In the first of a new series in which she explores unfamiliar or unusual crafts, seasoned maker-of-things Emma Mitchell faces her fear of sewing machines.
The dust and bits of old crisp under my settee may be evolving into new life forms but while there’s wool in my house I’ll always choose crocheting a snood over dusting my architrave.
I’ve turned my hand to most crafts in the past: weaving, candle making, throwing on a wheel. I’ve even wrangled willow twigs into the form of a trout. Yet there is one area of the handmade world that fills me with fear: Sewing Machines.
To me they are like small stitchy Daleks: terrifyingly complex Heath Robinson-style automata THAT SEW THINGS ON THEIR OWN. How do they do that? They fill me with horror. I feel sewing machines might conjure a curtain or a tote bag of their own accord when I’m not looking, like the mice in The Tailor of Gloucester only with flashing lights and NO EYES.
Sometimes I need a small lie down after watching The Great British Sewing Bee.
As a craft blogger I knew I needed to overcome this irrational fear so that I could hold my head up at craft night and bring my dream of making my own pyjama bottoms a little closer. So I signed up for a machine appliqué workshop at Backstitch Shop in Cambridgeshire. The image accompanying the workshop description was a small floral fabric owl waving jauntily from a piece of linen. This lessened the terror.
I arrived at the workshop and learned that I was supposed to have brought some iron-on interfacing with me. I didn’t even know what that was. This wasn’t a great start.
I sat down in front of one of Those Machines. Its light shone balefully and its needle glittered. The cogs and bobbins and twirly wheels leered at me. I regretted not bringing a lavender bag for emergency sniffing. Our first task was drawing what we’d like to appliqué and embroider using various gorgeous quilting books as inspiration. I can do drawing – I was even paid for it once. So I drew some feathers.
Next I learned that interfacing is a sort of ironing-activated Pritt Stick for fabric.
We had to cut the interfacing into the shapes that would make up our stitchy pictures, cut fabric into the same shapes and then iron the interfacing onto the fabric pieces.
I chose a selection of ribbons and scrim (hessian ribbon) to make my feathers. These were to be placed onto the backing fabric and ironed in place.
After this snippy irony bit the stitching would begin: I could procrastinate no longer.
I needed to stitch around my ironed-on fabric pieces to give them an outline. We were told to practice doodling with automated stitches on a piece of plain scrap fabric first. The machine was threaded up already and had a special ‘foot’ attached for free motion embroidery. I was grateful for that; the threading up process is like a sort of crazed miniature cat’s cradle (though the idea of a machine having a foot like some mechanised mollusc is mildly repulsive). I slipped the fabric under the foot (ugh) and lowered it with a little lever. I then pressed my foot on the pedal that controls the machine.
The scene that ensued was like that moment in Lost in Translation when Bill Murray’s exercise machine goes feral. There was a noise like a swarm of hornets wielding tiny hammers, the fabric started to scamper at an alarming rate beneath the machine and a sinister meandering black line of stitches appeared.
At this point I swore and recoiled from the machine in alarm. Some of the other women in the class were elderly and all were genteel. Anglo Saxon expletives were inappropriate. I apologised. I quashed my fear by thinking of homemade skirts, mustered Blitz sprit and drew a sort of ferny plant with stitches. Then I embroidered some pebbles.
This process was once likened by Kirstie Allsopp as “the crack cocaine of crafts.” I began to see why.I gave an involuntary “ooooh!” and drew some more things. Then I was let loose on my feather outlines. I was DRAWING with a sewing machine.
The process was giving me the same crafty high I previously experienced when finally realising I was crocheting rather than just making a tangled woolly nest. Once my picture was complete I sat there for minutes enjoying the handmade glow (a medically recognised phenomenon).
This workshop was my own personal craft aversion therapy – I am no longer quite so wary of sewing machines. That said I wouldn’t be surprised to see one trundling down the road and speaking in a monotone in the manner of K9.822 Views
I make things, mostly out of silver, sometimes out of wool. I’m never too far from a bottle of PVA glue.