Sewing Takes Grit

Sewing is definitely not for the faint at heart. It takes perseverance, ingenuity, and true grit- especially for someone who doesn’t know what the heck they’re doing.

For Christmas, I was gifted a sewing machine to make all of the things I’ve been wanting to make, such as curtains for the dining room and kitchen. I’ve sewn in the past, like decades ago, when I would make doll clothes for my Barbies and stuffed animals, so of course, I’m an expert. In those days, I used my grandmother’s old solid metal Singer sewing machine built somewhere in the first half of the twentieth century.  In the 1950s, she lugged it all the way to California from New York City, where she worked as a seamstress.

My grandmother kept up the sewing in her home in L.A., and I would often imitate her skills, drawing patterns on notebook paper and recycling her scraps for my dolls’ outfits. The fun part was creating the designs and the actual sewing. The grunt labor was the prep work: pinching and pinning the material edges, measuring, threading the old stubborn relic, and winding the bobbin. I have so many painful memories of winding thread on the bobbin by hand for what seemed like hours on end!

Since childhood, my sewing perspective and technique have changed very little. I have lots of creative ideas and fanciful patterns in mind, but I continue to agonize over the prep work. I’ve never taken a sewing class, so I go about tackling sewing in my own logical way- which usually only makes sense to me. I tenaciously measure, turn material over and over again determining sides, and use way too many pins. A couple of things about sewing I’ve realized is that it takes math and tough skin, especially on the fingertips.

My new machine, however, is much more reasonable than that vintage Singer. Threading it is a cinch, and to my amazement, it has a bobbin winder. The downsides are that it has hundreds of sewing options with speed combinations that I feel obligated to learn, it has sat in the corner for months expecting to be used, and it was given to me along with Advice from a 1949 Singer Sewing Manual, hmmmm.

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Breaking out the machine for the first time to actually sew something was a bit nerve racking. For years I had been sewing by hand, and it was mostly buttons. I decided to pull out a bunch of scrap material I had saved in a craft drawer and an old torn plaid dress shirt. These remnants would form the prototype for future curtains and revitalize my limited sewing skills. It was a rough go: I couldn’t sew a straight line, or match the panel length, but I created the most unique and utilitarian curtains ever seen and hung them on the surfboard shaping room’s window.

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A few months later, I gave the machine another try. Continuing to “flash” the neighbors in the middle of the night, exposed by refrigerator light in our underwear, in front of the window was getting to be ridiculous. I got downright serious about making those curtains. Well, truthfully, I first searched the Internet and all over town hoping to just find the right curtains, but I couldn’t. With vision, the right material print, and “aha moments”, like realizing there are measuring grids and rulers on the machine to help sew straight lines, I got to work. Yes, the prep work sucked and I felt headachy from either concentrating too hard or grinding my teeth.   I sewed many perfect lines before realizing my bobbin had run out or my needle had gotten itself unthreaded somehow. But my mantra helped me persevere: It isn’t making mistakes that’s critical; it’s correcting them and getting on with the principal task. –thank you Donald Rumsfield!

In the end, I was quite pleased, if not surprised, with my handiwork. The panels were the same length, even with the material design patterns lined up. My cascading valances matched, and the stitches were pretty much straight, at least where noticeable. Upon intense inspection, I’m sure my sewing guru grandmother would find a few issues here and there, and I’m sure she would have a lot of advice to give. The valances might be too blue, the gingham panels probably need another line of ric rac sewn across them, and there are a few threads sticking out. But for now, what really matters is that I’ve created something I enjoy looking at and I have the confidence to move on to the next sewing project. The lesson for my readers: always check your bobbin!

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