Two Serger Tips

How long have I owned a serger? It’s gotta be close to 25 years. Most of the serger sewing I do works perfectly fine and I’m happy with it. However, when I need to sew in the round (like when attaching the neckband to a t-Shirt, or at the bottom edge of pants), when I stitch past the place where I started, I end up trimming the edge of the beginning stitches. It annoys me – I usually end up zig-zagging across that small part of the edge. The other day, I figured out how to solve that problem (although why it’s taken me 25 years to do that, I don’t know!).

Normal Knife Position

This is the normal cutting position with the knife blade (upper right corner) in the up position beside the presser foot (and the small white knob on the left with no writing).

Knife-down Position

I realized the other day that when I reached the place where I started stitching in the round all I had to do was lower the knife to the down/lock position (below the presser foot, in line with the needle plate, with the small knob on the left showing “lock”), and here’s what I get:

Round Serged Seam Join

No trimmed stitches! I can connect the join and not worry about that centimetre of trimmed stitches in front of where I stopped serging! (The trimming happens because the cutting knife is in front of the needles and trims the seam edge before it gets sewn – in the round it catches and trims the already serged edge.)

I have a second tip. The other day, I was helping a friend set up her new coverstitch machine (that’s a sewing machine that only does a three thread coverstitch – just look at the hem on your t-Shirt – that’s a three thread coverstitch). Threading the needles is straightforward. Threading the looper (on her machine, that’s to the left side) is not intuitive and involves some very awkward threading from back-to-front on the looper itself.

I pointed out to her that she only ever needed to thread the machine once, then she never have to thread that looper again – just cut the thread at the spool, tie on the new coloured thread, make sure she’s raised the presser foot to release the tension on the tension disks, then pull on the old looper thread bringing the new thread through the entire thread path.

It’s the same with a serger – cut the looper threads (on a serger there are two loopers) near the spool, tie on the new colour thread, raise the presser foot, pull the new thread through the machine. I actually do that with all four threads even though I’ve not figured out how to tied a tiny knot that will go through the needle eye – I just cut the needle threads when the new thread reaches the eye and re-thread the needles with the new colour. I use an overhand knot (which I pull snug) – I’ve tried reef knots but they’re no smaller.

Threading the needle paths on a serger or coverstitch machine from spool to needle is easy; it’s the loopers that can be complicated. Tying the new threads on and pulling them through is an easy fix.

The Season Is Changing

Two days ago you could sense the impending change – the air smelled different, the colour softer/less glaring. Here in Nova Scotia there is one day in middle of August where you know autumn is not far off. When we were kids, we attended a six week sleep-over camp and in that last week there’d be a day when you knew summer was coming to a close. You felt the early morning chill, put on a warmer jacket that evening.

Five Islands

Every year on that August day I think of Alistair MacLeod’s short story “The Closing Down Of Summer” (in As Birds Bring Forth The Sun and Other Stories). I’ve mused about that story before. MacLeod begins:

It is August now, towards the end, and the weather can no longer be trusted. All summer it has been very hot. So hot that the gardens have died and the hay has not grown and the surface wells have dried to dampened mud. The brooks that flow to the sea have dried to trickles and the trout that inhabit them and the inland lakes are soft and sluggish and gasping for life. …

At the end of July we said to ourselves and to each other, “The August gale will come and shatter all of this.” The August gale is the traditional storm that comes each August, the forerunner of the hurricanes that will sweep up from the Caribbean and beat and lash this coast in the months of autumn. The August gale with its shrieking winds and crashing muddied waves has generally signalled the unofficial end of summer and it may come in August’s very early days. But this year, as yet, it has not come and there are only a few days left. Still we know that the weather cannot last much longer and in another week … the pace of life will change. 

Alistair MacLeod

Today it’s overcast and cool. The kids have all come through their summer camping experiences safely – they’re home again; sad summer is over, looking ahead to the adventures of a new school year.

My younger sister was moaning the other day about the shortening days. I think about the cosmic realities that govern our seasonal life. The earth’s tilt as it rotates around the sun affects the angle at which the sun’s radiation impacts the planet – the northern hemisphere is now entering the annual period where we’re angled away from the sun. Those shorter days are predetermined – out of our hands – set in motion when our solar system formed five billion years ago. No point in complaining, no point in wishing it were otherwise. The changing seasons bear witness to our connection to the universe.

The chicory/goldenrod/Queen Anne’s lace, are abundant, but coming to an end – in another six weeks we’ll see trees responding to the seasonal change. There are warm days still to come – our Nova Scotia fall is the loveliest of our seasons. I look forward to it every year.

Creating With The Sun

I spent the weekend in Parrsboro doing a workshop learning to work with Cyanotype:

The cyanotype process uses a mixture of iron compounds, which when exposed to UV light and washed in water oxidise to create Prussian Blue images. The technique was invented in 1841 by Sir JohnHerschel and was popularised by photographer and botanist Anna Atkins. Her book ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions’, published in October 1843, is considered the first photographically illustrated book.

Two of my Cyanotypes from Second Day

The process starts by coating a good quality acid-free watercolour paper (or other paper like tissue paper) with a UV reacting iron salts solution (which is nearly clear), hanging it to dry in a relatively dark (non UV) spot, when dry arranging objects on it, then exposing the layout to sunlight until the wash become a brownish grey at which point you rinse the image in a water bath (with a couple of capfuls of vinegar) until the “yellow” unexposed parts become reasonably “white”, then rinsing it in a second bath with a bit of hydrogen peroxide to fix the blue – the cyanotype.

Sounds easy, not so much. The quality of the paper matters, the accuracy with which you combine the solutions used in the coating, how you apply it, the amount of light where the paper dries, whether you’ve managed to keep it in a dark place after it’s dried – those are some of the technical variables that affect image outcome.

Then comes composition. My first inclination was to use quite a few different objects of varying transparency layered on one another –

Mine are the ones in the centre of each row – Day 1

I’d raided my sewing supplies and brought all kinds of lace, sequins, tissue paper (with glitter), feathers, beads, knitting stitch markers…. all of which would blocked sunlight. I tried arranging wildflowers and grasses with these inanimate items only to discover the rings/tissue paper/lace all blocked the sun more effectively leaving much stronger white areas on the image detracting from the “subject” – the wildflowers!

I also placed all of my objects beneath a layer of glass (primarily to keep the lighter items from being moved by the wind – because you need a relatively long exposure time – 3-5 minutes (maybe longer – it’s subjective). The first thing I realized was that maple leaves/lace, placed under glass blocked too much UV light. I was going to have to experiment with placing those objects on top of the glass and removing them part way through the exposure. By the end of the afternoon I also understood I really wanted fewer items so I could highlight a definite subject. Hence the trials on the second day.

On the first day we used a high quality paper supplied to us. Second day, I used watercolour paper I had brought (not so good) – it reacted with the coating solution differently than the better paper and the resulting image had less contrast.

Queen Anne’s Lace with Angelina Fibres and Glitter

Next I experimented with objects under glass vs items on top –


The print on the left is an impression of a Moth Mullein – delicate petals allowing light through, you can see where they overlapped. Further down the stem are finished flowers which are much denser, hence they blocked more light. At the bottom of the image you can just detect a “card” with holes – that was placed on top of the glass at the start of the exposure, but removed about half way through.

The print on the right – another Queen Anne’s Lace and a sprinkling of glitter below the glass, some leaves (don’t remember what they were from) placed on top, then removed – which gives a better balance to the image.

I was also interested in allowing the brushstrokes to show rather than completely coating the paper giving the image an unfinished organic feel.

I learned a lot. I had hoped to try fabric for some cyanotypes but it has to be prepared differently (washed in a non-calcium containing detergent, dried – then soaked in the iron salts solution (somewhat different proportions), dried again, before the pieces can be exposed. I had thought I’d do some fabric blocks to embellish with appliqué and thread painting but I would have difficulty doing this at home I realized – I get very little direct sunlight on my balcony (I get an early morning sun at a low sky angle until just before 10:00am at midsummer); to work on my friend Deb’s patio of an afternoon to get a higher sun means I’d have to set up the developing wash basins in her kitchen (trying to darken the room, not to expose the paper/cloth further) before rinsing and fixing. All a lot more complicated than I think I want to bother with.

But you never know.

Lisa Nilsson’s Marvelous Paper Quilling

I’ve dabbled in paper quilling but I don’t have the patience to do much with the tiny twirled results. But Lisa Nilsson makes spectacular art works using the technique.

This work, which took her six years to create (!) is an amazing work of art. You have to see some of the details to appreciate what she’s done:

I came across this piece on Colossal today. It’s worth taking a moment to read about Nilsson’s work.

The World In Stones

Jon Foreman, a Welshman, does these amazing creations on a beach using stones or shells, or just a rake and some string.

It’s about the time it must take to collect the RIGHT stones – construct the array, take photos, then walk away. The next day the array is likely gone, washed away by the waves. He sets to work again.

Do take a look: – each piece is spectacular!

It Finally Arrived!

A year and a half late – my Pfaff Creative Icon 2 sewing machine arrived two days ago! Development delays, computer chips unavailable, pushed the delivery of these machines way back. Some were sent out to preorder customers in later December – I opted to wait for the second batch (hoping that any glitches remaining in the software and mechanics would be worked out).

Got the call that my machine had arrived on Monday while working at the test kit assembly facility – I picked it up late in the afternoon, took it home, unpacked it, plugged it in, and played with it after supper until close to midnight.

The icons are different, and they’re located in different places from my original Creative Icon and it took me some time to find things I was used to using. Yesterday I was at it again and had a better time making the work flow. Today, I did what I always do when I get a new high-end embroidery/sewing machine – I made a bag for my foot pedal and power cord so I can slip them within the machine opening when transporting it.

Bag For Foot Pedal and Power Cord

I used the same embroidery I’ve used before, in part, because I wanted to see how accurately it stitched out – the irregularities were my fault (not the machine’s) – I used batting and not stabilizer behind the fabric, I used the universal needle that came with the machine (instead of changing it for an embroidery needle) – and both of those decisions resulted in some pulling of the fabric and loose stitches when they caught on the embroidery foot. Otherwise, the embroidery worked out well, with all the bits matching up as they should. I quickly turned the embroidery into a zippered bag.

The second task today: I’m teaching a class in early April on “Using Your Machine’s Stitches” – intended for folks who have relatively simple machines and rarely explore all the possibilities of their mostly utility stitches (but it also could be of interest to folks who have a “cadillac” like I do and also don’t explore all their stitches, either).

To set up for the class I sat down with a piece of Kona cotton fabric (with tear-away stabilizer) underneath and a new 75 embroidery needle. I started embellishing the fabric using doubled embroidery thread (to make it stand out more strongly) and only the utility stitches (which I edited for length and width) on my machine:

Utility Stitches Sampler

Now here’s where I’m trying to become acquainted with my fancy new machine. Notice the grid projected onto the sewing area in the upper right of the photo! That’s the new feature of this machine – it has both a camera and a laser projector which allows me to line up my stitching precisely – I began with a chalk diagonal from corner to corner. After I stitched that line, keeping the pink guide line centred on my chalk line, I was able to add subsequent rows using the grid, without having to draw any further lines. I stitched over a piece of narrow blue satin ribbon; I also stitched a narrow piece of lace in place (not yet done when I took the photo). I filled the entire piece of fabric, then trimmed it. My plan is to use it to make a zippered bag. I could use undecorated fabric for the second side, but I think I’ll do a second piece using embroidery stitches probably in horizontal lines as an example of what that can look like.

I’ll be busy learning this new machine for the next couple of weeks. I have a physical printed users manual alongside the digital one I can access on the machine! I’m trying to figure this all out by invoking my knowledge of how my previous Creative Icon works and predict from there. I’ve made quite a bit of headway since Monday night!

I can’t imagine what it must be like…

As Russian invaders have central Kyiv in their sights, Ukraine’s warriors say that they will not submit. To this end, I offer a Ukrainian interpretation of Churchill’s famous clarion call from the last world war:

“We will fight on our streets, we will fight in our villages, we will fight atop the black soil of our fields, we will fight for Kyiv. We will never give up. We will never surrender.”Yuri Polakiwsky. Lviv, Ukraine (Mar 2 – from the Globe and Mail)

A Ukrainian soldier walks through debris on the west side of Kyiv, on Feb. 26. DANIEL LEAL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Here in Canada our “sacrifices” will be miniscule in comparison to those Ukrainians will have to make over the weeks, months, years to come. May they have the fortitude and bravery to sustain the initial loses and the determination to mount a long and sustained insurrection. May those of us living in a “democratic” world have the fortitude and bravery and determination not to forget them and to continue providing the support they will need for a very long time!

Being Prepared

From VON, Canada

Almost two weeks ago a friend in my building died. At 10:45 on Sunday evening she called me – she wasn’t feeling well. I promptly went to her apartment – I was fortunate, Kathleen had been able to get to her door and unlock it so I could get in. I took one look at her, called her son, then called 911.

She was having a heart attack. She hadn’t called her son – she hadn’t wanted to disturb him so late at night. I made it clear he’d better come as quickly as he could. Meanwhile as I was waiting for her son and the paramedics to arrive I found her medications and her health card which I knew the paramedics would want.

I’ve dealt with emergencies before so I was familiar with how paramedics handle the situation. What I wasn’t expecting was the question one paramedic asked her son as they were leaving – “If her heart stops in the ambulance what do you wish us to do?” It turned out Kathleen had a DNR which her son knew about. But I realize I don’t!

I’ve spent the past couple of months getting my will, my power of attorney, my personal delegate documents in order for my niece who has agreed to act on my behalf. I’ve thought about longer range contingencies like having a terminal disease or failing cognitive function and discussed with her the kinds of decisions I am authorizing her to make. I never considered an emergency!

My niece lives in Toronto. I have a sister who lives closer in Halifax. However, were I to be having the kind of emergency I responded to that Sunday, I’d call neither of them. I’d call Deb who lives in my building. My emergency could be such that I can’t get to the door to open it – I have to make sure Deb has a key (that’s on my immediate TO DO list) so she can let herself in.

When we were discussing this she mentioned that in the home where her mother had lived in Manitoba each resident had an ERIK (emergency response information kit) on the side of their fridge. We tracked down the document online but I didn’t like how it was laid out. I went looking for a NS equivalent and came across the VON (Victorian Order of Nurses) version which they call “Vial Of Life” because the emergency information document is handed out in a vial with a bright red sticker on it to be kept in the fridge (between the mustard and ketchup, I presume). The form had precisely the information an emergency responder needs: who to contact, health conditions and medications taken, allergies, where the medications are located, the health card number.

I filled one out for myself and have put it on my fridge along with a signed and witnessed DNR. I made copies of both documents for the gals in the knitting group – none of whom had such documents for themselves. I’ve been passing out the documents to anybody who’s interested.

You don’t have to be an old person to have this information on the side of your fridge – having it in an easily accessible location makes it much easier for somebody else to help you out if you have an emergency.

Here are the documents:

Take a look. It can’t hurt you to fill in these forms for yourself and for anybody else in your household. It makes dealing with an emergency a lot easier for whoever is the person having to respond on your behalf! Trust me.

Fighting For Freedom

Last Friday, I caught the end of an interview with Daniel Bilak (A Canadian living in Ukraine) on CBC’s Feb 25’s “The Current” program (8:35-9:40) – the irony of his comments were blazing:

“Never take your freedom for granted”, “People in Canada look at freedom with a sense of entitlement…there’s always the danger someone will come take it away”, “You have to fight for your freedom … those principles of liberal democracy … you have to decide whether they’re worth fighting for!”

Ottawa Protest (photo from CTV News)

That’s not a week after the trucker convey people were using the very same words with completely opposite meaning!

I was stunned by the stark contrast Bilak’s words created. His words underlined how juvenile and selfish the people involved in the Ottawa protests actually were/are! Unfortunately Matt Galloway, the host, made no comment about that juxtaposition – was he even aware of it?

I wonder what the truckers have to say about Ukraine – are they prepared to fight FOR democracy, against REAL oppression?

I’m guessing they’d be driving their trucks towards the Russian border.

An interesting read by Dave Pell: From Kyiv to Mar-a-Lago, It’s All Connected