Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sewing Saturday--The Best Removable Seam Guide EVER!

Oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah! How blissful is this Saturday?

I’ve cut up some fabrics. I’m piecing my jubilee blocks that haven’t been touched since we went and spent a long weekend in the cabin outside of Boone.

When was that? JUNE?!

And I pulled out a machine I hadn’t used in a while – and I don’t know why I haven’t used her ---

I’m sewing on my Singer 404A. It’s a straight stitch machine, and her name is Norma Jean! Her birthdate? 1958.
She came along the sewing machine timeline just after the 301s.

She doesn’t have the fold down extension bed….but there is something she has that I could just KISS this inventor for – this is the first of my “OLD” singers to have FRONT NEEDLE THREADING. The 301’s are great – but their bobbins are small ((The same size as a featherweight)) and they are off to the left under the bed, just like on a featherweight – which means they threaded with the needle facing sideways.

With the 404 – I don’t have to lay my head down on the table to see to thread the needle sideways. HUGE GREAT INVENTION! And because the 404A is a slant needle machine, that eye of the needle is so very visible when it comes to threading.

There were a lot of machines through the 50s that still threaded sideways ---and I don’t know if this was one of the first of its kind that did thread from the front…..wouldn’t that be interesting to know how things progressed? Probably too many DHs coming home at the end of the day to find their wives with their heads flat on the table trying to see to thread a needle from the side… ;c)

She’s also got a drop FRONT bobbin – where on the Singer Spartan and some of the others, that drop bobbin is on the left side of the needle.

This presents a problem with using a seam guide because every time you have to CHANGE a bobbin – you have to move your guide and the bobbin cover. For this reason I generally don’t like front drop bobbin machines.

I’m a seam guide user. I don’t like the FOOT to have a guide, but I like a guide on my machine bed….so this is what I came up with:

jubilee 043

I scored a 1/2” line across a hotel room key by using a ruler and a rotary cutter with a paper ((dull!)) blade in it and snapped it off.

((Remember my visit to the Craddock Terry in Lynchburg, VA HERE? :cD))

I cut a 1/2” piece of that Scotch removable mounting strip stuff that Mary told us about HERE! 

I carefully stuck the strip of Scotch removable mounting strip to the strip of hotel key card--cut it in half, placed both pieces 1/4” from the needle and voila! The piece of room card stays stuck and doesn’t peel up like the cellophane on the mounting strip, and it adds extra thickness to the mounting strip guide so the fabric rides up against it easily.

jubilee 044

I can now slide my bobbin cover plate from in FRONT of the needle without having to replace my seam guide. This girl is hummin’! I like to have my guide go all the way behind the foot –it helps me feed the fabric straight through the machine and past the needle. You can only do that on a machine that doesn’t have wide feed dogs. This machine is straight stitch only, so there are no feed dogs in the way.

*NOTE!*  If you are sewing on a zig zag machine, you can NOT cover up the feed dogs with the seam guide.  You will place your guild in FRONT of the presser foot, and up to the feed dogs, but NOT covering them!

jubilee 047

Two more blocks to go to get caught up – I’m off to do those now!

I know it’s crazy to love so many machines ---they DO each have their own personalities, their motor or gear sounds ((Norma Jean is gear driven, just like the 301’s are)) and it takes less than 5 minutes to swap them out and give them a run. The best way to keep a machine happy is to keep it running, just the same way you’d run a car if it was parked in your garage for a long time ---when was the last time you pulled YOUR backup machine out for a test drive?


  1. What a great idea!! I love the block too!

  2. I learned how to sew on a 404. It was my moms, her mother gifted it to her, I think she paid about 100.00 for it, used, in 1967. I loved that machine too. I asked for it a few years ago, as I knew my mom wasn't using it and I found out the cleaning lady had put it out on the curb for trash day. ARGH! The reasoning being that "who would want to sew with that old thing?" (It didn't sit there very long, I hope the person who found it appreciates it) I found one on Ebay and got it cleaned up and running like a top in no time. They really are strong machines, my mother recalls sewing car upholstery with hers back in the day. Thanks for sharing the seam guide tip! I will try it, I'm sure I can find a gift card or room key around here somewhere.


    from MJB1@cox.net (Judy from NInigret Quilters, RI)\
    Could you please tell me where you got the lamp. I need one like that. As soon as my string quilt is bordered, Elvia and I will send you a snapshot. It was such fun!

    1. I can answer that. IKEA. (I typed 'lamp' in the search box at the top left of the page; Bonnie did a whole blog entry about them).

  4. Anonymous3:36 PM EDT

    Hello Bonnie, can you tell me about the little black lamp?
    Marcia de Aguiar
    Tulare, CA

  5. This is a BRILLIANT idea!! Thanks!!

    Lori in VA

  6. Brenda Randell3:51 PM EDT

    Me too Bonnie more info on that little black light. I just my 221K Featherweight her name is Stella! She's so awesome and I love sewing on her. I noticed you had an extension table. Do they make those for our Featherweights? That would be totally awesome.
    Btw I just love the colors you are using and also I notice you use a lot of cheddar color. Do you buy this in bulk? Would you be willing to share where?

    Thanks for each and every quilt pattern and book they are just as awesome

  7. Anonymous3:54 PM EDT

    While you were busy creating I was ooohing and ahhing at the quilt show at the "Peaceful Gathering Quilt Shop" in Fox River Grove, Il. Oh to have had a camera with me they were all awesome, but the one that really caught my eye was a hexagon star. This top had been passed down thru the generations and finally quilted and finished by the Great-Granddaughter of the lady who started it in the 1800's. The basic colors were pink and blue, the fabrics were all prints. You would have loved it, the GGD finished it with hand quilting. So very special and to think the family recognized the importance of keeping it. Lynda Maram, Chicago

  8. Thanks for the advice re: using the old machines. I was given a beautiful old coffin-top machine and got her running, but have only been admiring her when I should have been giving her a workout. I'm taking my featherweights in for service today & will get Aunt Becky out for a spin.

  9. Carol R.4:33 PM EDT

    Just a hint, Bonnie (and others that have to thread the needle from the side)- you can use a needle threader that is normally used for hand sewing needles - it makes it so much easier.

  10. Anonymous5:19 PM EDT

    I have a Singer 401A. This tip for a guide is a great one. I love this machine. My mom had one and then when I took home economics [remember when that was required in high school for girls? boys took shop] these were the same machines in class. Lots of cams and different stitches and easy and fun to sew with. I need to get her plugged in and sew some. This old machine is my go-to for heavy duty sewing.

  11. Love your machine - I love ALL of your machines - and I know what you mean about them having their own personalities. I only have three machines - but they are totally different - just like kids - ;))

    And I know that you refer to Randy's sampler quilt as your "Jubilee" quilt - but I think that your "Jubilee" quilt should be the hexie one - it is TRULY special - and one-of-a-kind. Everybody and their brother/sister is making the sampler quilt. Just my two cents - ;))

  12. Thanks for the tip on running older machines. I recently set up my Mom's 60+ year-old, but I haven't run it yet. It had just been serviced and was working fine when she gave it to me many years ago. Hope that is still the case!

  13. Anonymous7:29 PM EDT

    A little tip on threading your needle, Bonnie. A foot I have for a front threading machine has a small piece of white "paper" or some such attached just behind where the needle in on the flat surface...this helps me see the hole in the needle to thread it. How about holding a piece of white paper behind your "side mount" needle, so you can see the hole better...worth a shot.
    Love the machine and the block.
    Faye in Maine

  14. I have a 401A. It is also slant needle with drop in bobbin. It was my grandmothers machine. It has a bunch of fancy stitches though. The only one it doesn't have and I wish it did is a blanket stitch for applique. I use a 1/4 inch "Little Foot" for the slant needle and it has a white leg part so I can lower my presser foot and the white part is there right behind the hole in the needle and makes it so easy to thread.

  15. Great idea to use the plastic strip...what a timely question as just last weekend I pulled my back-up machine (my 29 year old Janome so not even close in age to your gorgeous girls) out of the cupboard after a good couple of years or so and gave her a whirl...she just, well, sewed...no complaining, no whingeing, just got on with it...wish I had the space for a collection, so much fun to sew on different machines...

  16. Nobody thinks it's crazy collect old cars so if sewing machines are like cars it can't be crazy to collect them !

  17. Anonymous9:40 PM EDT

    hi bonnie, this is judy who met you in maine while i was on vacation and you were doing a weekend at Rangley Maine, not sure if you remember me but i have followed your blog since and have enjoyed it every evening....i do need to ask you what kind of sewing machine extension table you have....i know you mentioned the make and where to get one but i lost the info....sorry...and i'm also interested what size you bought....thank for the info again....my email is:philandunice@netzero.net looking forward to hearing from you...judy

  18. Anonymous10:10 PM EDT


    I have a question about binding a quilt. I slip stitch mine on the back with the binding towards me. When I see your videos on binding it looks like your binding is away from you and the quilt is in your lap. Do you sew a different stitch when binding. Started reading your blog this summer and it is great. Love your side trips and walks. email is Maris4870@aol.com

  19. I reallly like the lamp you're using. Do you remember where you found it??? Like that it's small and electric rather than battery operated.


  20. What a good idea with the key card, Bonnie! I've been using a stack of tape but it does eventually get soft along the edge. I'm thinking a piece of an old credit card will work for me.

  21. I love the look of that sewing machine...so sleek and industrial. I think the designers call that look "atomic age"!
    Thank you for the tips, and for nagging us to use our old machines. I have some I have never used...shame on me.

  22. Anonymous5:37 PM EDT

    Thanks to Nancy I found the answer to my question. I typed "binding" in the "search" box which took me to the blogs where Bonnie gave instructions for all you need to know about binding. She showed the binding stitch and how she hold her quilts. Maris

  23. I am new to your blog. But I have to tell you that I love it! You are so productive Nd positive. Sorry that someone had to be a poop about your Quilt Cam. People can be so small. Please don't let that take away from your great energy! Those that don't want to look at it don't have to. I'm looking forward to the next one! Thanks for making this fun site!

  24. You really do such a great job educating us about all things quilty! I really learn tons not just about seam guides, fabric, re-purposing,and quilting but about machines and the history of sewing as well. You are a born teacher Bonnie--THANK YOU!

  25. Me encanta, estoy aprendiendo un montón sobre máquinas de coser. En mi casa siempre ha habido y mantengo la que cosía mi madre (su profesión era sastre, y se dedicaba a hacer sobre todo pantalones), ella utilizada una Singer de aproximadamente 1900, que ya era de mi abuela, la mantengo pero no la uso, es dificil encontrar ningún repuesto, así qie muevo con las mas modernas, y eso no quiere decir que sean las mejores. Gracias por enseñarnos tanto.

  26. what is the name of the jubilee block in the picture. I love it. I want to do something with my cheddar fabric (not bow ties). Love the new machine! I'm so jealous. My treadle is used for my end table.

    Jane Martyn
    Greenville Tx

  27. I feel into looking for a 301 after seeing your comments about sewing on a 301. I woul dlike another presser foot (back up you know) any ideas on where to locate one? great to see you in Cartersville!

  28. What a fantastic idea for a DIY seam guide! Someone on the Yahoo! Featherweight forum referred me to your site for this tip. I was using low-tack tape meant for marking lines on acrylic rulers, but it kept peeling up at the front edge as I was piecing. I hope they didn't charge you for that "lost" hotel room key. Ahem. ;-)

  29. Wow! Thanks for this.... you have inspired me to get my mom's 15-88 Singer treadle out and get it working..... saw you seam guide on another image and wondered about how to do this.... this is perfect..... I love working on the treadle again....makes me feel close to my mom who has been gone for 20 years now.... plus... I intend on teaching my niece the joy of working on a treadle!!!

  30. Wow! Thanks for this.... you have inspired me to get my mom's 15-88 Singer treadle out and get it working..... saw you seam guide on another image and wondered about how to do this.... this is perfect..... I love working on the treadle again....makes me feel close to my mom who has been gone for 20 years now.... plus... I intend on teaching my niece the joy of working on a treadle!!!

  31. Oh yippee! This saves me from buying that special foot that costs too much.

  32. Thanks for the wonderful tip on how to do this instead of just using the little metal gauge. It helps to keep the stitching line straight for me.

  33. Anonymous1:06 AM EST

    I have a small Janome, a Bigger, better Janome, a small Brother, a Project Runway Brother, A small 505 Babylock and a 1926 Singer Treadle...Love them all! Now I want a 404A...see what you went did now Bonnie!

  34. That's the machine I started out on, and used it for years and years.. I think Ma (she's 87) bought hers new when they came out... I loved old Faline..

  35. Yet another good idea for a seam guide. It's perfect for that machine. Is it the mounting strip added to the plastic card keeping the guide elevated what you like about it? I personally like a raised guide as well. Between the peeling of the plain masking or painter's tape & the fact that the fabric can slip right over it, I didn't have luck with my starter machine. My upgraded Pfaff has an excellent 1/4 inch foot, really measuring the 1/4 inch and a raised side to keep the fabric in place....I'm golden now....great idea.

  36. Hi ! i have not sewn since i was in high school so it would be well over 45 years since. i bought my first ever sewing machine July 31st 2014.. and boy has it taken me places i never thought i would go .. and i am soooo loving it.. i then bought an old Kenmore.. not sure how old.. but i liked her and she works hard.. then my heart was set on an old 99k i fell in love with.. her name is Olive and wow her stitches were awesome.. and ahhhhh since then.. well, i heard that quilters covet their featherweight machines.. soo i went on the hunt and found a 221 for $250.00 i am sewing with her now.. oh my goodness ! i don't want to sew on anything else right now.. sooo doing the MQ with her.. her name is Gypsy.. :) 1959 but i must say.. Olive is doing all the quilting for me.. she is just awesome that way ! Thanks for all you do.. still have soooooo much to learn about taking good care of Olive and Gypsy..

  37. Bonnie, your Norma Jean is the same machine I learned to sew on. My mom purchased it in 1958, when I was just 2 yrs old. Before I learned to use it, mom made me and my sisters many outfits, starting with short sets Does yous have the cams? I remember all the little designs mom added on our shorts, using those cams. I had the machine for years but gave it to my daughter. Now she and my granddaughter are sewing on it.

  38. I have that same sewing machine! I bought mine at a barn sale about 8 years ago. Thank you for the tip on a seam guide... I am a bad judge at guessing distance. :) First time to view your blog and now interested to see the rest.


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