Sewing on Trucks, Cycling with Sewing Machines

Sewing on Trucks, Cycling with Sewing Machines

This past week, I got a call to tailor and do some fittings for my friend Matthew, who is the Costume Designer for TBS’s Search Party. I love working for Matthew. He’s sweet and fun and his design choices are quirky, a lovely mix of vintage and high end with a bit of funk blended in.

Search Party doesn’t have the budget for a full time tailor, so Matthew only calls me in for days when he’s doing a lot of fittings or he has a pile of alterations that he needs completed for the next couple weeks of filming.

Day playing

Day playing, which is what we in the film business call working for a day or two on a show when extra help is needed, can be an enjoyable experience (it can also be annoying but I try my best to avoid those types of day playing gigs). Search Party is pretty much always a positive experience, mainly because of Matthew and the people he has working for him.

So, I was happy to get the call, even though it involved going all the way to Red Hook (a neighborhood in Brooklyn sadly lacking in convenient public transportation access) and sewing on a cramped Wardrobe Truck.

The inadequate subway connection was easily solvable: I’d ride my bike just as I do most places in the city, except that I needed to bring a sewing machine and basic sewing supplies with me. Tailor day playing assignments almost always involve dragging your machine and kit through the streets, and usually not on a bicycle.

I discovered that my favorite freakishly lightweight Brother sewing machine fit perfectly into the backpack.

I discovered that my favorite freakishly lightweight Brother sewing machine fit perfectly into the backpack.

But, a few months ago, I received an unexpected gift from REI. I’d ordered a tent for some planned bike packing adventures but, instead, received a backpack (definitely not a tent). REI costumer service was very helpful when I called, said they’d send the tent straight away and would email me a pre-paid return label to ship the backpack back (back…). About twenty minutes after I hung up, they called back to say never mind, keep the backpack for free.

I don’t know what made me try it, but a couple weeks after that, I discovered that my favorite freakishly lightweight Brother sewing machine fit perfectly into the backpack. Brilliant! Here are some photos. If you’re interested in which backpack it is, it’s the Osprey Comet.

If you’re interested in which backpack it is, it’s the Osprey Comet.

If you’re interested in which backpack it is, it’s the Osprey Comet.

I packed a few other things in the backpack with the machine (there was still more space!) – shoulder pads, interfacing, and lining scraps, a bag of thread, and some other not very heavy notions. The rest of my supplies, the scissors and more threads and gallon bag of elastics and tapes, I packed into my Revelate Seat Bag that I purchased from my favorite local bike shop. And I was good to go, albeit not very quickly (cause all that gear was a bit heavy)…

The lion, the witch and the Wardrobe truck

Sewing in small spaces on a Wardrobe truck where a whole crew of other people are also trying to do their jobs presents its own set of challenges. Working on the Search Party truck even more so as they use the dreaded split Wardrobe/Hair/Makeup style of 18-wheeler film truck. Most productions have separate trucks for Wardrobe and Hair/Makeup and twice as much space but smaller productions who are trying to save money go with the split trucks. What this means is that there is even less space than normal.

I set up my machine on the front corner, the sink and washer/dryer on my right and the busy Wardrobe Supervisor and her computer on my left. A few feet away, one of the customers steamed and ironed the clothes for the next day and, in the back of the truck Matthew and his assistant did fittings with various cast members. Occasionally, the set costumer was also on the truck gathering things for the next scene, as well as the shopper dropping off or picking up items.

High chair

I had a chair that was too high for the counter. I’d have to crouch in order to sew while sitting in it. Below the counter were drawers so there was no convenient place to put the foot pedal. I ended up standing up to sew, my leg turned out to the right to operate the pedal from a side-saddle angle. The foot kept getting stuck under the lip of the bottom drawer so that the machine would continue to sew even after I’d taken my foot off. I had about two inches of empty space to the left of my machine before the supervisor’s notebooks and computer and the cord from the iron kept falling (along with a bunch of my pins) into the sink to my right. I had to shift position slightly every time someone needed to fill or empty the washer and dryer.

But, it was still a wonderfully pleasant work-day. Because we were all in good spirits and we all worked together, happily jockeying for space, seamlessly adapting to each other’s needs, laughing when we all seemed to need to occupy the same twelve inches of space at the same time, all of us just getting our jobs done.

Things don’t always work this well on a crowded wardrobe truck. Sometimes people forget that everyone’s jobs are important and necessary to the project. Sometimes people are cranky because of lack of sleep, or stress, or just because it’s their nature. But it doesn’t have to be that way and, if you ask me, it shouldn’t. Making TV does not, after all, have anything to do with curing cancer or launching rocket ships (sometimes people forget that!).

One of the most wonderful things is a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. Its also a pretty good way of getting things done! I highly recommend it. 🙂

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust. I’ve been to the Dead Sea and the Red Sea and stood in the middle of the desert in Jordan. I’ve wandered down into the depths of a pyramid in Giza and hiked to the top of Mount Sinai.

Today, I’m preparing for a cycling trip to the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan – during which we’re going to visit the local school and women’s sewing centre in Chirah (a vocational training project supported by the Red Spokes LVCF charity). You can read more about the center here. Red Spokes is also the company that’s organizing the cycling tour I’m about to embark on. If you happen to be interested in that, you can read about it here.

I’m super excited about both the cycling part and getting to visit the sewing center and will definitely try and spend some time communicating with the women there and learning about their lives and what sewing means to them.

Right now though, I’m exhausted after finally managing to (I think) get my bike packed up so it’ll survive both the TSA and the baggage handlers. (Wish me, or rather, my bike, luck).

Wrestling with my bicycle and bike bag this morning got me thinking about flying with sewing machines.

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

Can I Take my Sewing Machine on an Airplane?

When sewing machines fly

When sewing machines fly

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve flown with a machine in tow. I think the last time I did was almost 8 years ago – and security measures weren’t as strict as they are now. I had the machine packed in a rolling suitcase and I recall that I gate checked it with JetBlue. You can also buy great sewing machine specific bags to transport your machine: https://www.sewingmachinesplus.com/trolley-category.php

The important thing to remember though is to remove the needle and any other sharp tools if you’re going to bring as carry-on luggage.

A quick search on the TSA website does indeed confirm that you can bring a sewing machine in your carry on or checked bags.

The Sharp Objects List states that you can also bring knitting, crochet, and sewing needles and safety pins in your carry on but, scissors must be less than 4″ from the pivot point (like these):

TSA and contraband

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

I’ve been doing a good job this summer of satiating (at least a bit!) my ever-present wanderlust.

Speaking of the TSA, they actually have a rather amusing Instagram account where they post pictures of confiscated items that people tried to bring on board airplanes as well as answer questions about whether or not specific items are allowed.

Travel tips

If you do happen to need to travel by air with your machine, here are a few tips:

  1. Take the lightest machine you own (only because it’ll be easier for you to carry through the airport. Most airlines don’t weight carry on bags). I know I talk about these Brother machines all the time but they really are incredibly lightweight and durable. And they sew well!
  2. Put your presser foot down on a piece of fabric and remove the needle. Make sure all your thread holders are folded or detracted if they’re foldable or retractable.
  3. Pack some foam or something else cushy around it in case it falls over on its side. I also like to put the machine inside some sort of plastic bag to protect it from water (just in case there’s a freak rain storm, or you drag it through a puddle or something is leaking somewhere).I’m a backpacker/hiker and bike commuter though so I pack everything into clear plastic drawstring bags. Because you just never know.If there’s extra or empty space in the bag or box with your machine, fill it up with something. Fabric, clothes, those air filled plastic pillows – whatever. The more secure a machine is in its case(or box) the less it’ll shift and bang around.
  4. If you happen to still have your machine’s original box and packing material, use that. You can tape the box up and either check it or carry it into the cabin with you. Be advised though, that if you’re taking it as a carry on, you’ll probably have to take it out of its box or case for security. So, bring a roll of packing tape with you so you can seal the box back up.
  5. Remember that the TSA officers are just doing their jobs and sometimes they have different interpretations of what that is or what items are allowed. I travel very often (mostly international) and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s to always, always be kind and respectful (even if you think the person you’re dealing with doesn’t know what they’re talking about or are not understanding you). I spent almost twenty minutes at the Cairo airport explaining to an officer that I had metal bike pedals, metal clips in my bike shoes and a bicycle seat in my bag. By the end of it, we were both laughing and we both said thank you (I like to think that later, over dinner, he told his buddies or family about the crazy white girl who just biked across Jordan that went through his security line).

Fly, my pretties, fly!

I know that airport security measures can be annoying and I truly wish that there wasn’t the need for them (either real or imagined) but I’ve found time and time again that a pleasant thank you and a smile makes things go a lot more smoothly (and faster!) 😉

And with that, I’m off to JFK Airport. Safe and happy travels to all.

How Many Sewing Machines Do you Need?

How Many Sewing Machines Do you Need?

As a professional tailor and pattern maker in the film and television industry for about 25 years, I’m always on the lookout for a something that can make my job easier and more efficient.

As a professional tailor and pattern maker in the film and television industry for about 25 years, I’m always on the lookout for a something that can make my job easier and more efficient.

A subjective question, perhaps. In the cycling world, of which I am part, the number of bicycles is defined as x + 1 where x = the number of bikes you currently own. I suppose the same formula could be applied to sewing machine ownership. I’m continually fascinated by the scope and design of new machines and confess that, if I could, I would adopt one of virtually every machine I see.

As a professional tailor and pattern maker in the film and television industry for about 25 years, I’m always on the lookout for a something that can make my job easier and more efficient. I, as I suspect most tailors do, have a small collection of machines that I consider my “go-to’s”, that I can’t imagine doing my job without.

1. Juki High Speed Single Needle Straight Lockstitch Industrial Sewing Machine

I have an old model of this machine, the DDL-555-4. The beauty of this machine is that it only does one thing: sew in a straight line. And it does it exceptionally well. Even my old model is smoother and more sensitive than many domestic machines. Five layers of denim or a single layer of chiffon emerge from the presser foot with no complaint and straight, even, stitches. I rarely even have to adjust the tension. And the Juki is fast. The newer models have a speed adjustment on the motors so if you want to start out a little slower you can.

 

Check out the current models, the DDL-8700 and the DDL-5550N and go test drive one if you can. I think you’ll be able to tell right away that it’s a machine that will quickly pay for itself.

2. Brother lightweight Portable Machine

My SC9500, which is similar to the CS-5055, is the most incredible inexpensive machine I’ve come across in my twenty some years of sewing. Not only is it lightweight enough to put in a tote bag and carry on your shoulder but it also sews like a champ. I use it most often for its pre programmed buttonholes and stretch stitching. In my experience, a lot of domestic machines produce less than ideal buttonholes. The Brother never falters: each buttonhole is perfect and akin in quality to those in manufactured clothing (where they use a machine that does nothing but buttonholes).

3. Bernina

Everyone I know in the film business owns at least one Bernina.

 

Everyone I know in the film business owns at least one Bernina. For many, their Bernina is their prime machine, the one they use most often. I’ve yet to find a model, or hear of one, that doesn’t work well. I have an old mechanical model, which is still made in the form of a 1008. The advantages of a mechanical sewing machine lie in its durability and ease of use. I keep my old school Bernina mechanical on the wardrobe truck of whatever show I’m currently working on. I’ve had the same one for twenty years and its never ever failed me – despite years of being knocked around and asked to do impossible things like sewing through three layers of glued leather in an inordinate short amount of time.

4. Reliable Blind Hem Machine

A good blind hemmer that doesn’t snag or pull and is easily adjusted for varying fabric weights is essential to my tailoring work. The Reliable is just that, reliable. The setup is easy and the machine, though technically not a portable, does pack up nicely and can be transported to a work site.

5. Serger

There are so very many sergers to choose from. The first question to answer when choosing which one to buy is: what you will mainly be using the machine for? Do you need something to efficiently finish seams? Or will you be sewing entire garments with it? Do you want a machine that also does a cover stitch?

The automatic rolled hem feature is game changing.

My favorite is the Juki Garnet Line MO-623 1 needle 2/3 thread Serger. The machine is dependable, smooth, easy to thread, and fast. The automatic rolled hem feature is game changing. As opposed to many machines where you need to change the presser foot, with the Juki, you manipulate the fabric with built in fingertip control.

How Many Sewing Machines Do you Need?

How Many Sewing Machines Do you Need?

A subjective question, perhaps. In the cycling world, of which I am part, the number of bicycles is defined as x + 1 where x = the number of bikes you currently own. I suppose the same formula could be applied to sewing machine ownership. I’m continually fascinated by the scope and design of new machines and confess that, if I could, I would adopt one of virtually every machine I see.
Everyone I know in the film business owns at least one Bernina. For many, their Bernina is their prime machine, the one they use most often.

As a professional tailor and pattern maker in the film and television industry for about 25 years, I’m always on the lookout for a something that can make my job easier and more efficient. I, as I suspect most tailors do, have a small collection of machines that I consider my ‘go-to’s’, that I can’t imagine doing my job without.

1. Juki High Speed Single Needle Straight Lockstitch Industrial Sewing Machine

I have an old model of this machine, the DDL-555-4. The beauty of this machine is that it only does one thing: sew in a straight line. And it does it exceptionally well. Even my old model is smoother and more sensitive than many domestic machines. Five layers of denim or a single layer of chiffon emerge from the presser foot with no complaint and straight, even, stitches. I rarely even have to adjust the tension. And the Juki is fast. The newer models have a speed adjustment on the motors so if you want to start out a little slower you can.

Check out the current models, the DDL 8700 and the DDL 5550 N and go test drive one if you can. I think you’ll be able to tell right away that it’s a machine that will quickly pay for itself.

2. Brother lightweight Portable Machine

My SC 9500, which is similar to the CS-5055, is the most incredible inexpensive machine I’ve come across in my twenty some years of sewing. Not only is it lightweight enough to put in a tote bag and carry on your shoulder but it also sews like a champ. I use it most often for its pre programmed buttonholes and stretch stitching. In my experience, a lot of domestic machines produce less than ideal buttonholes. The Brother never falters: each buttonhole is perfect and akin in quality to those in manufactured clothing (where they use a machine that does nothing but buttonholes).

3. Bernina

Everyone I know in the film business owns at least one Bernina. For many, their Bernina is their prime machine, the one they use most often. I’ve yet to find a model, or hear of one, that doesn’t work well. I have an old mechanical model, which is still made in the form of a 1008. The advantages of a mechanical sewing machine lie in its durability and ease of use. I keep my old school Bernina mechanical on the wardrobe truck of whatever show I’m currently working on. I’ve had the same one for twenty years and its never ever failed me – despite years of being knocked around and asked to do impossible things like sewing through three layers of glued leather in an inordinate short amount of time.

4. Reliable Blind Hem Machine

A good blind hemmer that doesn’t snag or pull and is easily adjusted for varying fabric weights is essential to my tailoring work. The Reliable is just that, reliable. The setup is easy and the machine, though technically not a portable, does pack up nicely and can be transported to a work site.

5. Serger

There are so very many sergers to choose from. The first question to answer when choosing which one to buy is: what you will mainly be using the machine for? Do you need something to efficiently finish seams? Or will you be sewing entire garments with it? Do you want a machine that also does a cover stitch?

My favorite is the Juki Garnet Line MO-623 1 needle 2/3 thread Serger. The machine is dependable, smooth, easy to thread, and fast. The automatic rolled hem feature is game changing. As opposed to many machines where you need to change the presser foot, with the Juki, you manipulate the fabric with built in fingertip control.