Friday, March 20, 2015

Good-bye, old friend

My mom loved T-shirts (and sweatshirts). As a tween (just kidding, when I was 11 there was no such thing as a tween), I wore T-shirt dresses, and once my mom found out about T-shirt quilts, she was determined to make one.
Not one to sit on her hands, even though she was mostly housebound, she took a trip to the local Craft chain (Michael's) and bought herself a sewing machine.

After sewing one pillow, she realized that sewing jersey material on a midline sewing machine with no walking foot, is a recipe for headaches. She boxed her new machine right back up and asked me if I would like it. For some reason, although I was a simple knitter and crocheter and was extremely intimidated by the idea of a machine that plugged into the wall and went faster than the human hand, I said yes. 
When I was expecting my second child (eleven years ago!), my mom wanted to get me something special for my 30th birthday. I asked her for something completely random and totally outside my comfort zone, which I would never get for myself--a one-night sewing class at the Make Workshop in Manhattan. The people were wonderful, they explained the machines well, and I made a tiny, unlined tote bag out of fabric scraps. My sewing career then went dormant for another seven years, through the birth of child number three and our move to a new apartment (we took that machine along though, still in its original packaging).

Finally, shortly before my youngest started school, I made a (second) New Year's resolution to get the machine out of the box and start using it. Though my mom passed away in 2009, using what she had given me made me feel as if I were finally fulfilling a promise. Some projects have been more successful than others, but my Euro-Pro Shark has carried me through Easter dresses, nightgowns, peasant skirts, dance costumes, and cushion covers. I've even had the joy of watching my fourteen-year-old unleash her own crafty side to make over a dozen scrunchies for holiday gifts for high school friends.
It sounds pretty rosy, but as I progress on my sewing journey, I have learned that I need a little more durability than my machine can give. 
Reasons for upgrade

1. The button hole foot has never worked properly, and that space at the back where you're supposed to put in the button for perfect sizing just taunts me. That's possibly my own fault, since the first time I tried to make a buttonhole I mistook the needle-threader for the button-hole lever and held it down in a way that was somewhat damaging, but I think it's more an expression of the machine's temperamental nature.
2. It's obsolete. That is to say, that the Europro company (located in Canada), no longer makes a Shark sewing machine, and, although perfectly nice on the phone and willing to rectify their mistakes, they sent me the wrong walking foot twice before they got me the correct one.
3. Again, possibly my fault for sewing with cheap thread, but sometimes the tension disk seems to grab that thread and not let go, resulting in all kinds of mayhem.

4. If I sew fast or for an extended period of time, the screw on the flywheel loosens, and has even been known to fly out of the machine.

5. I swear the blind-hem foot is backwards.
6. Those new sewing machines have such cool features, including an automatic needle-down stop, extra wide stitch widths, letters, and customer support.

Although it may sound far away, I have found a sewing machine dealer in Morningside Heights (a straight shot on the 2/3 line), who will take my old sewing machine (as a courtesy), sell me a Janome DC5100, and service aforementioned brand-name machine.
It's time to part ways, but thank you, inanimate object that has brought me thus far.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rediscovering the Joy of Reading

Life is a balancing act, for sure, and for a while I inadvertently tilted a little too far towards handicrafts. When my son asked me to read some of the 400-page fantasy fiction books he loves so that we could discuss them more fully, I realized that apart from proofreading jobs and book club selections (books I had to finish), I really wasn't reading much. So I have started to put down the knitting from time to time, and really read some interesting books.
Wednesday was an especially rich reading day, because I finished two books, different as could be:
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Mindset is a nonfiction, not-quite-business book, about why some people tend to sabotage themselves and how they can get over it by changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It speaks to the challenges we face as individuals, friends, romantic partners, teachers, coaches, and businesspeople, and I had picked it up based on its recommendation in a similar book, Adam Grant's fantastic Give and Take.
Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success
The Ionia Sanction by Gary Corby is the second installment of the Athenian Mysteries, a series set in Ancient Athens in the time of Pericles. I am reading the books in reverse order, since I picked number 4, The Marathon Conspiracy, off the New Fiction shelf at the Brooklyn Central Library a few months ago.
I studied Ancient Greek (history and language) in college, and traveled through the Pelopennese just prior, so I had a sense of how character and place names might sound, but I wondered if there was an audiobook, and to my good fortune, I was able to listen to both mystery number 3, Sacred Games, and The Ionia Sanction through the library's Overdrive system.
Gary Corby does an amazing job conveying the attitudes and preferences of the Ancient World, and I have shared selected parts with my kids, but unfortunately I can't recommend these books to anyone under 14 or so because certain scenes (both "romantic" and violent) are just too graphic. However, if you are of age and interested in Classical Times, the narrator, Nicolaos son of Sophroniscus, has met a parade of ancient luminaries, starting with Pericles, but including Queen Gorgo and King Pleistarchus of Sparta, the poet Pindar, and Themistocles, when he was in exile in Persia.
I have thanked my son numerous times for reminding me of the joy of reading and starting me back on the right track, and I can't wait to finish The House of Hades so that he and I can talk that over.