Periodically in some of my Facebook groups that are focused around quilting and sewing I see a surprising number of people who have sewing or quilting machines they are truly afraid to use. Now I can see how this might happen. Today’s machines are often technically advanced, big, powerful, and fast. That can be very intimidating, especially if you fear making mistakes on your creations or breaking your machine. Maybe you are afraid of sewing through your fingers. Maybe you think you can’t possibly figure out how to use that advanced machine. These are legitimate fears, but you can take steps to stop them in their tracks.
Let’s talk about this a little. In almost any creative situation you can figure out how to make an approach of taking things apart and moving step by step to find you can do far far more than you ever thought you could. And yes, you will almost certainly mess up, make mistakes, have to unstitch, break a needle, break some thread, or even mess up so badly you throw a project away. Give yourself permission to throw things away, and realize they have served their purpose in teaching you something. This is just sign of progress and that you tried. So here is my suggested method to overcome the fear of your machines, or even to advance your understanding of them:
- Read the manual of your machine. Yes, read it even if you have been sewing for 65 plus years, even if it is a somewhat simpler machine, or even if it’s boring or you don’t understand it, but read it anyway. Later you will remember that there is an answer to a question you have along the way in your manual so you can go back and look it up in the index at the back when you need it. You don’t have to remember it until you need it. You just have to remember that there is an answer there. Sometimes you may find you do things differently with this machine than you did with your mom’s machine you learned on. If you don’t find the manual, they are often online free for download.
- Get yourself a small notebook and make notes as you go. Keep a record of your steps, the settings on your machine you used for what. Even after 65 years plus of sewing, I still keep notes on projects I do. It’s so handy when I want to do it again, or have gone out of my project to hem my new jeans and need to get back to where I was on my project. I have also taken those notes and made spreadsheets or lists that I can print out and stick on my wall for reference.
- Take advantage of the tools your machine has. These tools include both the functional tools built into your machine and the accessories (specialty feet, magnifying glass, differing sole plates, optional threading aids, cleaning aids, pinpoint lasers, and other things). Yes, you have spent a lot buying your machine…so spend a little more and get those specialty feet as you need them for particular projects. It makes your initial investment truly worth it.
- Realize that even if you paid a lot for your machines they are not perfect (nothing manufactured is, really!), but usually they will work if you do things right. They may have some things that might go awry from time to time. So join those Facebook groups where you can ask what other people do about some things, look in the manual near the end where they have the section usually entitled “Troubleshooting”, go on YouTube to find if it is something you can fix yourself (if you have a Bernina, take a look at Bernina Boys on YouTube), contact your machine’s online support (I can’t tell you how many problems I have gotten solved this way without having to lug my machines to the dealer), or yes, lug your machine to the dealer and get that problem fixed. But start with a cleaning, check on the tensions, and change the needle…maybe even change the thread.
- And if you are not getting that nagging problem fixed by your dealer, contact the manufacturer (using the online support) and ask them what to do. Remember, they WANT you to be happy with your machine. If you are happy with your machine you will tell others about it, and they will buy one. If you are happy with your machine, you might buy another one that has another function (I have three Berninas). But I will suggest that if you buy a solid advanced machine and LEARN HOW TO USE IT, you will almost certainly be amazed at what you can do with it.
- Realize that, surprisingly, sometimes it is the thread, the needle, and something amiss with your machine. But normally problems can be solved by cleaning the machine, changing the tensions. using a different sized needle, or just replacing a needle that may be slightly bent or have a blunt end.
- Learning to use your particular machine is like learning to play a new instrument. You HAVE TO PRACTICE!!! Yes, practice a little bit frequently and a lot once in a while at the very least. Practice even if you have sewn for 65 plus years. Practice is just that. You are making a practice piece…something that may even end up in the trash. But this can be really fun. Remember that..it’s ultimately fun!
- Plan out your project in small steps. Prepare your pieces (make the markings you need to make). Be sure you have the right threads, needles, backings, battings, stabilizers and interfacings on hand. These things make using your machine so much easier.
- And finally, if you have a computerized machine, make sure you keep it updated with the latest updates. Sometimes the updates are put out primarily to correct some bug they have discovered and so you won’t have that problem happen to you. Sometimes they add new stitches or new functions. Find out how to do this in your manual.
Here I have attached a pdf file to print out a small practice project for free motion quilting. It is sized so you can print it out with normal letter sized paper and tape it together. Then use it as a marking guide for your fabric.
I developed it for a FMQ workshop I will be teaching at the sewing machine department at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland in October of this year. I’d love to see you there. There are only eight spots for students, so call them (ask for sewing machine department) and reserve your space. It’s about organic fmq for fabric artists…no fancy feathers, but lots of fun. I’m also teaching a class on 22 September in Machine Applique for Fabric Artists, and one in October on Feed Dogs Up Quilting for Fabric Artists.
Sew happy everyone. Go read your manual and practice. Then have some fun making a wonderful project. You will be happy you conquered your machines…well almost conquered…or at least learned to use them. LOL