%@*@%ing Sewing Machine (Making A Fabric Bunting)

I try not to curse. Really I do. But sewing is just not in my genetic makeup. I mean I can do a little button fix by hand and even stitch the last side of a pillow closed manually, but the other three sides that you’re supposed to do with a sewing machine? Yeah, I’m I disaster. Growing up my aunt and mom sewed all the time (they made all my Halloween costumes and my aunt even sewed my mom’s wedding dress) but whenever I tried to learn on my mom’s machine I broke it. Not just jammed it or temporarily messed it up, I legitimately ruined it (at least six episodes ended with my mom carting it off to the shop and paying lots o’ money to get it repaired). And then I wasn’t encouraged to use it quite as much if you catch my drift. I don’t blame my mom at all. I was clearly cursed.

So in an insane what-is-she-smoking turn of events, I recently purchased a nice affordable beginners sewing machine of my own with high hopes of DIYing a quilt and a fabric flag banner for Clara’s first birthday (using all of the fabrics that we picked up for her weekly photo project to create them). I figured it would come in handy for things like pillow and curtain making as well.

And I specifically picked something with great ratings (4.5 stars and over 150 customer reviews) on amazon.com (a Brother XL2600I) because I wanted something good for a beginner devoid of any “natural ability” whatsoever. Of course it didn’t hurt that it was around $100-200 cheaper than most fancy machines (on sale for just $89 – down from $149 – with free shipping). You know just in case I irreparably maimed it within a week of use. Which would not have surprised me. Hence the I’m-not-going-to-splurge-for-anything-great-just-yet approach.

So it arrived a few weeks ago. It has been testing me. Oh my goodness has it been testing me. Like, walk-calmly-into-the-bedroom-and-scream-into-a-pillow testing me.

I even had a hilariously miserable and desperate text message exchange with Katie B where I basically asked her to come over and peel me off the floor and wipe away my tears and spank my disobedient machine. Yeah, she didn’t come. But she did make me laugh by comparing me to Martha. I suggested that perhaps I was Martha’s uncoordinated lesser known sister (who I dubbed Bertha) and by the end of the little iPhone fest Katie had me smiling. Gotta hand it to that girl for providing some much needed comic relief when you’re dealing with this sort of ugliness:

The actual issue was that I was having all sorts of tension problems (broken needles, loopy tangled underside stitches, etc) and then after two nights of despair and at least five solid hours of sheer misery I realized that I was using an unsanctioned bobbin. Seriously. After five hundred attempts at rethreading the needle and rereading the manual and googling around for ideas and texting my poor friends (who all had better things to do than listen to me whine I’m sure) it was my stupid one tenth of an inch too tall bobbin that was sabotaging me. But at least I got the root of the issue, which ended up being hilariously easy to fix (hilarious in that you-laugh-but-kind-of-cry-at-the-same-time-because-it’s-so-pathetic-and-embarrassing way).

But at least at that lowest ever point in my sewing career I figured it could only get better from there. So I kept on keeping on. Slowly but surely I’m getting to know “Oh Brother” (my sarcastically pessimistic nickname for the sewing machine slash bane of my existence) and I’ve actually made some decent progress in the world of novice sewing. For example, I made this little fabric flag banner for the bean’s big one year birthday par-tay using small triangles that I cut out of various weekly fabrics.

I’m not going to say that it was easy. It was harder and more annoying than The Situation’s abs. In fact, I refer to the debacle that was me attempting to sew that fabric banner as “The Real Situation.”

It took me waaaaaay too long and I probably legitimately cried ten times (we’re not talking whiny fake crying, we’re talking actual frustrated hot tears that you swipe away before anyone looks at you like you’re crazy for sew-crying). Give me a sledgehammer or a paint brush and I have no fear. But give me a robot with a motorized needle and I will show you the definition of misery. It’s just not something I can even remotely pretend to be good at. Oh well, I’ll learn. Or I won’t and I’ll get another hobby. Haha.

As for exactly how long it took, I’d guess that cutting each of the flags out took me about forty minutes in front of the TV (I used a cardstock template and placed it over the prewashed – so it was preshrunk – fabric). Then I hemmed each of the three sides of the triangle with Oh Brother, which took me well over five hours.

Yes, you read that right. Let’s just say there were a lot of do-overs and seam ripping and more tension issues but in the end I was left with around a dozen perfect enough triangles that I wouldn’t die from embarrassment if a teenage Clara looked closely at her beloved birthday banner (I hope the banner becomes a tradition for every b-day until the bean is too old to indulge me, so I don’t just want it to look not-terrible I want it to last for a while and look halfway decent). So although you see about 27 flags on the table above, so many of them were just garbage when you got any closer, so I picked my favorite dozen and tossed the rest unceremoniously into my rag pile.

Then in a stroke of desperation (or genius, you decide) I actually broke out some iron on hem tape to complete the project in about another half hour (for a total of 5.5+ hours spent).

It helped to lay out the remaining not-terrible flags on the floor to play around with order until I liked what I saw. Then it was just about firing up the iron and using my trusty hem tape to attach them to the blue ribbon that I already had laying around.

I’m pretty sure it would have easily been 10+ hours if I sewed each flag to the blue ribbon that I used for the top. But heck, I’m starting slow. I’m just glad I was able to sew those flags and not chuck Oh Brother out the slider in the sunroom (the problem with ranches is that you don’t get to dramatically drop things that you hate out of second story windows so you have to improvise). And iron-on hem tape is washable so it’s all good. And look at my little helpers. How cute were they to hang out in the kitchen while I tested my not-cursing-or-throwing-anything limits? They were some much needed sweetness for a pretty darn annoying personal challenge.

The banner looks fun and festive and it’ll be washable and hopefully will last for at least a decade or two, and best of all it was free except for the expense of Oh Brother (thanks to already having purchased each of the fabrics on clearance throughout the year for Clara’s weekly pics and using iron-on hem tape and blue ribbon that I already had).

But I’m still hoping that the sewing machine purchase will end up being worth it as I attempt more projects like a very very very simplified quilt for the bean and other house-related things (a few throw pillows, maybe some curtains, etc). I’m definitely going to start slow.

So there it is. The truth. I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m terrible at sewing and it makes me curse, sob, and scream into my pillow. But who knows, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship with that terrifying mechanical needle. Stranger things have happened…


  1. Meredith says

    It WAS the machine! Blame that bobbin entirely! Keep trucking, keep doing the simple stuff and it will come. :) (I had this experience with knitting; I’m left-handed which makes it harder and I taught myself a “wrong” way and then had to learn the “right” way…it was a lot of time and frustration [and swearing and crying], but I’m fully competent. I’ve determined that it’s not for me, but at least I know how).

  2. Amber says

    I have that same machine, and I’ve called it much worse than “oh, brother”! I have a feeling that all my sewing machine problems are actually user-related…

  3. Elizabeth says

    My mother has always been a seamstress (sew-er didn’t sound right!) and my sister decided recently to learn. She has actually taken classes and really enjoyed them. I have considered it, but until I finish other things around the house I have no room to get into sewing!

    I think you did a great job!

  4. Andrea says

    I am SO with you. Project Runway tricked me into thinking that sewing was totally doable, and I can’t tell you how many swear words that machine has gotten out of me. I tried to sew napkins recently… and understood completely why you would buy them instead.

  5. Julie says

    I used to hate my sewing machine too. In fact, I replaced the plate that the needle goes into (whatever the heck it’s called) three times before I realized that the dent is supposed to be there, and I wasn’t breaking the machine over and over (and over).

    But now I can sew things that involve straight lines. I made an Easter dress and bonnet for my five month old baby girl! Out of tea towels I got for our wedding!! (Marimekko tea towels.) I call it the Dobby Dress. Want me to send you a photo? Just lemme know how.

  6. Karen says

    The banner turned out great!!! But I must say, this post makes me feel sooo much better. I’ve tried sewing a few times but it’s always a disaster. I really want to learn, really I do…but I am scared, because it never turns out well. Glad to know I’m not the only one who has had sewing machine “issues”.

  7. says

    I got my machine a year and a half ago and I cried MANY MANY times. It was super hard to figure out… but NOW I’m doing many fun things, making lots of projects and even selling things. Take heart! After a while you’ll get it! Good luck in the meantime :)

  8. sistakt says

    i’m the same way. i bought really nice material to make cloth napkins…. i attempted one and got so fed up and annoyed and gave up. they are all still sitting in the basement. i bought cloth napkins at an estate sale that work just fine. i want to be able to use a sewing machine but it just always wants to fight with me.

  9. says

    Good luck Sherry! The own adage “practice makes perfect” is often said for a reason =) At least you haven’t plenty of fabric to play around with!

  10. Krista says

    Okay, this completely cracks me up! Here I am taking inspiration from you every day and it never occurred to me that someone like yourself wouldn’t just HAVE the sewing gene, too ;-)

    P.S. I want you to know that I found a lot of absolutely fantastic DIY ideas from your wedding and used them for my own. One of the things I did was make my own table runners out of a modern fabric that brought together my teal, yellow and gray color scheme. Now I’m turning those DIY table runners into usable-for-every-day placemats!

    • says

      Aw those sound amazing. And your casual “I’m turning those runners into placemats” has me green with envy. Someday I hope sewing is that easy for me too! Haha.


  11. Nora says

    I feel your pain! I too have sent my mother’s sewing machine to the repair shop more than once. I took a course when I was in elementary school using a 1920’s machine (black and ancient Singer) but I love my White denim machine. It was $200 and it holds tension pretty well. I also watched the entire video under duress but it served me well. Jo-Ann’s offers classes to teach you how to use machines for free when you buy one which can really help if you’re having trouble!

    Don’t give up! Those fabric colors are adorable and they are so neat. You can definitely make a quilt!

  12. says

    Can I make a tiny recommendation? There’s a book called Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew One Project at a Time that I’ve heard great things about. No connection to the book on my part, just one I’ve heard lots of happy things about. Might be worth a look at the library.

    And I just got done making curtains for my living room, dining room, sunroom, and kitchen (www.violentlydomestic.com/2011/04/10/ironing-now-with-more-stabbing/) so I feel your pain!

    Good for you for sticking with it!

    • Elise says

      I’m learning to sew right now using the book Stitch by Stitch and it’s great! I would totally recommend it to anyone! It’s so straight forward and you get to make fun things as you learn each skill. You could totally learn to sew with it Sherry!

    • Amy in Richmond says

      I can second the Stitch by Stitch recommendation. Ck out the author’s blog – Whipstitch.

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