%@*@%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. Sara says

    Now you’re speaking my language :) Home decorating and projects, I’m learning but sewing I know! The more you sew the better you will become! I love, love to sew, just last night I made a cute little tote bag for a friend from an online tutorial, finding tutorials online has made sewing less scary for me than actually buying a pattern and having to cut pieces. It’s very relaxing.

    I’m obsessed with fabric too, I see prints that call my name and have to stop myself because I have a stash that has no plan yet. I have more ideas than time! Good luck with your projects!

  2. says

    My mom is a quilter… so she was devastated when, after making my own quilt in 2nd grade, I decided I didn’t like it. I’ll still occaisonally do something, but usually I just call my mom and ask her for help.

  3. Casey says

    Sewing machines are all evil. There is always a problem when using them. :o) However, as someone who can now manage basic sewing projects (and has even taught a couple sewing classes), I would highly recommend some professional help. Do any of your fabric stores offer basic sewing classes? Or maybe your community center? Or your local Girl Scout troops?

    But, hey, the flag banner looks great! Kudos to you and your perseverance.

  4. says

    So would you say this sewing machine is a do not recommend purchase? If you had had the right bobbin all along how long do you think the project would have taken?

  5. says

    You did an amazing job!

    I totally recognize that fear of sewing machines! I used to be good at it as a child, but some years ago I broke a sewing machine (and it destroyed a lot of my projects before I accepted that it was in fact broken) and have been reluctant to use the new one ever since.

  6. Ashley says

    Bless your heart! My mother is a seamstress who has whipped up curtains for the Queen of England when she visited Williamsburg, sewn yards of exquisite curtains for the Governor’s house in Richmond and taught me how to sew as soon as I could reach the peddle! All throughout my childhood I sewed Sunday clothes and summer dresses. At age 23 I begged for my sewing machine back, a vintage Singer from the 70’s, and thought my talent would automatically replenish itself, I was wrong. I just wanted to make a simple tote bag but the devil possessed me and I threw out so many obscenities it would make a sailor blush! I shouldn’t even bring up the time I tried making a dress by following the ambiguous directions of a Simplicity pattern and then ended up cutting a big gash in the dress while cleaning up the hem! In the end, my tote bag will never fall apart and I’ve gotten multiple compliments on the handful of dresses I’ve made it. I look back on all those times and laugh, stick with it, it’s worth it!

  7. Kristin says

    “Sew-crying” Hahaha! I had many episodes of sew-crying when my mom tried to teach me to sew (she’s an amazing seamstress – made my wedding gown and everything!) She finally gave up trying to teach me herself and paid someone to teach me…and then quickly realized that was a waste of hard-earned money. It wasn’t for lack of trying on my part -I’d actually love to be able to make my kiddo some cute clothes, but alas, it ain’t gonna happen. Thank goodness for Grandma! :)

  8. says

    Don’t worry too much – this is one of those dreaded moments in life where the investment is worth it. I have been sewing since I was 4 or 5 – not QUILTING, mind you, but I’ve made the odd sundress, as well as every curtain and nearly every pillowcase in our home.
    I learned to sew on a grumpy Singer machine, I purchased (and immediately quit sewing) on a budget-friendly Brother bobbin-ingesting monster. I have since borrowed my darling MIL’s 1970’s model Bernina 930(which she received from HER MIL). It sews through dozens of layers of denim, through multiple different textures, and more times than I care to admit, the stuffing spilling out of the bottom of a pillow.
    All this said:
    1) Great call on the iron-on hemming – seriously lifesaving stuff!
    2) E-bay or craigslist a vintage Bernina. They are workhorses and well-worth the investment for a determined DIYer like yourselves!

  9. Amy says

    Hi Sherry! I am not sure if you read these comments or not, but wanted to pass this along to you. =)

    I LOVE your banner! I can sew, but usually straight line things. (Nothing with a pattern or “fancy shmancy stuff”. Ha! This link was featured on the TomKat Studio blog: http://myblondeambitions.blogspot.com/2011/02/double-sided-bunting-tutorial-for.html It is how to make a banner with less sewing. I have made several since seeing this (I don’t do the balled ribbon thing – just the plain ribbon) for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, etc. It is a fun, cheap and easy way to decorate, without screaming holiday. I made a bunch of pink and green ones for a bridal shower, and can now re-use them for my daughter’s 3rd birthday party next month.

    Good luck with the sewing – it gets easier! I promise!!

  10. Tara says

    I’ve been there with a cheapo machine, and it’s incredibly frustrating. If you have any ambitions of really sewing, you are going to have to upgrade. Sewing machines are one of those “you get what you pay for” kinds of things. A bad and/or cheap machine will make you really hate sewing. This project would have taken you two hours max with a good machine.

    I have a bottom-of-the-line from one of the best brands (Bernina), which ran me probably $800 about 7 years ago. But I love it, and it makes me want to sew!

  11. Emily Anne says

    Oh my, I have the same reaction. Nothing can get me frustrated faster than sewing! And I know all about the hot mad tears…What is even worse is my mother is an incredible seamstress. Me, I got nothing. At least we try :)

  12. says

    I have a hand-me-down OLD school machine in the machine table. I mean so old I think it’s the next step up from the one w/the manual pedal. I have the excuse of having our flat screen on top of it in our bedroom now so I can’t break it out and try it!
    If it makes you feel any better, my mom and both grandmas sew and I had to do it in home ec and got a ‘D’ on my simple shirt project. (Needless to say I never wore it!)
    I think it’s safe to say Sewing is NOT hereditary!!
    Good job on the banner. It’s adorable!

  13. says

    Oh My Goodness. The fabric banner looks amazing even with all of the frustration it caused. You really did do a good job, if you hadn’t included the thread picture I would have thought you were being overly dramatic.

    Here’s hoping that each and every sewing project that you do is easier than the last.

  14. says

    you are not alone. that picture of the white thread all twisted and matted up? that’s also me. sigh. it’s been more than two years since i last tried. maybe i’ll give it another go? we can suffer (and maybe, just maybe succeed??) together.

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