Fourth time’s a charm

Until very recently, I thought that sewing machines and I just didn’t get along.

No hard feelings, really (OK well maybe some, on my part).  But we just weren’t meant to be.

When I was a kid, I learned to sew on a 1980’s Brother model, set up in Grandma’s kitchen.  Laboriously, painstakingly, I pieced three or four quilts on that machine.  Every 5 minutes something would jam up, and I’d have to holler for Grandma to come fix it.  Of course, those problems were NEVER my fault. I never had a lead foot on the electric pedal, or mis-threaded the machine in my preadolescent haste, or tied knots when the bobbin thread snapped.  Who me? Of course not.  Definitely the machine’s fault.

Mom’s Kenmore at home wasn’t much better.  Even though she used it to hem all of Dad’s work pants and jeans, made umpteen polyester fur and/or ric-rack’d Halloween costumes for me and Ryan, and even used to make our everyday clothes when we were wee, the machine never worked for me.  Just like at Grandma’s, I’d sit down to sew on it and hop up two minutes later with a problem for Mom to sort out.

In a marked difference from sewing adventures at Grandma’s house, though, Mom didn’t possess a 80-year-old grandmother’s sense of indulgence and time and patience.  When I screwed up that Kenmore, I’d usually wander off to work on something else (like the World’s Longest Crochet Chain, or the pitiful book of “happy families and smiling people cut out from LLBean catalogs”, or whatever else it was that other completely normal children did) before Mom could find the time head down to the basement sewing room and sort out how I’d screwed up her machine *this* time.

Unfortunately, the curse didn’t break at midnight on my eighteenth birthday, or at my first kiss, or even when I lived in the forest with a bunch of funny-nosed dwarfs for a while (that was a crazy summer, let me tell you).

Five or six years ago, Mom and Dad gave me a basic beginner-level machine of my own, for Christmas.  I eagerly set it up in our bedroom in Kirksville, and while Jeff was out with friends I’d occasionally flip the machine on, pour a glass or three of wine, and make a half-assed attempt at sewing quilts or curtains.  Of course, after just a few minutes, the inevitable would happen:  bobbin vomit.  Or hitching or wild unspooling.  Or something.  Alway something.  So I’d wail and gnash my teeth and pour more wine and wander off to work on something else (like hand-piecing the hummingbird quilt of doom, or knitting ,or whatever else it was that other completely normal college students did).

By this point, of course, I was an adult of sound mind and logical reason, and had begun to suspect that perhaps my little sewing machine problem lay less with a giant coincidence regarding every sewing machine I’d ever touched, and was perhaps a personal problem of my own.

But even though I was aware of the problem, academically, I steadfastly maintained that maybe I just didn’t want it hard enough (I think I watched too much Peter Pan growing up).  So every six months or so since then, I’ve turned that machine on, sat down, and made a half-assed attempt at sewing something.  Two minutes later I’d get frustrated, say a few (dozen) curse words, throw the plastic cover back on, and forget about it.  Rinse and repeat.

Until last winter.

Last winter, you see, we hosted Christmas at our house.  Mom and Dad came in from Kansas City, and I put Mom straight to work sewing a runner for the holiday table.  I figured that just like every other time she touches a sewing machine, she’d have no problem using mine.  That it would bend to her will and turn out yard after yard of perfect, even stitches.

So I was surprised when, while I was back in the kitchen frosting a red velvet bundt cake and Mom was in the craft room working on the runner, I heard her sweet, kindergarten-teacher voice muttering “piece of shit machine”.

Score: Kate – 1, Machine – 0.

After inspecting the machine’s innards like a soothsayer reading animal entrails, Mom figured out that my sewing machine was actually a Frankenmachine.  Not that it supported the comedian cum politician, I mean, but that it had been cobbled together in the factory from the parts of three separate models.  And like one might expect from a mechanical object with a bunch of moving parts, that didn’t exactly work out so well.

HA.  This one wasn’t my fault after all!  For real and for true!  I wasn’t cursed!

In the few months since that discovery, I’ve been gimping along with the Frankenmachine.  I briefly experimented with an old machine of Grandma’s (not the  Bother  Brother that I learned on), but that was a bit too rusty for my limited restorative skills.  Me and Frankenmachine just sort of made it work.  I’d curse at it, thump the side for good measure, re-thread the bobbin for the umpteenth time, then sew a quilt block or two without incident.  Rinse and repeat.

Until last week.

I was making a rag baby quilt, and had just about had it with Frankenmachine.  It was hitching every single time I started a new seam, and something had shifted out of alignment because it began eating needles like they were delicious steel candy.  After a little bit of a temper tantrum on my part, I called Mom for advice – what could I do to make Frankenmachine work once and for all?  I may have cried a bit.  I may have called Frankenmachine some unladlylike names.  I may have threatened to chuck it out the window.

So then we went to Kansas City (for unrelated matters, not due to any sewing machine temper tantrum). I told Mom all about how I’d managed to beat Frankenmachine into submission and finish that baby quilt, but that I was *also* just about ready to give up on machine sewing once and for all, and spend the rest of my life piecing everything by hand, until my eyes become cloudy and my enfeebled, claw-like hands can no longer grasp a needle.  Not that I was being dramatic or anything.

So then on Saturday night, Mom did a very Mom-ly thing.  She and I headed to JoAnn’s, allegedly to find some embroidery thread for Grandma.  But first, of course, Mom cruised past the sewing machine section.  And started talking with the sales clerk.  And told me to start comparing features and figuring out if any of those machines would meet my needs.  And said she wanted to buy me a new, non-Frankenmachine as an early first Mother’s Day present.

And then, an hour later, this happened:

We found me a new machine.

World, meet Hazel:

Hazel is sexy, and a workhorse.  (like me.  Neigh.)  She does 23 different stitches, has a drop-in bobbin, and can sew at a good clip for hours on end.  She’s given me no problems whatsoever, and I’ve been using her almost nonstop for a week.  Just keeps on truckin’.  Her thread never tangles, she doesn’t eat needles, and the little swirly pattern on her front sort of reminds me of my tattoos.

Clearly it was meant to be.

Three cheers for Mom, and three cheers for having – for the first time in my life – a sewing machine that truly loves me!

Tomorrow I’ll show you what beautiful music – err, baby items – Hazel and I have made so far.

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10 responses to “Fourth time’s a charm

  1. HA! I had the same problem with my mom’s 70s era Kenmore. A few years ago she bought me a Brother Project Runway edition (which was super cheap, like 100 bucks!) and it’s AMAZING. It is even computerized, so when something happens it gives you an error code so you know what went wrong! I don’t feel like a sewing idiot anymore. I have even sewn a few skirts in addition to the general hems and alterations I have always done (I’m too tall for petite pants but too short for regular inseam. It is the bane of my existence.)

  2. Wow Katie, congratulations, I am sure you will have heaps of fun using your new machine, you will find you really don’t use the fancy stitches much at all, except for baby sheets embroidery etc. but having hemming, stretch and overlocking stitches are very handy.
    Always put a folded hand towel or little quilt (make one to fit) under it because most problems are caused by long term vibration……., says the service guy.
    Belonging to a quilt group and making quilts saved my sanity when my children were growing up.
    Don’t forget to buy plenty of spare bobbins and needles, nothing worse than coming to a screaming halt in the middle of a project that is powering along or one that has a deadline.
    I have a 1968 model Bernina and I would not swap it for ANYTHING ….Seriously well made,

  3. One pro tip I heard from the ladies who serviced my machine last year – the needles are really only meant to be good for 8 hours of sewing time these days. So even though Hazel isn’t eating them like tasty steel candy, they still need changed out even if you can’t tell they do. (I am terrible about following this rule myself, as I can’t ever remember when the last time I changed my needle was, but I thought I’d pass it on all the same.

    Yay for Hazel!! 🙂

  4. How did you have time to get your sewing machine tattooed if you have been using it non stop for a week?

  5. iwishiwhereinportland

    Congrats on your Hazel, I have one of her Twins, Rose, I recently bought, got for my birthday. Works awesome, compared to the 1972 singer I was using. Can’t wait to see what your making.

  6. Ahhh, nice to hear a familiar tale! I thought I was the only one with a seamstress mom (that I never heard curse at a machine) and a desire to create something. I’m happy to say that my neighbor gave up on her very awesome Elna machine and is now letting me use it. Sooooo much better!

  7. I swear at my machine a lot. I’m not that good of sewer though either…and you bought your machine from the store I do not speak of – we cannot be friends. 🙂

  8. Awww, you have like, the best mom ever. Besides my mom of course, who gave me her old Bernina because she got a new fancy embroidery one (she requires that I work that sentence into conversation every chance I get). Yay for awesome moms!!! Can’t wait to see all the baby stuff you whip up!

  9. Tamara S (tsmspt)

    I really enjoyed reading this!

  10. Pingback: The past couple weeks | KateOhKatie blogs

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