Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Caveat Emptor; or, Don't Buy the Hype on Home-Embroidery Machines!

When I was much younger, during the summer months when Jr. High and High School was not in session, me and my younger brother would spend our weekdays with my beloved Great Aunt Liz because my step-mother had the blatant nerve to confide in her that she could not tolerate our presence in our own father's home while she was left alone with us when Dad went to work!  (I did not know about that until several years after my Great Aunt's passing.)  Looking back on it, I should have realized why Aunt Liz would ask me every now and then is my former step-mother treated us alright.  Me and my brother were extremely close to our Great Aunt, and she taught me a great deal.  I enjoyed working on a variety of domestic and craft-related arts, and at one point she tried to teach me how to knit, crochet, and even embroider by hand!  I was fair when it came to crocheting, and my knitting always got "stuck", but I found embroidery extremely tedious!  However, I have learned recently that embroidery by way of a sewing machine to create gorgeous, and incredibly detailed or life-like fabric art was a relatively common practice since the early 1900s as we may observe in, Singer Instructions for Art Embroidery (1911).

It was more than five years ago, as I was vegging out in front of the TV one Saturday afternoon, watching the Iowa-based PBS program Fons & Porter: The Love of Quilting and the Wisconsin-based program Sewing With Nancy when I saw something I had never seen before: a digital embroidery machine that was styled very much after a home sewing machine!  I immediately began to salivate, imagining all of the textiles that I could machine embroider, and give them that "professional touch": caps, hoodies, denim jeans, ritual robes, Altar cloths, magick bags for holding herbal spells, and tea towels, etc.  So, I  contrived to visit the nearest fabric store to me and enquire about these devices at my next opportunity.  As it so happened I eventually found myself at a Joanne's Fabric store in west Des Moines where they had a rather large section of embroidery machines that could do everything but sew!  (If I was going to pay out hard earned money I would rather have a single machine that could do both.)  As I approached the sleek-looking machines I noticed there were no price tags (always a red flag) and, perhaps sensing my question by the apprehensive look on my face, the sale's rep. in charge of this display rather curtly informed me that the least expensive machine they sold cost a minimum of $4,000 (nearly the cost of an upright acoustic piano!).  I was immediately stunned by her response!  Stunned silence immediately gave way to quiet dejection, and then to indignation!  After all, who but a very well kept house-wife could afford to spend that much on the machine alone, not counting the software required to take one to the next level of digitizing one's own embroidery designs.  So, I did the rudest thing that I could think of and laughed in her face at the prospect of having to pay so much money to embroider something within one's own home.

I was immediately hit by a lingering sense of despair, because I knew that I could certainly never afford an item that expensive!  So, I decided to wait, hoping that the prices might fall over time; but they never did.  Eventually, out of frustration, I decided to perform some research to see if there was any sort of a home-embroidery machine that I could afford when I discovered the very popular entry-level machine by Brother, the SE-400.  So, I purchased it for my birthday in March of 2013, sincerely believing that was the only machine that I could ever afford, but also hoping that it may be a machine that I could grow with!  After all, every fabric store salesclerk and message board encounter reaffirmed this notion that if I wanted to stitch-out an embroidery space of more than four-square inches, than I had to be willing to invest several thousands of dollars into a machine (not to mention the capability of cut-work and digital lace-making)!

However, I am now experiencing extraordinary "Buyer's Remorse"!  Only recently did I discover by utter happenstance that a line of home-embroidery machines do, in fact, exist that are limited only by one's own imagination.  Ultimately I feel as though I have been misled by what amounts to a popular myth, and I am not alone.  A recent friend of mine told me that when he was initially looking into home-embroidery machines at a mom-and-pop fabric store he was informed that a machine capable of the embroidery stitch-out space greater than 4x4-inches that he desired would cost him not hundreds, but several thousands of dollars!  His is not the only account.  I was watching the Home Shopping Network on-line--because we only receive QVC over cable who only sells Brother machines--which was selling one of Singer's dual sewing-and-embroidery Futura™ models (reviewed below) for between $600-$800 when a caller commented that she had to spend more than $9,000 on her current embroidery machine and software just to have an average stitch-out space that might allow one to embroider the surface of a pillow or the front of a hoodie.  She, also, was entirely unaware of this model by Singer!  If there are we three ill-informed sewists, just imagine how many hundreds more of us there are that have been mislead by this popular myth of the expensive digital embroidery machine!  This myth is truly offensive to one's common sense and I am determined to see it over-turned for the common good!

Moreover, this myth ultimately begs the question of why almost no retailers seem to know about these far more inexpensive models on which one is capable of stitching the larger patterns of a high-end machine, but for only 1/10 the cost?  Indeed, I believe that I had been so thoroughly "brain washed" by this popular myth that, unless I saw the price alongside one of Singer's Futura™machines I might have merely assumed that it, also, would have cost thousands of dollars rather than hundreds.  Our local Hancock Fabric store, if I recall correctly, did not even display the respective price of their Futura™ XL-400 machines that they stock.  I am extremely surprised that the Futura™ XL-400 and the XL-550 have not utterly compelled every other sewing machine manufacturer to decrease their costs and add as many features or bells and whistles in order to seem more competitive with Singer!

Ultimately, the prize in this comparative competition would clearly go to the Singer Futura™line, which begs the question: If this well-established company can fashion a dual sewing-and-embroidery machine with such moderately priced software, a large stitch-out space, and actually "decorative" decorative-stitches within this price point, than what is stopping every manufacturer from following their lead and manufacturing their own line of machines that do not cost several thousand dollars, other than obstinate greed?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Heartbroken for Hancock Fabrics

Over this past weekend I had a truly phenomenal experience at my local Hancock Fabrics store in West Des Moines.  So much so that I am grateful that we even have one at all in the Des Moines area!  However, I couldn't help but suffer from sticker shock over that gorgeous bolt of ponteroma black knit fabric which I was planning to sew my ritual robes from!  So, I decided to determine what other fabric this brilliant chain store might have at their disposal that includes a blend of polyester and rayon fibers.  So, I simply typed "poly-rayon" into Hancock's internet search field and I was astonished by what I saw.  Other store's websites are not quite so user-friendly as this, in my experience.  Hancock listed dozens of fabrics that neatly fell into my search criteria, so I limited the search results to the bolts of black fabric; after all, if you will recall, the bolt of ponteroma fabric wasn't a very dark shade of "black" when I saw it with my own eyes.

However, I was unable to determine whether or not these bolts of fabric were in stock at our local Hancock Fabric store.  Not only was that information not listed on the website, but I was unable to call out on my phone because it's considered to be rather extraordinary long-distance for us, besides which, my time frame at their lovely store would also have been limited because I do not own a vehicle of my own!  I also feared that the staff might not know whether they carry it, let alone where it may be located due to the vague name of the fabric that I was looking at, especially when the staff at Joann's Fabric store were unable to help me determine whether or not they even carried any fabric with a poly-rayon blend:
  • Costume Black Poly Rayon: 65% Poly/ 35% Rayon
  • Gabardine Black Poly Rayon: 80% Poly/ 20% Rayon
  • Linen Looks Solid Black: 50% Poly/ 50% Rayon
  • Knit Mesh Black Costume Fabric: 65% Poly/ 35% Rayon
I guess I took it for granted that I would naturally encounter poor assistance when shopping for fabric due to my previous years of experience!  I am so glad that I was wrong, as I shall explain...

You see, unable to determine if my local branch of Hancock Fabrics carried these four bolts of fabric for me to explore I thought it might behoove me if I sent an enquiry briefly explaining what I was looking for, and in so doing I seem to have put my foot in my mouth by admitting that I feared the staff may ultimately prove "unhelpful".  Some names for fabric are, after all, so vague that even I wouldn't know what part of the store they may reside in.  I was surprised to receive a phone call from our local branch of Hancock Fabric in West Des Moines less than 48 hours later!  Sadly, my personal enquiry was taken to be a complaint, and for that I profusely apologize!  I'm really very tender-hearted and if I had felt that I had more space to explain where I was coming from due to my individual experiences, I would have. Nor did I intend to denigrate the staff, who were so kind to me.  So, what they have done for me is they have pulled these four bolts of fabric for me in a private room where I may examine, compare, and contrast them when I am next in the Des Moines location.

Not only did I receive a phone call yesterday, but I received another phone call this morning from Hancock's Corporate Office!  Again, they were unfortunately under the impression that I was issuing a complaint, rather than an inquiry.  She, of course, apologized for it, but I told her there was no need and I explained my impetus for my note.  I sincerely hope that no action was taken to reprimand the staff in any way on behalf of me!  That would utterly break my heart...  However, on the other hand, I was extremely impressed by how quickly they responded to my needs.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hancock Hangover!

Good day fellow Pagan Sewists!  Because we had a spell of much more mild weather this weekend, than over the past several months, I decided to take some time and peruse the local fabric stores in the Des Moines area, to compare and contrast their respective offerings.

The first store I stopped by was the Jo-ann's Fabrics & Crafts in west Des Moines.  (There is a second location on SE 14th. Street--an area infamous for violence in recent months--though I have never been to that particular store.)  The first thing that caught my attention was the steeply discounted bolts of holiday print fabric immediately to my right as I entered the store.  I carefully examined each bolt, hoping that the various prints might inspire me.  However, none did.  I was also surprised that they had bolts of steeply discounted Yuletide and Christmas fabrics on sale at this station!  Even more surprising was the fact that it's not even October, yet, and their Hallowe'en craft offerings were also steeply discounted!  I honestly hadn't expected that until after Samhain had come and gone.

I immediately moved to their fabric section as I made a bee-line through and past their large and indomitable crafting section, now that I finally had a very firm grasp on the specific type of material that I was looking for in my quest for a poly-rayon blend which my ritual robes required!  Eventually I found my way to the knit fabrics where I suspected it would most likely be, if it was to be found anywhere at all.  I poured over each bolt of black fabric and found nothing but the casual poly-cotton blends and 100% polyester!  So, it was from then on that I decided to ask for some help, all the while cringing at the thought of what answer the staff might give.

After tracking down an assistant, whom I felt like I had been stalking for several isles, I asked her if she stocked any rayon-blends, because I hadn't found any.  The first question she asked me (which they all seem to ask, in my experience) is: What are you making?  Usually I refrain from directly answering such questions, figuring that it's a private matter and none of their business, but she was much younger than the average staff member and very likely knows some Pagans!  So, I explained to her that I am Pagan, and that I was planning on sewing some vestments for myself.  She immediately seemed to know why I wanted the blend of fabric that I was requesting because she tried to sell me on some other fabrics that are also thought to drape well.  As we began to chat, however, she informed me that rayon is becoming more and more difficult to find in textiles and fabrics, because Sewists are largely moving away from it in favor of cotton as a more "natural" alternative.  I thanked her kindly for her knowledge with a firm hand shake and continued browsing.

As I made my way up and down each isle, I began to notice that there seemed to be a lot less fabric here, than there had been over the previous five, or even ten years!  I got the distinct impression that the fabric was being pushed further and further back into the peripheries of the store in an effort to make more room for their crafting merchandise!  Perhaps they think that they are in competition with Michaels, when they ought to try and compete with Hancock!  Unfortunately, very little of that fabric would avail me in the least in constructing a set of fine ritual garments.  The vast majority of their selected fabric was really only appropriate for quilting, and they didn't seem to stock any of what one might call "fashion fabric" from which attractive garments, linens, and other items might be constructed.  I did spy several lovely bolts of satin, but I had no idea what I would use a gorgeous aqua blue satin on!   Certainly I could not imagine sewing any ritual robes that might require an aqua blue satin lining.  Though, I have noticed that the colors of aqua, medium-to-light teal and even sky blue have recently been calling to me quite strongly over the past few years as my own wardrobe can attest.  Even their selection of trimmings, ribbons, and notions seemed rather paltry.  I wonder who decides what to stock, and why?  Or, if they simply get a random selection that is delivered by a semi-truck as my Dad used receive to when he managed a Ben Franklin store several years ago?

At this time I was deeply concerned that I might never find the fabric blend that I was looking for!  So, from there, I decided to drive to Hancock Fabrics, which is across the street from Michaels.  From the moment I set foot inside I realized that this store catered to Sewists, rather than mere Hobbyists as at Jo-Ann's!  And, perhaps its proximity to Michaels is the reason for this.  As I was waiting for an employee to assist me, I browsed about and I saw some amazing selections of shirting that  both me and my brother wold look exceptionally sharp in!  It was the shirting that so deeply impressed me from the outset, because I had found none at the previous fabric store that I had just come from.  They also had a quiet row of seats where one may pensively browse through the pattern books, and a wall of ribbons in every color (a much larger selection than Jo-Ann's meager offerings), and some fabulous Singer-brand sewing machines (which will be my next big purchase)!  The former store refused to carry this brand of machines and seemed intent on perpetuating the myth that the ability to embroider large digital embroidery designs must cost an investment of $4,000 at a bare minimum.

But eventually I got the attention of a sales assistant who directed me to the knits which were stocked in a section called "Career Wear".  As I began to pour over the knits, checking each bolt of black fabric for the blend of fibers that I was searching for, my heart began to gradually sink as I was faced with polyester blends that contained not one shred of rayon!  Then, right next to the knits, I spied a sign denoting a collection of Ponteroma fabrics.  Could it be here, I wondered, as I hoped against hope!  And, upon lifting back the veil of black fabric from the end of the bolt I saw what I had been searching for over the past six months or more: a poly-rayon blend, though it did have about 3% lycra added to the mix, as I seem to recall.  In my excitement I "tested" the fabric over my arm, and as I had been told by numerous Witches it does, indeed, drape like a dream with an exquisitely soft texture and a luxurious feel!  My robes, when I eventually sew them, shall be utterly luxurious sewn from this material!  However, I shall have to enquire if they might be able to order me a bolt of this fabric that is a bit more black?  While this fabric was, indeed, black, it didn't seem to me to be a very dark black!

Ecstatic beyond words at my find I asked the gal at the cutting counter if I might borrow a piece of scrap paper and a pen on which to write myself a note--after all, my camera didn't seem to want to work for me, today.  I wrote down what section the fabric could be found at, as well as its jaw-dropping price: $13.00/ yard! I need at least 10 yards for the ritual robes that I plan to sew, so you can see that I will clearly be spending $100 on fabric alone!  Still, with the use of frequent coupons I can easily manage that fee  by 20%-40% on a good day.

Unlike Jo-Ann's they were not having steeply discounted sale on current holiday items.  Though, Hancock was offering steep discounts of up to 50% from 5-25 September because it is the franchise's Fifty-Sixth Anniversary!  After the relief of finding my poly-rayon fabric I spend took some time to browse some more and I came across their large display of "Bridal Satin" which was both exquisite and extremely heavy.  Because I will be lining my ritual robes in satin I thought I would check out what they had on hand.  Bridal silk, however, would be far too heavy and defeat the purpose of buying a fine poly-rayon knit fabric; instead of draping like a dream it'd probably drag along the floor from the weight of the satin alone.  Definitely not what I want.  The only thing I observed that sent a shiver down my spine was the messy array of their bolts of fusibles, their interfacing, and their webbing, etc.!  It set off my occasional OCD-senses!  I wanted to stop what I was doing and organize those shelves, which were directly behind the cutting counter.  Why an employee couldn't manage those shelves during his or her "down time", I can only guess.

Having made my rounds, before I left, I happened to snag the most inexpensive bolt of muslin that I could find and had a single yard cut for me.  (I plan on sewing a poppet or two with it from a pattern that I drafted.)  Though, I realize now that I completely forgot to check either store for their collection of linen and for some clear vinyl which is sold by the yard on large rolls or bolts so that I can make a copy of the pattern I am using to sew my precious ritual robes (Butterick #4050).  I will be using this pattern for years to come, should I be asked to teach someone and take on a student in The Covenant of Morrighan these will be the robes that they would have to make for themselves as well.  So far, the Fates have not brought anyone to my feet.  But, I digress.  As I was paying for my fabric I was asked if I would like to sign up for Hancock's "Preferred Customer Card".  This is purely optional, and in reality it is a way that the company can track what sells, what doesn't, and what items are being bought together and by whom so that they can make more strategic decisions and, hopefully, offer a more impressive line of merchandise in the future.  What the card gives one, however, is merely advanced notice of special sales and some coupons and discounts that are not available to non-card holders.  It's really just barely worth it, but I chose to sign-up for the card because I'm personally adamant about the fact that I hope my shopping decisions have an affect on the local and national franchise, even if they are small.

Until next time, Dear Readers...
Wade MacMorrighan

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thor's Day Thrift!

I was scouring the internet for free, and beautiful, embroidery designs yesterday.  (Finding designs that are both beautiful and free seem as rare as spotting a pink polkadot unicorn because, quite honestly, the vast majority of the free digital embroidery patterns are quite distasteful!)  However, to my surprise, I happened upon a European digital embroidery website from Russia which housed a gorgeous bunch of digital embroidery rowan berries with appliqué leaves!  I have yet to observe such a distinctly European and British motif available through an American digital embroidery website.  This motif would be perfect for one's Altar Linens and Ritual Robes at Samhain, because rowan is a magickal herb of both Samhain and Beltane, as well as the "red food of the dead".  I shall definitely be downloading this motif for safekeeping as I am unsure of my entry-level dual embroidery-and-sewing machine will be capable of stitching the image out!  The limitations of my machine's embroidery space is a square of four-by-four inches, and the smallest size that this embroidery design is available in is 4.57-inches x 4.12-inches!  So, that slight extra size has me concerned.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Lunatic Fringe!

Earlier this summer, as I was preparing to gather some supplies and sew my ritual robes I decided to drop by our local Joanne's Fabrics in west Des Moines, against my own better judgement.

This is not the first time that I have had an unsatisfactory encounter at tis particular store.  A mere handful of years previously I tagged along with my Mom who was planning to sew some curtains for her new home.  At that time the cutting counter was within direct eye and ear shot of the cash register, where we could see the only employee on hand having a private conversation on the phone.  Because we were the only customers at that time we thought she would hang up to assist us.  We were sorely mistaken.  We motioned for her, waved, and even called out to her, but she ignored us, choosing instead to speak with her friend on the phone!

A couple weeks later, hoping that we might fair better than before, me and Mom again dropped by our local Joann's in Clive/ west Des Moines, IA. and, when Mom had found some fabric and lace that she liked we patiently weighted.  The difference, this time, is that there were two women on staff, and they were both at the cash register holding a private conversation amongst themselves as we stood there within view of them.  We weighted maybe ten minutes, hoping they would wrap up their conversation and help us.  Eventually a man came in to buy some fabric and some notions for a project and he stood in front of us.  However, instead of helping us, first, they cut his fabric!  That was the final straw and Mom left her fabric and told the other woman weighting at the register that she would never shop at their store again--and, to her credit, she never has!  Mom actually stopped at the Ben Franklin's store in Adel and bought her fabric from there!

It's unfortunate, but it seems like nearly every time I patron our local Joanne's with my business I have been met with either rude or pathologically unhelpful staff.  After the former two encounters the only reason I even chose to browse through their shelves is because they had hired a breath-taking man with jet black hair to man the cutting counter, otherwise, I couldn't have bothered...  Pity that he no longer works there.  Bit, I digress...  I returned to Joann's early this summer looking for a specific type or blend of fabric: poly-rayon that is as black as black can be!  As I scanned the store I saw no signs denoting any poly-rayon blends, but I eventually found my way to the yardage of polyester where I hoped it might reside.  I poured over every bolt of black fabric in the row and came up empty-handed.  I then decided to draw up my courage here in No-Man's Land, as I am very much a shy and quiet introvert, and I asked to speak with the manager about ordering a bold of the fabric that I required.  She ultimately didn't seem to know poly-rayon fabric in the least, but she informed me that they could order me any fabric that I required, but that the onus was entirely on me to provide them with the specific SKU# from the Joann's website which required that I had to ensure that it was the proper fiber composition, the proper weight, even the precise weave that I required.  And, there was no guarantee that the website stocked what it was that I was looking for.

Ultimately I was feeling dejected, and I gave up researching the topic any further until cooler autumn weather prevailed.  But, I was recently speaking with a fellow Sewist with more familiarity over fabrics than myself, and I explained my situation to him.  He immediately knew what I was talking about, based upon my description (vague as it was), and pointed me to the Ponte di Roma Sew Classic Knits on the Joann's website!  This latter encounter, however, brought it home to me that when staffing a store it behooves the chain of management that they hire men and women that actually know about the merchandise they are selling, because there are a lot of new Sewists out there who require a lot initial hand holding along the way for assurance.  If the manager at our local Joann's had told me that I might find the solution to my problem by searching through the stacks of Knit Fabric, my troubles would have been long-since avoided.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sewing Bees...

This afternoon I was in a mood to draw something for a future sewing project next Midsummer that I thought, at first, would be a cinch!  So, I followed the directions outlined on Wikihow for drawing a hexagon, and at first I thought that the angles were "off" until I stepped back and a moment and held my drawing perpendicular to my ace an my frame of view I realized that it was just fine, and that it was only my initial perception that was "off".

I do realize that I could have simply printed out the image of a hexagon on-line and scaled it up or down using my all-in-one printer; however, today was one of those days where I had to involve my own hands to create something, no matter how basic the construction.

When I am ready to begin work on my project I will have to buy some sheets of template plastic in order to have a better template for my use.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Pagan Sewist's Library...

If you are anything like me and have had very little support for your interest in domestic skills growing up since taking a short class in Jr. High School I would first recommend educating oneself before jumping right in and buying your first sewing machine, pattern, some fabric and then setting off.  What follows are some of my favorite books on the subject of sewing.  You may notice that they are all vintage titles, which I happen to prefer.  Individual reviews will follow:
  • Better Homes & Gardens.  Better Homes & Gardens Sewing Book: Sewing How-To for Home and Family.  Des Moines: Meredith Publishing Co., 1961.
  • Butterick Fashion Marketing.  Vogue Sewing.  New York: Harper & Row, 1982.
  • Lynch, Mary and Dorothy Sara.  Sewing Made Easy.  Rev. Irene Gora.  New York: Doubleday & Company, 1969.
  • Margolis, Adele P.  The Encyclopedia of Sewing.  New York: Doubleday & Company, 1987.
  • Picken, Mary Brooks.  Singer Sewing Book.  New York, Singer Manufacturing Company, 1949.
  • Simplicity Pattern Co.  Simplicity Sewing Book: Helpful Hints for Beginners and Experts.  New York: Simplicity Pattern Co, 1947.
If you should have any other books work recommending, please list below for consideration.