%@*@%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. says

    Sherry! I have often wondered why with all your DIY skills you shy away from using a sewing machine…and now I know why! :-)

    Have you been to your local sewing machine store? (Not a section on Joanns, but the real, honest to goodness sewing machine store). They often offer beginning sewing classes (that are free if you buy one of their machines…) and are a perfect way to get to know your machine. When something happens, you have a trained professional to tell you whether it was something you did, or if the machine isn’t set up right.

    I LOVE sewing, and as a fellow DIY-er, I’ve made huge decorating projects happen very cheaply because I CAN sew (slipcovers! They’ve saved many an ugly hand me down chair/couch). I know that if you get that machine figured out, you’ll love all the new things you can tackle…so stick with it! If I lived closer I’d come by and help you out!

  2. Erin C. says

    haha oh, Sherry.. I’m sorry you had such a rough time. I DEFINITELY know the feeling of being in tears over a project.. it happens to me a lot actually- it feels like I can never do ANYTHING RIGHT, but especially hang curtain rods and frames– still, I keep trying, and my husband keeps finding me all red-faced and snotty gripping a hammer/drill. I bet sewing will get easier and easier for you..and hopefully leveling rods and frames and not putting huge holes in our plaster walls will get easier for me.

  3. Lexie says

    Aww, I feel your pain! I’ve had several of my own tear shedding moments fighting with my machine…my only advice is to keep trying, and reading online tutorials. I’ve learned SO much from the kind folks in blogland I am sewing a ton more, and way better! If you don’t already have them, a rotary cutter and mat are a HUGE time saver when it comes to sewing projects. Good luck!

  4. says

    Ooooh, I feel your pain. Glad you got it all figured out! And don’t feel bad about the bobbin trouble; I’ve been sewing nearly my whole life and just figured out my gnarly thread messes were due to a cheap WalMart bobbin instead of the “official” Singer bobbin. They really should make these things more obvious for those of us (speaking only for myself, of course) whose children have rendered us mentally incompetent to pay attention to details like that.

  5. Ames says

    Oh my gosh, I totally get the frustration tears. I am so bad at sewing! You did a really great job, and I am sure Clara will love it forever!! It will mean much more to her because of the effort you put into it :)

  6. says

    Wow! Sherry, I was just recently wondering why you didn’t sew. I feel like it’s so economical and easy! I recently tried it for the first time and I love it. Hope things get better for you!

  7. ginai says

    awww, very sweet! NOw take all those little triangles, sew them together, and make a QUILT to keep as a keepsake of all those weekly photos and then U have it mastered! ((:

    Clara is sooo lovely((: Burger too!!

  8. kah says

    Nicely done! The garland/banner looks great, and I’m already giddy with anticipation over Clara’s birthday party photos. Also fell in love with the fabric ABC magnets on the fridge. Have you already showcased those beauties?

  9. Katherine O says

    Love the banner. These are really popular right now!
    I love to sew – but I still get INCREDIBLY frustrated with the sewing machine and have known to yell out some kid-approved ‘curse’ words when the stinkin thing eats my thread.


  10. Rosalyn says

    YOU DID IT!!! I am so proud of you!!! Just keep on doing easy projects and eventually you can tackle the chair covers. ;o)

  11. almk42 says

    Poor hon. I always wondered why you bothered with hem tape when you made curtains instead of just sewing them.

    I’ve been sewing for almost 15 years, and I still can’t get my machine’s tension and bobbins to behave right. I think it’s just part of the game. I made up a motto back in college: “I may be a seamstress, but I curse like a tailor.” I love sewing more than any other craft, but even I can only take it in small doses before my blood pressure gets too high and I have to give up for the day. :)

  12. Deb D. says

    Great job and cute idea! I started sewing about a year and a half ago (at the young age of 39) and am addicted. Seriously. Have made clothes for the kids and pillows for the house and even some American Girl doll clothes (that right there saved me hundreds of dollars!!). Once you and “Oh Brother” become simpatico, you might actually enjoy it, too. Hang in there!

  13. Larisa says

    May I suggest that you machine piece the top of the proposed quilt and then tie it, rather than quilt it with the machine? You may find more success with a tied quilt than a “quilted” quilt. Just saying… Your banner is adorable, and i kind of wish I had kids so I could steal your idea with the pictures and the fabrics and the banner and the quilt…

  14. danyelle says

    I too want to get in to sewing, but a little fearful! Good for you for jumping back into it! For my baby’s b-day I made the same thing except I used zig-zag scissors instead of sewing. I like the effect.

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