how the sewing machine made its home in the closet

Sewing machines are for sale in Lidl this week! Just one look at them and there are dreams of making home items to rival Cath Kidston’s, fashion items worthy of the runway or cozy quilts to proudly display. No one thinks: buttons, hems, alterations. In the contemplative stage of sewing it is a novel idea – the projects that will make the purchase all worth while. The shiny new toy is unwrapped at home. It’s smooth surfaces and pristine metal pieces admired. A conclusion is made:

I have a sewing machine; therefore, I am a great sewer.

Sewing is an amateur hobby that creates professional results … until the first project is underway and all the pieces hanging off the machine just stop functioning the way they do in the imagination. The thread catches and the needle repeatedly breaks. That seam needs to be taken out the FOURTH TIME! Everyone keeps asking if they can get their clothes fixed. Forget it, the machine is going back in the box! A love, hate relationship with sewing springs forth – the love of the possibilities and the hate of what the reality is. The machine gathers dust in the closet.

There is usually one reason that people give when telling others about why they gave up sewing: lack of patience.

Sewing classes have been the topic of many of my conversations over the last few days. For the first time ever, I will be teaching a class.

My parents have pictorial evidence of me sitting at the machine and stitching a couple of pieces of fabric together when I was about 7. Over the following few years I tried making simple Barbie skirts for my dolls. When I was 11 I finally took a 4H sewing course with others. During that year a couple of things happened: 1) I learned a lot of technical sewing skills. 2) I decided sewing wasn’t for me. I don’t think that I touched the machine again or even thought about using one for about 5-6 years. In grade 10 I signed up for a fashion arts class in school. There was some technical knowledge to learn about fabric and trends but mostly we just turned on the radio and worked on whatever pattern and fabric we decided on.. Soon I began to adapt patterns to become my own designs. My mom taught me more about actual patterns, fabric and sewing technique that year. I switched to a foods class for grade 11-12 but didn’t stop sewing. In grade 12 I took on the role of costume designer for our school play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was the year I fell in love with sewing.

Sewing became a hobby and when I was attending my second year of college I began to work at a large fabric store. Every type of person worked there: someone from a high stress business environment who came to “just cut fabric” for a year; someone who had worked at Cowboys for seven years before quitting one night after someone asked if she would … I’ll leave that story; (East) Indian women from really happy arranged marriages; a Romanian with amazing embroidery skills; students needing a part time job; and our boss who had made and sold swimsuits on the beach in Puerto Rico for almost 10 years.  We all had one thing in common that superseded all our differences: A love of sewing!

I still have dear and close friends from my years working there (and some are probably reading this!). We shared our skills and often worked in the departments where we would best serve customers well. I learned about making swimsuits, quilts and window coverings. I learned about matching fabrics and fabric care. I learned about fabric quality. I discovered every sewing notion under the sun. I learned why people really give up on sewing:

Unrealistic expectations – Um, I think the first paragraph describes those expectations well. Yes, patience is needed because we are not born as super sewers. Being willing to start with projects at your skill level and knowing that you have to start slow before you can go fast really helps. I still need to remember this – when I have unrealistic expectations my seam ripper becomes my best friend and most hated enemy.

Not enough knowledge about how the machine works – It is a gadget with lots of pieces that need to be in the right place at the right time to work properly. Having the thread tension off by several millimeters or threading the machine incorrectly might be all it takes to pack away the sewing machine.

No one to ask questions to – Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of sewing clubs around and sewing courses can often be expensive. Having other people around is one of the best ways to get that one thing that’s not working to work again.

Not learning the basics – As I began to put together a sewing course focusing on the basics I realised how many things I just know because I had people looking over my shoulder correcting me: where to put my hands, how to pivot a corner, how to adjust the bobbin tension, keeping the needle up when taking the fabric out, having the right needle, make sure to have the pattern where it is supposed to be on the grain of the fabric.

A really boring sewing lesson!!! – Sewing should be fun! It is a creative outlet with technical skill. If the technical learning outweighs the creative expression it will become incredibly dull. No sewing course should ever be designed for “around the house sewing and mending” nor should it be for creating clone projects.

All of these will help people to lose patience, creating shattered dreams of textile genius. Consider the sewing machine in the closet again. Perhaps it doesn’t deserve its dust. At the very least, share it with someone who is just beginning to dream.


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