Lacking the Sewing Gene or a Faulty Machine?

If you have been following my blog posts, then you know that my personal learning project didn’t exactly turn out as I had hoped. Perhaps believing I would be a professional seamstress after this learning project was a stretch.

Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo Flickr via Compfight cc


My first post set out a plan of learning to do alterations in order to make dresses into long shirts. Well . . . I didn’t quite make it that far. Here are some of the roadblocks and successes I encountered along the way:


Breaking needles (lots)

Bunching Thread







Button Holes


Threading the machine

Sewing on buttons

Resisting the urge to set my sewing machine on fire

Click here to get the full effect! Personally, I find it very relaxing. Kind of like that channel that has logs burning during the Christmas season.

I learned a lot about sewing machines; tension, thread, and bobbins. I feel like when I do invest in a better machine, all that knowledge will serve me well. Knowing how to thread the machine was also a huge learning curve, especially threading the bobbin and figuring out how to bring the thread up. This took me hours to figure out.

Once I figured it out, however, it got easier. Then the needle breaking. Oh my goodness. That was sooooo frustrating. I broke so many needles and could not for the life of me figure out why. I spent around 6 hours trying NOT to break needles.

Photo Credit: Robert Semk Flickr via Compfight cc

I am so glad that buttons ended up working out for me. I really needed that small success. Buttonholes, not so much. I just couldn’t seem to figure it out. I don’t think it helped that I couldn’t get the feed dogs to raise back up.

I can say for sure that I am glad I chose to sew, but if I had to do it again I would use a different machine.

What do you think? Is my machine to blame for all of my woes or is it simply a scapegoat?


Hole in None

I am glad I succeeded in figuring out how to sew buttons as it gave me the strength I needed to fail at buttonholes. Maybe it’s not the machine . . .

Here is a video of my buttonhole struggles:

Does anyone have any tips? What am I doing wrong?


Photo Credit: kamirao Flickr via Compfight cc

I found the instructions from the online user manual to be pretty easy to follow when it came to sewing a button onto fabric. I only did two button holes instead of 4, as it was just for practice, and I wanted to also try to create button-holes before the learning project is over.

Here is the link to my button sewing video:

But it actually went pretty well! This was a much-needed success after multiple failures. On a side note, I happened to be complaining to my mother about how hard sewing was and how I don’t remember being this bad at it the first time around when I was using her machine. She says “Oh, your grandma’s machine always gave her trouble”.

“Oh, your grandma’s machine always gave her trouble”

Oh. My. Goodness! So my grandmother simply passed this wretched machine onto me without warning! It is pretty horrible! I thought I was just terrible at sewing, well I might be, but the machine is definitely faulty! I am going to continue to tell myself that.

What do you think will be easier, the button or the buttonhole?

Don’t Cry Over Broken Needles

Just as I thought I was getting the hang of things, I figured it might be smart to practice a little more on scraps before sewing my clothing . . . you know, just in case. I put the scrap material under the needle and pressed down on the foot control and – SNAP – I broke the needle. No big deal, I thought – must have been a faulty needle. I replace the needle, press down on the foot control and – SNAP – break another needle. In walks confidence crusher.

I could not for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong, but I continued to breaking needle, after needle, . . . after needle. In fact, I spent the next two hours breaking needles. With a little troubleshooting, I was sure I could figure this out. How hard can it be, right? Wrong!

Attempt 1: Online User Manual

I checked the troubleshooting section of the online user manual – went through each point under the needle breakage section. I reinstalled the needle, tightened the needle clamp and loosened the tension. Put the fabric back under the needle, pressed down on the foot control and– SNAP – broke another one.

Attempt 2: Internal Examination

Photo Credit: VeRoNiK@ GR Flickr via Compfight cc

I opened the bobbin housing and slowly turned the hand wheel to move the needle up and down in the hopes that I could see where it was striking. I could hear it striking but couldn’t see the point where the tip of the needle was making contact.

Attempt 3: The Bobbin

Thinking I might have threaded the bobbin incorrectly or installed the bobbin case wrong, I rethreaded the bobbin and reinstalled the bobbin case. As soon as I started to sew – SNAP – broke another needle.

Attempt 4: Presser Foot

Zig-Zag Foot

Maybe I was using the wrong presser foot? After all, the zigzag foot and the satin stitch foot look so similar, perhaps I inadvertently had the satin stitch foot on?

Satin Stitch Foot

So, I changed the presser foot and as soon as I started sewing – SNAP – broke another one.

In Walks Dispair

Nothing was working. Was my machine broken? I figured my last option was to read the ENTIRE online user manual! And what do you know, waiting for me, right there on page 32 was this:

It turns out that when you change the stitch on the stitch selector, depending on the stitch you select, you change the position of the needle. When I had been testing out different stitches, without realizing it, the needle position was moved to the left and it was striking the presser foot and snapping. So although I wasn’t using the straight stitch foot, I learned from this section of the user manual that changing the stitch can change the position of the needle, causing it to collide with the foot.

But even a skilled seamstress can fall victim to the dreaded skipped stitch or broken needle, or what’s possibly the most annoying of all sewing machine headaches: thread bunching

After solving the problem I decided to do what I had intended to from the start, practice stitching. As you can see it didn’t go so well, but at least I didn’t break another needle :).

Laughable Moment

After all of that, I pulled up the user manual and hit CTRL+F, and what do you know, it is searchable!!! I hadn’t even tried searching the document as it was so fuzzy looking that I just assumed it wasn’t searchable. All that time I could have just CTRL+F’d ‘break’ and found the solution, less all the turmoil. Lesson learned. No knowledge is ever wasted, right?

My Brain Must be Growing

On a positive note, according to Mindset Theory, my brain should have grown exponentially during all those challenges!

Plan of Attack Update

My plan of attack has changed quite a bit since my first post Teacher Shirts. Thus far, at my current skill level, I am pretty confident that I won’t be sewing on my actual clothing until I have mastered the basic skills. My next challenge will be learning to sew button holes!! Wish me luck.

What about You?

Have you ever tried to learn something new and failed repeatedly, but persevered? I would love to hear about it.

Needles and Bobbins and Thread, Oh My!

Threading the Machine

It took a few tries, but I can now thread my sewing machine! I never would have figured it out without the sewing machine manual I found online. Here is a video of my having a go at it. 

Another helpful resource was a YouTube tutorial for threading a Kenmore machine The sewing machine used in the tutorial isn’t the same model as mine, but it is very similar. Seeing the machine threaded both in the form of a diagrams (offered in the online user manual) in addition to a demonstration via video really helped me learn how to do it myself. The trickiest part is that it is difficult to see all of the small components being referred to in the threading diagrams, so it took some trial and error on my part, but I figured it out eventually.

Threading the Bobbin 

Photo Credit: Stefan Leijon Flickr via Compfight cc

Next I learned how to thread a bobbin. Again, I found it most helpful to learn from two sources, the online user manual and video tutorials. Figuring out how to do this would have been far more difficult if I only had one or the other. Here is a video of me having a go at it:

Bringing Up the Bobbin Thread

Okay, this was the most difficult step for me. I tried this at least 10 times before getting it to work. The thread kept getting built-up and tangled in the bobbin housing and I eventually ended up breaking a needle. I figured out what I was doing wrong after I consulted the manual. It turns out you are supposed to hold the top thread gently in front of the needle while lowering the needle. I hadn’t been doing this. Here is a video of me having a go at it.

I kept breaking the needle and for the life of me couldn’t figure out why? Any experienced sewers out there that have any ideas, I would love the advice.

After getting the machine all ready to sew I had to do a little practising. The first stitches didn’t come out right, they were all tangled and bunched together. I am not sure what I did wrong. I re-threaded the machine and the stitching came out much better. You can see the result at the end of this video.

Next Steps

Now I need to learn more about the different fabrics and stitches, thread, and needles appropriate for each. Hope you check back next week for updates on my learning project. Thanks for reading.

The Hunt

It took some hard work and tiring Googles searches, but I finally found a user manual for my Kenmore 385 -12914 sewing machine. Additionally, I was able to find a separate threading guide for my model which was super helpful as it is much clearer than the images in the user manual.

Change of Plan

I was going to try threading my machine, but honestly, I got side tracked with a ton of cool videos about everything to do with sewing. I have started into Step 2 and decided that it makes more sense to learn about tension, thread and fabrics before threading the machine.

Okay, so now I get to talk about all the cool tutorials I watched and want to try out. I found a great video on YouTube that demonstrates many of the basic sewing techniques a beginner needs to know and another video that talks all about the different fabrics. But by far, the most helpful video I found was a tutorial on using the right tension by Becky Hanson. She is an excellent teacher! I discovered that using the correct tension, thread and stitch for your project are critical to success.

She also posted an excellent tutorial on how to thread a bobbin which I am certainly going to use when it comes time to thread my machine (tomorrows project). The tutorial is specific to a Singer machine, not a Kenmore (which is the model I have) but she goes over general information that is helpful to all sewers. I also learned a ton about common sewing machine problems that can be avoided by following some simple practices. For example, serger thread isn’t meant for use on a regular machine, but if you do want to use it you can use a separate stand alone spool holder and a spool insert to keep it from moving too much. And that you should have a spool felt under your spool pole so it glides easily. And, you should put a spool cap on top of your spool. Apparently, these come in different sizes and you need to use the proper size to ensure your thread doesn’t get caught in the imperfections of the top of the spool while sewing. It should be a little bigger than the top of the spool. There is also a technique for putting it on properly. It shouldn’t be too loose (too far from the top of the spool), nor should it be pressed tightly against the spool. For best results, it should be very close but not quite touching the spool.


Thread that is wound onto a spool in a crisscross pattern is designed to be put onto a vertical thread holder while thread that is not is meant to be put on a horizontal thread holder. Becky Hansons tutorial also taught me that you can’t just use any old bobbin in your machine. You have to use the exact same type of bobbin that came with your machine. She also said that she does not recommend buying pre-threaded bobbins as they are not the correct depth and this can cause problems.

If anyone happens to know of other online sewing tutorials that teach basic skills, please feel free to share!

Teacher Shirts

To Ukulele or Not to Ukulele

I was set on learning how to play the Ukulele for my personal learning project for my EDTC 300 Course.

Photo Credit: FolsomNatural Flickr via Compfight cc

In fact, I ordered one on Amazon and as I write this post my little blue Ukulele is in the back of a truck on the way to my house. So how did I stray from the path of plucking away at a stringed instrument? It all started with a shirt, a super cute, cold shoulder, black shirt to be exact. The most important detail being that the shirt was the PERFECT length. This is important. When you are teaching, you are bending and reaching, and depending on your enthusiasm, maybe even twirling and jumping. Although we want our students to know many things, they do not need to know the colour of our underpants.  I digress, back to the shirt, that is . . . my inspiration. Yesterday my sister came over wearing a shirt that I LOVED. What made this shirt so special in an age of crop tops was . . . you guessed it, the length. Crop tops being all the rage these days makes it tough to find a shirt that you can do the things teachers need to do while keeping the colour of your knickers top secret.

What is the perfect length you ask? For me, it is a shirt that falls just below the hip. As mentioned earlier, the the crop top trend has made shirts this long tough to find. However, when I go shopping I see so many dresses and think, ‘if only they were a little shorter, they would make the perfect teacher shirt’.

Okay, so to the point! After further investigation, I learned that my sister’s shirt (the one I envied) was originally a dress, which she altered herself and voila – one perfect teacher shirt! This made me think about the sewing machine my grandmother handed down to me that has been collecting dust in my closet for the past four years. If only I had the power to use this mysterious machine I could buy all of the dresses that were destined to be teacher shirts and transform my wardrobe MUAHAHAHA. Goodbye Ukulele, hello learning to use my dusty sewing machine!!

How about you? What do you feel most comfortable teaching in?

Photo Credit: helsinkihacklab Flickr via Compfight cc


I have used a sewing machine before, however it was approximately 13 years ago. I went on a sewing kick one summer when I went up to visit my sister who was stationed in a remote area of North Saskatchewan. I thought sewing would be a great way to keep myself busy in a place with little else to do. I made a shirt, a skirt and a dress. It was the first and last time I used a sewing machine. In other words, I am starting from scratch as the old adage goes if you don’t use it you loose it. I have some basic knowledge of what has to be done but do not remember how to do it. For example, I know that you need to thread the machine and thread the bobbin, but can’t recall for the life of me how to do this. I do have a basic knowledge of sewing and alteration terminology which should be helpful.

Plan of Attack

Step 1: Learn how to use my sewing machine:

  • Search online for a manual or find videos on YouTube that outline how to use the make and model of my sewing machine. I need to figure out how to thread the machine and how to thread a bobbin as the first steps.

Step 2: Stitches and needles

  • The next step in my master learning plan is to learn more about what size of needle is to be used with different types of material. Furthermore, I will search online for information about different kinds of stitches to use for making alterations.

Step 3: Practice and make mistakes

  • I will practice my new found knowledge and skills on scrap material and old clothing to make sure I have the hang of it before I attempt to alter clothing that I plan to wear in the future.

Step 4: How to Make Alterations

  • I will look online to learn about the different types of alterations that I would find useful such as taking in clothing at the side and back seams, creating darts, and hemming.
  • I own several shirts that could use some tailoring so I will start there and begin to make alterations so that they are the perfect fit.
  • Lastly, I will buy a dress that was destined to be a shirt and and hem it.