Just Pfaffing Around

It is a delicious joy to be able to use that title — I love puns!

Pfaff Passport 2.0
Pfaff Passport 2.0

With my big machine still in the shop, I’ve turned to my Pfaff Passport 2.0 to continue sewing. The big quilt is set aside for the moment (the Pfaff is not strong enough for quilting) and instead I’m making maple leaf blocks for a quilt destined for my cousin Jo (sister of Suzy, for whom I’m making the Hawaiian appliqué quilt). The pinkish light comes from a red LED strip which reduces eye strain and the quilt to the left is the one I was working on when the Janome 9400 jammed. As you can see, the machine doesn’t fit the sewing table but I make do.

Ten Maple Leaf blocks
Ten Maple Leaf blocks

Just a few of the blocks I’ve done so far — I’ve done about half of the 42 I need and I should be able to get the rest done in the next week or two.

Maple Leaf blocks
Maple Leaf blocks

Although the leaf outline is the same for all blocks, I’m using three different piecing designs. The first is “Autumn Splendor” by Bea Yurkerwich, published in Quiltmaker back in 1993 — it’s become extremely popular in the years since then and I’ve always wanted to make one.

Maple Leaf 1
Maple Leaf 1

I started out using black thread top and bottom but found after my first block that the thread really showed in the centre, and I had several very light fabrics where it would show even more. On the other hand I was afraid that light thread would show up when sewing black pieces together.

Maple Leaf 2
Maple Leaf 2

Consequently I used this design, based on a pattern from My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe, for the very light fabrics because it has the fewest black/black seams. It goes together quite well and the light thread doesn’t show too badly between the black pieces.

Maple Leaf 3
Maple Leaf 3

The third design is one I worked out myself (although someone else may well have done it before me) because I wanted a design that radiated out from the stem as real leaves do. It looks great but it’s by far the worst of the three to sew — I find Y seams are difficult by machine, even when stopping points are marked. It also has the thickest build-up of seams, and all the diagonals mean that it’s the least square block when finished. I only had to unpick and re-sew one of the Y seams though, so that wasn’t too bad. Thank heavens for steam irons!

Since the Quiltmaker block is the easiest to sew (who would have guessed?!), most of the remaining blocks will be done in that pattern.

Alone Again …

Well, not really. But my Janome 9400 is in the shop again after an unfortunate incident over the weekend involving my huge oriental stained glass quilt and a titanium needle, resulting in a very jammed bobbin holder, although to be fair it’s quite possible that the bobbin jam preceded the needle breakage. It’s been used a lot over the last fortnight but it’s only two months since it was serviced and I was a bit bummed about paying $150 minimum to get it repaired again until the receptionist told me that it was still under warranty from the service, so that’s good news.

As you can see, it is well and truly jammed (sorry about the focus). I tried to lift it out with my fingers but it wasn’t moving at all so I decided to err on the side of caution and leave it for the technician to get it out.

I don’t have all that much left to do on the quilt but I was hoping to have it finished ready for photographs on Friday 21st and that’s not going to happen now. Ah well, worse things happen at sea, as my mother used to say (and as an ex-Navy person myself I can vouch for that).

In the meantime, me, my Pfaff and I will be making some maple leaf blocks and maybe adding borders to another of my ancient WIPs.

Happy Day!

I’m delighted to say that I have all my machines back — including the Janome Combi 10. Apparently whatever had happened to it back in 2019 was fairly minor, but in the intervening three years a lot of the oil had solidified so it needed a thorough cleaning, and they also replaced one of the wires on the foot control (I think I had put my chair leg down on it).

While waiting for the machines to be brought out I mentioned that I was looking for a strong electro-mechanical machine (which, strictly speaking, I don’t need now that I have the Combi back) and she at first suggested the Juki 2200, but when I explained that I wanted one without a circuit board she suggested the Juki DDL-8700 — it’s an industrial model, but it doesn’t have an oil pan underneath. I’ll definitely look into it, but at 28 kg (61 lb or 4.4 stone) it’s not exactly portable — it needs to be installed in place and never moved. Given that I am moving interstate within the next year or so I think I’ll wait and get it when I’m safely ensconced in the new house.

I foresee a lot of sewing in the near future — I have all the Hawaiian applique blocks to quilt individually, a basted top ready for some walking foot quilting, and a heap of blocks that need to be assembled into a top ready for pinning at the end of September.

First World Quilting Problems (and a haunted machine)

In a fit of hubris a few weeks ago I told Jan-Maree I could definitely do three AHQ quilts by the end of July as I had a lot of fabric for that particular theme and a very simple block plan. The first one was posted in mid July so that’s done. Quilts two and three were pieced in the third week of July and basted on the 22nd, so I was quite optimistic about getting them done with the walking foot in a continuous diagonal pattern as it only takes two to three hours per quilt. The Janome 9400, my main machine, is, admittedly, in need of a service and I was planning on taking it in after the quilts were posted, but I broke a needle going over a seam (no pins) and I know from experience that this machine does not suffer broken needles with equanimity so I decided to take it in that day rather than risk damaging it further. I also took in the Janome Combi 10 that I haven’t used in three years because it fell, and the little Pfaff Passport 2.0 as it’s also in need of a service and it’s too weak to quilt effectively.
Janome MC8000
Having been warned that the machines wouldn’t be ready for about three weeks, I turned to my Janome MemoryCraft 8000, which I bought in 1991 and used as my main machine for 25 years. This machine is close to dying — the touchscreen is barely functional and I can’t alter stitch length or width — but I managed to get one straight stitch and one zigzag stitch to work. I finished up the diagonal I had been sewing, but trying to manipulate the quilt through the machine’s 6″ harp proved to be extremely difficult. I also found that the walking foot doesn’t hold the fabric as firmly as the walking foot on the 9400. Thinking back, I haven’t actually done much quilting on this machine, and the little I did do was long straight lines with the quilt rolled up and secured with bicycle clips — frequent turning was never an option. With some effort I got the quilt finished using straight lines instead of diagonals but it’s not pretty.

Oh well, I said to myself, I’ll do the second quilt with basic free motion quilting, even though I’ve never been good at it. I spent a day and a half watching FMQ videos then prepared a practice piece using calico (muslin) and an off-cut of cotton batting. I found the hopping / darning foot and fitted it to the machine. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the switch to lower the feed dogs, in spite of looking all over the machine. I figured that it had to be an electronic option that I couldn’t reach because the touchscreen doesn’t work (I was wrong, as I’ll explain later).

Oh well, I said to myself, there’s always the Brother SuperGalaxie 2100 that I bought in 1999. Although its embroidery function was a lot better than the MC8000’s I couldn’t get a good quarter-inch seam on it so I never used it as much as I ought to have. It’s also having issues and can’t be serviced or repaired anymore, but it is still capable of basic sewing, or so I thought. It has a mechanical switch for the feed dogs, which I duly lowered, and then I threaded it up and started to stitch. I managed to get about twenty stitches before the upper thread broke … eleven times in a row.
FMQ attempt on Brother SG2100
I adjusted the stitch length (to zero), I adjusted the tension, I rethreaded it, I replaced the bobbin, I even took the side panel off so that I could confirm it was threaded properly. None of it worked. For some reason, the upper thread wasn’t being pulled back up through the fabric, as if the tension mechanism wasn’t there, or wasn’t working. It’s electronic, of course, so no levers or springs that I can adjust manually. Then, as I was contemplating what to do next, the machine slowly started moving … by itself. My foot was nowhere near the pedal and neither were the cats, so this wasn’t triggered by any accidental pressure. I have read about this happening to Brother machines but I never thought I’d see it for myself and it spooked me completely. The machine was promptly switched off, unplugged and returned to its case.

I have two other machines — a Singer 99K with a potted motor and a 201K treadle, but I don’t have a walking foot for either of them, nor can I drop the feed dogs, so they are no help to me right now.

I spent another couple of days contemplating my predicament. I briefly considered buying another sewing machine — I’ve had my eye on a Juki 2200 for a while, but to my immense disappointment it turns out that it is not, as I had thought, an electromechanical machine: it’s computerised. They don’t advertise it and in fact they’ve tried to disguise it with all those knobs and levers, but you can download the brochures and manuals from the Juki website and, as always, the devil is in the details. Page 3 of the manual states “…the sewing machine incorporates semi-conductor electronic parts and precise electronic circuits.” The manual for the 2010 makes no mention of any electronic parts but the specification list includes “electronic foot lift” and I believe that the needle up/down button and automatic thread cutter are also electronic. I’m very disappointed to find this, as I would pay AUD2500 for an electromechanical straight-stitch machine that might last me 30-50 years, but not an electronic one that will be non-functional in 10-15. It proved to be the same for the Singer HD series and the Janome HD9 Pro — the electronics are as hidden as they can make them without actually lying.

I then checked ebay and Gumtree for used mechanical machines, but I didn’t see anything that I liked within reasonable driving distance. I also thought about buying a HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen, but it’s a lot more money than I want to spend right now (lots of bills this month) and to be honest I don’t think I quilt enough to make it worth the expense. Not to mention that the only HQ machine for sale in Canberra at the moment is the Moxie, which is a frame machine, and getting a Sweet Sixteen delivered would probably take … around three weeks.

Then, while browsing all those “best mechanical sewing machine” posts, I followed some links to the Janome website and decided to download the manual for the MC8000 — I have a paper copy somewhere but I haven’t seen it in years. Lo and behold, there on page 71 was the illustration of the feed dog switch — it’s at the back, hidden underneath the free arm. I had tilted the machine over to see if it was at the back, but obviously not far enough.

OK, back to FMQ practice.
FMQ attempt 1
FMQ attempt 2 with improvised rulers
… Ehrm … Maybe it would be better to stick to the walking foot for now. Straight stitching in columns is so boring but if it’s all I can do then it’s all I can do.

After a few more days’ work I’ve finished both of the quilts and they are ready to be posted in the morning. I’m going to take a break from AHQ for a month or two as I don’t want to do anything until I get my 9400 back, and then I have two of my own quilt tops to work on.

In the meantime, I have to face the fact that these two machines are at the end of their lives and must be thrown out. I hate to discard anything I’ve had for a long time (as my friends know, I’m only a stack of newspapers short of being on Hoarders and that’s because I don’t buy newspapers) but they are computers with defective circuit boards. They aren’t functional and can’t be repaired. They are 15 kg bricks. They need to go.

I hate throwing things out.

It must be done.


I’ll salvage all the bits and pieces, of course. Both power cords are the standard “infinity/figure 8” connection so I’ll keep them as spares. I’ll also keep the Janome feet as I have other Janome machines, but I’ll sell or give away the Brother stuff.

I really would like a sturdy electromechanical machine that can sew a fantastic straight stitch — like the Singer 201 but with new parts and a walking foot. I guess it’s a pipe dream when every machine above “beginner” level seems to have hidden electronics.

July Achievements and August goals

July goals:

1. AHQ: One quilt … not quite finished. All the walking foot quilting has been done, but I had three strips 6″ wide so I decided to have yet another attempt at ruler work, using a crescent shape from the Westalee Janome sampler set I bought in January. I did manage to get the quilt to move this time (by using the medium setting and ramping the pressor foot height up to maximum) but even then the result was not good:

Ruler Work attempt
Ruler Work attempt

So this will be unpicked tomorrow and I’ll draw more straight lines that I can do with the walking foot. I should have it in the post by Friday Monday. Note: I honestly thought it was Tuesday today, not Thursday. Where did the week go?

The more attempts I make, the more I believe that the upgrade for the 9400 was not worth it. It’s a lot harder to move a quilt through a domestic sewing machine than it is to move a longarm machine over a quilt, and even with all the sticky patches I can’t stop the foot from shifting the ruler out of position. Honestly, I think I’d be better off practising my FMQ.

2. Personal: eh, not done (I’m not sure I’ll continue listing this goal as it’s almost never done).

3. FAL: still working on precise measurements for the Blue Christmas panel quit — I want to have as few seams as possible so I’m trying to work on placing the small panels in pairs rather than individually.

Additional Work:
I didn’t actually work on anything else this month but I did get two thank you letters this month from recipients of my quilts. One was physical, a lovely hand-made card:

Thank You card
Thank You card

The other was by email and included a picture of the quilt and also the laundry bag — I’m so grateful for that as I forgot to take a picture of the laundry bag myself before posting and it was a design I was particularly pleased with:

Camo Kitty Laundry Bag
Camo Kitty Laundry Bag

August goals:
1. AHQ: 4 generic laundry bags
2. Personal: Not setting one this month.
3. FAL: Complete the Blue Christmas top and start on the quilting

More Ruler Work Woes

I wrote in January that I was having problems with ruler quilting on the tumbling blocks mini.

Fabric bunched up in front of the ruler foot
Ruler foot problems 1

At that time the problem was pressor foot pressure — try as I might, I was unable to get the pressor foot to lift enough to allow the quilt sandwich to move. I was using MonoPoly in the needle and Invisafil in the bobbin and it’s possible that tension issues might have contributed (although I had used those same threads with the walking foot quilting and had no problem at all).

Today I was quilting En Bourgogne and decided to try some ruler work on the B blocks. This time I am using Gütermann polyester in both needle and bobbin. I made a test run at the edge of the batting and the foot moved easily — I didn’t take a photo, unfortunately, and I pulled out the thread before starting on the quilt itself. Confident that the previous problem had resolved, I made a start on one of the blocks in the middle of the quilt. The result was … not good.

Ruler work tension issue - June 2019
Ruler work tension issue – June 2019

(Please click through to see the large photo)

Apart from the issue of moving the quilt while keeping the ruler still (which caused uneven stitching) and the extreme difficulty in getting the foot over seam allowances, the tension was way off — the bobbin thread was being pulled right through to the top. And yes, I double-checked that the pressor foot was down while I was quilting (it’s not easy to tell with the ruler foot). I’m pretty sure that I’m using the correct option within the ruler work menu — it’s a thin cotton batting with not much puffiness, as you can see from the walking foot lines I quilted earlier.

Ruler work setting
Ruler work setting

Has anyone had similar issues with the Janome 9400 or 9450?

I’d take it back to the shop where I had the upgrade installed, but they’ve moved since January and, while the technicians are the same, all the front staff have changed and I’m not confident that there is anyone there who has actually used this machine.

Oh dear

This morning I decided to finish off the two laundry bags I had started last Friday before I take the Janome Combi 10 in for servicing. That accomplished I thought I’d start on the remaining two bags — but when I went to fill a bobbin with the new colour I noticed that the thread platform was bent in, and it broke on one side when I straightened it. It was subtle enough that I didn’t notice when taking a photo of the machine the other night, only when I stood over it to put the bobbin on the winder.

Combi thread holder - bent in
Combi thread holder – bent in

Combi thread holder - broken
Combi thread holder – broken

Then I remembered that the tote had tipped over while I was wheeling it in from the car to my friend’s house last Friday — it had caught on the kerb, my hand slipped off the handle and it fell. I always place my machines with the motor as close to the centre of the tote as possible, and obviously the thread platform took the brunt of the impact against the handle. It’s quite possible that the actual overlocker mechanism was also jarred out of alignment.

I guess I’m lucky that the sewing side is unaffected — but the machine is definitely going to the shop to be checked.

I could get out the MyLock overlocker and use that on the long seams, but as I’ve stated before it’s an absolute bitch to thread and the last time I tried I couldn’t get it to make a decent stitch. For now the pinking blade is working and I’ll stick to that (and even though the blades are nearly twice the cost of the straight blades they are still a lot cheaper than a new machine).

Sewing Day (Three Lucky Saves And A Final Snag)

[Note: all photos were taken here at home, not at Sue’s]

Every month on the fourth Friday I go up to see my friend Sue and we work on projects for Aussie Hero Quilts. Occasionally other people turn up but usually it’s just Sue and me.

I was lucky I made it yesterday — for some reason I had it stuck in my head that 24th May was next week. On Thursday night I was lying in bed, reading (as I usually do before going to sleep) when I suddenly realised that in fact 24th was the next day — and I hadn’t got anything ready! Not only that, but my alarm was set for 0930, which is a great time to wake up if you are retired and the only thing you have to do in business hours is go to the farmers’ market, but not a good time if you have to be at the other end of the city by 1000.

Laundry Bag kits May 2019
Laundry Bag kits May 2019

I got up, reset the alarm to 0730 and made a short list of what I had to get ready in the morning. Second lucky chance — I had cut a dozen laundry bag kits a couple of weeks ago after I had finished the oriental stained glass blocks, so in the morning, after I’d dragged myself out of bed, fed the cats and fortified myself with some coffee, I picked out four kits and set them aside. I also fused some web to a length of white poplin to use as write-on labels. My travelling notions container was scrutinised — threads were swapped to match the bag colours, plastic bobbins were swapped out for steel, and then all I had to do was load the machine into the wheeled tote.

Janome Combi 10 overlocker
Janome Combi 10 overlocker

My choice of machine for laundry bags is the Janome Combi 10 which is very solid and very fast. I don’t have a quarter-inch foot for her but that doesn’t matter with laundry bags, and the bonus is the two-thread overlocker on the other side which I use to finish off all those long seams (I know some people don’t bother, but it worries me to have an unfinished seam that isn’t stitched down in some manner).

Anyway, having arrived at Sue’s place and set up my working space, I started on the bags. Zig-zag stitch on the white labels went very well, and so did preparing the casement (cord channel) and attaching the two parts of the first bag. When I came to overlock that seam, however, the machine made a horrible clattering noise. I checked the workings but couldn’t see anything amiss, and when I hand-cranked it all I could hear was the knife cutting through the fabric. As soon as the pedal was depressed the noise came back so the machine is going to have to go in for a service (it’s been about two and a half years since the last one, so I can’t really complain). Bummer.

Pinking Blade
Pinking Blade

Here’s the third bit of luck — the rotary cutter with the pinking blade was still in the notions container. I don’t usually carry it around but I had put it in the container earlier in the month for a sewing day in Sydney, and since everything else I needed fitted around it I hadn’t taken it out. That meant I was able to use it to pink the edges of the long seams on the bag and its lining, and everything went swimmingly until I attempted to put all three parts together.

Unfortunately, I then hit another snag. I’d prepared the casements as I usually do: cutting off the selvedges, turning the edge twice and stitching it down. What I hadn’t done was check the width of the casement fabric against the width of my feature fabric … yes, you guessed it, the casement fabric was 4 cm longer than the feature fabric, and the casement itself was actually a smidgeon wider than the stitched bag.

Casement width
Casement width

Some days you just know the universe is against you.

I decided to call it quits and come home — I’ll get around to fixing the casement and finishing the bags later on this weekend.


It’s definitely getting colder. I haven’t been able to bring myself to put the heaters on yet (much as I would like to) because the thermometer says it’s still 20° C in the living room — and yes, that’s probably making most of you laugh but I’m a thin-blooded Aussie and anything under 23° has me thinking wistfully about woolly pullies and fluffy slippers.

The cats are also feeling the cold, and while I can tell myself to tough it out (or put on a cardigan) I don’t want them to suffer, so I brought out the heating pads and set them up a couple of nights ago. They both love the heat and have spent most of the time since then sleeping in their new warm spots. They didn’t appreciate me waking them last night to take photos and expressed themselves in their own unique ways:

Vanima on heating pad
Vanima: “Oh, take a picture if you absolutely must, but you’ll have to be content with my right profile.”

Verya on heating pad
Verya: “What are you doing, you stupid human? I’m trying to sleep here!”

I’ve completed my latest Aussie Heroes quilt and used the new Accufeed HP2 foot on the Janome 9400 for the binding. I made the happy discovery that aligning the left tongue of the foot on the edge of the binding gives me a perfect 1 mm space between the edge and the stitching line. Previously I used the walking foot that came with the machine (AD) but it’s very wide and I was never able to keep it precisely in line.

Binding in progress using HP2 foot
Binding in progress using HP2 foot
Completed binding
Completed binding

I also reverted to pinning the binding rather than using Wonder Clips, which I have found to be too easily knocked out of alignment, dragging the binding with them — I did try using washable glue between or under the clips a few times but that didn’t help much and was even more time-consuming (as well as messy). Pinning may be old-fashioned but it’s much more secure.

Free-motion quilted gum leaves
Free-motion quilted gum leaves

I also continued to work on my FMQ eucalyptus leaves — I’ve done them on a few quilts now and they’re getting better but could still use some improvement. I’ve given up on the gumnuts for the time being as I couldn’t get them to look as neat as the leaves but I’ll get back to them when I have a bit more confidence.

2 kg plastic-covered hex weights
2 kg plastic-covered hex weights

Today I finally got around to visiting the sporting goods store and bought two 2 kg weights to use with my rulers. I had been using books (of which I have many) but they are awkward to keep picking up / putting down and the dust jackets were starting to suffer, so they can go back to the bookcase now and be safe.

April Achievements and May goals

I missed my usual retrospective post around the 21st of the month — the post itself has been drafted for a while, but the quilt I’m talking about was sold long ago and the only photos I have are prints from film, so I need to get the scanner working in order to have digitised images for the blog. I’m an Olympic-level procrastinator so it hasn’t happened yet … maybe next month.

Apart from that, though, I’ve been very productive.

AHQ goal: One quilt and one laundry bag. Almost done. I’ve finished the quilt and I’m working on the laundry bag — I don’t anticipate any problems in having them in the post by 06 May.

Personal goal: make the last two Hawaiian appliqué blocks. Not done. Now that I’ve found my bottle of fabric stiffener, however, they might just get done in the next few weeks.

En Bourgogne borders
En Bourgogne borders

FAL goal: Attach borders to En Bourgogne. Done. I’ve attached the two borders, basted it (with the help of my friend Sue) and started the quilting. I’m doing straight diagonals first, and then I’ll add some FMQ later on, just to ensure that every piece is quilted. It’s a large quilt, and the batting is a little denser than I had expected and not very easy to shift around so it’s slow going.

En Bourgogne being quilted
En Bourgogne being quilted

Additional work:

Shiny squirrel attack! The Sunday before Easter I had a rush of blood to the head and made up some stained glass blocks while I was watching the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs (North American ice hockey, for those who don’t follow it) — once I got into a production line it was so fast that I decided to complete the lot over the next few days. There are 15 A blocks and 15 B blocks:

Oriental Stained Glass Blocks B & A
Oriental Stained Glass Blocks B & A

I still need to assemble the blocks and attach the border to the top and right side, but I’ll leave that until next week or the week after.

I also went up to see Jan-Maree just before Easter (she’s doing very well) and helped her to sew two tops for recipients. I discovered that I have been spoiled by my Janome 9400 — I didn’t want to take it up to Sydney (it’s very heavy) so I took my little Pfaff Passport 2.0 instead. Unfortunately the Pfaff doesn’t remind me to check the pressor foot so I managed to break two needles by trying to stitch zigzag on a straight-stitch foot. Luckily the machine continued to work but I think I’ll take it in for a service before it’s used again.

I haven’t done much hand work at all — my wrists and thumbs are recovering (slowly) from the overuse I subjected them to in March, but it will be a few more weeks before I can do more than half an hour of piecing at a time. I’m hoping that hand-quilting will be a different enough movement that it won’t aggravate them, but we’ll see. The weather is definitely cooling down at night so quilting season will be here soon and I want to get started on Pentastic (the quilt in the header).

May goals:
1. AHQ: Four laundry bags for Townsville.
2. Personal: Assemble the Oriental Stained Glass top.
3. FAL: Finish the quilting on En Bourgogne.