In to the home stretch

Today, I’m starting my last week of employment with my current company. While I’ve got a plan for the future, I’m still a little nervous. I feel like I’m jumping off the deep end, working without a net … taking unusual risks that I normally wouldn’t take, at least not with my livelihood. And yet, I feel like it’s the right thing to do. It’s definitely time to move on from Corporate America and take the next step.

However, all of this change and upheaval have taken a toll on my studio time. I just have not been focused enough to do anything in there lately. I have the Cat in the Hat quilt in the process of being free motion quilted, but I haven’t felt the pull to work on it lately. I haven’t been able to focus on anything creative because I felt the need to nail down a plan of action on my career first. I did some fabric dyeing in yellow, which turned out quite well, in my opinion.

Deep Yellow Fabric Dyeing

As far as my career goes, I’m registered for a couple of “spring late start” classes at the local community college. It feels weird to be going back to school now, but I think that getting the accounting courses completed and sitting for the CPA (and possibly the CPB – Certified Public Bookkeeper) exam is the right thing to do. I’m going to be starting my own bookkeeping business on a part time basis at first, then once I’ve gotten my certification(s) out of the way, I’ll expand to a full time business. I’m doing a weekend seminar in March on how to start and run a successful and profitable small business. I’ve got my summer classes planned out, even though I have another month before I can register for them. Once I had all this worked out, I began to feel far more confident about my impending unemployment. In fact, I’m really beginning to look forward to it!

One thing I have realized, though, is that I need to be sure I have regularly scheduled things to do, because if I don’t I have a tendency to want to just sit around doing a whole lot of nothing. OK, maybe not nothing, but I do not need to sit around for hours several days a week to read books, or crochet or knit. I can do those things in the evenings, while watching tv, or in lieu of watching tv. I don’t really have anything specifically planned until  my classes start in March, so until then, I’m going to take a couple of classes on my new Pfaff sewing machine, do my spring cleaning, make some things that I might decide to sell, and spend time working on a business plan. I also intend to make myself some clothing and spend some time with family.

Hopefully, my next post won’t be about work stuff, and I can share some new projects I’m working on, or have finished!

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WIP Wednesday

Wishes BOM blocks done!

Wishes BOM blocks done!

Finally, all of the blocks for the Wishes BOM quilt are done! It’s taken me more than a year to get them finished, but finished they are! This is the first sampler quilt I’ve made and I wasn’t really prepared for the amount of cutting, and odd sizes, and that alone took a lot more time than I was expecting it to take. But I will say that I learned a lot making these blocks – a lot about making sure cuts are accurate, about making sure piecing is precise (and that 1/4″ seams are uniform) and about color choices. I think the next time I decide to do a sampler quilt, I will use my Accuquilt Go! Baby to cut the pieces. I’m hoping to upgrade to the regular size Go! later this year, so then I can make bigger blocks, but for now, the smaller blocks would work just fine. At least my cuts would be accurate, for all that my sewing sometimes look like a drunken sailor has taken over my studio.

Now it’s time to sash the quilt. I’d like to say I have everything planned from here on out, but the reality is, I don’t. I am trying to decide whether or not I want to use grey, white or black Kona cotton for the sashing. Right now, I’m leaning toward black or grey. I wanted to like the white, and it was my original choice, but I felt that the blocks get lost in the sea of white when I tested it out. The yellow tends to wash out significantly, and it really pops with the black, but overall, I think I like the grey the best …

Once this top is completed, I think I’m going to work on making myself a blouse. I’ve been reading Nancy Zieman’s book Pattern Fitting With Confidence and I think it’s time I try using some of the things I’m learning. I want to make a button down blouse, so I’m considering using Butterick B5300  for my first attempt at fitting. It’s a semi-fitted shirt made from woven fabric, so it will lend itself well to making a muslin, I hope.

But my real goal for this year is to reduce the overall number of UFOs I have, not increase them, so I am headed out today to see if I can find an extension table for my Pfaff Creative 4.5. I am hopeful that the table will be usable with or without the legs – with the legs when I want to take it with me, without the legs when I want to use it in my Horn Quilter’s Dream sewing cabinet. This is how I used my Janome 8900 for almost two years, and it was the perfect set up. With luck, I will be able to do the same with the Pfaff.

So, what’s on your work table this week?

January blues

I am not a good winter person. The days are too short, the nights too long, and the temperatures too cold for me. Granted, I’m not exactly a summer heat person, either, but I do love the longer days of the summer months. I have always suffered from January blues, and this year is certainly no different. In fact, it may be a little worse than usual considering my personal situation this year.

When I found out in November that I was being laid off from my company, I had high hopes that I would be able to find another job internally before my mid-February exit date. But I work in the oil industry, and as you may know, oil prices are in the tank. So I started looking externally last week. Job hunting is not one of my favorite activities, and I’ve been with my present company for nearly six years, so I’m a little rusty. However, it isn’t like the wolf will be at our door the minute I leave my job; there is a generous package, which will keep us going for many months if it’s necessary. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary, but it’s nice to have the safety net if it’s needed. In light of the present oil market and futures, moving on might be in my best interest, and fortunately I have skill sets that are applicable in a wide range of industries. Everything will work out just the way it’s supposed, of that I am sure.

Still, it isn’t easy to get on with the day to day life when you feel this unsettled. I’m doing what I can to keep myself distracted, though. I spent several hours last week preparing the Minions quilt for quilting. I spent most of Saturday cleaning and re-arranging my studio. Sunday morning, I decided to see how the Pfaff would do with free motion quilting (FMQ). I am by no means an expert, and I need LOTS of practice, but I have decided that I will never improve if I don’t actually start using FMQ in my quilting. So, I switched gears and decided to work on the Cat in the Hat quilt that I started FMQ on back when I still had the Janome 8900. That was like, two years ago! So yes, I thought, finishing that would be a great idea. I pulled out some scrap fabric and batting, and gave FMQ on the Pfaff a whirl.

My first attempt at free motion quilting on the Pfaff

My first attempt at free motion quilting on the Pfaff

I know it isn’t very good, but I was pretty happy with it since I haven’t attempted FMQ in at least two years. There is one pucker on the back of the sample, but I didn’t actually tack the layers together in any way, so I was a bit surprised there was only one pucker. I thought, Well, as long as I don’t try anything too crazy, this will work alright on the Cat quilt. So I moved the Pfaff to the sewing cabinet and got ready to quilt. Only … I realized that I didn’t have an extended flat surface on which to work. No extension table or cabinet insert to make the surface easier to work on, and nothing to tape down my Supreme Slider to so that the quilt would move easier. /sigh

I would have used the Brother – it has a bigger throat and I have a cabinet insert for it – but I cannot get it to FMQ, no matter what I try. I am going to try to get to the dealer soon to see if there’s anyone there who can help me figure out what I’m doing wrong, but for now it’s not an option. I do have an extension table for the Viking, but I haven’t tried any FMQ on it, even though I bought a foot for that purpose, but it isn’t quite as big in the throat area as the Pfaff, I think, and definitely not as big as the Brother. So I’m concerned it might be a bit of a trick working on it, but I don’t think I’ll be buying a table or insert for the Pfaff for a while, so if I can’t get the Brother to work I might try it out. In fact, I might try out a sample on it today, just to see how it handles FMQ.

In the meantime, I have block 11 of the 2014 Wishes BOM cut out and ready to assemble. I got sidetracked yesterday evening with making dinner, then I got sucked in to watching tv with Chris. But today I’m going to get that one together, and maybe get the 12th block cut out, at least. Once that’s done, all the blocks will be completed, and I can sash them and put a border or two on it and then that’s another quilt top completed. I have so many quilt tops finished right now, that if I can work out the FMQ thing, I will have practice pieces lined up for MONTHS. LOL None of these quilts are specifically ear-marked for anyone, though I am thinking I will give the Cat in the Hat to my grandson. Well … this is embarrassing to admit, but one of the quilt tops I made for my daughter, when she was about 10. She’s 22 now with a kid of her own. So I guess I’ll give that one to her when it’s done. But other than that, none of them have a specific destination yet. It would be really great if I could get them done and use them for gifts this year.

Have a good Monday, everyone!

Better late than never

On New Year’s Eve, I posted about making weekly goals that I want to accomplish. While I didn’t accomplish much on that list, I did manage to do a fair amount of sewing during the week. I am happy to be able to report that the binding for the fleece jacket is 3/4 done. I am hoping to get it finished by tomorrow night; I would be working on it right now, but there is a wicked western sun coming through the window right where I would be sitting to sew, so I’m waiting for it to go down. Clearly, I need to replace the non-functional Venetian blinds at that window with something that actually works.

In other news, this followed me home last Tuesday …

My new toy, which somehow managed to just follow me home ...

My new toy, which somehow managed to just follow me home …

It wasn’t in the plan to buy a new machine; I had stopped by to take a look at what they had to offer, because the one year anniversary of my Viking Opal 690Q purchase is approaching, and I had until that date to trade it in and get the full purchase price credited toward another new machine, at MSRP. Now, I’ve been watching the machines since I bought the Opal, and let me tell you that it’s not always the best idea to trade in a machine against MSRP, because many times, new machines are marked down more than the amount the trade would give you. And that would have been no different with this machine. In fact, I got an outstanding deal on this machine, paying about half MSRP. It was a machine used at the Houston Quilt Show back in November for classes, but this machine had almost no time on it. It came with the small embroidery unit, which is still a very generous 10″ x 6″-ish size. Down the road, I might just upgrade to the large unit, which has an embroidery area bigger than 14″ square.

This is the machine I’ve been using the do the binding on the fleece jacket, and I will say that I’m thoroughly impressed with the IDT on this machine. Attaching the binding has been a much easier process than I was anticipating on the other two machines I have, and I am very happy with this purchase. But I have to tell you, that really wasn’t the case when I first brought it home. In fact, I wasn’t sure what I was doing the whole time I was making the purchase. When I got it home, I let it sit in the middle of the studio for a while before I unpacked it. Then I let it sit on the table for a few days before I used it. Oh, I ran a couple of sample lines of stitching on a scrap piece of fabric to be sure it would at least do that, but I didn’t actually use it until Friday. And from that first line of stitching, I knew that I would love this machine. But until then, I was pretty much freaking out, which is why very little was done on my list last week – I just couldn’t keep my mind on anything but trying to figure out what I’d do if this machine turned out to be a mistake (my dealer doesn’t allow returns). I’m very happy to report that it isn’t a mistake. Yay!

I will do a full review of this machine once I’ve had it for a while and used it, but right now I will say that I foresee this being my go-to machine for difficult fabrics. The IDT is making the fleece a breeze, so I imagine it will have similar results on other difficult fabrics. The Opal didn’t do so hot on the fleece; the Brother did fine, but the Pfaff just sang. I can’t wait to really put this machine through it’s paces and see what she can do!

Stay tuned … 🙂

Another addition

Viking Opal 690Q

Viking Opal 690Q

When I posted photos of my new studio, I mentioned that I purchased a Viking Opal 690Q machine. I also sold the Janome 8900 that I purchased two years ago. The truth is, while the 8900 is a perfectly wonderful machine for some people, it just wasn’t the machine for me. I never bonded with it, and while it did fine work, I was never really satisfied with it. So when the Opal caught my eye at the dealership a few months ago, I was really leery for many reasons.

First and foremost, I was concerned about some of the reviews I’ve seen about Viking quality in the last couple of years. They were bought out by a holding group that also purchased Singer and Pfaff. Anyone in the sewing world knows that the Singers of today can not hold a candle to the Singer machines our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers used, and the biggest issue is the lack of quality. Having lived with a mother who sewed extensively, I know that the problems with modern Singer machines started in the late 1970’s. While she was away visiting her family one year, my dad decided to surprise her with a new Singer electronic machine when she came home. He was really trying to do a nice thing, but that machine turned out to be a major lemon. It was constantly in the shop, and it forced my mother to buy a mechanical machine so she could continue to sew while the Singer was unusable. After that, my mom never owned another Singer machine.

I have read some reviews about Viking machines in the last couple of  years that suggested the quality of the machines was about on par with the Singers of the late 1970’s forward. And I am certain that these people have told the truth about their experiences, because what possible reason would they have to lie about things like problems with thread tension, motors burning out, and other mishaps that have been reported? So I had very real concerns about what I might be getting in to if I purchased a Viking machine.

I also was a bit worried that maybe I was so much of a Brother machine junkie, I would never be happy with another sewing machine brand. I mean, there are people who are so in love with their Janomes, they sound like an advertisement when they talk about them, and I clearly just never really liked the Janome. Would I end up in the same place if I were to buy a non-Brother sewing machine again? Well, after owning this machine for more than two months, I can answer that with a resounding, NO!

I know it’s not been very long since I bought the machine, but so far, it’s been a dream to use. And I love it. I have found myself using it more frequently than I do George, because the piecing is just so great on the Viking. It is a bit noisier than George is, but not nearly so loud as the Janome was, and it’s not an unpleasant sound. The stitching on the Viking is just beautiful, and the decorative stitches are adorable. In fact, I already have plans to use some of those decorative stitches on an upcoming quilt I have in the queue. And I’ve had no problems at all with this machine, knock on wood. It’s been lovely to work with ever since I took it out of the box!

I will be doing a full review of the Opal 690Q after I’ve had it and used it a bit more extensively, but I can say that the projects I’ve used it for so far – some quilt piecing, and a knit t-shirt – both turned out lovely, and the machine did a bang up job on everything I’ve used it for so far. It’s quickly becoming my “go to” machine for many things, which is a good thing because I want to put George to work on finishing up quilts by using him to do in the hoop quilting.

Check this space in a few months for a comprehensive review on Opal!

Shopping for a new machine

Like many large metro areas, Joann’s has started putting the large “super” type stores in my area. I like to go there and buy fabric, though for most other Joann’s purchases, I go to the less crowded store closer to my home. Our big Joann’s store has a space that is rented to a local machine dealer, who sells two major brands of machines in that space.

Yesterday, while in the big store buying fabric and thread to make some t-shirts (a post on that later), I overheard the following exchange in the rented area …

 

Sales lady – As you can see, this is the top of the line machine. You will never need another machine!

Customer – So, if I buy this machine, it won’t be obsolete in 13 years?

Sales lady – Absolutely not! These machines are built to last. And the technology is the latest, so it will still be in top working order in 13 years!  (I got dirty looks from the sales lady when I laughed at that one)

Customer – So, for $9,000 I get all of this? Including the software?

Sales lady – Yes! Isn’t that a great deal?

Customer – Does this price include upgrades?

Sales lady – Yes! You won’t find another deal like this anywhere!

 

Well, let’s hope that’s true.

I really hate it when I overhear conversations like this, because I know the sales person is there to, well, make a sale. But I hate seeing someone taken for a ride, particularly a $9,000 ride. When the customer asked how long the sale would last and the sales lady walked away, I slipped over and suggested that the customer do a little research on the internet, not least because $9,000 for the machine she was looking at was NOT a good deal, and it hasn’t been the top of the line for two generations.

But really, I couldn’t believe it when she asked if the machine would be obsolete in 13 years and the sales lady said with a straight face that it wouldn’t be. Seriously?? Let’s get real here, folks … if you buy a computer today, do you expect it to be obsolete in 13 years? Yes?? Then why in the name of all that is good and holy would you have a different expectation about a sewing machine that is, in fact, a COMPUTER? You may still be able to use it, and it may work just fine. But it will, indeed, be obsolete. Let’s try not to be naive here.

Furthermore, before buying anything that costs so much, be sure you do all your research on the internet. Look at the company’s website to ensure that you’re getting what the dealer is telling you the product actually is supposed to do and be (in this case, the whole top of the line thing). Read reviews and comments about the product you’re interested in buying. Take into consideration how many complaints there are about it, as well as the satisfied customers, and then try to balance the two. If there are problems, read about the customer service the person received – how long did repairs take, did they fix the problem and did that resolution satisfy the customer.

Educate yourself on every aspect of your purchase. In this particular case, the sales lady told the customer that the embroidery/digitizing software costs $2500 and that future upgrades are included. I know the software is expensive, but I am positive from my own experiences that the upgrades are not free. And, there are other options that are considerably less expensive that will do the same thing – and the upgrades for them ARE free, or nearly so.

And finally, don’t rely on brand name to tell you “all you need to know” because in this day and age, brand name means almost nothing. In every single category, consumers are finding that brand names they trusted 20, 30, 50 years ago are not the same quality they’ve been in the past. From slow cookers to sewing machines to cars, there are few products that haven’t seen changes in their quality – both good and bad. Take the time to become familiar with the current quality of a product before buying it.

I have two sewing machines that cost me several thousand dollars and I’m satisfied with both, but I did my homework and made sure I was getting not only a good product, but companies that would stand behind the purchases. I’ve not been disappointed, though had I gone with the brand the woman in Joann’s was considering, I surely would have been, based on the reports from customers around the world. Do the research, and THEN make your decision. Don’t be blinded by the fancy looks, the bright colors or the claims of a sales person. Decide on the features you need and avoid impulse purchases. But once you do make a decision and you get that nice new machine home, send me photos so I can drool with you!

Football and Sewing Machines

I just watched the pre-season opener between the Houston Texans and the Carolina Jaguars, and I have to say I’m pretty happy with the outcome – the Texans took it, 26 to 13. And they were pretty classy about it too. At the end, when they could have easily scored again, they took a knee twice to run out the clock. Good game, guys! Can’t wait for the regular season to start, but next weekend there’s another pre-season game between the 49ers and the Texans. I’ll definitely be watching!

In other news, I went to look at some sewing machines today. First of all, let me say that I am definitely NOT a fan of the Pfaff machines. While it may seem silly to some, I don’t like the looks of the machines – all angular and it looks as if you could cut yourself on the sharp edges (you can’t, I tried). I also took a look at the Viking machines, but since they are no longer made in Sweden, they don’t have the same feel as they did five years ago. The guy I talked to suggested either the Brother (my personal favorite) or the Janome brand. He showed me the Brother Quattro2 6700, which was phenomenal. I mean, this thing can SCAN to find the location where you want to embroider on the hooped fabric, thanks to some handy little stickers that come with the machine. And if you put the sticker on off center, or tilted, or whatever … the machine will modify the design to fit however you want it to go on the fabric. It also has this really cool pen pad – you can write, draw or trace anything on it, and the machine digitizes it! This is a HUGE step up from the old days of having to use a computer and expensive software and a box to do such a thing. He had two or three of the refurbished 6700’s, and they cost $6700. Or, he was happy to sell me “last year’s model,” the 6000, for “just $6000.” [insert green sick smilie here]. Ugh … $6000 for a machine?!? I don’t think so!

He also showed me the 2800D, which is the upgraded version of the 2500D I sold a few weeks ago. It’s a really nice machine, and it is very much like the 2500D. It’s also $4300 … and I’m not really sure I am that into embroidery to pay that much for a machine. I mean, it’s nice and all, but I mostly do quilting, and the embroidery I do usually do isn’t all that big. So I came home to brood about it, and to talk it over with my husband. I mean, I’m not ready to buy a machine right now anyway, and I want to buy a machine that isn’t more than I actually need (you know, like I did the last time). Before I buy anything these days, I do a lot of research online. I mean, isn’t that what’s so great about the internet? You can find all sorts of information without ever leaving home. That doesn’t mean I make a decision before I leave home … well, not always … but it does give me the chance to know what I want to see when I go to look at something like a sewing machine. And this is what led me to the Brother Laura Ashley Innov-Is NX-2000. It is actually tailored to quilting, which is great, since that’s what I do the most. It has a look I like (if it had a color screen instead of monochrome I would be even happier), and it has something approaching 500 stitches included. Not only does it have a bazillion stitches, Brother claims it can stitch in multiple directions and it comes with all sorts of cool accessories – like a circular sewing attachment. I didn’t even know such a thing EXISTED, and now I feel like I have to have it. Yeah, I don’t know why either, but it sounds super cool.

I called a couple of shops, and found one that not only carries the machine and has one I can actually test drive, but the machine retails for around $2000. I couldn’t get an exact price, because you know, they aren’t supposed to tell you that stuff over the phone because it violates their dealer agreement (which I think it totally bogus, but whatever). But knowing that it’s around $2000 is helpful enough, because I think we can all agree that “around $2000″ is a heck of a lot less than $4300. And since it’s primarily meant to be used by quilters, I think it’s a good choice. I’ll go check it out next weekend and let you all know what I think.

And I’ve decided that if I do decide to go with the quilting machine, at some point I might decide to purchase an embroidery machine. If I do, I definitely won’t go for the $6000+ machines, but Brother makes several machines that are lower level with embroidery sizes up to 5″ x 7” that are less than $1000. I can live with that for sure.

I had planned to get out and shoot some photos this morning, but I didn’t get to bed until 4 am, and I wasn’t getting up at 6 am to go out. I’m going to try again tomorrow … we’ll see how that works. Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep tonight and I’ll have some photos to post tomorrow or Monday.

Until the next time … keep on doing whatever it is that makes you happy, so long as it isn’t illegal, immoral or unethical! 😉