Freaked out too soon, or “read the manual”

I want to post this in case anyone encounters this same situation — perhaps you’ll see this while Googling yourself silly looking for the answer, as I did.

I used my Bernina 710 last night and all was well. When I turned it on tonight, it made this continuous whining sound and displayed something on the screen I’d never seen before*:

Bernina 710 error screen

Whaaaaat? I just took this thing in for service a couple of months ago and it’s wonky again? I immediately envisioned myself lugging the big girl to the dealer this weekend and being without it until the repair wizard could fit it in to his schedule.

The aforementioned Googling turned up nothing. As I was drafting my message to post to Sewing Pattern Review, hoping someone knew what the problem was, I was also flipping through my machine manual. I came across a picture of the little icon with the red thread around it, which was associated with the bobbin winder.

AHA! It turned out that the bobbin winder was partially engaged and whirring away, winding invisible unicorn thread. I must have nudged it to the left when covering up the machine last night.

So there you have it. If you’ve found this post, maybe you’ve searched for “Bernina 710 error message spool thread icon RPM 62 slider.” 🙂

*The fact that I thought I’d never seen that screen before is a testament to the awesomeness of those giant Bernina bobbins. It’s been so long since I loaded one up, I didn’t even remember that screen …

What I wish I’d known

640px-Pincushion-TomatoIf I were in a court of law, I’d have to testify that I’ve been sewing since I was a little girl. My mother, the greatest seamstress I have ever known, taught me the basics then. But it’s only been in the last eight years or so that I’ve really devoted time and energy to it.

There have been many moments of frustration and disappointment, of course, but I’ve recently realized how far I’ve come. I know now that I could have saved myself some trials had I known a few things (or understood their importance) during those times I struggled. There will be more rough spots — sewing is so very challenging — but if I could offer any advice based on my own hindsight, it would include:

Your iron is the most important tool you have.  Considering the results for the amount of effort it takes, there is no greater return when it comes to elevating the quality of your finished product.  Any time you’re about to sew a seam that crosses an existing seam, stop. Don’t go on until you’ve ironed that newly created seam. First, press it just as you’ve sewn it (the way it was when you removed it from the sewing machine). Then press it again, this time in the direction it should permanently lie, such as a dart that should lie toward a back seam. Pressing is really nothing short of magic.

There are no shortcuts when cutting. So you tend to be a little loose when cutting out your fabric? Maybe you veered off track a quarter of an inch here and there? It may seem inconsequential. It isn’t. The bad effects from it will multiply as you go along, sometimes to the point where your final product is unwearable. Think of it as a construction process akin to building a piece of furniture. When every cut is as near to perfect as you can get it, each section of your garment will go together beautifully.

Transfer all marks from your pattern to your fabric. Because gelato. Think all those funky triangles and dots and squares are just silly things? Ignore them at your peril. You’ll find yourself at the point where the instructions tell you to sew “from the small parallelogram, leaving open above the large dot” or some such thing, and you’ll be all “Hey, where’s my dot at?” If you try to simply take a guess where those marks should be, you could end up with a zipper placed so that you can’t get your pants up over your hips. Then you’ll be sad because you wasted all that time making the pants and your melancholy will cause you to eat a carton of gelato, then you’ll have yet another reason your pants won’t go up over your hips.

Stay sharp. Dull scissors are a bummer. They chew your fabric and pull it out of alignment. They fray your thread so that it won’t go through the eye of your needle. Same goes for rotary cutter blades. They won’t go through all of your layers of fabric in some spots and will pull your fabric. Dull needles in your machine? Just. Change. Them. Often. Sharp tools make for faster, easier and more precise work.

Got nice fabric? Make a muslin. Test garments are worth the time and little bit of money. Buy muslin fabric by the bolt (watch for coupons or sales and you can pick up yards and yards inexpensively). Make up your garment, sewing just the major seams and omitting the styling details. Draw right on the muslin while it’s on you to mark the problem spots. Pin it, cut it, do whatever needs doing, then transfer everything to your pattern and make another muslin. You don’t, of course, need to use actual muslin. Any old cheap fabric will do as long as its characteristics are similar to your good fabric. I’m talking wovens here — if you’re testing a garment that will be made out of a knit fabric, try to find a cheap knit with the same amount of stretch as the fabric you plan to use.

Very little of your sewing time will involve actual sewing. Almost everything happens away from the machine. Laying out your fabric straight, cutting, ironing, pinning, trying on … this is where the action is. Sitting at the machine is the least of it. Learn to enjoy every part of the process if you can.

Another lesson

white jalieThis is Jalie 2449, the popular crossover top pattern. I’ve made it twice before, both times out of a very stretchy two-way stretch knit. This time, I used a moderately stretchy cotton knit that’s great for t-shirts. The lesson? Don’t expect fabrics with different qualities to behave the same just because you’re using the same pattern.

You can’t tell what’s wrong with it on the dress form, because it fits Headless Hannah very nicely. On a moving, breathing body, though, the seams at the waist where the bands attach pull the seams into a very weird/foldy/pleated thing on both sides. My first thought was that I had made the bands too short, but they feel right and keep the crossover hugging the body. If they were any looser (in this fabric in particular), I’m pretty sure the neckline would gape.

I think now that I just need to cut the fabric wider just at the waist. The shoulders and hips still work, so I need to somehow loosen the pressure at the sides. Not sure how I’ll reconcile the “grip” of the neckbands so that they still hold the front close but don’t cause the problem to happen again.

Can’t bat a thousand at sewing, and probably never will! It comes with the territory and that’s fine with me.

Figuring out fit

custom pants draftI’ve been on a sewing journey for awhile now and thought I’d start making notes on it.

For the last several months, I’ve focused on drafting my own patterns. One reason is that it’s been difficult to find patterns that fit, whether from the Big 4 (Vogue, McCall, Simplicity and Butterick) or the independent pattern designers. The other reason is that I love the challenges it presents.

I’m five feet tall, hover around 100 pounds and I’m in my late fifties. Commercial patterns designed for teens (there aren’t many) may include smaller sizes in their multi-sized patterns, but most of the styles are hardly appropriate. I’m more of an Eileen Fisher-type woman, but $300 for a single garment is not in my budget. The good news is that her designs are always simple and streamlined, so my mission to recreate her look should be achievable.

I’ve already worked out basic pattern drafts for:

  • A knit maxi dress. Finessing this draft required solutions for very narrow shoulders/gaping back neck and a short back length. I’ve copied the draft to create variations for sleeves, turtleneck, etc.
  • A t-shirt. This one was important, since it’s now my reference for a number of garments. I have plenty of variations on that one as well. Still need to attempt a v-neck, though.
  • A knit maxi skirt. This one was just too easy and anyone can do it. Take a few measurements, sew three seams and you have a new skirt in less than 90 minutes on your first try. The instructions are on the fabulous Mad Mim site. Depending on your fabric choice, you can dress this one up or down. There’s no elastic in the waist, just a wide, yoga-pants style band, so they’re insanely comfortable. Add a t-shirt and sandals and you’re ready to go just about anywhere.
  • A pencil skirt. This is really nothing more than a tube with a slight curve at the waist side seam and a few darts. Instructions are all over the Internet, so grab yourself some muslin, throw one together and tweak it. Don’t forget a back vent so that you can actually walk in the thing.

The current and most challenging draft so far is for pants. My first draft is in the photo above. I followed the instructions in the Threads Magazine article “Draft Your Own Pattern for Pants that Fit.” You can view it online if you’re an Insider, or buy the special fitting issue of the print magazine that’s out right now.

The first muslin I made from the draft pictured had too much room in the waist and I hadn’t done such a great job on the hip curve. Big poochy there. For the second draft, I started by taking a little circumference out at the center front and smoothing out the hip. The muslin from that draft showed that I needed to get my darts on. I added those to the third draft, and sewed up that muslin today. Turned out that I had gotten a little aggressive, shall we say, on the darts. In fact, I could hardly get them on! I’ve let out all of the darts and repinned them, and think that I may not even need darts in the front.

Tomorrow I’ll try again with smaller darts in the back. I’m going to make those darts shorter, too, because the ones I had in there today were like those neon hotel signs shaped liked arrows, shouting “Hey! Look at my butt! Right here, look!” Sheesh.