My Machines

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Sewing machine
  My main sewing machine is a Singer 401a, bought secondhand on craigslist in July 2014.

  I think this is a pretty good, sturdy machine, but it's really not ideal for what I like to sew. I've managed to work around most of the issues, but I'm still on the lookout for something that meshes better with my work.

  To start with, the tension is difficult to get right on anything other than quilting cotton (even with the tension at the lowest possible setting it doesn't work well on thick fabrics or lots of layers). I now sew my knits almost exclusively on my serger, and I avoid using a lot of the fabrics that I love.

  Second, it's a slant-shank so feet can be difficult to find or expensive (I've been sewing all of my invisible zippers with a regular zipper foot, etc). I think this has made me better at sewing, but I'd still like the ease of special-purpose feet sometimes.

  The stitches are pretty limited. This is especially true since the cam-stack is semi-stuck right now. I generally only use it as a straight-stitch machine, because I don't like to spend 15 minutes struggling to switch to zig-zag or back. Fortunately, most garment sewing can be done easily with just a straight-stitch, and for things like blind hems I can hand-sew.

  I can't sew leather anymore, even though it punches through the leather easily, because and it skips stitches badly on leather and leather needles don't fit. I haven't found a work-around for this yet, but I'm planning on trying a different brand of leather needles if I can find some and see if it helps.

  The foot pedal takes a lot of effort to control, which makes precise stitching difficult. I tend to use the handwheel any time I need precision.

  Also, the spool pins are broken and the thread tends to go flying across the room at intervals. I had taped a dowel on the back for a while, but had to use it for something else. Once I find another dowel I can make that work again.

This machine can't handle most spools of thread... I have to wind the thread onto a bobbin for the upper thread most of the time or I get sudden, random snarls of thread.

  All that being said (I have to admit, that's a lot of cons!), it's fantastically sturdy and I don't have to worry about it breaking on me at inconvenient times! And I managed to find the rubber 'tire' for the bobbin winder so I don't have to do that by hand anymore! I also found some bobbins that work. (The plastic class 66 bobbins didn't work at all, but I haven't had any problems with the metal ones.) =)

  I've tested out the buttonholer that came with it, and it works well as long as the layers of fabric aren't too thick, but it is lacking the cams in the sizes of buttons I tend to use most, so I haven't actually used it on a garment yet.

 Before I started using that machine for everything, I used a Singer Quantum 9960.

  It has 150 stitches, plus length, width, and reverse options for most of those, as well as 4 alphabet sets. I bought this new in July 2012, and it has had some problems. The upper tension went out after someone sewed over too thick of material  (several layers of fabric plus some cardboard) and had to be repaired... and I was too rough on the buttonhole lever and the whole piece had to be replaced. The computer had some problems and had to be repaired. Then I tried sewing underwire casing with it around October 2014, and the timing went out and I haven't used it since. This is not a machine I would spend my money on again, because it just isn't trustworthy. A few other points about this machine:

  Generally, the buttonholes are decent, but I've found that I usually need to adjust the stitch length to get enough thread coverage, and the holes are a tiny bit wider than I'd like.

  This machine has a convenient twin needle button that helps things not pucker up with a twin needle, and the feed dogs drop for free-motioning.

  The tension on this machine doesn't usually need any adjusting, even with several layers of denim or one layer of chiffon.

  The alphabets were disappointing, since they are quite small and letters like j don't drop below the others like they should. I suppose I'd have to buy a proper embroidery machine if I wanted those to look right.

I also have a serger.... a Bernette 134D that I bought secondhand in December 2012.
  It's been a really good machine for me. Since I learned how to thread everything and adjust the tensions properly, I've only had a few problems. The lower looper tension isn't quite tight enough for a perfect rolled hem, although it's good enough and I still use it for that. I have to be careful not to sew too many layers of fabric at once, or too thick of fabric, or the upper looper catches in the fabric. I still have to stretch material by hand when doing a lettuce-edge hem because the differential feed just doesn't stretch it enough. Otherwise, it's been pretty great!

  My DSLR camera is a Canon Rebel xti that I bought secondhand in September 2012... here is a really terrible picture of it:
  It came with three lenses, a 28-90mm zoom lens, a 18-55mm zoom lens, and a 50 mm EF lens. Unfortunately, the first two lenses no longer work (I'm guessing they got bumped), so I have only been using the 50 mm EF. I added a remote and extra battery pack. That remote is seriously helpful! My husband also gave me a tripod for my birthday in 2013, and those two combined are how I take almost all photos of myself. I have had to replace the batteries in the remote (the part of it that receives the signal) three times since I bought it. The batteries are an unusual size, and more expensive than most, but I was able to find them at a regular grocery store.

  The camera itself is pretty good, except in low lighting, though using a really wide aperture helps. The ISO only goes to 1600, and even at 400 the photos can be pretty grainy. Using white cardstock to bounce the flash to the ceiling helps a tiny bit, but I think an external flash would be a better bet. It's been quite a process learning how to use it, but I can generally get it to take decent photos. If you need help learning to use manual mode on a DSLR, check out this series... it really helped me!

  I really love the 50 mm lens for a lot of things... the main limitation is that I have to be quite a ways away to get full-body shots, and if I lay a shirt on the floor to photograph it I have to climb on a counter to fit it in the frame.

  This particular camera does not do video, which in my opinion is a major con, and is the main reason I'm saving for a newer camera.

  However, for the price I paid, the one I own is great. =)

Cutting Machine
  I bought a Silhouette Cameo in March 2014 with a gift card.

  I've used this to cut cardstock a lot, and have also cut vinyl, heat transfer vinyl, printer paper, photo paper, and freezer paper. The blades get dull pretty fast on cardstock and photo paper, so I like to keep a separate blade handy for vinyls. I get a good clean cut most of the time if the blade is fresh. It doesn't always work to cut tiny designs, but anything over about .5cm works well for me.

  The mats seem to be way too sticky right at first, then lose most of the stick after a few uses, but I've managed to make them work anyway with some temporary adhesive spray.

  I really love this machine! I haven't shared most of the projects I've made with it here, since I blog mostly about sewing, but I've used it quite a bit since I bought it!

Cutting Mat and Rotary Cutter
I own a cutting mat that I use for almost everything I sew. I bought it sometime in 2010, before I started blogging. My kids and the Arizona heat got to it, and it has a couple of large cracks in it, but is still useable. I have two rotary cutters, a 60mm one that I bought along with the mat, and that I use the most, and a 28mm that is great for tight curves, as long as the fabric isn't too thick. I definitely recommend using this setup as opposed to scissors, as long as you have plenty of pattern weights. (Mine are large washers from the hardware store wrapped with ribbon.) The one thing I don't love about the rotary cutters is that they get dull pretty fast, and the blades aren't cheap to replace. I found this sharpener in late 2014 for my larger cutter, and it definitely helps, but it still doesn't get the blades factory-sharp. I've heard that cutting through a few layers of aluminum foil will also sharpen the blades, but it didn't help at all when I tried it.

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