Saturday, July 24, 2010

Killing Two Birds

One of the best ways to learn and master new sewing skills and techniques is following directions on commercial patterns.  Sew and Stow by Betty Oppenheimer has some great visual explanations and the text does a good job of communicating instructions to beginning sewers. What I like about this book is the number of projects that create organizational devices for sewing! As you are collecting tools and learning, you can make some storage solutions at the same time and "kill two birds with one stone."

If you buy the book and sew one of the items, post a photo (or several photos of your creative process) and post it in the comments section!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Filling the Dressmaker's Tool Chest

It will not take you long (or cost much money) to gather the basic tools needed for sewing. (If you did not view the videos on sewing tools, do so now!) As your skill set and confidence level grows, your tool kit will probably grow too. The notions wall in the fabric store can seem like a disorganized, intimidating mess tucked away so no one has to help you! If you do not have an experienced sewer to bring along or a quilt shop in your area that sells supplies, read on and familiarize yourself with these products.

A Word About Sewing Baskets

If you are like me, part of your sewing dreams included a sewing basket, tastefully adorned, and practically a time machine transporting you to an era of simplicity and elegance. Unfortunately, these darling icons of homemaking are not practical. They are generally too small and are not configured to house the tools for the job. Even if you are only doing some hand sewing and want to keep a minimal amount of tools, the basket won't be big enough to hold your project, or secure enough to keep pets or children out. If you are taking sewing out with you, a storage device that keeps your tools locked up and protected from any weather are both a must. I had a lovely sewing basket (a grandmother's) carefully placed on the floor the the foot well of my car, but after a winding road and slamming on the brakes, I had 250 glass-head pins strewn around the car. I spent my day searching for pins with a flashlight and a magnet instead of sewing.

At the same time you create a budget and plan for purchasing/acquiring your supplies, also decide on your organizing. If you do not have a sewing machine and plan on hand sewing, maybe you could designate a sewing "chair" under a good lamp next to an endtable with storage space. If you have a machine and a place for it to stay out permanently, store your supplies there in drawer unit (either clear plastic type, or a desk or dresser.) If your sewing supplies need to be portable, try a large toolbox or bag from the hardware store. A plastic container with clip-on lids with a handle makes it easy to see inside and come in multiple sizes. A favorite place of mine for drawer dividers and tiny baskets (made for things like cosmetics) is the Dollar Tree. My main sewing toolbox is actually a miniature cleaning caddy on a table, and I have wooden racks for storing thread. Most of these items are plain, functional, "Made in China" boxes and no where near as sweet as a basket, but with your new skills and wealth of knowledge your creations will be so beautiful you will forget about the lure of the sewing basket.

Shopping List :

Irons: Tips, Tricks and what NOT to Buy.

Every seamstress needs an iron that has the ability to steam or successfully NOT steam when you only want heat. When my mother bought her first Rowenta iron back in 1997, I suddenly fell in love with ironing. The generous weight pressed down on the garments with less effort, the steam shot was so powerful (it scared our Cocker Spaniel) that is could set stitches or remove wrinkles in just one pass with the iron. It felt good to use and seemed to make ironing easier and anything that makes ironing at all enjoyable is worth every penny!

That is the other element of Rowenta irons: pricey. Imagine my delight when my mom made a gift basket out of a laundry basket with starch, lingerie bag, sizing, and hangers for my bridal shower, and tucked in the center was a Rowenta box! I was thrilled to begin keeping house (or apartment) with my Mercedes-Benz of household appliances at my side.

Well...not too long after my wedding, the Rowenta stopped working. Around the same time, my mom's Rowenta began spitting hot water any time it was plugged in (3 years after purchase.) We both thought these irons would be the last we ever bought. Somewhere in the last decade, my sister also bought and lost a Rowenta. My mother purchased a replacement Rowenta, and it did not last long either. You may be wondering if we are running some sort of pressing service that we are exhausting our irons so quickly, but I promise we are not!

The iron my mother gave me was $99.99. In our early marriage years, we did not have $100 to spend on anything, much less an iron. When no irons showed up at the thrift store, I headed to Target where I figured I would by a Black and Decker or even some off-brand iron for $14 or so. The cheapest iron only had one heat setting which is only useful if you are ironing nothing but linen. Most people have a variety of fibers in their clothes, and a seamstress certainly needs a few options on her iron. I found a Hamilton Beach for $19.99 that fit the bill; however, it was out of stock. The next iron up was $44.99 and out of my budget. I took a chance and asked an associate if there were any more in the stock room, but the answer was "no" since the iron was discontinued. Aha! I quickly haggled for a bargain on the shelf model and came out with a new iron for $10.

The Hamilton Beach is no where near as heavy as a Rowenta, nor does it have the "power shot" steam feature, BUT I bought it 7 years ago and it is still working fine. The moral of the story:

Look for an iron with at least 6 heat settings to ensure an actual variation in temperature.

In addition to steaming, make certain there is a way to turn this feature "off" as well.

A spray nozzle is a bonus, but a spray bottle can do the job.

If you can't decide between two irons, choose the heavier one as it puts more weight on the fabric with less effort.

If you must own a Rowenta or other expensive brand, buy from QVC or any other company that backs up a product indefinitely.

Even if your cord swivels, buy an extension cord ($1.00) that will forever cleave to your iron.

Slowly invest in accessories like a tailor's ham, sleeve board, Magic Sizing, and Steam-A-Seam to make the most use of your iron. Buy a pressing cloth, or designate a piece of muslin.

The key to efficient ironing is your ironing surface; do not settle for a wimpy little cover from Wal-Mart. Seamlessly cover your board with as many old sheets, big towels, tablecloths, and curtains as you can manage. Secure the layers under the board with rubber bands, safety pins or clothes pins. The top layer can be attractive fabric of your choice!

Under all that padding, wrap the metal frame that makes the board in a smooth layer of tinfoil. The foil will reflect the heat and moisture back up through the garment making the iron more powerful.

Keep a jug of Distilled Water or a recycled juice bottle with tap water near your iron. No one wants to leave their iron unattended to run to the sink for water! Keep your water in a cabinet or other dark area to prevent algae growth!

Every few weeks, run white vinegar through your iron to clean any residue (of course be certain not to breathe in fumes or use your iron until all vinegar is rinsed through.)

Keep an old rag handy to frequently clean the iron's surface. You would be amazed at what happens to a white shirt when you were previously ironing black corduroy!