Archive for November, 2006

My husband (a man of great learning, wit and possessed of an appreciation for good tools) thinks that “Pfaff” sounds like the German onomatopoeia for a sneeze. This has somehow stuck in my mind and I kept having to refrain from saying “bless you” around the dealer whenever she used the P-word. Thanks, dear.

I spent some time yesterday test-driving Pfaffs. After cruising around with a 1523 and a 2023, I have to say that I am impressed. Now I’m a Bernina aficionado and have sewn happily with my machine for ten years. We have a relationship. I don’t make new friends easily and a new partner seemed an impossible accomplishment. Bernina has let me down a bit lately, though, as all service must be through a dealer and, if your dealer is problematic, Bernina won’t help and won’t intervene and won’t find another dealer for you near you. In fact, Bernina won’t even communicate with you.

Though the Pfaff 1523 wasn’t quite love at first sight, (because I’m not that kind of girl) it is clearly speaking to me. It has the IDT (dual feed) system, which is rather nice and does indeed keep fabrics moving at an even rate. The most important features for me, though, were how powerful the machine felt, the smoothness of the stitch, the speed possible for free-motion quilting without snags or problems and the sensitivity of the pressure foot; I need the machine to stop and start instantly and to stitch half-stitches in response to my control.

The other qualities that have become intrinsic to my work include the availability of some sort of extension table and additional free motion feet.

The 1523 did all of that easily and powerfully. It free-motioned extraordinarily well, felt comfortable and easy-to-use and gave the air of intense practicality and competence that I need to feel my machine has. The foot pedal was amazingly sensitive and someone who has a feel for sewing can control the needle incredibly precisely.

To boot, and most people probably don’t know this, the Quilter’s Toolbox (containing feet, a free-motion plate and an extension table, among other things) that is available for the 2000 series machines also fits the profile of the 1523 arm. There’s a 1/8 inch gap at the end, where the table should touch the machine, but apart from that, it’s a perfect fit.

What the 1523 doesn’t have (and the 2023 does) is a needle up-down function and a bunch of other stitches. But you know what? I’ve been sewing without those for 10 years now and haven’t really felt the lack. If I didn’t know about them, I wouldn’t want them, which is reason enough in my mind to take a pass. Also, the 2023 (which has that feature) is $400 more (50% again the cost of the other machine) and I’d rather have a machine with the extension table and whatnot that can do well what I need it to accomplish than one with more bells and whistles that will cause neck and shoulder pain because I don’t have money to spend on the table.

So here’s the current sale (apparently Christmas is good like that):

1523 – $799+tax = $910 (MSRP $949+tx)

Quilter’s Accessory Kit $300+tax =$314

Total = $1224

2023 – $1199+tax = $1366 (with no table and extra feet still to buy) (MSRP $1449+tx)

It seems to me to be a no-brainer. Today’s project includes more machine research and testing and finding out a bit about other sources for Plexiglas extension tables. The one for my Bernina was made by Dream World and is a Sew Steady Portable Table (prices seem reasonable). Off now to find out what turn-around times for one of those would be for a Pfaff….


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Now that the Craft Fair is over and done with, the show is down, shops are supplied for the holidays, proposals are in and the few sales and orders that needed completion are taken care of, the chaos is lessening somewhat around here. It’s rather a nice feeling to move through the morning at a reasonable pace, rather than tearing frantically through the studio while wired on equal amounts of adrenalin and coffee.

That said, I still have a few things on-going and a few deadlines in early January to meet. There’s also the Anna Templeton Centre Christmas sale and tea, which I may or may not be in as they haven’t figured out exact numbers yet. Studio Guide submission is set for December 15, so I have to get that all set up. As well, I’m still fighting the good fight in the Omnipresent Sewing Machine Battle. Kindly, Shelley (to whom I am now hopelessly in debt favour-wise) has lent me her Bernina for the next little while. This buys me a bit of time with which to make my decisions more carefully and also lets me know what the prognosis is on my current machine.

Meanwhile, it’s back to the drawing board. The “Celebrate Craft” show has the following qualifications and restrictions:

  • no dimension more than 36 inches
  • must be for sale
  • juried exhibit of 2-D and 3-D fine craft in any medium
  • presenting a broad and varied view of function, material, technique and aesthetic
  • reflections of personal stories and places that build a mosaic of Canada, Canadians and craft are encouraged
  • photos due Dec 8 for those outside the province, pieces due January 12 for those here
  • more info – contact Sharon Leriche (709) 753-2749 or email the Craft Council Gallery.

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I’m starting out a low-tech, low-volume email list for those who are interested in my new products, exhibits and such. If you wish to be notified regarding new shows, venues at which to purchase my wares, and new products that I have devised or might be carrying, please send an email to SeaStrands.

If you live or visit the St. John’s, Newfoundland area at Christmas and wish to be on my list of people who receive free tickets to the Annual Fine Craft and Design Fair held each November and invites to any shows I have in the future, please include your physical mailing address with the email so that I can add you to my snail mailing list.

Needless to say, I won’t be selling your addresses to anyone (or even giving them away for free, for that matter). All info will remain confidential.

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I’ve written about my tribulations with my Bernina.

Suffice it to say that they are ongoing, but this time it is the repair person and not the machine with which I have certain issues.

The machine was improperly fixed and is now worse than it was when I first had problems. It is soon to travel by bus to Springdale to another repair person who will hopefully do the job right. I have much more confidence in this repair person as she deals with another brand of high-end machines (Pfaffs) and has an excellent reputation. Word of mouth in the sewing machine world of St. John’s says that the authorised Bernina dealer here (who became such when Elfrieda’s closed) is not the greatest.

So what it comes down to is that I am going to be without a machine for around a week each time I need it cleaned or tweaked. If I could plan for this, it’d be okay, but since experience has proven that I can’t, I need a backup.

Had I not been able to beg and borrow machines around the time of the craft fair, I would have been out about a thousand in profits AND might have lost some orders and contacts from shops. As it was, I still didn’t get all that was on my plate finished and my stress level was too high to speak of.

I can’t do that again.

I need a machine with the following qualities:

  • solid construction and doesn’t joggle when sewing fast
  • can sew for hours without getting cranky (one of us has to be able to and, since I’m human, I get the cranky quota)
  • electronic foot pedal that doesn’t heat up with prolonged use
  • stops instantly
  • needle can be raised or lower with a tap of the foot or heel or with a button
  • handles metallic and other specialty threads easily
  • excellent straight stitch and zig-zag
  • feed dogs drop
  • can fit to an extension table
  • has a darning or free-motion foot

I’d love:

  • one with dual feed built in
  • needle up/down settings
  • stitch memory
  • blanket stitch

But the last few are probably way out of my budget.

I’d love another Bernina, but refuse to go through this kind of garbage again, especially since a machine under warranty would have to be dealt with by the dealer with whom I’m not happy. So I’m looking at Pfaffs and possibly Husqvarnas. The list is down to these:

ALL TAXES calculated into the numbers given – Canadian dollars

  • Pfaff 6085 (normally $855, but can be had for $513 by buying a store demo model)
  • Pfaff 1523 ($1082)
  • Pfaff 1527 or 1528 ($1140)
  • Pfaff 2027 ($1280)
  • Husq Emerald ($unknown – will find out this weekend)

Thus far I’m thinking the first, mainly because I can afford it and it’s a solid workhorse. I already have a machine that can do everything I need (when it’s working), so what I really need is another reliable, solid workhorse of a tool.

Anyone used any of these? I’ll be test-driving next week!

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If you were thinking I had a table at a little flea market affair, you’ll need to adjust your vision a tad. This fair (held by the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador) allocates booth space and bases the fees on a combination of on square footage, shape and location. Here’s the schedule of fees for the past fair. I had an 8 x 4 aisle booth. The structure of it was originally designed to display my mother’s stock of bears, dolls, fairies, mermaids, rabbits, beavers and other critters, but with a little tweaking, it did a very nice job for my purposes. (Thanks for lending it, Mom!)
Fee Schedule 2006

On the side you can see that each booth has a reasonable wattage available for use.  I used the equivalent of 1100 watts to light my booth, which made is marvelously light and enhanced the vibrant colours tremendously. I used a mixture of florescent and incandescent in order to balance the spectrum a bit. I couldn’t afford all full-spectrum florescent bulbs, but the mixture worked really well. The florescent bulbs also don’t get hot and don’t heat up the lamps, so repositioning them was easy. To boot, if I had a bigger booth I could have used many more lights by using florescent bulbs, as the wattage is low proportionate to the candlepower emitted.

Here’s a diagram of the booth, with the lighting and rough direction indicated in brown:


The panels are four feet wide and seven high. The back panels were navy and the side were off-white, which allowed people to see the work against a dark or light value, depending on their walls at home. The dark background also showed off certain pieces exceptionally well, whereas the light sides bounced the light around nicely. The table was for me to work at while doing demonstrations and also provided customers with a place to mull over which particular purchase they wished to make.

Everything on walls was displayed above waist level. The long table across the back of the booth held beach rocks which were interspersed with products similar to those on the wall, but on stands. Business cards were scattered throughout. Tables and shelves were all draped in light coloured fabrics to reflect light, although the top of the long table in back was topped with silky blue, to thematically go with the beach rocks.

The side panels held large pieces while the back panels held a mixture of medium and small. Groupings were thematically organised.  I switched the layout around a bit throughout, but here’s a rough idea of how things went, flattened out:


The hot spots were the three-panel spot to the right of the middle panels, although the entirety of the right side of the big section (the back, btw) was fairly hopping all through the exhibition.

I placed smaller items on the tables on either edge of the booth and scattered lower-priced items here and there. This worked amazingly well, as people often seemed to see things they like as they were leaving or were pulled into the booth by the first price tags they saw being low. Many bought larger pieces.

All-in-all, this display worked rather nicely. I have some modifications in mind for next year, including hard panels throughout (the side panels were cloth attached with Velcro) and easily accessible storage units. Also, I need better signage. Plans are in place for all of these aspects.

Stupidly, I didn’t take pictures. I should have, I realise, but somehow it escaped me this time. I’ll check around and see if someone else did. I did a few interviews and there were photographers present, so who knows what’s out there?! If I find any, I’ll post ’em.

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foiled birches

I’m not quite sure how many parts this will turn out to be, but “one” seems like an appropriate place from which to start.

The 33rd Annual Fine Craft and Design Fair was this past weekend. It’s a juried fair, which means that your product has to have passed certain standards of quality for you to participate. The purpose of this jurying is to select craft and art that are both aesthetically and technically of a high calibre within their fields. In other words, the playing field is well above sea level and customers and other craftspeople can be assured that what surrounds them is worth purchasing and will not drag down the market for the other booths.

Prep for these events is monumental. I don’t know how other people work, but I tend to put on a super blitz before the fair and make about three times as much stock as I know will sell. This enables me to keep my booth well-stocked with good product and to produce variants on certain pieces for customers who don’t quite see what they’re looking for on the wall. The other advantage to making that quantity of stock is that I can, immediately after the fair, resupply any shops with which I deal in anticipation of the Christmas season.

So I made a gargantuan quantity of stuff, but this year I tried a few new things:

  1. I invested in a few tools that enabled me to do certain tasks more quickly, thus saving time. The Fiskars slicer, for instance, vastly sped up my time for making backings and saved me its worth in time during the first week I had it.
  2. I standardized the sizes of a number of things so that the same sized backings would fit any one of a number of products.
  3. I eliminated gratuitous steps from certain products. Some pieces didn’t need (and in fact were lessened by) stitching in certain places, so I left it out where structurally possible.
  4. The above steps enabled me to shave a bit off my prices while still maintaining my profit margin quite nicely.
  5. I was also able to spend more time on making each piece unique and individually satisfying. The uniqueness of the works made them much more attractive and I had a better time making them.
  6. I honed my work and refined my focus to be more fine art than craft. Partially this was simply changing hanging devices and making more expressive pieces, but it also involved switching to primarily wall-mounted works and displaying them as they were meant to be displayed in a home.
  7. I redesigned my business cards and also designed a brochure that used the same image. That image also appears on the top of this blog.
  8. I used silk for certain pieces and labelled them quite obviously as such. Silk has exotic appeal.
  9. I went into more detail in my labels about the materials and techniques.
  10. I focused on producing a dollar and quantity amount of stock, but also kept a close eye on making sure that there was variety within each category.
  11. Meeting a production value amount was not allowed to supersede making superior product. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in production quantity to the detriment of inspirational quality. Technical quality is always high for my work, but artistic success sometimes takes a dip when production is pushed hard. I suspect this was one of the reasons I had a rough year last year.
  12. I produced a body of work that was highly unique and utilised imagery and techniques that were effective, attractive and gender-neutral. As many men liked my work as women, which is a huge coup as far as I’m concerned, as textiles tend to be female-dominated, both in terms of the producers and the consumers.
  13. While producing the work, I worked in small series. This made for a fabulous display, allowing for the grouping of pieces by theme. Within each theme, I made sure that there was at least one large piece and several smaller, more affordable, works. Not only did all the works sell well as a result, but the visual appeal of the larger ones brought people in to the booth.
  14. One of the techniques I used sparingly, but to great visual appeal, was the foil as shown in the piece at the top of this blog. Not only was this eye-catching when well lit (lighting is another entire post), but it made people stop and ask questions and (if you’ve ever done a trade show or craft event you’ll know how important this part is) it gave me something to explain to people and chat about with them.

I’m sure other things will spring to mind about my product development for this show. I’ll try to write them up as they come to me.

Next stop, the display…..

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Sidenote: my machine is at the shop, awaiting prognosis. In the interim, I’ve borrowed a machine as good as my own from a friend, which should help get me through the next few days.

On to the main post.

One of the things that the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador does for each show staged in the gallery is have the show photographed. They pay a professional photographer with experience in shooting art and craft works (Eric Walsh of Ragged Harbour Photography and Design) to record each show for the council’s records and they maintain a slide and digital archive of all shows put off by the gallery. The cost of the photographer is worked into the cost of the show and therefore into the grant proposals that go into setting up the show.

A recent addition to their routine is that they offer artists the opportunity to purchase copies of the shots taken for a nominal fee. Since the photographer is getting paid by the gallery anyway, the cost of these photos for artists really is minimal ($25 per piece).

For this price, I get a properly-lit, lined-up, and focussed shot that is colour-corrected, if necessary, to print standards. I get an image that is sized and formatted for web use and another that is set for print and portfolio purposes. I also get unlimited permission to use these photos on my website, in promotional material, for printing out posters or greeting cards or any other purpose that might tickle my fancy, as long as I credit the photographer.

It’s a good deal all round.

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