At Home With Vivian: Best Foot Forward

Vivian's family at the Showplex shopping
My family at the Showplex shopping. L to R- Brenda, Teresa, Susan, Margaret. (Courtesy)

Woo hoo! I have once again returned from “The Biggest Sewing Party in America,” where women gaze in awe, squeal with delight and happily jostle their way through the crowded aisles of The Sewing and Stitchery Expo. Set in the beautiful Great Northwest, this four day event is a dream vacation for needle artists. Sewing, knitting, embroidery, quilting, doll making, fabric painting – you name it – it was there.

I returned safely, but monetarily poorer. Such deals! Such bargains! How can one resist? I don’t know how one could possibly resist…. or I would have resisted. I may have a little less spending money, but in the long run I’m a whole lot richer. I came home brimming with new ideas and new skills.

I had been hearing about the Sewing Expo for more than thirty years from my sister Brenda who lives in Washington. The year after I retired from being a home economics teacher, my sister proclaimed that I no longer had any excuses for not joining her at the Expo. She was right. Last weekend was my ninth year of stitchery bliss with Brenda, her daughters, granddaughters and my daughter too!

Although I most enjoy the shopping, more important things happen there. It’s a think tank for the practical artist, and a nourishing stew pot for the experienced and novice alike. Sponsored by Washington State University, this revelry is primarily an educational opportunity. With nearly 200 diverse class offerings, the opportunity for expanding sewing and stitchery knowledge is endless.

When my catalog comes in the mail each December, I make myself a cup of tea, find a highlighter, and sit down to peruse the offerings. In the past I’ve taken classes on beading embellishments, landscape quilting, felting, Japanese sashiko, machine embroidery, piping, free motion quilting, and many more. I’ve avoided the technical classes. But it was time to bite the bullet and learn something that wasn’t ‘fun’, but was necessary. Six years later, I still don’t know everything about my ‘new’ sewing machine.

It was easy learning to sew on my mother’s machine. There were only two stitches – straight or zigzag. And there was only one kind of thread, and one size needle – unless you were sewing leather, in which case you’d need a heavy duty needle.

I bought my first sewing machine in 1978 as a newlywed. It was a Kenmore from Sears and had 14 stitches and a snazzy built in buttonhole maker. By then, polyester knits were popular. They took a ballpoint tip needle which was different from a universal sharp point. The needles came in different sizes depending on the fabric weight. You can probably see where this is going. I bought a Viking sewing machine in 2012. It came with over 100 different stitches built in to it and with variations on stitch width and length, it can probably do a hundred more. The machine also came with twelve presser ‘feet’. Sewing is not so simple anymore!

This year, I signed up for the classes on sewing machine needles, thread, and sewing machine feet. There was too much information for me to remember. The take-away? Read the back of the package before you buy anything and there’s a YouTube for everything on the internet. I’m glad I took the ‘feet’ class. Now I know which foot to use for what purpose. I have a ‘stitch in the ditch’ foot, an edging foot, a ¼ inch foot, and an invisible zipper foot just to name a few. To think that I could have been using those new-fangled conveniences instead of doing it the old fashioned way with my all-purpose foot!

I am a beginner quilter who has finally gotten the seam allowances figured out and learned how to use a rotary cutter. When I finished the top of my full sized quilt I faced another dilemma. What kind of batting to use? Cotton, wool, polyester? Loft? Luckily, I have friends who told me what to use to get the effect I wanted. But I needed to know more so I signed up for a class on batting. Oh my! Choices! I have a quilt my Aunt Tootsie made that is filled with an old Army blanket. Great quilt – so warm! Where do you get wool blankets now? Good thing I picked up a batting chart at the class.

I also took a couple of classes that involve using computers. The teachers introduced us to their company websites. The first class showed us how to make a free motion quilting border. The other digital class was about inkjet printing on fabric. The instructor had some very interesting possibilities for designing your own fabrics. Quite expensive though, so I will come back to that project when the prices either come down or I win the lottery.

Every year my niece Teresa’s husband asks her “What was the new trend this year?” One year there were owls everywhere. Another year it was rhinestone zippers. My favorite year was when doll making supplies and patterns where on every aisle. Sad to say, there really wasn’t much that was new this year. The majority of vendors sold quilting fabrics, patterns and paraphernalia – same as last year.

It’s become a tradition with my sister’s family to spend the last day of the Sewing Expo at my niece Teresa’s home. We each start a project with the hopes of having it finished for show and tell the next year. Brenda finished her toy giraffes from last year, I finished my plush mice, and Teresa finished her purse and even made more. Brenda started a birthday project for one of her kids this year and I started summer dresses for my granddaughters.

Teresa pulled out a baby quilt she made for her now three year old grandson. He had worn it out with love. The binding needed to be replaced. She still had enough fabric left over to fix it. “See my Christmas present?” she asked as she set her machine on the table. Oh my! It was an old black, cast iron Singer sewing machine, much like the one I learned to sew on. “Mommy gave it to me!” Teresa said proudly.

It was the very sewing machine my mother gave Brenda for her wedding in 1960, 58 years ago. Brenda sewed clothes for herself and for her five children on it. When the new fabrics and more efficient machines came out, Brenda put the Singer away. Good memories kept it in storage. Teresa, an excellent seamstress (high school librarian by day), was thrilled to get it. She had the sewing machine refurbished. And there she sat – sewing a blanket for her grandson on it. How cool is that?

I had a good time at the Expo. As usual, the time went by too quickly. I bought a pattern for a stuffed pig and a penguin. I also bought some Japanese fabric dyes and paints. I’m intrigued by the possibility of adding painted pieces into my projects. Remember the puff paints and fabric paints from yesteryear? The type that gets hard and cracks after a few washings? Well, this new paint will absorb into the fabric and stay soft forever. I hope. I also bought more fabric. You can never have enough fabric, don’t you know!

I’m looking forward to the 2019 Sewing Expo. I’m sure there will be something incredibly awesome, clever, new, and exciting to learn! But the best part of going to the Sewing Expo is still spending creative time with my family. for more information about the Washington Sewing Expo.

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