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Archive for November, 2009

Sergers

I have never owned or operated a serger. I was a garment sewer for a lot of years, made all my own clothes in high school. But after awhile, it got to be more expensive to make them than to buy them off the rack. And that was about the time I was having babies and raising a family, and there just wasn’t much time. I made Halloween costumes for the kids once or twice and made Easter outfits for them. Home sergers didn’t exist then (at least not to my knowledge) and I never liked the homemade look of seam allowances, even though I could have overcast or zigzagged them (I think my old Kenmore had those capabilities), but that was an additional step. And over the years, I just didn’t know what I’d do with one so didn’t really give them much or any thought. And I really never gave them any thought when I started quilting.

But after watching a Sewing with Nancy episode series on sergers a year or so ago, I decided that should I ever sew garments again, I’d get one and take a chance on if I’d really use it or not.

My office closed at noon on Wednesday, so I took that time off to do a little shopping. I have done a little internet research and learned that I probably will want a 5-thread machine so that I can do a coverstitch (because even if I never ever really do a coverstitch, I’d be much more upset if I wanted to and couldn’t, right?). I learned that I’ll want differential feed. I learned that threading these machines seems to be way more difficult than it needs to be (doesn’t it?) So I stopped at the Bernina dealer and looked at theirs. He didn’t have a 5-thread model on the floor but let me play with a sample on a 4-thread. Wow do they ever sew fast! I intended to ask him to show me how to thread it so that I could see for myself just what the fuss is, but after I saw it, was too intimidated to ask. One feature of the Berninas is some kind of automatic tension thing. The salesman made it sound like it’s the big selling point, but I don’t know. My friend Kay has a Bernina serger (I don’t know which model) and doesn’t like it. She says it gets out of alignment easily and I’m not sure what she means by that. I’ll have to ask her. Her sister had a couple of Berninas, didn’t like them either, sold them and bought Viking. She loves the Viking.

From there I went to the BabyLock dealer (this is the store that carries Koala cabinets). BabyLock invented the home serger 40 years ago (really? where was I?) and the woman kept effusing about the Japanese engineers who design these machines. She sounded a lot like the Mercedes Benz, VW and BMW commercials that effuse about German engineering. Where are the American engineers? BabyLock doesn’t have a 5-thread model anymore, they have an 8 thread machine. If you think threading with 4 or 5 threads is intimidating, try 8. Holy cow! She didn’t let me do any of the sewing, I got to watch her do it. But she did let me take home the sample. Man oh man does it have nice stitches. But let me tell you about the threading on the BabyLocks. You stick the end of the thread into a hole and push a lever. A puff of air sends the thread through the machine and it comes out right where it’s supposed to. Sweet! Also, they have a patented “tubular” threading system where the threads travel through, you guessed it, tubes. You’d have to see it to understand what I mean but I imagine it’s related to the air method. One other nice thing about the threading is that you don’t have to do it in any particular order like other manufacturers’ models and you can change out one thread if you want to without having to unthread and re-thread everything else. That appeals to me. The 8 thread machine is quite pricey.

Then I went to the new Joann’s which has a Viking dealer inside. Unfortunately the lady in charge does not own a serger and couldn’t figure out how to thread it, even referring to the owner’s manual. Viking has a brand new 5-thread machine, cheaper than the BabyLock but still pricey. So I didn’t really have a quality experience there since I felt like she didn’t know enough about her products to actually sell them. Another lady came by who wanted to look at a sewing machine and with her hanging around waiting made me feel like I was putting her out even though I got there first. But I think I saw enough of the threading process to know that maybe I don’t want a Viking. She did some stitching on a sample with another machine that was already threaded and let me take it with me. The stitches are nice enough, but the BabyLock’s are better. One thing about Vikings is that they never need to be oiled. That’s one thing I love about my Viking sewing machine but it isn’t enough of a benefit to make me want one of their sergers all that bad. Again, I’ll have to ask Kay what it is about them that her sister loves so much.

When I got home, I compared all the brochures I’d brought back and decided that maybe the coverstitch isn’t all that important to me. I definitely won’t buy the 8-thread BabyLock, but one of the 4-thread models looks do-able. I’ll have to go back and see what the stitches on it look like. I think for me, the air threading thing is the killer feature.

From what I saw, all sergers have the same capabilites of basic stitches so the manufacturers have to really stretch to come up with new features to justify price increases and stay current.

Do you have a serger? Post a comment and tell me what you have, what you like/don’t like about it and what your next one will be (there’s always a next one, right?)

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Sewing cabinets

One thing that’s been on mind for more than a year is that I need a new sewing cabinet. One where my machine will sit flush with the table top so that I can bone up on my machine quilting skills. Right now, my machine sits on a folding cafeteria table and has one of those acrylic “beds” which gives me more room for piecing and general sewing, but it makes quilting a large quilt painful and frustrating.

In my town there are two Horn dealers and I made up my mind that I was going to buy the quilter’s model from one of them and buy something else from the other. I’ve been saving my money for a long time and I’m finally ready to place my order. My birthday is coming up in a few weeks and I’m going to celebrate with the new purchase.

But last weekend something happened that made me doubt my purchase decision. I had run in to the “other” dealer just to ask a Horn question because they’re closer to me than the other one. Oh my goodness, they also carry Koala cabinets now. I had never seen any Koalas in person, only in magazine ads. I know that they’re more expensive than the Horns so I never gave them another thought, the Horns are expensive enough. But to see one up close and touch it? The workmanship and quality is exquisite. Koala has many more layout possibilities than Horn, and if you have the money and the room, you could set yourself up one heck of a studio. So I got to thinking that maybe I ought to save for a few more months and go with a Koala. Hmmm, what to do, what to do?

Then Erin and Kevin told us about the baby. I had just the day before told my friend Kay that if I ever had grandchildren I was going to get a serger and make baby clothes. What timing! I think this made my decision for me. I’ll get the Horn and put the extra money I would have paid for a Koala toward a serger. I don’t need the serger for several more months and that will give me time to save for it.

If you have either Horn or Koala, please post a comment and let me know what you think of the model you bought. The one I’m buying is the Quilter’s Dream #3180.

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Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is only the second time in 32 years that John and I have spent Thanksgiving by ourselves. The first was in 1995. He had moved to Richmond earlier that month and I came to spend the holiday weekend with him (it was supposed to be a house-hunting trip but no one was showing houses naturally) and get my first glimpse of my new home-to-be. I took the red eye from Los Angeles, arrived at RIC early Thursday morning and fell asleep in the car as John was showing me the sights. He took me back to the apartment and put me to bed for a nap. We later went to a restaurant for what was, as I remember it, a perfectly awful turkey dinner. We also drove all over town looking for a place to buy a pumpkin pie. Back home, we could always count on Marie Callender’s or Baker’s Square, but John hadn’t lived here long enough to know if there was anything comparable. I think we ended up getting one at a Shoney’s. There weren’t very many restaurants open that day.

So today we had a scaled-down dinner for two. We managed to find a turkey under 8 pounds, got some potatoes for mashing, gravy from Tom Leonard’s, a vegetable from Whole Foods’s readymade meals section, sweet potatoes and marshmallows, yeast rolls from Golden Corral, Stove Top stuffing, canned pumpkin for pie and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Yum-oh!

I decided to try my hand at homemade pie crust. I’ve always made my own pumpkin pies (well except for 1995) but have used the Pillsbury pie crusts because they’re so easy. My friend Laurel makes the flakiest crusts and I got her recipe. Here I am just before things got difficult:


I had so many problems rolling out the dough. I had flour everywhere, on the board, on the rolling pin. But still the dough just wanted to stick. I think I’d read somewhere a long time ago that you don’t want to overwork the dough as it will become tough, or something like that. But I had to start over a couple of times. I had trouble making a circle and I also had trouble making it larger than the pie plate. I was working on a chilled marble board which is rectangular and not wide enough on the one side. Next time I’m gonna ditch the board and use the countertop. Here are my pitiful, pathetic patchwork offerings. I was trimming dough from one side and patching it in on the other side.

But when they came out of the oven, they didn’t look half bad:

Another tradition of ours is to cook our turkey outside on the grill. It is so easy and it frees up your indoor oven for the side dishes. Our weather was very mild today and it was not unpleasant to be grilling outdoors. But if you think the turkey looks a little underdone, you would be right.

We use one of those digital thermometers which said it was at the right temp, but after letting it rest the temp wasn’t going up as it should and it just wasn’t completely done when John cut into it. So back on the grill it went. All the side dishes were hot and on the table, but they had to wait. Even though the thermometer was beeping the correct temp, the bird *still* wasn’t done but we didn’t want to wait any longer. John carved up half of the breast, a leg and a thigh and put them in the microwave. He put what was left of it in the oven after dinner and it took an hour for the thermometer to beep. I just knew it was dead at this point and when he took it out he said it looked dead. But when I looked at it, the skin was the shade of brown I expected to see when we took it off the grill. Should be good for leftovers.

I’ve spent my day on the pies and other cooking and writing blog posts and John has spent his day like this:

He bought a new receiver and he’s getting it set up. Electronics sure are complicated these days.

Speaking of mild weather, here it is Thanksgiving and my New Guinea impatiens are still blooming. We should have had at least one killing frost by now. We have very few acorns on the ground, as compared to the virtual carpet we had last year and I imagine the Farmer’s Almanac would say that means we’ll have a mild winter. (I haven’t exactly looked that up to confirm so please correct me if I’m wrong.)

I hope your day has been filled with family and friends, tradition and new ways. Give thanks.

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Where I have been

I know that I haven’t been posting much of late, the reason being that I’ve been sick for 5 weeks. It started innocently enough with a tickle in my throat, then progressed to a pretty nasty cough that didn’t want to go away. I don’t get sick very often; all of the over-the-counter medicines I buy expire before they get much use. For example, I found a box of Robitussin cold gel tabs in my medicine box with an expiration date of 2006. Being somewhat desperate, I took one but threw the rest away. It didn’t do anything for me, anyway. At the urging of friends, I went to the local urgent care facility so that I didn’t have to take time away from work trying to get in to see my regular doctor.  That may or may not have been the best decision; the doctor gave me a prescription for 10-day antibiotics but didn’t really give me a diagnosis. I was expecting to hear that it was bronchitis. After the 10 days were over I didn’t feel any better so at the urging of friends, I bought some Mucinex. I took that for a week and felt worse before I started to feel better. As I write this, I do feel much better now although there is a little bit of cough remaining. Maybe by the time the weekend is over, I’ll be back to normal.

Another thing that has kept me from posting regularly is an audiobook I started listening to. 47 CDs, 53 hours. Not a typo. I just finished it about 10 minutes ago.

Let me tell you a bit about this series. Written by Diana Gabaldon, the Outlander series begins in post-WWII England, where Claire Randall, an army nurse, and husband Frank decide to take a holiday in Scotland. To make a really long story short, Claire finds herself at the site of an ancient stone circle, the stones “sing” to her, she touches one of them, and the next thing she knows, she is thrust 200 years in the past, right in the middle of a battle. She is discovered by Frank’s ancestor, Black Jack Randall, and he is not a nice man at all. (Frank is into genealogy, which is how Claire knew who he was.) She is rescued from him by red-haired Jamie Fraser, a Scottish hottie if I may say so, they fall in love and marry.

This is not science fiction, it’s historical fiction. Diana is an excellent writer and can make you believe such time travel is possible. Her books are thoroughly researched and contain a lot of detail. This last point is easy to see, each book in the series is quite large. But they are easy to read, the chapters are oftentimes fairly short which helps move things along in my opinion.

The Fiery Cross is the 5th book. I had read the first 4 many many years ago, when I lived in California (I’ve lived in Richmond some 13+ years now, so that gives you an idea how long it’s been). I bought this book and started reading it, but found it a little slow going and hard to remember who was who, the whole series has a cast of thousands, I swear. So I thought about listening to it rather than reading it and checked audible.com but they only have an abridged version. I once listened to an abridged version of a James Michener book and felt very unsatisfied, like there wasn’t any meat to it. I then checked my local library and found that they have the unabridged version, so much the better because it’s free! John spent quite a bit of time copying the disks to our iTunes library so that I could put it on my iPhone. I listened to it in the car during my commute, listened to it at work when doing mundane tasks, and finally, it’s done. Thoroughly enjoyable. It is read by a woman who is good with the English and Scottish accents, the occasional French and Gaelic dialogue and it made me want to speak in a Scottish accent. I do have a little Scottish blood and really enjoyed the history of the Battle of Culloden as well as the descriptions of North Carolina. My Scottish ancestors settled in the area around Durham or Chapel Hill which made it all the more personal.

So anyway, I highly recommend this series.

I have plans for more posts in the coming days.

Stay tuned!

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What a nice idea

One of my vendors, Mediaspace Solutions, sent me a box last week:

While we get a lot of goodies around here at the holidays, this food was not meant for me. Mediaspace asked that I give it to my local food bank, which I did. I dropped it off at Central Virginia Food Bank on my way to work this morning.

I think this is a wonderful marketing idea, don’t you? They could just as easily have sent me cookies or candy, which I certainly don’t need. When that stuff starts coming in, and it will in the next couple of weeks, I do try and share, if not with my co-workers (who are also inundated), or bring it home for John.

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There’s an app for that

I just downloaded the WordPress 2 iPhone app and I’m testing it as I wait for my food to arrive.

Somehow I’m supposed to be able to add photos. I’ve got one selected, but I don’t see how to get it into this post.

Oh well, I don’t think I’ll use this method much. It’s better suited for short Facebook or Twitter posts.

Edited to add:
I found out that the way it works with photos is that when you click Publish, any photos you’ve selected from your camera roll appear at the end of the post.

Have you seen these pretzels? I don’t know if they’re available nationwide, but they are only sold at the holidays. So when we saw them, we bought two bags, and I’m about done with the 2nd one. I can’t stop eating them. Go look for them, you won’t be sorry (if you can find them).

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