Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The 1939 Singer Featherweight 221 and the Penguin Walking Presser Foot

Look who's coming to stay! This pretty little 221 belonged to a good friend's aunt, who purchased the machine brand new and used it well. The aunt is now 94 years old and in the process of downsizing; she hasn't used the machine in many, many years. So I purchased the 221 to add to my collection.

I absolutely LOVE bringing home a new vintage machine (right?), unpacking all the bits and checking out the machine for the first time is the best part.

This machine had a lot of bits with it! The case is in good shape, miraculously has NO BAD SMELL, but does have some issues with the latches - one of which has been replaced. The machine still had a service tag attached and a bit of fabric with a few stitches under the presser foot, so it's a good bet that the 221 was put away for good after the last time it was cleaned and oiled.

I found 15 bobbins in the case, each and every one filled with a different color thread. And one of the bobbins is black, but is the correct size. Never seen a black 221 bobbin before, have you?

Also found in the case: a ruffler, seam guide, zipper foot, narrow rolled hem foot, binder, adjustable hemmer, tucker foot, straight stitch foot, and a pretty shiny and new looking roller foot.

And a complete buttonholer with extra templates.

Also a blind stitch attachment.

And believe it or not, the case included one of the very elusive Walking Presser Feet, affectionately known as the "Penguin." I've never, ever, EVER seen one of these before, did you even know that these things existed? I had no freakin' idea.

So these little guys waddle along over the fabric, very similar to a modern walking foot, but way, way cuter. Check out this page on the Penguin Walking Foot that includes an action video over at April 1930's shop!

This machine was definitely used, you can see where the finish is chipped/worn away below the bobbin area from frequent replacement of the bobbin case.

Also some wear and tear on the machine bed.

None of that regular wear and tear affects how the machine works - she winds a bobbin without skipping a beat, and sews beautifully.

Welcome home, little 221!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Yet Another Sewing Room Re-Do

I was going to call this post something like "Sewing Room - Take Two," but then I realized that this isn't really the second time I've changed things in my sewing space. It seems like I'm always changing something around down there, right? Like my first favorite hobby is sewing, and my second must be re-arranging my sewing space!

This picture right here is my sewing space sometime last year. Several things have left the building since this shot, including the mangle iron there on the left. Following along with my "Use it or lose it!" mantra, I got rid of the mangle because I never used it.

Also gone is the desk I used regularly for sewing in the back there - the one with the BERNINA 580 on it. Unfortunately, this basement regularly gets small amounts of water in the form of trickles each time we get a heavy rain. The window there by the white bookshelf regularly leaks, and some of my books got a bit water-logged. And, a small pool of water formed by the desk last month - enough to make the pressboard swell, completely ruining the desk.

The water also caused some minor damage to some of my other furniture, but nothing serious. I repaired some swelled spots with wood glue and clamps, then added some feet to a few things to get the furniture off the floor in case of future water trickle incidents.

This is the sewing room now, all clean as I just finished cleaning up after last month's water incident - and ready to go!

I thrifted a shelf that replaced the spot where the mangle iron used to sit. I actually think this was a headboard, which was pretty awesome because the day I shopped all bed furniture was on sale at the thrift store, so I got this for $15. Painted it white to try and brighten up the dankness of the basement.

Finally, one place to store my iron collection.

And my fashion resource books.

I moved the industrial vintage Singer to the spot where that sewing desk used to sit. All the books in the corner are crafting, needlepoint, historical reference, and a collection of sewing magazines. I actually tossed several magazines that got water logged in last month's incident, but I probably had too many to begin with! The books behind the sewing machine are all how-to-sew books.

And I consolidated my buttons into the hardware organizer on the wall, which freed up some of the notions shelf space.

This table and chair set was in my parent's kitchen in the early 1980's - which makes it vintage! With the exception of that Ikea kitchen island that I use as a cutting table, every piece of furniture down here is used, either gifted or thrifted. I use this table for sewing on with various machines now in place of the desk. Or for reading, or crafting with Fidget.

And next to the table is the bookshelf that previously was under the sometimes leaky window. It holds all my quilting books and more fashion/historical reference books. I swear to you that I've actually been culling the heard and cutting down on my book collection, but it still seems like I have lots and lots.

I am so ready to start working in the sewing room again! I've actually been sewing upstairs on the library desk for the last several weeks. The light has been fantastic, but it feels like I can't ever leave a mess there since it's right in the middle of our family shared space. Plus Fidget uses the library table to draw/craft on, and she's ready to get back to it. So I'm off to move back in to my sewing space!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sneaky Weekend Sewing...

I've got a plan for sneaking some extra sewing in this weekend!

Since my custom antique treadle isn't getting any action down in the basement sewing room, I "temporarily" set it up in the living room - you know, just for the weekend.

I'll be able to sit right by the big sunny windows and treadle-away all weekend while my family is watching TV or just hanging out. I've got lots of piecing to finish, perfect busy-work for the treadle machine. It's quiet enough that it won't interfere with whatever else is going on at the same time - much quieter than an electric machine.

And speaking of treadle sewing, have any of you quilted with a treadle? I have not been able to find a walking foot for this machine that works at all (it's an antique Singer 15 class), and I'm wondering if I fiddle with the presser foot pressure and use a straight stitch foot if I can do some simple quilting. Any advice for quilting on a treadle without a walking foot?

So the real sneaky part is that I'm hoping my family likes this spot for the treadle as much as I do - and that it can be a more permanent fixture in the living room. I like the thought of getting in a little piecing or sewing without having to disappear down to the dungeon sewing room!

Really looking forward to getting at least a little sewing in this weekend! How about you, are you planning on sewing at all this weekend - what are you stitching up?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How do you KNOW green is green?

Have you ever been in a color argument before? You know, when you're fabric shopping with your best friend and you're like, "I love this color red, it's my favorite!" and your BFF is like, "Umm, that's not red, that's tomato orange."

Or when your husband asks, "Which of the blue ties looks best with this jacket?" But when you look, you don't see two blue ties, you see one blue and one green!

Identifying colors can be tricky, because the color of an object depends somewhat on how you look at it. It depends on what kind of light source (or multiple sources) illuminates the object you see it, and what other conditions may exist. Also, if you're not well-versed in talking about color in Color Theory terms, you may be assigning personal preference terms to colors (like calling a red-orange color "tomato" or a certain shade of green "zombie puke"). And in some cases, people may actually have a deficiency when viewing colors, as in the case of my husband Tom who has some green colorblindness, making it difficult for him to tell the difference between some dark greens and other dark colors.

In fact, it was during a conversation we were having about color stuff the other night when Tom posed the question to me, "How do you know what the color green is? How do you know THAT is GREEN?" Great question, one that's worth taking a very close look at. How do you know a color is a color?

I think The Color Kittens said it best when declaring that it's easy to know the colors, because after all, "Red is red and blue is blue!"

We don't all have the natural ability to identify true hues as the Color Kittens do! So for the rest of us, here's some basic information about how we know what colors are, and some tools you can use to help you become better at identifying real colors.

Oh, but first, do you know the meaning of the term HUE? It can sometimes be interchangeable with the term "color" and refers to an absolute or exact color from the visual spectrum. As we learned from an earlier post about the visual spectrum, white light is the combination of all colors of the spectrum combined. The light travels in waves, and each of the spectral colors has a different wavelength. Within that wavelength range are slight variations of that color.

And by the way, our system of color as we experience it only exists within the human mind. No other animal or insect on this planet can see or experiences color exactly the way we do, and as far as we know, we are the only beings to construct such elaborate systems around colors. When you see a red car, the color only exists within your mind - your eye is perceiving long wavelengths of light reflecting off of the surface of the car, stimulating receptors in your eye that read only the longest wavelengths of light in the visual spectrum, sending a signal to your brain, where it is processed and you see the color as we know it to be RED. The red color is not inherent within the car itself, it does not exist outside our human sense of sight.

Our perception of sight and color has evolved specifically over millions of years to help us navigate on this planet - we see the way we do because of our planet's atmosphere and elemental composition, our closest star's constitution and distance from our planet. If our atmosphere were comprised of different elements, or if our planet were farther away from our nearest star, our sense of sight and perception of color would be very different indeed.

Back to the visual spectrum of light here on Earth! These wavelengths of light, as measured in nanometers, correspond the color names that we've given them (or that Newton has given them). Red being comprised of the longest wavelengths, violet of the shortest, and all the other colors falling out in between respectively. Below is a list of our named colors in the visual spectrum and their respective range of wavelengths.  Note that Newton's ROY G. BIV model of the spectrum includes blue, indigo, and violet; this model includes cyan, blue, and violet. Newton's blue corresponds to cyan in this model, and his indigo to blue.

Red = 740 - 625
Orange = 625 - 590
Yellow = 590 - 565
Green = 565 - 520
Cyan (a bright blue) = 520 - 500
Blue = 500 - 435
Violet = 435 - 380

Scientists can use Spectrophotometers to find the exact wavelength of light reflected from any object under controlled light conditions, and thus correctly identify the hue. Therefore, we can say without question what a true hue of red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue and violet are. We can also reproduce pretty exacting hues with special pigments or paints.

Since true hues of the spectrum are identifiable, that also means we can create some structured Color Systems.

One system you might be familiar with is common to design creatives, the Pantone system. In the Pantone system when a particular color must be communicated correctly, such as a business logo displayed across several different platforms (online as well as in printed documents or product containers, boxes, business cards, etc.), the color can be matched to one of Pantone's color chips which has a specific code attached. The printer, the webmaster, the product manufacturer can all color-match inks, printing, and website colors to the correct Pantone color with a code.

You may have also heard of the Munsell Color System, another system assigning a catalog system of numbers to different colors.

The Munsell system is what was used when I worked in an Historic Home, and we had a professional color analysis completed on layers of the original paint on the home's exterior. Munsell color numbers were assigned to each layer of paint from the analysis, and some paint stores were able to color-match modern paint with the numbers, allowing us to see the different colors the house had been painted over the last 100 years.

While Pantone has evolved into an incredible tool for design creatives with a full rainbow of colors, and Munsell has standardized codes for specific hues that can be matched and reproduced, neither of these systems are really helpful when learning to identify and discuss true hues as in Color Theory.

To learn about true hues of the spectrum, and to facilitate further study of color, there is an excellent  tool (my personal favorite) called Color Aid. Also a favorite of Color Theory pioneer and artist Joseph Albers, these specially printed colored papers are color matched to an absolute standard, are color fast (won't fade out or change if you keep them clean, dry, and away from bright light), and are all clearly identified with the hue, lightness, and saturation on the back of each color paper.

Above we identified the term hue as meaning a specific color of the spectrum. In the Color Aid set, lightness refers to if it is a regular hue and is a full color, if it is a tint with some black added, or if it is a shade with some white added. Saturation refers to how vivid a color appears; a bright red has more saturation than a dull red that has gray or black added in.

There are lots of ways to use Color Aid papers to learn about colors, but here's how I started. First, I wanted to learn more about the Artist's Color Wheel, based in the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. The Artist's Color Wheel has 12 colors displayed in a circle based on various combinations of the three primary colors. (More to come on the Artist's RYB Color Wheel in an upcoming post!)

First thing I did was to pull out of my Color Aid pack the true hues of the Artist's Color Wheel; red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet, and red-violet.

On the back of each color paper is the hue, lightness, and saturation code for the color. You can see the code as "BG - HUE" which means blue-green, true hue, fully saturated.

From here I was able to really look at these colors and take them in. I carried them around with me in a sleeve protector when I was searching for fabrics to sew my own fabric Artist's Color Wheel. I played some simple color games with myself, pulling out scraps of fabric from my stash, trying to identify which hue the scraps most resembled. It was interesting to hold the color and think that these are, for reals, the actual hues I was looking at. Red is red, and blue is blue, just like the Color Kittens said.

In other words, once you learn what a true hue of red looks like, you're more likely to correctly identify it for what it is - red - and less likely to call it something more arbitrary like "Coke can red" or "cherry red." You are also more likely to notice mixes of colors and name them correctly - like a yellow-green which most people would just call "green."

These Color Aid full sets are not cheap - as the inks used to print the calibrated color fast papers are high-quality. But, there are some other sets as well, and I do highly recommend a full set if you are really interested in exploring and learning about Color Theory. Seeing the true colors in your hand while learning how tint, shade, and saturation directly affect colors is invaluable.

At the very least, you can spend a few bucks on your own copy of a portable Artist's Color Wheel tool like the one here (sold through most art supply stores and some quilting stores, too). This color wheel displays the true hues on the outer ring, and gives examples of tints and shades along the inside of the wheel. While the colors are not as true as the Color Aid set, it is pretty close for the money. A good tool if you want to explore color a bit, but aren't sure if you want to invest in a Color Aid set just yet.

And there you have it. This, my color loving friends, is how you know that green is really green, by using a color tool such as Color Aid or the Artist's Color Wheel. Once you start exploring these aspects of color; true hue, tint, and shade, you'll never lose a color argument again!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Birth of Roy G. Biv and the Invention of the Color Wheel

Sir Isaac Newton's experiments with light in 166-1672 led to the birth of the mnemonic character "Roy G. Biv" and to the precursor to our modern Artist's Color Wheel.

Although through the ages many were aware of the phenomenon of a rainbow of colors appearing when light passes through a chunk or prism of glass, Newton was the first to discover that the rainbow is actually the full visible spectrum of component colors of white light.

Looking at the image of the visible spectrum above, or viewing a rainbow in person, or sunlight refracted through a prism, one notes how seamlessly the colors blend from one into another. In fact, Newton himself had a difficult time deciding how and where to dissect the rainbow. I've read that he struggled with how to separate and identify the spectrum, starting with around 11 different colors, then whittling it back down to 5 colors. Finally, Newton settled on 7 distinct major colors in the spectrum, the number inspired by similarities Newton noted between color and a musical scale (which had 7 notes).

So, as Newton reported in his 1672 New Theory of Light And Color, he named these 7 colors of the visual spectrum of light; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, along with an indefinite variety of intermediate gradations. Take the first letter of each major color, and you get the mnemonic ROY G. BIV.

These days, many people debate the inclusion of both indigo and blue, as they are both in the blue family, and that there are only 6 major colors of the visual spectrum which include red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Others still name 7 spectral colors, but name Newton's blue cyan and his indigo blue (red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, violet).  So just be careful when passing on the moniker Roy G. Biv, as it can also be ROY G. CBV, or just ROY G. BV.

It also confused the hell out of my 6 year old to hear "indigo" added to the color spectrum after I've already drummed the 6 color version into her head! Color Systems, like the Artist's Color Wheel, are often described in 6 main colors - and we'll look into this more closely in later posts.

Regardless of how you spell it, you've got to give respect to Sir Isaac Newton for bringing Roy G. Biv into existence, not to mention giving us our first version of modern color wheels.

This may look a bit lopsided to us, but this is Newton's 1704 color circle presented in the book Opticks, in which his circular diagram of color is based directly on the widths of the colors in the visual spectrum from his earlier experiments. This included the 7 original spectral colors, with the orange and indigo slices diminished as compared to the other hues. The two most powerful concepts for artists put forth by Newton in his color circle are the concept of color mixing of light (or how the main colors can be mixed to produce the other colors), and the powerful relationship of colors directly opposite each other on the wheel, later termed complimentary colors.

This color circle is the predecessor to our modern color wheels, in which different color systems are  displayed in sets of 3, 6, or 12 colors (and sometimes more). While you may recognize some other early color wheels, such as:

Claude Boutet's color wheel (developed in conjunction with Newton) from 1706

Wilhelm von Bezold's color wheel, 1874.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's color wheel from 1810.

Or even Johannes Itten's color star first published in 1963, just remember - Newton's color wheel is the granddaddy of them all.
The color wheel we use today to find color harmonies, combinations, and relationships is the Artist's Color Wheel, otherwise known as the subtractive color system. This color system is based on artist's use of mixing pigments together to create new colors (so think paints - watercolors, acrylics, oil paints, or even fabric dyes). Curiously, this is not the same color system that dominates our direct daily experience with color, the additive color system of light, or how our human eyes perceive light and color.
In the not so distant past, artists working directly with pigments would exclusively study the Artists Color Wheel, honing their skills at mixing and mastering color through their selected medium. These days, Color Theory is more commonly taught to artists with the inclusion of both color systems; the subtractive system of the Artists Color Wheel, and the additive color system of light. So let's take a closer look at each in the next few posts, check out the similarities, differences, and how they relate to each other.