Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My new title

I will now require everyone to call me professor.  Only some people will understand this.  Those of you who don’t send me some money or a job and I will tell you why.  Also, I am testing out Windows Live Writer with IE8.  Microsoft is clearly learning how to do things from Google.

Map picture

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Arizona is Trying to Kill Me

When I was a kid I had horrible allergies. I was allergic to everything; dust, plants, the little plastic card the Dr. used for the scratch tests, anything with fur, anything with feathers, anything that once thought about maybe coming in contact with pollen...you probably get the idea. My allergies got so horrible that I slept on plastic, hypoallergenic sheets. My room became a "no-pet" zone. I learned to love HEPA filters and dusting. I got out of having to mow the lawn because, if I did, I couldn't breathe for days. It was miserable. However, my misery was not, I thought, permanent. I was overjoyed when, starting in my early 20's the allergies significantly improved. I didn't have to buy large quantities of anti-histamines, nasal sprays and asthma inhalers. I could breathe, most days, without the help of heavy duty pharmaceuticals. It was lovely.
And. Then.
And then, I moved to ARIZONA. My allergies have returned, and I think they are trying to make up for lost time. There is dust EVERYWHERE around here. There are tiny, dried out leafy things blowing around CONSTANTLY. If it grows in Arizona, I am pretty sure I am allergic to it. Stupid Arizona.
I have not breathed using my nose in nearly a week. I should have bought stock in Kleenex and whatever giant drug company makes Zyrtec weeks ago, because I am sure those companies are now rolling in money. My money. Who needs to buy groceries when you can buy anti-histamines?!
Seriously, between the boiling heat, the creepy birds, the awful drivers and allergies from Hades, I am pretty sure Arizona is trying to kill me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Janome 6600 Sewing Machine Saga

So, Emily and a couple of other people off-line have asked how I chose the sewing machine I posted about a couple of posts ago. I started this post as a response to Emily's comment, but it was super long, so I decided to make my sewing machine buying saga it's very own post. Feel free to ignore the rest of this if you have no interest in the various intricacies of sewing machines and sewing machine purchases. Without further ado, here's a not-so-quick summary of how I ended up with my Janome 6600.

When I started looking for a new sewing machine, I had no idea what was available. I had used 3 machines in my life: my mother's excellent Kenmore, the Brother machine my mother bought me for Christmas when I was in college and an industrial Singer my mother gave me when I passed the Brother machine onto my little sister (are we sensing a theme here? My mom rocks.). I started looking for a new machine, fully expecting to buy a mechanical Kenmore, Brother or Singer. I had only ever used mechanical machines so I didn't have a clue what computerized machines could do. I tried a computerized machine for the first time at JoAnne's, while looking at the Singer machines and decided I'd buy a computerized machine.

Deciding to buy a computerized machine opened up all sorts of previously unknown features and options, so I started researching every brand of sewing machine I could think of. After looking at and reading about a bunch of machines online and comparing the many features and prices, I decided I wanted to spend enough money to get a machine I would use for many, many years; this meant I bought a machine that has more features than I use right now, but I am hoping to grow into my machine, rather than out of it.

I also set a price limit right away; it quickly became apparent that you could spend thousands of dollars on a computerized sewing machine. I, obviously, do not have thousands of dollars so I set a pretty conservative price limit.

After my initial research, I limited my search to the main quilting brands (because that is what I wanted to do with my machine) so I looked at Pfaff, Bernina, BabyLoc, Viking (Husqvarna), Brother and Elna. I ruled out Singer and a couple of other brands because they were really garment sewing machines that had been "converted" to quilting machines (mostly this meant someone in marketing had added "quilt" to the name of the machine). I also wanted a machine that much more experienced quilters than myself had used for a while and liked. I made a rather extensive list of machines to actually go and try by doing a google search of the brand names and "review"; there are tons of people out there who post really detailed reviews of their machines (I really liked the website patternreview.com for this purpose).

I immediately eliminated Bernina because the cheapest quilting machine was way out of my price range. I didn't like the feel of the BabyLoc, Brother or Elna; they didn't feel very sturdy or well made (hundreds,maybe thousands, of people will be outraged that I say that, but that's what I thought. Feel free to disagree. :-) )Vikings have recently gotten terrible reviews online, so those were also out.

So, that left,basically, the Pfaff and Janome. Quilters rave about both brands and both have long term reputations for excellent quality. Both brands have a line of machines designed specifically for quilters and the machines in these lines have a huge harp (the space between the motor block where the controls usually are and the needle). I like this because it leaves a lot of space to manipulate quilts while piecing and free motion quilting (sewing free form patterns,rather than straight lines). Both also have a feature that will feed the fabric from the top and bottom rather than only from the bottom, which is pretty important when you sew thick fabrics (like terry cloth, denim or flannel) or quilts. I tried the Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.0 and thought it was the machine for me.

I bought the Pfaff and IMMEDIATELY hated it (seriously, ask Isaac, I was nearly in tears). The thread mechanism was super fussy and quilting, even with thin batting, created HUGE knots. Also, the control features for choosing the stitch pattern, changing the size etc... were not very intuitive. It was, from the first minute I tried it, an absolute disaster. So, I returned it, did some more research and decided to try the Janome 6600P. I went back to the Janome dealer 3 times (after the Pfaff disaster I wanted to be really, really sure I liked the machine) and finally bought the machine.

It is fantastic. It is the only machine I tried that has an all metal casing (which makes it rather heavy, but also incredibly sturdy). It has nearly 200 stitch patterns and using the different patterns is super easy. The patterns can be adjusted for size and the machine can be programmed to perform various sequences of stitches. It also has a separate bobbin winding motor, which I haven't needed, but is rather handy and incredibly fast. The machine is also built to accept large thread cones, which is nice for quilting since quilting requires a great deal of thread. My most favorite thing is the start/stop button (most computerized machines have one). I don't have to use a foot pedal; I can control the machine with a button and the speed slider on the front of the machine. I can sew super slow for curves and as fast as I want for straight lines; the slider holds a perfectly steady spead. It. Rocks.

As you probably guessed, I love the Janome. I've sewn a bunch of projects and haven't had any trouble at all. It is also significantly less expensive than the Pfaff (but still kind of pricey; especially compared to a machanical machine). The one thing I don't have with the Janome is a free arm, but my Singer machine has one, so I use the Singer for sleeves and hemming and such and use the Janome for everything else.

Also, the most important thing I discovered while shopping for my machine is to go to a sewing machine dealer and actually sew on the machines. Even if you are looking at a lower-end mechanical machine, go to a dealer and try a bunch of different kinds. I was able to rule out many different models just by using them for a couple minutes. Don't just rely on the dealer demo; bring some fabric (anything you would sew often on your new machine) and try it out on the machines. Also, at a good dealer you should get at least one free class on how to use your machine. Most importantly, at a good dealer you should be able to negotiate on the price. Whatever the dealer initially quotes you is usually high (just like buying a car!), so google reviews of the machine you are thinking about and read what others have paid and the accessories they got with the machine. For example; my machine was significantly less than the list price and I got the brand name sewing table that fits my machine and free classes included in the price, along with 20% off all my future purchases in the store for ever and ever. :-) Lots of people also ask for, and get, extra presser feet, extra classes, bobbins etc...

So, for the 3 of you who have asked, that's how I bought my sewing machine. :-) And, for the rest of you; you have now recieved a totally free and unsolicited "How to Buy a Sewing Machine" tutorial. You're welcome.