Sunday, February 12, 2012

Home and Coveting

We're home.


I'm still wearing shorts, because although it's 18F-ish outside, my brain thinks the sunshine streaming in through the deck door is 91F sunshine, like the Equator sunshine we left just 48 hours ago.

This is one of my favorite beaches. And here is Grandma playing with the girls in the sand.

Zooming out even more - Mum, Dad and me hanging out in the shade,

where, in spite of the shadow, it is still sunny.

The beach(es) - we went to three different ones - were the #2 most-visited place on this trip.

#1 was the pool. 

This is the same public swimming complex at which I swam as a younger person, until I discovered the more private swimming clubs. There are four pools - two Olympic sized (although only one was Olympic-depth; the other was a mid-depth training pool) and two wading/teaching pools for kids:

Years ago, I used to spend all my time in the Olympic pools, doing laps. But on this trip, I spent all my time in the kiddie pool.

How the kids loved it! We swam six days out of twelve. Here in MN the only chance the kids get to be in pools is when they have swimming lessons. Indoor heated pools crowded with other kids and swimming instructors are sooooooooooo not fun. In this Singapore pool, the girls goofed around and experimented with their strokes in an environment as warm as bathwater (I kid you not), and by the end of the six visits, swam better than they ever had in swimming class.

How could they not? Swimming pools under the tropical sun are magic. They make a person sane like sewing never could. Emily asked me, "Mum, are there any pools like this in MN where you can just swim whenever you want for fun without having swimming lessons?" Apart from water parks? I've been asking that same question since I first got here. 

One more photo before we return to the business of the day - here are Kate and Nikhi, Jen's little girl. Yes!! That  Jen! We finally had a playdate of sorts, as if we were regular, normal mom-friends. It was fun to pretend that we still lived in the same country. Incidentally, none of those clothes were sewn by either of us. We support store-bought!!!!!

So now we're home - gorgeously tanned but dreadfully disoriented. The kids have been up at 1am/3am/5am the past two nights(? mornings?). Last night/this morning, Emily read a novel and did Math homework at 3 am in her room because she was so wide awake. Kate has been wandering about the house in the darkness, trying to sleep in various beds. I think Dave and I would've been over our jet lag by now were we not sabotaged by the children coming to visit us at unearthly hours with whispers and daft questions like "Are you awake?" (Darn it, we weren't, till you made us think about it. Grrrr.) 
And then yesterday afternoon, when I called the kids to lunch, Jenna asked me, "Mum, is this lunch or supper?" Poor kids - eating too many meals on the plane with the sun shining at hours that don't agree with our watches has done us in. Ugh, coming home (to MN, I mean) is hard. Saying goodbye to family and sunshine aside, traveling between the two worlds I call home, only one of which has decent curry, is an assault on the system in so many ways.

I'm coping the only way I know how - by shopping for large, expensive, non-mainstream items like these:

They're all lockstitch industrial sewing machines. I've wanted one of these since I was a teenager, sewing custom bags and specialty musical instrument cases and struggling with their thick, bulky unwieldiness. The obvious benefits of an industrial machine - its long arm, greater power, higher allowance, needle feed, just to name a few - would've made such a difference even back then. 

That first photo on the top left is of my Aim-For-In-The-Cheap*-Category machine. It's a Pfaff, and it will nicely match my other two Pfaffs (the home machine and the serger). It's $2K++, which is cheap* for a Pfaff. And it sews leather and other medium-to-heavyweights. And has a walking foot. But still.... $2000..... 

So I'm trying to be a bit frugal (hahahahahahahaha) and look at other brands. That Juki on the bottom right is a lightweight apparel sewing machine. It's cheap, like cheaper than even my Pfaff home sewing machine, but it doesn't sew vinyl and other materials of that category.

While in Singapore, I've been learning about these workhorses. Behold:

Do you see it? Here, I'll circle it for you:
See? Industrial sewing machine!!!!

Let me tell you a bit about these alteration tailors. Many people in Singapore live in apartments, and these apartments are grouped into small, compact neighborhoods with shared amenities like a market, an al fresco food court called a hawker center, a supermarket, sports facilities and dozens of miscellaneous stores that provide a mind-boggling array of anything from optometric services and photo developing to baked goods, traditional medicine, lingerie and stationery. Within the markets themselves are similar shops - and in the market near Mum's apartment building (i.e. my childhood home), I counted no fewer than three such alteration tailors (excluding the men's tailor, whose shop  -which is between the watch repair shop and the shop selling fresh fruit and joss-paper - is stacked with bales/bolts of suiting fabric). I've never patronized any of these because we did all our own sewing, but there they sit, these illustrious ladies -and man-, sewing for other people. They all have industrial sewing machines - nobody uses one of those ubiquitous white plastic home Singers, Janomes, Vikings or Berninas. 

But I digress. The ones used by these alterations tailors are probably lightweight apparel machines or industrial overlockers and therefore not the sort I am looking for, since I can easily sew clothes, upholstery and drapes on my home Pfaff. Also, I've learnt that industrial machines are very task-specific: they often do just one stitch - either a straight stitch (aka lockstitch) , or a zig-zag stitch, or bartack, or overlocking, or chain stitch. I need a medium-weight straight-stitch flat-bed thing that can take vinyl and leather. Last Christmas I decided I'd buy myself one large, extravagant electrical gift -either a stand mixer or one of these babies. Chickened out and bought a stand mixer because it took up less room and cost far less. I've been enjoying my mixer, and it's been feeding my family, but it doesn't get me all excited like an industrial sewing machine does. Sigh. I don't know anything else that I've coveted for so long but haven't yet bought for myself. 

The four machines in the photos above are all new, incidentally. I am probably ultimately getting a used one because it's just more cost-effective. But it's easier to do objective research on the brand-new ones at dealer sites, to compare features and check out relative prices before looking on ebay or wherever for deals. Which brings me to you guys - thank you all for the suggestions in the comments to that post in which I first mentioned these machines. But I need more! More! Tell me of your experiences with yours (if you own one), where to buy one, where I can go to try one out, what to look for when choosing one, what a good price would be for a used one, what models are great and which are duds, anything! I appreciate all the help you can give me!


  1. Welcome back!! Your photos are beautiful - so glad you had a safe trip.
    The jet lag must be so difficult on the girls, I hope it sorts itself out soon.

  2. Hi. Thanks for writing this post about wanting an industrial sewing machine. I too have been wanting to purchase one for a while now. I bought myself a brother sewing machine almost 2 years ago and spent close to $1000. It has really been quite disappointing considering it struggles to do a neat buttonhole through a couple of layers of drill. (check out my post:

    See what I mean)
    Anyway, the only thing I know about industrial sewing machines is what I find through a google search and that is quite random. I really look forward to all the comments you will receive on your post and I cant wait to see the machine you end up buying.
    Sherry ♥

  3. Welcome back! Sounds like you had a lovely trip all around, despite the jet lag.

    Alas, I can't help with the industrial machine, although I'm going to covet whatever you wind up getting. ;) I've only just gotten my very first serger this weekend, and I couldn't even get properly excited about it with my friends because none of them sew, so the whole thing is lost on them. (Even my brother, the recipient of a custom-made messenger-style bag for his digital SLR and collection of lenses, rolled his eyes when he found out I had "another sewing machine.")

  4. So jealous of the sunshine and the warm swimming pools!

  5. I'm a casual industrial user, but I could give you a little info from my experience.

    I have a basic sailrite machine (like this: which does straight and zigzag stitches and has a walking foot with pretty mean-looking teeth on top and bottom. I have used it to sew heavy denim and canvas pants, neoprene, webbing/straps, and fairly thick leather. My friend from whom it's a loaner used it in his business making messenger bags (cordura, webbing, truck-tarp, etc). He's moved on to needle-feed machines, which he says are "the bomb" for dealing with thick fabrics.

    The machine has been amazing, but requires more planning, in the sense that you simply cannot have a thick (folded seam) portion of your project under only the side portion of the walking foot; it will feed crooked. It's also a bit of an adjustment for a person used to seeing where the needle goes in--the feet are so thick that you really can't, you just have to do a sample and figure out some other visual reference.

    One problem I've had is that most retail "jeans" thread is really not up to this machine's tension and looks a little "fuzzy" by the time it's gone through. Not disastrous, but do expect to have to invest in thread and needles specific to an industrial machine.

    I've seen some great deals on used industrials here in the midwest--hopefully you can find the machine of your dreams!

  6. All that water looks wonderful.... sooo inviting! But my goodness, all to yourselves? Aren't there many people in Singapore?! ;)

    Sorry, I'm no help with your machine shopping. Good luck!

  7. Maybe look way back? I have a 1936 Singer 15K that I picked up in a thrift store for $20--it had been removed from the treadle base but was not motorized yet. I got a heavy-duty industrial motor off eBay for $40, found a 50s-era sewing table for $5 at a yard sale and now have a machine that sews leather like it is cotton (my husband and a neighbor tinkered with the setup for about fifteen minutes to get it all working smoothly).

    Of course, the stitching options are limited...I still have to get some of the various Singer attachments that allow the machine to do zig-zag stitch and buttonholes, pleating, etc. But they are all available on eBay, when I'm ready to get them.

    I've seen solid industrial machines on Craigslist for as little as $200. Maybe check Craigslists in other areas--NYC and LA both have high concentrations of commercial custom work, so there are more used machines available. If you have a friend who can check the machine out for you, and act as your agent, it could help.

  8. I would suggest contacting a regional theatre company with a reputable costume shop- maybe the Guthrie in Minneapolis? - and asking to speak to their shop manager. She/he might be able to give you a very good insight into industrials. Costume shops routinely deal with the craziest combination of materials, both thick and thin, and they generally do it on industrial machines. Most shops I've worked in have several different brands on the premises and the employees have strong feelings about one or all of them. It would be a way to get a lot of opinions in one place. Happy hunting!

  9. Have you tried contacting the manufacturers? Show them your blog and ask them to sponsor a few entries or something. You make such amazing stuff! At least ask them to give you a discount in exchange for some publicity on your site? My sister shared your site with me and though I don't sew (my sis does) I LOVE the cardboard play you do for your kids (I have two little ones myself). Good luck!

  10. Those machines look awesome! I don't know anything about them - will have to show Mike, though, as he is still recovering from the shock of caving and letting me get a Janome HD1000 for Christmas for $300. Way better than a stand mixer, which I also may cave and get someday...

  11. I don't know anything about industrial sewing machines, but I'm glad you're back !
    And for pools, I don't know where in MN you are, but here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, there is a large olympic pool, with a large kid pool and even a "mushroom shower", and a slide. It's about 80 miles from St Paul, but when it's hot in the summer, it's really nice. There is Como Pool in St Paul, too, maybe closer to you.

  12. Thanks for all the pics - I miss Singapore! Grew up there. Love your blog and the stuff you make - especially love the tutorials.

  13. Hey! been reading your blog for a quite a long time. I admire your work very much! I'm 18 years old and I'm from Malaysia. I grew up using the ancient Singer sewing machines that are manually operated by man power and doesn't have back stitch!
    Well now I'm using my aunt's industrial sewing machines. She's an alteration tailor and owns 4 industrial sewing machines, one vintage Singer (it's been around for 20 yrs and is a very cool blue colour, one Juki, one industrial serger and one industrial heavy duty Singer (it works perfectly on denim and leather).
    She bought them all second hand (except the vintage Singer). The Juki costs RM1200. The industial heavy duty Singer costs RM1200 too. But they're both second hand machines.
    Here in Malaysia, I rarely see people who use the plastic little sewing machines. I'm totally alien to them. I've never touched one, ever....

    I enjoy reading your blog, it feels more familiar to me. I started sewing the traditional way, drafting and stuff. But never gotten to doing everything myself from scratch. The sewing culture here is way different than in America. But you guys are really creative I have to say!

  14. Oh, that looks heavenly! I wanted to post, because we just took our girls swimming at our community center that has a great pool, for both kids and adults. (I am in Monticello.) Not sure where you are at in MN, but check out community centers in your area. You might get lucky. :) (I know it isn't the same as swimming under the sun, but it is better than nothing. ;) )

  15. I know it's probably too late for now, but next time, try melatonin for the jet lag.
    Are there really no community pools in your area? Here, (Ontario), every town (over about 5 000 people) has one. Some are new and modern, and some are dated. They are never open for public swim during swim lesson times. Some public swim times include lap lanes, and other times it's the whole pool for recreation. There are never swim instructors in the pool during public swim times.


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