Friday, December 9, 2016

Singer Slant Needle 404

Here's the latest addition to my crazy collection, a 1959 Singer Slant Needle 404. This model is a Slant-O-Matic with an internal gear drive, which makes incredibly nice, even stitches. It has a horizontal rotary hook with Class 66 drop-in bobbins, and accepts standard 15 x 1 needles. This machine has a funky "elevator" needle plate system with a lever that allows the needle plate to raise above the feed dogs for free-motion stitching or quilting, or raise all the way up to remove the stitch plate for cleaning.

I've secretly always wanted a 400 series machine, but haven't run across one at a decent price. Also, it's not like I really NEED another sewing machine, right? Because honestly, at this point, I'm not really sure how many I have!

This one though, this machine was free AND close to home. Very close to home—like right out the back door. Literally! My neighbor behind us in the alley tossed it out right before trash day!

Unfortunately, the poor old girl was dropped on her head on the way out to the trash, and had big scrapes and gouges across the top cover and part of the hand wheel. And she was pretty grimy, like sitting in the corner of the basement for probably longer than I've been alive grimy. No extra parts were with the machine, but we did dig out the original cord and foot control from the trash. (And yep, I did ask the neighbor about the machine and if there were any other parts. The neighbor said she wasn't really sure where in the world the machine had come from, but did not belong to anyone in her immediate family.)

Fortunately, she works! And my husband offered to take the top cover and handwheel (which were originally a tan color on this model) and powder-coat them for me to cover up all the scrapes. We picked out a gold color to go with all the gold trim on the machine. And he just took them out of the powder-coating oven last night, so I just now finished putting her all back together again.

The gold color turned out okaaaaay, but in some light it can take on a big of a greenish below.

I think I would have gone with a different color had I known this gold was a bit on the green side, but what's done is done! After a little cleaning and a lot of oiling, this machine works great. A perfect machine for straight line sewing and piecing!

Yay! I love her, what a great early Christmas gift!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

300+ Years of Color Theory: A Grammar of Color

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the home-page for the series here.

The color system invented by Albert H. Munsell is much more than a way to study the relationship between colors, his is a color notation system capable of being used for exact color matching. In fact, the Munsell system is still in use today across multiple disciplines (like agriculture, archeology, interior design, and industrial manufacturing), and you can read all about it at the Munsell website.

This is an interesting book—the original edition of A Grammar of Color was published after Munsell’s death in 1918. The original 1921 volume was published by the Strathmore Paper Company, featured an introduction written by Munsell himself, and included additional text and illustrations by American graphic artist T. M. Cleland. Flip through a digital copy of the 1921 book here.

The copy I have is based on this 1921 edition, but does not include all the extra printed color examples in the original volume, and has been updated and edited by FaberBirren.
Where most of the previous Color Theorists in this reading list were best known as scientists (Newton, Chevreul, Rood and Ostwald), Munsell was truly at first and artist.

I don’t know if this story is true, but here’s what I’ve heard about how Munsell was inspired to create his color notation system. Munsell was a painter in the late 1800’s, and like many of his contemporaries would paint landscapes “en plein air.” He would take his canvases back home to continue work in the evening by artificial lighting in his studio. He’d quickly take note that colors he thought matched when he was painting indoors at night were really off when looking at them in the natural sunlight outdoors the next day. He began to think there should be a better way to consistently match colors, not only to help painters, but to do away with some of the randomness of trying to assign specific names to colors.

Ostwald’s system included black and white value in the center, hue around the equator, and tints/tones/shades filling in the solid, with all of the hues living in an equal position around the equator.

Munsell’s system also includes black and white value in the center, but the hues fall in line with the scale of gray along the center pole to match the value. Tint/tone/shade then fill in to create an asymmetrical solid, often referred to as a color tree, with each branch out from the center representing a different hue. The notations in the system are made up of three parts, and are written as such: 5P 5/10. The first number/letter set of the notation refers to the specific hue (5 Purple). The second number refers to the value, and the last number to the chroma.

Pull out one hue branch from the solid, and you’ll better see how the tints, tones and shades of one hue are organized.

While many other color systems are based in 3 primaries (red, yellow, blue or red, green, blue or cyan, yellow, magenta for example), Munsell’s system is based on the 6 colors noted in the visual spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet). If you look at this system as a wheel, it would look like this.

As an artist, Munsell was concerned with ideals of color harmony in his work, and created many guidelines and rules for finding color harmony within his system. In this edition of A Grammar of Color, T. M. Cleland does a fantastic job explaining all of these harmonies with simple ideas and clear illustrations. From classic harmonies like complementary, triad, and analogous, Munsell had some very interesting theories about balance of colors within his system.

I would definitely recommend reading this book, either the online version of the 1921 edition linked above, or a used copy of the Birren edition.

Up next in the reading list, a book from Faber Birren about color, compiled from his exhaustive research on the subject. I’ve been looking forward to reading The Story of Color, and I think it will make for a good read over the holidays.

Here’s wishing all of you lots of color and light this holiday season!   

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Color Theory Tool: BreakThroughColor Cards

I've just discovered a new Color Theory toy - errr, I mean tool! I saw these color cards online a few months ago, found myself obsessing over them (but did I really need any more color tools), and finally (yes, yes i did really need more color tools) ordered the Color Basic deck to see what it's all about. Developed by Artist and Educator Tracy Holmes, these BreakThroughColor cards and cubes help you think and learn about color in a new way.

First of all, a note about the spelling of the word COLOR. I'm in the USA, and our spell-checkers like us to use this spelling. The cards and their inventor Tracy are from Canada, and thus the word is spelled Colour on the cards, website, and all supporting information. Let's just leave it at that, and not start a tussle about spelling, right!

I've had my deck for about a week, and I can already tell these will be helpful in many ways, from trying out color combinations to using in conjunction with some Color Theory exercises to help learn about color relationships. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who is just getting interested in learning about Color Theory. And especially and quilter interested in learning more about color. With the currency exchange rate between the US dollar and Canadian currency, this deck costs less than $25.00! Go get your deck!

These cards are just like playing cards. They feel good in your hands, are easy to shuffle through, pull out, stack, lay out, look at, and play with. Based on the CMY color system (partitive color), this deck offers several basic ways to learn about this color system.

First, there is a set of Hue cards, showing the full colors in the system. Three Primary colors are Cyan, Yellow and Magenta.

Secondary colors are Green, Blue and Red.

And the Tertiary colors are a mixture of each Primary and Secondary. Notice that each card has a series of symbols on the top and bottom. These are all clues in the deck to help you learn about each color and how they relate to each other.

The back of each card gives you basic information for each color on the front, including an approximate mix of the CMY scale, how much black/white/gray is in the color, and an approximate value for the color. 

The deck includes a series of the 12 basic hues, and a set of these 12 colors in tints, tones, and shades. Again, the symbols on the cards help you to identify each color as either a hue, tint, tone, or shade very easily.

I found it very simple to start pulling out color combinations, like this split complement with Magenta, Yellow Green, and Cyan Blue. Each hue stack has the tint, true hue, tone, and shade - very cool!

I pulled a quick complementary pair, Yellow Green and Violet, including each tint, true hue, tone, and shade.

And an instant later was playing with different tonal values of these complementary pairs. Super cool!

Also included in the Color Basics deck is a complete achromatic gray scale (great for playing with value, or helping you to identify values of other colors) and a set of gray based on mixing the three Primary colors Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow together.

What I do also like about these cards is all of the supporting information on the website, including a set of FREE lessons to help you learn about using the cards called Leap Into Color! I spent an evening after dinner covering the first few lessons, which tipped me off on how to read and understand the symbols on the cards.

I also purchased the Color Breakthrough set (contains many more colors than the Color Basics set), and hope to find time to sit through a few more Leap Into Color lessons to learn how to read and use this deck very soon. With more tints, tones, and shades than the Color Basics deck, it offers the opportunity to really dive in to exploring color!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

300+ Years of Color Theory: The Color Primer

This book is included in a reading list on the history of Color Theory. Find the home-page for the series here.
Wilhelm Ostwald was an amazing scientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1909 for Chemistry for his work on catalysis, chemical equilibria and reaction velocities. His colorsystem put forth in his book, The Color Primer (first published in 1916) is considered one of the most widely published books on the subject of color theory.

His system is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen! Ostwald bases his system on human perception of color values of hue, saturation and brightness, all arranged in a three dimensional shape. His system includes a color notation system to give each color in the solid an exact code.

Where most other color systems that pre-date Ostwald are based on a three-primary color system (the Subtractive color system of red, yellow and blue, or the Additive system of red, green, and blue), this system uses black/white in the vertical center axis, and red, yellow, green and blue along the circumference of the color solid. These color pairs, black/white, red/green and blue/yellow are the central color pairs of the Opponent Color Process. These three color pairs are sometimes called the psychological colors, as the opponent color process is a process of the mind.

The basic colors along the perimeter of the color solid are numbered in sections, with each major color group being assigned three numbers. From here, the colors are mixed in gradations; white moving towards the top cone, black moving towards the bottom cone, and gray moving in towards the center pole.

Pull out one color “piece” of the color solid, and you’ll see a selection of tints, tones, and shades for one color.

Pull out an entire section across the color solid, and you’ll see tints, tones and shades across two color complements.

In fact, you can cut, slice, or dice this color solid in any direction to see completely new and interesting combinations of colors. Ostwald dedicated an entire chapter of The Color Primer to color harmonies, in which he likens harmony to order in arrangements of colors within his color solid. As is the rest of his book, this chapter is very easy to understand, and is well worth the read for any artist or designer.

In most of the 19th Century Color Theory books, authors such as Chevreul and Rood dedicate much of their books to the new discoveries and science of human vision and the perception of light and color, describing at length how these theories have formed their thoughts on color. Ostwald’s book skips these subjects entirely, as by this time these ideas and theories have been well established. This allows Ostwald room to focus only on explaining his extremely ordered system in a simple and well written manner.

I highly recommend reading this book if you are an artist, designer, quilter, or student of color. As I've mentioned (more than once!), this is a very readable book, and offers a different way of thinking about color, combinations, and harmony.

While the Faber Birren edition of this book I read can still be found, some of the other Ostwald volumes including color plates and illustrations showcasing the entirety of the system are nigh to be found. I did find a used copy of Egbert Jacobson’s Basic Color: An interpretation of the Ostwald color system recently, and I’ve read that this book includes many full color illustrations of the Ostwald system with an emphasis on esthetics and color harmony. Yes! I’ll be adding this book in to my big reading list, so watch for a quick report on this book coming soon. Well, maybe not too soon – there are a few books in the list ahead of this one!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Perfect Sewing Table for a Grasshopper

When sewing with the Elna 1 "grasshopper," I noticed that if the table top was too high I had a hard time making contact with the knee controller. I started searching for something to sew with the grasshopper—it had to be something low enough to make it comfortable to sew with the knee controller but small enough to be portable to put away when not in use (or to make it easy to travel with).

I remembered seeing those old-style metal typewriter tables when thrifting, the kind with two leaves that fold up/down and sturdy rolling wheels. I wondered if they might work, and about 6 months later found a vintage metal Hon typing desk in an antique shop up in Wisconsin. Looking at the typing desk in person, it seemed like just the thing, and the price was right!

My husband helped me take the dirty old thing apart, paint it, and put it back together with new hardware. The only thing we couldn't replace were three of the four missing rubber adjusting feet on the legs, which allowed you to level the table after lowering it to the floor from the wheels. We added some plain rubber feet, but it's not quite the same as the originals. Still, it does work well!

The grasshopper fits PERFECTLY on top of the table, and the knee lift comes to a comfortable height for me to use. 

The leaves make for plenty of space for notions and tools. While the Elna 1 sewing case that transforms into an extended sewing area DOES NOT fit on the typing table, that's perfectly okay for me. I'm planning on using the machine and table for small piecing and sewing, so the free-arm will work just fine for me.

The only possible drawback to this set-up is the narrow leg space under the table. There's just 14.5 inches between those front bars, and that "I" beam at the base of the table leaves little room to move your feet. This restriction hasn't bothered me at all, but it might feel claustrophobic to some. Also, note that there is no space for a foot control under there! Believe me, I tried to use this with a Singer 221 featherweight, and there is not one comfortable place at all to use a foot control.

If you like what you see, start searching thrift stores and antique shops for one of these old, metal typing tables! I keep seeing theme here and there throughout the Midwest, so there are still plenty out there!

Happy stitching with your vintage machine!