Singer 222 Darning and Embroidery Hoop

This is a review of the Singer Darning and Embroidery Hoop.

  • Part number: 171074;
  • Darning Foot Part Number: 171071;
  • Dimensions: Overall length 125mm, external diameter 63mm, internal diameter 50mm.

A two-part metal hoop comprising a sprung bottom section over which is stretched the fabric and a top section into which it snaps to secure the fabric and keep it evenly taut.  The top section also features a long handle with a slot down the middle along which runs a small rivet whose underside is shaped to hook securely into a rectangular hole to the right hand side of the chromed needle plate/bobbin cover of the 222k. 

This embroidery hoop is designed just for the 222k – the aperture into which the attachment is secured does not exist on the 221k, which has the shorter, half-moon plate/cover more common to the Singer family.  Of course it is possible to use the hoop without anchoring it but as the correct use of the hoop is to gently guide it with the fingertips it is much easier to control the hoop’s progress with the end tethered securely as it can then, when in use, only describe a small circular movement appropriate for the surface area contained within the hoop.

I tried the darning hoop with a number of different darning solutions including a Hopping Foot 80251 and the one which came to me included with the hoop, the Darning Foot 171071

I could not try the Spring Needle Clamp as it is not compatible with the needle bar of a 222k, nor with a Stoppax Darning Attachment and a Darning Spring as I have yet to acquire those two items. 

The hopping foot did not give me sufficient room for manoeuvre within the cramped confines of the foot so the foot 171071 was the best.

Well, I say it was the best…it was an absolute beast to get the foot attached with the hoop in place but if you put the foot on first then you cannot move the foot high enough to slip the hoop underneath it and into its working position. (Edited to add: Further tests confirm that the tiny 121094 is perfect for use in this context.)

The hoop was, in use, ok and worked well but would require a great deal of practice and some very steady foot control before I would attempt anything like monogramming with it.  For this, I prefer to use hand embroidery and a larger, wooden hoop and for larger machine-mended darns I prefer to use the same wooden hoop as I do for my hand embroidery.  Depending on the nature of the darn, I also prefer to use the normal foot and pivot the work so that I am constantly sewing forwards across the area I am darning.  This degree of freedom is only possible if the hoop itself is free. 

But back to the 222k Darning Hoop, what is my conclusion?  Well, if I’m honest I think it’s a bit of a gimmick.  For the size of darn it handles I can do it quicker by hand.

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Singer Bias Binder Gauge

This has been on the end of my wanted list for some time; one of those little items which, while I won’t bust a gut to obtain one I would be happy to try out just to satisfy my curiosity.

It wasn’t an auspicious start as it was a little bit bent and I first had to fiddle about a little with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to open the fold sufficiently to admit the tip of any scissors I possess.

I’d better explain.  The bias gauge is a tiny device fashioned from a narrow piece of doubled-over steel which ends in a splayed section which is bent to form a slot into which fits the end of the bottom blade of a pair of scissors.  The final piece is a tiny piece of blued steel which acts as a ‘stop’ which may be slid up the length of the gauge, controlling the width of the cut fabric. There are three markings on the gauge: F, B & C, marking the suggested widths for using as Facings, Bindings and Cording/Piping.

If you’re having trouble following this, I promise that photos will follow eventually but it’s been snowy today and I much prefer snow to fiddling around in Photoshop®

Well the first problem I encountered was, as I mentioned, to get the gauge to fit onto the end of my scissors.  Modern scissors are very much thicker in the blade than older ones but luckily I had a pair of vintage ones which fitted ok.  It did, however, keep flicking off which was a bit of a pain, and if I jammed it on harder it interfered with the scissors closing properly.

All became simpler when I realised that the error was born of my own bad habit of cutting small items up off the table instead of flat upon it and as soon as I placed the fabric back down upon the table and cut the strip with the blade (and the bottom of the attachment) resting upon the table, all was well and the strip was cut with ease.

The gauge is a quick and accurate method of cutting bindings and I recommend it.  Just be sure that you have some fairly narrow bladed shears or be prepared to jemmy the gauge open a little.

Pinafore Progress

This is coming along well, although as is usual with me it is developing rather than progressing towards a pre-conceived conclusion.  This is undoubtedly why I’ve never bought a pattern in my life – I can’t rigidly follow a set of instructions as I am too fond of inventing improvements along the way.

In the case of this, the two main “improvements” are reversibility and expandability.  The first I am still undetermined over; much depends on my coming up with a design which I am happy with although again as I write this I think I have reached a conclusion about that.  The lining will be embroidered in blue forget-me-knots I think.  That will give a completely different ‘look’ to the main fabric which is a cool green velvet, trimmed with dusky pink velvet ribbon and whipped running stitch in a glossy, cotton ‘Perle’ DMC thread in seaside-rock pink.

I cannot settle on any of the buttons I have but have have an idea which involves washers so I must head into town today in search of fibre washers.  We will have to wrap up very warmly though because it is snowing here in North Yorkshire and I think I will be grateful for the sensible boots I bought on Monday.  Ugg boots would be a complete waste of money for me; I spend too much time tramping through mud and dampness so these are like an extended galosh; rubber foot section extending up to mid-calf with a draw-string cordura upper and as they are fleece lined they are every bit as snug as an Ugg but practical for puddles and snow and much easier to walk in than wellies.

Right, I’m off to make a shopping list.  I also need a tiny crochet hook.

Pattern Cutting – Morplan Pattern Paper

Thanks to a small but timely tax rebate I have been able to buy myself a big roll of pattern paper from Morplan.  Yes, I know you can use bank paper, lining paper, greaseproof paper, agricultural fleece, the rolls of paper used for examination tables in GP surgeries and yes, I guess I could also sellotape together all that scratchy, ‘Izal’ toilet paper that my mother has kept stockpiled in her airing cupboard since the early ’70s too but the point is it’s all a bit of a pain, isn’t it?  Also, it’s never quite big enough. 

If you’re getting creative and want to do your own pattern cutting there are a few things which you really can’t improvise or stint on, however indoctrinated you are by ‘Blue Peter’.

Pattern Cutting Essentials:

  • A proper grader’s square.  It doesn’t have to be  a Morplan “Pattern Master” or a Shoben “Fashion Curve” but it does need to be a decent size (50cm along the hypotenuse) and with a 45 degree angle marked across it for when marking an accurate bias line on pattern pieces.  Morplan sell them.
  • A flexible, transparent ruler marked in centimeters and millimeters across its surface.
  • Proper pattern cutting paper.  Preferably nice and thin – 40 or 45 gsm or thereabouts – and plain.  I know some people like the ‘dot & cross’ or the numbered paper but to me these markings are an annoying distraction and as the paper tends to be thicker too (around 60 gsm) make it harder still to see through and trace lines from pattern pieces placed underneath.
  • A proper, needle-spoked pattern tracing wheel.

That’s it, really.  A cutting mat is good, too, and a craft knife for cutting out the paper pattern pieces.  Not a rotary thing; just a normal, small craft knife.  I discovered this while I was at college: it is much quicker, and a great deal more accurate, to cut with a knife than with scissors.  It’s just like tracing a line with your finger along the line you have already drawn and is much easier to handle than using scissors on such a large and unwieldy piece of paper.

Pattern notchers and a pattern drill are nice, additional extras if you can get them at a decent price.  If not, just use your craft knife and wait for the people who drop out of or graduate from fashion college to put theirs on e-bay.

I’m really pleased that my paper is here – I finally feel I can be properly creative…and free from the guilt at taking paper from the roll I bought at Ikea for the baby to paint and scribble on!

Mix and Match Separates

Today’s project is the beginnings of an outfit for a dear little girl who will shortly celebrate her first birthday.  It has to come out of my existing stash because I can’t afford any new fabric at present and because 90% of my stash is creams, beiges and white linens and cottons this is a bit of a challenge as I really want to make something which is pretty but also practical and warm. 

I’ve decided on a deep jade glazed cotton and a matching cotton velvet and want to make a little mini-dress length pinafore in velvet, to be worn with matching cotton knickers, a little ruffled skirt, or both.

The green is a very pretty, cool shade but as it is quite a strong colour nevertheless I will be tempering it with some cool, mid pinks in my hand embroidery to add a bit of ‘prettiness’ and notch up the good-taste a little but without altering the overall practicality of the garments.

I will post some progress, together with photos, as I get the chance to move forward with this.

In Praise of Vintage

..and why I hate many modern ones. 

It seems that at least twice a week I see a new reason to be grateful for my vintage machines. 

While I wait for my infant offspring to grow large enough to attend pre-school and allow me some regular sewing time I am feeding my habit by being a regular contributor on a sewing machine forum.  The cries for help are both frequent and worrying – it’s not the questions that alarm me, but the validity of the answers. 

Things which ought never to be a problem somehow are and that makes me so annoyed on behalf of their owners because I see a host of sad sewing machine owners, many of them new to their hobby, ending up so subjugated by their tetchy machines that they spend more time trying to appease them than use them. 

This in turn can prove to be such a disincentive that the sewer is forced out of their interest by the downright tetchiness of their wretched machine.  In their modesty they are much quicker to blame themselves and their own inexperience than their machine – even when we the more experienced sewers see otherwise. 

Even if it is their fault, it’s usually a small and honest mistake which any decent machine would forgive and get on with instead of hurling itself into a hissy fit of thread knots before breaking the needle, pinging the broken piece up into your eye before burying its own down into the depths of the bobbin case which jams it up entirely, lassoes the thread around the hook, pieces of which thread penetrate the most unfathomable crevices and just as a finale, throws the timing out.*

* Ok, maybe my imagination is running a little wild here but not by much.

I often finish a piece of advice with the semi-playful observation that I am now going to go and stroke and kiss my lovely machines (inferring that they are delightfully trouble-free, which is true; they are). 

Sewing machines have just become too complicated for anyone’s good…apart from the manufacturers who use all of this extra fuss to bamboozle us into believing that they are in some way worth their eye-wateringly high price tags.  Now I’m not against paying high prices – the early sewing machines often cost many months and in some cases years’ wages – but unlike their modern equivalents these old ones were made to last and had a beautiful lockstitch – surely the most basic of all sewing requirements – so is it really so unreasonable for me to expect you, the manufacturer to please give me that before you start baffling me with all this faff and gadgetry?

I get really annoyed on new sewers’ behalf that so many of them will never have sewn on a machine with a decent lockstitch and so don’t even know what they’re missing. 

I…want…to…sew.  I’ve enjoyed a very rewarding career in computers, thanks and I don’t need or indeed want to revisit that with my sewing; especially as I don’t have, as I had then, a talented and enthusiastic team of experts giving me back-up.  I don’t want to sit there poking and squinting myopically at a touch-screen, one hand on the manual or, worse still, staring at the machine squatting in sullen unresponsive blankness and wondering whether it’s the screen that’s failed or the electrics… or finding some impenetrable error message displayed which I can’t cancel and which means I have to call the helpline only to waste 30 minutes finding that it needs a trip to the mechanic, waste another 40 minutes arranging this with the mechanic, poking around in the loft trying to find the original packaging, boxing it up and then finding and arranging a courier and then maybe waste another fourteen days waiting for it to come back fixed with a note saying there was a half micron of lint which had settled on a sensor somewhere and now I’m so terrified of getting a repeat that I barely dare use it in case I’m using the wrong thread.  So I need a second machine in case this happens again and that will cost me yet more money still and what guarantee do I have that it’ll be any better than this one…and now I’m utterly paranoid.  Why can’t I just have a machine that lets me sew?

Repeat this as a mantra and believe it:

I don’t need sensors to tell me when my bobbin thread is running low: I have eyes and I have common sense.

I don’t need automatic thread cutting: I have scissors.

If I must trade seven scruffily stitched alphabets for a decent lockstitch then so be it: I know which one I’ll use more.

I will cope without automatic threading, the decorative crocodiles and the bicycles.

I need a good, fully adjustable stitch, tension which is easy to adjust and calibrate and to use any old thread I like, top or bottom, whether it matches or not.

I can sit down at my Singers, thread them up and go.  I can set the stitch length exactly as I need it, tighten the thumb screw to the left of it and happily throw the lever up into reverse and then push it back down again, assured that it will stop in exactly the same place as it was previously set.  Now that’s cleverness I can use. 

And did I mention I have the attachments to do buttonholes and blind stitch too? 

I’m now going to go and hug my machines again.

More Hemstitching

I’ve been asked to cover hemstitching in more detail so I’m going to cover three of the most common finishes: a narrow hemmed, open hemstitch; a wider version of the same and finally a closed hemstitch which offsets the hemstitch against the background fabric.

Hemstitching done with the hemstitching fork gives a similar result to drawn threadwork although in its method it is more similar to faggoting in that it uses a thread to span two fabric pieces rather than punch and stitch a pierced design through the fabric. 

There is more than one brand of hemstitching fork available including the Stoppax, the Nu-Way and one marketed as being for the Husqvarna which is a modern equivalent of the Nu-Way.  Only the Husqvarna one is still in production so if you see one of the older style ones at a reasonable price it is worth snapping it up.

For a bold hemstitch, use a long stitch length and bring the upper tension right down, even to zero.  This will give a widely spaced, deep hemstitch and give a nicely proportioned finish, should be worked with a thickish thread and a thick needle.  If a fine, narrow hemstitching is required, use a fine needle, a slender thread, a smaller stitch length and a normal (or even slightly tightened) thread tension.  If in doubt, just experiment with some spare fabric scraps until you get a finish you’re happy with.

To do a narrow-hemmed hemstitched row, fold the fabric around the hemstitch fork, place it under the foot, looped end towards you and sew down the gap between the parallel bars of the attachment.  When you reach the end, remove the fabric and the hemstitcher from the machine and, taking care not to pull the threads when you do so, slide out the hemstitch fork.  This will leave a loosely stitched tunnel and it is this tunnel which is slashed open and the sides smoothed apart to reveal the stitches.  For best results, press this open before continuing. 

Sewing along the gap in the hemstitch fork.

The loose stitch line securing the fold.

Cutting the fold open. Scissors are better than a seam ripper if you have some with sufficiently narrow blades.

Once pressed open, it is necessary to deal with the raw edges.  For the sake of this tutorial I have done a narrow hem, using my narrow zipper foot to get in nice and close to the edge of the hemstitching while still having good access to the fabric.  An alternative would be to finish this with braid or a decorative satin stitch which would seal in the raw edge out of view.

The seam cut open and ready to press and stitch down.

Sewing a narrow hem to neaten the edges.

The finished hemstitch. I have used contrasting thread to better show the detailing but would usually choose thread to match the fabric.

A wider hem can be achieved in just the same way as described above but first sew a line of basting stitches to act as the fold against which the hemstitching fork is pressed when in use.  The fold is then cut open in the usual way, the basting thread removed and the item pressed.  The raw edges can then be turned in and sewn down as before.  In this case I find it useful to also sew a line of stitching close to the edge of the hemstitching to keep the finish crisp and neat.

Line of basting stitches against which to place the hemstitch fork for a wider margin.

The line sewn along the central gap, with the outer edge formed by the line of basting stitch. The basting can now be removed.

The basting thread removed, the fold is cut open and folded back ready to be pressed and neatened.

Topstitching a line close to the edge of the hemstitching. This will be repeated on the other side.

Close-up of the hemstitching.

The wider margins shown hemmed and sewn down. This forms a handy margin into which to place some decorative topstitching.

It is not necessary to cut open the fold after the hemstitch fork is removed.  If preferred it may be folded and pressed back and a line of stitching placed close to each side of the hemstitching to secure the fold behind the hemstitching.  You might like to thread in some braid or ribbon to give a contrast, too.

The folded edge, hemstitched and ready to fold & press back.

Topstitching, worked as closely as possible to the ends of the hemstitching, gives a neat finish and anchors the fold securely behind the exposed hemstitching.

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