Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review of the Singer 160 Anniversary Edition Home Sewing Machine

I got a wonderful xmas gift from my DH.  The new Singer 160 Anniversary Edition home sewing machine.  The moment I saw a photograph of it I fell in love.  Of course I have numerous sewing machines, as most sewers and quilters do.  So this purchase was definitely a want and not a need.   Here is my review.
She is beautiful to look at with an innovative retro design.  Singer managed to capture the best design details from their turn of the century models and incorporate modern electronic  innovation into this anniversary model. The whole visual package is very appealing.  
The Singer 160 is affordable at $599 (Australian).   This price puts it in the mid range of cost for most standard home machines.  Its a bit plastic-ish but that's to be expected in this price range. Also because this machine is black I think instead of the color enhancing the look as it did on the original metal models, the black color now draws attention to the housing now being made of plastic.  Even having said that I still think the black is appropriate for the overall look.  
It has a good weight and size with an ample sewing bed that slopes toward you.  This is well lit with 3 LED lights, 2 under the needle area and one over the bed.   It gives off a bluish light.  

The machine is equipped with a sleeve arm (something my Janome 6600 is sorely lacking) which has a built in storage tray that opens from the end.  The inside of the tray is open space to store accessories.  It would have been nice if the tray were built with slots to hold specific items so they wouldn't rattle about but they didn't.  Even so, there is ample room for all the accessories and then some.   Also no 1/4 inch foot is included with this model but there is a 1/4 inch guide on the bobbin cover.  I've ordered a Singer 1/4 inch foot through the store I purchased the machine from.  
The fly wheel looks a bit too shiny which made me think it was chromed plastic at first but on feel I believe it is a light weight metal. 
There is an electronic stitch panel with basic stitches.  The limited choices reminds me of the very old Singers that performed just the basics and really this is what you want this machine for.  It's to the point and not fancy.  Very much I think in the spirit of the original Singers and fitting for the 160 anniversary year model.   There is a hand quilting stitch setting but I had some teething problems with this.  I've found that you absolutely must use a top stitch thread in the bobbin and light weight thread through the machine when using this stitch or else the machine has a tizzy and jams.  The instruction manual specifies the type of thread but not what gage.  Also I found that the tension must be as high as 9 for a really smooth, nice looking stitch.    Once my DH figured out this was the problem the machine worked well and the stitches looked great.
Bobbin winding is a bit fidly - I had to give it a go twice.  There is no automatic stop on the bobbin wind.  Threading from spool through the machine is easy and it has an auto needle threading capability.  Also bobbin threading is simple.  There's no need to bring up the bobbin thread as there is a built in channel you feed the tread through which does this automatically.   
The first sound you hear when you turn it on is mechanical.  No dainty beep or ping. 

When sewing the machine has a heavy mechanical hum.  Again, it sounds like it has grunt.

The stitches Stitches are even and lovely.
There is no auto thread cutter but the built in manual cutter is convenient and easy to use. 

Also there is no needle down setting.  I found an interesting feature of the reverse sew button is that it will work independently from the power pedal.   This can be used as a tacking stitch at the beginning and end of sewing a line of stitches without requiring touching the foot petal.
Overall I'd give the Singer 160 an 8 out of 10.  I think it's good value for money as a basic machine with style and performance.  This is going to be the machine I bring to my quilt meetings and retreats as my Janome 6600 is just too heavy and large to tote around on a casual basis.  I haven't owned a new Singer since I was a teenager (though I  have two vintage Singers I love).  I'm hoping this anniversary model becomes a fantastic work horse for me in my basic sewing needs and is as reliable and still desirable machine after many years as my vintage Singers.  I'd love to see Singer get back on the fast track of producing cutting edge, high performing machines as this they did so many years ago.  

Here's to a long and happy relationship with the 160.  
Happy Sewing,

Monday, December 19, 2011

What you do at Xmas time...

I\'ve been decorating of course. It\'s been fun finding new places for the old Christmas stuff in the new house. It makes what I\'ve had all these years seem new - yet familiar. I had a great time putting up the tree and adding our much loved ornaments. Many of them my husband and I collected during our trip touring around New England and New York. We tried to buy an ornament for each state or place of interest.

This is one of my favorites for a few reasons. One, I\'m a New Yorker so it says home to me and two, because it shows the twin towers in all it\'s beauty. Even now 10 years on I feel a great sadness in my heart whenever I think of 9/11. I remember my Dad bringing me to see the towers being built. I\'m glad Dad wasn\'t around to see it\'s tragic end.....
This one I love because until very recently, I owned a 1975 Beetle that looked just like this ornament. I loved that car and called it my \'Big Apple\'. We sold it just before moving into the new house. It was time. I loved her but she needed a kind of attention I couldn\'t give her anymore. She was sold to a very nice man who was buying it as a gift for his daughter. I knew she was going to a good home.
As I\'m a mad flag waver I just adore this wooden articulated ornament of Uncle Sam. I have numerous red, white, and blue ornaments on the tree.
This ornament is made of rock maple and we purchased it in Vermont. If I ever win the lottery we\'re going to have a summer home in the Green Mountains of Vermont. It\'s the most beautiful place.
And this little gem was purchased in Mystic, Connecticut in a small shop just steps away from the drawbridge. I used to live in Groton, Connecticut so I was very familiar with Mystic. My husband loved the place when I showed it to him. I thought this lovely lady was a great remembrance of there.

Now that the house looks Christmasy I\'ll get back into my sewing projects - of which I have ALOT. The Civil War quilt is coming to an end soon. I\'ll be sorry to see that. I look forward to logging onto the site each Saturday night to see the next block.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Little Sewing, A Little Cooking

It’s been so long since I’ve really celebrated the holidays properly that I’d forgotten how enjoyable it can be when you get your spirit on.  For the past few years life had gotten in the way and I haven’t felt like decorating or cooking or even participating in anything remotely celebratory.  Now that life has gotten on a more even keel, I want to get festive.  It feels good – really good.

So this weekend I worked a bit on one of my latest projects – yes – another project.  I started the ‘Home Sweet Home’ quilt.  A very, very talented quilter from my group named Lyn made this quilt about 4 years ago and recently brought it to show and tell.  I was blown away.  Number one I’m completely in awe of anyone able to do needle turn appliqué and secondly, this is a house quilt and I’ve liked them for as long as I can remember.  So putting the two together opened my eyes to the possibility that even I, the un-applique queen, could get brave and give it a go.  I don’t usually follow patterns.  Not because I’m a snob in any way and feel my original designs are the only designs.  On the contrary, I love so many patterns out there.  No, I’ve always just done my own thing because I’m not the least bit organized when I start a quilt.  Meaning I start with a design I find pleasing and fabric I like and just jump into it.  I don’t plan yardage or even color most of the time since I’m a big fan of scrap quilts which incorporates all the colors of the rainbow (just my style).  And my quilts almost never come out the way I envisioned them when I started because I change bits here and there as I progress.  It’s just how I’ve always done it.  

Now that I’ve started the Home Sweet Home quilt I find myself getting a bit frustrated by instructions – I’m used to them!  The only thing I’ve planned ahead for in fabric selection are the block backgrounds.  I thought at first I was going to do the entire quilt in mooted, primitive style as the author’s originals are – but already that’s gone out the window.  The background fabric I found is anything but primitive and as I’ve searched my stash for fabrics to use in building the houses in the block I’ve found  so much I want to use that doesn’t fall into the primitive category.  So I’m going to mix it up because that’s what I do.  I think it doesn’t really matter if I use some primitive, modern, solids or some textured in the same quilt as long as the overall effect is pleasing.  For example I found a wonderfully deep colored poke-a-dot fabric I used in a previous quilt and had a left over bit.  The bit wasn’t big enough to make the house so I added some solid to the top of the remnant to make the correct size.  I improvised and I think it looks really good.  I have a feeling the entire quilt is going to go this way for me.  

Besides quilting this weekend I also baked.  I made a delish New York baked cheese cake on a homemade graham cracker crust (yes – homemade graham crackers.....) with homemade raspberry sauce.  I made the graham crackers for a quilt meeting last week and didn’t want the leftovers to go to waste so I decided to make a cheese cake to use up the crackers.  The cake turned out well and I brought it to work where it was praised to a sufficiently high level to make my head swell.  My DH was miffed however that I brought it to work as he thought I was making it for consumption at home.  I promised him I would bring some slices back for him tonight.  LOL

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Getting my Appliqué On

I’ve never liked to do appliqué. 

I LOVE the way it looks and hold in high esteem for  others who have mastered this quilting technique.  I’m in aught of their skill.  I’ve just found whenever I’ve attempted it myself I get all stressed out and grouchy.  It’s funny really because I love hand piecing.  You would think appliqué would just be a natural extension of that but it’s not, at least not for me.  However in an attempt to expand my quilting skills, I’ve been making a gentle foray into the mysterious world of appliqué.

I didn’t consciously decide to give appliqué another go.  It came about because of the Civil War quilt project.  At least 3 of the blocks are appliqué or have an appliqué element to it.  So I had to make an attempt at them or otherwise sacrifice the integrity of the project because I was too much of a coward to give it a try.  Through lots of cursing and pulling of hair, I finally finished those appliqué blocks to my mild satisfaction.  For an amateur I thought they came out reasonably well.

So my next project I’ve decided is an appliqué project.  It’s an easy one.  No Baltimore Album quilts for me just yet.  It’s a simple star within a circle within a block.  Because the blocks are nice and large, the star is large as well and that’s the best way for me to get a handle on practising my stitches and making them small enough to be hidden.  Also I’m still fumbling through all the techniques out there for stabilizing the pieces that are being appliquéd.  Some people fuse them, some pin them and some – like myself – have decided to lightly glue them with a water soluble stick glue.  I tried fusing, which I thought gave a nice crisp effect when finished – though a bit stiff.  But the waste of fabric from using this method just messes with my head.  I’m a FRUGAL quilter.  I HATE wasting fabric.  And I’ve found that the only way to effectively use a fusing agent is to fuse a whole piece of fabric then cut your shape from that.  What happens with all the left over fused fabric?  What if I don’t have any other shapes that will fit it to be cut or that color fabric isn’t needed again?  It becomes waste and I hate waste.  I tried just pinning the piece to the background I’m adding it to but found my thread gets caught up in the pins even though I’m using the small appliqué pins.  So, what I’m doing is simple (I like simple...).  I’m cutting my shape adding a bit on the outside to turn ( 1/8 to ¼ inches...), I’m turning the piece over and creasing the seam allowance to the back of the piece.  Then I’m unfolding the seam, putting a small amount of glue along the edge and then pressing it back over.  I then have a crisp edge to work with.  I then lightly glue the shape onto the background  which puts the adherent  in only small amounts and the rest of the shape doesn’t have the stiffness I’ve found fusing gives.  So far it seems to be working well and I’m not having the freak out I did when fusing. 

Watch this space for future updates and see if I can persevere and not lose all my hair.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Getting in that Holiday Spirit

I like Christmas, I really do. 

I have always been the first person to hang a wreath on the door or start playing xmas songs on the stereo the minute the holidays would come around.  I would go to great lengths each year planning and then executing THE perfect gift basket of cookies (all homemade with little recipe cards attached).  And of course these baskets would be in the perfect receptacle – whether that was  wicker or in decorative tins.  And they would always look as good as they tasted.  Anyway, that was then (then being 5-10 years ago).  Now?  Well let me say that for the past two years I haven’t even bothered to put up a Christmas tree let alone put a Martha Stewart twist on presents.  And sending Christmas cards?  What’s that?  It’s terrible really.  Where did the holiday spirit go?

I decided that this year it’s going to be different because I’m feeling different.  I’ve had some stresses in my life over the past 5 or so years and in a way I think that affected my approach to the holidays.  Instead of seeing them as a celebration of friends, family and tradition, I came to see them as just another nerve-racking event to endure and get past.  That’s no way to feel about Santa and holiday turkey!  But I’m happy to report that I think my brain is moving past the ‘poor me’ stage into a much happier place.  So happy in fact that this year I’m going to put that tree up and even throw a wreath on the door.  Being a quilter I’m even considered making some seasonally appropriate table runners and a cheery holiday banner or two.  Unbelievably I have no quilt related items with any kind of Thanksgiving/Christmas feel to it.   I’ve never been, even in my Jingle Bells singing period, a person who decorates with a lot of kitsch.  But having a quilt with a seasonal look would certainly fit in with my decor.  Or even a table runner with a bit of glitter or gold would be nice.  

So this year?  This year the Grinch and Mrs. Scrooge are out the door.  This year I’m turning on the Tune In Radio Christmas themed streaming music, decorating with the synthetic tree complete with tacky snow tinsel and all the red, white and blue trimmings, hanging the pine scented recycled plastic wreath on the door and dusting off the stuffed antler head band appropriate only for my dog Daphne to wear (she makes a cuter reindeer than me...).  I might even browse through some of my old cookie recipes to create a couple of special gifts for friends made with that homemade touch that only a holiday spirited happy homemaker can conger up.  So this year its Ho, Ho, Ho....all the way.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy....

I finished my Patriotic quilt/piece of art.  I’m pretty happy with it.  It’s now hanging in my dining room taking pride of place.   

There are TONS of mistakes in it and the machine quilting is just horrible but I can look past its faults to appreciate the beauty of the design and overall presentation.  I love it.

I purposely designed it to look primitive as the inspiration I had for it was from a primitive painting I saw years ago.  The original artist (sorry, I don’t know the name...) depicted three  48 star flags overlapping each other.  I decided in my design I was going to represent the original 13 star flag first, then the 48 and finally on top the 50.  Of course it’s representational as I didn’t have the space to really put all those stars on these flags – but the placing of the stars is correct in that the original 13 were in a circle, the 48 row by row and the 50 offset.  I used artistic licence I suppose.  This piece was trickier then you might think for a rather straightforward design.  After I pieced the 13 stars and than the 48 my husband pointed out to me that I’d put the stars upside down!  How could I have missed that!!!  Anyway there was a lot of unpicking done with plenty of swearing under my breath for making such a stupid mistake.  Also in keeping with the primitive look, I wanted my stripes to ‘wave’ a bit, meaning as you can see from the right edge, there’s a bit of a ruffle.  And with the binding I used blue in the mostly red and white half and red in the mostly blue area – just to give it a little visual interest.  All the strips are machine quilted with swirls and the stars are slightly echo quilted – again I wanted to give it a primitive edge so I left much of the fields of blue untouched and focused mainly on the stars.  Leaving it this way gives it a flag on flag on flag feel instead of one solid piece.  

You can see it’s been mounted on a wooden frame.  This is for two reasons.  One,  I wanted to ensure it hung right so the frame gives it some structure that just leaving it loose wouldn’t have provided and two, my husband is absolutely nuts about not putting any holes in our new houses walls.  He’s loving the blank wall look and it took me a while to convince him that a few quilts strategically placed added to the look of the house and not detracted from it.  He conceded and built this frame with one more in the works for the living room.  You wouldn’t believe how many pictures I have sitting on the floor throughout the house.  Admittedly they don’t look bad where we’ve placed them and I’ve gotten used to looking down at them instead of up.  It’s also caused me to think outside the usual square when it comes to displaying pictures.  I’ve made a nice arrangement of black and white photographs we’ve taken on top of a low boy set of drawers my husband made and I like it.   I think the bonanza of photographs and art work I displayed in our last house caused my husband to OD  so now his brain needs time to soak in the Zen of a blank wall.

My artistic grouping
You can see our very big (and heavy) mirror is now positioned on the floor in the hallway.  It looks pretty good I think.  

Now that my patriotic quilt is done, what's next?