I got the sewing machine out tonight so I could work on the puppet costumes. First I hand sewed the sleeves on to the rest of the garment, but then wanted to use the sewing machine to zip the sides together. It did not go well. First it made a huge mess of the bobbin thread, and it kinda wanted to suck the fabric down into the machine. I pulled it out and cut the mess off the seam and attempted to make another pass.

That’s when the noises started. I’ve heard that before. I opened the bobbin door and turned the wheel on the side of the machine. The needle was coming down on top of the bobbin case. And that’s bad. It won’t sew AT ALL when that happens, and it takes the point right off the needle. I needed to retime it.

Last time it did that I found instructions online. I couldn’t find them online tonight, but then I remembered that I had saved them on my laptop. So I opened the file, and there it was. So the next thing I opened was the sewing machine. I managed to retime it all right, but it wouldn’t stay retimed. So I reretimed it. Twice. The nylon bevel gear got its teeth all bunged up, so it was skipping gears on every rotation.

My uncle, a brilliant retired machinist and tool maker, was just writing the other day about how he had made a gear out of aluminum to replace a nylon one. I was going to ask him if he wanted to make a gear for me, but I found the one I needed online for $13.94 (after shipping). I ordered one, but it’s still nylon. It should be here in time for me to fix the sewing machine and then make a half dozen puppet costumes before the puppet show.

I also stopped at Lowes on the way home tonight and bought a bunch of PVC fittings with which I intend to construct a puppet theater. I might go down to the basement and work on that in a little while, but we’ll see.

Over the past couple of days I’ve tried my hand at casting something other than animal tracks. A friend of mine (and co-worker) who lives in VA, but travels to NH on occasion brought me a piece from one of his kid’s toys. They were missing one just like it and he was wondering if I would fabricate a new one for him. He suggested that wood might be a workable medium, and perhaps he was right.

The piece is a little peg about an inch in diameter, with a smaller peg coming out of the bottom of it. I thought that maybe a good way to do this would be to cast it in plaster, remove the peg, and then fill the plaster with epoxy. The final part would be the epoxy.

First I salvaged a small yogurt cup out of the trash and rinsed it out. Then I mixed up a small batch of plaster, poured it in the yogurt cup, and inserted the original peg. After it set, I tried to extract it from the plaster, and that proved more difficult than I had anticipated. But with the help of a steel punch, I managed to extricate the piece from the plaster while keeping the mold and the piece intact. Yay!

Then I dug out a couple of vials of acrylic epoxy that I bought maybe ten years ago. I lost the instructions long ago, but judging by the fact that the two vials were of equal volume, I assumed that the resin and hardener should be mixed in equal volumes. I added a bit of blue food coloring to it as well, since the original piece is blue.

It took forever for the epoxy to set up. In fact, it never did set up, but rather, assumed the consistency of a piece of dampened hard candy that’s been fished out of the pocket of an elementary school boy, and left on the sidewalk on a hot summer day. Only a bit more gooey than that.

Such a texture is perhaps an undesirable characteristic in a child’s toy.

I didn’t even try to fish it out of the mold. There’s almost no way I could have cleaned the goo out of the plaster for a second go. But I did find some more epoxy – the kind that comes in a dual syringe. I judged that there might be enough in there from which a piece could be cast, but it looked pretty close.

So I salvaged yet another yogurt cup from the trash, made a new mold, and extracted the original piece using the punch again. I mixed up the new batch of epoxy, added a little less food coloring (but still too much), and poured it into the mold. And it filled the void about half way. Groan.

I went to the kitchen and grabbed a medicine cup, cut it down, filled it with a lump of Play-doh, and stuffed it down into the mold. Then I spooned a little more epoxy over the top of that, with the intention of imprisoning the medicine cup and Play-doh in a blue epoxy prison from whence it would never escape. But by then, the epoxy was starting to set already, and the “cap” I had poured over the medicine cup and Play-doh would not smooth out under the influence of gravity. I grabbed the cap off a milk carton and pressed it into the surface so it would have a smooth top.

Then I waited. Once the epoxy was good and hard, I pried off the milk cap revealing a smooth top. I applied the punch again. But the epoxy refuse to budge. I eventually gave up on saving the mold and cracked the plaster off with a chisel. The result was… not completely satisfactory. But maybe satisfactory enough.

It’s just a kid’s game after all. I started paring the mold marks around the top off with a knife when the epoxy cap popped off. Firmly attached to its underside was the Play-doh. So much for my prison manufacturing skills.

But maybe this will work. It has been an interesting exercise if nothing else. If the urge strikes again before I see my friend again, I may give it another go. Except that I’m out of epoxy.

Maybe I’ll make it out of wood this time.

This morning I rolled out of bed at 10:00. That is an extraordinarily rare treat for me, and I enjoyed it very much. When I did get up, I went to Walmart and bought some interfacing for the costume I started on yesterday. I also bought a seam ripper and one of those tomato pin cushions just like Mom had some 40 years ago. I can’t believe they still make those.

On the way home I bought some gas, and the stupid pump didn’t cut off and overflowed on me. At least I wasn’t pouring $4.00/gallon gas on the ground though. I was busy washing the gas off my car when I realized it was too late to tell the pump to give me a receipt. So I went in to ask for one. I also mentioned that the pump didn’t cut off. The clerk said something like “Yeah, it does that sometimes.” Man. If they already knew about it, why don’t they fix it? I oughta call the EPA on them. Then I went on home.

Part way through my costume attempt, the sewing machine just gave up. I could no longer rotate the balance wheel past a certain point in either direction. So I started tearing it apart. Turns out it was a semi-mangled plastic spiral gear that runs the shuttle. I removed it without dreaming of the potential consequences and smoothed out the munged teeth as best I could. Then I realized the enormity of what I had done. I had totally screwed the timing.

A sewing machine’s bobbin mechanism (i.e., the shuttle) has to be in a particular position relative to the needle, and I had no idea where that ought to be. I did a little searching on the Internet and even found where a guy offered to email retiming instructions to another hapless web surfer. So I sent him an email asking if he’d be willing to repeat the favor for another perfect stranger.

But he didn’t email me back within 5 minutes, so I continued my search and hit pay dirt. Armed with a couple of diagrams, I tore into it again and managed to retime the thing. Now it sews again. But I really ought to replace that plastic gear. No telling when it’s going to jam again, and I still need to crank out four and a half more costumes. Total time spent repairing the sewing machine: about three hours.

I did email a “nevermind” to my potential retiming guru. I think that’s just common courtesy.

I have not felt good at all today. I have a foreign particle lodged in my sinus, and for me, that always leads to a sinus infection. I’ll spare you the details, as it will suffice to say that I feel pretty crappy. Also my mouth tastes just like I feel, and I’m sure my breath is no bouquet of roses either.

As soon as I get Beth down for the night, I may cut out the cloth for the cloak that goes with the tunic I made. I prolly won’t run the sewing machine though, as the noise it generates is incompatible with sleeping children.

Or maybe I’ll just veg out for the night.