Join Janet on her adventures as a designer, writer, maker, and farmer in montana. no two days are ever the same. you might even see a bear or two.

Efficiency Expert

Efficiency Expert

I was a voracious reader as a child. I am less voracious as an adult, mainly because my standards are so high that I consider 85% of what’s out there to be pretty awful. When I find an author I like, chances are that I’ll read anything they publish.

[That’s no guarantee, obviously—I am reading the third in a series of books about a midwife in West Virginia in the 30s and 40s. The first two books in the series were stellar, as was another, more contemporary novel. This third book is, frankly, so awful that I have no idea how it got published. The dialogue is stilted, the story is contrived, and much of it sounds like an excuse to air the author’s political grievances. I am not sure I’ll finish it because it’s such a disappointment.]

Anyway…I used to read anything I could get my hands on, including a book entitled Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, published in 1948. The novel recounts the authors' childhood lives growing up in a household of 12 children. Their father was something of an efficiency expert and everything from chores to bedtime routines to meals were set up to be as streamlined as possible. (I would imagine that would be necessary with 12 children anyway.) That book must have had an impact on me, because I’ve thought about it many times over the years. And I hate inefficiency of any kind.

I’m still bogged down in the quagmire of product development with regard to these canvas grocery bags. The first issue I ran into, a couple of weeks ago, was testing the industrial serger with the canvas and size 90/14 needles. When I got the machine, it was set up for serging quilting cottons, as that is what the lady who owned it previously used it for. I know that the machine is capable of handling canvas. This subclass of serger, labelled FF6, can take up to a 110/18 needle. I was having problems with the chain stitch, however, which is made with two threads: the one in the left needle and the chain looper underneath. Every so often, the chain would skip a couple of stitches, like this:


The skipping happened randomly, with no pattern, which made tracking it down that much more difficult. The chain stitch serves as the seam, so it needs to be solid. Any skipped stitches introduce the possibility of failure at that point, and I don’t want these bags to fail while they are full of groceries.

I changed the needle. I changed the thread. I tried every combination of thread I could think of. I spent one entire morning a few weeks ago chasing down this problem. Thinking I still didn’t have the correct thread, I ordered serger thread from Wawak. (This is really nice stuff and I’ll likely order more when I use up the thread I have currently.) This morning, I sat down at the serger to try again. The new thread appeared to work well on the samples I ran through the machine (test, test, test), but as soon as I put a bag through the serger, I started getting skipped stitches again. I put thread nets on the cones thinking I may have been getting backlash. Finally, I looked at the pressure foot pressure regulator and noticed it was out a ways. The presser foot felt plenty tight to me against the canvas, but I found a tiny note in the manual stating that if the presser foot pressure was too loose, the chain stitches might not form properly. I tightened the pressure. That appears to have solved the problem, at least on the two bags I’ve worked on so far.

What I’ve really been trying to do—but repeatedly getting sidetracked by this stitch problem—is to figure out an efficient workflow. I know how to make these bags solely on a sewing machine, but now I am introducing the serger into the equation. There are several tasks to complete, including seaming the exterior pieces of the bag, topstitching, boxing the bottom, making the lining, then assembling the bag. Obviously, I am not going to make the bags one at a time. I have about two dozen bags cut out, so it makes the most sense to seam a stack of exterior pieces on the serger, take them to my office and topstitch them on the Necchi industrial (sorted by color to minimize the need to change topstitching thread), then take them back to the serger and assemble the exteriors. The linings can all be done on the domestic serger, although I have to figure out the exact dimensions of the linings based on the 3/8” seam I get on the serger. (I’ve gone way off script from the original pattern I started out using.) The completed linings and bags can be assembled on the Necchi industrial.

The workflow sounds reasonable, in theory. In practice, it’s a bit cumbersome. The industrial serger is downstairs and the Necchi industrial is here in my office off the kitchen. While I don’t mind the exercise, going up and down the steps is not very efficient. It would be nice if I could have everything on the same floor. That’s probably not going to happen for a while yet. At some point, when the new shop is done, I’ll move some of my machinery out to the old garage, but the new shop is a long-term project.

[The husband has a huge air compressor in the garage. It is taller than I am. It also exhausts itself, very loudly, every 10 minutes. (I can hear it in the house.) If you happen to be standing in the garage—say, if you’re about to get into your car which is three feet from the compressor—and the compressor exhaust goes off, you may suffer sudden cardiac arrest from surprise. When I remember, I will wait for it to exhaust before I go out to the garage, but I can’t always time it properly. I hate that thing with a passion. It will be a joyful day when it gets moved to the new shop.]

I am hoping that I’m close to production. It would be nice to be able to bang out a couple dozen bags on those days, like today, when it’s cold and rainy and I can’t work in the garden. I’ve got people asking for them, so I’d like to have some available for sale.


I’ve got my supplies assembled to take with me to the Angela Walters quilting class. As I was gathering things, I was doing an informal comparison of supply lists from professional instructors and local quilt stores, and noting that the supply list for this class is incredibly thorough and detailed, right down to the recommended size of thread and needle. That’s been very helpful. I had to make up half a dozen fat quarter-sized quilt sandwiches to practice on and was able to use up some scraps of batting. I’m looking forward to the class.

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