About me Tools and Tips

The Machines That Make It Work

The machines that we sew on are such a foundational part of our experience as quilters. Today, I’d like to share my current machines, and my good and bad experiences with them.

First, I think of my machines as women and they are named, although I rarely refer to them by name. First up is my oldest machine, Lork, my mother’s 1951 Singer Centennial Featherweight. This my mom’s graduation gift from her parents when she finished nursing school. She never did a lot of sewing, but when she did, it was often denim, or plastic coated duck upholstery. This sewed through it all. I learned to sew on this machine, and so did my kids. I have all of the original parts and feet that she got with it, including the buttonholer. It still makes the best buttonholes! I use Lork for any class that only requires straight stitch.

When I was 10 years old, a family friend was moving across the country and didn’t want to pay to move her White sewing machine in the cabinet, with a knee pedal. She offered it to me, and I spent countless hours over the next eight years sewing clothing, quilts, miniature quilts, and unique creations. I loved having my own machine and being able to sew whenever I wanted.

My next machine is not pictured because it was not my favorite, and I traded it in. My parents bought me a portable Singer when I graduated from high school, but it was not the quality of the Featherweight. As a plus, it did have a zig zag stitch, and I took to college and made clothes and quilts with it. I even quilted queen-sized quilts on it, although there may have been some swearing involved.

I traded the Singer in when I bought Bernie, my Bernina 1260 from 1993. Bernie has been a workhorse for 30 years. She is still my machine for classes that require any stitch other than a straight stitch. I have had issues with the tension since I bought her, and I have had countless repair people try to fix it. But I have worked with it for so long, I know how to deal with it: 1. Use good quality cotton thread (metallics are a nightmare on Bernie), 2. Adjust the bobbin tension as you would for any machine, 3. Set up the upper tension at around 3, and test. It is almost always correct when I follow these steps. It is also critically important to use the same thread on top and bottom.

Despite her quirks (she also will not free motion quilt through fusible, which makes raw edge applique a challenge), Bernie is well loved. Most of the quilts I have made were made on Bernie. And my daughters (and sons) used her for all of their 4H sewing. When I bought a new primary machine, there was quite a discussion in the family about who would get the Bernina (little did they know I planned to keep using her). It was finally decided that one daughter gets the Featherweight and the other gets the Bernina.

My primary machine is Jeannie. Jeannie is a Juki DX-4000 QVP. I got her in 2021 for my birthday and she has been used almost daily since then. I love the nearly 12 inches of space under the arm. And doing walking foot quilting is a dream on this machine. My husband was excited that I could embroider my quilt labels, so they will not wear off over time. She has a beautiful stitch, and can go really fast when I need it.

I find quilting and piecing so easy on this machine. I just took her in for a spa week, not because anything is wrong, but because I use her so much, I want to keep it all working as well as possible.

I am grateful that I have had sewing machines around me for my entire life. Each one is a bit different, but I have learned and grown with each machine.

About me

What is home to you?

I was asked this question recently, and it led to a lot of reflection. This week, home was spending time with my husband and most of my children, even though we were in a place none of us had been before. Home has meant different things at different points in my life – the house that I grew up in where my father was also raised, a hug from my mom, a favorite meal made by my uncle or mother-in-law. As I have gotten older, many of these things are gone – the house was sold, my parents, many aunts and uncles and in-laws have passed away. I still have some favorite foods that remind me of home, but somehow it is not the same when I have to cook. But one thing takes me home in a second – a quilt. The Dresden plate shown here is from one of a pair of quilts that my Grandma Ella made with her mother and sisters. I wore out one of the pair with constant use in high school and college. As soon as I touch it, I am at home. I feel Grandma Ella’s love and remember everything she taught me. Over the years, I have made and gifted many quilts. I hope they convey my love and become a source of comfort to those I love. That is one of the best blessings I can offer you as a quilter – may your quilt become the essence of home!

About me

New Blog – What to Expect

New things are always fun and exciting, and this blog is one of many new things I have started in the past month. I launched a business (Better Done Quilts), a website, and released my first quilt pattern! All while working more than full time at a day job. I am tired, but excited that all of you have decided to join me on this journey. For those who have subscribed to my e-mail, you can expect weekly blogs – usually on Tuesday or Wednesday. Blog content will include tips, tutorials, updates on works in progress (WIPs) and projects half done (PhDs) and my musings about quilts, quilters and quilting. Please comment and let me know what you like and want more of and what you don’t care about so much. Subscribers will also get pre-release information on new patterns and special discounts. The picture is of my first quilt made with a rotary cutter and rulers. I cut and pieced it around 1992-3, pin basted it, started to hand quilt it, and left it for 28 years. Stay tuned to learn the fate of this Bethlehem Star quilt!

About me

Who made me a quilter? Grandma Ella

My Grandma Ella lived in an apartment near us when I was young, and moved into our home when I was nine. For most of her adult life, she did her housework, chores and errands in the morning, and spent her time in the afternoons working on needlework. She taught me how scraps could be transformed into beautiful quilts. Grandma Ella was born in 1892 and shared her memories and stories as we worked together on sorting fabric scraps. She taught me how to make a template from a cereal box, and how to carefully cut my pieces with a good fabric scissors (she also taught me to respect the fabric scissors!). She tried to teach me hand sewing the pieces together and hand quilting, but I wasn’t very good at those parts. My favorite part was playing with the colors and shapes. I also loved the quiet companionship of our time together with fabric. As I got older, my mom let me use her 1951 Singer Featherweight and learn machine sewing, which I thought was more fun than slow hand sewing. When I was about 10 or 11, a family friend gave me her White sewing machine and cabinet so she didn’t have to move it across the country. From then on, I experimented with fabric. I created my own clothing and patterns, many of which were awful. But Grandma Ella always encouraged me to experiment and to improve my skills with each project. I also played with quilts. When I was about 14, dollhouses and miniatures were very popular and I pieced and machine quilted miniature quilts to scale for dollhouses. The local hobby store that sold dollhouse furniture bought the quilts I made and I was thrilled! It was the first “job” I had. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I loved being able to make something valuable from scraps we would have otherwise thrown away.

Bottom Line: No matter your skill level, you can always learn, grow and improve – and someone may want to buy your work!