Tag Archives: entrepeneurs; outdoors sewing

My Machines, Part 3

{yes, I still have a few more}

This is the workhorse. I couldn’t do what I do with out it. Silly me, I was advised to get this machine a long time ago, but being a cheapskate I procrastinated for years. I fought with an inappropriate machine for way too long.

Artisan Needle Feed with quiet servo motor

Artisan Needle Feed with quiet servo motor

This is a no-frills needle feed machine.  What is a needle feed?  The needle “walks” (feeds) as it pierces the fabric, moving the fabric back in conjunction with  the feed dogs. This makes for incredibly even feed of varying weights and thicknesses of fabric at any speed. Unlike a walking foot machine, the  presser foot does not walk; only the  needle does.  It does not have an automatic backtack or thread cutter, but that’s fine with me. It has a nice, quiet servo motor.  The needle feed has an incredible range. I can sew ripstop to Cordura with webbing. The key is to have the correct needle and thread.

If you want an industrial machine, and do not have someone local you feel good about, please contact Ron Anderson of A1 Sewing Machines

Last, for now, but certainly not least is my Singer Featherweight. IMG_4948

 

 

 

 

 

This machine used to belong to my mother-in-law, who was a very talented quilter. She also taught me to quilt; not like I do much of that lately but that is beside the point. This machine is hugely sentimental for me as it is the only thing of hers I got when she passed. And truthfully, this one belongs to my husband’s sister, but she has given it into my caretaking. There was another one that was to be mine, but…(insert family drama).  A funny story about this machine: I brought it up from the SF Bay Area to Washington shortly after 9/11. TSA officials didn’t like this item at all and I was pulled aside for the full meal deal bomb residue wipedown – for a little old lady’s quilting machine.

Coming up – more about different industrial machines, and “what machine should I buy”.

My Machines, Part 2

Sergers

I have the luxury of two sergers. Sergers are a wonderful tool for working with knits and finishing fabrics.

IMG_4630This Babylock may qualify as an antique. It certainly is of the first generation of sergers that came out for home use. I purchased it in 1987 and it still going strong. I’ve probably used it on hundreds of fleece items at this point. It is a 2/3/4 serger in that it will do 2-thread rolled hem, and both a 3- and 4-thread stretch seam/edge finish.

 

36268_492350889711_4849173_nThis is my Pfaff Coverlock that does several varieties of cover stitch hemming, and this is what a coverstitch hem looks like:

coverstitch on wool knit

What is a cover stitch? It hems and finishes all at once. This machine has been invaluable for professional looking finishes on stretch items, softshells, fleece and more. This serger  also does everything the Babylock does, but I keep it set up just for coverstitching. I don’t use this machine tons, but I am glad I have it for the results it can produce.

triple coverstitch on fleecey baselayer

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coverstitch on powerstretch

Part 3 coming soon!

My Machines, Part 1

I get asked a lot about what machine to use or buy, and what machines I have. I confess I have amassed somewhat of a collection over the years. Some I use more, some I use less. I have pretty much run out of room to add anything new to the stable.  There are  some specialty machines that I would love to have, but needed something three times a years doesn’t necessarily justify the expense or the space.

Some things to consider are that many machines have a limited range of what they can do either in terms of specialty work or the materials that can be handled. With one  partial exception, there is no machine that can do it all. So here is what I have currently:

IMG_4629Bernina 1130. I purchased this machine in 1987  to replace a Viking 6000 that I burned the motor up on. For many years, this machine has done almost everything I have asked of it. It is limited by speed, and for heavy fabrics both by  piercing power and the inability to run heavy thread.  However, it is incredibly precise with beautiful stitches. I love the “needle-down” function, the ability to one stitch at a time, and the buttonhole. I don’t use it nearly as much as I used to, but for precision work, button holes and certain repairs it is still very handy. It has even survived lightning strikes to the tune of $300 in circuit board replacement.

IMG_4628This Rex walking foot has been a shop mainstay for many years. I purchased  it out of the nickel ads 15 years ago. It was a true “driven on Sunday by a little old lady” find.  While the foot is not as high lift as some other walking feet machines out there, it will handle just about anything tough I can stuff under the foot. It lacks real speed, and is not suitable for lighter fabrics. This video illustrates exactly what a walking foot aka compound feed machine does. Additionally, it is designed to run heavy thread and use big needles. Nowadays I use it primarily for repairs involving packs and heavy materials.

More about the rest of my machines soon!

Hoarding Information

When I was working on the new site, my graphics guy asked me, “why is keeping the Tips section so important to you?” The reply was simple: it’s not my information to hoard. Since the beginning of Specialty Outdoors, that has been my philosophy. Competition doesn’t concern me: I would much rather respect and support my professional peers, sharing a few tricks here and there, instead of worrying about whether they might steal ideas or customers. Heaven forbid helping the enthusiastic hobbyist to success with a project!

Here’s why I don’t hoard information. First of all, it’s not rocket science. It’s more a hammer-and-nail scenario. Most of my information I have either found online, in books, or through generous mentors and others willing to answer my questions. They weren’t hoarding: they gave it freely where they thought it could be used, and I do the same.

Sharing information was the very first lesson I learned when I got online back in… 90-something. I ventured onto Usenet, (rec.backcountry) posted my services, and was immediately and thoroughly flamed for advertising on a non-commercial board. Oops. I didn’t know any better as I had read about Usenet in Better Homes and Gardens, of all places. Anyway, some kind soul, and to this day I do not know who it was, emailed me and let me know that the way in was to participate. So I did – advice on repairing gear, cleaning gear, where to find fabrics and other tips, with a one line signature. It has been been fun being a resource, and of course people think of me when it’s out of their comfort zone to do some work.

But – I’m not going to do your homework for you. Please, don’t be lazy as it’s a real turn off. The most common example is someone who wants to do small scale manufacturing, finds me online, and wants me to tell them everything I know so that they can get started. Here’s what I tell them: You need this book. I read it to get informed, and they can too. The author, Kathleen Fasanella, shares her knowledge freely and tirelessly. Don’t email me asking where to get something. That is why there is a sources page!

Kathleen and many others have been great role models  and mentors to me. I am forever thankful, and do my best to carry on the tradition. Thank you to Kathleen, Joe, Judith, Kevin, Patrick, Patrick  and Greg… the range of knowledge you have shared with me has been immense and I am ever grateful.

 

“How Did You Get Into This?”

I get asked a lot, “how did you get into this”? I’ve been sewing my whole life, starting with little blankets for my Breyer horses. I was first exposed to the outdoors industry working for Pat Smith and MountainSmith in 1983 when he was still in his garage and made the move to the  first facility. There,  I was a jill-of-all-trades batching packs for the sewers, inspecting packs, shipping and almost anything else. This was my first exposure to entrepreneurship, outdoors goods, industrial machines and production.

I cobbled together most of an apparel design degree but  did not complete it due to life happening.  I spent a lot of years doing custom clothing and bridal. When we moved to Spokane it was a great opportunity to quit that niche. Honestly, as a jeans-coated-with-dog-hair kind of gal, and piles of gear all over the place, it never was a good fit.  In the meantime, I was rummaging through the back tables in fabric stores as the first fleeces were just starting to come out.   A few patterns became available and I was able to outfit my husband and little boys with fleece garments. Adult fleece garments were spendy, and there was nothing for kids. In my quest to make affordable gear, I began to reverse engineer, tweak, and search out information that was not obvious for the home sewer.  This was noticed in the community, and a guy said to me, “you should be repairing gear”. What a great idea!

Spokane is the kind of place where small businesses are supported by the community, and we have a very active outdoors community here. It wasn’t long at all before I was getting known as “The Zipper Lady”.  I got the bright idea to build a website in ’97 or so, and established an online presence. Back then it was easy: hand code some HTML, add some links and voila`: a website is born.

I had read about Usenet in a women’s magazine and I sought out rec.backcountry. My Usenet newbie “hello, I can fix your gear” post did not go over well, and the trolls had a field day. I do not remember who it was, but I am ever grateful to the kind soul who emailed me and gently explained the Usenet faux pas I had made and let me know the correct way to (non) advertise on a non-commercial newsgroup. The key was participation and a one line signature, so that’s what I did. I helped people do their own repairs, told them where to find materials, advised them on gear care, and in return, they called on me when it was time for a pro. In addition, I was for many years a moderator and participant in the Gear Makers forum at the Backpacking.net site.

Throughout all this, the work started coming in. Whether it was a referral from a website, friend-of-a-friend, search engine, an outdoors club, or a referral from a manufacturer I confess I never kept track after I got to 45/50 states and some international work.  I now have arrangements with  local stores to collect local work, in addition to contract work and all the great folks that somehow find me. I’ve never consciously advertised, but I do believe that the willingness to share information and help other when I can contributes to things coming my way.  This leads me to thoughts on hoarding information, which will be posted another day.