Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tra La!

I think that St. Anne is supposed to be the patron saint of seamstresses. If so, I owe her one. For today I was in the depths of despair and now, to quote Scrooge, "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man."

I did hardly any sewing last month so the Bricks & Cornerstones quilt, which was to be completed in May, is nowhere near done. But a few days ago I began sewing again hoping to at least finish all the blocks before packing up my machine for the next five to eight weeks. (I'm having foot surgery this Wednesday.) I was joining my matchstick units last night and finished about half before going to bed. This morning, after family duties were out of the way, I sat down to do the rest.

I hurriedly began stitching and then, noticing that I hadn't engaged the needle down function. I clicked on what I thought was the right button. Oops! The machine was now stitching backwards. Hastily, I cancelled the reverse function and jabbed on what I thought was the needle down button. Wrong again. The machine was now sewing a basting stitch which means that the needle only goes down to pierce the fabric every three or four stitches. Dang! I hastily canceled the the basting stitch and then found that the needle was now stuck in the up position. No matter what stitch I selected, the needle would not go down. And then it struck me -- I had been cursed by the Basting Stitch of Doom!

I don't know if the current Berninas have this quirk, but both my 1090 and my 1530 suffer from it. They have a lovely basting stitch, but if you don't use it regularly the needle will freeze in the up position. So it behooves you to do some basting at least once a month. That's easy for a garment sewer. But I'm primarily a quilter, so this preventive maintenance is all too easy to forget.

The last time this happened to me, I lived near an excellent Bernina technician who showed me a little trick for unsticking it. Unfortunately, I had forgotten it. All I could remember was that the tech's tip had something to do with gently pressing the needle clamp. Research on the Web turned up nothing except for the suggestion to run the machine for a while without a needle or thread -- which didn't work.

I am not the sort of person who enjoys experimentation. I want the security of detailed instructions that will tell me the Absolutely Right Way to do things. But finally, I screwed up my courage and began cautiously pressing different parts of the needle clamp.

Reader, it worked! (I will tell you what I did, but I must caution you that if you follow these directions, you do so at your own risk. I accept no responsibility for what might happen to anyone else's machine.)

Okay. You know that little screw that you must turn when you are changing a needle? (It's at the end of a little bar.) Place your finger on top of the bar and very gently press down. The needle assembly will lower very slightly. Have your machine set for a basting stitch and run the machine at a slow speed. The needle may or may not go down into a normal stitch. Stop and gently press the needle bar down again and then attempt to stitch. Repeat as needed. Eventually the needle will go down on its own. Remember, it's set for a basting stitch so it's only supposed to go down every fourth stitch. If it only goes down once and then gets stuck again, stop the machine, gently press the bar down, and then continue to stitch. After a while I switched to a regular straight stitch and found that the machine was sewing normally.

Hooray! I'm going to finish my blocks and any other stitching I need to do before Wednesday. Then I'll take the risk of trying the basting stitch again. Then I'll pack up the machine and put it away until I'm able to set foot to the floor again. (And I must kit up some hand sewing projects to work on during my convalescence.)