Thursday, July 7, 2016

Ellure Plus Embroidery Machine Unboxing!

Because we all like those nifty unboxing Youtube vids, 

don't we?

I've decided to take a page out of the many review sites that I putter through while trying to decide which gadget to buy next or what machine works best, and I've found them somewhat informative. At least a little, anyway.

Well, maybe my first unboxing was technically the awesome Evenheat kiln that my mom gave me, so we'll call this my next unboxing!

It all started with a request from my husband for a simple letter embroidery project for some tokens that we'll be using for the TrueDungeon event at GenCon. The project consisted of four black drawstring pouches with a character class name on them, which we'll cover in another blog post later. I pulled out the handy dandy Bernina, and found myself sorely bummed out.

Now, don't get me wrong - my used Bernina sewing machine (mentioned in this post) is an old workhorse that is in pretty awesome shape for its age. Its previous owner took excellent care of it, and it has plugged its way through every project I've thrown at it so far...until now.

One of the nicer features on the machine is the embroidery feature, which wasn't found on many machines at the time this one was manufactured. It has two fonts - a single line and an outline of letters, and no ability to adjust the size of the letters. The lettering also was unfortunately a bit small - too small for what we had in mind.

After a discussion with my husband and some browsing through the many options with Amazon, it was off to the local sewing store, B Sew Inn!

I cannot tell you how much different it is when you're trying to purchase a machine like this on your own, browsing through review sites and online stores, versus having an actual sitdown with a reputable sewing machine dealer. The sales rep we spoke with was polite, knowledgeable and patient, but what really impressed me was that she actually remembered me from the previous time I had come in to the store a couple years before while looking for a sewing machine (which led to my acquisition of the Bernina).

She didn't know my name since I didn't really give it to her, but after two years, she remembered that I had come in at one point, and even what I had been looking for at the time.Needless to say, we left the store after purchasing a Babylock Ellure Plus.
Babylock Ellure Plus - picture located here:

Most of the people who know me know that I'm a bit of a tightwad when it comes to supplies, but this was something I easily see being a long term investment. It was the service options that came with the machine that I was after, which consists of a three year gold service warranty that covers anything wrong with the machine by their in-house tech, as well as the manufacturer's ten year parts/five year electronics warranty. Much better than the basic warranties provided by an online vendor, plus with online vendors, any service required on the machine means you're paying for shipping to get it to the manufacturer.

Guess who's paying the shipping in most cases... make a long story short, here's the unboxing of my new shiny! Please excuse the lighting...

This machine isn't a lightweight, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It comes with a hard plastic cover, the machine itself, a flatbed embroidery table, and multiple accessories.

All in all, it probably ran around 20-25 pounds, though I'm not the best judge of weight. With the flatbed table attached, the weight does increase to probably closer to the 30 pound range.

On front of the machine there are numerous labels and numbers that act as a guide for some of the more used features, namely bobbin loading and threading the machine and needle. There is an example printed on front, so it's very easy to follow the instructions in order to set up the machine. This model can be used for either embroidery or sewing, so there are instructions in the manual and even on the digital display in the form of a tutorial to walk you through changing out the appropriate presser feet. Currently, the machine is set up with a standard sewing foot, so I'll have to change out the current one for the included embroidery foot, as seen to the left in the included "bits" box, as I call it.  The bits box includes multiple small tools, a trio of bobbins, and extra foot accessories. The box is removable from the machine, and can be removed in order to attach the embroidery table.

Yay for touchscreens!
The removable flatbed embroidery table
The "bits" box
The digital screen is well lit, and so far has been easy to navigate. It includes a touchscreen feature, which makes for faster machine setup. This machine does have multiple patterns already programmed into it, but more can be loaded via a USB cable or flash drive. The flatbed attaches without any screws or bolts to worry about - we'll cover its use during a later post.

The embroidery hoop
As for accessories, there are quite a few various bits to go through. I'm relatively new at this, so I can't specifically name them all, but I can point out that they have made sure to include a large embroidery hoop for mounting the fabric and stabilizer. 
Bits galore!

The sheer variety of freebies that were included was rather nice, in my opinion. Among the items included were a couple of sample spools of thread from Madeira - one of the preferred brands for embroidery thread, a spool of "bobbin fill" thread (yes, I had to look that one up...), a tool set that I assume is for maintaining the sewing machine, a presser foot lifter attachment that allows you to lift it by lifting your knee, a small pair of scissors, and a few other things.

Also included was a set of needles, as well as a "twin needle" which is used when making parallel seams.

I've discovered throughout this embroidery machine acquisition process so far that it is not a hobby purchase so much as an investment. Embroidered items can be sold or commissioned to help offset the cost of the machine, and there is a cost. This was a pricy machine in the first place, and acquiring the various colors for my first project wasn't cheap either.

One of the main things everyone, whether the sewing machine dealer or experienced embroiderers posting reviews on forums, seems to agree on is to be wary of where you get your thread from. If you purchase it online, it might be cheaper but you do have the risk of not knowing how well the thread was sold or how old it is. Old or poor/cheap thread can cause massive frustrations and even cause e machine itself in some cases, so the common recommendation is to make sure it's a reputable source.

I'm looking forward to putting this machine through its paces and seeing what exactly its capable of!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Another quick update and an unexpected haul!

A little more progress...

Slytherin has shaped up nicely, and now Ravenclaw is in progress!

And an unexpected haul!

So, years ago, my mom had a garage sale, and I had told her to go ahead and sell this collection of beads since I was deployed at the time and not sure what to do with it. Turns out, she couldn't bring herself to sell them, so she held on to them until the other day. 

Holy COW...I had way too many seed beads and too much money when I was younger...

At least now, I don't have to go out and buy them! Keep an eye out for some more dichroic glass and bead experimentation...

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Yay for progress!

Slytherin banner has been finished!

Now, on to the Ravenclaw banner, and that will be the top section completed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Another bit further!

Time for a little more progress...

It's been kind of a slow run crafting-wise due to, well, life...the universe...and everything, but at least I was able to get some more stitching time in. It's been so long since I did the banners for the other houses, however, that I forgot that I had changed the background banner color to a lighter shade intentionally. 

Total freak out moment - I thought I was going to have to go back and redo it all! 

Turns out, the memory got jogged a little more when I did a color comparison with the colors that I actually used and the colors called for in the pattern. On comparison, the Gryffindor lion would sort of blend a little too well, in my opinion, with the background parchment color, so I used a lighter one to give it a little more contrast. Hope this tip helps if anyone else doing these Harry Potter patterns runs into the same issue!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Progress is progress, right?

Just a quick update...

Well, it's been a busy couple of weeks, but I did have a little time to squeeze in some more stitching. Here is the current progress update - I managed to finish the rest of the green on the Slytherin banner, so hopefully the rest of it will proceed much faster. Aside from the background tan/cream color of the banner, of course!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Stitching update, a blast from the past, and yet another glass experiment gone wrong.

Stitching Update - Harry Potter Pillow Project

First off, a quick update on the Harry Potter Pillow Project. I've gotten the rest of the top border completed, and started the snake on the Slytherin banner. I'll continue to work on that, even if the progress is just sort of inching along. I've got a lot going on with work and real life right now, but hey - progress is progress, right?

Next up on the list after the two banners will be...more borders! The lower half, to be precise. I'll update the stitch counter once I've had a chance to sit down and *gulp* count the stitches...

A blast from the past!

There seems to always be that friend of the family - someone close enough to the point where the line between blood and friendship blurs, and nobody really cares that there's no actual blood relation at all. They're usually "Uncle" or "Aunt" or some other moniker. 

My sisters and I, and my parents of course, had Mrs. Roby, or "Mrs. R" as we affectionately called her - but never to her face, of course. She was another Grandmother to my sisters and I, and somewhat of a beloved Auntie sort of figure for my mom. 

When Mrs. R. finally passed away, she tried to leave something for each of my sisters - I've finally located the old sewing box that she wanted me to have. It's fallen into a little bit of disrepair, but unfortunately life sort of gets in the way and it had to go into storage for an unforseen amount of time. It's an old box, one that she used to keep around for minor repairs and mending. I had shown interest in embroidery and cross stitch at some point when I was little, so she decided that among her various items, this one was mine.

Now that I've had a chance to get it out of storage, there'll need to be some obvious cleanup work - there's plenty of dust, but other than some discoloration, the wood itself is in surprisingly good shape,with maybe a couple knicks here and there and the occasional scuff.. A little oil and some elbow grease should have it back in good shape, though I'm almost hesitant to start on the restoration work since I'm not sure what might ruin it or if there's a "proper way" to restore it. Once I can make some room in my house for it, it's going to be the first addition to an eventual Stitching Corner!

And finally, some not-so-Lucky Charms. 

So...I found out that charms don't hold up so well at high temperatures.

The "before" picture
In retrospect, I should probably have known, but I couldn't help but hope that they might hold their shape instead of melting into an amorphous blob. 

In this batch, I've learned a couple things. First, that there is probably a limit to how many pieces can go into a firing before you have to either lengthen the firing program, or up the heat. I'm thinking that in this case, the limit for my kiln without going for a longer firing program will probably be around 4-6 pieces max.

Second, charms are cute and all, but better left for resin or bead work. As you can see, the shapes didn't hold up so well, with the little star/moon charm being the only recognizable piece left.

Three, there are only so many times a piece can be fired before it just says, "No way, I'm not going to do what you want me to do. EVER." See the top left two pieces for examples.
The "after" picture

So, while there were some interesting results, there aren't any that I would really want to turn into a finished piece for purposes of selling. The three top right pieces (the orange/white and two small blue cabochons) are the only salvageable pieces for such a purpose, but that's alright - I'm learning more about what my kiln can and can't do with each experiment and each firing, so I don't count it that big a loss!

Off to more experimentation!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Second test firing!

So far, the kiln has been working like a charm.

First, it's kind of fun to do a comparison of what the glass pieces look before and after they're fired. For example, let's take a look at my second batch of test pieces.

These are the "before" pieces. As you can see, we have a lot of actual corners/edges, and a bunch of them are quite rough. The blue and green pieces I was especially interested in, since I was testing some tube-style glass beads for detail work.

The squarish piece up top and the white/green/orange oval at the bottom were another experiment to see if they would completely flatten out, or if they would just tack-fuse together. Those who spotted the purple cabochon in the center might recognize it from the first test fire...just because it's a failed piece doesn't mean it stays a failed piece when it comes to glass fusing!

And now take a look at the final product.

First, I was really pleased with the white/orange/green oval - it's good enough for me to consider selling it on Etsy once I get my store put together. It and the square below it succeeded in completely fusing into solid pieces, as I had hoped.

The green piece, I was kind of meh on the overall product, but it served it's purpose - the lines of glass tube beads formed nice neat lines, which show that I can use them for decorative purposes to try to create some patterns.

The blue piece had a similar result, but didn't fully fuse - back into the kiln, it's going!

The dark square-ish cabochons might be sellable as a set of earrings, but I really am thinking they could use some sort of extra embellishment in the centers.

As for the slagged bit in the upper right...I'm not sure what to do with it, since it was a bunch of scrap pieces to start with. I'm thinking I'll add another piece in the center and try re-fusing it. Back to the kiln with you!

And finally...the little purple cabochon was from the first test firing, but I accidentally put it upside down. This time, I turned it right-side up, and thankfully it re-fused properly.

Kingpin 88 without bead door, with viewing window
as shown on the website.
In closing, I'd like to say that I am really happy with my Evenheat Kingpin 88 kiln. It may be small - the chamber is approximately 6"x8"x8" in dimension - but I am not yet at the point where I need anything larger. The heat venting has been designed to keep from venting massive amounts of heat all around it, focusing it and insulating it so that you really don't feel any external heat coming off of it aside from the top (which is still minimal, and doesn't feel much warmer than holding a hand up to a heater vent), and some from the front. The front heat is understandable, as the model that I have has a viewing window and bead door, so it won't have the same fully seal capability that a solid door would.

The programming was a little harder than I had hoped to figure out, but the kiln does come with a DVD that has instructional videos, and the same videos are available on Evenheat's website and Youtube. After a quick review, I found that selecting the options for glass was surprisingly easy - there are settings for 90COE, 96COE, and I believe 87COE, as well as options for full fusing, slumping, and tack fusing. There are also options for selecting whether you want a fast fuse, medium fuse, slow or super slow fuse, so there really is a broad spectrum of options depending on which project you're going for.

For the most part, the process is simple: place firing shelf in kiln. Place firing paper on shelf (or use kiln wash if that's your thing, but the paper is SO easy to clean up and apply) and place products on top of the paper. Shut the door. Plug kiln in, power it on, select your program, and off you go!

Granted this is my first kiln, so I really haven't had a chance to do a comparison with other models (since they're kind of expensive!), but if anyone wants a recommendation for a good starter kiln, I'd say that the Kingpin 88 has my vote.