Thursday, January 31, 2008

graduation day

I must have done something right today. My orthopedist, Dr. P, said I have a good attitude. In doctorspeak, of course that means the right outlook for healing. In spite of my weekend in the doldrums, I am apparently mending quite well. The doctor showed me my x-ray, and pointed out where new bone has already grown in.

If I wasn't so squeamish -- I threw up once in a restaurant when, after dinner, my friend talked about a hysterectomy she'd seen performed on the Surgery Channel -- I'd know more about the human body and this bone formation thing maybe wouldn't seem so much like a voodoo miracle at work. As things stand, I think the fact that I'm just walking around, doing whatever, and growing new bone at the same time and without even trying is some truly amazing stuff. Does this type of thing go on everyday? All the time? Or am I a medical marvel?

Because of all the new bone -- you should see it, it looks really pretty -- Dr. P announced that today is graduation day. I don't have to wear the CAM Walker II anymore; I've moved up to the Aircast air cast. I am loving this jiggamathing just like the good doctor said I would. It stabilizes my leg in a way that I've long felt it needed. And I can sleep in it. Not something I could do with the cumbersome CAM that spends all day kissing the ground like a regular shoe.

Ever since my accident, I've been meaning to ask the doctor or one of the nurses what the difference is between a break and a fracture in relation to bone. I had the impression that they were the same thing, but so many people kept asking me, Did you break your leg, or just fracture it? I can solve the mystery today. A fracture is not a cracked bone. It's a broken bone. A break and a fracture are indeed the same deal. In medicine, they like to sound a bit fancier than the rest of us.

Well, that's my leg report for today. Check out my air cast (try not to get distracted by the Marie Claire Idees lounging underneath my foot, heh). Let's be grateful for the low light, as it masks the hirsute nature of my leg. Any excuse not to shave at least one limb.

Heather mentioned that she wishes I would have taken a picture of the Kenmore. I wish I had, too. But you know how it is when you buy a good magazine? One you've searched for and really, really wanted? You know that feeling that you only want to crack it in the privacy and comfort of your own home so that you can delight in it and maybe go a little crazy over it without anyone interrupting you? That's the feeling I had. I mean, it was like I was going to date the darn thing. I saw that it was gorgeous, but I didn't want to oogle it full on, not yet. I felt a little, um, how else to say it? shy, in its presence. Ahem.

Also, because the seller was already having separation anxiety (the machine had belonged to her great aunt), I didn't want to seem insensitive by doing my happy dance right then and there. Man it was hard not to, though.

I feel that this machine has everything I need. But my mama didn't raise no fool, and I know that's exactly what I would look like if I made some declaration that I won't be buying any more machines. I won't for a while, but I did hear what Heather said about being a Bernina girl. ;)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

there's a new girl in town

What a day.

Without a car -- I told my repairman/car dealer to keep it, forever -- and still with a bum leg, my morale had finally begun to sink. I lost time over the weekend stuffing my face (an entire medium pizza, anyone? Yes! Me! I'll take it, but only after 3 candy bars, a garden burger deluxe and fries at Astroburger, a large bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, a slice of cheesecake, and 3 cans of soda) and wallowing in self-pity, and dragged myself in to work yesterday with a real bad attitude in tow. I don't know how anyone gets over anything without having to go to work or do something for somebody else. Obligation takes attention off the self, and sometimes that what's needed. As I talked and laughed and worked with the good people I share my daytime hours with, I felt the woe ease a little, and by the time a co-worker kindly dropped me at home, I was ready to knock it off and get back to living.

Living today meant being proactive about securing my early birthday present. Okay. Well. It's early early, and probably so much so that I'll skirt it and buy myself something else, too, but dammit I wanted this gift, and that meant I had to tackle this --

to get it.

The open road. I had to travel a distance to get this birthday present, and I had to do it navigating the byzantine system of LA's local, rapid, express, and short-distance buses. I had to do it relying on the LA transit system's website, which supposedly is meant to assist in the planning of routes, but which I found out today is more likely to send a passenger far, far out of her way, unless she catches on and tosses its directions in a Beverly Hills trash can.

Determined not to whine, or turn around halfway along the journey and go home, I made it to my destination, where I secured something that goes with this:

Oh, let me quit! I went to Santa Monica and bought a vintage machine I found on Craigslist! Even though I'd reclaimed my freedom and asserted myself as grown folks, I couldn't carry the machine home on the bus. That would've been a bit much. But I did bring home the accessories and this manual, and I'm giddily looking forward to picking up the machine this weekend.

I'll show and tell once I get it here. I have to say that Ellen's influence is at work. Ours is a Kenmore family, she once said, and I thought I might like to add a Kenmore to my family, too. I'll be the only one using it, but even better!

And, I almost forgot, I made my first Etsy sale yesterday. Today I sent off the order, a scarf, to a nice woman in England. Yay!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

a touch of class

Isn't The Story of Stuff truly amazing? It knocked my socks off.

While I seriously work on my plan to consume less and contribute more, let's brighten things up with a bit of glamour.

Oh, and I haven't forgotten about the last installment of my vintage machines series, I just have a few pressing things to clear off my plate before I can indulge in fun stuff again.

So, I present, with further ado, the epitome of style, elegance, and talent, The Three Degrees, circa 1975.

Monday, January 28, 2008

grieve. pray. hope. shop?

This piece is blowing my mind. If you can't watch the whole thing right away (it's 20 minutes), at least watch the "Consumption" segment. Please? You won't believe what you hear.

Maybe we can meet back here and make a plan.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

celluloid america

This land is my land is your land is my land
from California to the New York island.
--Lila Downs/Woody Guthrie
Pastures of Plenty/This Land Is My Land

A lot of bloggers, myself included, are all atwitter because the Library of Congress has added thousands of public domain photos to flickr. I haven't looked through all the pages, but I am sure I will. The photographs span the 1910s, and the 1930s - '40s. Not only is there starkly gorgeous photography, but when faced with the America these pictures document, you can't help but reckon with your own sense of what this country is, good or bad, devastating or uplifting.

You can leave notes on the photos too. (The value of this is questionable, because knuckleheads do live among us, and they make many comments, mostly devastating, rarely uplifting.) If you recognize someone as your great aunt's sister, you can leave a message saying so.

I love black and white photography, but it's the color photos that speak to me loudest in this collection.

It's crazy to look through these images, think of where we are now, and see that so few years stand between us and things like horse and buggy transportation. Not 70 years ago, it was permissible to assign fellow Americans to internment camps.

Even the titles of the images tell a story.
Road cut into the barren hills which lead into Emmett, Idaho.

Sugar cane worker and his woman.

Mr. Leatherman, homesteader, coming out of his dugout home.

Set this one in Blytheville, Arkansas, and this would be my family.

Chopping cotton on rented land.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I am finding it here:

And here:

Friday, January 25, 2008

you may as well knit

I won't even tire anyone by saying again how much I love Anne Lamott's work. Her essays are filled with so much fallibility, triumph, and, my favorite thing and hers, grace.

My friend D sent me a lovely set of books for my birthday last year. Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to reading things, but I do. I've happily thumbed Making a Living in Crafts, which is very inspiring, and laughed my way through Mr. Wrong. I saved Grace (Eventually), Lamott's book (I'm just going to call her Anne; she's my friend), knowing that I would pick it up at a time I most needed it.

Since my car is dead, I took the bus to work yesterday. Truly, I should do this all the time. I have a 4-minute walk to the bus stop from my apartment. After a 15 to 20-minute bus ride, I'm deposited smack in the middle of the sidewalk in front of my job. Yes, here in LA fruitcakes are prone to riding the bus. And yes, our city buses can be challenging to the olfactory glands. But both can be weathered with a good book, a mean look, and enough collar to pull up and cover the nostrils. My trouble is that I can be all gung ho about riding to work, but after work, I want to get my ass home on the fastest thing smokin'.

Anyhow, today I had Anne, to and fro, and I deeply enjoyed the company. Here is a line:

I knew that if you had the eyes to see, there was beauty everywhere, even when nature was barren or sloppy, and not just when God had tarted things up for the spring.

I read this on my way to work, in the book's prelude. I appreciated it, but didn't make any specific connection to it until later in the day, when I attended (Insert Career College Name Here)'s first Stitch-Along. Why I allow myself to be talked into these things, I'll never know. What this means is that Terry, once merely my co-worker, now my friend (after an 8-hour unofficial office Christmas party drink-a-palooza, who wouldn't be?), felt that since a few of us are crafty, she should learn to be crafty too, and she should take everyone in the office who is willing to come along with her. Suckers included me, my boss, who does counted cross stitch -- which to me looks like blindness waiting to happen -- and our receptionist, who wanted to learn how to knit in the round. (Our financial aid officer came in for a moment, too. She looked at my boss's project and said it was something she might want to learn. After watching my boss work with such fine material, she stood up, and said, Fuck that. I'll just buy it from you when you're done. Then she left.)

You already have eyes to see that this amounted to a teaching session for me. I pulled out my baby kimono project, but only for the purpose of demonstration.

I don't mean to sound like I minded. The more I teach, the more I realize I like it, as much as I can like anything that's not sewing, knitting, reading a book, eating, or maybe writing. I knew going in what my job was, and I was ready to do it.

It's nice work, teaching someone to create something. It's also nice to witness someone pick up something that brought her past joy and find the gift in it again. My boss hadn't worked her cross stitch project in nearly four years, since she started at our school (which should tell you something). In the interim, the fabric had yellowed, the hoop had rusted, and she had grown rusty, too. But somewhere in that sacred space that's opened when a group of people -- women, I could say, because that speaks to my experience -- gather in the name of handwork, she got her rhythm back. Her job is a highly stressful one, and hearing her say she might work on her piece (peace!) this weekend made me happy for her.

Our receptionist, too, has new zeal and bigger plans for her knitting. I showed her that knitting in the round is one of those things that looks hard to execute, but is really so easy it's almost criminal.

And so success, success all around. Except, perhaps, for Terry.

Not only our Terry, but all the Terrys of the world. Even those who don't carry the name, but who carry the doubt. The Doubting Terrys. And all the Carlas, too. Those who enter with the highest hope for conversion; those who believe, against all odds, including those they would place themselves, that everyone can find salvation in handwork.

Even while she was erecting neat little stitch after neat little stitch, Terry wasn't convinced she was getting it right. Even when I told her she was not only getting it right, but doing it much more quickly and efficiently than I did the first time I tried, she still wasn't convinced. She wasn't so sure that, in the end, it would be worth the effort. I don't get it, she said. I don't get why I shouldn't just walk into Ross and buy a scarf or a sweater or whatever I want. Why would I put time into doing this?

Oh, boy.

Because this, my friend, is where it's at.

It's relaxing, we told her. I do yoga for relaxation, she said.

It helps make the spare hours more productive, we chirped. I never have any spare hours, she said.

If this isn't your thing, we'll find you something, I promised. Next month, I'll show you crochet.

Terry's first project went from a washcloth to a book mark, which she isn't too far from finishing. I doubt she'll ever pick up the needles you see below, the ones I gave her for her birthday last year, again. I've got no beef with that.

For me the hard part is that we push so ruthlessly for perfection, and place so much value on finishing up, moving on, plowing ahead, getting the glory, that we fail to see the beauty in the barren and the sloppy. Terry isn't the only one. There's a Doubting Terry in all of us.

I've lived long enough to know this, and to have slain this dragon more than once, but still, it pierces me. I want to say:

You are not going to walk into Ross and buy this thing that you are making because the ability to do that is a fool's paradise. You do it, then you rush off to what that is so much more worthy of your time and attention than creating something with your own two hands? You will save this time for what? Are you off to heal lepers? Feed babies with distended bellies? Find a cheap cure for cancer? Here is news: all these things, yes, even these, involve the work of the hands. And you are not going to do any of them. So you may just as well knit. Or count tiny squares and pull thread through, into resplendence. You may as well make something lopsided, in a shitty color, and that only you can love.

Where else, but in the work of our hands, can we go back and undo our mistakes? Where else can all of us, regardless of our superficial bindings, love a thing enough to keep molding it, shaping it into what we hope best for it? And, when it is done, see the imperfections that remain, and love those too?

It is, I think, a flattering acknowledgment of the beauty that lies everywhere.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

if this be grammar, bring me more

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I teach my online classes. The grand exchange of energy and ideas in a live classroom setting -- so passe. This online teaching is inspired. One more way in which the Internet has taken the bland palate of my life and filled it with Coca Cola and Pop Rocks. I don't care if I'm dancing on the edge. It tastes so damn good.

I mean, could I really be doing this while teaching live?

I've got my little chat window going with the students. I toss up a question I know it'll take them a while to answer. In the background, I've got a knitting site going. This one is a refresher on how to weave in ends while knitting. I'd forgotten one of the moves.

By the time I've gotten the info I need, some smarty has typed in an answer. I give a pat on the back, maybe a smiley face, then I lecture a wee bit.

Then I ask another tricky question.

My belly starts to growl, so I take a chip break.

Then it's back to knitting some more.

Let the hallowed halls burn. I've got my cable connection.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

a brilliant post about fascinating things written from a place of pure genius

Or, perhaps not.

I could've just titled this post "Pretty Ball," in an effort to distract you from the mundanity.

But here's my life, in all its glory.

I'm working on the first of the two baby kimonos I'm knitting for Natalie's friends' twins. I wanted to have both done in time for Natalie to take them to the baby shower, which would've been by today, but it ain't gonna happen. I get the feeling this is an easy pattern, but I keep jacking it up. In light of this, I'm planning on sewing some stuffed animals, and trying to get them to Natalie by nightfall. She's flying out for the shower early tomorrow morning.

It would be far easier to deliver whatever I make if my car wasn't sitting on a random side street somewhere in Los Angeles, refusing to start. This car is a real fucktard. It's inanimate, so I can say that. If you see it, please set it on fire for me.

I have so far resisted a yarn binge, even though I want some WOTA Bulky and all the Tahki Cotton Classic I can get my mitts on. Because of the pending budget (Heather and Adrienne, catch me if you can!), I am compelled to buy up all I can. That way I won't want for much for the rest of the year. What a scam that is. The wants, they never end. I am experiencing real fear here, people. Just like with the toilet paper and paper towels, I feel like if I don't grab the goods now, they'll be sucked off the face of the earth and I'll wander around feebly searching for them until I turn to dust.

Ah, the joy of insanity.

The ball on that tree has achieved balance. Let me give it a shot. Here, a good stuff round-up:
  • I can walk without crutches, on just the walking boot.
  • I was an hour late for work yesterday and didn't catch any flack about it.
  • Pee Vee was a hit in the office. (Needle felted creatures for all!)
  • All the fabric I want to use is washed and ready to go, thanks to The Bubba.
  • The weather's been cool enough to wear knits, if only at night.
  • I can buy another car.
  • I straightened out some student loan stuff.
  • I'm not pregnant. (A non-issue, but always a good thing.)
Alrighty then. Life's great.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

dolla dolla bills y'all

Make more. Buy less.

I tend to think that by the time I discover some online goodness, everyone else already knows about it, and then I don't share. That's about to change. There might be someone out there in the knitting/sewing world who hasn't seen this woman's blog or her wonderful patterns. She just came out with 2 new ones, a messenger bag and an apron, which I pre-ordered the second I received notice that they were available.

Montessori by Hand

Now, I realize I did mention something about a spending plan as part of this year's resolutions. This should tell any fool, but especially me, that this means I can't go snapping up patterns, no matter how cute, every time I have a whim. I've thought about this, and decided that I'll use January to see where my money actually goes -- meaning I'll spend as, er, usual -- and establish my spending plan for February. I've arbitrarily, but reasonably, I think, decided that 60 dollars will be my monthly craft budget. Zero isn't going to cut it. Less than 50 probably isn't going to happen. The extra 10 is for padding! If by some miracle I don't spend my whole budget, I'm allowed to roll it over to subsequent months. If 60 sounds like a lot, which it does to me, just know that this month, so far, I've spent 189.65, including my hot off the presses Montessori patterns, on stuff to make stuff. Um. THAT is a lot. And it's not unusual for me. And it's got to stop.

The only exception I'll make is for another vintage sewing machine for my birthday. If I find one, and it's reasonable, I'm getting it.

I know what I've spent on crafting, utilities, birthday gifts -- everything -- because I've started tracking my spending in this great online program, expensr. With the above exception, from February through December, I'll keep faithful to the craft budget by making a deal: Every month, I'll announce my craft spending here. If I go over, I'll make the first commenter who busts me anything, anything at all, that I've made and posted on this blog by that time. Anything I've knitted, sewed (tote bag, anyone?), crocheted (you don't want that), embroidered, whatever. And I'll do it and get it sent within a week. Ack. Deal?


(Please know I am so shaking in my boots over this. It's taken me hours to hit "Publish Post.")

Monday, January 21, 2008

party girls

Time to dig through the CDs. It's an MJ kind of day. Mahalia Jackson, that is. Some of y'all know what I'm talking about. It's rainy here. There's a little melancholy following me around. It's time for a boost in spirit.

Speaking of a boost, I had Big Fun, capital B, capital F, on Friday night. Last Wednesday was Natalie's birthday, her 41st. I have to say, there's so much less pressure on 41 than on 40. I say this as one who's experienced both birthdays, and as one who has racked her brain trying to think of the ultimate of ultimate ways to celebrate friends turning 40, then the next year found much more ease, and maybe even fun, in celebrating 41. Not that our 40ths weren't fab-o-lous -- they were. It's just that 41 brought a lovely dose of mellow along with. (42, can you wait a little bit? What is this speed of light toward 80?)

Natalie with her "Many Faces of Natalie" Cake, brought to us by Ellen. Best cake ever!

I love birthdays, I do, and when I really get to share in a friend's birthday, I co-opt it. (One year, Mister Stevens and I traded birthdays. It was such silly good times I can't even tell you.) Natalie and I went out to lunch and to Loehmann's for birthday bargains. (She even lets me share her birthday discount coupon. See? How could I not think it's my day too?) Then we had a birthday snack at everyone's new fav yogurt (or, whatever it really is) place, Pinkberry. We saved the party for Friday night. Natalie invited our friends, and her mom, to The Urban Craft Center in Santa Monica. Our friends are crafty ladies and we get together for Stitch 'n Bitch -- okay, I haven't been in a while, gotta work on that -- every Thursday, so we wanted to do something other than meet, eat pizza, drink booze, and knit. In a stroke of genius, Natalie scheduled us for a needle felting class. I had never needle felted and kept thinking it was something it wasn't, then something else. It was spectacular fun, is what it was. I mean, Nintendo, Wii, computers, DDR, HD, iPhones -- whatev! Try poking things with tiny needles. Crazy!

Raw material.

Natalie had some needle felting experience, but no one else did. When we sat down and saw what we'd be working with, we were like, Wha? Carolyn and Janie, our fearless instructors, were great. They told us the basics, the nature of the material we'd be using, and how not to hurt ourselves (the needles used in needle felting are sharp like a mofo). The jewel of the night was when Carolyn observed us all and said, "If you're going to look away from your project, you might want to stop poking." I'll say.

The start of something sweet.

Et voila! A cupcake. Or a mushroom with a cherry on top. Made by me.

We all started off by making the same project -- cupcakes. This gave us the hang of things. Once our cupcakes were done, we were set free, with supervision, to make whatever we wanted. The UCC has lots of craft books lying around for inspiration. I had noticed some adorable penguins while flipping through a Japanese needle felting book. I figured I could produce something close to a penguin, so I made Pee Vee. (He kind of looks like an owl, too. One member of our group, Malina, even said he looks like her cats. Ouch! He's a penguin!) When I got home from the party, I couldn't stop myself from knitting him a scarf. I am not much for stuffed animals or toys, but something's come over me with this whole idea of a penguin being born from a hunk of wool, and in less than an hour.

Here's Pee Vee, pre scarf, with his pal, Maryjo's chick.

I loved two things best: Celebrating Natalie, who is completely wonderful, fun, talented, generous, smart, and foxy (everyone should know her!); and watching all the cute and crazy things -- first the cupcakes, then animals, an iPod cozy, Ellen even made a fried egg in anticipation of Mardi Gras -- emerge, spontaneously, from balls of wool.

Here are more pics, courtesy of Ellen (so are the 2 of me, above):

Lookit these masterful creations! Natalie's skunk of love. Darcy's iPod cozy (until I steal it).

Clockwise from back row left: Ellen, Maryjo, Sher (Nat's mom), me, Lori (I wish you could see her baby harp seal up close; it's wearing a beret and holding a paintbrush and palette!), Nat, Darcy. Malina had to leave early, but she made a cute cupcake.

Can't go without saying, if you're in LA and looking for a good time, check out The Urban Craft Center. It is a place of unparalleled crafty goodness.

*h*Ap*Py bI*R*th*Da*Y* again, dear Natalie. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

mlk remembered

To acknowledge Dr. King's holiday, I'd like to offer this link to a post I did last year. I would love to visit Atlanta again, or maybe take a trip to Memphis, to learn even more about Dr. King, his life, and the evolution of his mission.

If you haven't read his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," it is a beautiful, gripping essay and I humbly suggest taking a little time to read it.

Lastly, one of the best broadcasts on Dr. King that I have seen is "Citizen King," presented by PBS's American Experience. It's available on DVD. I recommend it for your Netflix queue.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

message from a penguin

Cleaning. Organizing. Lazing around. Watching bad TV. Cleaning some more.

Pee Vee, our new Purly Victorious mascot, hopes you all are having a fantastic weekend.

(I think Yay Pig is jealous. But he never says anything but Yay!)

Friday, January 18, 2008

another oldie but goody (part II)

A great old sewing machine is a mighty good thing. If I had to choose between a cheap new machine and a vintage machine that was a top model in its day, I'd choose the vintage machine. It's nice to simultaneously own an up-to-date machine with its computerized stitches and fancier doohickeys, but when the computer malfunctions and the buttonholer won't buttonhole, the feeddog won't feed, or the zigzag won't zig, it's invaluable to have a solid, mechanically sound machine as a backup.

I love an old sewing machine. Duh, right?

With that fact once and for all established (probably I'll get busted saying it again), let me address some of the issues I've encountered or observed surrounding procuring and owning a vintage machine.

A sort of aside here. I think the word vintage is more abused than a three-dollar whore in a Black Friday sale. Everything more than a few days old seems to be vintage now. Anytime anyone wants to sell something made at an earlier date, it's not old, it's vintage. It's a word that used to apply solely to wine, ie, This Cabernet La La La is vintage 1932, but it's now used in any number of ways. Some people agree that vintage is anything that's old enough to come back into style. I like the definition that antique dealers use -- vintage is anything 50+ years old. Antique is anything 100+ years old.

That said, I use vintage just as liberally as everybody else (how to avoid it?), and when I refer to Rilla, I'm talking about a machine that was first purchased in 1960 and likely manufactured a year or so before and may just be coming into the above definition of vintage. Still, it's an important distinction, because I'm not talking about "vintage" machines from 1982. I'm talking mid-60's (stretching a little here) and older, but not so old as to be antique. Rilla was purchased in 1960, Rosie was manufactured in 1959. All this means I don't know jack about the early computerized models made in the '70s.

So -- vintage machines. If you, like me, should find yourself bitten by the collecting bug, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Be flexible. People are loyal to particular brands. If you check out the comments from part I of this post, you'll see that Ellen's is "a Sears family," preferring the Kenmore brand above others. Nik mentioned that she received a vintage Necchi, and found that there are people who won't sew on anything else. It's old Singers that float my boat (so far). I say keep your brand loyalty, especially if you've built familiarity, but stay open to models other than a model you may be looking for. I want a 401, but a 404 is what I came across on the cheap, so a 404 is what I own. One day I might be looking for a 301 and bam, there might sit my 401. You never know.
  • Maintenance is your new best friend. You're not going to be a prima donna about this, remember? You're going to get out there and get your hands dirty searching dusty shelves at St. Vincent de Paul and rooting through people's yesteryear treasures (junk) at garage sales. The goal is to avoid the high costs for vintage machines typically found on eBay. Bargains. That's what we want. The downfall, or adventure, as I like to think of it, is that with bargain machines comes god knows what kinds of issues resulting from lack of use, poor storage, etc. (*I wouldn't buy a machine that doesn't run at all, because I don't know enough about fixing machines, but plenty of people do, and they figure things out along the way.*) This means you are going to have to learn to clean, oil, and perform basic maintenance on a machine. This is coming from a person who can hardly be bothered to plug in her cell phone when the battery is running low. But with love comes responsibility.
When I bought Rilla, Sally, her original owner, told me that the machine was purchased for her in 1960. She remembers the very day. She sewed her own clothes, then later clothes for her husband and children, on this trusty 404. Then, one day, about 15 years ago, she stopped. She sat Rilla in a closet somewhere and started painting and making jewelry and whatever else (y'all know how we crafty folks can be). That was the end of oil and cleaning for Rilla. When I brought the machine home, I knew I couldn't just sew on it -- lest I risk blowing the motor -- so I downloaded a manual:

Old machine manuals are widely available on eBay, but they're available almost as often via free download from some kind soul. Why pay 15 bucks when you can get one for free? I even dressed mine up in a nifty ("vintage" ha ha) folder that I stole from, er, found at work. This manual told me what I needed to know about the likes of all this:

(Okay, now I'm just trying to show out.)

Like old machines, the manuals are old, too, and they don't speak to us in the language of today. They contain points that require clarification, and sometimes more info than what they offer is needed, which brings me to my next point.
  • Be a joiner. Become a member of Yahoo groups, forums, mailing lists, whatever. The information flying around such groups is priceless. You can learn tips and tricks for using and servicing your machine, about attachments you never knew existed, dates and histories of machines, on and on. Also, and very important, you can learn about reputable parts dealers and repair people. The objective is to do as much of your own maintenance on your machine as you can. With the all-metal gears and easily accessed parts of old machines, this is entirely possible. You need a good repair kit -- oil, lube, screwdriver, lint brush, and a can-do attitude. Anything you don't know, people in these groups will be happy to tell you.
With Rosie, I learned a valuable lesson about machine self-service. The first thing I did when I got the machine was carry it into a repair shop, the same one that fixed my Brother when it went on the fritz. Supposedly, the repairman knew all about Featherweights and had just fixed one the week before. All I wanted was a cleaning, oiling, and to find out why the machine was a tad sluggish when starting to sew. I was charged nearly 200 dollars and told that the machine had fallen out of time. It got a nice cleaning and oiling, but it turned out timing wasn't an issue, and that had been the bulk of the repair cost. Timing is almost never an issue with Featherweights; it's often used to pad charges. I learned this from the OSMGs (Old Singer Machine Guys, or Old Sewing Machine Guys if you're not in the cool Singer click) on the Yahoo groups. Why spend time looking for vintage machine bargains only to pay a fortune in repair costs? Repair people are fond of pretending that old parts are so hard to come by, blah, blah, blah. Save money by learning where to get good replacement parts and how to fix your own machine.

It isn't likely that you'll have much fixing to do on a solid brand/model anyway. I could have cleaned and oiled the Featherweight myself, for next to nothing. (The machine's hesitation is something I have to live with, Rosie requires a gentler touch.) By the time I got Rilla, I was resolute. When you tote home an old machine that hasn't been serviced in gawd knows when, cleaning and oiling is something you're going to have to suck up (and it's worth it, because it familiarizes you with your machine). Rilla was covered in a thin patina of greasy yellowish grime. I believe this was partly because Sally is a smoker. If I hadn't seen the ashtray spilling with cigarette butts when I picked up the machine, I would have known it by all the matchsticks that fell out of it when I opened it to clean it. I also learned that Sally is a big fan of those red dyed pistachios, because a fair number of shells fell out, too. In addition, the gears and rods, and all the innards, were caked with dust balls, fiber leavings, thread. I didn't know what to use to get all this stuff out, so I went on Yahoo and asked (a mixture of alcohol and water. For the outside, I used water and a few drops of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap, then rubbed it with sewing machine oil).

After cleaning, I gave the machine a good looking over and saw that a few things were missing. I'd run the machine at Sally's, so I knew it would start up and that the needle would move like it was supposed to, but for 45 dollars I wasn't going to test sew a blouse. In the intervening years, Sally had forgotten how to turn on the machine (I pointed out that, once plugged in, she could just press the foot pedal), and since she couldn't find the manual, there wasn't abundant opportunity for a lesson on the finer points of the machine anyway. When I examined it, I saw that I'd need to replace the bobbin winder tire, which was bloated, cracked, and hardened. The original was the same taupe-y color as the machine. (Excuse me if this color isn't taupe. I always use taupe to describe beige-y colors that aren't quite beige. I also use puce to describe any yucky color I don't like, but that's another thing.)

I'd also noticed, at Sally's, that there wasn't a spool pin.

So I ordered a pack from eBay. By the way, the plastic ones are the only pins that are available for the 404s. There weren't any metal ones made for them. I know because I asked an OSMG, the OSMG from whom I bought the felt spool pads (he had them in black, and the original brown, yah).

Sally had no idea what had become of the drip pan, so I consulted my OSMG (by now we are great friends) and he sent me one of those, for a very reasonable price, too.

All told, in addition to the 45 dollars to buy the machine, it's cost me less than 30 dollars to get it in tip-top shape.

Now we're up to the last part of this undoubtedly illuminating series (ahem). How does a vintage machine sew? What's so hot about them? Any machine can make a stitch. That's what they do. So how come people are always waxing poetic and saying things like "This baby, she sews a mean stitch!" about these old machines? And, for the love of all that's holy, what is it that makes it so hard for people to stop at one vintage machine? Why does my wife/mother/sister/brother/grandmother have twelve of them when s/he's only got two hands to sew?

I'll attempt to answer these questions a few days from now, in part III.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

and i will never ever grow so old again


Bubs and I take our traditional trip to Outback Steakhouse, where we use the gift certificate his first stepmother (now there is a second) sends for Christmas. I eat chicken daintily, leaving much meat on the bones, as if I don't want to be seen eating a thing called Buffalo wings, but tearing into them, first the medium and then the hot ones. We always order half and half. We laugh at our waitress because she calls everyone babe. She calls me babe, even after checking my ID. We wonder, Where is Juan Carlos? the first waiter we ever had here. Bubs has a Fosters, and accuses me of eating the best part of his crab legs.

On the drive home, on his iPod, I listen to Astral Weeks, an album I played the fuck out of when I was falling in love with Bubs. Ohhhh, sweet thing/Ohhhh, sugar baby, sugar baby.

We drive past the Magic Castle, where we stayed during our wedding, and I remember his mother, the day after our ceremony, nearly driving over the cliff out front, the cliff we are passing as Van sings, And I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry, "Hey, it's me, I'm dynamite and I don't know why."

It is all too much. The first time I listened to this record, ate coconut shrimp at Outback, stayed at this hotel, how different I thought this time would be. It is so far from what I was certain of. I don't recognize it at all.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

another oldie but goody

Something overcame me the minute I started sewing on Rosie, my Singer Featherweight. I knew, the second the needle went down and punched that first hole, that my life would never be the same.

A Featherweight is a fine little machine, but what, I began to wonder, would it be like to sew on a bigger, more powerful vintage Singer. I'm forever sewing interfaced denims and corduroys, thick seams on top of thick seams. Brother does an okay job, sometimes stalling, sometimes sailing on over if I give him enough of a head start. I wanted something sturdier.

So, armed with the excuse of needing more sewing power, but really just greedy for more of that smooth, vintage Singer hum, I joined 4 Yahoo groups and trolled eBay until I knew enough about old Singers to know which one(s) I would consider hocking my first and only born in order to add to what was obviously going to become a collection.

And for old machines, let me tell you, Singers can require the hocking of things.

I decided that the next model I would cop would be the 401. How can I possibly resist a machine that goes by the name Slant-O-Matic? I mean, anything O-Matic is a must have. (I love the '50s take on space-aged technology.) It's a good sized machine that can zigzag and do other stitches without the aid of accessories.

Then I figured I'd mosey on over to 301 land and snatch up one of those, for shits and kicks. After that, dammit, I needs me a 503, the mighty Rocketeer. I couldn't care less what it does -- straight-stitch, built-in zigzagging, whatevah! All I'm about is its looks. Totally Jetsonian.

You can see what the problem is. Where am I going to put all these sewing machines? What currency am I going to use to pay for them? Who do I think I am?

It's true I'm crazy enough to ignore the space issue. I'll unplug the fridge and stick them in there if I have to. But money is something I have to think about. (The first and only born wouldn't take kindly to being hocked.) And, yes, these old Singers are workhorses, but the fact that they're 50+ years old is not to be ignored. Bad as I want 'em, after the Featherweight I won't plunk down the hundreds of dollars they go for on eBay. It's too much of a gamble with these old machines. Second hand stores, yard sales, and Craigslist are better places to buy them and save money.

Which brings me to my new old gal. This is Rilla:

Rilla is a 404. The 404 is an underappreciated, often overlooked, straight-stitch machine. Even though it lives in the shadow of the 401, its fancypants, zig-zagging sister, on eBay it still sells for a nice chunk of change (150. - 350. + shipping).

I got Rilla on Craigslist for 45 bucks, along with accessories, original carrying case, and original card table. She's a one-owner machine.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss the pros and cons of vintage machines, getting them on the cheap, and sewing with them. I will do this from my position as a novice and still slightly befuddled collector.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

shop here. smile free.

A few things available in my Etsy shop. First buyer gets a free gift with purchase!

In case you insist on making your own stuff, I've listed this: