Meet Greenie, my vintage Elna Grasshopper

-Hello. My name is Catherine and I’m addicted to vintage sewing machines

-Hi Catherine

Another stockholm thrift store find. It’s like THEY find ME.

So I was just browsing. You know. Killing some time. No intention of buying anything. And then I see this:

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How intriguing. Vaguely military. No label or markings. But I just knew.

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Yup. A cute little green Elna 1. The first model Elna produced. Original case, accessory box, a couple of presser feet. 200 Kr ($33.) Sold. He wasn’t quite as heavy as my Bernina 730 Record, but I had some sore arms after hauling him back to Gubbängen.

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When I got home I excitedly unpacked Greenie. He came with the original manual in Swedish, and tucked in the manual was the original receipt, dated 1959. He cost 350 kr 55 years ago.

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The green-lidded accessory box:

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And the best part:

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The case the turns into a sewing table.

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Can you see what beautiful condition he’s in?

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A little bit of cleaning with a looped pipe-cleaner and some compressed air, and Greenie was sewing nicely. The Elna 1 is a straight stitch only machine and has limited capabilities, but I’m pretty happy. The knee pedal is really nice to use, although it takes a little getting used to.

And here’s a sneak peek at my lovely new green Anna Dress.

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I’ll model it when the rain stops.

Teaching yourself to sew

You know on Project Runway when one of the contestants says “I’m self-taught” and wears it like some kind of badge of honour, sneering at the poor suckers who spent 50k on design school? Well I totally get it. Kind of.

Of course in the internet age no one really teaches themselves to sew. Unless you are locked in a room alone with your sewing machine and some fabric. You learn by reading blogs and tutorials, by using indie sewing patterns that guide you through the process of making a garment, but most satisfyingly (and this is why I can relate to the proud self-taughters,) you learn by experimenting, figuring stuff out, finding ways to do things that make sense to you and you learn by making mistakes.

So if a make has glaring mistakes (and mostly those mistakes are glaring only to the maker,) I’m not going to get all bent out of shape. I can learn from them and do it better next time.

Take a look at my BHL Georgia dress:

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Not bad. The seams are a bit squinty in the front and the bodice lining keeps popping out. That’s because I ironed said said lining on the hightest heat setting, burning holes in it and ruining my iron. Yay! Learning experience.  I also learned that stretch fabrics are nothing to be afraid of. This is a rather heavy stretch denim I picked out from the bargain bins at Ohlsson’s Tyger on Sveavägen. It was easy to sew with although I suspect I didn’t get the grain quite right. I didn’t even need to put in a zipper. I can wiggle into it from the bottom up.

Georgia looks more difficult than she is. The bodice was surprisingly simple, although I got the centre seam and the little peak slightly misaligned. (Next time, next time.) Probably the most difficult thing about making this dress was turning the straps right side out after stitching them. Heavy stretch denim is a nightmare to turn.

Best part? This dress is comfy. I wore Georgia for drinks with Scotty on my birthday.

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Ignore the lining.

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Pattern: By Hand London Georgia

Fabric:  Stretch denim from Ohlsson’s in Stockholm

Time to Sew: A leisurely afternoon and evening

Cost: 110 SEK ($16) plus pattern

Will I wear it? Yes!

Would I make the pattern again? Yes, I’d like to make the wide strap version in a patterned fabric.

How I rescued my By Hand London Anna Dress

I love the By Hand London Anna Dress. It’s not just because I hope some of the effortless London cool will rub off on me from the creators of this pattern, but look at all the incredible versions that have been popping up all over the sewing blogosphere (yes, I just wrote “effortless London cool” and “blogosphere” in the same sentence.) But anyway…here are some beautiful dresses:

Diary of a Chainstitcher’s simple long dark sexy version.

Closet Case Files Ikat Anna. I love this dress, I love Montreal. I was born in Montreal. I love Montreal.

Dolly Clackett’s African wax print.

I could go on…

soooo…I bought some grey linen from Ohlssons on Sveavägan in Stockholm. It was on sale and looked sort of “Out of Africa,” and I thought it was perfect for my Anna. I’ve never sewn with linen. I knew that it gets wrinkley but I didn’t think it would fray as much as it did. It was also tricky to cut out, partly due to my inexperience I guess. I ended up with some wonky, wavy pattern pieces which subsequently started to fall apart at the edges. But I persevered. I ended up with this:

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(Sorry for the low quality selfie.) I guess the dress was not a total miss. It resembles an Anna dress. It has a zipper that does up. But this photo was taken about a nanosecond after I ironed it and it already looks slept in. Plus, I’m vain. No matter how I stood, it… errr..highlighted the convex curve of my abdomen. I blame the fabric. Not beer. The fabric.

So the dress stayed in my closet and I was pretty sure I would never wear it. I chalked it up to a learning experience. 

Then I remembered Morgan from Crab and Bee’s shibori romper. I loved how her shibori turned out and I figured that the dye job would hide my many beginner’s mistakes. 

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I used Dylon machine dye in Marine Blue. (I was also shibori-ing an old duvet cover which I accordian folded and clamped between two old CD covers.) For the dress, I pinched the fabric and tied elastic bands tightly around the pinched bits (unfortunately I didn’t take a photo.)

I did not follow the directions on the Dylon box. I wanted a deeper indigo blue so I reduced the water by half. This meant I had to do a lot of stirring to make sure I didn’t have any unintended resists. It took about 40 minutes and I was thrilled with the results.

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Yup it still looks wrinkled, but in a cool way I think. The colour is just how I imagined it. And the shibori covers a multitude of sins. I’ve already worn the dress several times and it is comfy and cool and elegant in a boho kind of way.

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The clever pattern does wonders for the boobies too.

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I love the design that the elastic bands made. Reminds me of alien brains or electric spiders. You know. That sort of thing.

So it all turned out. I learned a lot and I ended up with a wearable garment. 

I made a cat pillow and I’m not ashamed

Meet Buddy:

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Buddy is my disabled cat.

Meet Tyg (fabric) Buddy:

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Iona, my stepdaughter and I made Tyg Buddy. We photoshopped a pic of buddy and printed out a fabric transfer. Cut the shape of the transfer plus 4cm all around for the border and seam allowance. Sewed him up with some plain quilting fabric, stuffed him and voila!

Unfortunately Fur Buddy is a bit freaked out by Tyg Buddy.

Supermarket Snobbery, a New Obsession with Sewing… and Vintage Bernina Love

This June I bought my first sewing machine. It was an impulse purchase at Lidl. For those of you who don’t live in Europe, Lidl is a German discount supermarket chain. In Sweden (and the UK) some people are embarrassed to shop at Lidl. It’s not very glamorous. Selection is very limited and the staff always seem to be incredibly stressed out, but Lidl is CHEAP!

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was a bit of a supermarket snob when I first got to Sweden. The more expensive grocery stores, like Konsum are just so cute and friendly and what I imagined Sweden to be like: organised, super-clean, typically Scandinavian design on all the house brand labels. And yes…expensive. Scott tried to convince me to try Lidl. Keep in mind this was during the long dark Swedish winter. The conversation went something like this:

-But Lidl is really cheap.

-I’m not shopping there. It’s depressing.

-They have great sausages.

-That’s not helping your case.

-They have this ever-changing mystery aisle in the middle of the store with all sorts of crazy cheap things, like power tools or art supplies or women’s shapewear!

-ARE YOU SAYING I NEED A GIRDLE!

I had to admit, the mystery aisle intrigued me. Weirdly incongruous cheap things had greater pull than winter-induced snobbery.

A few weeks later I had a sewing machine. A Singer 2250 with a three year warranty for about $115 plus tax.

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Not bad huh?

I sewed a couple of things on the Singer.  Mostly too embarrassing to show here. It’s pretty basic and a bit plasticky, but it did the trick…meaning it fueled a new obsession with sewing.

And it wasn’t long before I started dreaming of a sexier machine.  Little did I know that an older man was soon coming into my life. A sexy European…

I found him in Myrorna thrift store near Hötorget in Stockholm. He was sitting all forlorn and lonely in his original case. My heart started beating faster as soon as I spied him:

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Yup. A 1965 Bernina 730 Record. Original foot pedal, accessory box with drawers and 7 presser feet. For 170 Swedish Kronor. Thats $28.

I dragged him out of the store as fast as I could. And I mean dragged. This mofo is heavy. A nice Swedish man helped me carry him to the station.

He smelled a bit like cigarette smoke when I got him home and out of the case, but man. He’s a beaut. A little oil and a new grounded plug and he was purring along like he’d just come off the assembly line.

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Check out that Swiss engineering. The red dots are the oiling points. those discs in the middle are the 21 built in decorative stitches.

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How cute is the swing-out accessory case?

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The removeable table extension is cool too. I’m in love.