My first adventures with a sewing machine

Sewing Machine, making a cushion cover

I’ve bought a sewing machine. This is a momentous occasion for me as they have previously scared me rigid. The world of sewing is quite mysterious to the uninitiated: fiddly machinery, baffling bobbins and the truly terrifying prospect of threading the needle. But I’m determined to try new things this year, and mastering sewing is top of my list.

What machine did I buy?

After reading this excellent advice on the Tilly & the Buttons blog, I decided to order a Janome machine – the J3-18. I bought mine for £149 from Amazon, although prices will vary. It’s a fairly simple machine and the instruction manual is clear. I was able to thread the machine without any problems. I’m always a bit lazy about reading instructions, but this is one occasion when it really pays to do what you’re told. It actually wasn’t as complicated as I’d imagined either.

My first attempt at sewing 

Lavender bags

Once I’d threaded the machine I spent a bit of time trying out the different stitches on an old bit of fabric. The stitches aren’t anything fancy, but I think that’s probably a good thing for a beginner.

When I’d got the hang of things, I had a look at my new sewing book – Learn to Sew with Lauren. Lauren Guthrie was on the first series of the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee, and her book is a great starting point for a beginner.

I decided to practise having a go at seams and hems using her instructions, which were really easy to follow and well illustrated. After a bit of practice, I tried out my new skills by making a few lavender bags. These weren’t in the book, but I wanted to have a go at some simple sewing. I made it up as I went along.

My first proper project

Handmade cushion cover

The first project in Lauren’s book is a simple envelope-style cushion cover (no zips involved!). The instructions are very simple – everything from cutting out the fabric to sewing it together. As long as you follow them, you can’t go far wrong.

I’m delighted with my cushion – it all feels pretty neat and well-finished, considering I’m still a bit of a wonky seamstress. The crucial thing is that it didn’t feel too difficult, and in under two hours I’d made something I felt really proud of.

Moving on

Handmade tote bag

I wanted to try something different next, so I moved on to a simple tote bag from Lauren’s book. Although the instructions in the book are really clear, I still had to use every ounce of my concentration on it. Every time I became distracted I made an annoying mistake and out came the unpicking tool.

I suppose every stitch unpicked is a lesson learnt. It’s not perfect, but it actually works and I’ve filled it with heavy shopping a few times now without it disintegrating – which feels like a bit of triumph.

Things I’ve learnt so far…

Don’t rush things. This is my main problem and the source of much unpicking. My bag would’ve been much neater if I hadn’t been desperate to finish it in one sitting. I need to learn that although machine sewing is fast and efficient, it also requires patience and the ability to pace yourself.

Time passes very quickly when you’re sewing. Which is the main reason for my rushing. It’s a very focused, absorbing activity and the hours fly by.

Fabric is expensive. Most of the nice stuff seems to cost about £12 a metre. Once you add on thread and anything else you need it does add up a bit. Clearly, it’s possible to buy much cheaper fabric, but lots of the little independent shops round here lean more towards the fancy end of the market. Next time I go to Ikea I’m definitely going to invest in some of their cheap and cheerful offerings.

Don’t be daunted. No one’s expecting you to run before you can walk. I still have no idea about the mysterious world of zips, darts and buttonholes, but I’m trying not to let it put me off. Even if I never do any of these things, I can still make cushions and bags forevermore!

What I’d like to make next

Next on my list is to make another tote bag, this time a bit neater and using some more exciting (expensive) fabric. I would also love to make a summer skirt with an elasticated waist (no zips!).

Can you sew? What do you recommend I try next?

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6 thoughts on “My first adventures with a sewing machine

  1. Ruth

    Hats off to you for bravery! With you eye for design, I’m sure you will improve in leaps and bounds with practice. The cushion looks wonderful. My top tip would be to always have the ironing board out, ready to iron each seam – it makes a huge difference to the neatness of the final effect! Love from R xxxx

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  2. Lins @Boo & Maddie

    Ooh so exciting, I’m so impressed with what you’ve done so far! We’ bought a Janome about 4 years ago and it’s sat doing nothing ever since but I’m ever so encouraged by the sound of that book – part of what has always put me off is the same with sewing as it is with gardening, so many instructions are written in semi-pro terms that if you’ve never done it before you’ll never be able to understand what to do. I can’t wait to see how it progresses, enthusiastic thumbs up! Xx

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