Friday, October 23, 2009

Me and "My" Machine

Ok, let’s just put this out there: I am afraid of my sewing machine.

I say “my” sewing machine, as though I have some sort of ownership interest in it.  Which I don’t. I didn’t buy it, and I still don’t really know if I want it.  Mom is just short of relentless on urging me to embrace all the joys of machine quilting, and after one particular disaster piecing a quilt together, I finally cracked and let her send me a starter machine.  Nothing fancy, just the basics. But now that it is here, I am having serious second thoughts.

I come by my aversion to sewing machines honestly.  It began in that viral incubator for all childhood neuroses – junior high.  In my particular case, it was home economics and a less-than-patient instructor who could not possibly understand how an honor roll student couldn’t thread a simple sewing machine.  She would stare at me with a strange mix of exasperation and astonishment, marveling at my ability to turn a simple bobbin into a giant nest of snarled thread, exploding out from the bottom of the machine.  In her defense, I really did create new and innovative ways to destroy one sewing project after another. Still, I challenge any of you to turn 6 pieces of raggedy old felt into a pillow the shape of a radio. Send pictures, please.

Having gladly left the saga of home ec behind me, I am now a 31-year-old woman who can’t work a sewing machine but loves quilting. You can see my dilemma. I started quilting by learning crazy quilting, entirely by hand.  There were no patterns to follow, no corners to match, nothing to constrain my imagination or test my limited sewing skills.  After attempting a slew of crafts in my late 20s – scrapbooking, crochet, one disastrous day of decoupage – I had finally found the hobby that fit me.  So I worked on the crazy quilt (still a UFO – unfinished object), put together an adorable Christmas wall hanging, and made a handy little tote bag…all by hand. Then came the wedding quilt.

I was working on a quilt as a gift for a friend’s wedding. It was simple, mostly piecing together 5X5 squares into blocks and sewing them together. I was under a bit of a time crunch, but humming along nicely. I sewed on the very last row of blocks and was about to sew on the borders when I looked….and realized I sewed the last row on to the wrong side.  I was crushed.  An entire hour of sewing, wasted.  The project suddenly seemed impossible – the seam had to be ripped out, resewn…and I felt like such an idiot. Of course, if I had a sewing machine, I could have whipped through the fix in about 15 minutes.  So that’s when I cracked and told Mom to send a machine my way.


When the machine arrived, I unpacked it, psyched myself up to face my demons, and read the manual right up to Step 7…some sort of automatic threader-do-hickey. The manual went back in the box, the machine went right in behind it, and I spent three months just eyeballing it every time I walk past it. I have finally begun using the machine, intermittently, and only when I have really long straight seams. I still let out an involuntary yip every time I step on the pedal too hard.

I know that nearly everyone who quilts uses a machine. I know I am supposed to lust after a long-arm quilting machine. Maybe I will someday. But, for now, I am an avowed proponent of hand quilting.  SassyPacks is designed to be friendly to all skill levels, whether sewing by hand or by machine. Most of the patterns we select for can be sewn either way. Hand piecing and/or hand quilting may take you longer, but I love it. You can do it anywhere, mistakes are (usually) easy to correct, and there is very little start-up cost!

Expect to see more of this debate unfold on SassyBlog…and let us know your thoughts, in the comments! Do you hand quilt? Love your sewing machine? Dabble in a little of each? Give us your thoughts, and share your tips and tricks with your fellow quilters!


  1. As the lucky recipient of your first beautiful quilt, I say do what makes you comfortable, happy and relaxed and if that is hand quilting - rock on. But, in the name of full disclosure, I must admit I, too, am terrified of sewing machines, even though I grew up in a house with a mom who combined a number of different dress patterns together (along with my super helpful design suggestions) to create all 3 of my high school prom dresses.

    My phobia stems from an unfortunate freshman home ec experience (my teddy bear's leg was inadvertantly sewn to his head). The teacher couldn't understand why an award winning cross-stitcher and embroiderer couldn't operate that stupid machine. Listen lady, give me a break - I can pronounce the word "Sioux" which you cannot. And your rockies are too tight. Get off my back.

  2. oh, dear! i started sewing about 65 years ago, standing up to mom's treadle machine, pumping that treadle fast and furiously with one foot. i don't know how many times i sewed my finger into a seam ... the first time, i had to have help to get my finger out ... after that i could do it myself and didn't have to tell anybody. i suppose it was funny, but i hated my brother laughing at me.
    sew, i've always loved sewing but only had a machine off and on through the years. but didn't quilt but once when i was 20, making a baby quilt by hand for my first. i've been quilting off and on for about 5 years. i do about half my applique by hand, and all my quilting by machine. have no tips of my own, just what i've picked up on the web blogs.
    i have learned lots by browsing!

  3. What a great story! I can't believe you could run a treadle machine while standing up! Thanks for sharing! :)