night I taught Sewing Machine 101 here in town. This is one of my
favorite classes to teach. People walk in the door with a sewing machine
they got as a gift or inherited from an aunt or bought for themselves
with the best of intentions. They’re nervous. Maybe they’ve tried to sew
with it and gotten frustrated, or maybe they’re just totally overwhelmed
by the task of winding the bobbin and getting the machine threaded
properly. But they’re motivated. They really want to figure it out
because they’ve got all kinds of projects waiting in the wings.
work together for a few hours and by the end of class they are totally
comfortable sewing on their own! It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling as
a teacher. A sewing machine is THE most important tool in my own
creative life. Teaching this class I’m giving people access to this tool
so that they can pursue their own creativity. This is the heart of what
propels me professionally.
been teaching this class twice a month for two years now and I’ve
noticed that there are a few particular areas that often trip up new
sewing machines users.
1. Ack! What just happened to my presser foot?
Just when things are going smoothly and the new sewist is stitching
away on their first project, their hand will bump the little button at
the back of the the presser foot and the foot will pop off. This may
even happen at home, after the class is over. Be sure to spend a few
minutes in class having students remove and replace the presser foot.
And this way they’ll also be ready to change to a specialized foot in
the future if they’d like to.
2. But I don’t want to throw away this thread!
Students will often come to class with only one bobbin and its already
been wound. In order to learn to wind a bobbin, they’ll need to unwind
it. Students often want to save the thread they take off. In my
experience people who are new to a craft can be hesitant to “waste”
materials. I understand that thread can be expensive if you buy a lot of
it, but it’s important to unwind this bobbin in order to get practice
winding it in class. Also, older thread and cheap thread are often
brittle or of poor quality. It’s best to start fresh with new, good
quality thread in class. Give people permission to throw old thread
3. This “going fishing” thing is mysterious.
I refer to the act of bringing the needle down into the machine and
back up again, bringing up the bobbin thread, as “going fishing.” I
think I got that phrase from 8th grade Home Ec., but it works. New
sewing machine users often find this interaction between the upper and
lower threads to be rather mysterious. What exactly is going on here and
why is it necessary? To make the process explicit I have students use orange thread in the upper part of the machine and green in the bobbin.
Now when they go fishing they can watch the orange thread go down into
the machine, grab the green thread, and bring it up through the throat
other advantage is that when they stitch they’ll be able to see the stitches
the orange thread is creating on the top surface of the fabric and those
the green thread is creating underneath. This helps new sewists see
how sewing machine stitches are formed.
4. If I go faster, the stitches will change. New
sewing machine users often assume that when a sewing machine is
stitching faster the stitches are closer together and when it is
stitching slowly the stitches are further apart. This isn’t true, of
course, but it’s important to address this assumption early on in class.
If students don’t dispel this idea it can inhibit their ability to sew
well later (they’ll be worrying too much about controlling speed, and
they’ll have a hard time understanding how stitch length is actually
controlled). So be sure to demonstrate that speed is just speed and has
no effect on the look of the stitches being created.
5. I just can’t imagine that!
A big part of sewing is wrapping your head around transforming a piece
of cloth into an object. Whether you’re sewing a quilt square, a tote bag, a
pillow, a toy, or a shirt there’s a good deal of imagining involved.
Matching up these corners, sewing this dart, and cutting this curve
will, in the end, create a new shape, trust me! When I teach Sewing
Machine 101 we make a very simple drawstring bag. Thinking about leaving
the top of the bag open (so that it doesn’t become a pillow!) and
creating a casing for the drawstring (even understanding how a
drawstring functions) are great beginning exercises in this new kind of
imagining. It take practice and experience to see how patterns come
together. This is just the beginning.
teaching Sewing Machine 101 again on Thursday morning. I’ve got a full
class registered and I’m really excited to bring these new students into
the fold. A sewing machine is really just a household appliance, but it’s just
complicated enough that having some one-on-one help in the beginning can
make all the difference in your success as a new sewist.
you are an experienced sewist and you’d like to begin teaching this class in your area, you can get my
full Teacher’s Guide and get up and running as a teacher in no time. And
if you have other tips that often trip up new sewists (or tripped you
up when you were first learning), please share!