Tag Archives: sewing machine attachments

Doodads

The Army Machine

I recently had the opportunity to show off my Army Machine (aka the Domestic Special) to my mother. This is kind of like putting together chocolate and peanut butter. My mom may not exactly get my sewing obsession (though she enables it just fine), but antiques of any kind are her bag, baby. She’s the first person (other than possibly Tyo) I’ve gotten to show that machine to who I don’t suspect is secretly thinking “And you bought this why?”

A mysterious little box.

And then she pulled out a little antique tin box she bought years and years and years (and years ago), mostly because she thought it was exquisite. I have vague memories of it kicking around when I was a kid, and maybe even of opening it from time to time, but the contents not ever making much sense.

Contents.

Well, this time they make sense.

Lots and lots of sense.

It’s a complete, exquisite set of sewing-machine attachments, for a machine with a top-clamping presser foot.

Like my Domestic.

Tragically (or perhaps inevitably) the feet don’t quite fit—the height is right but the distance between the clamp and the needle isn’t, and while you can fudge by not inserting them all the way, I’m not sure they’d be stable enough to actually sew with. I’ll probably try at some point, because I’m crazy like that, but I didn’t today.

Have you ever seen such an insane selection of rolled hem feet? I wonder what that big ball in the middle of each is like to hem around.

Ruffler foot.

This is the ruffler. It’s simpler than the others I’ve seen—there’s no control for gathering on alternate stitches, so it only does ruffling, not pleats. I initially thought it might be broken, it’s so stripped down, but some wiggling and adjustment of the main screw (which controls how much of the fabric is shoved forward) and it works, although it’s badly in need of oiling and de-rusting before it goes anywhere near an actual garment.

Tucker foot

I think this is the tucker foot. I think this based on a repro antique Sears catalogue my mom has that figures a variety of sewing machine attachments, including a similar-looking “tucker foot”, but I really haven’t got a clue how it works. And my Handbook of Sewing Machine Attachments is in a box somewhere.

All the pieces bear a stamp: Pat. Oct. 13 96.

Since I’m pretty sure they don’t date to 1996, that would presumably be 1896. A bit older than even my mom thought the box was, frankly.

Random bits

There are a couple of other random bits in the bottom, bobbins for two different machines (one I think an old shuttle treadle), a plate that would have attached to the bed of the sewing machine for lapping seams and positioning lace and ribbons and the like, and that long thin thing that I have no idea at all about.

Although I didn’t recognize the name on the box, Eldredge Manufacturing Company, out of Illinois, one second’s worth of googling turned up this article about the Eldredge/National Sewing Machine company. Which, yes, was based in Belvidere, Illinois, in the period around 1896. And here’s an ad, albeit of rather older vintage, for the company’s machines. And the shuttle bobbin looks like it could well be for an Eldredge machine as well. I do kinda love the ISMACS site.

The machine might have looked something like this… (source)

Also, my messings and musings provoked my mother to comment that at this point I know rather more about sewing-machine attachments than she does. After I’d picked my jaw up off the floor, I had to demand what she was talking about—after all, it was her machine’s ruffler-foot that first got me started on this whole attachments obsession business.

Pfaff Ruffler Foot

People, apparently in the thirty-odd years my mom’s machine belonged to her before I pulled out the scariest foot in the attachment box and set about figuring out a) if it was a ruffler, and b) if I could figure out how it worked (the answer, by the way, was yes to both), my mom never knew what that foot was, never mind how you made it go. I had always assumed that if my bull-headed fumbling didn’t yield results, I would just ask her. I feel kind of like one of those Enlightenment mathematicians who assumed the calculus they were inventing had all been known to the ancient Greeks… Only I just got to talk with Pythagoras and he was all “WTF are you talking about, dude?”

Or, y’know, not. But anyway. Fun. I love it when something I didn’t know how to place before suddenly makes sense…

Now if only I could sew with them…

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The Rolled Hem Foot—Devil or Divine?

Hemmers

It’s no secret, I think, that the rolled hem foot is one of the more frustrating of the assorted sewing machine attachments out there. Particularly since at least one is included with every machine I’ve ever seen (And if your machine didn’t come with one—well, not sure if I should offer condolences or congratulations on a bullet dodged 😉 ). (Above is the selection of hemmers that came with my vintage Domestic straight-stitcher, hence the weird clamp style foot. Most of the ones I’ve used are on the narrower end of things.) The basic idea is simple—the curls of the foot guide the fabric up and under itself, making a neat, narrow little hem without you, the stitcher, having to measure, press, or otherwise futz with the fabric. The practice, alas, seems to be the problem.

If you are a past-master of this particular, frustrating little foot, please chime in with your secrets—I’d love to hear them.  Because I have a few tips, but definitely no miracles to offer.

I was totally intrigued when I first found this foot among my mother’s plethora of attachments (I was probably ten). Needless to say, my early experiments were not a resounding success. Not that Barbie minded much, fortunately.

I too a stab at the foot now and again through my long-but-indifferent costume-sewing career. Mostly without significantly improved results. The fold wouldn’t form, or it would but bits would stick out; it lumped and bumped and was generally inconsistent, since my cutting was pretty inconsistent, too.

I can count on one hand the number of really awesome hems I’ve gotten with one. Actually, scratch that. I can count the more-or-less-adequate-acceptable bones. There aren’t any totally flawless awesome ones. But frankly, with this foot, I feel pretty darn proud of even achieving “adequate.”

Tiered Skirt edges

Tiered Skirt rolled hem

My first “breakthrough” in the use of the rolled-hem foot came while making a tiered skirt for tribal bellydance. I’ve been meaning to do a post about these skirts for ages, but haven’t gotten around to it.  I used the hemmer foot to hem the five zillion miles (ok, actually only about 25 yards) of the bottom tier. This is actually an AWESOME way to gain skill (or something vaguely approximating it) with this attachment, because it’s lots of practice and after the first yard or two you really stop caring. And the edges are perfectly straight and ripped, which is relatively easy to maneuver (although the ripped threads may stick out). The only tricky part (as usual) is going over the seams, and like I said, after the first few, you really stop caring.

Skirt in action

More recently, I discovered in making the Sheer JJ blouse, that it’s much easier to get a nice hem if you zig-zag over the little roll.

Sheer JJ

This isn’t great for all hems, as it makes a somewhat stiffer edge, but if you want a lettuce-edge or a perky ruffle, it’s a great, easier finish.

Sheer JJ blouse ruffle.

And now, I’ve managed to (semi) successfully apply a rolled edge to the hem of my friend’s Ruby Slip. So I’m really kinda stoked with myself.

Pretty much, anyway.

Shut up. I’m calling it a win.

Silkier Slip hem

Now, first off, I did not do this blindly. I took some extra fabric and I sampled and sampled and sampled. Between my various machines I have several rolled-hem feet to choose from, and I tried LOTS. I wound up using one of the zig-zag machines, because I could adjust the position of the needle to be in the right spot to catch the inner edge of the roll. I opted for the narrowest hemmer of the Pfaff’s feet, which is very narrow indeed. And, miraculously, I was able to get a really nice, insanely narrow hem around about 90% of the hem. I still made a hash of the seam-crossings, and yes, there are a few areas which aren’t fully curled, but really, I’m still pretty stoked.

Messy seam area.

In some ways, the fine, bias fabric was a blessing for this kind of hem. It was easy to cut smoothly (no jags) and the bias doesn’t fray much, which also helps a lot. On hems like this, even tiny stray threads can be a problem. And, although the slippery bias was a pain to get started, it was also easy to adjust as I went, keeping the hem even.

Rolling the hem. I wish I could get a picture of how I *actually* hold the fabric, but that takes two hands.

For the sake of those of you who are more like me—generally frustrated beyond belief by your frigging’ hemmer foot—here are my tips, for what they’re worth. Please chime in if you have your own!

  • cut the edge SMOOTH. Those little scissor jags or stray threads that you can ignore in a normal hem? They’ll FUCK YOU UP!
  • experiment with your needle placement (assuming you’re using a zig-zag machine) to get it to stitch right at the inner edge of the fold. Too far to the left and you won’t catch the fold; too far to the right and you’re more likely to have it unfold on you.
  • Better yet, try zig-zagging over the whole roll (see above)
  • when stitching, you need to watch both sides of your fold—the fabric edge, and the fold, and keep them in place relative to the foot. Also watch for any hidden folds that might develop under the foot. Don’t be afraid to stop (needle down), lift the foot, and re-position stuff.
  • keep the tension light on the fabric (ESPECIALLY if you’re sewing on the bias). Yeah, this makes it really easy to manage the previous point 😛
  • start the hem by rolling a little bit of the hem with your fingers, then putting that part under the foot (secured with a pin if necessary and possible) and then wriggling the roll into place around the little scroll of the foot. The very start is the second hardest part; the hardest is crossing any vertical seams, at least in a narrow little hem like this one.
  • using a pin or awl tip to help manipulate the fabric inside the scroll, particularly when starting or when crossing a seam, can help. A bit. Or make things worse, but hopefully help. It seemed to help more on slightly wider hems; on this narrow hem there was just no room for the bulk of the serged seam to fit through the scroll. Your best bet (again, I’ve had more luck on less slippery fabric with slightly wider hems) may be to stop (needle down) just before the seam, raise the foot, pull the fabric out of the scroll and hold it rolled by hand, lower the foot, stitch over the hand-rolled bit, and then lift the foot and wriggle the fabric back into the scroll.

Using a pin to poke the seam through.

Even after all that, I can’t really say that the rolled-hem foot is the best method I could’ve used. Probably I could’ve done as well, maybe even better, using Sherry’s baby hem method. And yet I persist with the rolled hemmer, just to say “I tried.”
My previous comments on the rolled hem foot did bring out a few lovers along with the haters:
Anne and LinB, both of whom appear to be blog-free (but if you’d like a link somewhere, please let me know!), recommended stitching with the fabric held up from the bed of the machine. I will totally be giving this a try next time the insanity seizes me (I do still have the Ruby Blue to finish…)
The Perfect Nose loves her rolled hem foot (I know, I want some of what she’s on 😉 ) and uses it for seam allowances, which had never even occurred to me but is a great idea if you’re trying to do that fold-over finish! Of course, hers came with an instruction manual. Yeah, instructions, pfft! 😉
Got your own story of rolled hem disaster or conquest? Or another great tip?
Like, maybe, don’t even try? 😉

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