This blog covers many aspects of textiles, but its main focus is on knitting; both hand and machine. You will find discussions on Creative Machine Knitting along with instructions for using machines, machine accessories, repairs, tips and techniques. As the blog has grown it has embraced other aspects of textiles.
Amongst my personal interest in textiles, I am also involved in ongoing, textile-related academic research.
I have been toying with the idea of buying a Singer slant shank machine for a while, and during lockdown I took a punt and bought one reasonably local on eBay. Not the smartest move you might say, sight unseen and all that. I spent quite a time scrutinising the photos very carefully, read up about the machine, and asked lots of questions of the seller. Call it a treat to myself.
Updated with some photos just now, 16:00 4th July
And below, after a good clean up
Finally I went to collect it – social distanced collecting methods in use and no stopping en route. Its outside is a bit grubby, but its working and has all its accessories down to the lint brush and set of screwdrivers. Its obviously well used, it was owned by a dressmaker before, but I would guess not used for several years. However, its got service labels and having all its accessories indicates to me that it was well cared for and valued. It came in a drop down table, which was perfect as wanted one in a table, but not a massive cabinet.So far I’ve opened it up and cleaned its insides, removed as much old gummy oil – or as I can reach – and given it a thorough oil with light sewing machine oil. The double direction pattern dial was gummed up, and this gentle cleaning and oiling helped to loosen it up so that I could (very carefully) encourage it to move, and now it works freely. Its fascinating to see how the selection mechanism works, not that I am an expert at mechanics, but I can see the little paddle moving and the rise and fall of the selector post (probably the wrong name). I am itching to try out all those amazing built in patterns. I can’t right now as you will see in the next paragraph.The original clam-shell foot pedal is with it, and it did work – sporadically. After a while there was a nasty smell (reminded me of when my Bernina 1030 went into melt down, and when my Brother 950i knitting machine and very, very vintage Kenwood Chef did the same) and the machine would not stop running. Luckily the plug was close to me, so I whipped it out to the socket before any damage was done.My clever son opened the pedal and told me I should have cleaned that out (didn’t even think of it, sorry), and then he replaced a blown capacitor – he is pretty nifty at this and has a stock of electrical bits. The pedal now works – but the connection from the pedal lead to that ‘banana’ plug is dodgy. In addition some of the old plastic has broken away inside the pedal and the plug has a chunk missing which worries me. I’m not confident around electricity having had a few experiences that unnerved me, (see above). He offered to repair the lead and plug (he thought Sugru) and will in time, but I decided to order a replacement so that I could use the machine until then. I will compare them to find which gives the best speed control as some reports say new ones are not as sensitive.The motor seems OK, and my son will clean it at some point. So far the machine has displayed a lovely straight stitch – equal if not better than my Bernina 1030, and far better than the Jones 125.I did hanker after a Singer 411g or 431g but I think the 401g will satisfy me. It was only the chain stitch of these I wanted, but reading about it it sounds to require lot of fiddling to get it right and so that do you leave the machine set up just for that? Seems a waste to me, so I’ve let that wish go for the moment. I also think I remember that my Janome Coverstitch machine will do chain stitch, so maybe that is something to explore. I’m not even sure why I want chain stitch – I’m just a machine nerd (maybe?).Want this space for more chats about the Singer 401g that has joined my machine stable. Its going to be sewing frontline masks once the new pedal arrives.
Today I finally completed a top-down jumper I started last December! I bought the main 100% wool yarn in Hereford, and the stripes are worked in two odd balls, one Noro and the other Icelandic. I’m looking forward to hearing it next winter.
Washing (or scouring) raw fleece is not a quick job, I think that’s something all can agree on. It’s also surprisingly contentious. Everyone wants to tell to their method, and you gradually learn that different fleece require different scouring methods, so everyone is probably right!
So I’m going to write about my experience today.
I have been given a rather nice Shetland fleece. Rather nice that is, but filthy. The fleece is very greasy and every single lock is gummed together and dirty at the tip. Underneath however, you can see the gorgeous fibre hidden under the grease-trapped dust and poo.
I gave some of it a good hot soak yesterday with plenty of washing up liquid. The water was like oxtail soup (sorry if you like oxtail soup), but after a few rinses it seemed OK.
However, this morning’s inspection showed it to be still greasy and those dratted dirty and sticky tips were still gummed up.
Rather than transfer that gunk to my carder I reluctantly decided to re-wash the fleece. So more really hot water baths followed. The first was so hot I couldn’t put my hand in it, with loads of washing up liquid and a dose of washing soda to break the grease. I always wash the fleece separated into small mesh lingerie washing bags. With this second wash, I opened each bag, one at a time under the water and teased the locks apart, concentrating on those dirty tips to loosen the greasy dirt.
Yes it was time consuming, bit surprisingly gratifying as the dirty came out quite easily with this method. I think because the fleece has just been sheared the dirt hasn’t had to much time to harden-off.
Following on from yesterday’s post. The dough rose well, and I knocked out back and shaped it at about 11pm. For the first time with this sourdough I shaped it onto buns in a round silicone cake tray. Then it went, under a wet cloth and plastic, into the fridge overnight.
This morning the buns hadn’t proved quite enough, so I put the tray on too of the heating oven for 30 minutes to encourage the rise.
After baking the bin round looked amazing.
Once cooled I planned to make the tools up for a picnic, and splitting the round revealed a scrumptious centre.
The picnic rolls had pastrami and salad inside, but I opted for raspberry jam on mine!
The family say, “you can make this bread again!”, and I agree.
Today’s bread has seeds in it. As a family we love seeded bread, and I’ve made it with commercial yeast, but not with my sourdough starter yet.
It’s kitchen cupboards yield a variety of seeds; I like to toast them for topping salads and cooked dishes. After a quick glance at a recipe on The Perfect Loaf, over confidence got the better of me. After a quick calculation I opted for 4% flax, 4% sesame and 5% sunflower seeds to add to my normal dough weight. I soaked the flax for about 30 minutes and toasted both sesame and sunflower seeds. After draining the flax I added both to the dough before kneading.
So far, so good. I’m now waiting to see how it proves.
The sourdough starter I made from raisin yeast liquid is still going strong. I started the yeast off at the start of lockdown, so mid March-ish and then made the starter in April.I keep the starter in a large clip-top Kilner jar and have not cleaned it out yet; it smells wonderful when you open it. Many loaves later it is bubbling away madly still. The raisin yeast liquid is now in the fridge and has been used twice to add some zing to the starter. I refresh it with sugar and warm water and a day or two on the worktop as a reward.I make bread about every 5-6 days and keep the starter in the fridge in between times. I’ve also (somewhat unsuccessfully) made apple sourdough cake. It was a bit stodgy, but tasty.Over the weeks I have established a couple of methods that are pretty foolproof for me. One is long, slow and satisfying one is fast, easy and satisfying.Long and slow:I take the starter out of the fridge in the morning, and feed it with 50g plain flour and 50g warm water and leave it on the work top for an hour or so – or until I remember, and this can be 3pm sometimes. 30 minutes before I want to knead the bread I mix 400g of white bread flour (or 100g whole meal and 300g white) with 180g water. This can is lumpy and not pretty, but is called ‘autolysing’ the dough, and I find it helps with the process.Covering the bowl with a damp tea towel prevents crusty flour forming.When its time to knead, I give the starter a light stir and tip 200g into the bowl of flour and water and mix it all together. Feed the starter again and pop it back in the fridge for next timeI hand knead it on a floured worktop for 10-15 minutes which is incredibly therapeutic for arthritic hands, and also for edgy tempers. After about 10 minutes I sprinkle 10g of salt on the dough and knead that in. If there is a lot of wholemeal flour in the dough I might also add a 1/2 tsp of vitamin C powder to help it rise.Once its smooth and soft I return the dough to the (floured) bowl, and cover it with a wet cloth and a plastic shower cap, then put it on the worktop (or somewhere warm if the weather is chilly), and forget about it for hours on end.Sometime later, in today’s case 8pm, I knocked back the dough, shaped it into two loaves and popped them into the Lekue bread moulds I use. The wet cloth and shower cap go back over the loaves and I tonight I ended up baking the bread at 10:30pm. On other nights I might put the shaped loaves in the fridge (wet cloth and shower cap in place), and cook the loaves the next morning.Quite fast and easy:Feed the starter, leave it for an hour to bubble up. Put 400g bread flour, or a combination as described above, into a Kenwood chef, (or similar mixer), add 180 g warm water and pour in 200g of starter.Feed starter again and return to fridge.Mix with the dough hook for 10 minutes, adding 10g salt half way through. Remove the hook and put the bowl (covered with wet cloth and shower cap) somewhere warm to rise. Once doubled in size, knock back and shape, leave to rise again for 30-40 minutes and then bake. I use the Lekue moulds for this as well – always covering with wet cloth and shower cap as before.Easy- Peasyusing a bread machine:Feed the starter, leave it for an hour to bubble up. Put 400g bread flour, or a combination as described above, into a bread machine pan, add 180 g warm water and pour in 200g of starter. Set machine to the longest dough programme (this is wholemeal on my Panasonic machine). Add 10g salt towards the end of the first knead (I set a timer to remind me otherwise I forget and have to reset the machine for an extra knead to incorporate this).Feed starter again and return to fridge.Once the machine finishes the dough programme, tip out the dough and shape, leave to rise again for 30-40 minutes and then bake, or put the shaped loaves in the fridge overnight and bake in the morning. I use the Lekue moulds for these loaves as well – always covering with wet cloth and shower cap as before.The Lekue silicone loaf moulds are great, they hold the shape of the loaf well, making a nice rustic looking loaf, and keep the dough moist during risking and baking.I’ve even made this loaf with only one rise and shaping into the moulds with an overnight rise, not quite as light bread, but very edible.
I’m doing quite a lot of sewing at the moment, so to supplement my Bernina 1030 I bought an old machine on eBay – not a modern one, an old second-hand 1980s model (my guess), very cheap and local pick up only. It’s a Jones, (later these were rebranded Brother), built like a tank and weighs a ton as the machine itself is all metal.
Its a Jones model number 125 with TUR 2 written on the motor at the back. I can’t find any info online about this machine, so if anyone has a manual or other info that would be helpful if be most grateful if you’d contact me.
The main problem was that the plastic case is degraded so the bed machine has dropped below the top edge of the case which means you couldn’t open the bobbin case, so that needed a bit of attention.
I have it several hours of TLC; opening the machine top, checking, cleaning and oiling everything. The bobbin and shuttle hook had all sorts of thread wrapped around it but that was easy enough to take out, clear and oil. Then I had to sort out the bobbin tension that was wildly awry. the light bulb had blown, and I will replace it with an LED version.
There was no manual with the machine just a foot pedal, a plastic need extension and some spare bobbins – which for the price I really didn’t mind. However someone had put the needle in with the hole from front to back, like my Bernina, when actually it should have been in so that you thread it left to right. Its been a while since I’ve used a machine which threads like that, so it took me a minute or two to work out why the bobbin thread was not being picked up. Once I put in a new needle that faced left or right it picked up the bobbin thread no problem.
Going back to the bobbin and case. The machine has a side facing bobbin in a vertical shuttle that is accessed from the top, so it’s not as easy to get to as a front loading one. Because the bottom case in which the machine suits is degraded and the plastic hinges have broken, the machine has dropped below the level of the case-edge, making it hard to reach the bobbin. I’ve stuck some shims in the sides of the bottom case which have raised the machine bed so that the bobbin plate will now side open. This also means the bed extension will now for correctly. The machine is in one of those classic Jones and Brother flowery carry-cases and although the bottom case plastic is a bit fragile, this seems reasonably sound.
Unlike the Bernina the Jones has adjustable pressure on its presser foot which takes a bit of getting used to. Now I’ve got it sewing it’s working fine.
What’s nice is that the feed dogs will drop for free embroidery if needed. It has good stitch length and a nice wide zigzag, so does the face mask job perfectly.
Having got it sorted out I prefer to keep the Jones threaded for the masks and my Bernina for my personal sewing. OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a machine nerd!
I think the Jones is also a bit of a consolation prize to myself; I’ve bought myself a vintage Singer slant shank machine which I’m really looking forward to getting, but I can’t collect it because of Covid.
The Jones is a great everyday all-purpose robust machine. I do get fed up with those people on eBay who are selling old machines as ‘heavy-duty’ and ‘semi industrial’. There are industrial or domestic sewing machines, but none that I know of were ever sold originally as ‘semi-industrial’. I agree that some modern machines are a load of rubbish, plastic and not really got for purpose, not that only a few – believe me I have seen some in the course of helping people with their machines.
I’ve always preferred older machines, having owned a hand cracked Singer and a treadle one (I am filled with regret that I didn’t have the storage to keeping these), an Elna Supermatic (why oh why did I get rid of that?), a Singer Touch and Sew, and then a Bernina 730 (still got that one) and an Elna TS (had to go for lack of storage again).
Even the Touch and Sew would sew through loads of fabric, and I did like the pattern cams of that and the Supermatic. I think the slant needle slant shank machine I have just acquired probably won’t go through that many layers of fabric because the needle may possibly deflect? I will have to wait and see!
I organised an online face-mask-making workshop yesterday, and the links below are to the instructions and pattern for the mask we made. You can read more about making different types of masks on my DIY mask making page. If you just want to get stuck in, please use the links below to download the pattern and instructions and make cotton face masks for your family and to donate to key workers. The pattern has an opening to allow a filter to be inserted.