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Smart Ways to Use a Sewing Machine









You have done a lot of work deciding, choosing, and bargaining, and now the machine is yours. You would think this guide should end here with a simple and sincere “Happy sewing!”

Well, it’s because I do wish you happy sewing that I’ve written this section. I want you to get the most out of your machine and the most out of your sewing hobby; bringing your li’l darlin’ home is just the beginning.

WHEN YOU GET YOUR MACHINE HOME

No matter how old I get, there are few things that excite me more than a new toy. So I’m not going to tell you to keep your new sewing machine in the box for a few days while you carefully read the manual. The first thing I want you to do is have fun.

I want you to plug that hummer in and play, play, play with it for a while. Touch it. Kiss it. Smile to your lucky, deserving self. Step on the “gas” pedal and listen to the sound of your new machine. (Remember that sound; when it changes, something’s wrong.) Invite a friend over for coffee and show off. Play with the buttons and knobs (you can’t do any harm if there is no thread in the machine).

Next, to turn your new toy into a wonderful creative tool, you must read that manual. In fact, don’t read it, study it. Go through its pages front to back; the time you spend now will come back to you in fewer headaches and repairs, fewer trips to the dealer (only to have her say the solution to the problem is on page 9), and better sewing.

Use the manual

Sewing-machine manufacturers are so determined to give you the best engineered, best-designed sewing appliance that they often neglect an important part of the machine: the instruction manual. That’s too bad because good instructions can make your experience with the machine a dream come true, while poorly written, confusing instructions can plunge you into a frustrating tangle that has you wondering why you bought the darned thing, or worse, why you thought sewing was going to be relaxing and fun.

Manuals are not easy to write. As sewing machines get more complicated, the instruction books get thicker. Think for a moment about what has to go into one: safety instructions, setup information, first-time- sewer information, maintenance information, “what if...” charts about what could go wrong, advanced sewing techniques, creative ideas, needle and thread charts, and instructions on how to use various attachments like feet, cutters, buttonholers, and guides. Now imagine that all of this has to be done in several languages for various world markets, and a manual becomes a mighty big project.

When you are shopping for a machine, make sure that you consider the manual as part of your purchase. Look it over before you buy the machine and see if it makes sense. If it looks poorly written but you are determined to buy the machine, ask the dealer if he has supplementary materials (from the company or from his own teaching staff) that will help clarify things. He may be willing to throw some of these guides into the bargain.

Lastly, approach the manual systematically. Even though you may be an experienced sewer, take the time to read the manual from cover to cover at least once.

One more suggestion: If the manual is really unhelpful to you, write to the company and complain. Who knows, they may hire you to write the next one!

Test your machine

All sewing machines are tested before they leave the factory, and you should test the machine before it leaves the dealership where you bought it. Chances are your machine will work perfectly.

If there is anything wrong with your machine, you will want to know about it in the first few days you have it. That is why I suggest you try it—try all of it—during those first few days. Work your way through the manual and see that everything is functioning as promised.

Leave computerized machines turned on for 24 hours. In that time, you will know if any of the chips are faulty. If the machine functions well for a few days, chances are that not much is going to go wrong with it.

Recognize that this machine isn’t going to do things the way your old one did. That’s normal. You have to learn some new things even if you are a veteran sewer. If there is something that isn’t functioning properly, read the “what if...”section of the manual to see if you missed a step or did something “the old way.” If you can’t correct the problem, report any irregularities to the dealer.

Sign up for classes

Dealers know that you will not be a happy customer if you don’t know how to use your sewing machine properly and to its capacity. That’s why they offer classes with every machine they sell. The first class, which is the introduction to your machine, is usually free. In other words, the class was part of your purchase. Go to the class, No instruction manual can cover all aspects of sewing or predict all the questions you might have. The education staff is prepared to show you some of the basics and many techniques and shortcuts that are not covered in the manual. Since these instructors use the machines every day and they are in contact with lots of sewers, they have a lot of useful information. They also know the weak or frustrating points of the machine (every machine has some), and they know how to work around them.

Since you have to bring your new machine to these classes, it's a perfect time and setting to clear things up if there is any malfunction or feature that you don’t understand.

Make a stitch dictionary

I strongly suggest that you make samples of the stitches illustrated in the manual and then paste or staple them into the book or keep them on a handy strip of material as I do. No matter how much I sew, nothing is more helpful to me than a look at an actual sample of the stitch or technique I’m about to use. (No illustration of a stitch can match a sewn-out sample; you are going to be surprised at how different some stitches look. It’s better to be surprised on the sample than on an important project.) And don’t be afraid to write in the manual’s margins, especially to note when you change the recommended settings to ones you like better.


Neither a sophisticated computer screen nor documentation with photos, graphs, and drawings can convey to you what a stitch is really going to look like, so it’s best to sew stitches out on a strip of stiff material and keep them at hand.

When to call the dealer

Yes, you may call your dealer or salesperson to do more than complain! You can call just to say hello, (Have you hugged your sewing-machine dealer lately?

Seriously, the sewing-machine business is tough, and most of these people do a very good job serving the various needs of the sewing community.)

You can also call for information that isn’t connected to a complaint, For example, call for news of new accessories or computer-design cards for your machine or for schedules of upcoming classes and needlework shows in town. And, of course, your dealer is there to help you with the problems you are having with your machine, if not with your sewing project itself.

Before you call the dealer with a technical question, look toward the end of your manual for a “what if...” section. Read that section and you will probably solve your problem. If you don’t have a “what if...” section in your manual, here’s my advice:

1. Stop! Stop what you are doing. Shut the machine off. Go into another room and have a cup of tea or chop some onions with a sharp knife. (That always takes my mind off of unsavory things like machines that won’t cooperate.)

2. After a while, you will come back to your machine with “new eyes” and renewed patience. Unplug the machine to show it that you are in charge.

3. Unthread the machine. Take out the bobbin and check to see that it's wound properly and is turning in the right direction. Reinstall it carefully. Rethread the machine, carefully following the instructions in the manual. Make sure the thread falls into all of the proper channels and catches as illustrated.

4. Change the needle. Or, if it’s brand new, reinstall the needle, making sure it's facing the correct direction. Even a new needle can be defective. Thread it in the correct direction (usually front to back on new machines but often otherwise on older machines, so check the manual).

5. Say nice things out loud. Plug the machine in and turn it on.

6. Sew something. If it doesn’t sew properly, stop. Unplug the machine and repeat steps 3 to 5. If it still doesn’t work, then call the dealer. She will either help you over the phone or tell you to bring the machine in for an inspection. Good service includes helping reasonable customers get the most out of their machines.

Please don’t become one of those people dealers call an RTFMS (read the fabulous manual, stupid). I once was visiting a local dealer and his repairman when there were no customers in the shop. In the middle of our conversation, for reasons I couldn’t figure out, the repairman quickly disappeared into his workroom and the dealer started acting busy. They had spied Mrs. X parking in front of the store and heading toward the front door. When she left, they returned to normal and explained that Mrs. X was a constant and annoying visitor who kept asking the same fundamental questions over and over again but refused to read the manual or go to any of the free classes they offered. “We are sorry we sold her a machine,” they said.

Call the dealer with good questions and to learn new and exciting things. Don’t waste her service and goodwill on things you could have looked up quickly. You’d be surprised how much more you will get from a dealer if she considers you a pleasant, intelligent, and reasonable customer.

When to call the manufacturer

Most manufacturers have sewing-education and technical departments staffed by expert, friendly people who know the ins and outs of sewing and all the machines in the line. They are there to support dealers, who in turn support you, the consumer. One of the members of this team is the customer relations representative who talks directly to customers (by phone or, increasingly, via the Internet) when the dealer can't or will not help. Her goal is to try to keep you on good terms with your dealer, but she will intervene if the dealer is unwilling or unable to help you.

If there is something wrong with your machine, it's always best to return it to the dealer from whom you bought it. It will just confuse the manufacturer if you ship the machine back to the head office; the manufacturer will just ship it back to you and tell you to bring it to your local dealer (and you’ve wasted a lot of sewing days). If your local dealer can’t fix your machine, she will send it to the home office for repair. Be forewarned, however, that a sewing machine is like an automobile: once you buy it, it's yours. It is unusual for a dealer to replace a machine rather than fix the problem. If there is something seriously wrong, however, and the machine is just a few days old, the dealer may send it back to the factory and give you a new one.


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Thursday, 2009-07-02 3:30