Last week I was chatting with my friend Sarah, and she shared with me that she was avoiding sewing because she has “too much sewing machine.”

She’s the owner of a high-end hotrod – you know the kind, one that should really be capable of cooking dinner for you too. She purchased it prudently in an after-Thanksgiving floor model sale when they were offering 0% interest. She bought more machine than she needed at the time, thinking that buying it once and keeping it for years was was better than upgrading on a regular basis as her skills grew.

She dutifully took all the classes, and was getting along well with the hotrod, and then she moved. And moved again. And moved a third time without unpacking it. And then gave a friend her lower-end machine after the friend lost everything to a fire. And now that she’s ready to sew again, the hotrod is intimidating her to the point of avoidance.

All three of my Janomes, with my hotrod in the middle!

I know this story well. I’ve done through a grumpy season of discomfort with every new-to-me sewing machine I’ve ever purchased. I love familiarity, and find that my loathing of learning the new way to navigate something often outweighs my excitement when I’m faced with a new tool or toy.

So in the last week, I’ve been pondering on the best way to help my friend ease back in to her machine and thought I’d share the tips here:

  1. Give yourself a kind portion of time to get reacquainted. This is not to be rushed. Allow an extra half hour or so for “fiddling-about time” as my granddad would call it. The object of the game is to soothe frustration, not add to it!
  2. Make a cuppa of your favorite tea or coffee. You might need a cookie to go with it too 🙂
  3. Find the manual and have it close by. Or save the link to the on-line version in your phone. If you need to look something up, the info will be at your finger tips. Bonus tip: there is zero shame in looking anything up. Think about how many phone numbers you no longer have memorized! The power is in knowing where to find the info. You are not secretly being taped for some bizarre reality sewing show where your survival depends on memorizing the manual.
  4. One step at a time… (re)learn to thread the machine. Do it a second or third time to start re-building the muscle memory. Bonus tip: always thread with the presser foot up because this opens the thread tensions discs for the thread to pass through. Often, when you thread with the foot down you end up with a messy stitch because your top tension is absent.
  5. (Re)learn how to make a bobbin. Make a couple. Again, we’re looking to build muscle memory, but also having a few wound bobbins on hand is a way to get you sewing faster next time.
  6. (Re)learn how to install a bobbin and pull the thread to the top. Does it go in clockwise? Counter-clockwise? Draw it on a sticky note and tape it to your machine if you can’t remember easily.
  7. What’s the MINIMUM you need to know for this project? How to raise/lower the presser foot. How to needle up/down as needed. How to initiate the thread cutter (ka-chunk!) How to choose a straight stitch, and how to adjust the length of it (and if your machine allows you to save these as settings, do that.) Where to adjust the speed. How you set up your quarter inch (via a foot or a guide). Where you want the gas pedal. That’s about it.
  8. IGNORE THE REST OF THE FEATURES. I mean it. You don’t need them today, so pretend they’re taking a day off. You might NEVER need them, and that’s absolutely okay too. You probably bought the machine for the quilting space, not the fancy embroidery stitches, so use what matters to YOU. There is no rule that you have to use every feature on the machine, any more than there’s a rule that says you have to eat vegetables you don’t like, or finish books you don’t enjoy. I can assure you I’ll never use more than 1% of the fancy stitches my hotrod can do, and don’t lose any sleep over it!

Yes, your machine is a power tool, and we must always respect our power tools! But don’t let it scare you beyond a healthy, safety-conscious respect. You get to be the boss, so don’t let the machine intimidate you so much it steals the joy of quilting from you!

OK then… get sewing!

PS… you can get one of those Power Tool stickers here, or by ordering a paper pattern – I include one in every order 🙂