Sunday, January 23, 2022

Engineering to meet minimum needs

I've been thinking, recently.  About engineering and design to minimum requirements, and cost.  It's...not my field of expertise, by any means, and I've probably got a lot...well, really wrong.  

What started the train of thought was...honestly, that pair of pants I mended a couple of weeks ago.  

In short, the fabric they were made of--a heavy, drapey, sorta slick microfiber--had held up very well, but the stitching in the seat and the crotch inseams hadn't.  I wanted to fix the pants, rather than spend $30+ on a replacement pair.  I thought I had the equipment on hand: a sewing machine designed to minimum standards, not meant for doing anything more than sewing lightweight seams on lightweight fabrics, and only for a while.*  What I actually had was a piece of plastic that had had more demanded of it than it was capable of, which stripped the plastic gears.  I couldn't get the sewing machine I'd borrowed from my mother in in law (another plastic fantastic that hadn't been abused) to load and thread the bobbin at all.  Which left me with a couple of choices--I could spend $30 on a new pair of pants (I did), $75-$200 on a new sewing machine, or I could look closer at the antique that had belonged to my great grandmother...and spend whatever I needed to fix it.  

As it turned out, what I needed to fix the 123+ year old Singer 27 was a belt and some mineral oil.  The belt was $8.  The mineral oil was $4.  And I had a functional machine.  Which, with time and practice, mended the slacks.  I eventually spent another $10 and got an even-feed presser foot, which made doing quilting a lot easier for turning old jeans into pot holders and oven mitts.  I will be spending likely another $60 for one more shuttle and a bunch of bobbins ($20), and a zigzag attachment ($40).  I may potentially look for a buttonhole attachment in a few years, but that's a long ways off.  But at that point, I'd have spent about as much on things for this machine as I'd have spent on a new bottom-of-the-line machine, that I'd have had to replace again in a few years, but not as much as a new heavy-duty Singer. 

Back when the Singer 27 was new, it would have cost my great-grandfather $60-$100.  That was...pretty significant, for the times.**  But.  All of the guts are made of fairly high quality steel, and the externals are cast iron.  The only bits that need replacement every so often are the treadle belt, the needles, and potentially the pitman rod.***  It's a forever machine.  I will be handing it down to my daughter.  She will likely hand it down to hers. 

The thing is, it's a hell of a lot more capable than most modern users would need.  I've used this to make a quilted denim potholder--as in, two to four layers of denim (depending on where the needle was punching through) and a layer of batting.  The machine never hesitated or complained.   

A lot of modern households...would not be doing that.  Most modern users might need to re-do a seam on a shirt.  Some might need to fix a hem on a pair of dress slacks.  A few might need to do a hem on a pair of jeans, but not necessarily (a lot of people wouldn't bother putting in a new hem on jeans).  

A $75 dollar machine (a bit over $2 in 1898) is all most people would need.  The bottom-line machines with the plastic bodies are curvy and prettier than they used to be.  Most people would buy one, or maybe two, because they don't make things for their families, don't make their own curtains, pillows, potholders, and oven mitts.  

And honestly, a machine capable of doing those things?  One with metal parts and gears?  Would have cost less than $10 in 1898, and be capable things this one isn't.****  It absolutely wouldn't be as pretty--the Singer 27 is a beautiful machine, all swooping lines and curves.  The the heavy duty modern Singers are...a square-ish chunk of gray metal.  

It's a lot more than what a lot of people actually need for what they actually do.  And paying for one...yeah, they buy one machine once.  But a lot of those people won't buy more than one bottom-line plastic fantastic, and won't wear it out because they buy cheap clothes and don't do repairs.  Granted, I think that's a mistake that's going to be biting a lot of people in the ass over the next several years, but...that's just my opinion.  

Bottom line: for a total of $55, Odysseus got four pairs of work pants, and I have a working antique, rich with family history, capable of almost anything I need from it.  

And the next time a pants hem or seam lets go, I can just fix it. 

*The bottom line Singer sewing machines are made almost entirely of plastic...which wears out a lot faster than any kind of metal.  They're cheap, but designed to wear out and be affordable to be replaced when they wear out.  Which...honestly, is all most people need.  Or want.  

**That is equal, in today's dollars, to $2,015-$3,360.  About what you'd expect to pay for a bottom line industrial sewing machine.  

***The treadle belt was what needed replaced--and is leather.  I could also replace it with a longer-wearing rubber or silicon belt for...not much more.  The needles need replaced every so often, anyway, because they go dull.  The pitman rod is easily replaced--it's wood.  And if I wanted, I'm sure I could find someone to machine a metal one for me.  

****A heavy-duty Singer sewing machine today costs about $175-$225, and can do zigzag stitches, button holes, and reverse-stitching.  It also uses electricity and goes wicked-fast, which I don't necessarily want. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

I hate winter.

Especially winter in Missouri.  

Yesterday, we got up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, here.  It got down to around 45 by the time I went to bed.  I knew a cold front was going to hit overnight, sometime.  I knew it was coming, but I still hate it.  Today's high temperature was at midnight, and it's been steadily sinking since then.  It was around 37 by my car's readout when I took the kids to school (I know that because that's where the "roads may be icy" nag light pops on).  

Right now, it's 35 degrees.  And we have a hard wind out of the east/northeast.  It has teeth.  

It's supposed to get down to around ten degrees tonight, and not climb out of the mid 20's tomorrow.  And won't touch the 40s again until Sunday.  

Cold sucks.  

I've been huddled under my electric lap blanket writing today.  Between feeling the cold more, and my joints being whiners, I've pretty much stayed put in one place.  Splitting between working on Pint and CPA.  

Honestly, I have been feeling a lot less bad recently.  I've started replenishing energy while sitting and resting (something that hasn't really happened for me for the past several years).  I've started being able to do a little more, and general pain levels have had a lower starting point.  

I am honestly not sure what's going on, but I'll take it.  And while I've got it, I'm going to work to bring my health and endurance up to a higher level than it initially was before everything went to shit to start with.  I've already got a good start--I'm about ten pounds less, according to the doctor's scales, than I was just after getting over pneumonia in '15.  

Granted, how I've gotten there hasn't been the best.*  And it was a hard slog to not lose too much weight too fast.**  It hasn't been helped by my bathroom scale abruptly deciding it was done working at all just after Christmas, either.***  

I have a difference of opinion with my doctor on how much more weight needs to come off.  I'm saying about ten pounds, she wants to see twenty.   

Honestly, though, I'll be fine keeping my weight where it is.  Since it won't come off my chest, and I've got skin that won't be going anywhere, and isn't weightless.   I just will, eventually, need a new scale to monitor on a weekly basis.  

I am doing better.  I am.  

But I still hate the cold.  Especially when it varies so much from one day to the next.  Whether my pain levels are low (for me) or high (for anyone), I hate the cold.  And I hate being cold. 

*My nerves do this weird thing...when I'm under enough stress, my body goes "your food going to be limited one way or another.  You can either not eat before this specific time (which varies, but usually falls after my thyroid meds cut off), or you can throw up."  I hate throwing I hadn't been eating before supper for...most of last year.  And then a snack later to take meds before going to bed.  

**If you don't eat enough to maintain your minimum metabolic requirements for calories, you can seriously,  permanently damage your metabolism.  As in, your metabolism slows, when you eat, you put on weight, and you can't get it back off...because your body thinks you almost starved, and is trying to keep you from going that close to the edge again by replacing, adding to, then conserving the safety margin.  And each person's requirements vary according to height, weight, activity level, and biological sex, but minimums generally run (for me) around 11-1300 calories per day.  Limited the way I was last year...that was sometimes difficult.  

***Up until around Christmas, my scales weren't accurate, but they were consistent.  They stopped being consistent just after Christmas. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The best-laid plans...

Yeah.  Very little went according to plan, this week.  Yes, I got Odysseus's work pants fixed (and a preventative fix before the inseam let go at the crotch), and got my red canvas apron fixed where some of the seams where the bias-tape binding/ties were letting go of the rest of the fabric.  And yeah, I got the kitchen and the living room back in shape.  

But.  The kids' school cancelled on Monday (probably due to an inability to get enough substitutes in), then emailed all families on Tuesday that they were re-instituting a mask requirement on Wednesday.  And it had to be real masks, not the buffs that they'd handed out at the beginning of the previous year (according to the elementary school principal, who was wearing hers under her chin). 

Then Wednesday, one of the kids woke up congested, and the other woke up sneezing, and unable to breathe through his nose.  I kept them both home (though the pixie seemed fine after her allergy meds kicked in--there was no change for the imp after he'd taken his).  And yesterday evening, I got another email from the school, that they were cancelling Friday.  That a hundred and thirty plus kids were out sick yesterday, and not just with "positive covid tests," but with the flu, and with strep throat.  

That's the equivalent of three full grades' worth of kids out, for that school.  

Granted, it's probably fueled by parental overreaction to a cold (something the kids would have been sent to school with in years past, before China lost control of a bioweapon that killed more of their own people than it did anyone else's), but still.  

The pixie is at school today, but the imp is not.  He is doing better, though, and will likely be pretty much over this crap before the end of today.  

I have not gotten much of my planned writing done at all.  

And I can't think to write with my head full of crud from the cold I picked up from the imp.  

So I guess I'll go get started on cleaning up the dining room while he's busy playing Civilization.  And maybe finish a couple of half-finished sewing projects I've got sitting on the sewing machine. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Checking in...

I checked one of my goals complete, this morning.  I got Odysseus's microfiber work slacks fixed.  And reinforced the inseam up near the part where the seam gave way in the first place.  

I know exactly how Clarkson felt:

I'm still working on most of the rest.  There are improvements, though.  Starting with rearranging the entry hall a little.  I think it works better, and my sewing machine lid doesn't impinge on the hallway back to the bedrooms, now.  I have room for fabric-and-scraps storage, and have rigged up a small waste container for snipped threads and too-small-for-use patches.  

I have a plan for the living room, now.  Chairs will move back a little, end table between them will rotate 90 degrees to put the narrow side between them (baskets underneath will, of course, also have to move a bit), coffee table will move about six inches west and about the same toward the chairs, loveseat will move about six inches west and about the same toward the chairs.  Give the kids room to use their homework desk.  The layout (we'd rotated everything 90 degrees a few months ago) almost worked, but needed to be lived in before we could see where it needed tweaked.  

I'm working on getting back into the writing habit.  I'm trying a few different things, starting with scheduling it and setting a timer.  

I did have a character waltz into and decide it was her turn to get her story told.  I've had her concept in mind for a while, but it finally clicked.  I started work on it in November, and got almost 18K words down before prep for Christmas and Christmas Break kicked in.  

The kids are back in school, now, and I don't have to split my focus between supervising them and writing.  So, tomorrow, I'll be back to work.  Probably split time between final edit of Pint, and working on CPA. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022


Resolutions aren't goals; goals aren't resolutions.  I'm done with resolutions.  Too many things outside my control inhibit my ability to keep to them.  

I'm setting goals.  

My first goal: pick the housework back up.  Again.  I expect to have the house back in visitors dropping by shape within the month, because...well, honestly, it's not that bad, currently.  I figured that, while the FlyLady stuff works, it works better for me if I do a little bit in a different room every day, as well as sticking to the zones.  I've also figured out what she means by a control journal: it's a checklist.  I've got one for every room, and then there's a weekly zone list on her site.  Yeah, there's going to be some days I won't be capable of doing a lot, but I can pick up with the next day's work.*

My second goal: I am going to learn how to sew.  I've got a lot of practical things I need to make--my apron's falling apart, my hot pads are (quite frankly) ratty, and I've got a freakin' ton of worn out clothes that aren't good enough to give away to use in the learning.  Lots of jeans in particular--and denim makes for great quilted hot pads.  So what if I can't cut a straight line with scissors?  They make tools for that, now.**  I'm going to do some oven mitts first, because the ones I have?  The two that haven't worn out on the fingertips to the point they're letting batting show through are too thin, and the thick one...yeah, my hands are small enough that I don't get burned through the exposed batting and inner lining, but my other half's hands are a lot bigger.  And my kids' hands are both longer than mine, and won't be stopping on the growing anytime soon.  

That's not all: I have mending that I need to do, and I need to be able to use a sewing machine to do a curved seam (for which the oven mitt will be good practice).  

Learning to sew feeds into my third goal: attempting to stretch my physical limits, since the stupid autoimmune issue seems to be loosening up just a little.  I have slammed into a wall I didn't realize was there a few too many times.  Inching that wall a little further away so I can do more than just basic chores in a day would be nice. I don't know if it'll work, but it's worth a try...and the sewing machine I have will aid in that.  Even if it's just expanding my capabilities to being able to go a few steps farther in my day, at first.  My goal is to use my treadle machine at least fifteen minutes a day, three days a week, for January.  I'll try to add more in February.  

The fourth, and last, goal I'm going to set for myself: I'm going to do two hours of writing every week day.  I'm going to do another hour of general planning and admin work for writing every week day.  I'm going to get Having a Pint through the final edits and pushed through the Amazon self-publishing stuff within the first quarter of the year.  I'm going to finish the first revision and edit of The Schrodinger Paradox before the kids get out for summer break, and see about who amongst my beta readers has the time/inclination to read for me.  And I am going to finish the current novel project sitting at about a third of the way done in very rough draft.  

Everything here on this list is something small.  Something I can do.  It's something I can see and measure my own progress.  And it much more concrete than "resolutions."  

*Not having a sense of guilt is massively helpful, sometimes, even if it means pretending to be a functional member of the community a lot harder.  I can drop stuff that I can't do one day without feeling anything more than frustrated.  My sister, on the other hand, seems to have picked up my share of guilt to pile on top of hers...and she can't seem to shake it.  

**I tried.  Lord knows I tried cutting straight lines in fabric with just fabric shears.  I cannot mange it.  Where I had thought a rotary cutter (think: pizza cutter, but for fabric) would be a nicety, it seems to be far more a necessity.