Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

My Treadle Sewing Machine January 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 3:49 am

Today, I started working on my treadle sewing machine. I had it moved into my bedroom in part to keep little hands from playing with the tension screw on the front of the machine. What a pain! Last time they played with it, I spent 2 months working at it a bit at a time until I finally was able to get the tension set properly. Well, I am back to the same thing again. Little hands got to it again, so I am having to reset it once more.

I spent about a half hour simply cleaning and thoroughly oiling the machine along with its treadle. With a treadle sewing machine, they have to be oiled after each use or when stored to prevent rust. When I first got the machine, the inside was rusted from having been stored in an outdoors shed for 10 yrs. After 3 bottles of oil and much cleaning, the machine worked beautifully. The painted design is no longer visible, but the machine still has much character. The cabinet still needs a bit of restoration, but I took it down to its bare wood. I removed the peeling layers of laminated wood from the cabinet top. Underneath was a beautiful cherry wood. The only part remaining to be restored is the little drawers on both sides of the cabinet. The drawers simply hang from below the tabletop of the cabinet with 3 drawers in a column on each side. I am thinking about removing the drawers completely. The wood is extremely brittle and light. It would not take much to cause them to be broken off. I haven’t decided what I will do yet. I will likely wait until I have a nice sewing box set up before making that decision.

I am finding that some of the basic supplies for a treadle sewing machine are becoming harder to locate. For this reason, I am stocking up on extra bobbins, needles, and belts for the machine. It takes a bit of searching. Some parts, such as the belt, are easy to locate. There are a few of the parts however that can be more challenging to find. I am stocking up on them so that I will always have the parts needed to repair the machine. I did a search online and found the user’s manual for my model of sewing machine. This was a blessing in and of itself.

There are more modern treadle sewing machines becoming available. The newer ones are sold without the treadle, which you then have built to fit the sewing machine. The new style of treadle sewing machines offer the capabilities of a basic electric machine. They have zigzag stitching and other features that modern sewing utilizes. If you want a treadle sewing machine, you can build your own. Older electric sewing machines can often be converted into a treadle type by removing the electric motor portion and the wheel on the side of the machine. The wheel is replaced with a belt-wheel. Add a treadle base to the machine and you have all the sewing capability as the machine gave you before. The only difference is the treadle in place of the electricity.

I love my treadle sewing machine. I am so blessed to have found it before it was too far deteriorated to be restored. Sewing for my family only requires the straight stitching. Whether making clothing or a quilt, I can sew everything on my treadle. When we first went off-grid, I had to sew by hand. My treadle makes my sewing much more efficient.


Sewing Smart January 20, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 4:31 am

While I am not Mennonite or Amish, I have to admit a contentment that I find in many of their ways. Sewing clothing for the family is one of those areas that I feel deep within. Yes, it is easy to go out and buy new or even second hand clothing. There have been times in my lifetime when finances were very tight and even a second hand store was out of the question. I learned as a youth to sew my own clothing while in home economics class in school and in the 4-H club I was a member of. While not every effort was great in the beginning, I learned from the mistakes. Now, I am comfortable enough with sewing that I can make most clothing items without much problem. To do this, I have taken a method of the Amish & Mennonite people to heart. They use a basic simple clothing style for all of their needs. They are not caught up in staying in style with the current trends.

Keeping the Plain sewing in mind, I have been carefully choosing patterns for my family that are simple in design and construction. A favorite pattern source is Buckaroo Bobbins. They specialize in patterns from the Old West time period. The beauty of their patterns is that even today, you can make the clothing and it is stylish. The main consideration in making the clothing look like a “daily wear” or an outfit for a special night out is the choice in fabric and embellishments. Another bonus to their patterns is that a single packet will contain a full range of sizes. One example is our daughter’s dress & pinafore pattern which contains all sizes from 4-12 in the pattern packet. The dress has long sleeves, but those can be adjusted to any length you need. A nice warm linen for winter and a lighter weight fabric for summer makes the dress a year round clothing staple. The pinafore can be made to be worn over the dress or as a separate dress for summer. King’s Daughters is another pattern resource for modest sewing patterns in a wide range of sizes in each pattern packet.

For our daughter, I have patterns for a simple dress with pinafore, pantaloons that I can adjust the length to fit as shorts or ankle length to keep her warm in winter, a petticoat, camisole, nightgown, and a cloak. All of the patterns are simple to make. The beauty of using the same pattern over several years is that as I gain practice making that same pattern style, the work will become faster. The overall style is one that is timeless. Through the fabric choices and any embellishments I use to dress them up, the clothing can fit in anywhere.

For my husband and son, I am collecting patterns for broadfall pants, western shirts, boxers, sleep pants & shirt set, and a coat. The patterns are similar in style so learning the construction of my son’s clothing will be the same as making my husband’s. The ranger coat pattern is sold for both children and adults. The only difference in the broadfall pant patterns for my husband and son is that the boys’ version includes instructions on how to make suspenders. That is a selling point for me in that our son is built like his Daddy’s family and needs suspenders to keep even elastic waist britches up. LOL

My clothing patterns are similar to our daughter’s. A simple basic dress, apron, nightgown, cloak, and a pattern pack for “frillies” which includes pantaloons, petticoat, and camisole. As with our daughter, the pantaloons can be made to whatever length I need. In summer, the camisoles and pantaloons are made of a light weight cotton fabric. For winter, I prefer flannel as it keeps us warmer. The pantaloons can be made with a full leg or the leg gathered with elastic. Made without the elastic in the legs, they can be warn as a pair of pants and fit similar to a sleep pant. We do wear pants when doing certain chores that would be awkward in a skirt. She likes wearing pants to play outside quite often also. That is when I love the versatility of fabric choice. Made of a basic lightweight white fabric, the pantaloons and camisole patterns look like underpinnings. If I use a pretty print fabric instead, I can make the exact same pantaloons & camisole look like a nice pant & top set. The camisole and petticoat can be made to look like a pretty top & skirt. Yet another reason for buying basic clothing patterns. If you are clever in your choices, you can get more than one type of usage from the same pattern.

Other than the sewing, I am learning to knit so that I can start knitting our own winter socks. I crochet enough that I already make shawls and for our daughter, heavy ponchos to wear on chilly days. I am planning to start crocheting vests for our kids to wear in winter. Then of course there are crocheted hats, mittens, and scarves that are made each year.

Already, our daughter is starting to express and interest in learning to sew. I love it! I am going to be helping her to learn by making clothing for her baby doll. The doll clothing pattern that I have is very similar to her own dress and pinafore set. By learning to make her doll’s clothes, she will be learning on a smaller scale how to make her own clothing.


Natural Cold Storage January 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 3:39 am

Ever have the power go out from a storm? I am thinking that nearly everyone has been there, done that, at least a few times in their life. We live in an area known for it’s winter storms. Each winter, you hear about people fretting over the loss of food from the power going out. It is crazy just how many people lose all the perishables in their refrigerators.

If you are living in an area that gets cold in winter, you have a natural refrigeration available. When we went off-grid, we didn’t have a refrigerator for the first couple of weeks. It was winter and the temperatures never got above 50*F. We set up a wooden crate in a shady area next to the kitchen. Inside of the crate we placed a cooler and a plastic tote. The cooler contained a gallon of milk and some resealable freezer bags containing lunch meat. We filled the cooler with water from a hose, leaving the hose inside of the cooler so that I could easily circulate more water into the cooler in the afternoon if the water temperature began to warm up. Keeping the hose in the cooler also allowed me to keep the lid ajar so the cold air outside would help keep the water cold. In the plastic tote, I placed items like cheese, eggs, butter, and condiments that while needing to be kept cold, did not require the same level of cold as the milk. I placed a lid on the tote. The tote was not insulated, so did not need the lid left ajar. To prevent animals from getting into the food, I placed a large piece of plywood across the top of the crate and weighed it down with a couple of pieces of split firewood. Due to the crate being in the shade all day, the food stayed very cold. If we wanted milk, I often had to bring the milk inside and allow it to that a bit to be able to pour it.

This same method would work during a power outage. While I understand that not everyone has access to a wood shipping crate, you can improvise and find a similar solution. If you don’t have access to a crate, you can still place the tote and cooler in a shady spot of your porch or garage. At night when the risk of stray animals is present, simply close up the garage so that the animals cannot get to the food. If you are concerned about the temperature not being cold enough, use a thermometer to gauge the temperature in each container. It is worth a try and may save your family’s food supply. If it doesn’t work, then at least your food loss is no different than if you hadn’t tried this option at all.


Off-grid Life and Routines January 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — ourprairiehome @ 2:49 am

Holiday season has passed, thankfully. It isn’t that I don’t like the holidays. I just am just happy to get back to a more normal routine. I was looking through an older notebook of mine and came across my old weekly routine. It was one that I had used about 2 years ago. As I read through it, I realized just how far from that routine my days had become.

When I think back to why I had set up that routine, I really feel disappointed in myself for drawing away from it. I know how and why it happened. That was about the time that our youngest child was diagnosed with classic autism and we were starting therapies. The appointments began to dictate my schedule each day. As time went by, the routine had thoroughly changed to a more hectic one.

Today, our lives are more settled again. We are now a homeschooling family. Seems strange to see those two sentences together, but it describes it well. With the morning homeschooling routine, the days are flowing better. I am now looking at that old routine and ready to use it again.

I have found through the past year that the routine is essential. When you live the old fashioned lifestyle, the idea of having your heavier chores assigned to specific days of the week makes your work easier to manage. One example is laundry. If I had a machine, it would be easy to toss in a load throughout a day to get it all done at once. I don’t use machines to do my laundry. I do it the old fashioned way of washtubs, a scrub board, and clothesline. If I don’t wash laundry on a set schedule to stay ahead of it, I would have a rough time of it if weather got bad or I was sick and unable to do laundry for a few days.

As I look over that old schedule, I am seeing where I need to make very minor adjustments to it. The main change is homeschooling. I am learning though that I can easily adapt for that by changing the time I wake up and go to bed. Rising an hour earlier gives me time to set laundry to soak as I make breakfast for the children and get their morning started. As I wash the laundry in the wash tubs in my kitchen, I am available to help answer any questions about the schoolwork. When I hang the laundry on the clothesline, they are outside with me taking a break from their studies. The work that I have to complete is still able to get finished. I just have to dovetail the tasks together in a way that is efficient.