Fly on The Wall....

First of all this video is an experiment, I'm not really expecting it to be ground breaking. When I first started sewing I needed to see real people sewing real things.  All the books and tutorials are great for learning techniques but I craved seeing how it all came together at the machine. Here I ignore the camera while I sewed three pairs of pants assembly line style.  I think you'll see the pockets come together.  You'll notice no ironing or pinning just folding and sewing.  In this case I'm using the Pfaff 138 for it's speed not it's strength.  Strong but not heavy thread and a size 80/12 needle which has come to be my favorite size for general sewing.  I'm obviously a total sewing nerd because I could watch stuff like this all day....  Real people sewing real things, hopefully no nose picking....

Introducing Sophie....

Sophie and I have worked together for a bit more than a year.  I had hired her as an instructor at the other sewing studio and when I left she followed me.  Sophie is also self taught and it shows in her ability to take on rather ambitious projects with little worry they may not succeed.  She has a very much "Make it work" attitude when it comes to sewing.  Making it work is an excellent skill to have when you teach sewing classes, especially to kids.  Sophie has much better design aesthetic than I do and most of the design elements you see in the studio are her doing.  Our skills compliment each other and we make a good team. 

Sophie sews at home on the Bernina 530 which I gave her as a gift when it was clear she was due for a machine upgrade.  The knee control on this machine is for sewing, not for lifting the foot.

When the lights go out....

I guess they didn't have 6'3" men in mind when they designed these?
Boston didn't get hit with hurricane Sandy nearly as bad as other parts but many of our neighborhoods did loose power and still have not had service return. Most of the damage was from high winds, luckily it did not rain enough for the widespread flooding that could have been a very real possibility.

I grew up in the country side of Northern California and it was routine to loose power for days or even a week at a time in the winter. Mom still lives in the house I grew up in. She has the monitor heater and electric baseboard units but she will never give up her wood stove. When the lights go out she knows that at the very least she will have the fundamental comfort of heat and that makes her feel safe.

One of the things that bothers me most when the lights go out is not being able to sew. Just the idea that I can't sew anytime I want makes me anxious. In my head I consider the possibility that the power may never come back on and then what? I'd have a huge collection of useless machines and equipment and in that case a HUGE need to be sewing as a necessity.

Last year I purchased an old treadle sewing machine from the early 1900s for $40. The iron base and wooden top with drawers was in great shape, the machine attached, not so much. I removed the machine and replaced it with a newer Necchi BU with chipped paint from the 1950s with zigzag and reverse stitch capabilities. I had to remove the middle drawer so my knees don't hit when I treadle. Now I have a very functional and "modern" non-electric treadle sewing machine.

Now when the power fails I know that somehow it's all going to work out. Even if I don't do any sewing by candlelight I still know that I can and somehow that makes all the difference.

What brings you comfort when the lights go out?

Perfect Collar Points

Left Point Using Pam's Technique, Right Using The Traditional Poke and Roll
Collar points, what a pain.  I can't tell you how many awful collar points I've made.  Actually the point on the right done with poke and roll is one I'd normally be quite pleased with.  I've tried all the tricks before..  Taking a few stitches across the point, trimming down and down, extra small stitches, etc.  Nothing really makes as much of an impact as this awesome technique brought to us by Pam at Off The Cuff.  I like her blog a lot, very professional and well worth a read.

Here's the original post which includes lots of text and photos.  This is my first video in a while so hopefully I'm not too rusty...  Enjoy!

A New Venture And Natural Progression...

Introducing Newton Sewing Studio!
This is the main sewing floor.  We also have three smaller offices that will house the lounge, break room, and my favorite the pro room.  The pro room is a studio within the studio equipped with industrial machines and all the supplies needed for the more advanced students.
As you may know I've been working as a sewing instructor at a local sewing school.  I've been with the school from the ground up starting with classes on the dining table and working through two location changes.  The owner and I were unofficial partners, she would handle behind the scenes business stuff and I would take care of daily operations, curriculum development, training staff, and teaching.  This worked out great for me as I had full run of the school with little financial commitment.  Things were running like clockwork and we just finished an explosively successful summer camp program.  However, as these things go we started having issues come up with our differences in management style.  I've already owned my own business and I have a good understanding of how things should be.  Instead of being resentful I decided to take the plunge and offer to buy her out but unfortunately a price could not be agreed on.  In my view I WAS the heart and soul of the school and what I was buying was mostly equipment, fabric stock, client list, and of course the lease.  I'm not going to buy myself afterall!  This disagreement and some "honest talk" caused us to part ways. Yes of course there's more to it but that's the most I'm willing to offer, I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.  This process began mid August.  By mid September I had procured a location of my own and started setting up shop.  On October 8th we were open for business.

I have to admit that while extremely stressful this process has been exhilarating!  Imagine being able to create the sewing studio of your dreams.  Everything is exactly the way you want it for the way you like to sew and teach.  Extra careful attention was paid to our rather youthful (under age 11) core client base to be sure they were stepping into a space where they could be kids yet still professional and approachable to adults.  

Starting fresh means taking what I know worked and didn't work from the previous studio and only skimming the cream off the top.  Making changes is always an uphill battle but to start on the right track to begin with is simple and smooth.

Today we have our first class with actual students!  These are kids who previously took classes from me and tracked me down from the flyers I post weekly.  I'm excited!  Since I can't contact anyone from the old client list directly I'm relying on word of mouth to get the word out.  I can't afford any traditional advertising so every week I put up flyers and work the streets handing out free class cards.

Building a web presence doesn't happen overnight by any means and currently the studio is on the third page of google results.  Would you like to help?  I know you do!  Here's what I need, no it's not money but will help me make rent.  Go to google and search for "sewing newton".  Newton if you don't know is a city in Massachusetts who's claim to fame is it's ranking as one of the safest cities to live in the US.  Click through the pages and somewhere around the third you'll see Newton Sewing Studio, click that.  Try and refrain from clicking any of the HipStitch links as that's the old studio.  If you want to check them out search for "HipStitch".  I won't link to them from here for obvious reasons.

What are the plans you ask?  What's next?  Well, besides teaching classes I'd really like to develop an instructional video series that would be freely available.  I figure that if I concentrate on doing what I love the funds will come and rent and bills will be paid.  I'm not in this for the money, I simply don't know of anything else I'd rather do with my life.  People seem to like that.

Want to see something super cool?

Well satin and tulle are always a huge mess to have in a sewing school. Tulle is just messy and satin is too slippery to stay folded or rolled on bolts.  Previously we used to keep this stuff in bins with lids and kids would dig through to find what they needed.  You can imagine that there was always the perpetual pile of tulle and satin around the bins.  Here's what I came up with!  It reminds me of how pelts are hung in leather shops.  The binder clips work great to hold the light fabric and since the rack is high the kids just pull off the piece they need.  It also makes for a nice display and keeps the fabric wrinkle free.  Pretty good idea huh?

Ok, I've got to work on developing our business facebook page.  As much as it pains me it must be done.... Gosh online social networking is just not my cup of tea!  Who knows, maybe I'll like it so much I'll start my own personal page....   well, don't hold your breath.

Want to offer some encouragement?  Go to our page and "Like" us.  

Please if you see any typos on anything don't be shy and email me!

Necchi punching power and Kenmore to pass up....


Dear Brian,
I have been reading your news on the Supernova..I enjoy it...Do you know what is the difference between that and the ultra? Also what is it like as far as stitch quality and piercing power? I am looking at one on eBay it has a free arm..I really need the free arm for detailed small pieces. They are so expensive though and I am on a tight budget. Believe it or not...I love my singer 15-90 this machine is so powerful and precise. I bought it on eBay but it has the flat bed and I want to get something with decorative stitches and an arm like I mentioned. I have been making very heavy burlap bags, totes with beads and linings. they are really cool..but I need a tuff machine. I'd love opinion or recommendation. Nice to see someone under 100 yrs old that thinks its fun to sew..And your sewing room is awesome. I come across machines here and there if you would be interested in trading machines if your looking for something I may come across it..Thanks

Hi There

From what I always felt the ultra was the first of the Supernova series to start getting cheaper components. It's still a great machine but there's nothing particularly "ultra" about it unless you get the free arm which are rare. The stitch quality and piercing power is similar to all the other Supernova machines. Two things that I have issue with. 1st is the motor, it's hard to get to and adjust. I much prefer the open motor design of other vintage machines. I can't tell you how often I want to adjust the motor when sewing heavy materials. Sometimes I like to used a cogged belt. 2. Punching power on these machines is reduced by all the machinery the power must pass through between the motor and the needle. You always want the most direct path if you want to keep as much power as possible at the needle. As far as free arm vintage (which is a difficult find) you could look into a Pfaff 360 series which I find to be a much stronger machine than the Necchi however the embroidery stitches are not all that fancy compared to the Supernova.


Thanks for taking the time to do a great blog. I have to say your blog was the only place I could find any sort of information on a Dressmaker S3000. I'm new to sewing. I currently have zero machines. In all my research I have fallen in love with the machines from the 50's and 60's and I don't even have one yet. The love of my life would be a Pink Necchi Supernova. But until I find her I'm looking at getting a Kenmore Convertible 1980 #158.19800. This would be my first, a learning machine for me. It comes with all the original attachments including the cams and embroidery attachments. It comes in a very nice desk. They are asking $100 but are willing to go down to $80. The motor sounds lovely but the the feed dogs only go back and forth and not up and down. Therefore the fabric won't move. Is it worth the price of $80 because I might need to get it serviced if I can't figure out why that's happening?

I did read your post: Vintage Sewing Machine Addiction - A Survivors Guide. I'm learning a lot about what to look for in a good machine but I'm still unsure about what's a good price. I would appreciate any advise on this for a Vintage Newbie.

Hi there! 

This Kenmore Convertible is a little iffy... This was produced after the heyday of Japanese manufacturing. Likely the feed dogs on the machine just weren't engaged in the one you're looking at. You don't want to get a vintage machine serviced unless it's really a nice machine. They will charge you $80 to dust it out and squirt some oil on it which is more than the machine is worth. Set a budget of $25 for these store brand vintage machines and $100 for better brands. Old sewing machines are a dime a dozen, don't overpay! My friend Dennis in Alabama picked up a Featherweight at a garage sale for pennies, I myself just picked up a Pfaff 1473 CD worth $750 for only $30!

Try and avoid the cabinets, they're just boat anchors in your life and worth little to nothing. Harder to find yet more functional are machines that come with a carry case.

Hope that helps!

bikinis and thinning the herd



I just came across some of your postings on pattern review and really enjoyed them, I followed over to your blog and am reading through it now. I was wondering, on pattern review you created a pattern for a bikini and the album where I think you said you laid out some of the details on how you drafted it doesn't seem to be up anymore. Do you still have that info? I am trying to do my own now and would greatly appreciate any advice you could provide.
All my best,

 Hi There,
I really should go over to PR and check out my reviews to see if links need fixing. I have to admit that after I worked there it's a little hard browsing the site as a regular user again. Lots of.... memories I suppose. That review causes a huge to do over at the PR site where the ladies were totally unprepared for the next generation of sewists and what they might bring to the table. The album is from the way way back and I remember now that I changed the access after I found some of the kids in the after school program googling me. . It's certainly not obscene but my job is hard enough not giving the kids something else to giggle about. Here's the link you're looking for.
Also along this same line I think my video on swimwear elastic is one of my more popular flicks. It's worth a view and it's short.

Good luck!


First of all I would like to thank you for your excellent blog and You Tube Videos. Over the last couple of years I have been educated and entertained by you. I learned to sew from my daughter when she was about 7 ( My mother had previously taught my daughter to sew.) and I spent endless hours at my mothers old Singer 328K making pillows, Dog clothes and Curtains with my daughter.

I have always liked tools, Woodworking, mechanics as a hobby and the next logical step after learning how to sew was collecting sewing machines ( I know that you suffer from the same disease). I now own far too many machines ( 23 domestic and 2 industrial) and need to sell some. I just use my machines for clothing repairs, mostly work jeans and tee shirts ( i;m cheap and make things last forever) and for projects such as upholstery curtains and roman shades. I was planning on keeping one 1960's Kenmore, a Singer 500 or maybe my 403, A Necchi BF, White 499 1.3 amp , and my Singer 301 . I would like to also replace my 2 industrial machines with a walking foot industrial. I was wondering what you thought of my list of keepers for my uses. ( I am thinking of quilting next and maybe trying to learn to sew clothes. )

Thanks for any suggestions and please Keep making the instructional videos and reviewing machines.

Dear Machine Collector,

That's awesome that you're 7 year old taught you. Everyone is always surprised when I tell them that I start kids off at 5. I've found my youngest sewers are also the most serious and dedicated. These kids will spend an entire day with me, that's 7 hours, sewing and sewing and sewing with maybe 15 minutes for a break to scarf down some lunch. I guess sewing is that fun! Anyway as you're giving me the list of machines you're keeping I find myself nodding my head at your choices. A 1960 Kenmore is of course an awesome machine that can be had dirt cheap. The Singers you mention are some of the best that company ever made. The white I'm unfamiliar with but it's likely made in Japan and like the Kenmore. These Japanese made machines were bullet proof and a real joy to sew on, so smooth!'

A walking foot industrial is on my list of machines I'm interested in owning. Actually i'm in the 
 market for a walking needle industrial. My friend Laurence just picked up a treadle which I'm finding extremely exciting. I don't know if there are too many of those industrial treadles available in this area. One of the high school girls who assists me is obsessed now with the Necchi bu I treadled and wants a treadle herself. 

I think your keepers seem good!

Singer 500a with sloppy stitches...


Today I had a revelation and we'll see what people think of it. I get at least one or two questions a day in my email box and I certainly do try to answer most of them. Why am I not putting this information here for everyone to read? Doing a sewing Q & A page sounds a bit overwhelming but I do like the format.

Let's start with this first one, I'll remove any personal identifiers and correct any typos I see fit. I think I'm not going to follow the comments but please fell free to leave suggestions as you wish.

Subject singer slant 500a

Hi Brian,
    I have two vintage singer slants. When I first got them they sewed like a top. I have them serviced regularly about once a year. Now when I sew I spend as much time adjusting the tension as I do sewing. This is not fun. I do mostly quilting, but I also sew all the window treatments for my home. Sewing straight stitches are no problem. I am having trouble with decorative stitches. The bottom thread is loopy or just sloppy or doesn't look like the stitch I'm supposed to be sewing. The top is inconsistent as well. I switch thread weights constantly as I'm using different threads for different techniques on my quilts. I am mostly doing applique but did complete my first machine quilted wall hanging on this machine. I've always loved this machine, BUT I'm falling out of love with it. I've actually had thoughts of selling them both and getting a modern machine. Please advise.

Dear Loopy Sloppy,
Let's assume you know the basics as you've pretty much stated that. I have a few questions to consider. Why would the stitching be fine for straight stitching and not decorative? Do you adjust both top and bottom tension? I wonder if you have dirty tension disks? Is it an issue with stitching speed?
Something I do know of the 500a is that the thread does tend to fall out of the tension disks especially when stitching fast so I used to use an alternative threading technique that helped tremendously. I just happen to have a photo of this in my collection. The thread goes under that post before going around the tension disks. This insures that it will not slip out. Notice that the pretensioner (I have no idea if that's a word or what that's called?) on the right is bypassed with this threading but you can also include it to see what you results might be.
These are great machines but I do find them quirky.  Singer really was being innovative in trying out new ways to do the same old things as far as sewing machines go.  The 500a is an example of their success.

A slick situation......

With that title I almost started telling the wrong story!  I've have been on my fair share of slippery slopes but this is something else entirely.  A while back I posted about my favorite machine oil Marvel Mystery Oil  and how well it will bring a dry machine back from stiffness.  This oil has solvents and whatnot that really help it penetrate and work through the oil yellowed varnish left behind by old oil.  It also evaporates cleanly leaving no residue that I can detect, however it does evaporate, and quickly.  For those who enjoy oiling machines that's really no problem as it's fun pop the lid and squirt some oil around.  However I've been on the lookout for something better, and I've found it.

While innocently browsing ebay trying to replace some of my long stem oil cans I came across someone selling synthetic sewing machine oil.  While I've long been aware of synthetic motor oil I had never heard of such a thing for sewing machines.  As I clicked to buy I took pause.  Was this some "special" synthetic blended specifically for my thirsty sewing machines, or could it be a savvy individual was buying this stuff at the parts house and repackaging it for sale at $6.99.  Hmm, I think I know the answer......

If you know me even a little then you understand that I am never afraid to experiment and I'm always up for a bargain.  I headed down to the parts house and looked for some fully synthetic motor oil.  I'd like to say I struggled with the decision of what brand to buy but the reality is I bought what was on sale.  There is always oil on sale at the parts house, why would you bother buying the full price stuff?  I ended up with Quaker State which comes in a nice clear bottle and I also like the label.  With a name like "Ultimate Durability" it has to be the "best" right?  If memory serves I paid $2.99 for the quart which has turned out to be quite a bargain.  They have fully synthetic and synthetic blends so I assume you'd want the fully synthetic.

So the results are in and I am thrilled.  When I didn't think my machines could possibly run any smoother or quieter now they do.  I'm going to quote right now directly from the ebay auction and this is really the part that caught my attention....

 "Petro-oils vs. synthetics:
Petroleum-based oils lack both the lubrication performance and oxidation stability of synthetics. Real oil is made up of a mixture of long and short chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms, and under certain conditions the short-chain molecules evaporate, and the unstable molecules oxidize and break down. This leaves a sticky residue which can actually “gum up” the device it was intending to lubricate. Conventional oils also contain varying amounts of impurities, such as sulfur, waxes, and unstable hydrocarbons which are left behind as residue deposits.
In contrast, synthetic oils are made using a process that re-arranges the structure so all the molecules are uniform in size, shape, and weight, an ideal phenomenon which does not occur in nature. While petroleum-based oils that are extracted from the ground must then be refined to attempt to minimize their shortcomings, synthetics are custom-designed to produce the ultimate lubricant, with inherent performance characteristics vastly superior to any petro-oil."

The bottom line is, I don't care if you get the ebay synthetic or the parts house synthetic but when you do I know you will be more than happy with how zippy and fresh your machine feels.  Yes, even the novice oilier will be able to feel the difference, I promise.  For me the two main selling points are the obvious slickness (you can even feel this on your fingers) AND that the synthetic it doesn't seem to evaporate so machines require less frequent oiling.  My own machines at home are always well maintained however at work I feel lucky if the 23+ machines there get cracked open every three months.  Usually by that time they're clogged with lint and stiff to operate.  One of my high school aged assistants has taken a liking to machine maintenance so hopefully we can get on a regular schedule by September.  I also poured this motor oil in both the industrial machines (overlock and coverstitch) and they are also now smooth as silk.

There comes a time when.....

you have everything you "need" and life becomes about experiences.  Treadle sewing has always been a dream of mine (well more of a doomsday fantasy) but let's not go there!  I found this treadle base on craigslist with a machine dating back over 100 years.  The Necchi BU head was a freebie and has cracked peeling paint but sews smooth as silk.  After removing the Singer head the Necchi dropped right into the cabinet with only having to drill the holes on the machine slightly larger.  I removed the middle drawer that prevented me from getting my long legs under the table.  I also opted to more recently take off the fold out table top as the kids always lean on it and that won't last long that way.  I usually have it set up so the kids can play with it, but when I'm in the mood it's my go to machine for sewing.  I was a little disappointed to find that treadle sewing is very slow.  At least on a table like this.

Where the heck has Brian been???

I will spend my days playing dress up and giggling with little girls.
Usually I try to stay away from posting overly personal experiences here in public because I feel like it's not really what readers are coming here for.  That being said I feel like a little bit of an explanation is in order so here goes...

  • Time.  Last September I became a full partner in the sewing school I help run.  This transition widened my job description to not only sewing instructor but bookkeeper, fabric shopper, ebay order placer, floor mop supervisor, trainer, etc..  I'm busy these days and I often put in many hours a week that don't go on my paycheck.
  • Fame.  I don't think I ever wanted to be famous or "known".  Or if I did I didn't realize what exactly that would entail.  Like many artists who create or fall into a public persona it can be distracting at best and completely debilitating at worst.  The art becomes secondary and the artist catches the often unwanted spotlight.  Like a politician one starts to hesitate to be oneself in fear of upsetting one demographic or another.  This does not promote a free spirit.
  • Machines.  So...    after years of touting the joys of vintage machines and possibly looking down my nose at those who insisted on modern computerized machines....   I have changed.    While I still love vintage machines my go to units are all high end computerized numbers and I love sewing on them!  So my taste has changed and I feel a little embarrassed about it to be frank.  I didn't know how to break this news so I avoided it until it became awkward.

If this is going to work then this is how it's going to be:

  • The purpose of this blog is to provide an online resume for my sewing career.  The best way to show an international audience that I know my stuff is to post it online in this "portfolio".  My goal is to have a sewing show on PBS.  This will happen and this blog will be the backbone of my journey.
  • I always read all email and comments.  I can't make the time to get caught up in the fame though.  Blogging is a competitive sport and I'm just not interested.  I don't want advertising, I won't review your products, and I don't want to care how many followers I have (or don't have).  Everyone always talks about link backs, self promotion, guest bloggers, twitter, blah blah blah......   it kind of makes me feel crazy when all I care about it sewing.  SCREW IT ALL  I will be an information island and I don't care a lick if you friend me, + me, link me, or whatever...  Do it for you, not for me.  Ok that felt good!

So to summarize.  I'm surrounded by sewing all day everyday and I can't wait to share everything I've discovered in the past year with my readers.  Please remember that being in the public eye makes me anxious but I believe it's worth it in the long run.  I will do my best to do my best.
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