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You may recall, I made Mr. AFS a plaid flannel shirt a little over a year ago from Simplicity 1544. Since then I’ve gone on to make more versions of the shirt, perfecting fitting problems each time and so this iteration is pretty much near perfect for his body and build. Additionally, he wears that first flannel shirt a lot when it starts getting cold. In fact, it’s surprising just how much he wears it considering he doesn’t like plaid – it’s the flannel. He just loves the warmth. So I thought it was time that he received another. I hauled him on over to a Joann and had him pick out his own flannel this time. They have a surprising collection of flannels – called “plaiditudes” – that are quite thick and fluffy and soft. They wash up OK (just OK, not great) too and since I can’t get my hands on any of that Robert Kaufman Mammoth Flannel locally, this works.

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Fitting changes for Simplicity 1544 since the first iteration: I’ve had to widen the collar – or make it 2 sizes larger because the original was too small in the neck. I narrowed the shoulder seam so that the point where the sleeve connects rests at the point where his shoulder point actually is and doesn’t droop over the side (which is not necessarily a bad thing, just not the look I was going for). Had to give him a little extra room in the upper back and then nipped in the waist section a touch. The sleeves were considerably shortened (very long in the sleeve on this pattern) and the cuff tightened.

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Since this flannel is so wonderfully thick, I thought I should try my hand at a convertible collar version for this shirt as it seemed like it could cut down on the bulk in the neck area. I took a vintage pj top pattern (which I made for Mr. AFS a few years ago!) and stole the collar and the facing piece from it and converted my Simplicity 1544 to have a convertible collar option. From there, I made a few more drafting decisions based on eliminating bulk. I decided to create an all-in-one convertible collar and I did a fold over facing instead of one that is stitched on. The all-in-one convertible collar is pretty slick. It’s an idea that I saw Louise Cutting do (Threads article here) and I’ve long wanted to try it because I love basically everything that woman does. You basically take the collar piece, eliminate the seam at the collar’s edge and attach an under collar that has a seam down the center back of the collar. It has all the bells and whistles of a jacket collar, but all in one – the under collar section is on a slight bias (not a true 45• angle, but still) and has a seam down the center and that creates a nice turn of the cloth for the upper collar. Seriously, slick.

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I stole a new pocket pattern from the Negroni free download – great pocket patterns by the way! – and from there it was all easy as pie. This is also one of my best ever plaid matching jobs. I opted to use Tasia’s way of cutting plaids this time – well sort of. I prep my pattern pieces a little differently for a plaid, but I used her pinning technique for the fabric. I’ve normally done the pieces one by one. I’ll lay a just cut piece on top of another that’s not cut to make sure I get an exact match and pretty much 100% of the time, the cut piece gets distorted just by moving it and/or the cutting is never as precise as doing them in double layer. It sounds a little crazy, but it happens. Cutting two layers at once eliminates that small distortion and can produce a more happy plaid matching experience. Just some food for thought.

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Mr. AFS is loving his new shirt. Fits quite a bit better than the first version and I’m liking the convertible collar here. Itching to make my own! Previously, I’ve not been much of a convertible collar fan, but they have a place. Yay for plaid flannel shirt weather!

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Handmade Holiday: Pillowcases

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When this time of year comes around, I’m always at a loss about whether or not I should make something for gifts for family and friends. I have really good intentions and well, you know what they say about that. This year, I happened upon an idea – pillowcases and thought I should share. I was doing some housecleaning and upkeep one weekend and noticed that the mister and I could use a new set of pillowcases. Instead of purchasing some from the store, I thought it would be easy enough to take some of my stash and make a set. It was easy, in fact and it was so easy that as I was cranking them out in the space of 30 minutes or so, I instantly thought these would make great gifts. The key feature for me being that these are very doable in a reasonably short timeframe and yet, they still add a nice handmade touch to your gift giving. Never thought my 7th grade home-ec project would turn into a gift giving idea – but I’m hooked now! Not to mention, I have to admit, sometimes it feels really really great to crank out an easy project and you can go a little crazy personalizing them for each family member or whom ever you are planning to give them to.

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Here’s what I did. I took an old pillowcase that I liked and measured the dimensions. Mine measured 38″ x 30″. I opted to add a 4″ contrast hem, so the dimensions I cut for the body of the pillowcase were 39″ x 27″ which included seam allowances of 1/2″. The contrasting hem was cut to 9″ x 39″ which also included seam allowances. I cut these so that only one of the long edges of the pillowcase had a seam – it was just easier.

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From here, all you have to do is sew up the bottom edge and side seam and seam finish them off. If you’ve don’t have a serger, a french seam would be very easy to do.

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For the contrast hem, I stitched the short ends together first and folded the long edges wrong sides together. Stitch to the raw edge of the pillowcase with right sides together, finish the seam and voila! Done!

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I added a triple stitch to the top to hold the contrast hem seam in place. You could do some fun stitches that you never use or keep it simple. I opted for a quilting cotton I had in my stash, which is an easy natural, fun and colorful choice. Seriously, these are so easy and look how exciting they are – something you definitely aren’t going to pick up at a department store!

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Additionally, these are easy enough to change up a little too and who said you only had to use quilting cotton? I made this gorgeous set for my mom from some silk jacquard with a silk satin contrast hem and then for my darling little nieces, I went wild with prints, added a ruffle edge and some contrasting trim. All the fabrics were from stash and the ones for my nieces were scrap fabric! The design elements are all up to you and how personal/economical/time consuming you want to make them.

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The more I think about it, the more I would love to receive a gift like this. So personal and functional – both things that I love! So if you’re in the hustle and bustle and are wondering what in the world you’re going to do for gifts this year, consider pillowcases! Enjoy friends!

Cutlery for Apparel Sewing

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Last week, when I shared some tool tips for beginners, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the arsenal of cutlery I’ve acquired over the years for various stages of the sewing process. I found that when it comes to the world of scissors, there is something that fits nearly every circumstance. There’s a lot of choices, which is great! Yay for choice!

You might be asking, “Why do I need more than one pair of scissors?” It’s a valid question and one that I asked too. As I’ve sewn more and more garments over the years, I’ve found the value of having lots of different types of scissors that work better than others do in different stages of the construction process. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure, but I’ve cut holes into garments from using the wrong scissors. It’s a cold compress moment. Tears are usually shed. Expletives start flying. It’s not pretty.

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Let’s start with the old standbys. My fabric cutting shears. I have three pairs of these. I have a pair of Kai’s that are great for most everything. They could slice through steel I tell ya! I also have a pair of spring-loaded Gingher’s that I use only on silk fabrics. I end up working a lot with wool and a lot with silk and I’ve found that wool actually dulls my shears a little, so I opted to invest in a pair that was only for silks and/or thin fabrics like lining so that I wouldn’t have to get them sharpened as often. I also have a pair of Gingher serrated shears that are marvelous for those extra, extra tricksy slippery fabrics. The knife edge has tiny micro serrations in it and they grip the fabric and then slice and they are ideal for silk charmeuse or chiffon.

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My next most used pairs of scissors are my nippers. They are a Gingher pair, but I’ve used others with success too. I use nippers for cutting threads and they stay right next to my sewing machine while I sew. I have tried to get used to the thread cutter on my machine, but I like the ritual of using my nippers. It’s a funny little preference as I do love speed, but it’s something I do.

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My tailor points come next (on the right above). These are a little 5 inch pair of Gingher scissors that I use all the time for clipping, trimming and grading. They are probably my favorite pair, I use them so much! The short length helps protect against the dreaded slice into the garment. Mainely Dad also recommends bandage scissors that help protect against that sort of thing even more! I’ve yet to try a pair, but my mister also agrees with as he’s worked in a hospital using these. Look, these ones are serrated! I use these Gingher Applique Scissors (on the left above) for narrow hems, like say on a circle skirt. Surprisingly that’s about the only thing I use these for, but I do find them very useful in that instance. They are handy to have around when you need to get nice and close to an edge.

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Last, but not least, I do have a pair of Gingher pinkers. I’ve seen these used as a seam finish, but I use them for trimming curved seams. You know how you’re supposed to notch or clip curved seams so they lay right? I use pinkers instead and trim the seam to about 1/4″. Granted this is only on enclosed seams, but they are very useful for this purpose.

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Back a few years ago, I made a little peg board especially for my shears (and then from there I added other items to it too). It’s very handy as all my scissors are hanging up and out of the way and they are easy to access when I need them. Took an old picture frame from a thrift shop and had some peg board precut to the right dimensions and voila – instant scissor hanger!

There’s my arsenal of scissors. I don’t use much in the way of a rotary cutter – though I have two for odd jobs. I’m a shears and scissors lover. What about you? Are there special scissors that really help you? Or do you use a rotary cutter? Thoughts on the best ones you’ve tried? We’d all love to know!

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linton-tweed-3Fall has lasted forever here, but winter is just around the corner and with it holiday time! Is it just me or do the dresses that come out around this time of year shock you? What I’m talking about is the fact that there seems to be an awful lot of dresses that flood the market for the “holidays” and they are more often than not, wispy little things, sleeveless and well, they look like you could catch a death of cold in them! It’s something that I think about every year when this part of the year rolls around. “Gosh that’s a pretty dress, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in it in this weather” as I look outside and see snow falling. Granted I live in a state where the snow does fly and it can get pretty cold. And in general, I get cold and I’m always bundled up to the nines and in something much more dreadfully boring than those fun holiday dresses.

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Anyhow, I was thinking about all of this when the idea hit me that I needed more winter friendly dresses. I got myself over to a local chain fabric store on my lunch hour one day and started gandering at the Newlook book. I don’t know why, but I always overlook the Newlook and Kwik Sew patterns. Newlook has some pretty great patterns though. I found several dress patterns that had fun necklines and yet seemed like a quick sewing fix. That’s what this Newlook 6144 (out of print now!) was and I knew it would be a perfect addition to the winter dress library.

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This dress was also work appropriate. This is something I’ve been rolling around in the old noggin for a while now and I’ll be doing more posts about, but work appropriate clothes can sometimes be pretty hard to accomplish. Well, they are for me. I’m wanting to look a certain, professional, yet fun, exciting and stylish way and the two get sort of blended together in a way that doesn’t always work for me. More on that to come.

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I decided to use a stash piece of fabric. All of the fabric was stash, actually (yay! I’m so proud of myself!). I was determined to use stash! The body is Linton Tweed and it is pretty thick. Quite thick really, and warm – perfect for snowy days. The sleeves are a navy wool crepe I had and then I lined the dress in bemberg rayon lining – some bits and bobs that I had lying around so that I could get the pieces used up. I used an invisible zip and used a lining treatment for the vent that comes from my favorite Easy Guide to Sewing Linings book.

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The tweed was marvelous to work with. It did what I wanted it to do and was very easy to press and shape. I had purchased this fabric a couple of years ago, from their pretty fantastic online store. To be honest, if you’re into fine fabrics much, the prices for these tweeds are not really as much as I was anticipating they would be – I mean don’t get me wrong, they are expensive. I’ve seen them range from $25 – $75 per meter which seems standard when you’re looking at fine unique wools. The shipping is fairly costly, but I remember I received my package within 3 days!

I took the time to do plaid matching and was very happy with the way my Pfaff stitched it together using that Integrated Dual Feed! I used the lining trick from this Threads article (same lady who wrote Easy Guide to Sewing Linings) and it’s one of my favorite techniques to use with facings. I opted for a more conservative fabric belt and belt loops instead of the OBI belt that came with the pattern. I handstitched the hem and used rayon seam binding for hem tape as a final finishing touch.

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All in all, this dress turned out pretty great. The fitting was fairly simple, the construction too and I’m thrilled that I have an appropriate winter dress for the workplace – if not a little party get together after! I’m so glad it’s warm – like winter coat warm! Yay! Ready or not Winter, here I come!

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What do you do to keep warm in the winter? How do you work around the holiday dresses that flood the market this time of year and seem ill equipped to deal with winter weather? Is it just me? I just don’t know how you wear a sleeveless wispy dress in the snow. Last, but not least, visit my Kollabora page for a full detailed review of this dress.

Sewing Secrets: Tools for Beginners

I recently wrapped up teaching a Beginner Sewing Class at my local university and it gave me a ton of ideas on my favorite tools for beginning sewists. It’s nice to know that there are things out there that others have tried and think you should try to (because they are just better and make your sewing experience easier). So here goes – please chime in, in the comments with your tips on your favorite tools:

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Glass head silk pins. My favorites are put out by Clover and red and white heads. Why are these a thing? The heads make life so much easier. You can grab them and jab them into anything without hurting your fingers (hello awful headless pins!). And I say silk pins because as a beginner you may not know that there are many many different types of pins. Silk pins or they are sometimes called sharps, basically pin into anything because they are extra sharp and fine for pinning into silk. The Clover ones aren’t too long, they don’t bend too easily, you can use them in knits (which can be hard to pin sometimes) and when you iron over them, the heads don’t melt. So worth it.

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Magnetic pincushion. I’m a serious Clover crusher and my favorite is again, put out by Clover. It’s the Magnetic Pin Caddy and the magnet is nice and strong. I know it’s incredibly tempting to use a really cute old fashioned stuffed pincushion. The magnetic ones are not as cute, I’ll grant you. But what they lack in aesthetic, they more than make up for in ease of use. Get one of these and you won’t have to worry about your pins being strewn all over your workspace and pushed onto the floor where you might find one stuck in your foot later. Just sayin is all. These make sewing way, way faster.

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A good pair of shears/scissors. Or a good quality rotary cutter – whichever you prefer for cutting. I use a pair of Kai shears that I love to death. But being the sewist that I am, I have several pairs of Ginghers too and both are great scissor options. Invest in a pair and when they get a little dull, go get them sharpened. A good pair of shears will last you the rest of your sewing days – as long as you don’t go and cut rocks with them! Same with a good rotary cutter. I have a Kai for that too and I haven’t needed to change the blade in 3 years – it’s seriously that awesome!

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Good thread. It’s a small thing, but good thread is a must. This is what holds your garment together! You really do get what you pay for and if you buy cheap thread, chances are high that it’s crap thread too. And please – do not use your grandmother’s hand me down thread! Thread has a shelf life because it can rot. My favorite thread is Metrosene all purpose polyester thread, but Gutermann and Coats and Clark also put out great threads and these are all pretty easy to get your hands on at either Joann or Hancock. Don’t do the discount thread. It’s discounted for a reason.

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Invest in a nice set of hand sewing needles. I love these self-threading Clover ones. You hold a piece of thread over the top, click the thread into place and voila! the needle is easily threaded. Seriously, these are marvelous. They come in a handy set of lengths and weights and make easy work of hand sewing. Especially if you’re prone to continually de-threading your needle while you’re sewing.

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Change out your machine needle after every two or three projects, and/or change it out according to the needs of your fabric. There are different sized needles out there for your machine and it’s worth changing out often. My favorites are the microtex or sharps needles put out by Schmetz or a company called Klasse. These guys are extra sharp and work wonderfully on the majority of fabrics.

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Last, but not least, get yourself a good iron. My best tip is to get a vintage steam iron. General Electric ones are grand (got mine off ebay, but etsy is a good place to look too). I work with one of these and have done so for the past 3 years. My guy has never given me fit, is hotter than you can even imagine (oh la la), always has steam for me, does not have auto-off (which is great if you’re a sewer) and is heavy. Good grief, I wish he was my boyfriend! I love my iron!

So what are your favorite tools? Was there a specific tool when you started sewing that was the best thing since sliced bread? Do share!

Custom Sewing – Strikes Dread into the Hearts of Many

Good grief. It all started with the word yes. Yes to a custom sewing job for a coworker. Now, I’m not saying that I dislike this coworker (quite the contrary) or that this project wasn’t a worthy one (it was a good challenge). I’m saying it’s me, not you and I’m so rotten when it comes to doling out my time for custom sewing. Man, I’m so bad.

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It’s a classic story. One that involves a mother-of-the-groom, a bride with a very specific color scheme and no getting out of a full-on peach dress. Add in the drama that not a lot of options come in this color as far as evening wear is concerned and we have a recipe for custom sewing. Ah yes. I’ve heard this story before – a lot. Especially when I owned a fabric shop. There are days when I think it would be marvelous to start a business based around this very problem – oh and the fact that older women get the shaft when it comes to clothing (apparently the media and society think we’re all dead or should be after age 40).

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This coworker asked me to do this dress and I do think it turned out pretty nice. She’s petite and she can definitely pull off this cute style – looks totally her! But I was strapped for time (my own fault) and this dress was cranked out over my Halloween weekend and it would be nice if I allowed myself time off when I have time off (again, my own damn fault – no fault of anyone else’s which is even worse!). Then again, it would be nice if my mouth could utter the word “no” with such sly cleverness that it felt like I was saying “yes” to the person I was talking to. Alas, such is the plight of the girl who just can’t say “no.”

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There were things that made it worse too. After I said yes, I also said yes to chiffon, which is the overlay to the skirt portion of the dress. OK, actually I mentioned that the chiffon would be nice for texture (just call me dumb). Ugh. You know what I’m talking about. You know. If you’re thinking this dress and jacket look like a one trick pony, think again – it’s all polyester, which if I do say so myself, can be a bear to press. And I’ve never actually sewn a bolero jacket, which though not hard, is making me question a few of my construction choices right now.

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It reminded me that when you sew, you do a lot of work. If you’re sewing for yourself right now, you’re probably forgetting that:

  • You had to select a style, which involved getting a pattern from somewhere
  • You had to select the fabric, which involved getting the fabric from somewhere
  • You needed notions for your project – thread, zipper, buttons, interfacing, again, all those coming from somewhere
  • You probably did a muslin/test garment to see where the fitting problems were
  • Then you had to fix your pattern, do fitting adjustments
  • Somewhere in here, you probably pre-treated your fabric
  • Next was cutting – which can be a two hour ordeal depending on the project
  • Construction takes a good long time, especially when you have to figure out how your going to line this or that and all of this requires forethought, experience and sometimes pattern manipulation and making new pattern pieces
  • Remember why you bought that serger? Not just to look pretty, that’s for sure, to say nothing of the investment of both a serger and a decent sewing machine. PS ~ serger threads aren’t cheap
  • Let’s not forget pressing with a decent iron as we go
  • Oh and pressing tools. Oh my! Let’s see, tailor’s ham, seam roll, clapper, sleeve board, tailor board were all used in the making of this garment
  • Fitting as you sew – I know it’s weird but the muslin doesn’t fix everything!

Seems like an awful lot to me. I mean, when the project is for me, I LOVE it and it’s so satisfying. And even when it’s for loved ones – and I picked the pattern and fabric because well, I’m picky – then I love that too. But this was different. I’m glad this turned out well, I was paid and I’m so happy she liked it (yay!) but I have to admit, it’s hard to dole out my time for this. I think my own personal frustration is that I completely forgot how much time it takes to sew this type of project, especially when you’re keeping track of all the hours and I never do that when I sew for myself. Additionally, I have a hard time sewing items that don’t have a likelihood of being worn more than once, twice or even a dozen times. I’m kind of hard core about constructing clothes you can wear in the everyday – it’s like my daily mantra. There’s also the worry that the customer won’t end up liking the end result, even though they picked everything and you just made it up for them. Or even the fitting – I mean after the muslin I try on as I go and pin out here and there and I don’t have the luxury of doing that when it’s custom. Gosh, so much anxiety here! Just call me a ball of nerves.

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I think the word no will start coming a lot easier and that part where I tell everyone I sew will start getting a lot quieter. What about you? Do you like custom sewing? How do you stomach it? How do you say no? I know there are lots of sewing enthusiasts out there who love custom. Are you one of them? Why do you like it?

Credits: Duchess Satin, Chiffon & Stretch Lining; BurdaStyle 7798 for the dress and Vogue 8957 for the jacket.

Sewing Machine Thoughts

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I’ve been a Bernina lover for a long time and I still am. I own a little Bernina Activa 230 and that machine has seen me through thick and thin, literally. Honestly, I didn’t even know how much I loved that machine until I started trying others and working on machines that students would bring to classes I taught. Not trying to bag on any machine, but wow, I noticed a world of difference. Machines that wouldn’t even sew through a certain thickness of fabric (like 2 layers of wool), had crummy, crummy tension problems, made frightful buttonholes, tears started flying when the word “zipper” was mentioned – things I’ve never really dealt with coming from my experience with my Bernina.

Then I decided that I was interested in doing a collaboration with a sewing machine company. There are a lot of reasons why, but let’s just say that I was interested. I did ask Bernina and never got a response. So I looked elsewhere. I had worked on a couple of Pfaffs that students had brought into some of my classes, and I was impressed with their simplicity and ease of use and so I thought I would ask Pfaff if they were interested. And they were. We all got to talking and emailing and we made a deal and by August of this year or so, I had a shiny new Pfaff Performance 5.0 in my possession.

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For what it’s worth, and since I’ve had some time to get used to my new machine I thought I would go ahead and give an honest review of my experience with it and what I think. Coming from my great experience with my Bernina, I thought this might be a helpful review if you’re in the market for something new. There’s more than one fish in the sea, it seems.

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Let’s start with this. Not only do I love Berninas now, but I passionately love Pfaffs. This machine is marvelous to work with. Again, I have the Pfaff Performance 5.0. This machine has a beautiful stitch. Perfect tension. Truly, perfect. And the great part is, it is perfect even when the fabric is really really thick, or if you’ve got a nice heavy topstitch thread plugged in (something my Bernina struggled with, but still did a passable job). I ALWAYS look at this sort of thing first. A big win there. This machine is a computerized machine, but the computer system is surprisingly easy to use. I say that dreading any kind of “getting used to” computer things on anything. The learning curve here is pretty intuitive. There were very few things that I couldn’t just figure out on my own and the simple manual that comes with this machine is helpful (and simplified – did I mention it’s simple?).

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There’s a crazy amount of stitches on this girl. As someone who doesn’t use that many to begin with, I was impressed and then more impressed to find that the stitches are pretty fun to use if and when you get the chance. The triple straight stitch is pretty amazing; my Bernina can’t hold a candle to it. There’s several really, really awesome buttonholes and I love the buttonhole foot that already calculates how big to make your buttonhole just by having a pre-specified size already programmed into the computer interface. I still have to measure the button and do a tester but, it’s a nice change to calculating the right size for my Bernina buttonhole (though my Bernina makes beautiful buttonholes too).

pfaff-love-7I’m loving the control I feel with this machine. The foot pedal is absolutely marvelous. You have so much control – it’s not just a race car right out of the gate. Still getting used to the knee lift (pictured above – no, that is not just some random crap shot of my dirty sewing room! ha ha!), but I’m beginning to love this more and more. It’s nice to have more free hands in various parts of the sewing process. I die over the free arm space. Feel like I could shove a quilt through that free arm. It’s that big! You can take the bed of the machine out and voila, instant sleeve bed. Love that.

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IDT is pretty amazing. I love that you can use it or not. Like when I’m putting in a sleeve, don’t want IDT. But when I’m stitching on a voile, chiffon or other lightweight fabric, this is a dream! No ripples (or lots fewer ripples) and the stitch is even. (IDT is short for Integrated Dual Feed and it’s Pfaff’s built in system for the foot and the feed dogs to feed the fabric evenly – like a walking foot, but without having to change the foot out). In the photo above, the IDT thing-a-ma-jig is that blackish foot at the back of the presser foot.

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My Pfaff came with a plethora of sewing machine feet. They are snap on – not my favorite, but I love the fact that they are more evenly priced and I’m loving the clear feet that I’ve got (how did I ever live without these before!). The invisible zipper foot is marvelous and so is the regular zipper foot – my favorite thus far out of all the machines I have ever used. The bobbin is topside. At first I was turned off by this, but the stitch is so marvelous I can’t complain. I love the old-school storage for feet and bobbins in the bed of the machine. Such a simple thing, but something that ticked for me.

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I think that about wraps it up. This machine is a goodie and I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Pfaff for it. There’s a crew of us over at the Sewing Party that are working with some fun machine brands and contributing to this site. Lots of good stuff going on over there! Really good stuff. Definitely check it out. And hey, if you’re in the market for a new machine, come this holiday season, get yourself over to a Pfaff dealer and give these guys a test run. Worth. every. cent. Just sayin. I’m giving the Pfaff Performance 5.0 a 5-star rating.