Sewing Journal #1: Sewing Machines are Frustrating

Welcome to the first entry in my sewing journal! Sewing is a science and an art. Most of all, it’s very hard. But, I’m determined to share my journey learning to sew to keep me motivated to continue learning.

I remember the first time I tried getting into sewing. I was a fresh ex-New Yorker, living in my second apartment in a small Virginian city.

I was trying to use my mom’s old sewing machine from back in the 90s because I figured it still worked.

After days of trying to figure out how to thread the darn machine, I sat at my table, frustrated, breaking needle after needle after needle on a simple square of fabric. I lost interest for eight whole years.

I came to the conclusion that sewing machines are frustrating.

After eight years, a fateful trip to Colonial Williamsburg set the bug for sewing back in place. While there, my friend and I visited Tarpley, Thompson & Company, a shop dedicated to historical attire and accessories. I had a field day running my fingers along historical reproduction fabrics (because I’m a nerd). I ended up bringing yards of it home figuring I could make something by hand.

Tarpley, Thompson & Company on 402 E Duke of Gloucester St, Williamsburg, VA

I was still remembering my volcanic frustration at my mom’s SEARS Kenmore, so I still refused to touch that thing again. After watching hours of Not Your Mammas History, Bernadette Banner, and Abby Cox, I dove headfirst into the world of hand sewing. I loved it!

I ended up creating an assortment of beautiful garments that quickly became some of my favorite things to wear.

My first three hand sewn pieces: a tank top, shorts, and a scrunchie

Initially, I loved hand sewing. I still enjoy it depending on the project. It reminds me of knitting (which I learned first), and I was satisfied learning the ins and outs of putting something together with good old fashioned tools. I even bought an assortment of quality Japanese needles and a solid thimble.

Unfortunately, the older you get, the more you begin to appreciate speed and efficiency (the art of working smarter and not harder). Four months, eight garments, and a baby quilt later, and I longed for the speed of a sewing machine. My brain likes to spit out ideas, and I want to create them nearly as fast as the ideas manifest themselves. So, I figured it was time to tackle my nemesis: the sewing machine.

My Brother XR3774 Sewing Machine

I retired my mom’s old Kenmore and welcomed a Brother XR3774, kindly gifted to me by my husband on Christmas. I kept Abby Cox’s words in my head while learning how the machine works:

Everyone sucks at sewingand you never stop learning!

The beauty of sewing is that it’s all a process with different skillsets and niches. Even kind strangers I run into at JoAnn talk about how different sewing techniques and gear are a headache for some, while being a breeze for others.

Within an evening of trial and error, I figured out how to use this thing—well, the extreme basics, at least. Honestly, learning to hand sew first made it easier understand my sewing machine. The machine my husband bought me is very user friendly with plenty of online YouTube tutorials that I used in conjunction with the user manual. I practiced some basic stitches on cotton fabric scraps, then decided to create a simple drawstring bag as a way to practice basic techniques.

My first project on a sewing machine: Drawstring Bag

I made this bag using three squares of cotton Fabric Quarters (prepackaged squares of fabric that are 18″x21″ in size. One square served as the lining, while the other squares served as the body and pieces for the drawstrings. I added additional details such as steampunk gear buttons (they’re so amazing!).

Steampunk buttons

Decorative lining on the inside.

Drawstring bag holding dried flowers

The Verdict: Sewing machines are still frustrating, but when they work… I do a little dance

Through this simple drawstring bag and fabric scraps, I learned how to thread my machine, wind a bobbin, sew in a moderately straight line, and sew buttonholes—all vital skills for the basics.

Honestly, having learned to hand sew first made learning this machine infinitely easier to understand. I almost feel like I can do anything now—even though I will probably barely or ever use the other thirty-four stitch settings.

The experience has made me more patient with the machine, and I accept that harder projects will require trial and error (I jacked up quite a few fabric scraps before I tackled my drawstring bag).

Close up of drawstring bag

I fell in love with this drawstring bag so much that I plan to make several more to use as small flour and grain sacks for my pantry. Cotton Fabric Quarters can be found for cheap at JoAnn. My local store sells them for under $2.00 each.


Colonial Williamsburg Part 5: Tarpley, Thompson & Company Haul

I Sewed an Outfit Using 18th Century Reproduction Fabric

Beginner’s Guide to Knitting

Knitting Glossary and Abbreviations

How to Read Knitting Patterns

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  1. It’s funny because I absolutely loath hand sewing. I much prefer my machine.

    1. After finally getting the hang of it, sewing machines are growing on me! I do save the fine details for hand sewing, though. Thanks for reading!

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