Recent changes is my life have knocked the bottom out of the time available for slicing, and I can see a distinct difference in both incoming volume (higher) and the amount of wound-fiber waiting to be knitted (getting skimpy). Neither is good. Knitters who go on about hiding “stash” around the house can’t begin to understand what it’s like to lose a whole bedroom to old clothes. (There’s a unique reason to blog–documentation that I am not simply a person with a hoarding problem but actually do have a plan to, and some history thereof, make money from this accumulation.)
First item on the plan is to focus on slicing, so that turning clothing into knittable fiber and/or weavable rag weft becomes the first thing on the list when the phone rings. Keeping up with my hoop supply competes for the same time and attention slot. Two hours of chatting allows me to clear two baskets of clothing, and that in turn makes for a decent dent in the piled-up pillowcases full of washed and dried clothing stashed under the large table in my sewing room. (Update: as I begin to weave in a production studio, I can’t wait for a random phone call to provide weft-preparation time. I now slice old clothes for an hour, first thing in the morning, on any day that I have clothing that needs to be turned into weft. If I’m caught up on incoming stash, I use the time for some other weaving-preparation task.)
OTOH, two hours of slicing also leaves my back and right arm and hand sore, and it’s a lop-sided exercise from the point of view of body mechanics. Plus, slicing is a fairly high-energy activity and it takes more than I can give during late night calls with John, which might be another slicing opportunity.
The need, the lack of time, the challenges, and then finding The Idea Factory: Learning to Think at MIT, by Pepper White, at the same swap shed that gives me so much of my fiber, led to a new thought. (I was accepted to MIT and did not matriculate there. I have pretty much always known I made the right decision. It is useful to know I was accepted, however.)
Reading about how one man learned to think in terms of engineering problem statements and then their solutions helped me rethink the nature of the slicing problem. (Cue thought bubble: I am as smart as these people; I have simply developed my gifts in different directions. I ought to be able to think like they do.)
New problem statement: I wanted a way to slice fabric while I was seated, because some of my reluctance to slice is that at the end of the day, I’m just too tired to stand. I also want a way to slice fabric that uses both sides of my body evenly, and while I could learn to use the razor wheel in my left hand, that has a steep learning curve and a dangerous failure cost.
I want a tablesaw running a razor blade. I don’t know if any table saws run blades that will leave a clean enough cut in fiber. While I was thinking about this, I realized that my serger slices fabric as it stitches. I unthreaded the serger and sat down to test; it was convenient and worked but was MUCH slower than using my rolling razor wheel by hand. It’s also too noisy to use on a phone call.
When I first researched this problem, I couldn’t find anything that would work well at the level of used clothing–most commercial machines seemed to be used only in the garment production industry.
I wondered what technology is used at the factories that turn bundles of clothing rejected from flea markets in very impoverished US counties into woven rag rugs that are sold at WalMart. (This chain-of-clothing-reuse is a sad but fascinating story on its own. The clothing rejected at our local thrift shops is resold to people who take it to flea markets “down state,” and the stuff that doesn’t sell there eventually gets bundled for the commercial rug trade. I don’t know how many flea markets it goes through before it goes to India.) I was actually thinking what it would take to find this out as I went to bed. The next morning, I woke to the recognition that in places like India and China where those rugs are woven, nobody uses technology when brute force labor will solve the problem. Oops.
I considered a commercial meat slicing machine. There’s a huge reason the blades on these tools are heavily shielded. At $400, it’s an expensive experiment. Seems like there ought to be a way to adjust the guard so that a piece of fabric, and only fabric not fingers, could be held against the blade… However, study of a home unit at the thrift shop suggested that its value for fabric was limited, and at even $23 used, with clear warning that the warranty was void if the machine was altered in any way, gave me pause.
Two years after I started looking into efficient, power-driven slicing, I have an answer. Maybe I knew how to search better; maybe Goggle gives better answers. We found the Allbrands.com site, with a selection of fabric cutters in a range of sizes and price points. I am now the (mostly) happy owner of one working Gemsy Rotary Knife, and an identical non-working model that didn’t survive an altercation with a zipper.
I’ve used the cutter for about 40 hours of fairly solid cutting time. The blade is getting dull quickly now, and I’ll replace it soon. The motor hold up. The cutter slices through two pieces of denim (legs of a pair of jeans) easily enough. It’s starting to snag on finer knit fabrics, esp. when I cut cross-grain. I still use my hand-held rolling razor cutter for turning flat wovens and single-layer t-shirts into weft.
When I need to cut thicker fabric, or multiple layers (folded sheets into strips, for example), the Gemsy solves the problem.