Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Song of Frustration

I take back every nice thing I ever said or wrote about Bernina sewing machines. I'm trying to use  a sewing and embroidery machine and it takes getting used to. That notebook in the background is the manual.

 A man designed the Bernina Artista 180. Not only did a man design this machine, but it was a man who had no contact with any other sewing machine technology. He and his team had a list of requirements and rather than see what had been done before, they winged it.  

The self-threading needle feature takes longer than doing it yourself, but if you poke the thread through the eye of the needle yourself, the machine stops after 4 stitches and nags until you rethread it by machine. You can start stitching at the very edge -- no need for stitching backward 6 stitches and then going forward. Good thing, because it won't go in reverse. Not a major headache unless you need your edges to be ultra secure. But wait! You can switch to triple stitch just before the end of the piece.  Takes longer than pushing a button to go in reverse, but what the heck. There IS a button that indicates reverse, but the first 40 times I pushed it, the machine zoomed ahead. The button has decided to work after several hours of sewing. PBfffft!

Yes, you CAN make umpteen buttonholes all exactly the same if you spend the time you would have spend making 6 buttonholes to set up the machine. I will do all my buttonholes on some other machine. Or by hand. This machine will sew on buttons, and earlier Berninas lacked that option.

All those wonderful embroidery stitches they talk about require add-on pieces, which I got with my slightly used 2nd hand machine, from a Bernina store. The Artista 180 also requires Bernina software,  and a cable to attach it to your computer. These were missing, along with the bobbins. Perhaps the cable that came with my Canon camera will work with it. Bernina has dealt with the software and cable problem by making newer models work with USB sticks.

The threading path requires one to loop the thread around hidden obstacles, but unlike the Bernina 1230, the Artista's obstacles don't reach out and make life easy. No. There is a mechanical threading device that takes about 6 times longer than poking the thread through the needle yourself, but if you do it yourself, the computer nags until you use the mechanical thing. There is the bobbin itself, which is unlike any other bobbin in the Bernina oeuvre. No doubt these problems have been addressed  in the 10 years since this one was built.

What I liked about sewing machines: you could get parts for them for at least 20 years. Accessories and attachments designed in 1910 still work, and will work on most brands of sewing machines. A woman could use her library of special presser feet on Singer, Janome, White, and many more. The Greist company used to make boxes of attachments that worked on all machines. Singer made buttonholer devices that worked on many machines, even machines that were not zigzaggers. Sadly, Berninas require special presser feet. Bernina presser feet only work on Berninas, and only certain Berninas. The cost of Bernina presser feet makes  this appalling.

A friend's Bernina 707 needs a new foot control. Bernina no longer supplies them. An enterprising repair shop either created one or found one that works, for a lot less than the Bernina one. A needle bar is a fairly standard thing, but a Bernina with a bent  needle bar might as well be sold for parts, because Bernina doesn't have them.

If it weren't for the neatness of Bernina stitching, I'd be angry instead of annoyed. There are good things about this machine. You can increase the pressure for flimsy fabrics, decrease it for fleece and denim. Handy. Some computerized machines claim they will automatically adjust the pressure to  suit your fabric, but I find that hard to believe. Machine speed is a feature that has not proved its value to me. You can regulate how fast the machine will sew when the foot controller is depressed all the way-- handy if you are teaching a child to sew, or if you like the speed of industrial sewing machines. Faster stitching means faster and larger mistakes sometimes. And who permits a child near a machine costing several thousand dollars? Not I.

It has a touch screen panel showing fancy stitches and telling you what fancy presser foot to use to do them. This is, I guess, easier to deal with than a complex control panel accompanied by a manual. It has videos. The one I watched was so stultifying that I tried to return the machine. New models have the same information on disks.

Costly computerized sewing machines can enable a beginner to sew like an intermediate seamster. I personally don't know of any beginners who would be willing to spend the money or the time to learn to use this machine. It's not a terrible machine. It produces neat stitching on fabrics that some machines eat up. It allows me to sew while my 1230 is away from home.

 But if my Bernina 1230 weren't on its annual tuneup, I wouldn't try the Artista 180. The 1230 spoiled me for other machines, even for the Singer 328K.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Workhorses, the Kenmore Snarlomatic, and the Bernina That Nags

Singer 328 K, a workhorse
I  was happy with my grandmother's treadle sewing machine. I was okay with my mother's 1957 Kenmore/White zigzag. And in 1968, I was truly thrilled with my secondhand Singer 328K zigzag, bought with the first wages from my job. When the timing on the 328K went skywoggle due to too much contact with NYC's unscheduled brownouts, I sent that machine off to be recalibrated and bought a top of the line Kenmore at Sears in 1980. I lived to regret it. 

The brand new Kenmore sewing machine was soon to be dubbed the Snarlomatic. It had 24 built in stitches, but wouldn't do any of them for longer than 12 minutes. It hated knits, demanding and getting special ballpoint needles for cotton knits, and micro needles for lingerie knits. It still sewed and snarled. Eventually I sewed only quilting cottons on it. I was sewing doll clothes, which demand a certain amount of accuracy, not human clothing, which forgives errors. Snarly was good for about 30 minutes of sewing before he said he'd had it and for me to go away and leave him alone. Not in so many words, but the bobbin seized up and nothing was possible.

The 328K returned and worked for about a month before I had to bite the bullet and recalibrate it myself. I took it partially apart and oiled everything that looked as if it might move. Following the manual, I tweaked the tensions. Endlessly, it seemed, but eventually the 328K worked beautifully. (But not silently.) I cleaned and oiled Snarly, but Snarly hadn't sewn enough to have much need for either cleaning or oiling. If what I sewed had to look good, if it involved corduroy or denim or upholstery fabric, I sewed on the Singer 328K. I stopped sewing for myself, but my new ability to tweak the tension of metal bodied sewing machines made me fearless. My mother acquired a Singer Featherweight at an auction, and spent some time swearing at it. I made it sew. Later, she acquired a 1940s Singer in original cabinet and I had fun with that. 

By 1998 I had read everything there was to read about sewing machines and decided that I wanted a Bernina. A pre-owned Bernina 1230, to be precise. This computerized sewing machine has a front plate that looks like a rocket ship control panel. It allowed me to program in names, to use series of decorative stitches. Best of all, it allowed me to sew for hours, and I could sew for myself as well as for 12 inch dolls. Its internal computer equalized tensions and pressures and turned out beautiful regular stitches on flimsies, cotton, denim, and heavier weight fabrics. It sewed with less noise than Snarly. At last I had a machine that let me say that all sewing mistakes were my own.

Oddly, the manual said to oil only one place, the bobbin race. I tried it on Snarly, and he was pacified. Snarly, with his plastic housing, sews silently compared to the Singer 328. Snarly has multiple built in decorative stitches. Joy unbounded. This meant I had three functioning sewing machines in the house. A machine and a spare is all one really needs. A machine had to go; Snarly went to a niece and apparently lives happily ever after.

Meantime, the sewing machine world had developed sewing machines that also embroidered.(It is possible to embroider with a straight stitch machine. Early Singers had instruction books full of examples. Women of the early 20th century had a lot more patience than I do.) Sewing magazines of the late 20th century offered downloadable motifs in various formats, and I wanted some of them.  I wanted to turn a plain fabric into an embroidered fabric. Yes, friends, I had sewing machine lust.

I acquired the Bernina Artista 180 during a flare of Chronic Fatigue. When I watched the video on how to make button holes, I suffered buyer's remorse (and horror, because a simple 2-step buttonhole now took 10 steps!) and tried to return the machine. The store owner informed me it was an "until death do you part" sale.The Artista sat reproachfully in my dining room for years until last week, when I felt I might be capable of reading and understanding instructions. A memory card supposedly included with the machine was not there, and there was no bobbin. Worse, it was a bobbin unique to that machine. I calmed down when I found that online sites were selling a dozen for $14. When I took the Bernina 1230 in for a tuneup, I bought a bobbin for the Artista.

That's when I learned what a nag it is. There's a little touch screen front and center, with 15 stitches on it. I threaded the machine without looking at the manual. It sewed 4 stitches, and the touch screen messaged me: check upper thread tension. I rethreaded according to the manual. Threading the Artista is not as intuitive as the 1230, and the bobbin goes in the opposite way. (A rave review of this model Artista complains about the bobbin. I'm not alone.) After several tries, I managed to thread the machine so that it did not nag me. It produced neat lines of stitching.Tomorrow, I sew. Maybe.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Let the Sorting Begin!

The SIL hopes I am making progress in sorting and preparing to get rid of things. Hard to say. While moving things in the garage in hopes of someday being able to put the car in it,  I discovered 6 boxes of LP's, only one that could be considered mine. I must go through them, and then see if I can borrow a machine  that makes CD's of LP's. Don't talk MP3 to me. I have an ancient boom box that still plays tapes and CD's, and I know how to use it.

Sewing projects that have been limping toward completion for months and years are marginally closer. The sewing machine has refused 3 times to make a buttonhole on the jeans, or they'd be finished. I've discovered possessions I haven't seen for years and cannot bear to part with. I have the same number of boxes in the basement but some are half empty. I've begun destashing patterns for doll clothes and soft toys and am trying to make sense of how to list them for sale in various places. I can stand to get rid of some needlework books from the 70s, but there is no market for them. Sigh.

I still have more paperback fiction than I have bookcase space. My solution to sleepless nights is to find good reads that I've already read, read about 30 pages and fall asleep. This does not work with new-to-me books. I know I have to get rid of books. Some I will never find again, and must keep. Some I reread on a yearly basis. Gotta hang onto them. I guess I can get rid of things that are currently on most library shelves, and easy to find at 2nd hand bookstores. I guess. Some reference books were so hard to find and acquire that the idea of donating them to Planned Parenthood's annual book sale causes physical pain. Better to sell these, I think.

I know I've taken things to Goodwill. Each time I go, I take  a minimum of 3 overstuffed trash bags of things that could be used and sometimes boxes of trashy books as well. A couple of charities make a point of asking for donations and making it easy by picking up things set on the porch and marked with their initials. I've been locating items from a craft stash dumped on me 10 years ago when a couple left Dayton, and giving it back to them now that they are back in town.

 It sounds like progress, but it doesn't look like it. There's room for the car in the garage, but not enough to open a door and get out of the car. Every room has keep/sell/giveaway boxes and overflowing trash cans. And new stuff still oozes into my life.

Longtime resident neighbors are moving out, and insist on giving me bits and pieces when I help, and it's fabric and trims, and I am incapable of refusing. There's curiosity, you see. What are other people throwing away? And there's acquisitive lust: that kind of fabric has not been produced since the 1960's. I have collected bits of vintage fabric for years, planning to use it in reproduction clothing for vintage dolls. And I do use it. Just not at the same rate I collect it.