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!
Kathy S says
Thanks so much for all your generous information on teaching and selling! For so many of us creatives, taking that leap from doing what we do to getting it out there in an organized way that makes sense to others is daunting, to say the least. Your practical advice in all these business related areas has given this non-business type tremendous confidence. I am joyfully working my way through The Artful Bird and have just downloaded your “Teacher’s Guide.” Thanks again for your passion & generosity~
Thank you so much for this comment. It really means a lot to me to know that my words here on the blog are meaningful and helpful to you. I'm thrilled that you are enjoying The Artful Bird and I hope you really like the ebook as well. Thank you.
melissa q. says
Great post! These are bang on, Abby. My beginner students run into the same exact problems. I make people do things over and over again to help them leap over the fear of things like threading the machine, etc. I’ve seen the look on their faces that say “What have I gotten myself into” when they walk in replaced with “I can totally make stuff!!” when they walk out. It’s the best!
Yes! And I always make my students thread their machines multiple times. Once they’ve got it threaded I say, “Terrific! Now pull it out and thread it again!” I’m so mean 🙂
ann at thevelvetaubergine says
These are great! Thanks to my mom, who had a lot of bobbin anxiety, I had a lot of trouble getting over the idea that you should never take the bobbin out if you can help it because they’re nearly impossible to put back in. Finding out that this wasn’t true was one of the more radical discoveries of my adulthood.
Ha! That's hilarious! Bobbin anxiety. I totally love it. Can I confess something? I sewed with only a single bobbin for 20 years. Also, I had the same needle in the machine that entire time. Why I didn't go shopping at the Bernina dealer earlier, I have no idea. But as you say, these are the radical discoveries of adulthood. I love your comment.
One of my 2012 resolutions was to learn to sew on a machine WITHOUT CRYING! haha! I had tried a couple of times to teach myself how to get that dang machine to work and could never get it threaded right, the stitches were all loose and tangled… and i ended up in tears every time.
This time i decided to take a class! I enrolled in a basics class at my local Joannes Fabric store. OMG – what a difference! it was so much easier having a person tell/show me rather than trying to read a “how to sew book” and convert it to my brain and my machine… night and day! i completely enjoyed it and was almost giddy with joy that i WAS NOT crying and i WAS sewing! We made a little pillow and i will cherish that little pillow forever! haha!
My true test was the next week when i put up the machine to see if i could remember how to do what i had learned in class. I did!!! YAY!! i have completed a few projects and have TONS planned… and am totally not afraid of my machine now. i love my new hobby! thank you to sewing teachers like you, and like mine (her name was Judy), who help us get thru those first challenging steps! 🙂
Yay! I'm so glad you took a class and it was helpful. I find my students feel the same way. Just a little one-on-one can make all the difference!! Happy sewing and keep in touch.
It’s so important to stop being frightened of your machine and the only way to do that is to use it. Lucky people getting to share one of your classes. Our teachers at school were very different! From a young age I used a machine at home – I was just allowed to use it by myself from about 11 and figured it out. My mum didn’t like using it very much so it was pretty much mine. At school though, I was a quivering wreck as we were never shown how to thread up the machine (scary looking things too) or do anything but were somehow supposed to know and got shouted at when we didn’t. As a result I used to take things home to do. The only thing made at school were thread tangles and lop sided messes. At home though I was making my own skirts from 11 (a three tiered floral one, was the first). School would never have known I was actually pretty competent.
If you haven’t got a nice person like yourself to give a helping hand, then I think just spending some hours running through everything in the instruction book and trying things out on scraps is a good way to go. I loved my old machine but I’m actually a bit wary of my new one as its been a while since I used it. So when I get it out I’ll take a while to familiarise and get OK with it all again.
Your advice and help is always spot on. In fact I feel like I take too much when I visit your blog. I love all the things you talk about and you are so generous with your time and information. It is the best info out there, no kidding!
Thanks so much for what you do, I can imagine what a difference you make to people lucky enough to take one of your classes. When is your soft toy book coming out? I think it is soon isn’t it?
My mum had bobbin issues too!
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's amazing the difference a patient, encouraging teacher can make when you're just starting to learn something knew. My book is actually up on Amazon now and it will be officially released (and shipped) May 7.
Thank you for visiting and for your kind words about my blog.
Kitra Woodall says
Thank you for sharing this and for ALL that you share! I have pinned a number of things from your blog and I learn SO much every time I come back 🙂 My hubby bought me an older Singer 15yrs ago and I got up the courage to get it out a week ago. I made a two little stuffed bunnies (very simple shape) and was so proud of myself. But I cheated-my mom had left my machine threaded from the last time she borrowed it. I am now determined to do it from start to finish on my own-thanks to you!
Yay! I'm so happy your first project was making bunnies! I think softies are a great introductory sewing project. They're quick and super satisfying!
Pull our your machine manual. The instructions in the manuals are usually pretty good and can be very helpful in learning to thread the machine and wind the bobbin. Good luck to you and please keep in touch!
I love these posts Abby. They are so very helpful and great at addressing potential problems in my classes before the come up. I’m just new to teaching sewing and you are a wealth of information. About to head off and check out your ebook. Thanks again, Sarah
I'm so glad this post was helpful to you and I hope you really love teaching sewing. It's one of my favorite parts of my job!
Enjoy the ebook!
Lori M. says
Hello Abby, I have been teaching people to sew for a few years now. By word of mouth only. I really enjoy helping people learn this creative process that can open up a whole new world for them. I have one tip I say to my students all the time. When you are done sewing for the day. Remember to take the upper thread off. And to remove it correctly, always Pull thread through machine after clipping thread from spool, Never rewind spool of thread from needle. I have come to learn that it helps them learn to make sure their thread is correctly threaded onto their machine before starting a project. And another is a new needle per project or for every 6 hours of sewing. Needles and Thread are a sewist best friends, if you treat them with respect, they will follow through with their best effort…….
This is a great gif showing how stitches are formed. Even non sewers can watch it for a long time. 😀
Thank you Abby, I always remind my students to have the foot up while they are threading the machine.
Abby Glassenberg says
Oh, that is so awesome. Thank you.
Abby Glassenberg says
Yes, that’s a good one!
Abby Glassenberg says
Thanks for these, Lori!