Let there be light

I’d been complaining off and on about the bad lighting in my sewing area. My husband got me a task light for my birthday which helped a lot, but when I was making a black shirt with black top stitching in the depths of winter even that wasn’t enough. I’d read about LED light strips for sewing machines, and asked for some for Christmas. And I have to say, they are amazing.

Here’s my machine with the LEDs off. You can probably just about see the LED strip wrapped around the head of the machine in front of the needle bar. The machine is on, so the built in bulb is lit. These pictures were all taken at night.

And here they are switched on. It’s so bright! It doesn’t look as blue in real life as it does in this photo, but the illumination it provides is every bit as intense. It makes such a difference. The sewing machine bulb is barely visible beside the LEDs.

Here’s a better shot of how the strip attaches to the machine. Two little stick on plastic clips came in the pack. Those are stuck to the machine, one at each end of the strip, and the strip can be slid in and out of them when I need to change thread. The strip itself also has a sticky back for attaching it permanently, but that would make it almost impossible to thread the machine.

The power cable is just laid over the top of the machine out of the way of the spools, and the switch hangs down the side.

My set of LEDs was a fairly random one off Amazon – it was marked as ‘for sewing machines’ but really there are lots of other possible uses. Highly recommended!

How have I never noticed this before? Overlocker maintenance

Cleaning the sewing machine is a never-fail way to kickstart the sewing mojo. Cleaning and threading the overlocker, even more so. Clearly I haven’t been lacking in mojo lately because ewww.

Sordid overlocker innards

I wanted to switch from three to four thread mode on the overlocker which meant inserting a second needle. I have trouble getting needles into this overlocker correctly. I sometimes even have a needle slip out while sewing because I haven’t tightened the screw enough. And this time, something seemed obviously wrong because when I put the second needle in the eyes didn’t line up. No mention of this in the manual. No amount of undoing and redoing, trying different needles, or fiddling with the screws made the slightest difference. Eventually I resorted to the Internet. And apparently they’re not meant to line up! How have I never noticed this before?

Overlocker needles

Deadly sparkly jeans

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows I have a strange love for shiny trousers. But I don’t wear trousers a whole lot so up until now I’ve only made one shiny pair, which gradually shrunk in the wash until I could no longer do them up. Now I’m needing some cycle-friendly clothes (thanks for all the pattern and blog suggestions!) I thought that recreating the shrunken shiny pair would be a good place to start. The pattern I used is the same as before, Burda 103B-07-2010. This is a skinny jeans style with an extra seam down the back of the leg. I made them up in a silver stretch denim from Minerva Crafts.

Burda 103b-07-2010 front view

The fabric was originally much more silver in colour, but a trip through the washing machine removed a lot of the coating and left this sparkly black effect. This is no reflection on Minerva, I’m pretty sure they said it wasn’t washable when I bought it.

Here’s the back view. I added patch pockets because I think trousers can look a bit odd without some sort of detail on the backside. Or is that just me? I also made the legs extra long, which is in part what’s causing all those wrinkles on the leg. It’s bad fitting but I like the effect.

Burda 103b-07-2010 back view

However there’s definitely some extra fabric pooling under the bum that can’t be explained by the longer legs. According to the fitting books this means the back crotch length is too long – or as they generally put it, a flat bum adjustment is needed. I could probably fix that on this pair as it just means sewing the crotch seam a bit deeper, but it isn’t bothering me and I’d rather not unpick the topstitching.

Burda 103b-07-2010 back closeup

Burda 103b-07-2010 side view

So why are they the deadly jeans? They killed my sewing machine. It jammed really badly while sewing a test buttonhole. It was the sort of jam where you have to get your scissors out and cut everything you can reach. And while hacking out all the snarls I must have damaged something. It wouldn’t pick up the bobbin thread when I rethreaded it, and when I took the needle plate off it was pretty obvious why: the hook timing is now completely off. I’m lucky enough to have a second machine so I was able to finish the trousers and I’ll be able to sew while my main one is repaired. Which is a good thing because I have another pair of these cut out!

Is it weird to prefer your backup machine?

When I started sewing I did lots of research about picking a machine. I knew I wanted something I could sew heavy fabrics on, and that I wouldn’t grow out of quickly. Various websites recommended getting one with a one-step buttonhole and stretch stitches for sewing knits. I ended up with an Elna 3210 which felt like quite a fancy machine for a beginner. I sewed away happily on it for nearly four years. I sewed knits, denim, and coating fabric and it managed them all. It didn’t get an annual service but I really looked after it; it got a thorough clean and a new needle for each project.

Elna 3310 sewing machine

But last year the Elna’s tension started to behave oddly and I finally had to get it serviced. Round here this takes at least a couple of weeks. I couldn’t bear to be without a sewing machine for that long so I got a more basic backup machine, the Singer Heavy Duty below. No stretch stitches, no one-step buttonhole. The only feature it has that the Elna doesn’t is the ability to move the needle right as well as left. It’s picky about bobbins, unlike the Elna, and not very good at winding them evenly. It’s also harder to clean.

Singer sewing machine

But where the Singer shines is that it’s really fast. I discovered I actually prefer a four-step buttonhole to a one-step. And as I’d acquired an overlocker not long before, I didn’t miss the stretch stitches.

When the Elna came back from being serviced (with a brand-new tension assembly) I thought I’d probably alternate them. But gradually the Elna’s been used less and less. I got it out to sew my current project because I had an idea that the slower machine would cope better with very flimsy fabric, and realised I’d forgotten how to wind bobbins on it. After three failures I resorted to the instruction manual.

It seems a bit odd that I prefer sewing on the more basic machine. And I’m still really glad I started sewing with the Elna; it has much better instructions than the Singer and it enabled me to sew knits long before I could contemplate an overlocker. If I had to cut down to only one machine it would definitely be the Elna I’d keep.

What do you look for in a sewing machine?

Tension trouble

My sewing machine’s not happy. The tension’s been slightly off for a long time, but recently it’s got a lot worse. For a long time I thought the problem was the needle tension, which I keep having to turn up higher to get even stitches. But this week the bobbin started rattling and sticking. The thread broke. And every so often, the bobbin tension went really tight and everything jammed until the scissors came out.

I guess it really needs a good service. Obviously there comes a point where faithfully cleaning it after every project and changing the needle just isn’t enough!

I think the problem might be something to do with the bobbin holder.

See that tiny little screw at the front? You aren’t supposed to adjust it, but according to the Internet it controls the bobbin thread tension. The machine was behaving so badly on Monday I gave it a tiny tweak to loosen the tension, and that helped. It’s not as good as new but it hasn’t jammed since. I’m hoping this will be enough to keep me sewing through the Christmas break. I will get it serviced after the holidays. Honest.