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Sewing Machines

I’m a bit of a sewing machine hoarder. If you don’t count the one that is Finn’s, I have four sewing machines. That includes my sewing and embroidery machine combo, but not my two sergers. Also not including the knitting machine, because it knits.

While I’m certainly not an expert, I do have my preferences. I would take a well-built, old metal machine over a new machine any day. Mainly because when they break, I tend to do this:

Sewing Machines- Beige Vintage Montgomery Ward Signature.

That is my first sewing machine. It is a Montgomery Ward’s Signature sewing machine from the 60s, I think. I got it from my mom who got it from my grandma. I can’t remember what was wrong with it that time, but it sews nicely now.

The Signatures at that time were made by a Japanese company that specialized in industrial machines, I think for sewing feed sacks. That translates to a heavy duty, domestic sewing machine that will sew through anything. It also has a set of cams. Cams are interchangeable disks that allow it to sew pretty embroidery stitches.

My next sewing machine is another, slightly older Montgomery Ward’s Signature. This one was rescued from a lot of machines that were destined for the junk heap.

Sewing Machines- Blue Vintage Montgomery Ward Signature.

I love the blue color! It reminds me of cars from that era.

Like the other Signature, it uses cams. You can see them in the little accessory box. I actually like this one a little better than the other. It sews the prettiest straight stitch out of all my machines and has a cam that stitches a row of teeny tiny hearts!

I’ve never actually made anything on it, though. Unlike the other, this one is in a portable case, which is hilarious. I lift my 40+ pound four year old all the time and lifting that machine is still a struggle. Since I don’t have a dedicated place for it, I don’t have the motivation to lug it out.

My workhorse is a 90s model Kenmore, made by Janome. The case is plastic, but all the internal workings are metal. I know, because I’ve had to open it up a few times now to fix the hook timing. (Posts on that here and here.)

That is the best photo I could find of it not undergoing repairs. I love that machine because it isn’t as quirky as the Signatures. It also tells me how to thread it right on the machine, and when it comes to sewing machines, threading is half the battle.

My final machine is the Brother SE400 embroidery combo. I keep it set up as an embroidery machine because I have three other sewing machines. Also, it scares me, so I want to risk messing it up as little as possible. I haven’t had it opened up beyond the bobbin area, but I’m guessing there’s some plastic, and I know there are scary electronic components. With the other machines, I am freer to play because I know that if something happens, it’s not likely to be catastrophic. With this, something like a timing issue would definitely mean a big repair bill.

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Playing with fonts on my new toy.

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But, it makes pretty embroidery, has loads of decorative and utility stitches as a sewing machine, and has the most awesome needle threader I have ever seen. Seriously. Finn’s machine has a needle threader that I will never use, because it is complicated and I stabbed myself with it one time. Brother’s needle threader is like magic. It is especially handy when embroidering with multiple colors. Color changes take mere seconds.

Just to show I’m not as much of a hoarder as I could be, here is a photo of the White machine I couldn’t get working and sold on craigslist.

Sewing machines - White Rotary

Then, while I was waiting for the buyers to show up, I decided to play with it a bit and figured out what was wrong. I hope they love it, or at least open it up to look at from time to time. Sigh.

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Gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipe

Gluten Free Cookies SubEarthan Cottage

At least from what I’ve tasted, most store bought gluten free chocolate chip cookies are very dry and either too sweet or lacking in flavor. Chocolate chip cookies are practically a staple food, so I hacked my grandma’s cookies recipe. The results are definitely not dry, lacking in flavor or too sweet.

The biggest change I made, of course, is using gluten free flour. My preferred flour is Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. Others will work, but if it’s not one that is blended to be a direct substitute for wheat flour, you will probably want to add about one half teaspoon of xanthan gum.

Even with the 1 to 1 blends, sometimes the cookies spread more than I like. The original recipe calls for one cup and two tablespoons of flour. If I have it on hand, I’ll replace the two tablespoons of flour with a generous one tablespoon of coconut flour. That prevents them from spreading too much. Chilling the dough for a few hours or overnight helps, too, but who has time for that? Besides, the sooner they go in the oven, the less cookie dough I’ll eat.

The original recipe calls for shortening. I would much rather use butter, but one of my boys is lactose intolerant. Straight coconut oil adds to the spreading problem, so I compromise and use half shortening and half coconut oil. The small amount of milk in most chocolate chips isn’t a problem for my son, but using for dairy-free chips would make these completely dairy-free, too! If dairy isn’t a problem, feel free to swap all the fats with butter.

The final change happened after staying up late watching Martha Stewart bake cookies. She mentioned that brown sugar helps make the cookies be moist. The original recipe calls for more white sugar than brown. I tried a few different ratios before settling on using equal amounts of brown and white sugars.

The final result is a yummy, gluten free cookie that isn’t dry and crumbly.

Gluten free chocolate chip cookies

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 well beaten eggs
  • 2 cups 1 to 1 gluten free flour plus 2 generous tablespoons of coconut flour (or 2 cups plus 4 tablespoons 1 to 1 gluten free flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 generous cup of chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Cream together the shortening, coconut oil, sugars and vanilla. I usually use a mixer for everything, but you can do it by hand, too.

Fold in the eggs and mix well.

In another bowl, sift (or just mix really well) the dry ingredients.

Add the dry ingredients a little at a time to the wet ingredients and mix well.

Stir in the chocolate chips. If you are patient, chill the dough for a few hours or overnight.

Otherwise, grease your cookie sheets or line with parchment paper or silicone liners. Greasing is what the original recipe calls for, but I prefer the results from lining the sheets.

Form your cookies (I use a 2 tablespoon sized scoop, but you can make them bigger or smaller) and place them two inches apart on the sheets.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them during the last few minutes. You want them to be golden and not doughy in the middle.

Cool for a few minutes on the sheets before removing them.

A few notes on the recipe: My recipe is actually double the original. I almost never made a single batch because it’s not really any more effort. If you want, you can save some of the dough in the fridge for a few days.

I also don’t have an accurate cookie count, mainly because cookie dough is delicious. I think I can usually get about 36 cookies with my 2 tablespoon scoop, but that is a a very rough guess.

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Sewing Chores: Tips to maximize sewing time

Even if you love sewing, there’s some parts that can be a chore. Ignoring those tasks or leaving them for later can result in wasted sewing time and money. Here’s a list of chores I try to tackle when I have a few minutes so that my real sewing time is spent actually sewing.

Bobbin winding

If you have a Side Winder, bobbin thread running out mid-project might not be a big hassle. If you rely on your machine to wind bobbins, though, running out means stopping your work, re-threading your machine to wind a bobbin and then setting it back up to sew. To prevent this headache, when you have a few spare moments, wind a few bobbins in your most commonly used colors. If you have a project in mind, wind a couple of bobbins in the needed colors. Keep extra bobbins on hand and wind at least one for every different thread color you have. 

Pre-winding extra bobbins makes this notice less annoying.

Clean your machine

Lint, threads and dust build up over time and can cause poor stitch quality or even damage your machine. It’s a good idea to make a habit of brushing the debris out at the end of each project, or during projects with linty fabrics.

If the inside of your machine looks like this, you should probably clean it more often.

Periodically you’ll want to vacuum out your machine to really clean it. Vacuum attachments made for cleaning computers work well for this. Some people use canned air, but that’s not recommended. It pushes some of the debris deeper into your machine.

Oil your machine

Once your machine is thoroughly clean, take a moment to oil it according to your manual. This will keep it running smoothly and reduce the need for costly repairs. If you don’t have the manual, you can usually find one online. 

After oiling, always sew a few rows on scrap fabric to soak up excess oil. That way, you won’t risk ruining a project with oil spots. 

Tidy up

The best practice is to put away tools and excess fabric as you go. It’s easy to get distracted and forget, though. Taking a moment here and there to run through your sewing area to tidy up when you aren’t working on a project can save sewing time later.

Keep a shopping list

Nothing is more annoying than having to stop work because you ran out of a necessary supply. Make note of supplies that are low or that have run out on a notepad to take on your next shopping trip.

Prewash fabric

Unless you know your final project will never be washed, you should always prewash your fabric. One way to make sure this happens is to wash it as soon as you bring it home from the store. You could also work it into your usual laundry schedule. Having a prewashing routine prevents delaying a project or worse, giving in to the temptation to make something and have your final product ruined in the wash.

Tip: Serging or zig-zag stitching the cut edges will prevent excess fraying in the wash.https://subearthancottage.com/random-sewing-tip-painless-prewash

These are the chores that, for me, are the biggest sewing time-wasters when neglected. Please share your dreaded sewing chores and tips to keep them from becoming time-wasters in the comments.

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DIY Soft Scrub Cleaner

DIY Soft Scrub

I like getting my kiddos involved in housecleaning. Not just because they are highly involved in making messes, but because it is important that they know how to take care of themselves as adults. I’m pretty choosy as to what cleaning products I will let them use. So many cleaners are irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.

Not only do I want my cleaning products to be safe, I like things that multitask and don’t cost an arm and a leg. Often, I’ve found the best way to achieve this is to make them myself, like with my natural furniture polish. With a few simple ingredients I keep around the house anyway, I find I can cover most cleaning needs.

My most recent cleaning concoction is soft scrub. It works well for when I need a little extra scrubbing power than I get with my usual all-purpose water, vinegar and dish soap mix.

Soft scrub in a jar
Soft scrub in a jar

Soft Scrub Ingredients

  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of liquid soap
  • 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide
  • Optional: 2-3 drops of essential oil

Instructions

Place all the ingredients into a big bowl and mix until a uniform paste forms. To store, I like to scoop it into a wide mouth canning jar, but any lidded container will work. The mix will expand, so use a container that allows for at least double the amount to be safe.

Mixing the soft scrub
Mixing the soft scrub

Variations

Type of Soap

Liquid castile soap will work, but for extra cleaning power I prefer a detergent soap, like Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds or even Dawn dish soap. You could probably get away with any liquid hand soap or liquefied bar soap, but I haven’t tried those yet. The only time I haven’t liked it was when I made it with Ajax dish soap because that is what I had on hand. I think there was something in the Ajax that reacted badly with the baking soda or hydrogen peroxide. That mixture was fluffier and had an odd smell. I’m not quite sure what it was that caused it, but because of that, I recommend staying away from any dish soap that advertise extra cleaning additives. For the soap, basic is better.

Scent

I rarely add any essential oils for fragrance. Usually the soap I have is already scented, so I don’t see the need. Really, unscented is fine, too, unless you just prefer a scent to signal that something is clean. If I were to add an essential oil, though, I would probably use either peppermint, lemon or tea tree oil. If you choose to use an essential oil, please be aware of safety guidelines for using them around children, pregnant women, pets, and other sensitive individuals.

How to use

To use, I scoop out a dollop of the soft scrub and apply a layer to the area I’m cleaning. I usually let it sit for a minute or two then buff it off with a rag. If there’s a residue left, I’ll either wipe it down with a damp rag or mist it with my all purpose vinegar, dish soap and water solution and wipe it clean.

Results

I almost forgot to take a before photo. This is an embarrassing photo of tomato sauce splatter left on my stove overnight.

Before using soft scrub to clean last night's spaghetti sauce.
Before using soft scrub to clean last night’s spaghetti sauce.

This is a photo of what it looks like after using my soft scrub and minimal elbow grease.

Shiny stovetop
Shiny stovetop

I do apologize for the blurry photos. Lighting in my kitchen isn’t the greatest, and also I was in the middle of cleaning.

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Patching Denim Jeans and Embroidery Embellishment

Another way to patch denim jeans

My mom gave me several pairs of worn out denim jeans for me to play with several months ago.  A few just happened to be my favorite style from Old Navy and in my size. Rather than cut them up for other projects, I decided to make them cute with patches and a little embroidery. Here’s the method I used for patching denim jeans.

Another way to patch denim jeans
First, the knees.

Patching the knees

Prepping the denim jeans

In order to sew at the knees, you have to carefully rip out the stitches along one leg seam. You don’t have to rip out the entire seam, but you need to give yourself plenty of room above and below the knee to work. One seam is usually top-stitched. To make it easier all around, do NOT rip out the top-stitched seam.

After ripping out the seam, press the denim as smooth as possible with an iron.

Prepping the fabric

To patch the denim jeans, I chose to go underneath the rips and leave the torn edges visible. For the patches, I used cotton quilting material left over from sewing masks . I cut the fabric into squares a few inches bigger than I needed to patch. In the future, I will probably interface the fabric at this time. I knew I planned to interface everything at a later step, though, so I didn’t.

I pinned the fabric to the inside of the denim jeans.

Sewing the patches

Before sewing the crazy stitches shown in the photos, I sewed a single line of stitching all around the patch about a quarter of an inch inside the edge of the quilting fabric. This kept it in place while I did the crazy reinforcing stitches. After it was secure, I stitched in all different directions between the edge of the tear and slightly overlapping the first single line of stitching.

This side was more worn out, so it got more reinforcement stitching.

When jeans rip, usually the material around the tear is worn thin as well. In the past, I often left too much of the worn area without reinforcement. This results in new rips soon after the first repair. This time I reinforced at least an inch and a half around the tears.

Reinforcing the patched denim jeans with interfacing

After I was done stitching, I ironed interfacing to the inside. I did the interfacing last to act as a soft layer between my knees and the stitching. In retrospect, I probably should have interfaced the quilting cotton first, and then interfaced again at this step if I felt it was necessary. So far my jeans are holding up with the way I did it, though.

Sew it up

With the patches done, all that’s left is resewing the side seams. I just pinned it closed and sewed it back along the original stitching line. For the overcasting to finish the raw edges, I was lazy and used the overedge stitch on my sewing machine instead of switching to my serger. Zig-zag stitching along the edge to finish it would also work.

Embroidering the pocket

To embroider the pocket, I first removed the pocket from my jeans. Since it’s too small to hoop, I hooped tear away stabilizer alone and secured the pocket to the stabilizer with a glue stick. I used my Damask Rose embroidery pattern for the embellishment.

After the embroidery machine was done working its magic, I removed the stabilizer and replaced the pocket on my jeans using a heavy denim thread in a close shade to the original thread.

Simple, right? Actually, I tried to do that, messed up the hook timing on my Kenmore sewing machine AGAIN within the first few stitches and had to move to my backup vintage Montgomery Ward Signature machine. It took a few minutes of fiddling with the settings, but once I got it set up correctly it sewed through the heavy denim layers like butter.

In all fairness to my Kenmore, I did probably deserve it this time, between the crazy reinforcement stitches and then trying to sew through multiple layers of denim with thick thread. At least this time it let me reset the hook timing without much fuss.

Have you gotten more acquainted with your sewing machine lately? I’d love to see your projects in the comments.

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Cloth Diapering – Types of Cloth Diapers

Beckett with cloth diapers in the background

Many parents are choosing cloth diapers over disposables. Cloth diapering saves money and space in the landfills. They also give you peace of mind. As long as you can do laundry, you will never run out of diapers. That’s always a good thing, but with stores limiting hours and sometimes running out of things like diapers and wipes, it’s especially important.

If you’re new to cloth diapering, it can be a bit overwhelming to navigate the different types of cloth diapers on the market. Today’s choices go beyond the pinned white squares our parents and grandparents used to include styles so user friendly even the most skeptical caregivers will be comfortable using them.

Here are the basics based on my research. If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment:

Flats

A large square of woven material, most commonly cotton, that have to be folded and pinned. They will leak unless you also use a waterproof diaper wrap/cover. Instead of diaper pins, you can also use a Snappi to hold flats in place.

Prefolds

A rectangle of cotton or other woven material with a thicker, absorbent middle section. Most moms have a few of these around even if they don’t cloth diaper because they make excellent burp cloths. They still require a little folding to get the best fit for your baby, but nowhere near as much as flats. Like flats, they’ll need pinned (or use a Snappi) and a leak-proof cover.

Fitted Cloth Diapers

Fitteds are made from an absorbent material and shaped to fit without folding. They usually close with Velcro or snaps, so you don’t need pins. They do not have a waterproof layer, so you’ll need a cover to make them leak-proof.

All-in-one Cloth Diapers (AIO)

All-in-ones are essentially fitteds with the addition of a leak-proof layer. The leak-proof layer is most commonly made with PUL, a plastic laminated material. They close with Velcro or snaps.

All in twos (AI2)

Similar to all-in-ones, except that a separate absorbent layer is placed inside of the diaper. This helps them dry faster because each layer is thinner. You can also customize the absorbency by adding layers as needed. They close with Velcro or snaps.

Pocket Diapers

Essentially a specific type of AI2. With pockets, the absorbent layer (insert) is placed in a pocket between a waterproof outer layer and an inner layer of fleece or some other material that lets wetness through to the insert and keeps baby’s skin dry. They close with Velcro or snaps.

Beckett with cloth diapers in the background
Sweet baby Beckett with his OS, pocket cloth diapers in the background.

One size (OS)

Means that the size of the diaper can be adjusted to fit most babies from infancy to toddlerhood as opposed to sized diapers that fit a weight range.

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Another Cloth Mask Pattern Post

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made many cloth face masks using a variety of patterns. Here’s a rundown on the different mask styles I’ve tried, and the one I find overall the most useful.

Contoured masks

The first are heavily contoured, shown here. If they fit they work well, although even without an added filter they make it hard to breathe. The downside to them being contoured, though, is that, if they don’t fit just right, they gap worse than the pleated-styles of masks I’ve tried.

Pleated mask with pockets

Another style of mask I made is a simple pleated mask with two layers of cotton fabric. One piece of the cotton was interfaced and had a wire in the top to shape around the wearer’s nose. Interfacing offers some added filtration on its own. The two layers were left open at the top to form a filter pocket. You can find the complete tutorial for this style here.

I’ve worn this style for the past few weeks on my weekly grocery shopping trips without an added filter. I’m generally healthy and don’t have any breathing problems, but I find these masks difficult to breathe through. Some discomfort is tolerable for safety, but every time I’ve worn one, I’ve had moments where I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish shopping while wearing it. On one occasion, I felt sick from it and actually had to stop and briefly remove it to get a few deep breaths.

Basic pleated mask

The final mask design I’ve tried is a simple, pleated mask. I use the pattern provided by Deaconess Hospital. They have variations for using elastic or fabric ties. In addition to the pdf instructions, Deaconess filmed a video tutorial that is easy to follow.

Mickey Mouse mask from the Deaconess pattern.
Masks made with the basic Deaconess pattern.

There are a few downsides to this pattern. Depending on the wearer, these may gap. On some, I added a small dart at the nose and chin. This helps provide a better fit. They also lack a filter pocket or interfacing. Even so, this is my preferred mask pattern for the following reasons.

They are easy to make.

This simplicity makes it easy to make multiples in a short amount of time. Once I have my fabric cut, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to make two in assembly line style. Having several means you’re more likely to wash them after every single use. It also means you can keep a backup in your car or bag so that you always have one to use.

They are easy to customize.

If you want to add a layer of interfacing, or nose and chin darts, you can without much additional effort. Searching Deaconess mask plus nose wire or filter pocket yields options for those as well.

They offer some protection while being more breathable.

Depending on your fabric selection, even a simple two fabric layer mask like these can offer up to 79% filtration, according to testing. Breathability also means you’re more likely to wear them and less likely to remove them during use.

Have you made masks lately? What is your preferred pattern? Please share in the comments.

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