%@*@%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. V's says

    I can totally understand. When I see people sewing curtains, pillows, slipcovers etc etc I get so jealous. I tried tried and tried but failed every single time. :(( But this flag was a great job indeed. Wish I can atleast get to this ;-)


  2. Jody says

    Your post had me laughing so hard I nearly peed myself.
    I feel exactly as you do about sewing. I want so desperately
    To learn, but all attempt failed and each experience was worse than the last. I look forward to reading more about your sewing adventures.

  3. Kathy says

    See!! I told you it was the machine and not us, poor, poor inexperienced sewers. I’m so happy that you got your project finished. I think it looks great and what a great idea!

    Now I’ve gotta go google unsanctioned bobbins. I am having the same troubles with my “Oh Brother” (LOVE that, BTW).

  4. says

    Your triangle flag bunting looks terrific. You should be very proud of yourself. :)

    Tip: If you iron those triangles (all the sewed edges) they will look crisper and more professional. You will be AMAZED at the difference. Seriously.

    • Elise says

      Hi Sherry,

      As an intermediate/lazy lazy lazy sewer, I thought I’d share a few tips for you that always help me out. These are the things that I am religious about, which says something because I skip steps whenever possible.

      1. Iron all hems or folds (including pleats) before and after you sew them. Before helps the fabric stay in place while you sew and after gets out any puckers that may have occured. Always iron on the hottest setting the fabric can stand.

      2. Pin everything within an inch of its life. Seriously. Pin it as much as you think it needs, and then go back and put one pin in between each of them. If you put the pins in perpendicular to the direction of the fabric movement, you won’t have to remove them as you sew.

      3. Don’t forget to always backstitch at the begining and end.

      4. To go around corners seamlessly, leave the needle in the fabric and rotate the fabric until you have it lined up again, then put the presserfoot back down and sew away.

      Anyway, I apologize if you already knew all of this stuff… These were just the things that were not really obvious when I started sewing a couple years ago.

  5. Landy says

    Oh-I felt so badly for you after reading this. I learned to sew on my mom’s 1-function Singer. All it did was go back and forth, and it weighed about 50 pounds. I love that machine. My husband got me a nice little Brother machine a few years ago, and now that I’ve figured it out, it’s great. It does WAY more than my mom’s Singer (although I still covet that one).

    But I had moments like the ones you’re describing. Particularly when making sheer curtains (where, of course, EVERY mistake shows)–I’d get those tangled messes on the bobbin-side of the seam, and I couldn’t figure out why. And then I cried. I think I finally did solve it though: I think I was putting the bobbin in so it unwound the wrong way, which screwed up the tension. It’s these little things you don’t even think of…

    But you’ll get it… and I bet, in fact, you’re through the worst of it…

    • Rosie says

      Landy, I love those old Singers too – in our area (Washington DC), you can find them on Craigslist for $50-$150, and I think they’re a great deal – those things will work forever! If you don’t have any luck finding one on Craigslist, you can also find them on ebay and shogoodwill.com.

  6. Riane says

    In 7th grade we were forced to take a home ec class that involved the sewing machine. At the time, I had no fear. Today is another story. Sewing machines scare the bahjeebus out of me and I’m constantly breaking needles and snagging when my mom lends me her machine instead of taking on whatever project I’ve decided suits her.

  7. says

    Oh, I am so happy to read this. Not happy that you struggled, but that someone else in the world has the same experiences. I come from a family of absolutely brilliant seamstresses. And I am not one of then. The last time my Mom attempted to help me sew, I ended up yelling at her and crying these huge racking sobs. Seriously embarassing. Her precious sewing machine is currently sitting in a corner at my house because I’ve managed to do something to and it just doesn’t work anymore.

    I’m seriously considering an Oh, Brother. Then at least I won’t feel guilty when I break it. :)

  8. Meg A. says

    If it makes you feel any better… I have that same sewing machine and although I do have SOME sewing skills… that thing jams & gets “un-threaded” VERY easily. It also struggles to get through multiple layers of fabric. I thought I was doing something smart by buying an inexpensive one when I was starting to sew, but apparently not. I’m about ready to upgrade because I’ve had it!

  9. Janelle says

    Very cute! I feel your pain about sewing. I can totally relate to what you have had happen, only my terrible experience came in the form of a Girl Scout program. I was employed by our area Girl Scouts and was in charge of a program that had been set up by the previous program director. I had about 40 people coming and had ZERO experience sewing. Talk about nightmare! We made it through and I learned a little something too.

    Keep up the great work! You are such an inspiration!

  10. Mel says

    I’m so sorry to hear that your relationship with the machine isn’t fabulous yet. I sew a lot, so I have a few bits of advice that might help.

    1. Don’t scrimp on thread. Cheap thread sheds lint which will clog your machine, the thread will break, and you’ll be sad. Gutermann and Mettler are great brands to use and widely available.

    2. Likewise for needles. They’re the cheapest part of your machine, subject to the most wear, and a new one can be the difference between an easy fun project and a nightmare. They often go on sale for 50% off at large craft stores, so stock up.

    3. Maintenance: Make sure to clean and oil your machine regularly. It will be happier and reward you.

    4. Look for a class in your area! If you shell out for a “dealer” machine, you generally get free machine use and maintenance classes that acquaint you with your model’s quirks. Since yours is from online, I’d suggest finding an independent sewing shop or a sewing machine/vacuum service center. Just having someone sit down with you for an hour or two can be of immense help.

    And have fun – your banner looks adorable!

  11. flame821 says

    If you work your way up to a quilt, may I suggest using a LOG CABIN pattern for your material. It is one of the simplest blocks to sew (all straight seams) and once the blocks are made they can be arranged into many different patterns.

    As for the bobbin incident, I feel for you. I’m currently making costumes for the school play and used one of the school machines. I assumed (big mistake, I know) that the equipment all went together. Had to rip the seams out of one halter top 3 times before it occurred to me to stop checking the tension knobs and open the bobbin trap. It was the old metal type instead of the new, smooth plastic type. Made all the difference in the world. And YAY for having good friends to see you through sewing trauma and making you laugh in the end.

  12. Sarah says

    Oh my gosh, you almost killed me with sew-crying. I have done that. And I’ve done some knit-crying as well.

  13. says

    I have the same sentiments toward my sewing machine. It can be evil. Thank goodness for a 24-hour 1-800 number…that part literally sold me on the machine :)

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