May 31, 2014

Day 3 - Things to do on a Convict Ship

We started another bra class today at the Saskatchewan Stitches Conference in the tiny hamlet of Muenster. The town is home to a monastery where, each spring, hundreds of enthusiasts of sewing, quilting, knitting and other needle arts gather to spend up to 11 days in creative bliss.

Here was the scene in my class this morning 
There are many classes going on at the same time. But at coffee break, they all gather in our area (that's where the kitchenette is). Thank goodness for women like Pat who clean up after the break is over. 
We take over the whole place. Wendy takes over Father D's office, so he made her a sign for the door. Gotta love a priest with a sense of humour!
After classes were over, I went to Jeanette's room. She had already re-arranged it into a sewing room. How she packed a machine, a serger, bins of fabric and all her sewing tools into that car was beyond me! And still she found room to buy more fabric!
Tonight's presentation was by Dianne Janssen. Dianne is Australian but now lives in BC. She is also a world renowned quilter. She told us the story of the Rajah quilt, the most famous of Australian quilts, and one of the most famous in the world. As you can see, we were all fascinated by the story.

When men (and women) were convicted of crimes in Merry Old England, they were shipped off to Australia in convict ships. The voyage took three months and many died of starvation, disease and other maladies. One woman, Elizabeth Fry, sought to improve the lot of the women convicts, some of whom were being sent off forever for stealing a loaf of bread in order to feed their children.

One thing that Elizabeth and her women's convict committee taught the women was sewing skills. In fact she gave each convicted woman on the ship needles, threads and 2 pounds of fabric (the size of a piece of paper but about 2" thick - not much, really) Anything they created with the fabric could be sold at ports along the way and the money used to buy food, or other essentials.

Here is a quilt they made on the ship, the. Rajah, and they gave the quilt to Elizabeth Fry as a thank you for what she had done for them.

This inscription was cross stiched at the bottom of the quilt. Apparently sewn with thiny stitches about 1/32" in length (less than 1 mm). An incredible feat, especially when you consider the lack of lightning and the adverse conditions aboard the ships.

In Canada, we have some fascinating quilt stories too. One family of nine daughters, made quilts for each daughter, which was quite common in Ontario at the time. each daughter made 12 quilts, which would go to her when she got married as part of the housekeeping dowry. However, as fate would have it, only one of the nine Merckley daughters got married.

 When the youngest daughter died in 1974, and the house was to be sold - in the attic were 115 quilt top all finished and ready for quilting! 

The history of quilting is not just some stories of a forgotten art - it is the history of women sewn into the cloth of society of long ago.

Day 2 - Nina's Arrival

Back in the fall of 2013, I got a call from Margaret, of Bras Bold & Beautiful, asking if I still wanted a Bernina 930. Apparently she was teaching bra-making in Edmontonat Central Sewing. Machines and one had just come in on trade. I said YES before I even asked what kind of condition it was in, but I knew if Margaret thought it was good enough to call me about it, it had to be a good machine.

Margaret took the machine back to her home in Saskatchewan several hours away and then brought it from her home to the SSC a few days ago. So, in reality I have owned this machine for well over six months but had never actually seen it. I imagine it's like waiting for adoption papers to finally come through...it was on my mind every day but there was nothing I could do to speed the process!

Until now. It was kindly delivered to my room at the Abbey last night. Here is the carrying case. Man, this thing is heavy. Must be the all metal parts and good old-fashioned Swiss construction!

Inside, here she is. My new Nina. Some women call their machines Bernie, but I have always thought of sewing machines as female...like all cats are female and all dogs are male. 

Look at this tool box full of goodies! Whoever owned this Nina kept it in pristine condition. All the original parts are in the tool box. 12 feet, a mini hoop and what looks like two different buttonhole feet.

Including the original instruction manual. Did the former owner even use this machine?

The big test for me, was not whether it worked (I knew Margaret had already tested it in Edmonton before she called me) but whether the feet for my old industrial Bernina fit this newer version. This 930 was only in production for a few years, but it was the portable version of the industrial 950, of which I have owned 6 in my lifetime. I had brought along a foot from my old machines with me. This is the free motion foot, also called a darning foot.

I  think I heard angels singing! The foot fits! To be fair about the angels singing, the bells here at the Abbey are always ringing so it may have been that!

Here's the stitches my Nina will do...26 in all, plus the buttonhole.

The best part, along with the best part of actually getting such a treasure, was the price. I almost felt like screaming...start the car, start the car.....when Margaret told me the price back in the fall. It was the deal of the century, so yes, I thought I was getting a steal. Since it was purchased in Alberta, I was charged  only 5% sales tax. In Ontario, it would have been 13%! 

In addition to the arrival of my Nina, last night, Jeanette arrived as well at SSC after driving for 8 hours yesterday from Edmonton. She actually lives 8 hours noth of Edmonton, so she has done a LOT of driving in the past few days! 

Now my Western bra-making family is here, and Day Two couldn't have been any better!

May 29, 2014

Far, far away - Day 1 SSC

Today was the first day of the first bra class at the Saskatchewan Stitches Conference (SSC). The class didn't finish their bras but that's not at all unusual. Tomorrow they will finish

In the evenings, we always have some great group activities. Here is a view of Wendy's portable store at SSC. She carries all the essentials that we will need for the 11 days, and also SEW much more!
We also had a show and tell tonight. There was about 20 women there but a very enthusiastic bunch they were.
Here are some of the quilts on display in our classroom this year.


In the show and tell, we saw a quilt that Peggy made. Here is the back of the quilt
And here is the front. The squares are made from fabric Peggy made in a previous SSC class
We also saw the things that Jackie Van Fossen makes. Jackie is a very talented fibre artist, who specializes in surface embellishment of cloth and paper. These are some projects that are coming up for next year. This is foil embellishment and paint on fabric.
This is Jackie's version of text messaging - using various media to apply text on fabric.


Here's top projects using texted fabric
Lastly she made this little sampler quilt to show all different techniques she teaches. Some of these are called "Gelli prints" which is the class she taught today in another part of the College.

Stay tuned for more photos of the SSC - there are 10 more days as inspiring as today!

Far,far, away - first day at St. Peter's

Yesterday was a day of firsts for me.

First, I was denied access to my flight out of our local airport because I was five minutes beyond the 45 minute boarding time cut off. Five minutes!  For "safety" reasons, they said they could not let me board because there would not be time to x-ray my suitcase before the plane left. Even though  I could clearly see the X-ray machine and there was no one in the line up...and even though I confessed to having a pair of scissors in my suitcase so they wouldn't panic when they saw those lethal weapons! No deal.

I had to go home and come back at 7 pm for another flight. Oh yes, and she kindly knocked the fee of $75 down to $50. There's always money involved in those "safety" decisions, isn't there?

Problem. I don't own a cell phone and neither does Cam, so I had to wait until such time as he would get home, tell home to come back to the airport and fetch me, then return to the airport before 5 pm.

I put the morning to good use. I bought his and hers cellphones! First time for me having a cellphone and I bought an IPhone...why buy something not compatible with my IPad? I still have no idea how to use it, but if necessary in an emergency, I will commandeer some young person and force them at scissor point to make a call for me!

At long last, nearing midnight, I finally arrived. travelling through Edmonton to get to Saskatoon from Hamilton. If you don't know what I mean, that is travelling west to go east. Noreen picked me up and we decided to not travel to the monastery last night but would go in the morning. Great plan!

This morning, I got to take a picture of the spring water level on the road.

You can see the water is very close to the road. This is not the first year it has been this close so I wasn't too worried. Yes, those are bugs on the windshield! Spring has arrived in Saskatchewan!

This year, I have the Abbots suite. It has a nice large window with a great breeze and I can hear the birds. Another first!

This was waiting on the bed for me. A goodie bag with Los of stuff!
And what's this....?

Very cool! A chatelaine for me to carry all the stuff I need for sewing! That's a first for sure. 
Thank you, thank you! This is the start of a great conference.

May 26, 2014

Saskatchewan Stitches!

If you have been reading this blog, you may remember that every year I go to the Saskatchewan Stitches Conference, which is held in a most unusual location - a monastery! Yes, a real monastery in downtown ( I am kidding!) Muenster, where the population doubles when the Conference is in town!

I have been teaching at the SSC (Saskatchewan Stitches Conference) since its very first year! Wendy Toye, the force behind the Conference, decided it was time to have somewhere for enthusiasts of the needle arts to gather and learn...not just for a day, but for a week! She delivered teachers in quilting, knitting, tatting, fabric embellishment, lace making, bear making and of course, bra-making to rural Saskatchewan. 

I have a collection of photos that were taken at the Conference over the years. Some are quite hilarious! Here is a class in panty making in 2003. I only know it is a panty class from the drawing on the chalkboard! My hair is long and dark in 2003

But I was also teaching bra-making. One of the things I have been most proud of, is that everyone, big or small can get a great bra when they make it themselves. Here are two happy bra-makers...well maybe they have things mixed up a little!
In 2004, the Conference is drawing interest from sewists all over Saskatchewan. Here we are in Severin Hall before the renovations. You can see a few quilts hanging on the walls. At the Conference, you will see quilts and wall hangings on any vertical surface. It is like they grow there overnight! 
By 2005, our bra-making class is full and we had to add a second beginner bra class to the list. This is one class. Different quilts on the walls every year! 
Sometimes at a class, women are just so happy to have a bra that fits, that they will pose for photos in it! Sarah (Wendy's daughter) came back for another bra-making class in 2006!
2007 - to be stitchin' is Heaven! When you have quilters, knitters and bra-makers from all over the province gathering at Conference, you can make lots of new friends or...you can meet up with old ones from far away! Here's Noreen and Judy re-united at Conference.
It wasn't all bras and panties, either. In 2007 we added a corset class. Once again, Sarah went to the head of the class and made two! Here is her second corset
In 2008, I held a special class before the Conference started to train a few women to teach bra-making in their areas. Because the conference had 3 beginner bra-making classes in 2008, those ladies got a LOT of practice fitting all different body shapes and bust sizes. Margaret and Iris (behind me on the left) founded the Association of Western Bra-makers and teach all over Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Manitoba!
In 2009, I brought my Mom with me to the Conference. Mom lives in New Brunswick (east coast for those of you not from Canada) and a journey of many thousands of miles. I thought she wouldn't have enough to keep busy for 11 days, but she sat down and sewed two quilt tops. She was like a machine! She also loved listening to her eldest daughter teach the bra class, as she was set up in that same room. (well, I say that, but maybe she was thinking...will she ever stop talking?..lol)
OMG! I cannot believe I allowed that photo to be taken. I have to something with my hair! That's just hideous! But Mom looks good!

OK, the following year in 2010, I DID do something about my hair. And my glasses. We added more classes to the bra-making menu. Here is a Shelley class. I usually take only 12 students in a class, but a few more appeared out of nowhere. Thank goodness Becky (second from left at the back) was there to assist me!
In 2010, Mom came back again! Second time in Saskatchewan and there were lots of women who knew her...mostly by reputation as Beverly's mom, but I told her they knew her as the human sewing machine from the year before! She lived up to her reputation that year, too! Still sewing. She ended up buying that Elna machine she is working on in this photo.
In 2010, the renovations to Severin Hall have been completed. One of the things renovated was the snack kitchen behind me. It's tucked at one end of the largest room so that's usually where I teach. Right by the fridge!
2012 marked the 10th anniversary of the Conference. Where did the time go?  I was the keynote speaker at our Gala. My speech was called "Uplifting Endeavors - Titillating Tales from the Fairy Bra Mother". I even made this dress for the occasion!
Wendy even had this cake made special for the Gala. How fitting...as well as uplifting!
Now it is 2014 and there is another Conference starting on Thursday. I will be back teaching bra-making, the Shelley Bra, Corsets and Swimwear this year. But this year is a bit different...

This year, I get a day off to take a class. This is the first time I have taken a class - I am always the one doing the talking - now I will be the one sitting quietly in the corner, working. Well, maybe...don't count on it! 

The class I'll be taking is Landscape Quilts. This was the landscape they showed us. I loved it. It combines a lot of things I love - fabric, thread, and stitching! I used to teach decorative thread arts so this class is right up my alley. A class for some me-time!

I will try to blog from the Conference each day. I am excited to be seeing friends I've known from the beginning of the Conference, and look forward to meeting new ones! Here's to another successful year, Wendy. It just keeps getting better and better!

May 25, 2014

Store Makeover

As a bra-making supply store owner in the fabric district,  we have lots of traffic. We have lots of walk-ins, too...but the conversation often goes something like this:

Them (looking around): Oh, you sell bras?
Us: No, we don't...
Them (puzzled): Oh, I get it, you make custom bras!
Us: No, we don't...

So clearly, customers who didn't know us, were getting the wrong impression about what we do. How does that happen? Do they not read the sign above the door that reads ...Bra-makers Supply? To be fair, the sign is above the window.

Vivien's daughter, Elizabeth (who is very clever) summed up the problem when she said that looking in from the window, you don't get the impression that we are a sewing shop at all. We had all kinds of bras hanging on all kinds of mannequins. One peeking in would assume that we sell bras, or at the very least, make custom bras. That was an ah-ha moment! 

If you want to see your store as others see it, take a photo of it from the door. The photos were proof that Elizabeth was right - we needed to project more of a "sewing-store" image, not a "bra-shop" image.

So with a wave of my magic wand (my credit card), 2 new sheets of slotwall were delivered. We had to wait until Saturday morning to start the makeover. Why Saturday?

Saturday was the first Saturday we were closed for the summer months (Victoria Day to Labour Day). Which means the store was closed - you cannot re-arrange the store when customers are present. That. Would. Be. Chaos.

We hung the slotwall on the big empty wall as you first enter the store. It is a 9' (almost 3 m) wall and only had mannequins hanging on it. But now...it holds the whole Pin-up Girls pattern line...with room for more patterns when I get them done!
The cabinets under the slotwall hold ALL the extra patterns...something we have never had room for previously. The old slotwall held only 27 patterns - the new one will hold 40, so lots of room to grow!

So this is our view from the front door. The new pattern wall is to the left of this . In fact, you can see a bit of the slanted wall in both photos. On the rolling displays, we now have room for the new kit colours.
You can also see the door to the classroom at the back. And the blue rolling staircase so we can all reach the top bins (even me). Oh, my! I see now in the photos how ugly it is in blue. We must paint that staircase! 

But I do love the bins with all their pink labels! 

On the wall opposite to the patterns, we are hanging all the sewing notions. It's a work in progress. I's a lot more room, but will be a good home for notions...once we work out how they fit best together, that is.
I think more slotwall to the right of this notions cupboard would be better than a shelving unit. Agh! I just noticed the cupboard needs a good painting! These photos are showing up all the stuff we didn't see before.

While Rebecca, Vivien and I had everything in a total mess, patterns in heaps and notions in piles, kits strewn about - customers saw the lights on and wanted in to buy bra-making supplies! 

Well, of course! Why not? (At least they didn't come in and ask if we sold bras!)

Monday we can start fresh with a clean and more organized space. I can go to the Saskatchewan Stitches Conference knowing that the store is better than it was last week.

I almost forgot...I now I have a few mannequins to get rid of!

May 22, 2014

Re-purpose a Nifty Notion

If you own a cover stitch machine, you may be aware that it can do some amazing things. One of the things it can do is to make 3/4" (18 mm) strapping for bathing suits, sundresses etc. A smaller version in a 3/8" (9 mm) width is great for belt loops. To do that you need a fabric folder.

A fabric folder, as the name suggests, folds fabric to the back side as it travels through the opening.  It is positioned right in front of the presser foot so as soon as it comes out of the folder, the folded fabric edges can be stitched down.
The folder fastens to the bed of the machine in the holes conveniently provided by the machine company, such as shown here.
Here is is fastened down. You you push the fabric strips in the wide part of the folder and like magic, out of the small end appears miles of folded fabric, ready to use. Well....not always. There can be issues...<sigh>
  • Not all home Cover stitch machines have those convenient screw holes in the bed. My BabyLock does but not many other domestic machines do.
  • The plate that fastens the folder to the machine, doesn't always line up with the holes. You can see I could use only one screw to hold down the plate, which could cause it to rotate when in use.
  • Folders are expensive and if you have to buy an adapter plate, that's often extra
  • You can't always buy them in the sizes you want, and you may have to order them in.
What can you do? 

You can re-purpose something from your sewing room! 

Almost every sewist has these nifty bias tape makers hiding in a drawer somewhere. They are available in several sizes and by several manufacturers. Shown here from L-R are Newey 1" (25 mm), Clover 3/4" (18 mm), Clover 1/2" (12 mm), Dritz 1/2" (12 mm)  and Clover 1/4" (6 mm). You can tell I like the Clover ones the best, although to be fair, most of these are over 20 years old and they still work fine!
These bias tape makers work exactly like a commercial belt loop folder. 

Oh wait - maybe you noticed that not one of these hand held tools has a way to fasten it to the bed of the machine? 

Here's the best part. We will tape the bias tape maker to the machine! I used green painter's tape but almost any tape that will remove cleanly would do. I would think that duct tape or packing tape would leave a gummy residue on the machine bed. Not. Good.
But let me tell you more about the folders first! Here's the back side of these folders. You can see (hopefully) that except for the little one on the right, they all have a groove or an opening so you can pull the fabric through easily. They all have a little finger pull loop. It's great when you are making bias tape, but on the cover stitch machine, we won't need to use that.
All these folders are the same in that you need to cut a strip of fabric twice as wide as the finished width. I am using a 3/4" (18 mm) folder so my strips are cut to 1 1/2" (36 mm). You may need to adjust the width slightly if you are using a thicker fabric. No need to cut spandex swimsuit fabric on the bias either - there's enough stretch without it. Just cut it from selvedge to selvedge. It is also helpful (necessary really) to cut the fabric on an angle. It makes it much easier to feed through the tool.
Use the Left and Right needles on your cover stitch machine. All cover stitch machines have three needle positions. Using two needles side by side (i.e. Left and Middle or Middle and Right) will make your bottom stitch too narrow and it may not catch both raw edges of the fabric.
Start the fabric through the folder before taping it to the machine bed. Aren't you happy you cut that fabric at an angle? it goes in the opening really easily!
It will usually get stuck somewhere along the line, so help it along with a pin in the groove.
Pull the tail of the fabric through to the back of the foot so you have something to hang on to. Wiggle the tape maker into position so that the two needles look centered on the fabric.
Then tape that puppy down! I used two strips of tape to really keep it in place.
And start stitching! Like magic, the tool folds the edges under and the tape keeps the fabric exactly where it ought to be.
When you get to the end of the fabric, you will want to lock off the stitching so it does not unravel. I'll show you that in the next post right below this one! Stay tuned!