Mending made easy

For eight years I lived without a sewing machine. I had bought one used, a long time ago, back when I got my first full-time job and my first car and my first rented room. I had never-ending problems with the tension, even after getting it supposedly repaired at a shop that specialized (among other things) in fixing sewing machines. After I had children, I had no time to sew my own clothes, and I used the machine only for mending. It was such a pain to use that some mending jobs seemed easier to do by hand. When we moved from Michigan to Illinois eight years ago, I gave the thing away.

But some mending is not easier to do by hand, and the pile of unmended clothes grew. I looked, sometimes, at the sewing machines sold at Walmart, and wondered if a new machine might work better than that old one. But I remembered the man at the sewing machine repair shop telling me I had a good machine, made out of metal instead of plastic. The newer, plastic machines, he said, gave a lot more trouble. That was easy to believe, considering what I hear people say about newer models of so many other products.

The pile of mending got so big that I had been thinking, recently, of taking it to someone who does sewing to make some extra money. Somehow we never settled on a time for me to get the stuff to her, though – we both have busy schedules. Then a few weeks ago, at the Boy Scout Christmas campout, one of the Scout mothers was there with her sewing machine, sewing patches and badges on boys’ uniforms. It looked like it worked well, and I asked her about it. She was very happy with it, and explained that the electronics took care of the tension, and pretty much everything else.

I originally learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine. My father later adapted it to be controlled by an electric food pedal, but making the machine go had never been a large part of the work of sewing. Cutting and marking the pattern pieces correctly was the big job, and sewing darts and zippers would pose challenges that no machine is going to eliminate. The actual work of operating the machine was straightforward enough – as long as I remembered to change the stitch size from baste to normal when I needed to, and the direction from reverse to forward at the right time, and to put down the presser foot before I tried to start sewing.

I really didn’t care about all the bells and whistles available on many modern machines. I have no need for sixty or eight or over a hundred different stitches. I just wanted a machine that would take care of the tension for me so I could put my time into sewing instead of trying to get the machine to make stitches without jamming. And I wanted one that was reliable in general – no point having one that got the tension right but failed in other ways. I read a lot of reviews, and finally decided on the Brother CS-6000i as the one thing I wanted for Christmas. (I reasoned that doing my own mending instead of having to pay for someone to do it would pay for the machine sooner or later. But my husband didn’t need any convincing that a sewing machine was something I needed – after all, it’s mostly his clothes that were waiting to be mended.)

The order arrived at Walmart just in time for me to pick it up on Christmas Eve and put it under the tree. I happily started setting it up Christmas afternoon, while my husband and boys played on the computer and discussed which movie to watch first. (Our “whole family” gifts were all DVDs – Brave, John Carter, The League of Incredible Vegetables, and a copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol to replace the VHS version we used to watch.) The instructions weren’t always the easiest to follow, but the machine itself is very easy to use.

Threading the machine is the easiest of any machine I’ve ever used. There’s no trying to figure out whether the thread is supposed to go through here or there. I don’t even have to work at poking the thread through any holes, even the one in the needle, if I choose to use the threader (though I gave up and threaded the needle by hand before finding the directions on how to use the threader). Even threading the bobbin is easy – a big improvement over most machines I’ve used.

I haven’t yet had to touch the handwheel. A button on the front of the machine makes the needle move to the down position when I’m ready to start sewing, or to go to the up position when I’m done. I use the food pedal to run the machine, but if I chose to I could disconnect it and use another button to start and stop sewing. At first I couldn’t understand how that would work, as I’m used to the speed of the machine depending on how hard I press on the foot pedal. But with this machine, the speed is controlled by a sliding speed control. That’s another reason I don’t have to use the handwheel, because I can stitch slowly just by using the slow speed, and not worry that I might press too hard on the foot pedal.

There’s even a button to do reverse stitching so that I don’t have to remember to switch stitch direction – the machine does that automatically for me. I haven’t yet tried changing stitch type or length, but it looks easy enough. I can remove a section off the front of the machine to make it easy to sew narrow items such as sleeves or pant legs. Or I can add the extension to give myself a larger work surface.

Fixing the lining in my husband’s suitcoat will probably still be a challenge, unlike the simple mending I did already. But with a machine that makes the rest of it so easy, I’m less likely to keep putting it off. And maybe I’ll even find a use for some of the other presser feet and the other fifty-nine stitch types.

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