Learning How to Sew (week five)

This week was one of preparation.  As my projects increase in complexity, the time required for preparation seems to also increase.

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As I undertake my final project, which is making an EDC2 from Savage Industries, I’m realizing that a big part of sewing is not really sewing.  Gathering the required materials and preparing them takes longer than sewing the project itself.  This week’s tasks were categorized in three parts: gathering the materials, preparing the pattern and mental preparation.

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(Source)

Gathering the materials proved to be more difficult than I initially thought.  In my mind, a quick trip to the fabric store was all that was needed; however, this was not the case.  As I proceeded through the list of things to find and acquire, it became apparent that choices had to be made.  As I decided to source the materials locally, I had to modify the supply list to products that were immediately available.  Steel hooks were one the list from the pattern maker, I decided to go with plastic clips as an alternative as they are more economical and were immediately available.  The zipper I needed wasn’t available, therefore I decided to wait until I’m further in the project as it’s not an essential until much later in the construction process.  The materials that were recommended was used sailcloth, given we live in the middle of the continent, let’s just say it was impossible to find.  Therefore, I decided to substitute sailcloth for canvas.  For the bottom part of the bag, I decided to repurpose and old pair of denim jeans.  These are but a few of the numerous adaptations and decisions I had to undertake over the past week.  Here goes to hope that these decisions won’t impact me too negatively later on into the process of making my bag.

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The preparation of the pattern was smooth sailing considering the ordeal I went through last week.  (This goes to show how with I’m reapplying the concepts I’ve learned from the past.)  I printed the pattern on 11’ x 17’ paper using Adobe Reader and with the straight edge, the cutting wheel and a bit of tape, assembled the pieces to make a full-size pattern.

*(Side note: Early on in the process, I was made aware quite clearly by my wife that certain cutting appliances were exclusively for fabric and others were exclusively for paper.  It turns out, paper, which is made of cellulose, is extremely hard on cutting edges thus dulling blades quite quickly.  I was reminded of this lesson by the following tweet from @courosa)

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I prepared a time-lapse video showing the process of cutting the pieces of the pattern that I had previously assembled.

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The final part of the project was mental preparation.  As building this bag is much more complex than my previous project, I needed to familiarize myself with the process of assembly from people who have already accomplished this project.  I therefore turned to Youtube and found a selection of excellent videos of people who undertook this project.  The initial video I watched was the original video of Adam Savage assembling the bag himself.  It’s a fantastic step by step process that goes in depth on how to assemble the bag.  There are certain parts that were hard to follow but overall, it was an excellent starting point.

My take on Adam Savage’s EDC2 bag// sewing by Make With Miles was a fantastic video where many different substitutions were made from the original plan.  It gives a nice step by step process.  The author’s father owns a sewing based business, consequently, he used many types of machines that I don’t have, and he used a few procedures that I could not use in my situation as a beginner.

Adam Savage’s EDC 2 Bag in the style of The Martian by Malt and Make is another video I appreciated as it clarified many of the difficult to understand parts of the process.  I also appreciated his approach in explaining the intricacies of assembling the bag.

Finally, the last video I watched was Making my own version of Adam Savage’s EDC.ONE by Crafts by Ellen.  Another step by step video using other techniques that are different from the other two videos.  It’s apparent that the author is very experienced in sewing and the quality of her explanations and work is self-evident.

With all these videos, I feel like I’m on the path to success as I have all the support I will need to achieve the result I’m wanting to achieve.  Many unknows will undoubtedly appear in the next week, but as I’m a journey based on open education, I’m sure I’ll be able to find the answers I need somewhere online.  I’ll end this post by showing the message inscribed in the pattern of my project written by Adam Savage.  I found it so appropriate when considering OEP from this week.

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With a message like this from Adam Savage (of Mythbusters Fame), how can one not become a bit exited to get back to work!

The future is OPEN for learning

The introduction to open education practices (OEP) provided by Verena Roberts during our class this past week had my mind going into overdrive.  Following the end of the class I realized that as a teacher over the past few years, I had conceptualized the idea of OEP in my mind but could never describe it and develop my thoughts in a way to make the concept comprehendible and logical.  Now that I’ve had time to read and reflect on the subject, I feel like I have at least acquired a basic understanding of OEP and have also been able to untangle the mess of ideas that I had retained in my brain over the past few years into more succinct and concrete terms.

Roberts describes OEP as follows:

Open educational practices (OEP) in K-12 learning contexts can describe an intentional design that expands learning opportunities for all learners from formal to informal learning environments. Individualized open readiness can be demonstrated contextually, as a result of  teachers and students co-designing for personally relevant learning pathways where learners can collaboratively and individually share their learning experiences, that encourages communication of meaning through multiliteracies, that blends curriculum and competencies and that promotes community and networked interactions with other learners and nodes of learning from multiple cultural perspectives in digital and analog contexts (Roberts, 2019).

What strikes me the most form the description from Roberts is how OEP “expands learning opportunities from formal to informal learning environments.”  When we as humans develop in the first few years of our lives, our learning environments are mostly informal.  We learn from the environment that surrounds us and from the people that care for our wellbeing.  Once we get to school age, we enter a formal learning environment in school while retaining the informal learning environment at home.  Once most people are done their formal schooling, many turn towards the workplace to start their careers and start building their professional lives.  From my experience as a lifelong learner, I’ve come to conclude that no matter the amount of preparation in a formal learning environment like a traditional classroom, the most valuable and the most effective learning conditions seem, in most cases, to be in informal learning environments. This is why I’m so intrigued by OEP.  Bringing more informal learning environments to schools seems like a logical approach to helping prepare our students for the world which is inherently an informal.

I’m reminded by the classic Sir Ken Robinson TED talk where he is critical of the structure of the current educational system and highlights the inability for students to follow their interests and their curiosities in the fields which interests them.  As a result, our current education system seems to be producing effectively unidimensional learners that have difficulty expanding their knowledge in the unstructured learning environment after formal schooling.  The world of the internet and social media seem to be fostering a renewed influence on the population at large by being an excellent medium for the transmission of ideas.  As much as it pains me to admit, social media is influencing the way we live our lives by providing a mechanism that renews our intrinsic thirst for knowledge and information.  How many of us have been inspired by 30 second videos on Instagram or Facebook that shows an interesting fact or initiative?

The influence of social media on our culture was highlighted following the 2016 American Presidential election.  The ability to interpret sources of information and data in a critical and effective manner requires skills that do not come naturally to many people.  Consequently, we cannot be amazed when people can be easily influenced by seemingly credible false information that is controlled by entities with hidden agendas.

OEP provides a mechanism and a structure to help develop critical minds become lifelong learners.  As Loreli highlighted in her blogpost, Exploring Open Educational Practice: Week 9 Blog Post:

A major benefit of OEP is the engagement of the learner in a learner-centered environment, and provision of authentic learning experiences.  The level of engagement will positively affect the level of learning.  Learning becomes transparent and obvious to both the learner and the teacher.

I would add that the line between learner and teacher becomes somewhat blurred in an OEP as learners become teachers through the sharing of their exploits while the teachers become learners as they relinquish the role of being sources of knowledge and become co-learners in assisting their students in navigating the world of information.  As it is mentioned in Open Education: Practices, “OEP have the potential to empower students to be engaged, active participants in more authentic learning than they might otherwise undertake.  Further, OEP go a step beyond active learning by engaging the learner in creating and revision OER (Open educational resources) and hence contributing to the learning of the students who come after them.”  With such promise and potential, how can a teacher not consider shifting their pedagogical practice towards OEP?

Still being new the idea of OEP, I’m still uncertain in how to approach this shift in my own educational practices.  Although I acknowledge the benefits of OEP, the challenges remain, in my own context, a large preoccupation.  The digital divide is always a reality in my context as our school has only 38 computers for over 170 students.  Gaining access to the computers is a challenge as they are not always available, and their locked down nature makes them difficult to use and inflexible when new software or web applications need to be used.  In addition, we have a considerable population of students who have difficult socioeconomic realities where they don’t have ready access to computers or even smartphones at home.

Apart from the technological challenges, there is also a language barrier in my context as the availability of resources in French online is only a fraction of the diversity and quality of those available in English.   Although difficult, this situation might present an excellent opportunity for my students to develop their own OER, thus helping future generations or students.

Another challenge I foresee is the how to integrate OEP with the curricula I must teach.  Sciences from grade 7 to 11 could be quite easily adapted to OEP as their outcomes are well structured for exploration and remixing.  Grade 12 sciences could also be amenable for OEP, however, the need to prepare my students for Departmental examinations that have a value of 40% of their final grade, limits my ability as a teacher to deviate from what is on the test.  As an unaccredited teacher, I feel stuck in a corner where I have to teach to a test which is a revolting idea when thinking of OEP.

How might OEP look in a francophone high school science class?  For me, the obvious place to start would be within the context of a science fair project.  Having students openly share their learning progress with their communities while exploring scientific knowledge and processes from across the world though the use of social media and technological tools is quite alluring.  As demonstrated by Lile Audris in his Rube Goldberg Video, opening ones learning to the world can provide excellent results.

Finally, as a teacher, evaluation always remains a challenge due to the diverse nature of the work students can produce in the context of OEP.  Verena Roberts provides an excellent start with her rubrics in her document on Open Readiness & Open learning Assessment Rubrics.

The transition from my current educational practice to an OEP might never be complete, but I’m convinced it’s well worth the investment in that it will hopefully allow me to foster more effective learners in a world bombarded by unlimited amounts of data and information.  My thirst for more knowledge related to OEP is large.  I think we can all take cues from Dean’s educational practice as a starting point towards such a transition.  How does OEP look in your classrooms?  What kind of OEP do you aspire to integrate in your classroom?

Learning How to Sew (week four)

My major learning project was back in full swing this week as I attempted to make a pouch from plans I had purchased from Savage Industries.  The model I chose was the Savage Industries EDC Pouch Small.  The following image of the what the final product should resemble following the exercise.

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(Source)

This week’s objectives were the following:

  • Use a pattern as the base of a project for the first time.
  • Gain confidence in adjusting my methods to get better results.
  • Use a raw zipper that is not pre-assembled.
  • Gain experience in using binding.
  • Gain more experience and confidence in using the sewing machine.
  • Keep working on the alignment of my seams and keeping consistent seam allowances.

Unlike the last project I undertook, this one had a pattern from which I had instructions to follow.  After downloading a PDF of the pattern from the website, I met my first challenge.  I initially printed the plans on a 8.5’ x 11’ piece of paper and upon further inspection, I realized the pattern had to be printed at a reduced scale to fit on the paper.  I would have to print at 100% scale for the dimensions to work out but that would require a paper size and a printer that isn’t readily available.  I considered many ways to attack this problem, I could have the plans printed at a print shop, I could use a digital projector to project the plans on large piece of paper and trace the pattern by hand or I could print the pattern on regular sized pieces of paper and assemble them manually.  I opted for the last option as it was the most economical and required less time and energy.

Fortunately, I work in a school!  Our copier can print on 11’ x 17’ pieces of paper which reduces the amount of assembly I would have to do once I had my pattern printed.  The process proved to be a bit of a challenge as I couldn’t find a way to do such a print job on my Mac.  After quite a long period of time going through menus of the PDF reader on my computer, I was ready to abandon the idea of printing and assembling the pattern on smaller pieces of paper when, in desperation, I decided to explore the feature in Adobe Acrobat Reader.  With much elation, I had finally found what I needed, a function to printer posters using multiple smaller papers.

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After assembling the papers, I finally had a pattern and was ready to start cutting fabric.  Upon further inspection, I noticed that the pattern was explicitly licensed under a Creative Commons license!  One nice link to our class discussions on open education!  This particular version of the Creative Commons license specifically allows for people to share and adapt this pattern as long as attribution is made, it remains noncommercial and all adaptations have to keep the same license.  I found this application a perfect use of the Creative Commons license in the context of open education.  Good job Adam Savage!

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Given that this pattern only comprised of square shapes, I decided not to cut my pattern to transfer the dimensions to fabric, instead, I decided to simply transfer the measurements to fabric using a ruler and a straight edge.  It worked well in this case.  Once I had all cut all the pieces, it was finally time to sew.

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On a side note, as with many hobbies that are form of making, often ignored is the idea of preparation.  Success when working in the world of making can often be directly linked to the quality of the preparation of the materials, the maker and the space.  In my case, as much as I just want to get going with my sewing machine, I have been adamant in staying disciplined in the quality of my preparation.  I find good preparation negates many potential future frustrations and issues.  Being prepared is a value I have fostered throughout my personal and professional career and it has never let me down.

I started with the zipper and immediately noticed something was wrong as the stitching was much too loose.  I took a few minutes to fiddle with adjusting my machine using fabric scraps and once the issue was resolved, I pressed on with my project.  Sewing the panels of the bag was quite straight forward and I must say that the experience from my previous project paid dividends in that I had a lot of confidence in how things should fit together when being assembled.  The instructions provided by the pattern were very minimal and had me asking many questions.  As I proceeded step by step, many of those questions were answered simply by analyzing the situation using my previous project as a guide and working through the logical progressions that had to be followed.

Sewing binding was a first for me and it was rather difficult.  Keeping everything straight without causing wrinkles and creasing was very frustrating.  I got through it, but I’m not satisfied with how it looks.  Fortunately, all of this work ends up being inside the pouch and remains mostly hidden.  “Hiding your crimes” is a common saying in the world of making and in this case, that is exactly what I did.

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The final result was a bit disappointing.  Although simple in concept, this little pouch proved to be very difficult in execution.  Making nice corners proved to be difficult and I have a few didn’t turn out very good.  Otherwise, I’m very happy with how my pull tabs worked out and how the overall shape of the pouch looked.  I opted not to include patches and labels as this project is not to be a professional product made for the mass market.

I knew mistakes would be made and took the opportunity to learn from them and progress in my learning the art of sewing.  Now on to something more ambitious!

Learning How to Sew (week three)

It was extremely difficult for me to dedicate time to my major project this week.  My work had me traveling for a few days, I had a day full of parent-teacher-student conferences in addition to a wedding that consumed my entire weekend.  As a result, my sewing machine was left idle the entire week.  Not to be deterred, I thought new skills could still be learned by bringing with me, on the road, the sewing kit my mother gifted me when I left for University in 2003 and see what I could learn in my hotel room.

I decided to start by  exploring the contents of my old sewing kit:

Next I found a YouTube video that explained how to accomplish various hand stitching techniques.  I picked a few to try, here are my results:

Through this small experience in the time I had, I learned a few things.

  • Hand stitching is difficult!
  • Keeping even spacing by hand makes you appreciate a sewing machine.
  • Making tight stiches requires much precision and patience.
  • Thread can even be tangled when hand stitching!
  • The thimble is a fantastic tool that saves your fingers.

Despite the little time I had this week, I tried to maximize the situation I had.  I’m pretty happy with the new hand stitching techniques I have learned.  I’ve gained comfort in knowing that in a pinch, I can always use the old needle and thread.  It felt good manipulating the fabric and the needle with my hands as opposed to a machine.  Feeling the tension in the thread with my hands and feeling the resistance of the needle pulling through the fabric made me more fully appreciate the wonder of modern sewing machines.  It has also allowed me to better understand the mechanics of stitching and the situations in which each type of stitch has its advantages and its disadvantages.

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With Open Education Comes Hope

Teaching in a francophone school in Saskatchewan, finding good resources that meet the needs of my students is extremely difficult.  In most cases, teachers in the same situation as me, resort to investing large amounts of time developing resources for the specific context in which we teach.  On occasion, resources can be found from other provinces and other francophone regions of the world, however, Fransaskois teachers spend significant energy trying to adapt and modify these resources to meet the needs of their students.

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Given that our schools are very small and geographically dispersed across the province, I’ve never had the opportunity for collaborate with other French science teachers in my school.  In the 12 years that I have taught, I’ve always been the only science teacher in my school and efforts to collaborate on developing resources between the science teachers within the division has always fallen short.   Our workload always seems to be too large and the technological tools for collaboration have never been effective to the point of being practical.  As a result, all the science teachers in my division have mostly worked in isolated silos.  Perhaps we could all get ideas to more effectively share like Chris elaborates in his blog.

The idea of open education is very appealing to a teacher in my situation.  As a result of initiatives like Wikipedia and the Kahn Academy that are producing and sharing larger amounts of French resources, my life as a teacher is becoming increasingly manageable.  These open platforms offer quality materials that I can use on a daily basis.  An open education initiative to which I contributed was the development of the French language version of the Computer Science 20 course developed by Dan Shellenberg.

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As a result of this collaboration with the ministry of education, all students in Saskatchewan have access to a fully developed course including most materials for free.  This opens the possibility for more students to take the course and allows for a larger proportion of teachers to teach the course.  As mentioned in the video on Why Open Education Matters, an investment like this gives opportunities to almost all students and teachers to have success regardless of their social or economic realities.

As I watched Larry Lessigs Ted Talk on the Laws that choke creativity, I’m reminded of my daily struggle with copyright protection and the protection of many forms of content online.  Given that no French textbook will ever be created for the Saskatchewan science curricula that I teach, I’ve accumulated dozens of print resources from Quebec, Ontario, British Colombia, Manitoba, Alberta and even France for each class.  As a result, only a few pages and sometime a few chapters in each book is directly useable.  What I’m I to do as a teacher?  I cannot justify purchasing 30 examples of each textbook for which I only use one or two chapters in my pedagogy.  The price would be exorbitant for my school and each of my students would have a dozen textbooks each of which they only use a small percentage.  As a result, I try to make my own recreations of most of the content I consult and sparingly photocopy only the essential piece to distribute to my students.  Hopefully, as open education gains wider acceptance and propagates further in other languages, this reality will be a thing of the past.

So many great educational videos can be found on Youtube and, more recently, on other platforms like Facebook and Instagram.  Given the ever-changing nature of these platforms and their policies related to protecting their content, I have great difficulty archiving resources from these plarform for offline educational purposes.  Although there exist many workarounds and third-party tools to download and archive videos and animations from said platforms, the friction involved in accomplishing this task often results in failure and frustration.  If only these platforms could migrate their policies related to user generated content towards a default that encourages their release under a creative commons license or something similar.  If that were to happen, content could potentially be freed for download.

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As Ben Sullins mentions on his Telsanomics Youtube Channel: “If you free the data, the mind will follow”.  As the Internet matures, I find the sharing of information and the freeing of data is become in vogue.  I feel optimistic that much like the Open Source initiative in computer software championed Bruce Perens, educational material is following much the same path.  Great open resources are being released from many of the best educational institutions in the world from places like MIT and BCcampus.  As a result of initiatives like these, education is becoming democratized and new opportunities for discovery and learning are appearing.  The success of autodidacts like the famous Jeri Ellsworth could become more common given they have the tools like open education to thrive.

Learning How to Sew (week two)

Following my initial adventures in sewing from last week, I felt enough comfort in using a sewing machine that it was time for my first real project.  After a bit of searching the internet, I decided to take a shot at this Zipper Pencil Pouch Sewing Tutorial by Amy at Positively Splendid.  By completing this project, I was aiming to accomplish these specific goals.

  • Gain experience with measuring and cutting fabric.
  • Incorporate my first zipper in a project.
  • Practice fabric and seam alignment.
  • Practice stitching with consistent seam allowances.

My first task was to find all the materials needed for the project.  A quick stop at Fabricland allowed me to pick up zippers for my project.  I wanted at least two in case I made a mistake with my first one.  Seeing they had a deal for three, it gave me peace of mind knowing that I had the opportunity to make at least to really bad mistakes without having to go back for more supplies.  (On a side note, I think this notion of expecting mistakes and gaining comfort in acknowledging that they will happen is very important when learning new things.  I often work with students that are risk averse and are afraid to make mistakes in their learning process.  This makes learning more arduous and can result in high levels of anxiety.  Establishing an environment where students can take risks and feel comfortable in taking them is one of the priorities I have as a teacher. I feel it’s an important part in my learning environment.)

Once all my materials were gathered, I proceeded to cut the necessary pieces using a cutting mat, a cutting wheel and a straight edge.  I learned that it’s much easier to cut freshly pressed fabric than wrinkled fabric.  From now on, I shall press all my fabric before I start working with it.

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With everything cut, I proceeded with my first stitches and everything worked great.  This was going to be a breeze!  (Little did I know it was not going to be so easy.)

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After sewing the first side of my zipper, I installed my second paned and pined it into place.  I learned that pins are a fantastic technology that really helps in keeping my fabric aligned and properly positioned.  From now on, I will not hesitate to pin things in place.

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Boom!  My first mistake.  I sewed my second panel, that I has taken so much care to align and pin, facing the wrong way.  The finished side had to be face down as opposed to face up.  With much shame, I had to ask my wife for the seam ripper which, with an evil smile gladly handed to me.  Luckily this setback only took a few minutes to address, but I had to make sure I paid more attention to the instructions provided by the tutorial I was following.

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Great success! The zipper is installed!

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Epic fail!  When I started applying the finishing stich on either side of the zipper, my initial stitch on the left side went well although I had sewed-in a small wrinkle at the top.  I gave myself a pass and turned my attention to the right side.  I don’t know what happened, but something in the machine jammed, my piece wasn’t feeding through the machine, everything bunched up and got tangled.  This mess was so bad that even the trusty seam ripper couldn’t fix it.

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Lesson learned, if something unexpected happens, STOP!  Evaluating the situation, I decided to press on and keep this mess as a reminder that I’m a beginner and that there is always room for improvement.  As I started regaining momentum and stitching more panels together, something didn’t look right so I STOPPED!  (Hey, I’m a quick learner!)  Upon further investigation, it was obvious that I had ran out of thread on my bobbin.

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I had two new skills to acquire if I wanted to finish my project, transfer new thread to my bobbin and thread the sewing machine.  The trusty manual I had printed last week came in handy and guided me through the first task quite well.  Achievement unlocked!

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Threading the machine went just as well and after making a few test stitches on a scrap piece of fabric, I was back in business!  The last few stitches were made and after a quick inside out flip, my glorious creation presented itself to me!

Overall, I’m quite pleased with my first creation and it really works as a pencil case!  Time to take things to the next level and undertake something a bit bigger and a bit more complex.  Lessons were learned and I’m sure more lessons will present themselves in the future, but I have to admit there is always a lot of satisfaction in seeing a finished product.  I achieved all of my goals for this phase of my learning project and even learned a few new tricks of the trade.

Learning How to Sew (Week One)

This week’s objectives in learning how to sew were the following:

  • Get a work area setup.
  • Get acquainted with my sewing machine and learn the basics in how it works.
  • Cut some pieces of fabric in shapes with straight edges and some with curves.
  • Practice sewing in straight lines and in curves.
  • Practice my spacing.
  • Verify and adjust my machine for the quality of my stitching.
  • Test different stitching patterns.

Setup of a workstation was simple, I didn’t want to interfere with my wife’s sewing station, therefore I took a temporary folding table and installed it in a corner of my basement.

Sewing Station

I ran a power cord and installed my old 1970’s vintage Singer Fashion Mate 252.  Although old, this machine is robust and simple, two attributes that bode well for a beginner with my level of skill.

Singer 252

In order to have a good reference for the workings of the machine, I searched the Internet for the user’s manual and to my surprise, singer provided the PDF to its original manual right on their website.  It’s great to see a company care and support its products so well.

Singer website

To my amazement, I found the manual to be a fantastic beginning resource to not only learn the machine but also learn how to sew!  The manual includes fantastic illustrations and simple to follow step by step instructions to guide you into properly using the machine and also learn the basics of sewing.  I love the hand drawn illustrations; they provide a great visual support to the instructions and they really add to the easy of learning.

Singer manual

Once having threaded the machine, it was time to do my first stitches.  To accomplish this, I used small pieces of paper that I fed through the machine.  The contract, the flatness and the rigidity of the paper make those first stitches easy due to not having to worry about alignment of cloth and its stretchy properties.

Stitching practice

I tried to sew straight lines and made small adjustments to the machine as I went.  I even tried a zigzag stitch!  These first few lines of stitching allowed me to comprehend the feel of the machine but learning how it was going to react to my inputs.  I gained the feel of the pedal and was able to register in my mind the corrects sounds and the movements this machine normally makes.  I then preceded with cutting a few pieces of cotton the sew them together for form a simple rudimentary pocket.  This allowed me to practice sewing along a curve and allowed me to gain the feeling of sewing actual cloth.  I took my time, and everything went well.  The results are, to me, satisfactory.

Here is a vlog that summarizes my journey so far.