Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Alfresco Sewing

Still playing catch up on this blog as I turn my attention to Sunday, when I took advantage of Dave's presence to continue working on my bell tent's door flap.

Here it is laid out on our lawn, sporting its dodgy zip. Even with no tension, it currently needs a very gentle hand to get this zip to do up with even the slightest hitch or bunching of the canvas meaning the zipper skips some teeth. Not good at all.

To recap, my plan is to add dutch lacing which means attaching a reinforcing strip (to support eyelets) and an overlapping flap to the door. The bell tent is big, with a diameter of about thirteen foot and standing about ten foot tall, which means there is a whole lot of canvas to work around.

Feeling adventurous and wanting to put Dave's antique Singer to the test, I decided to have a go at alfresco sewing...
I rigged a sewing table in the back garden, using a standard workbench adjusting it so the Singer was held securely in place. Not exactly my normal approach to sewing but it meant I had room for all that canvas.

The piece of fabric tucked into the handcrank is just a doubled over scrap of cotton/linen that I was using to set the tension and stitch length. I sewed in straight lines on that until I was happy that the sewing machine was going to give me reasonably even, tight stitches. The fabric is tucked in there like that because I didn't want it to blow away. Sunday it was very windy and it kept trying to rain, eventually succeeding just as I finished working on the tent.

The first step was to pin the prepared canvas panels to the existing door. There is nothing like trying to push standard dressmaking pins through two layers of seven ounce canvas to remind you how tough this stuff is. My thumbs were smarting by the time I was done.

Then I got Dave to help me carry the tent to where I'd set up the sewing machine and had him support the canvas as I sewed it.

In all honesty it wasn't too bad, however the Singer doesn't have much oomph and if I strayed too near the existing zipper tape, the needle couldn't punch through. The other problem was the tiny little presser foot didn't offer much stability while the spring on the presser foot seems a little soft to me. I tightened it up as far as it would go, but it still wasn't applying much downward force which combined with the tiny little foot, meant the feed dogs had their work cut out. I'd start out OK, but by the time I was half way along the length of the door (which is 126cm in all... see how seamlessly I switch between feet and cm?) the canvas was hardly moving at all under the needle.

In the end I got around this by getting Dave to apply a little tension to the canvas I'd already sewn, holding it taut but not pulling it through the feed dogs... Just helping them out a little.

Another issue I found was with the Singer itself. When I turn the wheel backwards, rather than sewing backwards, the sewing machine unsews the previous stitches which took me by surprise. It could just be I'm doing it wrong of course, which is why I need to search out instructions... In any case, I got around this by going back to basics, leaving long tails on each of my ends and securing them by hand.

Until finally it was done!

The stitches are fairly tight although not as evenly spaced as I'd normally expect - which was down to the aforementioned lack of pressure from the presser foot. It was a fiddly job and took quite some time to do, with one wary eye on the weather the whole while. I suspect that Esther's industrial machine would certainly have done the job quicker without worrying about the weight of the canvas. We would have had space issues though, that much I'm sure of... Which is why I decided to have a go using the Singer handcrank. One of the joys of sewing is, it isn't permanent. If this really hadn't worked, I could have unpicked the lot and spoken nicely to Esther before having another go, this time using her hefty beast of a machine. Trying out the Singer was fun and cost me nothing other than a couple of hours of my time. :)

Esther, if you're reading this - still love you loads and all that, just I had a toy to play with, you know how it goes!

I also had lots of enthusiastic help of the furry kind.

Missy declined to have her photograph taken, even though Dave chased her half way around the garden with the camera. She finally gave him the slip by diving behind the shed and into a stinging nettle patch. Charlie however does not have Missy's reservations about the paparazzi.

Next up eyelets, which are far more scary as they involve poking holes in my tent...

(As always, click on the images to see bigger versions.)


  1. I can see you doing alfresco sewing at candleston if you don't watch it! now your doing tent repairs, you could find yourself in demand!

  2. That does look like a though job, just handling a canvas tent is not easy, never mind feeding it through a sewing machine.