Guys, I did it. I broke out the sewing machine to make something for Clara’s third birthday. It’s a little tradition of ours to make her something instead of buying it since she gets a ton of store-bought presents from family and friends. I even used her big ol’ stash of monthly photo fabrics, which have also come in handy for making her a quilt, a table runner, a beanbag, and even a birthday banner (remember that epic battle of woman vs. sewing machine?).
It all started when I saw these fabric tea bags on Pinterest and thought they’d be really fun for Clara’s play kitchen since she’s so into making food and pretending to eat it and have tea parties with her stuffed animals. And really, what’s a tea party without tea? So even though there weren’t any directions to be found, I thought I’d just wing it. What’s the worst that could happen? Wait, don’t answer that. You’ve seen my previous work…
First I cut a few little squares from ten of my favorite fabrics.
Then I grabbed some twine that I had in the gift closet for the string part (it’s leftover from a gift someone gave me a while back). I also brought in a few cotton balls from the bathroom because I figured the tea bags had to be stuffed with something. And then I just cut two tea bag shaped pieces of fabric from each swatch (so although you see 10 tea-bag-shaped swatches below, there are two in each stack, right on top of each other for a total of 20). I also cut a long rectangle from each fabric to make the tag on the top of the tea bag.
Then I sat down at the sewing machine, said a small please-don’t-make-me-throw-you-out-the-window prayer, and got sewing. Within about five minutes I had this mess, and had completely ruined my first tea bag. There might have been a few whispered obscenities. Nothing gets me heated like my sewing machine, guys. Nothing.
But I resisted the urge to Hulk Smash it and started in on my second attempt. This time I came up with the idea of putting both of the right sides of the tea bags together (with the bad ones facing out) while tucking the string between it like you see in the photo below. Then I sewed up all of the sides of it except for the bottom where the string sticks out. You can see how bad I am about following the edges of the tea-bag shape here. Better work on that.
Then I turned it right-side out. The good news? The string was securely sewn to the top of the bag. The bad news? It looked like a feminine hygiene product. I allllmost gave up for the second time. There were more mumbled obscenities.
But before I threw in the towel, I figured it might look better if I could tuck half a cotton ball in there, fold the bottom part up to seal it, and add a little stitching to hold it closed, thereby finishing the bag part. Thankfully things started to turn around at this point, because it actually got cute-ish (and less tampon-esque in shape). Hallelujah!
To attach the tag part at the top I just folded that piece of fabric in half and put a few stitches into it so it caught the string and stayed folded.
Then I put my head down, said a few more “please don’t make me pound you with a hammer” prayers to my sewing machine, and in about ten more minutes I had three more of these guys knocked out. Wahoo!
About half an hour later I was left with nine tea bag babies. They’re definitely not perfect, but that first attempt was my only casualty. And my sewing machine is still alive and well. So…. success!
Clara especially loves them because I have tea every night and most mornings. So she sees me with it and now has her own tea bags so she can sip with me.
So this is the project that almost wasn’t, but is! And I think we all learned a lesson today, guys. No matter how much something looks like a feminine hygiene product when it’s half done, at least try finishing it before flushing it down the toilet. Both literally or figuratively.
Anyone else sewing stuff? How’s your relationship with your sewing machine? I hear that so many people love to sew (and even that it calms them?!) but my experiences can best be described as tumultuous with a side of anxiety. So far in the end it has always been worth it though. And seeing Clara and her stuffed giraffe sitting down for a little tea party is pretty much the cutest thing ever.
Psst- Wanna know where we got something in our house or what paint color we used? Just click on this button:
The problem you are having looks like it is one of the following:
1. Your machine’s tension. If the rats nest is on top of the fabric, it is usually the lower tension (with the bobbin), if it is below, it is usually the upper tension (the knobs above the needle).
2. The needle–you could try changing out your needle and see.
3. As someone above said–the thread—altho for the small amount of sewing you are doing here, I doubt that–it could not hurt to see if a new spool helps. Jo-Ann runs thread on sale half off frequently–or you can use a coupon. Don’t buy the cheap bargain thread they sometimes have in the $1 aisle.
If the thread and needle don’t do it, I would find a local service and have your machine tuned up and ask the service person to show you a little about how to adjust the tension yourself if necessary. It might cost a little but you’ll have a whole new house of curtains to make soon and might be worth it to get your machine working! I wish I lived close–I would come take a look–I’m a pretty good amateur machine mechanic, lol! I used to run a costume shop and had to be able to do troubleshooting on multiple kinds of machines.
I love the tea bags–and I love your tradition of teaching Clara to love handmade by making her a special gift for her special occasions. I’m really old and I still have a small tote bag full of doll clothes my mom made me that are very important to me.
Thanks for the tips!
I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading this blog for almost 4 years and nothing, NOTHING has amused me more than your sewing machine escapades. You are an unflappable superhero when it comes to everything else that you do, so it’s actually quite charming and relatable to hear you struggling with something like sewing. I really admire your spirit and know that if you keep it up, you’ll triumph over the Brother.
(Also, I agree with the other poster who cautioned against using old thread. Given your previous issues with the “unsanctioned bobbin”, I’d say that you could benefit from starting afresh with some new supplies).
Haha, thanks Kate!
meryl rose says
Those are so cute! I’ve been sewing lately too! I made a onesie for our soon to arrive baby girl out of an old t-shirt of mine for your latest Pinterest Challenge and after I figured out how easy it was I made a bunch more! :)
They are sure to come in handy because our due date was Wednesday so she should be arriving soon! :)
I definitely have a love/hate relationship with my sewing machine. I hate when I’m sewing and get a huge knot on the backside. But, it happens when the machine isn’t threaded properly. Take a look at your manual and re-thread the machine with the correct tension. It’s the tension that’s messed up when the stitches don’t look the same on both sides.
I ordered fabric that arrived yesterday. I have curtains to sew over the long weekend. Not looking forward to it but if all goes well it will be glorious!!
Those are so cute and I love that they are not perfect! It’s a great use for scrap fabric and I think my daughter would love them. Now you need to make some sugar cubes or sugar packets!
…and this is why we love you, Sherry. Only at YHL could a post about sewing something for Clara involve feminine hygiene jokes. It doesn’t help that the one you show has red on it. Eww, yes, I went there.
Haha, I know right?! As I was making that I was like “Um, what are the odds that this one is the red one?”
Wendy @ New Moms Talk says
Way to go!
My mother-in-law can transform any idea I have to reality. One day I’ll have a sewing machine, but I’ll always have my mother-in-law’s wisdom and encouragement! (She once owned her own fabric store and made her fabric on a loom.)
She helped me design an activity mat for Susanna that is in the works, and we’ll finish it when we visit in August.
The super humble woman lives with Parksison’s and cares for her husband who has had it, too, for over 20 years. Sewing is her comfort. Creating is her joy- along with her grandchildren and a good cup of chai tea or chocolate!
Nancy Pants says
This is such a fun project. I bet Clara is going to love it.
That said, can I just say how hilarious and awesome the post to your first attempt with your sewing machine was? I was laughing and 100% remembering similar feelings of overwhelming irritation at whichever project I was working on and failing at miserably. (I seem to remember throwing a hammer that I’d smacked my thumb with and denting said awful project) Anyway.. Thank you for sharing that one. I’m relatively new to the blog and was 100% convinced that you might not actually be human (don’t take that the wrong way) because, I mean, what can’t you do? You’re crafty, a compelling and funny writer, a great mom and wife and you seem to do it without breaking a sweat. Well this just made me like you more than I already do. :)
Haha, thanks Nancy Pants!
Awesome job! Those are the exact same words I say when attempting a sewing project! Glad I am not alone!
Sherry – God love ya for showing the twisted thread messes. I get those more than I get pretty stitches and it drives me nuts. My mother just shakes her head. I am eternally grateful to know it isn’t just me! (You should see the back seams of some of my curtains, Yipes!)
I love my sewing machines. All of them have been inherited when grandmothers passed, and I think of them every time I sew. So (sew) special! I recently experimented with oil cloth for the first time. I strongly suggest mastering cotton first ;)
If you want some great tips, check out sew4home.com- they really explain things well for basic (and difficult) sewing techniques. I’m glad you haven’t completely given up!
Sarah @ An Inviting Home says
These are absolutely adorable!
Sewing is a religious experience for me….meaning I pray a lot. “Dear Lord please don’t let this thing jam up on me again”.
Haha! Me too!
You.Crack.Me.Up! I am peeing the ole pants at your post today! I have taken not one, but TWO bonafide adult school courses (yes, whole courses – not just a one class wonder) on sewing and still can’t sew a straight line. So pathetic, but you have inspired me to perhaps, maybe, in a few years, potentially try again ;) Thanks for the laugh and best of luck on all of the exciting happenings going on with the new house!
Sewing is really fun, but oftentimes really hard. My mom is a fabulous sewer (she’s made a swimsuit and a tailored winter coat!) and she taught me to sew. It’s not something you can just pick up. I suggest starting with items that have easy sew patterns and taking a lesson at your local fabric store. You’ll enjoy it so much more when you know what you’re doing. And curtains are not hard – your posts about sewless curtains kill me girl! :)
These are pretty much the cutest things I ever saw. I don’t sew at all (and don’t have a sewing machine) but now I desperately want to make a set of these for my niece.
I love to sew and I am one of those people that it makes me happy! Lately, I have been sewing Teepees, find them here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/TwoFeetFirst... But I thought I would give you a tip (this is what I have found when sewing little pieces of fabric), it is easier to sew bigger pieces then cut them down. So leave them square and sew the angles you want then cut. Then the fabric will not get stuck in one spot as easy. But you did a great job and I think that they turned out great. I love your idea of making a homemade gift.
Jennifer P. says
You’ve been left a lot of great tips so far, but I wanted to add one more. My number one advice to avoid the bobbin vomit is to hold onto the ends of your threads each time you start a new seam. A lot of times as you get started your threads like to pull back into the machine causing them to knot up around your bobbin casing, but if you hold onto them, turn your hand wheel until your needle is in the fabric, and then start sewing, it should eliminate some of your problems. A better quality machine, and new thread will help as well! Best of luck!
I saw the picture before I read the messaging and thought “Poor Clara is getting the coming of age talk a little early” but they turned out great in the end! And I think you’ll agree with me on Clara can be a girl for 30 more years before she becomes an adult. :)
Also, I have the exact same sewing machine as you do, Sherry. Please ignore the other posters who are telling you that it is crap and you must upgrade. It’s a great machine; you just need a teensy bit of practice to get used to its particular quirks.
And if you don’t already have a seam ripper, you should pick one up. It costs about 4 dollars but is worth its weight in gold.
Aw thanks Kate! It had such great reviews and rankings that I’m convinced it’s me. Ha!
Meaghan wagner says
These are adorable. I too have a similar friendship with my sewing machine so this was hilarious. I can’t tell you how many huge ideas I have had that ended up in a pile of scraps. Way to stick with it.
Kelly G. says
I love sewing… but I’ve also learned to be okay with something that’s not perfect. I tried sewing a dog bed the other night, but it ended up being the perfect size for Burger. Not the 71 lb dog it was intended for. :/ But it’s great for a porch pillow instead!
Oh man, that’s sweet and hilarious!
My sewing machine and I are NOT FRIENDS. I bought a really simple one (from Ikea!) with the intention of sewing simple fleece hats for my niece and nephews for Christmas. The dang fleece is still stuck on the needle, and the needle won’t move (since December!). It would be nice to have completed at least ONE project! I’m not throwing in the towel, but could use some help!
My mom loved to sew. Every year she would make embarassing matching outfits for all of my sisters and her. I am the only one who asked her to teach me to sew, and I’ve been sewing since I was 16. It’s hard to find the time, but I do enjoy it. I pour a glass of wine, put on some fun music, and go to town.
Sewing small items like that is WAY harder than doing large things. I know it seems counter-intuitive but it’s much easier to be accurate when you have a lot of fabric to pin and work with . Maybe because there’s a little more room for error? And because it’s easier to hold without sewing through your fingers?
For the record, I don’t like sewing either.
I’ve been a sewing machine lately (pun always intended). I just finished “Mr. <3 Mrs." bunting and the ring bearer pillow for my wedding next year (total DIY bride). I've also been working on stitching paper. More specifically, heart-shaped garland to act as wedding decor.
Have you thought about taking a beginner sewing class to get over some of your fear of the machine?
Oh yes, I need to!
[email protected] says
I don’t sew very often but when I do I don’t usually have too many problems. Except for when I tried to hem my kitchen curtain panels… that was… interesting.
Reshma Sanjeev says
Sherry, This was your cutest post ever……:-). I lol reading. The tea bags look super cute.
I love to sew, but I totally understand the urge to throw the sewing machine through a window. Sometimes I have to take a breath, grab a cup of tea and just walk away for a while. Usually I come up with some hair-brained idea to make it work while I’m off doing something else and then I rush back and make friends with the sewing machine again. Oh, one other tip: if it starts doing that rat’s nest thing, try rethreading both the top and bottom thread. Sometimes the thread comes out of the tension discs and causes all sorts of havoc. When in doubt, rethread. Also, I agree with a previous commenter, old thread can make your life miserable. A $3 spool of thread is not worth the heartache. Happy sewing!
Thanks for the tip Bri!
Karen Q. says
These are so sweet and cute- love it! Love the idea and tradition of hand making her gifts- so thoughtful! You go girl getting your sew on, way braver than I am. I can hand sew buttons for my hubbys shirts but that’s about it.
Ahhhh…lol Remembering the mantra “sometimes makes no sense”!! :OP I had a good chuckle with this post, as I, too, have a love-hate relationship with my sewing machine! It ceases and jams for no reason and I also have problems with the straight line/nice hem thing.
I was visualizing right there with you….curse words and all because I had to hem some dress pants just the other day and must have redone them half a dozen times, broke a needle and actually saw myself throwing the machine out the window!! Thanks for the laughs & the tea bags look fantastic! You are so creative!!! Can’t wait to see a few pics of Clara using them for her next tea party at the new house. :O)
I meant to say “sometimes the middle makes no sense”!
Haha, I knew what you meant :)
Sweetest gift ever!
This is ADORABLE and so clever. I can just imagine how much she loves being just like her Mommy. I have to ask though – did you intentionally not put them in regular tea cups or mugs or are those the cups you drink tea out of? I’m in the ‘give the girl a tea cup’ camp to perfect this perfect gift!
I just don’t have any for her yet. She just has those small plastic play cups for now, but I’d love to find some thrift store tea cups for her!
Sherry, I was really impressed with your writing instructions on one of your earlier sewing projects (i think it was the quilt if I remember correctly). Without using standard sewing terms like “wrong side,” “right side,” “seam allowance,” etc. you conveyed precisely how to accomplish your project. And these teabags are adorable and turned out perfectly! So I make this suggestion not as an indirect insult to the oh-so-cute teabags, but because of your on-again-off-again relationship with your sewing machine… Maybe you might have fun taking a sewing class at a local fabric store? I’ve sewn all my life, but I learn something everytime I take a class. It could be a fun way to inaugurate your sunny sewing room in the new house!
Aw thanks so much Karo! I really do need to take a class! Better get on that sometime (she says with a lump in her throat and fear in her eyes)…
well those are pretty much the cutest things EVER!
Those came out really cute! Good for you for not throwing in the towel. I haven’t had a lot of success with sewing machines, unfortunately. Every year, my sister and I get all gung-ho about making Christmas stockings, and every year we wind up raging around the house, minutes away from flipping tables. We never learn, though. What’s that they say about pain having no memory…?
Hahahahahaha! That’s hilarious. Raging around the house = a perfect description.
I know other posters have already said this but… I had the same exact issues that you did. I spent more time wrestling with my machine than actually sewing anything. The thread would ball up just like your picture. I took some sewing classes and realized I just needed a better machine. I think I spent around 200-250 and got a Janome. Poof! All of my problems were gone and sewing actually became enjoyable.
Lisa E says
Feminine hygiene product indeed; too funny! I honestly didn’t think that until you mentioned it. You had me LOL at work! :D I noticed your inspiration picture did the stitching on the outside, maybe because it would be easier with small pieces of fabric? I don’t know, but they came out absolutely adorable so kudos to you for sticking with it! Love it!
Those are cute!
Some other tips – when you hit a corner, instead of making a direct 90 degree turn, make a 45 degree turn, sew one stitch, make another 45 degree turn, and keep going. It seems WRONG to do it this way – but this is how you can get corners more cornery, if you know what I mean. In the case of your tea bags, your degrees aren’t 90, but split them in half. If you know what I mean. :)
And I 2nd or 3rd or 4th the “get a better machine”. It makes ALL the difference. And it never hurts to put in a new needle too!!
Great tip! Thanks for all the sewing advice today guys!!
I’ve been sewing for many years and have found that not everyone finds it restful to pay attention to such tiny detail. Everyone wants to get to the sewing part, but I spend more than half of my time prepping and pressing which isn’t always fun. It’s just worth it to get something that looks the way you want.
The biggest thing that helps me is to stop and put it away when I start hurrying or getting frustrated. It just goes downhill from there. Some space and time to think through solutions ends up working out better.
And in the end, our kids don’t notice the details that seem to be glaring problems to us. I’m sure Clara will enjoy them and love them because you made them for her!
They’re so cute!! I would totally want to have a tea party with Clara :) Great job as always, $herdog!
I love these! Now I just need a little girl to sew them for! What a great project for scraps of fabric!
My mom has my grandmothers singer sewing table (talk about old) and I have used it a few times but usually need my mom to remind me how to set up the bobbin and thread the needle. (Its usually a few years in between my urge to actually sew something)
This winter I made these (don’t have a blog so don’t know how to show the picture of the ones I made). For someone who is not a regular sewer I found this to be a not too complicated and very rewarding project!
Looks so cute!
Rebecca | the lil house that could says
So after sitting in my garage for 3 years, I finally whipped out my sewing machine for one of your Pinterest challenges and I was pleasantly surprised. It was not that bad! Then this weekend was my son’s first birthday party and I decided to sew some paper garland… and bent my first needle. It was like my worst fear came true, but really, fixing it was easy and I carried on. I ended up making more for a friend this week and loved it so much that I can see how it’s relaxing!
Granted, I’ve only had to sew straight lines, those little tea bags look tricky :)
Hi Sherry…when I’m sewing small things I find it easier to trace the shape on a piece of fabric slightly larger than the object with a washable marker or chalk, sew the seam on the line then cut out the shape.
Too cute! I have a love/hate relationship with my sewing machine too. I thought homemade hand warmers would be a nice quick holiday gift for my boys teachers. It took hours longer than I thought, and there was also lots of cursing under my breath at that dang machine. I will not be making them again!
I love this idea!!!
Sarah H says
We just started cloth diapering, so I spent last week making wet bags and cloth wipes. I just couldn’t see spending $60 for a couple of pail liners and travel bags when one of the major benefits of the whole things is the cost. I am a novice sewer. My facebook status was “Sometimes my sewing machine makes me feel like a rock star, sometimes it makes me feel like a moron.” I think the best advice I found online was, if you’re having thread problems on the underside, the issue is almost always that your machine isn’t threaded properly. Every. freaking. time. But I managed to sew my first zippers and the bags are really stinking cute. Here’s to sticking with it!
Haha, I love that FB status!
That’s hilarious. The teabags are adorable.
FWIW, I bought a $200 sewing machine from Costco.com last year and have had no problems with it, and I hadn’t sewn in 35 years before I bought it. Even my 12 year old can sew on it without issues. So they may be onto something about your hardware. And I’m really glad now that I spent as much as I did, after reading these comments!
John… gift idea!
I have a love/hate relationship with mine too. Thankfully it’s gotten better since a new Singer came into my life. I used to sew off of my Mom’s old Kenmore when I started and then I bought one from a yard sale with a table. I had the worst time with the old ones but my new one does great. I get worked up before I start on a project and then once it’s done and looks halfway decent I am so glad I did it. But if I totally fail then I usually take a long break from doing anything again on it.
I agree with many of the commenters. It’s the machine. I learned to sew when I was little, and then I got a Brother. It was awful, and it was definitely not ” user error.” Sewing is way better with good equipment. Its the difference beyween running in new balance or nike over running in ” running shoes” from Target. My goodwill regularly has sewing machines for about $30. I have a Singer from there And it is great. Craigslist is another great resource for higher quality machines.