I’m one of the rare people who really likes reading instruction manuals. I know that for some devices, it’s faster to ignore the manual and just start using that thing and figure it out as I go, but many times, I find tips and shortcuts in the manual that help me save time in the long run.
The instruction manual for the sewing machine my grandma gave me, however, wasn’t helpful without the basic knowledge of how to use a sewing machine.
So, two months after adding “Learn to use my sewing machine” to my bucket list, I sign up at a local store offering a free class appropriately called “Learn to Use Your Sewing Machine.”
I’m in the class with one other lady who brought her brand-new computerized machine that her husband recently gifted her. She’s been sewing for years, she says, but this machine is new to her, and she’s a little intimidated. The teacher nods understandably, and then looks questioningly at my machine, an old heavy-duty metal sewing machine meant for the abuses of school use.
“Well,” she says, “It will last you forever.”
That’s where the good news ends.
She scoffs at my choice of thread (“This is for hand quilting, not for machine sewing”) and then gives me a bunch of thread off a spool in the store, making sure I know that “we’re really supposed to make you buy this, but you can use some today” (I thank her profusely).
When she shows me how to put the thread through the machine, I make a comment about vaguely remembering my mom teaching me how to do this part (My mom taught me enough to sew a small baby blanket at one point, but without practice, I’ve forgotten the majority of what she taught me). The other lady gets into a conversation with the teacher about the failure of today’s mothers to teach their daughters to sew. I emphasize that it’s me that failed to remember, not my mother, and that although I don’t remember machine sewing, I sew by hand very well, because my mother and both grandmothers have taught me that.
They seem slightly comforted, and the conversation turns to something else. Suddenly, we’re all cringing as the most horrible screeching sound (my dad later describes it as “killing squirrels”) comes out of my sewing machine.
Everyone in the store looks at us. The teacher asks if I have a bottle of machine oil (I do!).
Unfortunately, the plastic bottle of oil is so old (and has been in the dry desert of New Mexico for so long) that it’s fragile. It breaks and leaks oil everywhere, exasperating the teacher. (She wasn’t expecting the many ways I can accidentally derail her class!)
I apologize for the mess, clean it up, and then buy a new bottle of oil from the store. Using the instruction manual to show me where to put the oil (see – the manual’s useful! Still, I need the teacher to help interpret it because I don’t know enough about this machine yet), I reduce the noise and feel really confident (and a little proud of myself) that I can take care of my sewing machine. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been oiled in years, so it needs more than just a quick drop, but I don’t figure that out until after I put it back together. Despite the squealing, which is much quieter and seems to only happen when I try to sew too quickly, I continue with the class.
We learn to sew buttonholes, zippers, and piping, before the class ends and the teacher looks remarkably relieved that it’s time for me to leave.
When I return home, I practice some more (and oil the machine again). One hour later (spent mostly trying to figure out the manual to remind me of what I learned) I feel confident enough to attempt a sample project: repairing T-shirts – not terribly exciting, but definitely useful practice.
Weeks later, after repairing all of our old shirts, it’s time to fulfill the promise I made my grandma: the first thing I make on the machine will be a gift for her.
I want something practical, so I choose a tutorial for “Magic” pillowcases which is supposed to be easy. It’s a bit different than repairing shirts, and it takes me hours longer than it should (I still can’t sew very fast if I don’t want those noisy squealing squirrels to die), but overall, they come out really good, and my grandma likes them.
So that’s definitely a Goal Accomplished! and… I now have enough basic sewing machine knowledge to use the instruction manual!
Update: My machine no longer squeals because I found the right spot to put oil and the “squirrels” are gone!
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