Choosing a Sewing Machine For Your Makerspace

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Sewing machines are a marvelous creative tool to add to your STEAM space.  It can, however, be a little daunting when you try to decide which one to purchase.

There are many brands and price points to choose from.  I don’t claim to be a Sartor, but I have done a great deal of basic sewing; most of that sewing has been with elementary-age students.  No matter the age of your makers, most of what I have to share will still apply.

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General Guidelines:

Basically, any ‘real’ sewing machine will be fine.  I say ‘real’ because there are many ‘Jr.’ sewing machines out there marketed at kids and they are worthless.  They will cause you more grief than joy.  Don’t even bother.  I say ‘fine’ because if you only have one or two, you will only have a few students working on them at any one time.  If you are adding multiple machines, so that a large group can sew at the same time, you’ll want to read on.

Budget:

Sewing machines are like cars.  You can buy a sturdy Honda or a luxurious Tesla.  They both move you from point A to B.  How they do it and what creature comforts you experience along the way are what you pay for.  An excellent machine can be purchased for under $200, and some can cost more than $2,000.

Sewing Machine Diagram

Features:

More is better right?  Why would you go with the machine that has 259 stitches instead of 9? I believe in giving new sewers choices, but not many. If it has a switch, button, toggle or knob, it WILL be bumped, jostled and flipped during a sewing project.  That will mean a lot of seam ripping and frustration for both you and the sewers.

I recommend a sturdy machine that has very few knobs or dials and under a dozen stitches.  One feature that divides some experts is the front-loading vs. the drop in bobbin.  I’ve never sewn on a drop in bobbin so I really can’t speak to their ease. I learned to sew on the machine I bought my daughter a decade ago.  This machine had a front loading bobbin and I’ve stuck with it in subsequent machines. Another feature that some people swear by is the ‘self-threading’ needle.  My new machine has this feature, but I never use it.  I never seem to get it to work correctly and by the time I do, I could have easily done it by hand and so I do.

Brands:

There are many excellent options available today.  The big names are Singer, Brother, Janome, and Juki.  Each of these brands offers a variety of price points to choose from.

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Recommendations:

I have recommended the Janome 3128 to everyone who has asked.  I chose this machine because it is solid, simple and reliable.  I’ve seen it advertised on Amazon for anywhere from $99 to $175.  When we began our IDEA Lab, I purchased three at $99.  I quickly realized that three machines was not enough for a classroom project.  The next year I added 8 more.  Having 11 of the exact same machine saves time and frustration.  I know these machines inside and out.  It is easy for me to make tutorials and instructional videos for my students because all of the machines are the same.  The machine isn’t perfect. Getting the thread tension correct is a challenge, but that can be the case with any machine.  At this price point, it also makes it difficult to justify the service fee of $50 an hour for repairs.  After a few years now of using the machine, I have gotten pretty good at fixing and maintaining the machines.

Presser Foot Diagram

When the thread tension spring popped on one of our older machines, the only way to see if it could be fixed was to remove the plastic cover on the machine.  This wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  In the end, I was unable to fix the tension knob, but I did create an amazing teaching tool!  Now, I can show the students how each of the parts of the machine actually works by showing them the ‘inside’ of the machine.  I think you’ll agree, it’s pretty fantastic!

Whatever machine you end up purchasing, the best and most obvious advice I can give is to sew with it!  If you do, you’ll encounter the same problems your students will and that will help you prepare for a real project with your students. 

No matter how much training you do with your students, they will need your help.  In the middle of a big sewing project, I feel like a member of a Nascar pit crew.  A student’s hand goes up and I slide in, flip open the bobbin door. Rip the bobbin case out.  inspect it.  Rethread and replace it.  Rethread the machine and the needle, sew a practice swatch. Hop up and send them on their way.  All under one minute!  This only happens through familiarity.  I’ve had many nightmares about bobbins spinning and hundreds of yards of tangled thread!

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Good luck!  I think you will find that the sewing machine will ignite new ideas in your students and teachers.  Just this year, every student in our K-4 school completed a sewing project.  After seeing the skills the students had developed the fourth grade team decided to take on an apron project that put all of these skills to the test.

Custom T-Shirt Stamp Step-by-Step on the Carvey

This year we added the Carvey to our maker ‘toolbox.’  Our makerspace is directly connected to our library with only a brick archway to separate us. For this reason, I was hoping the Carvey would be as quiet as advertised.Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.15.42 PM (They advertise it as being as quiet as a desktop printer, but depending on the material and the amount of ‘cutting’ the noise level can vary.  I have had to pause it a few times when there was a class being read to or a quiet activity was underway.)Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.16.01 PM

There is always a learning curve with a new tool and this is true of the Carvey as well.  However, that curve was pretty slight and within a few hours, we were creating all sorts of creations.  The designs, at least for beginners, are done with the web-based native software app called Easel.  It was very easy for this newbie to navigate and create my first few projects.  For this particular project, I wanted to create a ‘staff’ t-shirt for our student directors and producers for our school television studio: WGST (the World’s Greatest Student Television).  After designing the ‘stamp’ I had to flip it so that I would be carving out the ‘reverse’ for stamping purposes.

You can download the step-by-step PDF HERE.

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Here is how the stamp ‘blank’ turned out.

I glued the 1/8″ board to a larger piece of wood just to make the stamping easier.  To help me align the design, I added a couple of wooden spools to the back of the wood blank too.

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Next, I just needed somebody to help me make some shirts!  Thankfully my wonderful daughter was home from college and was willing to help me create the shirts for the students and adults who help with the broadcasts.

The process was pretty straight forward.  We placed a cardboard square inside each shirt to keep the paint from seeping through and also to give a little ‘resistance’ when the stamp was pressed down.  We used regular latex high-gloss interior paint.  It was applied using a foam brush and then carefully pressed on the shirts.  The ‘weathered’ look was perfect!  Each one is slightly different.

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 I think they like them!

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I look forward to finding ways to integrate the Carvey into our future projects.

How We Created a Makerspace

This post is a cross-post from eSchool News published on March 20, 2018

[Editor’s note: Welcome to our new series, The New Librarian. In this series, we will be profiling innovative and award-winning library media specialists who will share their favorite tools, lessons, and advice. If you are or know a librarian we should include, send a note to eullman@eschoolmedia.com.]  

Here’s how one school transformed a traditional library into an IDEA Lab in only four months (but continues to grow every day!)

As an elementary educator for most of my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with a variety of learners—from inner-city students in North Carolina to university-level students in Chicago—but I found my true calling as the librarian at Hubbard Woods Elementary in Winnetka, Illinois. I’ve been called the “Willy Wonka of school librarians” because I transformed our traditional library into what I call an IDEA (Innovation, Design, Engineering, and Art) Lab complete with flexible furniture, robotics, engineering tools, iPads, laptops, and sewing machines.

To get started, I used my experience as a classroom educator to create a cross-curricular library curriculum that supports classroom teachers’ lessons, marrying the idea of books and bytes. Daily activities include robot bowling, using robots to paint pictures, and filming and producing music videos staring (you guessed it) robots!

For other districts that want to turn their libraries into IDEA labs, here are some insights into how we made it all happen.

4 steps to turning your space into a 21st-century library

 

 

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My dream binder is full of awesome spaces like this one at Central School in Wilmette, IL. While I might not be able to physically recreate this in my library, the layout, color scheme and use of furniture can help inspire new ideas!

1. Create a dream binder.

In 2015, I received a lump sum of funding to help transform our traditional library into a flexible, collaborative makerspace. One of the conditions of the funding was that we needed to spend it in a certain amount of time, so we had four to five months to make some big decisions.

 

Luckily, when the PTO asked what I needed to create the space, I pulled out a three-ring binder of photos, drawings, and ideas I collected during my first few years as a librarian. I had been searching the Internet and library magazines for inspiration.

The binder was ready before we started, and that helped my PTO realize that my dream was a good dream and they wanted to support it. Using pictures of furniture and spaces was a great way for me to communicate my ideas and make them come to life.

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This BEAUTIFUL Makerspace at Summit School is in Oconomowoc, WI.  We visited and had lunch with Wendy Harrop and her colleagues.  We learned so much from them as they reflected on their new space.

2. Ask a lot of questions—and really listen to the answers. 

During the process of building our makerspace, a group of parents and teachers visited schools all over Illinois, Wisconsin, and Colorado to see their spaces. We asked librarians and teachers thoughtful questions about which tools they liked the most and which ones they could live without.

At every school we visited, someone said, “If we could do something different, when we were first starting out we would not have gotten a 3D printer and instead put that $3,000 into XYZ.”

Because of that feedback, we didn’t put a lot of money into 3D printers until later on.

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This was a fun collaboration with our Art teacher who was exploring Jackson Pollock with our students. We used Sphero to ‘paint’ our picture which now proudly hangs in our library!

3. Do all that you can to help educators see the cross-curricular value.

I love to incorporate coding and robotics into my library, and the kids love it too. One of my favorite tools to introduce our youngest students to the world of coding is KIBO by KinderLab Robotics. Students link wooden blocks to create code, then use the robot to scan the blocks and make it go. It’s a good, device-free way for students to learn about coding and robotics.

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KIBO and MATH!  We coded KIBO to ‘bowl’ over the pins and we computed our totals using the tally mark skills we learned in class.

Part of my role is to help classroom educators see the cross-curricular value of coding and robotics. A big part of the first-grade curriculum is learning about our community. To support the classroom during library time, the students and I created a Lego city and used KIBO to navigate around to the major landmarks. Students thoroughly enjoyed the activity, and the classroom teacher saw the connection that robotics has to the curriculum.

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Students love Rigamajig!  We use it to prototype creations and to explore

4. Incorporate digital and physical tools.

We have a wide variety of engineering tools and materials that I use alongside traditional robots to encourage students to prototype solutions to problems. One of my favorites is Rigamajig, a collection of wooden planks, wheels, and pulleys that connect easily with heavy-duty plastic wing nuts and bolts. The kids can prototype and build large things like cars, chairs, and benches quickly and easily. With the simple machine add-ons, we’ve been able to introduce complex concepts like cams, cogs, and pulleys in ways that kids can physically understand.

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We love our Janome 3128 Sewing Machines!  They are a workhorse!

Although some people think cardboard boxes and sewing machines are non-traditional makerspace tools, I strongly disagree. We believe in having students learn valuable skills and appreciate the process as much as the final product. To that end, we have emphasized both hand- and machine-sewing in our K–4 progression. It’s exciting to see them gain confidence and skill.

We have a massive Lego wall and tons of cardboard, cardboard tools, and hand tools. We know that saws and drills can hurt children, but why keep a good tool away from them when you can teach them how to use it safely and it makes the work easier?

One of my idols, Gever Tulley, said, “Children can build anything, and by building anything, learn anything.”

Our IDEA Lab is a balance of high- and low-tech tools that encourage students to explore learning in a whole new light. Hanging in our IDEA Lab is a giant light bulb that I found online from a thrift shop in Paris. It glows the words “IDEA Lab” in our space, which is symbolic of the passion kids have for learning about the world. I’m lucky that I get to have a space to help kids explore the things that will “light up” their own metaphorical light bulbs!

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Sharing the Love!

hockney90a07f809acbbe6d91a6fb65f5cfd238cdd16300Becoming the 2016 School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year has truly changed my life.  It was for this reason that I was incredibly happy to be able to share some of the bounty and love that was bestowed on me.

Earlier this year, I ran a contest to share the $2,500 in Scholastic funds with five lucky schools.  There were hundreds of entries and five schools from around the country were each awarded $500.  I checked in with each of the schools to see how they spent the funds and am happy to share those reflections here.

Thank you to School Library Journal and Scholastic for allowing me to share this bounty!

Dear Todd,

This past year, the book budget for my k-6 elementary school was cut in half. You can imagine how excited I was when I was selected to be the recipient of $500 worth of books from Scholastic, thanks to your generosity!  I enlisted students to help with the selection, and they came up with a list that included books about Lego’s, graphic novels (we have one copy of “Sisters” and lots of demand, so I ordered two more copies!), books about robots and drones,  and books from the series “Interesting Facts.”  We got a late start ordering, and are expecting the books to arrive soon.  I let my students know about your act of kindness and asked them to think of a way they could “Pay it Forward.” They decided to make bookmarks for seniors in a local senior center.  And when the books do arrive, the students who helped make the selections will help me set up a “Book Tasting” event in the library, for classes to come down and “savor” the books! Our library is open this summer and these books will be a great “hook” to pull students in this summer!

Anne Mlod

Genessee Elementary School

Auburn, NY 13201

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Hello Todd,

I wanted to thank you for your generous gift in sharing the $500 with Terrell Lane Middle School.

This school year, we had no budget for our non-fiction collection.  We used the $500 Scholastic funds to help purchase materials in high-interest categories.  New to our school this year was a STEM lab, so the media center purchased books about apps, 3D printing, and drones.  These were so important as we had no books featuring these more current technologies.  Also, our Career and Technical Education Coordinator creates a monthly display featuring career pathways which are presented in the media center.  The media center tries to supplement with a selection of books about careers, but we have noticed significant gaps in our collection.  This gift allowed us to purchase a set of books about dangerous jobs that are appealing to our students and provide more information for our career board.  Lastly, I have several students who are big fans of WWE wrestling, so we bought a few biographies of wrestlers.

Students were thrilled to see the choices of new books we purchased and immediately checked out the majority of the titles.  I know that these will be popular choices for several years.  Within every book, TLMS also added a book-plate (designed by a student) thanking Todd Burleson for the gift.

Below you will find photos of our students enjoying the new books right after check out, our career pathway display with new books, and our School Resource Officer reading.

Thanks again Todd.

Laura Aldridge

Terrell Lane Middle School

Louisburg, NC 27549

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If you walked into our library today, your first impressions would all be positive. Look at that soaring two-story wall of windows! That beautiful sturdy furniture! Those comfortable couches! That clever presentation space! And those beautiful wooden display cases! Well, here’s the thing. Most of that beautiful furniture was purchased by a forward-thinking librarian who spent every penny allocated when the school opened 12 years ago. The rest was scavenged from other schools, garage sales and once, off the curb in my neighborhood.  What’s harder to scavenge are books that our students want to read. Our shelves are full of books that have literally been read to pieces. My part-time aide spends half of her work week repairing, taping, gluing and praying that we can get our books through one more check-out.

Our school, like many in California and around the country, faces tough budget choices each year. Our hard-working PTO funds the library, along with many other school programs. With 1960 students, a $1,000 library budget doesn’t go far and is usually spent by October. Todd’s donation meant an infusion of new books in April! In fact, we came back from spring break to find those Scholastic cartons piled on our desk. We madly cataloged and covered the books that day, and filled a display bookcase with them. The photos attached show the display at the end of that day. The day after that? Completely empty shelves. Most of the books have already been returned and checked out again, many by friends of the first reader who made an enthusiastic recommendation. My two 8th grade aides each read five of the books, so they have been most enthusiastic at promoting them, too.

We are so thankful for Todd’s generosity. We were able to purchase replacements of old favorites (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,) and some new to us series like The Book of Tormod trilogy, which two boys tore through in a week! As the end of the school year approaches, our circulation hovers at just over 22,000 check-outs. That bump in April and May? That’s our new Scholastic books, circulating through the hands of many happy readers! Thank you, Todd!

Mary Clark

San Elijo Middle School

1600 Schoolhouse Way

San Marcos, CA 92078

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Warner Enhanced Elementary School is located across the Cumberland River and just a few blocks from downtown Nashville. But the population of Warner School could not be more different from the business folk of downtown, the heart of the business district. At Warner, 91% of the students live at or below the federal poverty level. Many depend on the free meals provided by the school as their reliable source of food.

Warner was delighted to be one of the recipients of the $500 Scholastic Book Awards from 2016 SLJ School Librarian of the Year Todd Burleson. The kindergarten teachers at Warner are using the funds to update their classroom libraries so that when the students return in the fall there will be new books for everyone to enjoy!
Thank-you again to Todd Burleson, School Library Journal, and Scholastic!

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At Lift For Life Academy, we were inspired by Todd Burleson’s generosity to “pay it forward” with our Scholastic dollars. One way we did this was to allow 25 middle school students who had lost their library books and could not afford the replacement cost to have their fees waived. At a high poverty school like ours, this assistance is invaluable. We were able to add new books to our collection to replace the ones that were lost.

We also used our Scholastic dollars to help younger students with summer reading materials. In our Teen Library Council (TLC) Service Learning class, we have been working on community service projects all semester in conjunction with the United Way Serviceworks program. Our TLC students learned about the summer learning gap that occurs when students do not have access to books and about the lack of diversity in children’s literature. To combat these problems, we held a book drive, and the students wrote their own children’s books with African-American protagonists. We used the website StoryJumper to create & print our stories. We then partnered with Ms. Alison Fick’s third-grade class at Northside Community School, sharing the stories we had written with them and bringing them books to take home for summer reading, including 17 brand new books purchased with our Scholastic dollars.

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Geodesic Domes

Here in Winnetka, we have an amazing endowment called the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation.  It encourages teachers to push beyond the ‘regular’ and ‘dream bigger!’  Teachers write proposals for projects that they would like to explore with their students.

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This is how our television studio was kickstarted fifteen years ago.  Last year I applied for a grant to explore Buckminster Fuller with my students.  I’ve always been fascinated with his work around geodesic domes, but I knew very little about him otherwise.  As part of my proposal, I laid out my plans to have students explore his work and life.

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What I found was that there are very few if any, resources written at an elementary level about his life and work.  I ended up finding a half a dozen documentaries and books about him and his work, but none worked to share with my students.  So, I pieced together bits and parts of what I found online and introduced the man and his work to them.

My fourth graders had the ‘deepest’ dive into his work.  After our introduction, I had the students attempt to build a dome out of newspaper tubes rolled up tightly.  I found several different tutorials on ‘how to’ to this.  Having never done this myself, I was pretty anxious about attempting it during IDEA Lab, especially with parent helpers.  In a word, it was a failure.  We coded our long and short tubes with tape, but the ‘hub’ where the struts came together was less than ideal.  After nearly an hour of attempts with three different classes, we abandoned the project because the tubes were just not strong enough.  While I am a big believer in learning from mistakes and especially failure, I knew I needed to give the kids a chance to experience success.

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I immediately began researching PVC domes.  I saw lots and lots of different kits available.  The one that was both reasonably priced and looked simple enough for nine and ten-year-olds to build was created by Zip Tie Domes.  I was very eager to have the kids experience success. I ordered it online and in just a few days the kit arrived.  After opening the two boxes, I found easily identifiable parts and very clear instructions.  I was ready for the kids!screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-9-14-43-am

The kids were excited!  We broke down the failure from the week before and discussed what we learned from it.

“Newspaper tubes are not rigid enough to build a solid dome.”

“We needed some sort of better system for taping the struts together.  We each did it differently which did not hold it together well.”

“Some kind of ‘connector’ would be very good to help us hold it all together better.”

When they saw the PVC pipes and hubs, they couldn’t wait to get started.

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Per the instructions, we began by laying out a perimeter and connecting to the hubs.  It took the kids a while to figure out how the zip ties worked, but soon they were pros.  Mistakes were easy to fix with a cable cutter.  Soon the first layer was ready to be lifted.  The next two classes went on to completely finish the construction.  They needed ladders to reach the upper levels and having several adults to help ‘persuade’ the pipes into the hubs was very helpful.  I have three fourth grade classes and it took every bit of the three hours we had to successfully complete the project.

They have LOVED having it in our library.  In fact, the whole school has enjoyed reading in it.

Becoming a Global Educator!

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I’m incredibly honored to have presented to more than 200 school librarians in Pakistan in early December.  While the aspiring world traveler in me wishes it had been in person, I pre-recorded my keynote and took questions live from the audience.  Due to the +11 hour time difference, their morning was my late night.  It was invigorating to hear their questions about transforming their libraries to be more dynamic and active learning environments.  

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I followed along with the conference via Twitter.  My PLN has continued to expand as librarians from the conference reach out.  Several of them are planning to come to the United States to pursue advanced degrees in Library Science.  I know of one who will be coming to the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference in late February.  In many ways, the world truly is growing smaller.  I look forward to watching this group of passionate educators as they share and learn with others throughout the world!

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Illinois School Library Media Association Annual Conference

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It was wonderful to be able to ‘remotely’ participate in the 2016 Illinois School Library Media Association Annual Conference even though I was visiting my daughter at our first ever parent’s weekend at The University of Minnesota!  I was part of an amazing panel of educators who are on the cutting edge of makerspaces in libraries.

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Kristen Mattson @DrKMattson, Erin Wyatt @ejdwyatt, and Pattie Fleser @pafleser and I gave an overview of our space and then took questions from the jam packed room in Tinley Park.

Most of the questions were about getting spaces started in a variety of settings and bringing teachers on board.  You can see some of the notes from the session HERE.

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Sure wish I could have been there to see and hear these phenomenal educators and author.  I’m there for sure next year!

Thanks again for letting me be a part!