Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Little Green Machine

Take a look at my latest find:

Image copyright RPS, please do not post elsewhere

Isn’t it cute?  It is a Bell Sewing Machine, from the early 1950s.  Only 9” long, it fits into a case that looks like a small briefcase.  They are rather unusual, and apparently did not sell well.  There is not much information available on Bell machines on the web.  I found one site that has am image of a Consumer Reports review of the Bell, but does not give a date for the article (cite your sources, even on the web!  I'm also not keen on linking to sites that don't indicate where they got their information).  Whatever issue it appeared in, it was on page 31.  I know, not very helpful… 

Anyway, the article, “The Bell – Tiny, Light, But Very Slow,” might have been the death blow for the little machine.  The lack of a traditional hand wheel was a problem, instead, it had a small knob on the top right to manually move the needlebar.  It takes a lot of turns on the knob to cycle through one stitch if you are trying to draw up the bobbin thread.  The article goes on to lament that, “tension retention was inferior at the so-called fast speeds, and at top speed, the upper thread occasionally jumped the guides and tension discs, and the lower thread jumped the bobbin case.  Considerable drift was noted.”  The top speed of the Bell was reported to be 70 seconds per yard. 
The Bell with a Singer Featherweight and Singer Sewhandy
Image copyright RPS, please do not post elsewhere

The Bell, a straight stitch machine sold for $69.95.  The best price comparison I have is from an early 1960s Singer ad (from Life magazine) for their budget model Spartan, much larger than the Bell while still compact, faster, stronger, also straight stitch at $59.95.  I’m going to venture a guess that the Bell was intended more for travel mending than complete garment construction.  I will be on the lookout for vintage ads to confirm my conjecture.  

There is a sticker on the bottom of the machine that reads: “Bell Manufacturing Corporation/Freeland, PA/Made in the United States of America.”  Freeland is in Luzerne County, eastern Pennsylvania, south of Wilkes-Barre.  Some rainy day, I plan to see if there is a historical society there that just might have some information on the Bell company.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What's in a Name?

Another short post, I have about three quarters of my tomato plants in the ground.  I grow strictly heirloom (open-pollinated) varieties, many of which have a long history of being passed from generation to generation of seed savers.  The varieties often have odd names, ones that just have to have a great story behind them: Mortgage Lifter, Kellogg's Breakfast, and so on.  Others were named after the people who grew them.  Still others are wonderfully descriptive: Golden Sunrise, Cherokee Green, Giant Belgium. 

As I develop signature color blends in my fabric dyeing, I have enjoyed coming up with intriguing names for them.  Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and Meteor Crater are color blends inspired by my Route 66 journey and the names are some of my favorite stops on the trip.  I have several variants of a green/yellow/purple blend that take their names from New Orleans points of interest: Esplanade, Tchopitoulas, and the original blend is Mardi Gras. 

I am looking forward to thinking of equally evocative names for my art quilts as more come to be.

Next time, I'll show off the newest addition to the sewing machine collection.  It is truly a little gem.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Running behind, again

The next few weeks are going to be a challenge for me; more things demanding my attention.  It is the time of year to get my vegetable garden going. I enjoy growing some of my own food, but it does take planning and a lot of nurturing, much like creating original textile art.  It is hard work, but it all is satisfying work.  I’m also sowing some wildflower seeds that I collected last fall, things that I can use for dyeing.  I want them in places where I may get to them easily, as opposed to trying to harvest flowers growing behind a thick hedge of thorns and poison ivy.   

I am now in possession of a 10x10’ pop-up tent for the upcoming art fair in July.  I also invested in a collapsible cart.  Everything I need for these shows has to fit into a subcompact car.  It is a hatchback, but it still doesn’t hold much.  Packing the car for a show is an amazing feat of creativity.  Tough decisions must be made about what items are absolutely necessary, and what can be done without.  Not a bad life lesson. 

I haven’t done any pictorial art quilts (yet), but I am envisioning a future piece that captures the image of my little car with all sorts of stuff exploding out of the back.  I’m thinking of a somewhat 3-D piece, with the trail of junk coming out towards the viewer.  I’ve got to get this one down in my ever-expanding book of ideas…

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Not-So Successful Experiment

Not every idea turns out quite right.  Back in April, I went to have my taxes done, and while there, I got a bit of inspiration.  On the fabric that covered the cubicle walls, there was an interesting undulating pattern created by dashed lines.  The dashes varied in length, and I though that the overall pattern would make a great quilting motif.  So, today I attempted it, by machine.  I simply kept moving the stitch length lever as I sewed.  I used a vintage Singer 201 for the quilting.
Image copyright RPS.  Please do not post elsewhere.

I am pleased with the end result, however I don't think I will use it again.  It is too much trouble to keep moving the quilt as it goes through the machine (creating the wavy lines) and moving the stitch length at the same time!  It isn't so bad on a little 8 X 10" sample, but trying this on a bigger quilt, even a small wall hanging, is just a bit much for me.  Yes, I am one of those people who would have difficulty walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time.

The colors in the above sample also came from a surprising source: Neapolitan ice cream.  Working on the quilt has given me a terrific ice cream craving.  I will have to find something else to indulge in; the closest ice cream is ten miles away, and it is cheap, tasteless soft serve.  I can go without for now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What is a Creative Kit?

As an itinerant vendor in a heavily saturated market (quilting and sewing expos), I am constantly thinking of ways to package fabric and notions that stand out from the crowd.  One of my more popular brainstorms is the Creative Kit.  These “kits” are each one of a kind assemblages of hand dyed fabric, lace trims, fancy yarns and dyed vintage doilies.  The contents vary in amount, but an average kit contains three small cuts of fabric (12" to 20" length & width), three or four cuts of trim (10” to 18” each), three or four yarns (one to six yards in length each) and two or three doilies or other vintage fancy work textiles.   

I’ve been pleased with the initial reception of the kits, sales have been steady.  However, for every person that buys one, three more ask, “what do you do with this?” I’ve been explaining them as started kits for small art quilts and crazy quilts, but don’t stop there!  Use them for fiber art dolls.  Use them to embellish… anything – baskets, clothing, bags, purses, and hats, whatever it is that you stitch through.  Make fabric collages, postcards, bookmarks, artist trading cards.  Add the trims into pintucks, couch the fancy yarns with decorative threads.  Cut small designs out of the doilies and add them as textural design elements into an applique quilt.  Add a Creative Kit into the fabrics for a wall hanging kit and make it unique.

There are a few of my Creative Kits on my Etsy site (click on the link to the right).  Later this summer, I will probably not be putting the doilies in them.  I have not decided what will replace the doilies, but they will soon only be available by the piece at the shows I will attend, not online.  It is getting difficult to find the vintage doilies at a reasonable price.  If you like the kits with the doilies, grab them now!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rags Paper Ramblings

A quick journey down the road to check out an auction, mostly Amish goods.  Dozens and dozens of farm fresh local eggs, homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, cookies.  Some old junk, some new junk.  Tomato plants, only slightly less sorry looking than my own plants started from seed.  Nothing I wanted to stay for, saving some money.  On the way home, I stopped by an S-bridge, a rather unique construction to this region.

How much longer will it last?  How long will what I create last in this world?  Consciously or unconsciously, we all try to make our mark in the world.