Archive for June, 2010

Spring-Loaded Auto Retracting Measuring Tape

Image of Spring-Loaded Retractable Extra-Long Tape Measure

Spring loaded retractable extra long tape measure

Buy it here!

Over the last 20 years, I have had a couple of standard sewing measuring tapes. You know the kind; flexible cloth coated with a plastic coating for durability with metal tabs on both ends. The two of them have served me well. However, at some point I purchased a second because I’d misplaced the other. I have stored them tightly rolled just so they wouldn’t get tangled with everything else in the drawer or box where I kept them.

Here’s the catch though. Every single time I’ve gone to use one of my sewing tapes, I unrolled it, measured whatever, and spent a couple of minutes rolling it back up again. Many, many times I didn’t realize I wasn’t done with it and ended up unrolling then rolling it again several times.

One day I was at a fabric store and on checkout they gave each customer a promotional spring-loaded tape measure. I loved this tape. Now I could push a button and the tape wound up for me. No more tangles in the drawer and no more manually rolling the measuring tape.

At ¼” wide and only 60” long, this tape just couldn’t do some of the jobs I needed it for. I have become much more involved in pattern alterations, especially for plus sized people. A longer tape is necessary. Also, with multi-sized patterns (which most are these days) one of the first things I need to do is mark the stitching line on the pattern. Most patterns use a 5/8” seam allowance. My old tapes were 5/8” wide, allowing me to lay the tape along the edge of the pattern and quickly mark a dotted line along it. The ¼” wide tape just couldn’t do that.

As a result, I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect tailor’s or dressmakers sewing measuring tape. I finally found this one. At 120” long, it’s plenty long enough and at the standard 5/8” wide, it’s just the right width. The powerful spring never has difficulty rewinding the tape. The tape itself is fabric and coated for durability. It has metric and imperial measurements in easy-to-read numbers. I just love it. It’s one of my favorite tools.

Buy it here!

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The Best Sewing Machine for Begginers

This is one of the most often asked questions.

I like to relate learning sewing to learning to drive. Most people can understand that analogy.

You don’t need a high-powered, fancy sports car to learn to drive. You learn the skills of driving every bit as well from an ordinary car. You do need to make sure everything works though because nothing is worse than trying to learn a new skill with a machine that won’t work.

Can you learn how to drive in a car that won’t run or won’t brake?

So, a beginner needs a very basic, reliable sewing machine to learn on. You may hear a million times that you just don’t need the fancy stitches but it’s really true. A great straight stitch that is balanced so it feels equally flat on the top and the bottom and a great zig zag stitch with stitch width and length adjustments are really all you need for 99% of your sewing, even after you’ve been at it for 20+ years!

I learned to sew on my mom’s vintage (1970′s?) White sewing machine. It had some stretch stitches, the four different sections of a buttonhole, and the basic straight and zig zag stitches. It was a wonderful machine and I wish I still had it. It was a real workhorse.

When I got married and moved out, I bought a Singer TouchTronic 2000. I had that sewing machine for many, many years. There were some things I loved about it and some that I hated. I loved the bobbin winder. You didn’t even have to take the bobbin out to wind it! The bobbins themselves were a special type, rather hard to find and expensive.

The spindle meant to hold the spool of thread was placed so that the top thread often broke. I ended up using one of those cone holders to feed thread into the machine. It was a bit of a pain but solved the problem.

Another thing I didn’t like was the fact that this machine is a slant shank and it’s harder to find presser feet for it. They are also much more expensive. If I remember correctly, I paid about $60 for a walking foot for this machine!

For the most part, this machine was wonderful. It made awesome buttonholes. I’ve yet to find another buttonhole that rivals that one. But, the deal breaker with that machine were the trips to the shop.

I was teaching and from September until July I had no time to sew. My machine just sat all that time. Then, each summer, when summer holidays came, I drove 200 km each way to take the machine into the repair shop and have it serviced so I could sew like crazy all summer. If I didn’t do this, it jammed the bobbin thread up almost instantly every time I tried to start sewing. Knowing I had limited time to sew over the summer, I didn’t have time to goof around with this machine.

One day I decided it was time to get a machine that would work every time I wanted to sew, one that I didn’t have to run to the shop prior to using it. That’s when I purchased my new BabyLock Crafter’s Choice. Looking back, I wish I’d chosen the embroidery machine. I thought I’d never use it but I’ve wished so many times that I had one, I’m sure it would’ve paid for itself by now.

I chose the Baby Lock because my serger is a Baby Lock Imagine. I love, love, love my serger, especially threading it. That machine is tremendous fun to thread! Really, it is.

Since buying the Crafter’s Choice sewing machine, I’ve been missing my Singer and my mom’s White so I went looking for a second machine (and I got tired of re-threading when doing twin needle stitching). I test drove about 15 machines and finally settled on an Elna 6000. It’s a workhorse too. It’s not fancy but would be a great machine to learn on. It cost me $99.00 and it had just been serviced.

I have no complaints about the Elna at all. It runs great and has excellent balanced stitches. The zipper foot I bought for it was about $6.

If you are just beginning to sew and looking for a machine to learn on, I’d recommend something like the vintage Elna. Don’t spend more than about $100 and just get a plain jane machine. I’d recommend getting one made in the 60′s or 70′s. Back then they were made with metal parts instead of plastic. The machines are more durable and more reliable.

I wrote an eZine article with further information about buying a sewing machine for beginner sewers. If you are interested in it, you can read it here.

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