means I have to walk 2X as fast to try to keep up with him.  Phew!  I wonder if they make a Momma sized Rollie, LOL.
Anyway he tried out a friend's Rollie at the park one day and loved it (until he fell on his knees).  When he tried it out - he was wearing a helmet because the kids had traded Rollerblades/Rollie.  When we got him his own Rollie, we went to the park so he could practice and he wore knee pads.  Wobble, wobble, wobble - it takes a bit of getting used to.  And a helmet - but in this photo he was trying to get away with not wearing it.  Busted!  It wasn't long before he was ready to handle the busy sidewalks...

Fortunately, his friend has to wear a helmet too.  For awhile there I was a mean Momma for making him wear one - NO ONE else wears one to Rollie - biking yes, roller blading, yes - but not Rollie.  Well, then he had a gigantic crash, landed on his head, scratched his helmet, had a headache... he thinks the helmet is good to wear now. 
Isn't it nice that as modern parents - the helmet we have to worry about is a bike helmet - not a helmet for battle.

Here he is in front of a display of children's armor - if you lower the display downward so the waist level matches his - you can see that these kids were about the same size as my son.  I imagine these helmets were way more uncomfortable than the cushy padded bike helmets of today too.  Whatever are our kids complaining about anyway?  Personally, I think there is no excuse not to be wearing a helmet.  That goes for children AND adults - we have to set the good example and protect our noggins too!