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Sewing and Travel

Hubby’s surgery at MD Anderson was a success.  It was a long 10 days and I am SEW glad I brought a sewing machine and project to work on while we were there.  May I share some of what I learned from my experience?  These recommendations are based on staying at a hotel for an extended time (not attending a sewing retreat).

  1. If at all possible, take a sewing machine – preferably a computerized 3/4 size sewing machine like a Janome Jem 720/760, Elna STAR or Handi Stitch 210 (from HandiQuilter).  These are all essentially the same machine made by Janome.  It fits perfectly in a Travelon underseat rolling tote, so you can carry it on the plane.  Remove the needle, place a piece of foam in the bottom of the bag and set the machine on top of it.  Tuck fabric, batting and/or your sewing mat around the machine to protect it even more.  A Janome Jem Gold 660 or a Singer Featherweight are also options, but it really depends on the type of project you plan to do. I took an Elna STAR with me. I REALLY appreciated the needle down and adjustable zigzag.
  2. Unless your project is completely precut, take a folding 18″x24″ mat with you.
  3. Take a portable Ott/Daylight or similar lamp with you, along with a 6′ extension cord.
  4. If possible, take your extended sewing table (or get a Sew Steady acrylic table for your machine).
  5. Pack your rotary cutter plus an extra blade.
  6. Pack only your go-to rulers – (for me:  5″x15″, 6-1/2″ square and 2-1/2″x6″-1/2″)
  7. Karen K. Buckley Perfect Scissors are wonderful!  I took the lime green and turquoise sizes with me.
  8. Leave the iron and ironing mat at home – the hotel has an ironing board and iron.  But do pack a small bottle of ironing spray, a couple sheets of parchment paper and a travel size lint roller.
  9. Pack all project specific items – pattern, templates, interfacing, marking pencils, etc. in a ziplock bag.  Fabric, too!
  10. Essential sewing supplies – and only you know what those will be. If in doubt, leave it out. You can always buy one when you get there.

Things I really wished I’d brought with me:  wooden chopstick or skewer, hand sewing needles/thimble, pretty magnetic bowl and a “trash” bag (fabric or paper bag/tape).

Any must-haves that you would add to this list?

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Sometimes life just happens…

About a month ago, my world was rocked when my husband was diagnosed with a very rare form of thyroid cancer.  We were immediately dispatched to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for further evaluation. We knew the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes surrounding the thyroid on his right side.  What worried us was a suspect lesion on his lung that appeared on the CT scan done locally. The battery of tests conducted that long week spent in Houston for evaluation concluded that the cancer had NOT spread.

That’s good news since the only protocol for this type of cancer is removal by surgery. There’s no chemo or radiation afterwards. Hubs will be under the knife for several hours as Dr. Z. and his team work their magic. Hubs will come away with a nice, long scar as his souvenir.  My fervent hope is that the surgical team gets ALL the cancer and there are no surprises during surgery.  I sincerely hope hubby heals quickly and with minimal pain. Well, the previous sentence is for me, too, as I will be the one with him in Houston for those two weeks.

Yes, I’m packing my Janome Jem Gold 660 and Granny’s Garden (a Lori Holt sew-a-long) project to work on while I’m there.  [Ideally, I’d bring a Featherweight, but I need a zigzag stitch for applique.]  Others in similar circumstances actually encouraged me to bring a machine or pick up an inexpensive one at Wal-Mart once we got to Houston. It will give me something to do either in the hotel suite or in the community room (we’re staying at a property adjacent to the medical center). Handwork can be saved for time spent waiting in the doctor’s office.

We’re on Fall Break this week. I’ve spent time outfitting the Janome with accessories I might need and sourcing fabrics/tools/templates for the quilt. Tomorrow, I will make the first block – all the way from start to finish. Lori Holt suggests that you precut everything and put it in baggies before you begin to sew. No time for that. I might try to precut parts for the next 5 blocks and bring the rest of the fabric with me.  I plan to use a low sheen, invisible poly thread for the inner appliques and white thread to stitch down the large circles to the background squares. I don’t have room in the suitcase for multiple spools of thread to match each applique piece. I need to find my notes from the invisible applique class I took with Jan Cunningham!




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Janome Jem Gold 660 preset stitch length and width measurements

The Janome Jem Gold 660 is a wonderful sewing machine. However, it features stitches that come with preset stitch length and width. I could not find stitch length and width measurements anywhere for the straight and plain zigag stitches. I even called Janome. Their USA customer service didn’t have the info either.

Some experts recommend disregarding any sewing machine without adjustable stitch length and width. For most sewists, preset stitches are really not that big of a deal unless you are taking a class that requires decorative stitches and uses heirloom sewing techniques.  The Jem Gold 660 is perfectly fine for quilting classes, raw edge & Lori Holt appliqué projects, plus most garment sewing applications.  It also makes a great travel machine.

Following is my best approximation of the actual stitch length and width for the preset straight and zigzag stitches only:

Straight stitch length

Small  1.7 mm – 15 stitches per inch (anything where foundation paper is torn away after stitching)

Medium 2.5 mm   – 10 stitches per inch (95% of your sewing will be done with this stitch)

Large 4.0 mm  – 6 stitches per inch (basting and gathering)

Zigzag stitch width x length

Small  1.5 mm x 1.5 mm (appliqué  – most of your appliqué will probably use this stitch)

Medium   3.0 x 3.5 mm (appliqué, decorative, seam finish)

Large  5.0 x 2.5 mm  (seam finish, decorative)

(I measured actual zigzag stitch samples with a metric ruler.)

* In a pinch, you could probably use the narrow and wide stitches in the 4 step buttonhole for a satin stitch!


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Why I keep a sewing kit @ work

Sometimes I feel like the company clerk on MASH – you know the guy who had or could find you almost anything?  Even with sewing studio B dismantled because we no longer do clubs at school, I keep a super stocked sewing kit in my office.  That plastic bin probably knows the school’s layout as well as I do because so many people have borrowed it!

Today, the new music teacher came to discuss a small hole in her daughter’s leotard.  Fortunately, I had polyester thread and appropriate hand sewing needles in the box. What she really needed, though, was a 2″ square of black, fusible knit interfacing to reinforce the hole prior to stitching it. My coworker showed me her handiwork as we left school for the day.  She did a nice job. I hope the repair held through her daughter’s competition this evening.

You can easily make your own mini-sewing kit by repurposing a small hinged metal or plastic box (like an Altoids tin).  Wind bobbins of white, medium tan and black polyester thread.  Include thread conditioner, a thimble and some hand sewing needles. A small pair of stork scissors adds a nice touch.  A needle threader is a necessity for me.  Place your needles and a few straight pins on a small piece of felt.  Add a few wonder clips,  safety pins and translucent shirt buttons – you’re all set. Some folks like to add a small magnet (needle minder) or a tape measure. Add whatever items you need – it’s your sewing box.

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The value of another perspective

I forgot my lunch today.  😦

Picture this: leftover Zaxby’s House Zalad with fried chicken and extra tomatoes from my garden, plus just a drizzle of Newman’s Own honey mustard dressing (my fave).

Sound good?

Well, my mid-day feast turned out to be chicken nuggets, raw veggies and unsweetened applesauce from the school cafeteria.  As I sat in the library “feasting” on chicken nuggets, one of the custodians came by to say hello and asked what was for lunch. I recounted my tale of woe about having left my delicious salad at home. She laughed with me and then went on to point out that “the Lord provided the food now, so I should look forward to having dinner already prepared when I get home.”  WOW!  I love her wisdom and insight. She always has a sunny disposition and tries to look on the bright side – even though her personal circumstances are difficult at best. My mood improved and the normal daily irritations rolled right off my back.  All because she brought a different perspective to my situation.

As I scroll through my Facebook quilting feed, I can’t help but marvel at the willingness of strangers to give their opinions when asked and the fact that some groups have developed such a feeling of nonjudgmental closeness (if there is such a thing) that members feel comfortable putting their projects and questions out there for feedback from the group. It’s like getting feedback on your project from staff at the local quilt shop when you can’t get to the shop in person.  This new perspective may provide you with motivation to keep going, permission to toss the project in the garbage (gasp!), or awareness about a different technique/colorway to make your project event better.

Of course, you have to keep an open mind when you ask for feedback. It may not be what you wanted to hear, but do graciously thank (and “like”) the comment that the person took the time to write.  It’s only fair.  Oh, and take the time to share your perspective when asked. 


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What’s your why?

What motivates you? Why do you do the things you do?  If you drill down deep enough, you’ll eventually uncover your true why.  It may/may not be pretty, but at least be honest with yourself, so you can do what needs to be done to move in the direction you really want to go.

My school handed out copies of Simon Sinek’s book, “Start with Why” as our welcome back to school gift. Then, we were told that we are expected to recite the “why” for everything we do in relation to our jobs this year.

So here goes:

Why is my day job that of a librarian? I love libraries. They were my safe place growing up. I’m a voracious reader, tinkerer, maker and want to know all the things. I like to share information/resources with others.  I feel most at home behind a reference desk or sharing a great story for a read aloud. Although I’ve worked in a public library, school libraries allow me to do the same thing, but on M-F schedule that better suits my family.

Why am I still at my current school?  1. Relationships with coworkers and students. 2a. Administration finally listened and pulled the library out of the specials rotation. 2b. Now the opportunity is there to truly makeover the library, possibly leading toward state recognition as an Exemplary Library Media Program. 3. It’s close to home, which is important because Atlanta traffic can be a nightmare. 4. I’m not ashamed to say there is a financial incentive for staying with my current school district – we’re set to receive a really nice raise which will help with retirement and potentially afford me the option to retire three years sooner.

Why do I have a sewing business? 1. I love to teach sewing to newbies. Kids are a lot of fun, but much more work is involved than with teaching teens/adults. 2. I am a technical editor for sewing/quilting designers because I am tired of spending money on patterns full of mistakes. It’s also a good ROI for time spent. I deliberately keep my hourly rates on the affordable side and work efficiently so my clients get value for their hard earned money. 3.  It serves as an outlet to sell my samples, voluminous stash and other vintage treasures. The thrill of making a sale is very real (kind of like when a reluctant reader  adamant about getting a Wimpy Kid book actually checks out the other book you recommended) 4. It provides a way to indulge my inner entrepreneurial streak while making a few extra bucks. 5. I’m building something that will continue after I leave public education. 6. As the business evolves, I’m finding more ways to tie quilting/sewing with library work (Atlanta Quilt Study Symposium in late September).

These were the relatively easy “whys” that I feel comfortable sharing in public. Some of the whys in the more personal areas of my life are definitely messier and took some effort to unpack. However, this exercise does inform what needs to be done to move me toward the place where my actions are more congruent with my beliefs in all areas of my life.

Again, what’s your why?

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Ready to rejoin this thing called LIFE

When the doctor told me to take the summer off, I did exactly that – no work, no side hustle, no summer sewing camps, no therapy dog visits – no nothing except travel, play with the dog and attend to some summer household chores. While bathing the dog this afternoon, I actually wished we had a CHOA visit scheduled for tomorrow.  My itch to stitch has also returned. I’ve been in my sewing room this evening trying out a darning foot on Crystal. She’s been overly fussy, so she’s going in timeout while I pull out Juliette.  Yep, after nearly 2-1/2 months, I’d say I’m ready to rejoin this thing called LIFE.

The first 3 days of teacher preplanning have been exciting. A new school year always brings the usual can of crazy, but not having to perform the first day of school at 8:00 a.m. (for specials classes) has removed much of the stress I encountered the past two school years. I’ve been able to actually do librarian stuff, which I have sorely missed. The teachers are so excited and some have already reached out to collaborate on lessons. My new parapro has come around to her new work assignment. I think I have figured out a way to divvy up the necessary tasks to make everyone happy!

So glad I already re-homed several sewing machines we used in sewing club.  Looks like sewing club will not be a reality this year.  A bit of a bummer, but it’s time to move in a different direction. This means I am going to re-home/dispose of at least 2 more sewing machines.  My goal is to have only 2 sewing machines (1 grant funded and one loaned) at school for Maker Space activities and uniform repairs.

Now back to experimenting with the new darning foot on Juliette!

Have a great week!