5/10/14

Of Sewing Machines and Mothers

Not to pick on Janome sewing machines, I have said many times on this blog how much I hate my Janome. There are lots of Janome lovers and believers out there, and no doubt there are some great Janome machines happily sewing away in some of your sewing rooms. Still, mine has never played nicely. It's a basic machine...the only way to make it more basic would be to remove the zigzag stitch. With Big Bertha in the hospital, I've brought out the unruly stepchild and vowed to tame her once and for all.


This morning I decided I'd make some of the blocks on my to-do list. Of course, I sewed a test strip and everything seemed fine. Enter my first actually sewing together of two strips of fabric and she started misbehaving right away. There was almost no tension on the bobbin, and so that wasn't surprising. Why she didn't act up on the test strip is anyone's guess, but I've always felt it was because she held a personal grudge against me.

Also, I ended up feeling a little like the Princess and the Pea. Big Bertha has so many automated features and conveniences that it's as if she constantly anticipates my needs and does whatever I need without my even suggesting it. For example, she has an automatic threader, and so I find myself silently saying, "What? You mean I have to thread the needle using my actual eyes and my actual fingers?" And she has a knee lift, which has caused me to bang my knee on the side of my sewing table at least half a dozen times this morning. Also, I can use my heel to raise the needle, which has caused me to stomp my heel hard onto the floor at least as often as I'm trying to lift the presser foot with my knee. It's a hard life, I'm telling you. This manual labor is for the birds. Big Bertha seems designed for my personal comfort, and I find myself whining at the Janome, "I'm feeling uncomfortable!!!"

So anyway...all of that to say that it got me thinking about how I ended up with this machine. It's a sad tale, and I'm here today to tell it. And this being Mother's Day weekend, it's a good time to tell it as well.

I learned everything I know about sewing from my Mother. Okay, I'll give it that one Home Economics class I took in the 8th grade when I made the most hideous skirt on record. If there were a hall of fame for ugly hand-made garments, this skirt would have been voted in unanimously. It did have a waistband, and that was the whole point. Still, I chose this gawdawful purple, orange, and black diamond pattern fabric. I wish I had a picture of it because it was ugly enough that anyone would have thought I made it as a part of some sort of stand-up comedy routine.

Here's my mother. I posted this picture of her on Facebook yesterday as a Throwback Thursday post:


She was a wonderful seamstress. If I know my mother, she probably made that dress she's wearing. She made almost all of her clothes, and she made most of mine too until she returned to work full time as a nurse when I was about 12. She was fond of making matching dresses for the two of us. Here we are all dressed up for Easter Sunday. I thought you might also get a kick out of our vintage camper. Our family of four traveled back and forth across the United States four times in this trailer.


I adored my mother. I can recall sitting in church beside her and asking her to make the folds in my dress look just like the folds in hers, and her making a sincere effort to comply, fussing over it for several minutes until we both found it satisfactory. Sometimes when she was really energetic, she'd make matching shirts for my brother and my dad too. Here we are visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center when we lived in Hawaii. My dad was taking the picture, but take it from me, his shirt matched the rest of us.


My brother would have been about 16 in this picture. No doubt he was mortified at dressing up in matching outfits on outings like this one.

When I got married in 1975, my mother bought me my first sewing machine. It was a refurbished Singer Stylist 347 just like this one:


It was a great little machine and I did a LOT of sewing on it. I made most of my own clothes when we were first married, but when the kids were born, I limited my sewing mainly to Halloween costumes for them. If my kids remember nothing else about me when I'm gone, I hope they remember these great costumes. Of course, there was a cat:



But my favorite was this shark. I still have it. Maybe some grandkid will want to wear it some day.



This little clown was the first costume I made for Erik when he was two. And Matthew wore it the first time he went trick-or-treating when he was about 18 months old. Just too cute. Don't you just want to eat him up?


As life got busier, I resorted to some of those costumes stamped on fabric, where you just cut them out and sewed them together. They worked.


So one day the zigzag stitch on the Singer stopped working. I took it in for repair, but then I picked it up and didn't test it myself until about 8 months later. When I tried sewing with it, the zigzag still didn't work. I tried taking it back to the shop, but the shop was now out of business. Go figure.

So then I made the colossal mistake of taking it to another shop where the guy told me that the machine was beyond repair, and that I really just needed to trade it in for a new machine. Knowing what I know now, I would have simply taken the machine elsewhere. It was a good machine, and now that I'm older and wiser, I would know better. Nevertheless, I let the guy sell me the Janome I have now, and I've regretted it ever since. Not only that, but my mother had passed away by this time, and leaving behind that Singer was like leaving behind a piece of her. I paid for the Janome and walked out of the shop with tears in my eyes.

Fast forward to today, and I'm still fighting with the Janome and regretting the loss of the Singer. I think the Janome and I just got off on the wrong foot with so much baggage attached to it. Maybe the two of us can call a truce while Big Bertha is being nursed back to health.

Regardless of what happens, I'm still going to miss my mother on Mother's day, as I do every year.

21 comments from clever and witty friends:

Kristine said...

Maybe its time to sell the janome and buy a vintage singer. There are a lot of repair shops nowadays that will repair them, and many love how they sew. You could even name it something that reminds you of your mom. :)

barbara woods said...

I bought a janome year before last and eight months later it had to have some parts replaced, they don't make them like they used to

Kate said...

When I moved away from home, Mom gave me her old, old singer. It was a good machine and I used it for years. Then when I got a real job someone convinced me to trade it in for a brand new Singer. But the new machine never worked right. I still miss that old Singer.

WoolenSails said...

So fun to see the old photos and love the outfits, my mom sewed most of ours too. I had someone tell me that with a machine and now i know, there is always someone who can fix it;)

Debbie

Dana Gaffney said...

Well no wonder you hate the Janome, plus the fact that it doesn't work. Get yourself on Ebay and find that old Singer.

carla said...

sending hugs and prayers...

Julianne said...

Oh my gosh Barbara! I totally dislike Janomes too or maybe they dont like me...I dunno! I had the same trouble that you did, finally gave up and got rid of it! I also took that dreaded home ec class in 8th grade, my hideous skirt was dirt brown, way too full with an elastic waist...horrible horrible horrible I tell ya! Feeling like your sister from another mister today! Scritches to Gracie & Smitty!

carol l mckenna said...

Wow! Lots of creativity here ~ fun and beautiful creations ~ xoxo

artmusedog and carol (A Creative Harbor)

KatieQ said...

I love the Halloween costumes. I would have loved to wear that shark outfit.
Your mom sounds like she was a very talented woman. It's wonderful that she was able to pass her love of sewing on to you.

snausages22 said...

What a lovely, heartwarming post, thank you for sharing. I am new to your blog-what brand of machine is Big Bertha? I had to laugh as my DH calls his camping axe Big Bertha too!!!

evelyn said...

Thank you for sharing such beautiful memories.
My new Janome is not my ideal machine either. I put a small round piece of felt under the bobbin and it works much better than without. Try it.

quiltzyx said...

Poor Barbara, having to fight the fight again with the little Janome. Big Bertha definitely has spoiled you!
My Mom gave me her old Singer when she bought herself a new machine. I still have it - and the wooden 'card table' & hard case & accessories. Haven't used it in a long time though. I love my little "The Heart Truth" Janome. We get along very well, but I'm lucky that way anyways -- mechanical things seem to like me. For example, my pal Bill had an old Chrysler (50's style) and the passenger door would NEVER open from the outside for his (then) wife, but always opened on the first try for me! (I bet it would open for Marlene too, his current wife of 20 years or so.) I took that 8th grade Home Ec class too, but we didn't do a skirt. We made a gym bag from a towel, an apron from 1 yard of fabric, and a sort of sleeveless blouse as I recall. My Mom sewed most of my clothes, at least before I started school. I remember her laying out the pattern pieces on the fabric on the living room floor - never used pins, just put kitchen knives to hold the pieces down. Hmmm, I wonder if that's why I don't use many pins in quilting?
Hang in there until Bertha's home again!

Brown Family said...

We both appreciate the love of sewing that our Mothers instilled in us. Mothers Day is hard for all of us that have lost out moms, but especially for my sister and I who buried our Mom Mothers day weekend

Michele said...

I totally agree that it is time to get rid of that Janome and get yourself a good backup machine. I have my mom's old Singer still in the table. I begged her for years to give it to me and she finally did. Once things slow down I'm going to move her to a better location and set it up for the kids to use.

Patricia Lines said...

Keep an eye on Craigslist and find a nice old one. Great memories! Thanks for sharing.

make.share.give said...

I'll always love family outfits that match. My sister, not so much. You did an excellent job on the shark costume!

Sewing Mom said...

Your Mom was an amazing seamstress...love her dress! and look at those awesome costumes you made.

If I were you...I would look on Craigslist. There are always...always vintage machines...I'm sure you could locate one exactly like yours and feel better about it than the Janome. =)

Carol said...

I've never had a Janome so I don't know anything about them. I started with a Singer because that's what my mom had. When she got a Bernina I was shocked and swore I'd never leave my Singer. I did though and now I love my Bernina. This post was so sweet and brought back wonderful memories of my mom and all her sewing adventures. :O)

Lyndsey said...

What fabulous pictures of your mom, particularly the one with the younger you in matching dress. She was an excellent needlewoman. I love the costumes you made your boys, your mom certainly taught you well.

Dora, the Quilter said...

I sew on vintage machines--actually, by this time my brand new top-of-the line Viking is over 40 years old--and even treadle old machines. Although you may not want to treadle, it's lovely to stitch on one of the old work horses. I love my Necchi BU from the late 40's or early 50's because I can zigzag with it. (It has other stitches too, but I haven't really used them much.) I love machines that can work for 50 years or even 100 or more! Maybe you'll find a metal machine that work better.

Celtic Thistle said...

Love the family photo of matching outfits, wasn't your brother a star to wear his! Can't imagine any of my boys at 16 doing the same :)

Hope you get your sewing machine issues sorted.