04 Jun

My Girls

My Girls

Sew, Mama, Sew is having a sewing machine month and since I love my sewing machine(s) so much, I’m participating.

We were a crafty household growing up and I learned to sew on a treadle Singer and my mom’s 1970s-era Husqvarna. By high school, sewing in one capacity or another was part of my life, and my grandmother bought me a White machine as a graduation gift. It was simple, but served me well until it was crushed moving house. Enter my mother-in-law the quilter who had just traded in her 40 year old Husqvarna for a new Bernina. She took pity on me and bought her old machine back for $1 and then sold it to me.

That Husqvarna took me from crafty hobbyist to artist who sewed nearly every day. But when I started free-motion quilting, I knew it was time to upgrade. I did some homework and narrowed my choices down to upper end Pfaff or Berninas (we were living in Germany at the time and these were the most available/best deals). So here’s the pertinent Sew, Mama, Sew info:

What brand and model do you have? Bernina 440 QE

How long have you had it? About 4 1/2 years

How much does that machine cost (approximately)? With the exchange rate and a discount for being with the US military and not having to pay German VAT (value added tax), I think I remember it being between $1400 and $1700.

What types of things do you sew? I sew mainly quilts of the scrappy, arty sort, but also handbags, clothing and kids costumes, a little home dec, some softies, and patches onto uniforms. Once I repaired a hammock strap and a leather belt.

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get? I sew nearly every day, and have been known to throw teh occasional weird thing at the machine (see aforementioned leather belt). The add oil indicator (based on number of stitches sewn) comes on monthly.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name? My machine has no name, but I love her dearly. I also love teh old Husqvarna for sentimental reasons, and because you just can’t help loving such an old workhorse. My expectation is that my Bernina will also still be going strong in 40 years.

What features does your machine have that work well for you? I didn’t anticipate it, but I love the knee lift. It is so convenient to be able to lift the presser foot without moving your hands! Close runners-up are the ability to lift the needle up or down with the tap of my foot, and the automatic button hole feature.

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine? It doesn’t drive me nuts, but the stitch regulator wasn’t as great as I had hoped. I can free-motion well, but not show-quality perfect; and unfortunately, I can’t get the stitch regulator to be any closer to show-quality than I am on my own.

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why? I would definitely recommend any of the mid-grade to high-end Berninas. In my experience, they are predictable, well-made machines with all the features most sewers would need. The feet are very easy to switch out on machines made in at least the last five years, which I think encourages people to use the right tool for the job. I’ve had no problem finding Bernina dealers from California, to Germany, to Hawai’i and everyone has had wonderful customer service.

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine? I see a sewing machine as a durable good and so I think it’s important to buy something sturdy that will last. I’ve seen too many beginners get frustrated with cheap machines (ie: tension problems and hard to swap feet) and not only never finish their projects, but walk away from the experience feeling like failures. As long as one is making the investment, I suggest to buy a machine that doesn’t just do what you want to do now, but can also accommodate what you want to do in the future. With a good machine, you’ll grow quickly and you don’t want to have to go machine shopping again in just a few years. Oh, and I think it is important to try out several machines to get a good feel for them. I found that ergonomically, I was more comfortable with the Berninas than the Pfaffs — probably because they were similar to the Husqvarnas I had used for over 20 years. I’ve heard many Pfaff users say that they can’t get comfortable on a Bernina. Either way, buying from a sewing machine store gives you a chance to test drive and get as much support as you need, whereas buying from a discounter is a bit of a shot in the dark.

Do you have a dream machine? I already own my dream machine. 🙂

03 Jun

My Process

I may not have found my artistic voice, or style yet, but I’m definitely settling in to a process.

Momentum seems to have a lot to do with it. I get an idea and then I have to jump right into it. Or, if I can’t do that, I write it in my sketchbook, make dinner, collect bits, mull it over, procrastinate a lot, get side tracked, and do myriad other things that lack discernible forward movement. It’s all good though, because this slow percolating time helps me refine what it is I’m going to create.

Then, when the mood hits and the planets align, I get down to work. The hardest part is that this is when the momentum really kicks in and once I’m elbow-deep in paints or dye, or firmly planted in front of the sewing machine, I don’t want to stop. More frozen pizza nights than I want to admit to are the direct result of sewing “just one more row,” “I’m almost to a stopping point,” or my favorite, “I’ll be right there,” which really means I’m standing in front of my design wall contemplating the next move.

Knowing that I work in these fits and spurts helps me to get the most out of them, such as grouping like tasks together, or making sure there’s plenty of pizza in the freezer. Another aspect of my process is to gather bits so that when I do get inspired, I can access the bits akin to a painter choosing paint from blobs on her palette (a great analogy I adopted from artist Gerry Chase in her workshop).

One day I’ll be immersed in sun printing, and try out multiple colors and sizes of motifs. Painting and stamping are the same. If I dye fabric, I’ll throw in some extra pieces, or maybe some yarn or lace. Another day I’ll be piecing, and I’ll sort scraps by color, or set aside cut-off strips, squares or triangles that could come in handy in another project. Now, I take crochet yarn to the kids’ TaeKwonDo and hook roots while I wait. I need to have several things going at once so that I can choose one aspect and roll with it for a while, not breaking my momentum to create a single project start to finish, but rather to focus on a day to paint, or to sit at the machine, to crochet or embroider, until I have enough pieces to sort through them to create the composition I’m looking for.

The last two photos are details of quilted, embroidered, fabric and thread collages mounted on or sewn to stretched canvases — similar to Cloud House. There will definitely be more.