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Apr 30, 2012

Coming this May to MPB...

Readers, sometimes I can have too many irons in the fire and my life feels a little disorganized.  That's why I've decided to prepare for May by composing a list of what's in store here at MPB.  Still leaving room for the spontaneous, here goes...

Apropos of irons, my new Black & Decker Digital Advantage iron has arrived.  I haven't used it yet as I guess I'm waiting for the old one to explode or something.  It still works -- sort of.  The digital display often goes blank and the iron has a tendency to turn itself on spontaneously when it's in sleep mode.  (I've learned to unplug it now when I'm not using it which I probably should do anyway.)  For roughly $40 for three years' nearly daily use, I feel like I got my money's worth.

It's weird, I bought this two weeks ago for $43.54 directly from Amazon.  I could have sworn it had been selling in the $60 range a month before that (which was why I was hesitant to buy it then) and I notice now it's selling for $47.98.  I've never tracked prices on Amazon; do they usually change so frequently?  Weird.

Maybe it's my birthday, stress, or the stress of my birthday, but I've been a little more indulgent with myself lately.  On eBay I picked up these three vintage Vogue coat patterns from the Forties for $6 total.  I think I may need to blog soon about compulsive "too cheap to pass up" shopping sprees as that's a real weakness of mine.  Love those illustrations!

We've gotten off topic.  Here's what's in store for May (and maybe into June):

1) The SIL dress

Readers, try as I might I can't think of a good way to get out of this project so I'm going to try to make the best of it.  Hopefully today I'll get around to cutting that Vogue sloper pattern and stitching up a muslin.

2) Sewing with Silk

Do you have any experience sewing with silk?  I have none, but I've been reading about it and just picked up a copy of the book, Kwik Sew's Beautiful Lingerie, which should arrive soon.  I think I read about it on bra-maven K-line's blog and she had good things to say.  Are you familiar with it?

When I met lovely Australian "Livebird" last week, she gave me some beautiful silk twill and silk charmeuse and I have a few ideas what to make with it, including men's pajamas.  We'll see.

Meanwhile, there's...

3.  Maternity: The Sequel


This...bizarre? chic? hilarious? pattern should arrive any day now.  For some reason when I buy things on Etsy, Paypal pays the order immediately out of my bank account, but lately when I buy something on eBay, it issues an e-Check, which can take a week to clear.   It's frustrating but I don't know how to resolve it; it's the same Paypal account.

This means I'll have to wait a little longer to receive...

4. The New Sewing Machine

Readers, do you find this machine, the Singer 500a (or Rocketeer), attractive?  A number of readers have been sharing photos of their sewing machine collections with me lately, and apparently many people love those old slant-feet Singers (which include the 301 and 400 series).  I'm thinking, Who wants to deal with a whole new set of sewing attachments?  Plus, if the slant idea was so great, why was it abandoned?

Long story short, I find this machine ugly, albeit charmingly so.  To me, it looks heavy and clunky (and that tan color -- blech).  It's modern-looking for 1946 perhaps, but it's from 1960!  Think about this: the Necchi Mirella was designed in 1956 (by Marcello Nizzoli).

The Elna Lotus was designed in 1965 (both are in the design collection of The Museum of Modern Art).

I know some people love the Rocketeer and I don't know what it's like to sew with -- maybe wonderful.  Granted, design isn't the only thing, but it matters to me.

Perhaps you're wondering what sewing machine I purchased.  You'll just have to wait till May officially begins to find out!

And so, we welcome a new month.  Readers, how much do you care about the way a sewing machine looks?  Are you influenced by design, color, weight or only how well it sews (and perhaps price)?

What's on your plate for May?   Anything fun?

Happy Monday, everybody!
(I have a soft spot for high school theater...)


  1. New sewing machine? New to you? Didn't I hear you say something about trying to resist sewing machines? What will you do if you like it? If you don't, you can give it to Rain, but if you do, will you give another one to Rain or find a place for it?

    Inquiring minds are curious ... :-)


    1. One tries but one doesn't always succeed. Rain can get his OWN sewing machines, thank you very much! ;)

  2. Happy Monday, Peter! As a fellow Mac aficianado, I say function trumps form, but I like a nice form, too. I have an ancient (recent garage sale find) Bernette serger that's not much on looks, but it's all metal and sews great, so I'm happy. My May project is cargo pants that convert (via leg zippers) to shorts. Should be fun!

  3. May takes off with a bang in terms of a road trip to Melbourne for my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. We'll be staying with my fav cousin. I'm humming a hawing about taking my 221 along with us in case there is any spare time to sew. During the long drive i'll be embroidering daygowns or bonnets.

    I'm heirloom sewing for the whole month unless something else turns up (like an opera coat sew-a-long ;) ). I've recently discovered Jeannie Baumeister's Old Fashioned Baby blog/shop and i'm in love. I'll be making baby daygown's; perhaps Cathy needs to follow suit regarding baby garments - time's-a-ticking.

    The way a machine looks has some weight in the decision of whether or not to buy it...but since my last two machines were given to me, i'm not in any position to look a gift horse in the mouth based on design along. I got gifted a 1956 201; a lovely black aluminium machine. I was gifted a tan one in a cabinet (by the same person) 2 weeks ago; i'm seriously thinking of putting the black one in the cabinet because it's so much nicer to look at hahaha

  4. I have Kwik Sew's lingerie book, and a number of others in this line, and I like them. I haven't used the book for a while, but if memory serves, all of the patterns included with this book are designed for use with nylon tricot or bias cut silkies. I have never had any issues with inaccuracies in the patterns and I tend to like the fit of the brand, which is a little different than the big four.

  5. On a totally off topic side note, did you see that Katherine at WeSewRetro is giving away men's patterns? The only catch is that it's just for men so anyone with lady bits (sorry gals) cannot claim one.

  6. While sewing silk, consider wearing thin cotton gloves, as any imperfection on your hands/fingernails can and will snag the fabric (a pricey catastrophe).

    Be certain to use silk pins ("sharps"), anything else will leave pin holes.

    Oh, and a folded hand fan works wonders in dissipating the steam when pressing. I saw the alterations people at an I. Magnin fan what they had both ironed and vertically steamed. It appeared to help "set" the press quickly and drive off any excess moisture from marking the fabric.

  7. I love sewing with silk. I use Sulky tear away under charmeuse and chiffon to help with the sliding, and it is worth the extra time (to me, anyway).
    I am just cutting out a frock coat, from a pale beige herringbone linen/rayon blend, for my husband. Sort of a summer steampunk look, but quite gentlemanly. It is going to have a leather upper collar, and leather pocket flaps. I am opting out of the left breast welt pocket-hate to do those! I will be heading back to re-read some of your posts, Peter, on constructing collars.

  8. I learned to sew on my Mom's Rocketeer. It is a good machine despite its odd looks. Mom's still works perfectly and will come to live with me when she is "done sewing."

  9. In May I'll be making something splendid from a certain yardage of barkcloth I picked up on my travels.

    A prewashing note: do prewash the silks as I know from experience that the twill *will* shrink. Unless you plan to dryclean your PJs? Nah, didn't think so.

    Also, I threw the waxcloth in the wash with all my other stuff and you were right, the sizing washed out and the fabric is soft. The print remains just as loud!

    1. That's good news! Can't wait to see your creations!

  10. Hi Peter, Like you, I prefer my vintage sewing machines to be eye candy as well as functional stitchers. May sewing plans include a corset for my Katimavik daughter Véronique to go under her wedding dress, continuing with the free motion quilting challenge, new curtains for the kitchen, more reusable grocery bags and table linens. Last summer I bought a dress form with every intention of making some new clothes for me. Unfortunately, my sewing interests are elsewhere.

  11. I've worked with silk quite a few times (charmeuse, georgette, organza, crepe back satin) and probably have more silk stashed than anything else. I'm cutting a silk lining for my WIP leather jacket tonight.

    Most silk is not as fragile as most people think. It can usually be washed (hand wash or gentle cycle) and can tolerate a fairly high heat, just use a pressing cloth if you're uncertain. If it's a light weight fabric, consider using one of your straight stitch machines so that it doesn't get pulled into the throat plate. Use extrafine/silk pins. Georgette or chiffon that is cut on the bias can be a pain, but in my experience, silk doesn't "slither" as bad as say poly or rayon lining fabrics (like Bemberg). Consider enclosed seam treatments (french, flat-felled...)

    You've sewn so many tricky/different fabrics, I'm sure you'll have tips for me by the end! Can't wait to see what you make!

  12. Peter, I own a Rocketeer and an 401A. They are in beautiful condition and work perfectly. I also own old black Singers (featherweights included) and current sew (mostly) on a new computerized Bernina. I do use them all from time to time. (Don't ask why, it part of my obsession - oops - passion for sewing)

    The biggest problem for me is to constantly remember machine threading loops. They also manifest different problems that I have to remember how to fix. I do remember eventually but then my precious sewing time has gone. However, if you have old black Singers like the 201, 15 series or the featherweights, the slant feet are the same, they're just ... slanted. You wouldn't be confused.

    IMHO, the slanted models seem to be more form over function, esp. when you take them apart. They do sew well but for my money the black Singers are easier to use.

    I've stopped collecting ... really.;-)

  13. About the Rocketeer: In around 1962 my mom was given that machine, new, which was exciting because we were poor and accustomed to second-hand things. Included with the purchase was a class or two at the Singer store, and I was invited to go along since I was the right age (12). I remember testing stitches on cotton organdy, but the most striking memory is of a magical machine they demonstrated that melted a square of butter in a pyrex cup in 60 seconds! I don't know what happened to that Rocketeer, but I wish I had put dibs on it when she stopped sewing.

    On the beauty/functional question, I have a Featherweight that served me well for many years, charming as all get-out, but currently when I have a job to crank out, I use my ugly Singer industrial from the seventies. Gotta love that knee-lift! On the other hand, you have inspired me to try to dig out the various vintage machines I've collected over the years, now hidden among the stalagmites.

  14. I worked with silk charmeuse for a lining once - it was so much better behaved than the poly stuff I usually use. I think you will like working with it, and you will definitely enjoy wearing it!

    And I can't wait to see the latest sewing machine.

    Oh, and, like you, my May sewing schedule is getting bogged down with the need to sew for others. It is crazy time at the skating rink with everyone needing new costumes, and I now have about 8 pieces I need to make for other people. So, ummm, not too much exciting sewing for me going to happen this May.

  15. My slant shank 301A was the first vintage machine aquired (free!) and I love it,especially for its light-weight cast aluminum body. Sewed on a Rocketeer and found it clunky. For mid-century kitsch/cool I prefer my Morse Superdial and would love to aquire a Fotomatic.

    Don't sew with silk- it will only make it harder to return to the bargain basement!

  16. I've never worked with silk, but polyester crepe-back satin was, uh, "fun." I used it for a costume (a very time-intensive, complicated costume!), and guess what I'm going to be doing in May? Using polyester crepe-back satin to make a costume. A very time-intensive, complicated costume... Praise the heavens that someone invented the walking foot.

    PS: Have you seen the giveaway for male-sewists only on We Sew Retro?

  17. Hey P: I don't have that lingerie book - though I've been trying to get my hands on a copy for a long time. I think it might have been Gertie or Mikhaela who wrote about it (making me covet it that much more). I've heard it's very good.

    And I am officially in the market for a new machine. Mind you, I think I'm going vintage industrial or shiny and new. Or I could totally change my mind and do something in the middle.

    Do you ever work with new machines? I'd love to float some models by you for your feedback (I've been doing research), but I'm not sure if you are firmly in the the vintage camp when it comes to most of your experience. Of course, this assumes you want to help me with this. I'm a bit on the "Peter knows everything about sewing machines" bandwagon that probably causes you misery at dinner parties.

    1. Sadly, about new machines I know very little. An excellent resource is Pattern Review.

      I wish I went to dinner parties!

  18. Though I've never met the Rocketeer in person, she certainly has an old-fashioned glamour. This machine would wear elbow-length gloves and hold a long onyx cigarette holder. Inexplicably, the Rocketeer reminds me of the Waterloo Bronco tractor my dad taught me to drive at age nine. It had a wonderfully bouncy seat, a gummy clutch, and you could start it with a hand crank inserted in it's nose, if you wanted too.
    I don't care what a machine looks like as long as it works. I have two Kenmores, a 158.15150 ($25) and a 158.130101 ($20) both barely used when I bought them. They have an endearingly klunky charm that appeals to me more than the moulded plastic jellybeans I see in the shops.

  19. I know this may be a bit strange, but I quite like the Rocketeer - it feels a bit Jetsons to me for some reason! My current machine is a basic new singer, but I love it as it does everything I need.

    This month is making a gathered skirt, and finishing a cape which has sat for 2 years waiting for a hem...

  20. Wow! I learned to sew on a Singer just like the one in your picture. It definitely looks like it should have been older than 1960, but it was wonderful to sew with. It was actually my mom's machine, and she didn't really like me messing with it. She tried instead to have me work with an assortment of other people's cast-offs that she had acquired, none of which worked properly. The frustration of working with such inferior equipment, especially when contrasted with her old Singer at least motivated me to put forth my best efforts to acquire a decent machine of my own. I suppose I could have saved my allowance up to buy a decent sewing maching, but it would have cut into my fabric-buying. I mangaged to win enough blue ribbons at the State Fair when I was a teen to win the overall Junior grand prize, a basic Viking sewing maching, which I still use. I do still have a soft spot for Mom's old slant-foot Singer with its touchy tension knob (never to be touched by me on pain of torture or a possible grounding) and a bobbin that would stop winding on its own (I and my siblings loved stepping on the foot pedal to wind the bobbins for Mom. It made such a nice loud noise we were sure we were really helping)I wouldn't object to having one of these for my own, even if it would mean a whole new set of attachments.
    Thanks for the bit of nostalgia.

  21. Working with silk or any slippery fabric, really, means that you need patience. I didn't realise what a slap-happy sewer I was until I started to use slippery fabrics. Fresh needles, sharp scissors and plenty of time are what I recommend. I recently read about someone using gelatine to stabilise slippery fabrics for cutting out and I'm going to try that. Now that SWAP is over, May will be the time I get to all the things in my sewing queue, including the MPB inspired purple faux fur coat! With Cathy in the family way, will you be sewing baby clothes this month?

  22. Great posts, and great replies!!!!!!! I love vintage, all metal machines, and I have the 2 mentioned Morses. A few days ago we got a Stitchmaster (clone), in maple cabinet, for $10. We are thrifty, and love to be. I have that Kwik Sew book, and the actionwear one too. Got them at a charity shop in Granby. Cathie, in Quebec P.S. Sewing up-cycles, from rummage, great fun. Then onto vintage sewing. Have a 50's coat pattern from Vogue that looks like the center coat pattern you just posted.

  23. That Rocketeer has a very Jetson's feel to it doesn't it? I learned to sew on my mother's Elna Lotus tsp, which she bought in the 70s, so fancy the 60's Lotus being in a museum! I've still go that machine and treasure it.

    May = altering my summer work clothes so they'll fit otherwise I'll run out of office outfits. But I'm also considering trying to make a sorbetto top. So far that's printing ou the pattern and staring at it.

  24. Hey Peter,
    I'm very familiar with all three of the machines pictured. They each have their own good points and bad points, but of the three, the Singer "Rocketeer" is by far the best - ALL steel innards, very smooth and quiet running. Yeah, the slant needle isn't as great as Singer wanted customers to believe, but they were desperate to sell machines and needed a gimmick to increase sales. Best thing is that the few parts that might wear out are still available. Weak points are those flimsy hinges on both the flip-top cover and left needle bar cover - if you venture to take off the top cover, BE SURE to also take off the side cover or it will inevitably fall off and break those fragile hinges.

    The Lotus is a real sweetie of a machine with the famous Elna rotary hook. It runs circles around a Featherweight in what it can do, but watch out for those plastic innards. The bobbin winder is particularly vulnerable - looks like a plastic badminton birdie mounted on a stick. Those darn plastic parts will do in a machine every time. So will the electronic circuit boards on the later versions. Parts were available up until recently.

    The Necchi may be in the MOMA because of it's good looks, but it won't win any awards for it's engineering. Two major draw-backs: that huge hunk of Delrin (fancy name for a fancy plastic) for a cam stack is notorious for blowing up with age. Worse is the hook system - if you look closely, it's neither a true horizontal nor a vertical. That canted hook is a bugger to adjust when (not "if") it goes out of time - don't drive over pins lest you poke your eye out or jam the hook out of time.

    I have and enjoy all three of these machines, especially the Rocketeer. My favorite machines, however, are those with the vertical hook systems, but that's a story for another day.

    Steve P aka "Bobbin Doctor"

  25. I have a Rocketeer and love it. I love the stitch quality, the decorative stitches and the cool feet. Love the silk too

  26. Count me as another fan of the 500a, I have mine permanently set-up with the buttonhole attachment on it. It makes awesome buttonholes!

  27. I am all about PAJAMAS. We spend more time in them than we realize. And most aren't both exciting and practical. Looking forward to seeing what you create!

  28. I like the look of the Rocketeer. I sew on my mom's 401 Slant-O-Matic and I love, love, love it.

    I've never sewn silk. I'll wait until my skills are way better.

  29. I have been reminded by that first photo, that when I was in Catholic girls' school (yikes!) we did a maypole dance in the sprint. Pole dance? Hmmmmm.....
    Peter, there is silk and there is silk. Silk niole is very easy to work with, as is silk organza. But charmeuse is a BEAR! If you're used to working with slippery, wiggly fabrics, then you are ready. Read all the information you can find, and then follow the advice, that's my advice.
    Please make that blouson maternity top, please please!

  30. You are not crazy re: the price of that iron on Amazon. I've been tracking it for a while and it WAS $60-ish and then it was out of stock and two days later it was back for $45-ish so I bought it. Take yours out of the box and use it, seriously - I love mine.

  31. I asked Gigi about the logic behind the slant needle design and she said slant needle machines were created to have better needle penetration but she doesn't see any difference. Foot pressure and feed are what's important for needle penetration. She has more experience with all types of home and industrial machines than anyone I know and this makes sense to me.

  32. I have many machines and the 2 that stand out from the rest not by much is the Singer 201 and the Nechii supernova. I think people need to get used to the Singer slant needle system as they do sew well. The Nechii Lydia is a good machine as well, very attractive too.


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