Thursday, August 28, 2014

More on managing digital content and some tips on making technology really work for you

To jump back to last year's post on Managing Digital Content, I threw out a couple of ideas on how to deal with our increasingly digital world.  So, since I'm in the mood to revisit the past, I thought I would write a bit more on the subject.

I wrote last year that I would recommend going digital with your manuals.  Is your phone a complete replacement for your manual?  Absolutely not.  I still have times when I will open up my paper manuals, but I love the ability to have the appropriate manual with me when I attend a class.  I don't have to worry about packing another item, I don't have to worry about losing the manual, and I don't have to worry about papercuts (yes, that really is an issue for me).  I know that I will have my phone with me, and I know that it has manuals for all of my machines.  One of my absolute favorite things about digital manuals is the ability to zoom in.  This has been extraordinarily helpful with my serger's threading guide because some of those tiny pictures can be hard to read.  To be clear, I do not advocate for the end of paper manuals, I would just take advantage of some of the resources put forth by our device manufacturers (the ability to view such files) and machine manufacturers (for making the PDF versions easily accessible and FREE) for giving us the option.

So, I've refined my methods for tracking my increasingly large stash of patterns, thread, and fabric since my last post.  I do stand by what I said before, but it wasn't working as well for me as I knew it could.  I had to take drastic measures, so I opted to go for a database.  The word "database" might sound scary and complex, but it really doesn't have to be.  You can make it as complicated and complex as you want, but it should always be useful.  Here are some things that I track in mine:

Patterns - I take a photo of the front and back of a pattern envelope so I know what the item (doesn't matter if it is a garment, quilt, or bag) looks like, and I have a picture of the yardage requirements.  Why is this important?  Ever bought a pattern and forgotten to bring it with you when you go to the fabric store, or maybe you found a cool new shop that you didn't anticipate visiting?  I know you answered yes to this question.  So, by taking a picture, you suddenly have the information in the palm of your hand.  Can you accomplish this without a database?  Absolutely.  Use the camera on your phone to snap a picture of your pattern.  Since I do use a database, I also store information that I find useful including whether or not I've made the item before and whether or not the pattern has been cut.  Having the item stored in my database and checking it before buying a pattern also helps to ensure that I don't accidentally buy multiple copies of the same pattern.

Thread - With as much sewing as I do, I use a lot of different types of thread.  I don't often go to the fabric store with the intention of buying a pattern and all of my fabric and notions in one trip.  I tend to buy patterns and fabric that I like with the hope that I will find the right project to match the two together.  Is it the most cost and time effective way to operate?  No, it isn't, but at least I'm honest with myself about that.  So, my thread database.  This is probably the least refined part of my system.  I track the type of thread (cotton, polyester, embroidery, serger, etc), who makes the thread (Aurifil, Mettler, Superior, etc), which product line is is from (Mako 50/2, Mako 40/2, Metrosene, So Fine, King Tut, etc), a color number (and name too if there is one), the spool size (small, medium, large, cone), and how many I have (< 1, 1+, etc where the plus just means that I have more than 1 but less than 2 full spools).  To really get the most out of this, I should snap pictures for my database, but I've been a little lax on that part.  When I am starting a project, I rely on real thread color cards from the manufacturers.  What is a real thread color card?  It is a card with actual thread wrapped around pieces of cardboard.  You get great color matching abilities because you aren't reliant on printer ink or the color calibration of your computer/phone/tablet screen.  I have color cards for Aurifil, Metrosene, and several lines from Superior.  Superior has a great selection of their cards on their website.  If I can get the thread I want locally, excellent.  If I can't find the right weight and color combination, I will order online.

Fabric - Tracking fabric can seem like a chore, but there are some substantial benefits.  When I buy fabric, I add another entry into my database.  Do I do this at the point of sale?  Nope, but I will usually try to record the information within a day or two of purchase.  For each entry, I will take a picture of the fabric, record the quantity purchased, information on which designer/manufacturer produced the collection, a color name and part number, where I purchased it, and fabric content if it is a garment fabric (100% cotton, for example).  Where do I find this information?  For quilting fabric, it's usually printed right on the selvage edge.  I recommend doing this right away before you chop up the fabric so that you can give yourself an easier way to find it again later if necessary (it's amazing how much old fabric you can find if you plug the part number into a search engine).  Employees at your local fabric store may or may not remember collections from several years ago especially when they are given a 1/2" wide strip of it and you tell them that you don't remember where you bought it (this happens WAY more often than you might realize).  Within each entry, I also record how much of a fabric I have left.  So, let's say I bought 2 yards of a fabric.  I've used 1 yard, so my database would reflect the original purchase of 2 yards and a quantity on hand of 1 yard.  Why do I add this information?  I don't want to have to dig through my stash to see if I have a certain fabric, and then I don't want to have to pull it out to measure it.  I just pull out my phone, and the information is right there.  Now, what happens if you can't remember the name of a certain fabric?  You took a picture, remember?  Scroll through the database and find it.  Maybe you only remember where you bought it?  If you record where and when you bought it, you will have extra ways to narrow down your search.

So, that's how I manage most of my stuff (the largest exception being digital patterns / other miscellaneous files).  If you want specifics on what I use, I have recently converted from Bento (which is now, sadly, discontinued and unavailable) to Tap Forms which is available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad through the iOS App Store or the Mac App store.  I don't use Android, so I don't have the name of an Android app that does the same thing, but I know there are available apps that will give you similar functionality.  

If you have a big stash of anything, you can pretty much count on enduring the pain of having to go back and enter information.  Yes, it sucks, and you can't really get around it.  However, the longer you delay, the worse the problem will get because you will probably buy even more stuff.  I will also add that you may be (I have been) teased mercilessly about the fact that you have a database to track your sewing stuff, but I can't tell you how many times a day that I reference things in my database to satisfy my own needs or to find information for somebody else.

With these recommendations comes with some warnings.  You must charge your device.  Seriously.  If you have a dead battery, these solutions will not be useful. You should also take the opportunity to back up your device to your computer like the manufacturers recommend.  The same thing goes for the software... BACK IT UP because hardware/software do fail and devices get lost / stolen.  Backing up your phone / tablet / computer can save you a lot more heartache on top the headache and expense (time and/or money) of having to get a new device.

p.s.  I also track my sewing projects too so I know which fabric/pattern/thread combination I used plus when I started and finished the project.  :)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A year later, a few of my favorite things revisited

Let's get down to the nitty gritty on some my favorites.  I have not been compensated in any way for writing favorable things about the items below.  These are my honest opinions and are subject to change on a whim (at least in theory) if I find something that I prefer.

Last year I tested a bunch of different brands and types of thread, and I named my favorites (Aurifil 50/2 for cotton, Mettler Metrosene for polyester, and Isacord for embroidery).  After testing even more thread options, I am pretty much going to stand by my picks with a few minor tweaks.

I'm a huge Aurifil fan.  I've used the 50 weight (the orange spools) for machine quilting, English paper piecing (EPP), machine piecing, hand binding quilts, and for making bags.  Since last year, I've been in the process of replacing all of my Mettler Silk Finish with 40 weight (the green spools) Aurifil.  The Mettler Silk Finish thread is a 50 weight, 3 ply thread which seems pretty comparable in feel/thickness/durability to the 40 weight, 2 ply Aurifil.  I find the 40 weight to have significantly less lint than the Mettler Silk Finish even in the  notoriously linty black and navy.  Since I tend to plan things out at least a week in advance (which gives me more than enough time to get an order placed and to have it shipped to me), I've decided that it is worth the wait to place an online order (I order almost all of my Aurifil from Hawthorne Threads because they have the whole range of colors in all available weights) instead of picking up a spool of Silk Finish locally.  I'm sticking with Aurifil all the way for my cotton thread needs, but I would pick Superior's MasterPiece as my second choice.

I named Mettler Metrosene as my go-to polyester thread because of the wide, local availability and the variety of colors, but I preferred the reduced lint of #50 Superior's So Fine.  I still have mostly the same opinion this year - Mettler Metrosene will continue to be my #1 pick for many projects, but I will use Superior So Fine for projects that will work with the colors I have on hand.

I named Isacord as my go-to embroidery thread last year.  My opinion is the same this year.

I went back through my list of picks from last year, and I would like to add a few more to my favorites.

If you are looking for a bag to hold notions for class, I don't think you can do any better than Annie Unrein's A Place for Everything bag.  There are a lot of steps to making this bag, and some of the materials aren't the easiest to work with, but it is quite do-able if you take your time and carefully read through the instructions.

I've also ventured out into the garment sewing world a little.  Since most of my wardrobe consists of t-shirts and jeans, I am going to name Pamela's Patterns' The Perfect T-Shirt as my favorite shirt.  I've made it 10 times in varying fabrics and sleeve lengths.  It's excellent.  For these shirts, my favorite fabric is Robert Kaufman's Laguna Stretch Cotton Jersey.  It has a fiber content of 95% cotton / 5% spandex.  When I want a slightly heavier weight cotton, I love Nancy's Notions' 100% Cotton Interlock fabric.  

In the last year, I've gotten hooked on Sewline notions especially the fabric glue pen and the air erasable marker.  I also use their white fabric pencil as an alternative to my favorite chalk marker, the Chakoner (an imported chalk roller from Japan).

I'm also changing my collection of regular glass head pins to the Clover Silk Pins with glass heads.  These pins are more fine (which glide even more smoothly into fabric) and have all of the benefits of the other glass head pins.

With very little exception, I'm going to name Creative Grids rulers as my rulers of choice.  I wish they had more angle marks like on my Omnigrid/Omnigrip rulers.

Since last June, I've found some great blogs.  My favorite is probably written by Katy Jones.  You might know her as I'm a Ginger Monkey.  Her blog can be found here.

I've been buying a lot of fabric in the last year, but I haven't found any that feel as amazing those from Art Gallery.  Most of their fabric is 100% Pima cotton.  Yes, Pima cotton.  It is incredibly soft and luxurious.  It is a breeze to sew, and their colors are amazing.  I've also bought some of their voiles and knits, but they are presently living in my pile for use in future projects (the voile for some PJ / lounge pants and the knit for more Pamela's Perfect T-Shirts).

So, that's it for this recap because I've got stuff to sew!