Shopping Bag

As promised in my previous post, I made a sample reusable shopping bag over the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fabric of choice: 55% hemp, 45% organic cotton canvas in natural, stone colour. I love this fabric. I know, I know, how could I just tuck away all those adorable new Japanese prints, and spend a weekend fondling this plain beige fabric instead? Is Piggledee having an identity crisis, you wonder? But before I answer that question, let me show you more of this bag first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used an orange cotton facing to finish the opening edge of the bag. The pretty bird fabric is actually a big pocket – which is mostly decorative, but is still useful to hold a few lightweight things like an envelope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view of the inside.  Simple .  I topstitched the side seams, encasing all raw edges, so it looks neat and tidy inside.  I used to love my overlocker, but of late the overlocked finish has been bothering me. It looks too factory-made and not pretty to look at. Encased seams exude quality, I think. Beauty is all about details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This bag wasn’t meant so much for grocery shopping – even though you can of course use it anyway you like.  Personally, I already have a dozen reusable grocery bags I bought from supermarkets, which are cheap and ugly but lightweight and functional.  Besides, if I’m doing a grocery run, I don’t really care what I look like much. But for other kinds of shopping — craft supplies, books and magazines, clothing —  that might involve a leisurely stroll through an upscale mall (or not), it gets depressing having to carry those unsightly grocery bags.

So with a pretty bag like this, I can reduce consumption of disposable bags I’d otherwise accumulate from the shops (did you know disposable paper bags are just as evil as plastic ones?) while looking pretty cool.

Now, to answer your presumed question about whether Piggledee is going schizophrenic, well, I don’t think so.  I’m not giving up using cute Japanese prints for making children’s accessories.  I’m just trying to incorporate more and more sustainable materials in my children’s items, like blankets, washers and towels, without sacrificing the “aw… so cute” element.  Because in my opinion, sustainable items should look good as well.  Unfortunately, those cute Japanese children’s prints do not come in organic cotton…

At the same time, since most of my customers have young children, I’m also making a few earth-friendly products for their daily use, like this shopping bag.  Because, after all, parents of little ones are in a peculiar position to be most concerned about our environment, aren’t they?  It’s the children who are most vulnerable to pollution or pesticides, and parents are the first to watch them suffer.  Even the most selfish of parents must be concerned whether there will be any habitable planet left, at this rate of pollution and abuse, on which their children could live long happy lives.

Anyway, to summarise my point, it’s all about integrating “pretty” and “sustainable” in a fun and non-dogmatic way in everyday parenting.  It’s my lifestyle that’s showing in my products, and it’s not schizophrenic.

I just listed this bag on my madeit shop here.

So what’s next on my to-make list using sustainable materials?  I think something fun and pretty for kids’ mealtime.  Cloth napkins, place mats and maybe aprons.  Because all too often, mealtime with little ones is anything but fun.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Fabrics from Japan

My stock of Japanese prints have become pretty low lately, so I ordered and received a whole new batch of Japanese goodness. Hurray! They are all canvas-weight fabrics, most are cotton linen blends (my favourite type of fabric).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberries – Can you see little bees as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage-look cars and trains on natural, linen-coloured background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kittens on pink background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage kids’ items – this one is too cute for words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green-on-natural elephants are back by popular demand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By far the most interesting fabric I found is this one: a panel print of a boy traveling by car and ship. If you cut this panel in half, you’ll see:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This on one side, and

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This on the other side. Too cute for words. Beautiful colours, too.

Aside from the elephants print, all the other ones were designed by Mico Ogura. Of all the cute (or “kawaii”) Japanese prints out there, I just love her designs best, and I notice I’m almost exclusively buying her fabrics these days. She also designed the “Paris,” “Animal Friends,” and “Flower Garden” fabrics that I’ve used before, and have been popular in my shop. I adore everything she designs! The only other children’s fabric designer I madly adore is Heather Ross.

Well, even though I am still in the zone for making things from sustainable fabrics – blankets and towels are done; reusable non-grocery shopping bags are next on the list – I will be making more kids’ bags and backpacks using these new fabrics soon. Meanwhile if you see a fabric you like, I can still take custom orders.

 

Non-towel towel

I’ve been wanting to make a bath towel for children for a long time. It’s something many children use every single day, and the commercial ones are rather boring and unappealing. I wanted something super soft and eco-friendly, with a pretty visual detail. I gathered samples from around the world for organic cotton or bamboo towel fabric. But none of them felt quite right. Some were too rough to touch, some were too expensive, and while bamboo felt very nice, I am a little confused right now about how earth-friendly bamboo is, considering it appears to take a lot of chemicals to convert bamboo into fabric.

Then one day it occurred to me. Why, a bath towel doesn’t have to be made of traditional towel material! Any soft and absorbent fabric will do. That’s how I found this perfect non-towel towel material: hemp and organic cotton blend jersey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is hard to describe how beautiful the fabric is without the benefit of touch. It is lightweight. It has a lovely natural, off-white colour. It is very soft, but has some knobby texture to it that is warm, earthy, and welcoming to touch. Forget about your children, you just want to wrap yourself in it.

And hemp is brilliant. Before I saw this fabric, I had the impression hemp was a little on the rough side – suitable for canvas or heavier fabric, but not for something soft and delicate for baby items. Well, I was wrong about that. Or maybe hemp gets “tamed” here with the blend of organic cotton. Did you know hemp is extremely absorbent – more so than plain cotton? It is also naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and as such well suited to children’s items.

The jersey is stretchy in both directions. I bound the raw edges with my all-time favourite fabric – Liberty of London tana lawn, for that gorgeous, luxury look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The towel is also beautiful as a swaddle wrap for a newborn. Stretchy, generous-sized, and lightweight for the Spring-to-Fall seasons. In fact, I’m not sure if I can convince anyone else to use this as a towel, so I think I’ll list it in my shop as a wrap and a blanket….

But I love this as a towel. I’ve been using it on my little ever-willing (forced?) product testers, and I’ve been very happy with its absorbency and function. It’s great for warmer weather. Moreover, don’t you hate washing heavy traditional bath towels? They take so much space in the washing machine, takes forever to dry, and what a waste of water that is. Washing this lightweight material is a breeze.

Oh, another thing about traditional towels I don’t like: after a while of use, they tends to get hard and brittle when dried in the sun. Maybe this is because of the water quality in Sydney, or because the soft ones have some synthetic material blended in it. But some of the bath towels I have turn into a sand paper when I dry them, I wouldn’t in a million years want to use that on my skin.

Here’s Miss M wrapped in her new favourite towel. She insists on sleeping with it as a blanket, too. I love it when she approves of something I make…. because as you’d know if you’ve been reading my blog, it doesn’t happen very often!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve listed one on my Etsy shop. There’ll be more shortly.

8 ideas on living (relatively) cheaply on organic food

So I’ve been getting weekly boxes of organic fruit and veggies, cooking healthy meals pretty much every day, and even making my own yoghurt and baking bread on a regular basis. Naturally I’ve been giving myself a big pat on the shoulder! How long will this eco/hippy/domestic goddess-dom last? Hard to tell… Actually, now that the dreaded school holiday is upon us again, I can see myself completely dropping the ball at some point over the next three weeks.

Whenever I enthuse about organic food, however, the number one response I get from people — even like-minded people — is that organic produce is too expensive. Well, that’s fair enough. It is more expensive. But in my recent bout of reading, I came across two compelling arguments about it that I wanted to share:

One – organic produce may be expensive up front, but conventional produce has a lot higher “hidden” cost you pay with your tax dollars. For instance, the cost of treating people falling illl from pesticide use, including a lot of farmers who become sick from being in contact with all that poison. (From  Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe)  Two – when you pay higher price for organic produce, you are using your voting power, with your money, to support sustainable, ethical farming over conventional. Much like donating money to your favourite charity, each time you buy local and organic, you are supporting that local farmer who might otherwise be taken over by a huge agricultural corporation who values profit over food safety. (From No Impact Man by Colin Beavan)

I think these are quite convincing arguments for shelling out money for local, organic produce. Don’t you?

But if you are still not persuaded, here are some of my suggestions for eating organic on the cheap side (in no particular order). What I mean is, eating organic food does not have to be expensive at all.

(1) Give up meat. We used to buy organic chicken, which is ridiculously expensive. After we gave up meat and became semi-vegetarian (we eat occasional seafood), our grocery bill got much more bearable. And you know what, fresh organic vegetables taste so much better than conventional ones, I bet you won’t miss meat all that much. A simple meal of vegetable stew like ratatouille tastes divine, full-flavoured, and it makes you swoon in happiness rather than poke around the dish in search of “point of interest” (as Mark would say, referring to meat or cheese).

I nearly shed tears when I saw my son eating organic broccoli for the first time, and asking for more – It was just plain, steamed broccoli with no sauce or salt. This is the boy who used to meticulously remove anything green from his dinner plate. Really, organic broccoli tastes that good.

(2) Use all vegetable scraps – With cheap conventional food, it is easy to forget about what you have in your fridge, buy more than you need, and let some food spoil. When you buy more expensive organic food, you’ll naturally cherish every bit of it like gold, so you’ll waste less food. No need to peel those carrots, too, because it’s pesticide-free. You can use the green parts of leek for making delicious vegetable stock. If you use up everything, you’ll naturally have to buy less to begin with.

(3) Bake your own bread – Organic bread is expensive. I used to spend $8 for a small loaf of organic bread that came in a plastic bag, and sometimes it wasn’t even fresh. Ouch. So now I make an effort to bake bread every 2-3 days. It’s quite easy once you get in the habit of it. It is nice to have a stand mixer or food processor (which can also knead bread for you), but you can knead by hand. Or there are “no-knead” bread recipes if you look around, which involves the dough sitting around for a long time, developing flavour. I posted a simple wholemeal bread recipe before, but investing in a good bread book or two (and maybe even a Kitchenaid mixer!) is a good idea. Now, with organic bread flour bought in bulk, a large loaf of organic bread costs me less than $2.

(4) Buy in bulk – By bulk, I don’t mean Costco-like gigantic portions. Even in smaller amounts, “bulk” is cheaper. I buy organic bread flour in a 12kg bag, which reduces the cost to about $2.5/kg — whereas if you buy a 1kg plain organic flour in supermarkets, it costs like $4/kg.

(5) Make your own yoghurt (and fresh cheese, etc) – I know, it sounds suspiciously like a hippy thing to do, but home-made yoghurt is wonderful. Just buy a small container of commercial yoghurt with live culture. Heat up a litre of organic milk till it nearly boils, then let it cool down to about 45 degrees (so it’s not too hot to stick your finger in). Mix in a tablespoon of yoghurt in it and stir (but don’t worry about little chunks of yoghurt undissolved), pour it in a clean jar with a tight lid, and keep it warm for about 6-10 hours. I wrap my yoghurt jar in a blanket and keep in in a warm spot in our house. And it costs… a mere $2.5 per a litre of organic yoghurt, as opposed to $6.50 or more that I used to buy in plastic containers!

(6) Avoid takeaways – Needless to say, eating out or takeaway is expensive. If you reduce these expenses, you’ll naturally have more budget to spend on organic produce. Again, home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple recipes are really the best if you have fresh organic produce.

(7) Use inexpensive ingredients – Not all organic produce is expensive. Potatoes, pumpkins and carrots are relatively affordable. Dried beans are very affordable, even though sadly for me, organic rice is too expensive to buy. You can buy organic pasta in major Australian supermarkets, and they are quite affordable. Using these ingredients, you can make delicious and filling soups, dips, etc, that do not hurt your wallet.

(8) Grow your own vegetables – I can’t say my backyard farming is anything to be proud of… yet… but it does save a lot of money just having a few spring onions, lettuce, and herbs growing out there. Instead of buying a head of lettuce, using half and throwing the rest away when it gets too old in the fridge, you can pluck a few leaves at a time from your kitchen garden as you need it. Same with herbs. They may not be certified organic, but when you use organic potting mix and fertilizers, you know it’s safe. You can buy organic seedlings or seeds as well.

Well, I was going to try to make it to number 10 but I ran out of ideas. I’ll add more later if I think of anything else. I think I will also write a separate post on cooking vegetarian meals for your kids. Meanwhile, happy organic eating!

 

It’s nice to have a backyard

It’s been nearly six months since we moved to this house. But now that Spring is truly here to stay in Sydney, I am feeling a renewed sense of gratitude that we live in a house with a big backyard. Today was particularly a beautiful day, so the kids and I spent most of our day outside, going back inside only for meals and a nap.

I made an obstacle course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We flew giant bubbles using “bubble wands” that we bought at a local school fare last weekend.

In the afternoon, I was suddenly in the mood to dig a hole for a sand pit. I found a spot under a mango tree, which remains shady for many hours a day. And dug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging was the easiest part. Removing the soil from the pit required a lot more thought and energy. I filled all the spare pots we had (in the hopes of using the rich soil for planting more things) with soil, and still the hole is only about 5cm deep… What do we do with the rest of the soil?

Anyway, Miss M and Mr. A didn’t seem to mind that we don’t have white beach sand or anything yet. They had so much fun playing with the dirt… until they freaked out about the worms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course the best part about all this outside play is that the house remains relatively tidy at the end of the day. Win-win all around!

Oh, and if you are wondering why my children are not wearing those pretty hats I make for my shop… well, here’s a proof that Miss M did wear one for… a few minutes… before she took it off. I can’t get a hat on Mr. A even for a minute. Children are so unreasonable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


Sleep

Sleep is such a big, controversial issue in parenting. While parents are divided – often fiercely – on issues like sleep school or co-sleeping, most parents seem pretty united in their desire to have their children go to bed without a fuss at a decent bedtime and sleep through the night. Failure to reach this goal can cause untold misery and mental breakdowns to many parents, and ruin their joy of parenting. To make matters worse, healthcare professionals (at least the ones here in Australia) excel at making you feel like a big failure if your children don’t sleep though the night on their own.

Seriously, the issue of sleep resembles warfare: parents vs. children.

Well, I  just want to share with everyone here that in our household, we have officially lost this battle. The children have won, and we (well, mostly just me) have been defeated. Believe me, we’ve tried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this is how our kids sleep all the time… (oh, please ignore the sad sticky tape holding Mark’s poor broken glasses together). I don’t have a photo of myself sleeping with the children, but it’s mostly me who sleeps with the kids. Just imagine another child, a 3-year-old, occupying my other arm, pinning me down completely.

And you know what, once I admit failure and give up all ambition that our children would ever sleep on their own… it’s not so bad. I actually enjoy cuddling up with them at night, reading books together and talking, until we all fall asleep pretty much at the same time around 7:30, including myself. No crying, no drama. Most nights I manage to wake up in the middle of the night, sneak out for a couple of hours to do some work and enjoy some kid-free time…. until one or both children wake up to realise I’m gone, and start crying.

It may not be ideal, and Super Nanny would most certainly send us all back to sleep school, but my kids are not going to be little forever, and maybe sleep doesn’t have to be such a blood-shedding warfare after all, if we only lower our expectations a little, and embrace “failure” as a way of life.

 

Mathilda’s Market

It’s been a week already since the Mathilda’s Market, and I should have written about it earlier. I’ve been quite busy last week – not so much crafting, but gardening. Gardening meaning, mostly pulling weeds out of our junglified yards. We’ve been totally neglecting the yards, especially the front one, that upon removing long weeds I have discovered – surprise! – proper plants underneath that the previous owner must have planted. Our neighbours must be sighing a collective sigh of relief now that our house is no longer looking like the black sheep of the street.

Anyway, there was a lot of anticipation about the Mathilda’s Market, because it is a big crafting market with a big stall fee. They have markets in Sydney only about three times a year, and unlike the general weekend markets like Orange Grove, only have stalls selling baby and kids’ items — not necessarily handmade, but there are a lot of handmade stalls. This time it was at Sydney Cricket Ground / Fox Studios, and there were over 120 stalls! It was overwhelmingly big.

I got lucky that I had a stall space near the entrance with good lighting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went to Ikea the day before to get the white board and the coat stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My usual suspects of bags and backpacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Items I only sell at markets, like popcorn bags, toy magnets and keychains.

As expected, it was quite a different kind of market experience than the Orange Grove market. I had never seen so many pregnant women and mothers with strollers in one place. I had good sales, too, even considering the high stall fee. Plus, as ever, I got to meet a few other stallholders who were not only talented, but also mothers of small children who pursue their crafty passion with what little time they have left in their busy days. I very much enjoy that feeling of camaraderie at markets, as well as talking to my customers face to face.

Organic food delivery

Ever since we moved to a suburb far away from my favourite organic market, we’ve been slack about eating organic food. I still try to find organic produce in supermarkets, but here in Sydney, they are limited to basics like carrots, potatoes, pumpkins and if I’m lucky, apples.  So for everything else we’ve been buying conventional, including strawberries – which I knew had a lot of pesticides on them, but my kids love them so much, and organic ones are so expensive and almost impossible to find.

Then I started reading this book called Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, by Anna Lappe. Lappe makes a case for local, organic, sustainable food – in a non-dogmatic, doable way. She reminded me how conventional fruit and vegetables are laden with chemicals, especially for fragile items like strawberries, and that children are especially vulnerable to them (higher residue of chemicals found in children’s bodies compared to adults’, etc). Ugh. I’ve been bad. No more conventional strawberries for us!

Eating fresh local food is also best, Lappe argues, because by the time produce arrives from farms thousands of miles away, they are practially wilting, and their nutritional value has greatly diminished. I actually didn’t know about this diminished nutritional value thing. Well, now I know it’s no good eating old, dying food I find at the back of my fridge.

So yesterday, we received our first boxes of fresh organic food delivered to our doorstep (from Doorstep Organics).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The veggie box. They look fresh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the fruit box – sadly no strawberries, but still such a great variety. Look, a pineapple! I hope it didn’t come from Hawaii or anything. I need to check… I’ve eaten mandarins, kiwis and pears so far, and they were amazing. Organic food does taste better, no question.

It was a happy day to have so much freshness coming to our doorstep. Now I have to try hard not to let these precious fruit and vegetables go old and wilty in the back of the fridge….

Industrial vs domestic sewing machines, part 2 – the Review

Following my last post on how I came to buy an industrial sewing machine, here’s my review of my industrial single needle, lockstitch machine. I thought I’d do this in a FAQ format.

What does the machine do?

Unlike domestic sewing machines that offer, even at entry-level, a myriad sewing options like zig-zag, button holer, and decorative stitches, most industrial machines are only capable of one thing only. Mine only does straight stitches. No zig zag, no button hole, no decorative stitches. The only thing you can adjust is the stitch length.

But that’s okay by me, because straight stitch is all I use for my Piggledee products anyway. Well, I also use an overlocker, but most domestic machines don’t offer this function, so you’d still need a separate overlocker. If I want to use zig zag or stitches, I can use my domestic Janome.

Is the industrial machine easy to use?

Yes, very easy. My Mitsubishi didn’t come with a users manual, and I couldn’t find any online. But the private seller of the machine showed me how to use it, and in 10 minutes I knew enough to start sewing.

Because my machine only does straight stitching, there is no complicated control dials or switches. On the body of the machine, the only control dial is for changing stitch length.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On top of the machine body is a “computer” control panel. This controls the auto back tack and auto thread trimmer options. Given that my Mitsubishi is an older machine, the control options are limited. For back tacking, I can choose to turn it on or off for the beginning / end of sewing, and can choose how many stitches to back tack. I can turn the thread trimmer on and off. It’s all very intuitive.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But isn’t it hard to change the thread, etc?

I admit I was a little intimidated by the threading at first. Compared to a domestic sewing machine, there are more loops and dials to guide a thread through. I asked the seller of the machine to have it delivered to me already threaded, so I can study it when it got delivered. For the first few days I only sewed with white thread, using my domestic Janome when I needed to use different colours.

But then I learned there was an easy way to change the thread. Instead of removing the old thread from the machine and re-threading from scratch, you cut off the thread at the top from the cone, tie a new thread to it in a simple knot, and ten gently pull it through all the hoops and dials to the needle, cut off the knot and just insert the new thread into the needle. This was much easier!

So, specifically, what are the things you like about the industrial machine?

Automatic thread trimmingI love this feature, although it doesn’t (as I hoped) eliminate all manual thread trimming. To use it, at the end of sewing a seam, you hit the foot pedal on your heel side all the way down (pressing the toe side sews stitches). The machine will make a loud “gachung!” noise, does a back tack if you are using it, and trims both threads in one automatic movement. Newer machines will also lift up the pressor foot in this same motion, so all you do is remove the fabric. But mine doesn’t. To lift the pressor foot, you move the knee bar with your right knee.

The machine trims the upper thread very neatly – not even 1mm of loose thread remains. On the back side of the fabric through, there is about 5mm of loose fabric is left untrimmed. I’m not sure if this is normal for other machines, or if mine needs service.

But the most amazing thing about this feature is you can start sewing another seam without touching the thread at all, and there is only a short thread hanging loose at the beginning of the stitch. What I mean is, with my domestic Janome, you have to ensure there is at least 10 cm of thread hanging loose at the beginning, or the thread will escape through the eye of the needle and I have to rethread the needle again. I hated this about my domestic machine.

With my industrial, when I auto-cut the thread at the end of a seam, there is about 2-3cm (1 inch) of thread hanging loose past the needle eye. When I remove the fabric, re-insert the fabric to sew another seam, and start sewing, the end of the thread does not magically disappears into the first stitch, but I’ll only have to trim about 2cm of of thread, if needed.

Needle up / down – Another great feature, though as with thread trimming, is also available in nicer domestic sewing machines. I find it particularly useful combined with the knee bar, when sewing around a corner, for example. Whereas with my domestic, I’d have to (1), stop sewing, and if the needle is not in the down position, (2) turn the wheel to bring the needle down, (3) use my hand to lift up the pressor foot, (4) pivot the fabric 90 degrees, and (5) release the pressor foot down, re-position hands around fabric and (6) continue with sewing — wow, that’s a lot of steps –, with my industrial, you just (1) stop sewing, hit the knee bar with your right knee while at the same time pivoting the fabric, and (2) release the knee bar and continue with sewing. So. Much. Easier.

At the end of a seam, when you use auto back tack, the needle stops at the up position.

Knee bar – At first I didn’t feel the need to lift the pressor foot by using your knee, because I was so used to lifting it up and down manually on my domestic. But now I appreciate it. It means you can use both your hands at all times to manipulate and shift the fabric as you sew.

Automatic back tacking – Instead of holding the “reverse” button on my domestic while sewing a few stitches back at the beginning and end of a seam, my industrial machine can do it for you automatically. I do love this function for the end of the seam, when I want to do a couple of back tacking and cut the thread. The machine does all this with one click of a heel.

I’m not using this feature for the beginning of the seam, however, because (a) the machine makes another loud noise when auto back tacking, and I want to minimise loud noises, because I often sew when my kids are asleep, and (b) the back tacking goes so incredibly fast, it’s easy for me to momentarily lose control of the fabric and keep the sewing line straight. But the large reverse bar on the machine (unlike the tiny button on my domestic), makes it very easy to manually do the back tacking.

Speed – Although this was one of my major complaints about domestic machines, the industrial machine is so fast, I rarely use it’s full speed. At full speed, I just can’t maintain the control to keep the stitching line straight. Thankfully, it’s very easy to use the machine at slower pace. The foot pedal is very responsive that way. I can go from sewing very slowly (around the curves for example) to pretty fast (when sewing long straight lines), then back to slow, with no problem and the stitch quality remains beautiful and consistent.

The best thing about sewing fast is that the machine doesn’t vibrate much. It’s not for no reason that the machine is so hefty (the machine head alone must weigh around 30kg). The fabric doesn’t wobble so it’s easier than domestic machines to maintain control when sewing at higher speed.

Stitch quality – The stitch quality is incredible! It’s beautiful, and consistently so, regardless of the speed I use, how often I vary the speed, or that there are varying degrees of fabric thickness in one seam. The finished product looks just looks a lot more professional. I didn’t know about this before buying an industrial machine, or I didn’t know it would matter so much. But now I know, I’d choose my industrial over the domestic machine for this reason alone, even if I didn’t have other nice features like automatic thread trimmer.

Ability to sew thick layers of fabric – Another reason why I chose an industrial machine, and my Mitsubishi doesn’t disappoint. I always slow down almost to a stop, by sheer habit, when approaching a thicker layer of fabric in a seam, but it’s not necessary. It’s like the machine doesn’t even notice there is a difference in fabric thickness – the needle effortlessly cuts through 4-6 layers of cotton canvas without skipping a beat. Love it.

And I don’t even know if my Mitsubishi was designed for a lightweight or medium weight fabric. Like other industrial lockstitch machines, the Mitsubishi comes in three variations for light, medium, or heavy fabric. All I know is mine is either the light or medium. In any event it sews both types very well.

Ability to sew lightweight fabric – I haven’t tried other, more tricky fabrics like silk chiffon, but the industrial machine sews super lightweight cotton, like Liberty tana lawn, beautifully. I can even start sewing at the very edge of the fabric, without the fabric getting distorted or the thread jamming – which is often what happens with my domestic machine.

Easy bobbin winding – I love how you can wind a spare bobbin as you sew other things. The machine comes with a thread stand that holds two cones of thread, one for the main stitching and one for the bobbin. You just thread one cone of thread to the bobbin winder attached to the right side of the machine, and your regular stitching motion winds up the bobbin! It automatically stops winding when the bobbin is full.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh another thing about thread. When I bought my industrial, I learned that you can buy one of those huge cones of thread (5000 meters) for $3 or so. Three dollars. They come in a rainbow of colours. And I’m not even talking about wholesale price. Call me ignorant or stupid, but for years I had bought those little Gutermann poly threads spools at craft shops, which sells for more than $10 for an 800-meter spool. I always thought it was expensive, and I hated constantly running out of thread. But suddenly realizing that, gosh, those little thread spools cost 20 times as much as those cone version? Doesn’t it almost seem like an unfair business practice to charge so much for such cheap thread?

But I only blame myself for not discovering this sooner. After all, I’ve used cheaper thread cones for my overlocker, without once realising that I can use those for my regular domestic machine as well. I have since tried using the huge cone thread on my domestic machine, and while I can’t secure it properly, it’s still usable.

What are the things you don’t like about the industrial machine?

Inserting a bobbin – I find it hard to insert a bobbin. The bobbin goes inside a bobbin case, and the whole thing goes into a little space on the lower left side of the machine under the table. I’m sure a seasoned seamstress can do it by the feel of it, but after a couple of weeks I still find it difficult to click it into the right spot. Often I need to tip the machine over, or crawl under the table, to see if I’m getting it right.

Speaking of bobbins, I find it rather strange that you need to keep filling those tiny bobbins even for an industrial machine. I believe this is true even for newer models. Wouldn’t someone have invented a machine by now that would feed straight from a thread cone directly? So that annoying problem I’ve had with my domestic machine – when I would sew an entire long seam before realizing that I haven’t actually sewn a stitch because the bobbin was empty –  it still happens to me with the industrial machine.

The weight / size – An industrial machine comes attached to a table (about 130cm wide). The motor is not part of the machine but is attached to the table underneath the machine head. The whole thing is extremely heavy (around 80 kg) and takes space. If we still lived in our old apartment, there was no way I could have bought the machine – or find anyone to move it upstairs for that matter! The size means, obviously, I can’t take it to my quilting class etc, so I’d still need my domestic machine.

Lack of stitch options – Because my industrial only does straight sewing, I still need my domestic machine for other stitches like zig zag. Personally I don’t use it much, but if you do, you might find it annoying switching back and forth between two different machines.

Lack of free arm – There is no “free arm” option for an industrial machine because the sewing surface is level to the tabletop. I was so used to using the free arm with my domestic machine when sewing around a hat or armholes, it took a while to get used to sewing without it. I still find it a little tricky sewing a round seam, and miss the free arm on my domestic machine.

Lack of built-in light – Industrial sewing machines, unlike domestic ones, don’t come with built-in light for the sewing area. Why not? I have no idea. It would be such a simple but lovely improvement. Doesn’t the sewing industry have a problem of sewers going blind? I bought a separate fluorescent lamp to go with my machine, that clamps on to the table. But it’s not as nice has always having a bright warm light for the sewing area.

Well, that’s pretty much it I think. I’ll update this post later if I come up with more pros/cons of an industrial machine.

I highly recommend an industrial machine for anyone who sews a lot and is considering an upgrade to a better domestic machine. Used industrial machines are a great value, considering high-end domestic machines can cost thousands of dollars. Spare parts are cheaper for industrial machines, too. I’ve only bought a binder/folder attachment I have yet to play with, but it cost only $28. I think pressor feet are cheap as well. It still pains me to remember that I paid like $80 for a walking foot for my domestic machine. I haven’t tried machine quilting yet with my industrial, but with the pressor foot capable of taking up to about 1.5 cm fabric thickness, and how wonderful the feeding of fabric is, I doubt I’ll have any problem machine quilting using the regular old pressor foot. But I’ll let you know when I have tried this.

Anyway, here are a couple more photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The servo motor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The motor, the knee bar, and the foot pedal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The machine tips over like this all the way. Inside is an “oil bath” to keep the machine well oiled. I know, it’s a little frightening at first to see a pool of oil just sitting there, but it doesn’t touch the fabric or anything.

Industrial vs domestic sewing machine: Part 1

A few weeks ago I bought a used industrial sewing machine – Mitsubishi LS2-1180, straight lockstitch machine that is more than 15 years old. I thought I’d write a review of it, and compare it to my entry-level domestic machine. But first, this post is about the background: what drove me to buy an industrial machine and how I found my Mitsubishi. Warning: this is going to be a long and technical post! If you are not a sewing geek like me, you’ll find it very boring….

Previously I’ve had an entry-level domestic machine, a Janome Sewist 521, which I bought about 5 years ago new for AU$250 or so. I also have a Brother domestic overlocker. As basic as it was, my Janome served me well for over 5 years without getting serviced once. I made everything with it – my clothes, kids’ clothes, bags and quilts. It was fine, and frankly I didn’t know any better. But after I started Piggledee and began sewing more and more, I began to notice its limitations, learned that there are better machines out there, and decided I wanted an upgrade.

The main features I wanted were:

(a) needle up / down – I didn’t even know some sewing machines offered such a useful feature. If I knew, I would have bought a different domestic machine 5 years ago. It’s so great to have the machine stop sewing with the needle in the down position all the time, so I can raise the pressor foot and pivot/adjust the fabric without having to sew that extra half stitch by hand-rotating the wheel.

(b) an automatic thread cutter – When I make things like drawstring backpacks or lunch bags with lots of little seams, I get an insane amount of thread ends hanging loose, and it frustrated me to no end having to cut them all off with scissors, and often I still find them loose in a finished product about to be shipped. Yikes! Nothing says “unprofessional” louder than loose thread hanging from a product.

(c) speed – Compared to my domestic overlocker, my Janome seemed to sew at a snail’s pace. So. Slow. When I hit the pedal at full speed, the machine would get very noisy and vibrated like crazy. Once the vibration loosened the needle, broke it, and it flew right past my eye as I was sewing!

(d) ability to sew thicker layers of fabric – My Janome really struggled with multiple layers of fabric, and I’m not talking about leather or anything. Just a few layers of cotton canvas when sewing a simple bag was getting too difficult, if not impossible. The machine would moan and complain, the needle would break, or just wouldn’t make any stitches, and when it did, the stitch length got uneven and unsightly.

(e) ability to handle lightweight fabric – My Janome also struggled with very lightweight fabric, like cotton lawn. Often the thread would get jammed or the fabric gets caught in the ditch below. Very frustrating.

At first I shopped around for a better domestic machine. I found that with features like automatic thread cutter, I would have to spend at least AU$800 for a machine like Janome 3160QDC, which, according to reviews, is a perfectly wonderful sewing machine. It’s lightweight and has great additional features like a one-step button holer. I seriously considered buying it.

Except it’s just as slow as my entry-level Janome. Because domestic machines, regardless of the price, all have the same speed – about 800 stitches per minute. So I’d be spending $800 for another snail. (Actually, there is a small class of semi-professional domestic machines that would sew twice as fast, but they were way too expensive for me.)

Around the same time, I was reading a lot about industrial sewing machines at one of my favourite sewing sites: Fashion-Incubator. Kathleen Fasanella, who owns and writes for the site, is a professional pattern maker and an industry expert. She has a clear preference for industrial machines and recommends them for their superior stitch quality, cost effectiveness, and ease of use. At first I was just curious, but eventually I was persuaded.

Unlike domestic machines, an industrial machine would sew at the speed of 4000 to 5000+ stitches per minute. That’s whopping five times faster than even a high-end domestic machine like Bernina. And while new industrial lockstitch machines are expensive in Australia ($2500 or so for a full-featured one), you can easily find a used one for the same amount I’d otherwise spend on a Janome 3160. Many used industrial machines come with features like automatic thread trimmer and back tacking as well, even though these machines are more expensive.

So I began looking and researching. I had trouble, though, finding much information on used (or new, for that matter) industrial machines online. I mean, unlike domestic machines, I found basically no reviews about different models or manufactures of industrial sewing machines. I only found rare technical specifications, which I found difficult to decipher. In the end, what helped most was visiting several shops in Sydney that sell used industrial machines, test driving a few, and asking a lot of questions to the friendly shop people.

From reading Kathleen’s site, I had learned the basics: that there are two types of motors with industrial machines: clutch and servo. Clutch motor is the older and noisy one and servo the quiet, newer one. Machines with automatic features like thread trimmer tend to come with the new servo motor. Most machines are made in China, but some older ones were made in Japan, and are likely to have better quality. Juki seemed like a popular and reliable brand.

When I visited industrial sewing machine shops in Sydney, I also learned that there are machines with automatic features that use clutch motors. They were more affordable than the ones with servo motors (say, $1000 as opposed to $1500), but it was somewhat dubious if those computerised clutch motors were repairable in the event they failed.

I found the clutch motor was not as noisy as I had imagined. It makes a whirring sound like a very loud computer tower or an old fridge. But you probably won’t even hear it from the next room with the door shut. The actual sewing sound is relatively quiet, especially at lower speed. What’s really loud in any machine, servo or clutch motor, is when you hit the foot pedal to use the auto back tack/thread trimming feature. It makes this loud “Gachung!” noise that I fear might wake up my children at night.

I also learned that, when it comes to industrial sewing machines, brand names didn’t really matter. They are pretty much all the same, and some factories in China make the same machines using the same parts for different brands.

I almost bought a 20-year-old Juki, with a clutch motor and automatic features from one of the machine shops. But at $1100, it was still a little too pricey. So, armed with my research, I looked for more risky private sales on eBay and free classified sites like Gumtree.

I found my Mitsubishi on Gumtree for $600.  It has a servo motor, automatic thread trimming and back tacking. A bargain! And the seller – a Korean family who had an impressive professional sewing operation set up in their home – was very kind, patiently showing me how to use and maintain the machine. Of course arranging for its transport (it’s super heavy at about 80kg) cost me another $200, but still, for the same price I would have spent on a new Janome 3160, I found a super workhorse of a machine. Here it is:



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, not very pretty to look at, but I love it. Why? Stay tuned for my next post. But let me just say, I know it seems like an extreme upgrade to go from an entry-level domestic machine to an industrial one, like you are missing several steps in the middle, but to me it made perfect sense. The only hurdle was lack of information on the internet. If more information was available on the internet, I think more people, including hobby sewers, would consider buying them. Especially considering how expensive high-end domestic machines are. Anyway, I’ll write more in my next post.