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.
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:
- 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!
- Make a cuppa of your favorite tea or coffee. You might need a cookie to go with it too 🙂
- 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.
- 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.
- (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.
- (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.
- 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.
- 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 🙂
I totally agree. I get so easily overwhelmed and have to reteach myself the basics–always have the manuals out. My favorite machine for quilting is my Juki 2010, kinda like the one you have in front–the Janome 1600P. Much nicer stitches than on my Juki DX2000QVP, which is great for piecing. Kinda silly cause the DX has a gazillion stitches which would be fun for quilting …
I bought the 1600P a couple of years ago, and I wish I had bought it years before. It’s absolutely my power tool of choice. I seldom use my hotrod anymore!
Oh Sam, that’s brilliant, as always!
I took my Hot Rod in for her yearly dust up and pulled out my Little Guy (LG) “class” machine.
I love my Hot Rod but noticed I liked the smaller machine a bit better. The Hot Rod is physically overwhelming on my sewing table. I have more room with my my LG.
Maybe after the 2 weeks of not sewing on the big one I will miss it but for now.. my LG is just fine.
What about swapping them out from time to time. Remind those muscles there is more than one way to do something? Mix it up so they stay oiled and working well and you don’t get bored with the same machine?
Just an idea I might try.
Thank You for your wisdom. I love your blog.
I try to cycle through my machines to keep them lubricated, but my simplest machine is my fave!
Sam, Love your posts.
I think I have TWO of the Janome 1600 P QC’s pictured of the three, clear to the right. Well, actually one is mine, the other is hubbies! (he helps with the t-shirt quilt business).
Ended up taking MY 1600P to retreat last week. Others were complaining that mine sews ‘too fast’ and everytime I push the scissor button, it goes “Klump’.. Anyway, I have a hotrod machine as well, but love sewing with my ‘basic industrial’ type machine that just sews forwards, backwards, and cuts threads.
Thank you Betty! I’ve been told I sew too fast too (my friends coined the hashtag sewingatthespeedofsam for me!) but what’s “too” fast? I wish it could go faster! It’s my fave of all the machines I’ve ever owned!
Love it! SewingAtTheSpeedOfSam…. will pass that one on!
Way to go Sam! I’m with you. Thanks for the great article.
thank you Sue!
Excellent! You are spot on.
Thank you Vickie!
Great post, Sam! The opposite also applies….I had to take my hot rod in for its annual checkup and update and I was sort of pouting about having to use my older, feature-free model. I was delighted and surprised to remind myself what a great powerful little machine it is with a prettier straight stitch than the hot rod has. In fact my current project has a lot of topstitching, which the older machine does better than the hot rod!
Also on the subject of ignoring those features you don’t need right now, that is a great idea! Learn how to use those features when you need them! That’s when you learn best anyway.
Thank you Claudia! I learned to adapt that philosophy from a business mentor, who told me to stop reading articles or book on anything that I wasn’t actively working on – to save the research for a deep dive when needed. It has really simplified my business life!
I’m the same with a new phone or laptop, I hate the idea of having to set it all up how I want it and I’d rather keep the old one!
I agree with you on number 8. I have some fancy stitches on my machine and I’ll learn how to use them when and if I need them. I think I applied that mindset when I got my first computer and had to learn how to use it. I bought a word processing for dummies book, thinking it was the ticket to learn. It confused me more than I already was! So I just turned the machine on and started clicking things and I taught myself what I needed to know.
what a timely post…as I found out the hard way recently after not using my fancy machine for about a year and flunked winding the bobbin big time…yes, I then found my manual and did much better the second time around. I do not care about the thread I wasted either. Learning or relearning a skill means messing up sometimes. It is only thread, I can buy more. thanks for posting this!!!
So funny you should bring this subject up – I went to the LO Montavilla store on Sunday to see your quilts and the saleswoman and I were talking about how I’m afraid of the Janome MC9400 I bought a couple of years ago and now prefer the Baby Lock I was afraid of when I bought it in 2005…but I make myself use the Janome on the rare occasions I have to sew and the Baby Lock is strictly for travel only. I don’t know how most of the stuff in my car works either!
LOL – there’s so much computer in everything now!