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Dear Vicki: Summer is here, and my girls and their friends are eager to sew something. They are ready to make something to wear, but I don’t want to tackle zippers right away. They already have made pillowcases, drawstring bags and p.j. pants. I know you have classes at your store; what do you use?

– Lauren E.

Dear Lauren: Here is something new for them to make: McCall’s 5104 has six different views, so everyone gets a choice. It’s a halter top that will build on your drawstring bag project. It also uses elastic with a casing, which works with the p.j. pants experience. This pattern is out of print, but we still have some in stock. So send a check for $8 to me if you want one (Vicki Farmer Ellis, P.O. Box 220463, St. Louis, MO 63122).

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Dear Vicki: I learned to English smock years ago and loved it. Now, with grandchildren, I want to get going again but now live where there is no one to pleat my fabric. So I ordered a pleater machine through the mail. I could use some help. It seems a bit stiff and hard to turn. Also, I am having a hard time keeping the fabric exactly straight. Can you offer some tips? Thanks. – Mary Ann T.

Dear Mary Ann: , I have a few ideas that might help you. For the benefit of other readers, a pleating machine is a simple but ingenious machine that is made from three brass rollers that fit and roll together. They have grooves that hold up to 24 needles at once, and as the fabric rolls through, threads shoot through and create the pleats that make the intricate stitching of English smocking. Years ago we had to iron printed dots onto the fabric and then hand-sew the rows of pleats.

One tip for you is to first carefully run pieces of waxed paper through the machine. This will help clean off oxidation that might have formed on the rollers and could be causing friction. Another thing is that during shipping, the rollers might simply have gotten slightly misaligned. So loosen the screws and let the mechanism shift slightly.