Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cementing an alliance

Last year (that's 2010) I wrote about constructing a stick stool. This is made, of course, of branches. At this time I was on a modern art kick and the stool was deliberately bendy-legged and bent. It's in the blog archives for July 24, 2010.
I repeat the picture here for context.

OK, Houston, we have a frame. But we need a seat. There are kinds of materials available. For instance there is hickory bast. None available for 4,000 Km, however. There is Shaker tape, advocated by Jennie Alexander, who I have mentioned before. But it occurred to me that I could use the humble blue jean material. If there is a country that does not covet blue jeans, I haven't heard of it. "Ubiquitous" is the word. So I went to the thrift store, found a pair of jeans, deconstructed them, and cut 5 cm wide strips. Then I hemmed them on the sewing machine, an ordeal, and thus the title of this post.
Here, a couple of completed strips. I am sewing the strip to the frame, looping underneath the frame. Tedious but doable. Sewing by hand. I see no way to put the whole stool under a sewing machine. And I have a little hand-held jobby picked up cheap. It won't fit.

So when we do the analysis, in our best managerial style, of this highly labor-intensive project, the bind -- the critical path, in managerspeak -- is making the strips. It is easy to cut them. Hemming them is the real bind. I am far from an experienced sewer. I had to bend the hem over, press it with a hot iron, and pin it with what seemed like a Kilo of pins. And then I had to sew it on the machine and take out all those pins. Half of them went on the floor. Then I had to pick them up... and now I have set the stage for the title of this post.

In the interval between 2010 and now, I had become acquainted with some marvellous gunk called fabric cement. This is super-glue for cloth (it also works on leather). It will glue fabric together wihout the benefit of stiching. So I had a plan. Do the hem with fabric cement, then sew it up. That will save the pinning, the ironing, the fingers, the trips to the floor to pick up pins, and frustration in general. Much to my surprise the plan worked.
But all was not perfect. The hem, which is much too narrow (I was obsessed with saving material at the time) tends to undo itself. Aha! Lady's Curler Clips (see post entitled Hold it! ) to the rescue. The world owes an enormous debt to curler clamps. I just have to get more. Observe the bottle of fabric cement. Another great modern invention. It is quite possible, if you believe the manufacturer's claim, that you could do the seat on a stool or chair without sewing a stich. But from long experience I am a bit doubtful about manufacturer's claims in general. And here's the current State of the Seat speech, er, picture.
Next job is to go to our trusty Singer Spartan sewing machine, made in Canada in 1954 (I was able to track it down on the 'net.). It sews a straight lockstich. That is all it will do. This is exactly what I do 99.99% of the time. It is indestructible and mostly it puts up with me. And I with it. A working relationship, indeed.
It is very difficult for me to operate this machine. For one thing, the foot switch tends to go immediately to full throttle and the machine runs away from me. This may be just the age of the machine. But I fixed it by putting a thick wad of cloth under the accelerator pedal. But also the strips are very narrow -- less than 5 cm in fact. So if you look at the feed dogs on the machine, the little toothed thingies that feed the fabric into the machine, you will see that they are something like 5 cm apart. So one of the dogs can't grip. Hence the strip tends to skew itself and you have to apply manual feedback. My seams are erratic. But I did it. The whole sewing operation took about 20 minutes on the cemented-down seams. No pins, no iron. And for posterity, here's the last seam.

Sewing machines are marvellous contraptions. This post is already much too long; but I refer you to the Wikipedia article on sewing machine history, well worth the reading, with some fascinating animations. Used sewing machines are very cheap. Mine cost $30 and it is an "antique," hence more expensive. Usually all that used machines need is oiling and putting the needle in the right way. For this you need the instructions. I think that Singer has the instructions for every model it ever made online. You will need instructions to thread it correctly and wind the bobbin. It is interesting to me that the instructions for their 1899 model and my machine are identical!

If you buy a used machine, be sure that you can find instructions for it online, or elsewhere. Without instructions the machine is of no use at all, unless you are a mechanical genius.

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