Go On – Touch the Tension Dial!

When I was at school, for the short time I was allowed into the sewing machine room, the whole class was warned never (NEVER) to touch the tension dial. We were all terrified of that tension dial and what could possibly happen if we altered it.

Actually, when something is understood, it is easier to fix and tension isn’t hard to understand and doesn’t need to be a mystery or something to be concerned about. The best way I have found to explain tension is by thinking about a tug of war match. In a sewing machine, you have two teams – one on the top, the top team and one in the bobbin, the bobbin team.  Now think about those two teams taking up the tension on the rope, the flag in the middle of the rope sits perfectly on the line between the two teams.  How this translates to your sewing machine, is that the meeting of the two threads (from the top and from the bobbin) happens perfectly within the thickness of the material sewn – so the bobbin thread is only seen underneath your work and never on top and the top thread is only seen on the top of your work and not on the underside.

So, by understanding this, we can now look at what ‘bad tension’ refers to. It means that the two teams aren’t pulling with the same strength, they are not balanced. There are two outcomes from unbalanced pulling, or tension.

  • When the top team pull too hard, or the bobbin team slacken off, then the flag moves towards the top team. On our sewing machine, this means that the bobbin thread is seen on the top. So, if you see your bobbin thread on the top of your work, it is either because your top tension is too tight, or your bobbin tension is too loose.
  • When the top team slacken off, or the bobbin team pull too hard, then the flag moves towards the bobbin team. On our sewing machine, this means that the top thread is seen on the underside of the fabric. So if your top thread is visible on the underside of your work, it is either because your top thread is too loose, or your bobbin tension is too tight.

This concept is a really easy way to decide what is wrong with your sewing if tension is the issue. It will help you decide which changes to make to correct the balance of tension and get your sewing back to perfection. However, before you change any dials, always check these three things first

  1. Is the machine threaded correctly? In every case unthread your machine (completely) and rethread it.
  2. Have you got the same type and thickness of thread in the top and in the bobbin? They dont have to be the same colour, but they should be the same type. Some sewing machines are more forgiving of this than others.
  3. Is your stitch length appropriate for the thickness of the fabric bulk you are sewing – for example, two pieces of quilting cotton would normally have a stitch length of between 1.8-2.2, but sewing up curtain fabric will generally require a stitch length of around 2.8-3.2.

So now you are ready to conquer the world! Go forth – touching that dial should never worry you again!

Understanding Your Overlocker

With the Singer Overlockers on sale in Lidl this week and with the use of overlockers on the TV series, The Great British Sewing Bee, more and more of the sewing community has access to an overlocker.

Overlockers are sadly often misunderstood tools. They can do so much more than just sew stretch fabrics. Overlockers are designed for

  • encasing seams on all fabrics to neaten and prevent fraying
  • sewing seams without puckering, stretching or gathering on more troublesome fabrics such as knits (stretchy fabrics) and fine wovens (for example, voile)
  • creating specialist stitches such as flatlock seams, rolled hems and others
  • making decorative edges by using decorative threads in the machine loopers

Although I have had an overlocker for a couple of years, it is only in the past six months that I have used it regularly and it is a brilliant extension to my sewing machine work. It had been threaded and ready for use for some while and from time to time I did get it down to use, but with hindsight, it was a poor attempt to use it.

The machine is different from a sewing machine in a variety of ways. It has no bobbin but instead uses loopers to create stitches. It has the ability to cut fabric as it sews. Most newer overlockers have two feed-dog systems, one of which can be altered to move quicker or slower than the other, creating the differential feed which is so useful when dealing with difficult fabrics.  To add to this, each thread, and overlockers sew with two, three or four threads has it’s own tension settings. All this combines to make a machine with lots of variables, so it is important to find your basic stitch (I call this an anchor stitch) and see what happens when you vary one thing from this point.

The basic stitch or anchor point for each overlocker will need slightly different initial settings for each machine. For my own Juki overlocker, I get a great basic 4 thread overlock stitch on woven fabric, using a stitch length 2.5, no differential feed (set to N or 1), a cutting length of 2 and all thread tensions set 4. Once you have found your own basic stitch with woven fabrics, like me, you can create a book of stitches by first changing the length to 1 and checking the stitch, then to 2, then to 3 and so on up to the maximum setting. Then set the length back to 2.5 and varying the cutting length in the same way. Doing this, and recording your findings in a book of stitches, will be invaluable in understanding how your overlocker works and what it is capable of.

My next overlocker class with spaces available is over two nights on Mondays January 22nd and 29th. Email mail@gillmacdesigns.com for more details or to book a place.

 

Working from Base Camp

I am no stranger to working on my holidays. After years of corporate life, where everything was urgent, nothing could wait and my phone was constantly ringing (with bad news), not working would be shocking. However now working on this holiday, isn’t really work, it is building a small business, creating projects that I think people will enjoy, whilst using fabrics that I think will inspire. In the Lake District, I can do this whilst Katie and Brian fell walk – everyone is happy

We’ve been away for two weeks, staying on Ullswater. It is the only place in the UK, other than the Hebrides, that I’ve been where the daylight changes the colour of the surrounding landscape so dramatically, often hour by hour and certainly every evening. I love doing anything by this light because almost every time you look out the window the palette of colours has changed again.

We don’t particularly come here hoping to get good weather. Good weather is a bonus, but slowing down our pace of life and changing the way we operate for two weeks is all we truly need. My business allows me to be a ‘base camp’ for Katie and Brian who like to plan a walk, get dropped off in one location and get collected somewhere else. Katie is becoming quite an accomplished walker. She knows how to plan, what to take and how to both fuel and pace herself. I think this year is the first that she is setting the pace rather than Brian, but she sees it as a team game and that is all part of it.

This afternoon I have come down to Glenridding to plan my class schedule whilst they take out a rowing boat. It is cooler today, but they are still keen to get out on the water all the same. Later, I will be back at base camp, looking out over cattle and fields and further onto Ullswater.  I am able to sew with a magnificent view, preparing Winter class samples and writing spartan notes that will eventually become class methods. Perfect !

Gill’s new class list is now on the website and pictures of her sewing whilst away in Ullswater this year are on the website gallery.

GillyMac Dawn til Dusk Sewathon

If you didn’t already know (how could you not know !) , on 22nd September we held a Dawn til Dusk Sewathon in support of Macmillan Cancer Support. From 7am until 7pm there was a flow of adults and then after school children and teens arriving at the studio in Westfield Road. The participants enthusiastically sewed squares together all day, making 15 quilts over the 12 hours.
a322c70e-9a45-4de2-ac92-652da96ac258

 

img_5827

Julia’s First Ever Patchwork

It was a great team and community effort. Pupils, past pupils, friends, and neighbours came together to sew and eat cake ! By sewing precut squares into blocks of three by three, Deborah Ransom and Jean Cozens co-ordinated the assembling of colourful quilts in cot size and bed size. The day flew because of the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the flow of people through the studio on the day. We even had some very young helpers !

img_5828

Allegra having a rest !

img_5835

Jordi enjoying the Tuffet !

For me, the day was a moment in time of the spirit of sewing within a community of volunteers. That spirit is continuing through a group of volunteers that are helping with all the quilting and binding need for each of the quilts.
All of the quilts made are being donated to Project Linus, a charity which provides handmade quilts to poorly children and child carers across the UK. The quilts made during the Sewathon will be distributed across Berkshire. The day also raised more than £650 for Macmillan Cancer Support which I have just dropped off at the bank.
This isn’t something we can repeat annually as it takes an awful lot of effort by all those involved, but I hope we can have another Dawn til Dusk event in 2018 and maybe even try and break our record of 15 quilts ! I’ll keep you updated with how the completion of the quilts go and the reception we get when they are handed over to Project Linus in November.
Thank you all very much for taking part – it was amazing !
img_5889

A Little Bit of EPP & Relaxation

After a pretty hectic summer, I now have time to breath as do a little of what I fancy. In saying that, there are many things I need to do to prepare for Autumn classes, catch up on admin for Gillymac, construct and finish my block swap quilt, and of course I need to order lots tuffet supplies…. cook dinners, plan activities, roll over that start of Katie’s new term in my mind so nothing gets forgotten… You see what I mean ! We are all the same I am sure. IMG_7044

However, with that in mind I did none of it yesterday and spent the day preparing 1″ hexagon pieces for an American English Paper Piecing (EPP) swap. I saw the swap on Instagram whilst on my never ending quest to be more modern and ‘with it’. The deal is that I prepare 60 hexagons, 10 of each in red, orange, yellow, green, purple and blue – it is a rainbow swap. You then post them off to a co-ordinator who is located in Georgia, and she posts back an equivalent mix prepared by other people around the world. After that we all make something and post it on Instagram. It’s different and fun and EPP is something I never have time for so this made me sit down and relax yesterday preparing them. I’m really pleased with the outcome. 

So now I need to wait for my allotted batch to be returned to mid in mid-September and in the meantime I will be thinking about how to best use what comes back. It will be a cushion or a bag front I think … But I will enjoy researching and drawing out my ideas in the meantime. I started sewing again 11 years ago to escape from the pressure of life, and it is important to centre yourself from time to time and do fun things like this. 

IMG_7042

Ps. If you are happy to attempt to be ‘with it’ on Instagram (I do try) you can see how the rainbow hexi swap is going in pictures by searching #rainbowhexiswap 

Tasha’s Reversible Tote Bag

As a teen project for the Summer holidays, Gill and I found a great pattern for a reversible tote bag. It looked great and simple to make … so my first project at GillyMac Designs was to make it up.

The Finished Bag

Method

  • I first had to cut out my pattern by Novita Estiti from ‘VeryPurplePerson.com’, I did this on two contrasting coloured fabrics.
  • Then I put the right sides together and sewed along the bottom edges, leaving the straps open.
  • Then I sewed along the straps (arms holes and openings) and stop stitching after 20cm, I clipped all the round edges, then I pressed everything out and pulled it around the right way round through the straps.
  • I then sewed the straps of each set together, I made sure that I sewed each strap to the strap beside it, NOT the strap in front.

IMG_4843

 

  • I pressed the seams open and pressed the seams into each other.
  • I then top stitched the handles and around the arm holes, I didn’t use a contrasting thread but that could be possible.

IMG_4852What it could be used for

This bag could be used for shopping as it is easy to carry in a hand bag and store away. The bag is strong so could hold food items or any bits and bobs you buy in the shops or on the high-street. It is a fashionable item that can hold any dance kit or sportswear and it easy to hold on your shoulder. It could be used as a school bag as it is strong and if it gets dirty it is easy to wash both sides thoroughly. It can go with anything as there are two sides so could go with any clothes that you are wearing and if you don’t think one side goes with your outfit… try the other side!

It is fun and easy to make and the product is very useful.

Creating an Amazing Space – Part 2

Oh my goodness.. we are about done ! Yesterday was the last big push. The GillyMac room upstairs is tidied, labelled, dusted and vacuumed. Downstairs we are leaner, with less clutter but still with some of the books I love on view for inspiration! 

IMG_6237-103IMG_6238-104

In the next couple of days, the hooks will go up for the inter-changeable design walls. Then …  I think we are done…. in the sense that we are in good shape to maintain order, see what we have and enjoy and use what we have. Lastly we are putting up curtain tracks on top of the shelves so that lightweight calico curtains can be hung from them to protect the fabric from direct sunlight and to keep the dust down!

IMG_1892

The Super Sale was a great idea and it will be something I will do on a more regular basis. It created a healthy turnover in stock, it shared the love and it made some cash to plough back into the business. I still have sale fabrics … so don’t be shy to ask… I think another sale will happen at the same time next year and I am sure that year on year the Super Sale will grow.

IMG_1895Measuring the pieces (as I discussed in ‘Part 1’) was a master stroke – Thanks to all who helped! At last I can see what I have and most importantly I know how much is there. I have 3 or 4 boxes of ‘bits’ left over. These range from ‘smaller than fat quarter’ to ‘less than a metre’ and I am going to turn these pieces into 3.5″ and 5″ squares as well as 2.5″ strips which can be used in creative classes and for the Young Quilters and after school classes. Then once this is done, my lovely pal Lindsey will have the remaining small bits for her amazing 1″ hexi project…

The outcome of all this sorting and tidying is a huge number of project ideas. There is so much scope to use what is here for many exciting things. Added to these ideas are the new techniques I have been researching over the summer. I want to dye my own fabric with my senior girls and I also want to add fabric stamping into some of the applique pieces we are about to undertake this term ! I have a folder with all my ideas in it .. my magic folder !

I love been more organised, but it has made me remember how amazing lucky I am to be married to a man who has allowed me to build GillyMac and who supports all that I do every day.

IMG_6239-105