Sewing With Treadle Machines in Africa

My family and I just returned from an amazing, life changing trip to Zambia, Africa!

It is a trip we will never forget.

Our daughter, Michelle, works for an orphan ministry called Every Orphans Hope.

We wanted to go and see her working first hand and help where we could.

There are 11 orphan homes consisting of one mama and eight children.

The mamas are hoping to learn to sew so that they can run a business and make some money.

My part was to teach the mamas how to sew.

Last year, we raised money to buy each mama a machine:

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We had heard that some of the machines were not working correctly.

After looking at several of the machines, we realized that report was accurate.

Each one had different problems.

So, because of this, some were being used as a table:

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Kristin, a teammate of mine, learned how to use a treadle machine before we got to Africa.

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I watched Kristin use the fly wheel and her feet simultaneously.

As she explained, it’s sort of like working the clutch on a car…there’s a point when you know when to start with the feet.

(I watched a You Tube video before I left and thought it looked easy, but it was something I never got the hang of.)

The machine Kristin learned on here in the states was a SInger and she was taught to turn the fly wheel away from you as you start.

We finally figured out that, with these machines, you need to turn the fly wheel toward you as you start.

There were many dissimilarities like this that we needed to work through.

After about three days of trying to get them to work, we realized we needed to visit the sewing machine dealer where they were purchased last year.

The owner assured us that he would fix them all.

What a relief!

He also let us know that these machines can be altered from treadle to hand crank.

Hand crank machines means you crank an added piece on the fly wheel while you sew with your left hand.

The mama in the middle, uses her own hand crank machine:

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She made this bag on my shoulder last year and my daughter bought it as a gift for me!

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The owner at the sewing machine shop also explained that we could buy a kit that would convert the treadle machines to electric for about $15 US dollars!

This would be great for the mamas that live in the city, who have some electric power daily.

At the Every Orphan’s Hope office, we worked with a Zambian volunteer, Agatha, to show her how to make a simple tote bag.

Agatha is a tailor in Zambia, but I’m not sure if she had made a bag before.

Here is the finished product:

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We saw Agatha at one of the homes the next day.

She was hemming a chitenge, which is a 2 yard piece of fabric that the women of Zambia drape around themselves as a skirt.

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As you can see, she is using an electric machine.

It amazed me that these women can sew without a table and while sitting on the floor!

As soon as we left, we saw the mamas moving into this house ready to take a lesson on making tote bags.

What joy to see the ladies taking something they learned and teaching those around them.

It is our hope that they will be able to practice and soon start their own businesses.

The mama who made the tote bag for me is already selling her bags.

You can find them on this page of the Every Orphan website.

Check them out.

You could start your Christmas shopping early and help a mama in Zambia at the same time!

Teaching the Mamas How to Sew

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to let you know that I will be in Zambia, Africa, for the next two weeks!

Last summer, as many of you helped raise money to buy the mamas there each a sewing machine, God was impressing on my heart that I should be the one to go and teach them how to sew.

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And sew (so!), that’s where I am headed!

I am getting excited!

I’ve gotten all my shots and the bags are packed.

A friend of mine challenged me to help her sew dresses and skirts for each of the orphan girls. We had so much fun that we ended up making 62 when we only needed 42!

Most of them are tiered skirts, but we made a few dresses like these:

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I’m sure we’ll find plenty of extra girls to give them to.

My friend even started making boy’s pajamas as well.

The ladies in my Bible study donated so many things for the kids: toys of all kinds and personal items. I was really touched by their generosity:

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What I am really excited about is that I get to help my daughter and son-in-law in the ministry called Every Orphan’s Hope!

This ministry is doing amazing things to help the orphans and widows in the country of Zambia.

And if your heart is moved, go ahead and sponsor one of the orphan’s!

It only takes $27 per month to sponsor one of these kids who have lost their parents to the AIDS/HIV crisis.

Several of the children have tested positive as well.

But your money goes to give them food, water, medicine, clothing and an education and the ability to live in a home with 7 other children and a mama who loves on them with extra special love. Most of the mamas are widows.

I can’t wait to meet them all!

And teach them how to sew.

There is another lady joining me on this adventure, whom I will meet in Zambia, who is willing to help me teach them.

I’m so grateful for her.

We hope to make great progress with these mamas so that they can learn to make purses or bags and sell them as a small business for themselves.

One of the mamas is already doing this and her bags are on this page of the  Every Orphan website.

If bags are not your bag, there are other ways of helping the ministry, like buying real live chicks for the orphans and mamas to raise.

Check out the website by clicking on any link above or on the photo in the right sidebar.

I can’t wait to come back home and share all kinds of incredible stories with you!

Until then, I won’t be able to respond to your questions daily like usual.

Internet will be spotty there.

But, I’ll respond as fast as I can.

In the meantime,  if you have a question about something, type the subject (like hems or side seams or wedding dress) into the search box on any page of my website and find articles and other seamstresses comments that will guide you through your sewing dilemma. Remember that there may be several pages of posts with the answer!

I would appreciate your prayers as I embark on several long flights and for good health and that I might be helpful and show the love of Jesus wherever I go.

Thank you soooo much.

I’ll be back soon!

How to Alter a Top With an Elastic Hem

You’ve seen these blouses everywhere:

ImageThey’ve got elastic running around the bottom edge.

Many women complain that they don’t like how they look when they wear them and pass up the idea of buying them.

Altering them is an easy fix.

Just trim off the elastic close to the edge:

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I use sharp small scissors to accomplish this task:

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Next, turn the hem up and press if necessary.

I hand baste the hem as well so that the knit doesn’t slip around.

If you have a woven fabric, you should press the hem up as well.

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In addition, if you are sewing on a woven cloth, be sure and finish the edge with a serger or a zig zag stitch first.

Next, look for a thread to match:

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On this top, I will sew a double row of stitching on the hem.

This means I’ll need two spools of thread.

If I don’t have two spools of matching thread, or they are very close in color, I will wind two bobbins.

One bobbin will be used in the bobbin case and the other bobbin will be used as the second spool of thread.

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Then, get yourself a double stretch needle. They look like this:

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Put the spool of thread on the first spool pin and a bobbin on the second spool pin.

To thread your machine with two threads, treat them as one thread and thread through until you get to the needle area:

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Then, thread one thread through each needle:

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Stitch the hem, keeping the right side of the shirt facing up so you can watch to make sure you are doing a good job.

As you can see, if you flip it over, the bottom threads form sort of a zig zag stitch:

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As you can see, it doesn’t take long to convert your top and the hem looks great!:

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How to Avoid Ruining a Garment

Here’s  another good question from a reader…

Judy wrote:  My question regards mistakes.  I’ve never destroyed anyone’s item (thank goodness!) but I’ve always been afraid of messing something up, especially an expensive item, like a prom or wedding dress.  Have any of you ever made an error like this?  If so, what did you do?

Here’s my answer:

Yes, I’ve made two errors in the last 13 years. First, I ruined a man’s shirt once when I accidentally serged part of the shirt in a seam and it got cut off by the serger blade. There was no way to fix it, so I gave him the money to buy him a new one, along with a huge apology, of course. I simply asked him how much he had spent on his shirt and gave him the money. He was thrilled that I would pay for a new one. By giving him the cash, I didn’t have to go shopping and find him a new one. Win-win. (The second error is explained below).

There are two things I do before I begin working on a garment.

First, I pray before I start each alteration asking that God would help me pay attention and do my best work and keep me from making any irretrievable mistakes. By His grace, that hasn’t happened since.  Now, I realize that that could have happened with a wedding gown or something else that was expensive, but I determined in my mind that if that were to ever happen, I would make it right. In other words, I would pay for a new garment or pay to have it fixed if it was possible.

Second, I always examine each garment well before the customer leaves my presence. That way, I can point out any flaw, defect, stain or problem the article of clothing has and that covers my back so that the customer knows it was not something I had done, while it was in my care.

Once, when I had finished a wedding gown and had my customer try it on, I noticed a pencil mark on the front of the gown. Knowing that I had checked the gown over very well before she left it in my care, I knew it had happened on my watch. So, I pointed it out to her and told her I would get the dress cleaned for her at the cleaner of her choice.

The pencil mark came out of the gown and it cost me $50, but it was a good lesson for me and I’m just so thankful it didn’t cost more than that to fix it.

I think the bottom line is to have confidence when you take a garment in. Have faith in your ability. Take your time (haste makes waste) and be careful. Mistakes happen when you’re tired, distracted, and/or in a hurry. You’re human. You will make mistakes, but the more alterations you do, the more confident you will feel sewing on different fabrics and garments. If you can, go to the fabric store and get a swatch of a fabric that is close to the one you’ll be working on and practice on that first. The more you do, the better you’ll get.

Now, let’s hear from you.

What do you do to minimize costly situations?

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Mama!

I thought you might like to see what some readers to this blog contributed to last summer.

If you missed the original posts, you’ll find the first one here and the second one here.

Our daughter works for an orphan ministry in Texas called Every Orphan’s Hope.

There are 11 orphan homes with 8 children in each home and that mamas who raise these children are mostly widows.

Last summer, we learned that the widows had a long standing dream to have sewing machines.

So, I put out the word here on the blog and to my friends at church and we raised enough money to buy each mama a machine.

When our daughter got to Zambia, she and one of the Zambian staff women went to a sewing machine dealer and purchased the machines.

Most of them are treadle machines because the electricity in Zambia is intermittent.

This post is to show you what that process looked like and share with you the excitement and joy of the mamas.

Many of you also donated sewing supplies.

One lady even made dolls for the children!

So, without further adieu, here are some of the photos chronicling the exciting event.

In this photo, the machines are being delivered:Image

Here is one of the mamas reacting to her gift:

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And another group of ladies receiving other gifts:

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Thank you to all of you who contributed to making their dreams come true.

This was huge for them and your generosity was huge for me!

How to Choose Boning for Your Dress

Each day, I receive many emails with great questions and today I thought I’d post one I received yesterday as well as the answer to it.

Here’s the question:

Hi Linda,  I am making my daughter’s strapless wedding dress.  I used the fabric store feather weight boning for the muslin corset .  We got it fitted very well but I am wondering when the weight of the dress gets connected if this is the best boning choice.  I have been researching the topic but am still undecided.  Can you tell me what would be the best choice so she isn’t always pulling it up.  We will be using a waistline stay but I want to do it right the first time!  Ha!  Thanks!  Love your website.  It is so helpful and very interesting.  Mom with Question

First of all, kudos to this mom for making her daughter’s wedding dress! What a cherished memory for you both.

There are a couple of things I wanted to address in this question.

First, lets talk about the strapless dress in general and then we’ll address the boning issue.

Brides and their mothers often hope to find the perfect strapless dress that will not need to be “hiked up” at the bodice. Unfortunately, that is a rare find because gravity will always win in the end. Because the bust area is larger in circumference than the waist, it will always travel the road of least resistance and want to gravitate down towards the waist.  There are some dresses that need tugging less often, and that has to do with the design of the dress and how it fits the bride. First, those dresses are designed with a high bodice. In other words, the dress sits high above the largest part of the bust (think: no cleavage and sitting closer to the collar bone than not. Certainly, it is not up to the collar bone, but it sits higher above the bust than most dresses) and second, that high bust area should fit snugly around the chest and underarm area. When altering the dress you have, just make it fit as snugly as possible, without being uncomfortable, and go with that. The bride will still have to tug, but not as often. She can experiment using double stick tape to hold the dress to the skin and see if that will help the problem. To eliminate the tugging problem altogether, you’ll need to add straps to the dress, but many brides don’t like that look. That’s why they bought strapless to begin with.

Now let’s talk about boning. This mom asked about whether her featherweight boning would  be appropriate in her daughter’s gown. That depends. I would buy boning based on the weight of the fabric you are using. If you are using a heavy satin, you’d want a heavier boning. If you have a lightweight chiffon, a featherweight boning would be appropriate. The reason here is that you want it to function as much like the fashion fabric as possible.

But let’s look at another facet of the answer.

First, boning is inserted in a dress to give it rigidity through the vertical portion of the bodice. Without boning, the dress would have little support, much like a house needs walls to give it structure. However, thinking about the law of gravity again, boning only helps with the structure or the rigidity of the dress. It doesn’t keep the dress from falling down. With boning inserted, it just means that the dress moves with gravity all at the same time. It doesn’t slump down in one area and leave the rest smooth. Does that make sense?

Here is a link to my post on Fixing Boning Issues. It will give you a little more insight into some boning issues you might come across. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Thanks to all of you who have written in asking questions or leaving comments. I appreciate all your sweet words and I thank the Lord that this blog is such a wonderful resource to you!

How To Replace a Zipper in a Jacket or Coat

If you read my last post on How Much To Charge To Replace a Zipper, I promised I’d be back to show you how to put in a new zipper.

Here’s the jacket with the broken zipper:

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The zipper teeth didn’t hold together when the jacket was zipped:

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Before you begin, be sure and choose a zipper that is long enough for the jacket opening.

Try to buy a zipper that is the same length as the current zipper.

If that is not possible, get one that is longer.

You can always shorten the top of the zipper.

Here are two different types of jacket zippers:

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The zipper on the left is a heavy duty silver metal zipper.

The one on the right is made of durable nylon.

For this jacket, the metal zipper was chosen.

Before you buy the zipper, zip it up and down several times to make sure it doesn’t stick and that it actually works.

You’d hate to sew it in and find out it was defective.

You’d only do that once!

If your zipper tape is wrinkled, you could iron it, but be careful that you don’t hit the teeth on the nylon zippers with the hot iron.

I don’t usually have that problem with jacket zippers.

But occasionally, a dress or pant zipper is wrinkled.

Let’s begin.

I start by grabbing my seam ripper and pulling out the stitches just below the zipper:

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Pull out all of the stitches on both sides of the jacket.

As you can see, there is another row of stitching right next to the zipper tape.

It needs to come out too:

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Here is what this jacket looks like as the zipper is being taken out.

I think it’s funny that the manufacturer used pink thread:

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Here’s another look… near a snap:

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I’ll show you how to deal with the snap in a moment.

Before I take the zipper out of the top edge of the jacket, I pay attention to any detail I need to, so that I can put the new zipper back in the same way, if possible.

The zipper tape at the top is usually folded back inside the jacket so it doesn’t show from the outside.

You can’t see that on this jacket, but just take mental notes as you disassemble the area:

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Once you take out the entire zipper, be sure to take out all the loose little threads.

Sometimes, a lint roller is very helpful with this stage:

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I insert the zipper making sure the correct side of the zipper is on the corresponding correct side of the jacket and pin it every couple of inches:

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I like to pin because it anchors the zipper down enough so it doesn’t move as I sew.

If you are uncomfortable doing this, you can always hand baste the zipper in place.

Be sure to pin or baste the zipper so that the teeth won’t get caught in the fold of the fabric edge when you zip it.

I don’t measure this. I just eyeball it and give it about an eighth of an inch clearance.

Make sure that the lining of the jacket is lined up correctly to before you pin or baste.

You don’t want that bunched up at all.

Now, let’s talk about the snaps, if you have them.

When you get to a snap, you may notice that the zipper tape doesn’t fit down into the “hole” too well.

The snap is in the way.

Do you see how the zipper tape rises too high because of the snap?

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I place a pin right next to the snap on the zipper tape (see photo below).

It doesn’t have to be perfect placement as you’ll see in a moment.

You just want a visual marker:

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Next, with a pair of scissors, notch out a little semi circle on the zipper tape just below your pin, like this:

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That semi circle is going to fit over the top of the snap.

Now, remove that pin.

It has done its job.

Place the zipper tape back in the hole and continue pinning:

See how slick that looks?

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Your zipper will not pull out because you have that notch.

Trust me on this!

Once the entire zipper is pinned in, put your zipper foot onto your sewing machine.

I also use a denim weight needle.

They are better suited to a jacket than an all purpose needle.

Begin stitching.

Stitch on the stitching line where the original zipper was, being careful not to run over your pins.

Take them out just before you get to them:

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When you get to a snap, just stay on course.

You shouldn’t have any trouble staying on the original stitching line.

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You might think from the photo above that there would be a small pucker.

To avoid that, I just make sure to hold it tightly as I sew.

Let’s look at how that stitching line looks near the snap:

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When you reach the bottom of the zipper, you’ll notice that the zipper tape has a thick, stiff area about one inch long.

I go slowly over this area.

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Sometimes, I may even “walk” my needle over the stiff area so that I don’t break my needle.

You may have noticed that the original zipper ended a few inches above the bottom edge of the jacket:

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The new zipper was longer and it fit perfectly into the bottom of the jacket:

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If your zipper is too long, just fold the excess under at the top.

If it is several inches too long, leave about an inch or more so you can fold it under at the top.

Some people don’t like any bulk from the zipper, so they cut it off.

If you do that, just make sure you have some extra so you don’t have a raw edge at the top.

You may need to whip stitch the top zipper teeth so that the zipper slide (or pull) doesn’t come off.

You don’t need to worry about that second line of stitching that was next to the zipper tape.

This one row will hold your zipper in tightly.

Here is the finished zipper:

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I know you’ll have great success too!

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