Adventures in flora, fauna, food, and the great unknown.

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Sew easy, sew hard

For months now, I’ve been talking about how I wanted to learn how to sew. Both my mother and my mother-in-law had sewing machines languishing in basements, just waiting to be used and loved, and both offered them up to me. Last weekend, I finally got my hands on one of them, and I got right to work.


Well, okay. Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a moment. In truth, I got my hands on two machines. The first is that absolutely gorgeous Singer—which, based on a very limited amount of research, I believe to be a model 15-91 born in 1948. (Her name, if you’re wondering, is Evelyn.) The second is a newer (but not new) Singer Esteem II.


It’s the latter one that I’ve decided to use for now. I figured I’d have enough to learn without adding an older machine to the mix; most of the tutorials I’ve seen, including the Craftsy class I’m learning from, focus on newer models. I didn’t want to overcomplicate things unnecessarily at the beginning.

Don’t worry, though; Evelyn isn’t going far. She’s returning to my mother-in-law’s, where she will reside, in the table designed just for her, until we have the space to give her a permanent home.


Fast-forward again. That first day, I spent a bunch of time cleaning and oiling the machine; learning to wind bobbins, use the automatic needle threader, and bring up the bobbin thread; and sewing on some scrap fabric with a few of the available stitches, at various tensions and widths. Basically, I played—but I was also quite eager to actually make something.

Now, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that I’m a knitter. It seemed logical, therefore, to make my first sewing project be a project bag. (It’s important to cultivate one’s Vulcan instincts.) I picked out some nice cotton quilting fabric and a similarly shaded trim for a drawstring, and followed along with this pattern from Purl Soho as best I could.


It was both easier and more difficult than I expected—suitably challenging.Cutting straight lines in fabric is totally different than in paper, and my edge was a bit ragged and uneven; thank goodness the rotary cutter I ordered gets here soon. The fabric wanted to tug every which way (I suspect that would be less of an issue if I had a bigger workspace or, better yet, a proper sewing table to set the machine into), so my straight lines aren’t straight. I had to relearn how to iron; I pressed more fabric for this small bag than I have in the last ten years. Some things were left unsaid that are probably second-nature to those with experience, but not to me; I improvised as needed. I struggled with folding the bag to mark off the gusset, and the first gusset seam that I made needed a visit with the seam ripper. But in the end, after  (all things considered) not all that much time and effort, I had a functional (and pretty) project bag. Goodbye Pretty Cheep—you were great for what you were, but there’s a new game in town, and her name is JD.


The colors in these photos are a little off, but trust me when I say that both the fabric and drawstring trim are lovely shades of silver; they really compliment each other quite nicely.

So what’s next? More of the same, but with this pretty blue fabric and a lighter gray drawstring. I’m hoping to make some adjustments, though—in particular, I’d really like to  add a zig-zag stitch to the seams to reduce unraveling. I had actually intended to do this for the silver bag, but it only dawned on me after I sewed the gussets that I really should have done that earlier in the process, when there was no interference from the perpendicular seams. That’s okay; mistakes are how we learn.


In case it’s not immediately obvious, I am hopelessly drawn to tendrilled, art nouveau-esque designs. But this is the fantastic thing about crafting—customization, coupled with the thrill of creation. I find so much satisfaction in making, even (and sometimes especially) in the fledgling stages of learning a new skill. And more and more, as you improve, you find that you’re able to take your vision and make it reality.