“She makes her own clothes!” Getting caught up on sewing technology



You’re at least a baby boomer (or older) if you recall that sophomoric blind date saying, “All the girls really like her. And . . . she makes her own clothes!”

Yeah, I was one of those girls. Our family’s economic status and 4-H sewing projects made it almost imperative to fashion my own clothes in high school. That doesn’t mean I did it well or with any design flair. But on a galloping horse (as my ex-mother-in-law was fond of saying) you couldn’t tell how many times seams had been ripped out or how crooked the stitching was.

Economic necessity and my wedding dress

Economic necessity also drove me to make my own wedding dress (for the first nuptial anyway) and help my sister-in-law sew hers. The memory of spreading a huge sheet on the floor of the dank basement I lived in while going to summer school at Mizzou came flooding back to me last week. The sheet was to protect the beautiful white dotted swiss fabric I used to make the princess waist dress with long puffed sleeves, cowl neck and train.

I tapped into those memories while attending a class to learn how to use my new computerized sewing/quilting machine. The instructor wanted to know how much sewing experience we had and those wedding dress memories just fell out of my mouth, surprising even myself. I was a lot younger and braver back then and had no idea how challenging a big project like that could be.

Now I’m almost terrified that the beautiful precision Swiss machine that requires a rolling piece of padded luggage to transport will conjure up a “Fatal Error” message when I try to use it to finish the cross-stitch, king-size quilt my mother started decades ago.

Yes, the only reason I bought this amazing equipment was to tackle machine quilting myself and finish that heirloom . . . something I will then be afraid to ever put on my bed, because I have dogs with dirty feet. I can just see them snagging their toenails on the embroidery I spent another decade finishing.

Husqvarna and Viking? Is this the chainsaw store?

I just went into the franchise fabric and hobby store a few months ago to find out what in the heck a serger was. I knew I was totally behind the times in terms of the evolution of sewing, but was unprepared for what I saw on the Viking/Husqvarna showroom floor. Heck, I thought I had just stumbled into the chainsaw department when I noticed the brand on the showroom wall! The real halleluiah moment arrived upon seeing machines with computer screens sewing without a human behind the wheel. When the salesman told me about the features of sergers, quilting machines and embroidery machines, I knew I had to bypass the serger for something more versatile. Besides, my new machine has a bazillion fancy stitches that might come in handy some day.


You have to understand, I made my wedding dress on a Montgomery Wards portable machine and thought I was in hog heaven to have a zigzag stitch or two on a dial. It even had three separate buttonhole settings! A few years after my wedding I found myself in the hinterlands of Brazil where I learned to operate an old Singer treadle machine. Can’t remember what I even made with it then, but at least overcame my fears and got into the rhythm of foot control.


Now if our power grid ever goes down, the antique Singer I have in my basement could be unfolded and used to make a sackcloth garment for the end times. But in the meantime, I have a machine that almost walks on water. Or at least it threads its own needle and informs me, on its glowing blue screen, of operator stupidity.

And just as soon as I overcome my fear of hurting the shiny new equipment (it honestly feels like trying to learn to ride my bike without training wheels) I will tackle my heirloom. I just hope that my arthritic fingers and dimming eyesight will not contribute to an epic heirloom quilt failure. If it does, I’ll just trade my machine in on a newer one that sews by itself.