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Learn to Sew With These Sewing Machine Basics

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The power of knowing how to sew, even with just the basic know-how, opens the door to a whole new world. I had taken this skill for granted most of my life – maybe even denied it a bit during my preteen years – advertising a sewing hobby at such a critical stage could be sudden death to the already limited fashion reputation I had acquired with my (homemade, shhh) neon scrunchies: made to match my layered socks and spandex!

My mother taught me how to thread her machine when I first showed interest as a little girl. That seemed to be the hardest part. Sort of one of those things you’d imagine comes with little numbered arrows etched into the machine. I’ve since run into similar frustrations with the web of pipes in our basement. Just a small label “Sprinkler Line” on the appropriate pipe or knob would make winterizing a whole lot easier. Much like most homeowner basics, sewing with a machine isn’t rocket science, but isn’t not exactly user-friendly either!
 
Once you have the skills to operate your machine, you’ll have ultimate freedom to get as creative as you desire. I love making cozy blankies, clothes and costumes for my children, creative handbags, home decor and having the ability to alter clothing to make it last through the varying seasons.
 
 So, here are the basics:
 
Buying a Machine
You will likely receive a lot of different advice when asking around about what type of machine to buy. Well, I think the answer is simple…KISS. It’s not about love; it’s “KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.” I didn’t invent the acronym and I admit it’s not very nice, but in the end, it’ll save you a lot of money and trouble. Once you have the basics down then move on to more advanced machines, but attempting something overly advanced too soon can lead to mounds of discouragement.
 
I own a very basic machine valued just over $100. It does everything I need it to do and some things I don’t even know that it does – I’m pretty sure. It’s not so complicated that I have to bust out the user manual each time I sew, and I rarely struggle with all the different knobs. If you’re really looking for a bargain, try to find something gently used and search the Internet for user instructions if the manual is missing.
 
Threading a Machine
Although machines do vary, there are some basics that will help you know what to expect from threading a machine. This has been my experience…
  1. Place the spool of thread onto a spool holder (top right of machine)
  2. Run the thread through a thread guide (top center of the machine)
  3. Into a tension mechanism (often two metal disks)
  4. Through a take up lever (it moves up and down as you sew)
  5. Down the left side of the lever and through another thread guide (these just keep your thread in the proper place,) and through the eye of the sewing needle.
  6. Hold the thread in your left hand and dip the needle (using the turning wheel) with your right hand. The bobbin thread will be scooped up from below. Pull the bobbin thread out several inches before sewing, as to keep it from slipping back down before the first stitches are secure.
Spinning a Bobbin
This step will occur before you thread your machine if you don’t already have the bobbin wound. The bobbin is the small, round thread holder that supplies a secondary feed of thread from a compartment beneath the sewing needle to complete the sewing process. Thread from your original spool will be transferred onto the bobbin…


 
  1. Place an empty bobbin on the bobbin pin (top of machine)
  2. Guide thread through a guide (probably a disk) and to the bobbin
  3. Pull the thread through a hole in the top of the bobbin and hold
  4. Engage the bobbin mechanism (my machine requires two steps: pushing the bobbin pin to the right and pulling the hand wheel out to lock the needle in place)
  5. Be sure the machine is on and press the foot pedal. The bobbin should spin, pulling the thread from the spool onto the bobbin (don’t over-wind)
  6. Trim the extra thread tail from the top of the bobbin before placing in the bobbin case as directed for your machine.
 That’s just about it. There are some wise tips on the upkeep of a machine and some helpful tools you’ll want to purchase (fabric scissors, seam ripper, straight pins and measuring tools,) but the operation of the machine is the key to your success ~ and practice makes perfect.
 
 The Fabric Store – What You Should Know Before You Go

 If you have questions about your machine or would like a quick demo, the ladies at the fabric store are usually experts at this stuff. BUT *cantankerous qualities* can exist in such an environment, so YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. I’ve visited a lot of fabric stores in various cities and states, and it seems to be a mysteriously consistent quality. Funny, because I always imagined that these ladies would be the warm, grandmotherly type (and maybe they are when off the clock.) #SomethingInTheFabric
 
Always pre-wash and dry your fabric. It’s terribly sad to have a finished project shrink in the wash…and just good measure to avoid whatever chemicals might exist, hee hee.
 
Generally, you can fly under the radar at the fabric store…unless you bring your kiddos along. I just explain the situation to my kids beforehand so that when the ladies scold them in disapproval of their mere existence in this meticulously kept place, I say, “Honey, do you remember what we talked about before coming in here?” My kids love this…and the workers think I’m a levelheaded mother with a full understanding of their need for silence and strict organization at all times.
 
With the power of machine sewing, you can turn ordinary items into artistic masterpieces…even if you’re the only one who thinks so, wink. One of my favorite creative projects is recycling skirts – because there’s plenty of fabric to work with (oh, and you don’t have to visit the FaBriC StOrE.) I recently transformed a thrift store skirt into an oversized handbag (under $10) and a plaid skirt from a clothing swap (FREE) into a matching mommy-and-me set.
 
I’m not saying that my daughter actually wears the skirt – or anything else I make for her – but it sure would be cute if she did…and the price tag isn’t so bad when you can make it yourself…compare to $50+ retail.
 
With the holiday season approaching, now is the perfect time to start sewing OR to ask Santa for a machine! When you’ve completed your masterpiece, be sure to share your creativity with others!
 
 
 photo credit: bobbins, crackersandhoney
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Comments
  • comment avatar Janell November 3, 2011

    OK, Jaime, you’ve convinced me, I need to get my old sewing machine out and give it another try. Any easy project ideas?

  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber November 3, 2011

    Yay, Janell! I was going to sew some simple tea towels for Christmas gifts…and hand stitch a small monogram. I think it’ll be pretty simple (if I can keep my cutting under control, yikes) – we can have a sewing and sipping night!

  • comment avatar onedot November 3, 2011

    “Cheap cheap cheap.” says the sew chick.

    Sewing turns thrift stores into treasure hunts! You can often find clothes of expensive fabrics, like silk and wool. Alter them to your body like couture or recut and sew into new clothes. Don’t forget about harvesting buttons and big mens clothes. It makes a learning curve very affordable with a $100 machine. (Again, used will be cheaper).

    Style is not a matter of money. Style is…well, …you, what you do with what you got. Go for it.

  • comment avatar Lisa November 4, 2011

    My grandmother taught me and I always think of her when I sew. Sewing my own leggings, skirts, dresses, and even a suit for a wedding once – oh my!, saved me a bundle during those very lean college and grad school years.

    Now I tend to go in spurts sewing a ton of things and then nothing for a year or more. I miss it when I don’t though, it has meditative quality and a wonderful sense of accomplishment when your done!

    My youngest son loves sewing. He has helped make baby blankets for his teachers and particularly like creating small handbags and accessories for me. I’m putting Paris fashion week on my calender for 2030!

  • comment avatar Brandie December 12, 2011

    Great help thanks!
    And I think that skirt is way cute 🙂

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