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.

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.

Machine musings

Janome 9400 back from the repair shop 27 March 2019
Janome 9400 QCP

I got my machine back on Tuesday afternoon (having taken it in on Monday morning) — great service. The bobbin timing had been knocked out, which isn’t surprising, and they had to replace the bobbin holder.

I thought that the crash had come out of the blue, but as I was stitching down the binding on the quilt last night I noted that the serpentine stitch in the border had a lot of stitches missing at the right hand edge of the design, so obviously there was a pre-existing timing problem that I hadn’t noticed. I had to unpick it all, of course, which took a couple of hours, and I’m not sure if it’s worth replacing, since the whole point of the serpentine stitch was to hold the border in place while I attached the binding, and the binding is now in place. (The border is only an inch wide — I only added it because I hate attaching a binding to an edge that has multiple seams.)

Pfaff Passport 2.0 attempting quilting 26 March 2019
Pfaff Passport 2.0

I found that while the Pfaff Passport 2.0 is great for piecing and appliqué (it did all the hearts at the weekend) it’s not so good at quilting. Even with the Integrated Dual Feed in place I was getting a lot of drag on the top layer of this quilt, so unpicking that is this evening’s task. I’m not fussed that it can’t do quilting, actually — it’s a small machine and it’s perfect for taking to sewing days and retreats so I’m still very happy that I bought it. Besides, I have several other machines I can turn to for quilting if the 9400 is out of commission, like the Janome Combi 10 which I used for the binding on the other quilt.

Janome Combi 10 27 March 2019
Janome Combi 10