Rage* Against the Sewing Machine – Why it’s time to abandon your machine.

*In the most polite sense

My first sewing machine, and why it’ll be my last.

It was my 21st birthday and I knew exactly how I wanted to mark the the momentous milestone. Armed with birthday money from my parents I went to my local sewing machine shop. It was a small independent business no bigger than an average living room, shelves stocked high with machines. I had walked past it everyday for the past 6 months on my way to university and I knew that one day I’d buy a sewing machine and start making my own clothes.

It seemed a simple equation in my head. Girl + sewing machine = dressmaker. I’d cut out clothing shaped fabric and the machine would do the rest. Wouldn’t it? I chose a sewing machine almost at random. I was dazzled by the options had no idea what I actually needed. What on earth would one do with 200+ stitch patterns? There were automatic button hole functions, integrated needle threading, touch screen digital displays. Even to this day I’m confused by the mysterious “free-arm” which is by no means a modern advancement.

It has been 13 years since I proudly carried home my heavy Toyota sewing machine. Shamefully in all that time I can only remember one or two successful dress making projects. I always put my lack of success down to not having a fancy enough sewing machine. My machine didn’t have a digital screen or a button sewing option. Surely these machines were created to take the burden from me as a fallible human.

There was a time about a year ago that I thought all my sewing problems might be solved by buying an overlocker. Everyone seemed to agree that an overlocker gave a “professional finish” to the inside of garments. I’d always used a zig-zag stitch on my raw edges and never been happy with them. Although this was probably more due to my lack of skills sewing in a straight line and penchant for tricky, slippy fabrics. I’m so glad I went off the idea because the last few months have revolutionised my sewing completely. My sewing machine sits on a shelf. I could use it to make clothes, but I don’t have to.

Hidden stitches to stop fraying

The YouTube Epiphany

I’d been watching Bernadette Banner’s historical sewing escapades for some months before the realisation occurred to me to abandon my sewing machine. Miss Banner has a modern sewing machine, as well as a working antique Singer, but in general she hand sews – and she enjoys it.

Why didn’t I hand sew my projects? I already invested a lot of time into knitting projects so why didn’t I do the same with sewing? Although describing this realisation as an epiphany is a very polite way of saying that Occam’s Razor came and punched me in the face. The simple way is often the best. (Apologies for my terrible summation of a complex philosophical theory). I’d been thinking about this the wrong way. I needed to learn to sew before I would go back to using a sewing machine.

In my tiny flat the only area big enough for dress making is the living room. If I wanted to do some sewing I’d have to wait till my other-half was out of the house for a significant length of time. I could then unpack the sewing machine, ironing board, pins fabric and cutting equipment and generally make a complete mess of the flat, Do some frantic sewing and pack up again before he came home. This wasn’t fun.

By switching to hand sewing I have made a complete change to how I create with fabric.

Pretty pretty seams…

Reasons to sew by hand:

  1. I can sew while watching Netflix, TV, YouTube, while cooking, waiting for the postman, listening to an audiobook, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Without a sewing machine rattling away like a panzer tank I can listen to music. Without a sewing machine gripping my fabric, I can stow my needle, wrap up my fabric at any time and put it away without disturbing the seam in progress. Without a sewing machine I can take my work anywhere with me to idle away the time on a train.
  2. I can learn real sewing skills. My sewing machine had a buttonhole function, so why would I ever need to learn how to do them by hand? When there is a wide stitch function why would I hand-sew a basting stitch? Buying a sewing machine at the start of my dress-making journey meant I skipped over so many basic skills that I needed to learn. I thought the machine would do it all for me and guess what? It didn’t. My sewing was really sloppy and I didn’t know how to fix it except that by buying a “better” machine would help.
  3. Hand-felled seams are so much neater than overlocked seams and add strength and security to the clothing. I sometimes feel the urge to pull open the neckline of my dress to show off how lovely the hand-felled seams are. Which is probably an urge I should fight in public for a number of reasons. No-one knows or cares how my internal seams are finished – except me. It gives me such a good feeling to not see any frayed edges or threads. It’s not a coincidence that high-end couture fashion houses use hand finishing techniques where as fast fashion uses overlockers as a quick fix.
  4. Hand-sewing tricky shapes is easier. I will happily admit that if I wanted to make a jacket for a cuboid robot a sewing machine would be perfect. Humans however have clothes with armholes that are round-ish. I always hated sewing sleeves on a machine because it always felt like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Or to be more accurate, put a complex curved shape with multiple layers of fabric each with it’s own tension, under a flat machine foot and stitching at speed. By stitching by hand I can take it slowly, turn the work over to stitch at a different angle, check my work, unpick a few stitches to correct, abandon half way through, come back when I’ve finished screaming into the void, and complete to my satisfaction.
  5. I have much more confidence in my sewing. I have quite a stash of fabric. Quite a lot of it I had great plans for but I knew I didn’t have the skills to achieve. With almost all my sewing projects I’d cut out the fabric and run it through the sewing machine and … well it was rubbish.

So what will I do with my sewing machine? It will stay on my shelf for now. There are still lots of sewing projects I can use it for but I’m not going to let it be a silver bullet for skills I haven’t learnt yet.

One thought on “Rage* Against the Sewing Machine – Why it’s time to abandon your machine.

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