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A little sewing machine story

So, no big deal, but my entire world was rocked this week and nothing will ever be the same again.

If you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you might know that I have an adversarial relationship with my sewing machine. It mocks me, you guys. I’m not imagining it.

It coos to me in a soft voice like this: “Heyyyy Kelly. I’m just a sweet little ol’ sewing machine. I’m not bad! Remember those times when you sewed straight lines? It was so much easier than you’re remembering! You didn’t shake your fist at the sky or curse the day you were born. You LOVED it. You’re just remembering it wrong. How hard can sewing be?!”

And then it winks and smiles, like a big fat jerk.


I have spent too many hours hunched over that old machine, trying to sew a basic straight line, while the thread bunched up and ripped, or the whole machine jammed, or the CURSED THREAD REFUSED TO GO IN THE NEEDLE.
There was yelling, tears, things were thrown. Andy would hear the screams of agony and approach me slowly and carefully, talking to me in soothing tones, like you would if you came upon a rabid dog.

I just couldn’t understand: if there are PEOPLE who can sew, why am I not one of them? Do I have some kind of sewing-specific disability?

Finally in the midst of a discussion about whether it’d be reasonable and prudent to simply throw the machine off a tall cliff so I could watch it smash into a million pieces while I laugh maniacally, Andy suggested that perhaps its time to try a new sewing machine.

I liked the sound of that: yes, it’s the machine’s fault! What we need to do is BUY something! Spending money is always a nice, comforting answer, isn’t it? So we hunted around and ended up with this guy. (affiliate link)
It’s the Singer Quantum Stylist 9960. It had great reviews and it looked like it did everything automatically, short of choosing the best fabric for your project. So we ordered it. I took it out of the box and read the manual one day, decided it seemed promising, and…

did nothing with it.

For a year.


There was a lot at stake here, you have to understand.

The more I let it sit there, in its package, the more I feared it. Until the time came to finally hang my new office curtains. Out of the package, they looked like this:
Given the sewing machine situation, I saw two initial options:
1. Simply raise the ceiling by approximately six inches.
2. Try to pretend like this looked good. “They’re POOLING! It’s LUXURIOUS!,” I said, too loudly and obviously lying, in an attempt to convince myself and the zero other people who were listening. I put forth an impressive effort to talk myself into liking the fact that the curtains were so long they flowed across the floor into the next room.

No dice: they looked ridiculous and it was time to finally learn the new machine. The truth would be revealed once and for all: was it my machine this whole time, or am I just a freaking idiot? (The latter would still be an option, regardless of how this turned out.)

I pinned them to a length where they would just kiss the floor.
Pinning curtain hem
(…instead of slobbering all over the floor and groping it drunkenly, like they were before.)

I set up on the dining room table, read through the manual, watched a couple youtube videos for good measure, and entered the fire.
Using a Singer Quantum Stylist 9600 sewing machine

I DID IT, you guys!

Can you see the sense of calm and serenity in that photo?! The words “calm” and “serenity” have never been associated with me and a sewing machine before.
Office and foyer
I think it all came down to this: I cannot for the life of me predict what sort of exact tension measurement my machine required of me, which needed to be correct to the tenth of a percent. The NEW machine has an automatic tension adjustment. It’s invisible. It doesn’t need anything from me.

It also threads the needle AND cuts the thread itself, which is more mind-boggling to me than I’d like to admit.

This is not a review of this sewing machine: I bought it myself and was not compensated in any way. All this gushing is just genuine excitement that for once, I sat down, threaded a machine, sewed a simple hem, and was finished. There was no back-and-forth. There was no frustration. Only satisfaction.
Patterned curtains and a colorful rug
You guys, why didn’t you tell me about this?

Anyway: everything is different now. I feel like I can conquer the world, if only I can figure out how to actually cut a square piece of fabric with actual 90-degree angles. If you’ve been waiting for permission to spring for the fancy tool? DO IT.

I realize this is not an inspiring DIY project for you, but if this blog is meant to catalog the “view along the way” as we figure this DIY thing out and make our house presentable? Then this was a major, major milestone in my book. The whole WORLD IS OPENED TO ME!

Needless to say, I have spent the last few days frolicking in meadows, hand-in-hand with my new machine, pausing to kiss under a parasol. It’s been very romantic.

Have you ever realized it was a tool – and not you – causing all the problems in your life?

Let's connect


  1. I routinely curse my sewing machine as it makes a rats nest of thread under the fabric… and then I call and complain to my mom and she reminds me to change the needle. When I do that, magically things work right. No idea why this is the case – how does dull needle = tangled thread? But it works.

  2. I’ve been there. I bought a cheap brother machine when we were first married and it was terrible! Id end up in tears whenever I used it, the bad part was that I had been sewing for years before that, and Id never had a problem. I had no idea it was the machine until my mom bought me a nice one a few years later for my Birthday. She saved my sanity for sure.

  3. I was going to say your tension was probably off! Not that I know how to fix that…I much prefer my modern machine that does everything for me 🙂

  4. Sewing machines are a cranky bunch, one little thing can send them into a tizzy. I have sewn for years and it wasn’t until I bought my third sewing machine that I was told that the bobbin thread should be facing a certain direction when you put it in the machine. Who knew? I guess all the times it has worked fine I accidentally did it right. Now I have a good excuse for the times it did not.

  5. I could have written this post. I just made pillows for the family room and spent the whole time screaming at my machine. Enough screaming that Ray came in and told me he wanted to buy me a new machine. I can NEVER get the tension right so I honestly think I’m going to upgrade to this one. Congrats on the curtains and the new, non-evil machine!

  6. Ha! This is awesome!! Okay, two more tips that I have learned along the way… 1. Fabrics ALWAYS get ironed first before sewing. I just started doing this recently and it changed everything. EVERYTHING! And second (2, if you please), I bought one of those giant cardboard-y fold-up quilting things with lines and grids all over them. And then Lennon chewed a corner of it, but it still works. My cuts are straight now!

  7. It does sound like the tension was off on your old machine. You really have to fiddle with that sometimes and make sure that everything is threaded correctly and that you have the right type of needle (size, ball point versus universal). Use scraps to test on always. And get your machine serviced regularly (cleaned, oiled, etc.).
    I was seduced by the new-fangled Singers too but I used mine 3 times before the timing went out of whack and I had to take it in and pay half the cost to fix it. They told me at the shop that the new Singers are now manufactured in China and are all cheap plastic parts inside. They are. The machine is fine for the occasional sewer and maybe you won’t have problems with it, but I have also used an older White and was given a wonderful Bernina (angels singing) and I’ll take a “vintage” machine any day over these new ones that are disposable.

  8. You brighten my day! Every time I see one of your new posts in my inbox, I skip past all the other more boring emails and go straight for yours. I have battled my sewing machine for 24 years now and just now as I’m reading this, its dawning on me that maybe I just need. another. machine. Mind blown. And automatic tension?! Thread tension is the bane of my existence! You give me hope! xo, Sharon

  9. you look peaceful and pretty sewing with your new machine! when i sew with mine i am red and like a cartoon with steam coming out of my ears and cursing (not like a cartoon, unless it’s beavis and butthead). and the curtains are AMAZING. i hear angels.

  10. Oooooh, I FEEL YOU with the cranky sewing machine. Mine was my foe once, too, for a good long while. I didn’t buy a new one because you know what I was doing wrong? The freaking bobbin. I had the thread in there backwards (upside down? I don’t know) and there wasn’t enough thread tension, so it always turned into a blob. But now I know and we’re pals! I make things well enough to sell them on Etsy! It’s all good.

    Also good are your curtains. The pooling fabric thing is great for a beach house vacation, but I find it irritating and dusty for real life. You fixed it!

  11. You. are. too. precious – Thank you for not giving up – sharing with more than a giggle!

  12. I don’t believe this could happen for me. No machine is capable of removing my sewing disability, so this is an untruth in the world of Bliss.

  13. Hello. I have this machine and it is amazing. Bought it back in May of this year and I haven’t stopped using it. It’s made dresses, toys for my nephew, curtains, canvas covers for our Landrover Defender (yes that’s right, canvas covers for a Landrover, that’s how hardcore this machine is).
    There is a website called Creative Live who recently ran a 3hr webinar on the machine. I watched it and Becky was brilliant. Told you everything about how to use this machine and what it can do.
    Any questions, about it, ask me. We’ll work it out together. Liz

    • How can you get this machine open on the bottom to clean out the lint that has collected for 3 years.

      • good question. I’m going to have to check. I normally remove the bobbin case and clean from the top. not sure if you can clean from the bottom though. will take a look and let you know.

  14. I curse the day I asked my MIL for a sewing machine. I’ve sewn exactly 1, ONE, thing since the machine arrived in my house almost a year ago. And that was only possible after six frustrating weeks of trying to figure out the damn bobbin carrier from 1963. Of course, somehow my husband fit the stupid thing in correctly after looking at it for 0.0018 seconds.

    But then I needed a different color thread. All bets are off, and the thing does nothing but eat thread in nasty, spaghetti-clot-like bunches. I think I’m going to go click on that link now…

  15. I am terrified of using sewing machines, but I am totally with you – it’s not me, right? It’s totally the 20-something-year-old lumbering beast of a thing I tried to use growing up! In all seriousness, I’ve been thinking of buying my own sewing machine soon, so I will definitely check out your new dream-machine!

  16. Re: 90d cuts – you need tools! Specifically a rotary cutter, a self-healing gridded mat to cut upon, and a nice big clear gridded ruler. I have a couple of these – a square one that has lots of angles, and a longer one that has a ridge on the end to run along the edge of the mat or the stack of fabric. These things are made for quilters, who have to be very precise to do crazy difficult tiny acute angles, but they work just fine for lots of other things*, including home dec. Be as careful as you personally need to be with the exposed round blade.

    *A bunch of sewists also use rotary cutters for cutting out clothes, too, and swear it’s much faster/fun, but I still use nice scissors for that. (That’s another tool. Scissors devoted to fabric. That never-ever-under-pain-of-divorce/eternal grounding/dismemberment get used on anything else. Though I have a sharpener for them, just in case.)

  17. I remember a post about a navy velvet sofa and I just saw this on Pinterest.

    I don’t know anything about Walmart Furniture but it might be something to check out.

  18. The Devil created my sewing machine right after your first one. And the kicker…it’s NEW! I got a new one that doesn’t do half as much of the fancy things that your new one does! *sigh*. I am envious over you and your meadow frolicking machine…just plain green. I made pillows once upon a time and watched them unravel all over my sofa. Then I discovered some incredible people on Etsy who charge about the same amount it would take me to buy fabric (plus extra for screw-ups) but the pillow covers come fully sewn with hidden zippers and everything! AMAZING!

  19. I thought your solution of raising the ceiling seemed pretty reasonable. My only question is what became of the old, evil machine? Is it a smoldering pile of rubble at the bottom of a cliff?

  20. I have the exact same curtains and I tried to sew them too, but gave up. They are too tick! So I’m just using holdbacks in the mean time — till I’m brave enough to sew them. 🙂

  21. Ha! I love it!! And it’s even called the QUANTUM STYLIST. I had exactly the same relationship with a sewing machine in 7th grade home ec… the teacher was convinced I was threading it wrong and making it jam, so she finally stood over me, watched me do everything correctly, and… it still jammed. EVIL. I haven’t sewed anything since, but I’d like to give it a shot. I’ll try to convince my husband to buy me that machine when the time comes! Because it’s called the QUANTUM STYLIST. It has to be helpful.

  22. Hi Kelly. I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog so much. I just stumbled it across it a couple of months ago, and I love reading about your DIY adventures. There are millions of DIY blogs out there, but yours stands out because of your voice- you are hilarious! Your posts make me smile every time. Thanks for brightening my days 🙂

  23. Your posts consistently make me LOL… literally laugh out loud… by myself… to an empty room… like a crazy person. But seriously… I get so excited to see you’ve posted something. It never even matters what it is. I just like you. And your projects. And your blog. That’s all.

  24. Yes, yes, 1000 times yes to the other commenter who suggested the cutting mat, rotary cutter, and quilting ruler. Life changing, I tell you (says the girl with an irrational fear of cutting into pretty fabric). Order these things yesterday. 😉

  25. So, this TOTALLY happened to me! I was using my mom old sewing machine she bought in the 80s and could barely sew anything without it ending with me curled up in a ball of frustration. And then I bought a new one. OH MY GOODNESS it was like a whole different experience. Not only did everything turn out sooo much nicer, but it took so. much. less. time. This post is making me want to break out my machine and and make some pillows! But, I’m with you on the cutting. That’s always my downfall.

  26. Loved this post! Your commentary about your sewing frustrations is hilarious and I’m so glad you’ve found a machine you like.

  27. This post of yours has made my whole day, week, year… forget it, it’s made my last 20 years!! I’m going to save and purchase this exact machine and hopefully will also be able to stroll around and kiss under a parasol when I try using it! Thanks so much!!

  28. *Have you ever realized it was a tool – and not you – causing all the problems in your life?*
    Yes. Yes, I have. So, I divorced him.

    Ok, yes, and mine was also a sewing machine 🙂

  29. The entire time I was just thinking she is really missing the opportunity to raise the ceiling in here.

  30. Chrissi Culver says:

    I’ve found that if you snip the edge of the fabric and pull the edges away from eachother I always get a straight line. Fabrics are put together in a grid pattern so you’re essentially pulling on the “grain” or one of the lines in the grid. You will end up with some wind strings on the ends but that’s what scissors are for (:

  31. Thank you!! My new sewing machine sits, unboxed, in the art/craft/study room. I felt good about getting that sucker out of the box almost a year ago. I have the manual in it’s own little organizational box and have moved the machine around a bit. I have yet to actually attempt to sew anything. I’m not quite sure why I’m so intimidated, but have been encouraged by your post. Thank you!

  32. Too cute. I’m glad you conquered the machine. I have this same machine and it’s really easy to use. For great tutorials on this machine check out the youtube video’s by Strikesmyfancy 9960.
    She has 13-video’s on the 9960 that shows you great features. Enjoy!

    btw…my sister says that pooling window treatments looks like the fabric threw up and is standing in it. 😀

  33. I didn’t use my sewing machine for the longest time because I couldn’t figure out how to thread the bobbin. We are now past that issue and in a semi-loving relationship, which we continue to work on. It’s nice.

  34. Relax! I taught sewing for many years and have seen the thread gobs many times. Pull your thread out and rethread the upper part. Raise the presser foot and pull the thread. It should pull smoothly. That tension disk is very important. Make sure you have not missed it!
    The bobbin must go in the correct way or you will get all those tangles. Look at your manual closely. 90 percent of your problems are caused here.
    If you are having problems sewing straight, pull out the thread and practice on notebook paper lines.

  35. What perfect timing. My new Singer arrived on my doorstep yesterday but I was too busy to take it out and attempt to play with it. It’s not as fancy as yours, but I’m so excited to see how it goes. My friend, btw, has that exact machine and loves it. She’s a quilter. The machine I was using was bought at my church’s rummage sale for $10. It did it’s job (I’m a total novice) but the one thing I hated was the speed. If you didn’t have your foot just right on that pedal it took off flying to the races or something! Anyway, I started to have tension problems and was getting aggravated and causing my own tension problems! I borrowed a friends whose speed was wonderful, even when I had the pedal to the metal 🙂 , total manageable, something I had yet to experience. So……..the birthday is coming up and I asked my hubby for a machine. I thought about getting that model, but I decided not to go so fancy because I didn’t know if I’d use it enough. Mine got a Best Buy Award from Consumer Reports, so here’s hoping! Oh and btw, for anybody interested in the Quantum, buy it from Amazon. It’s double the price @ JoAnn Fabrics. Crazy! Enjoy your new machine Kelly! Make great things!

  36. Where oh where did you find those glorious curtains?!?! (curtains? drapes? window panels? d. all of the above!)

  37. I am so glad you posted this. My sewing machine (which I think is from about 1990, but not used all that much) makes that amazing globs of thread ALL.THE.TIME. I have adjusted this and adjusted that, and then I feel like hurling it out the window. I read one of the recent comments here, and I guess I should see if I can find the manual on line. PS I used to use my mom’s old machine from the 1960’s and NEVER had a problem. I wish we would have kept it after it “died” and had it serviced instead. PPS I have made all the window treatments in my home, and people are like, “wow”. Most of them are straight lines! It’s not that hard (once one gets through the trauma).

  38. Congratulations!!! I’m amazed at how many women can’t sew a button on. It’s really not rocket science, but it obviously can be intimidating based on how many of my friends claim that they “can’t sew.” Sewing a straight edge like you did is a great way to start, and your possibilities are endless now. Youtube is such a great help also! Hopefully your post will encourage others to come over to “the dark side!”

  39. Kelly you are too funny, and also as much as I love all sorts of power tools and am not afraid to try any of them, oy vey – the sewing machine scares the living daylights out of me. You are giving me serious confidence right now, I almost want to go try to thread the needle right now (mine doesn’t do that magical job – that I know of – maybe it does?) Thank you for writing this, I am encouraged and hope I look as cute and happy as you while I sew away at my table!!!!!!!!!!

  40. Hi, my name is Jenny, and I’m afraid of my sewing machine.

    Mine isn’t evil like your old one was. At least I don’t think it is. I’m not sure since it’s still in the box it came in four Christmases ago. It’s a beginner model recommended by an awesome seamstress friend, and even came with an instructional DVD. But… it still intimidates the crap out of me. Maybe, just maybe, you have given me the courage to actually break it out of the box and TRY. Maybe… 🙂

  41. I’m also an intelligent woman who is completely intimidated by using a sewing machine.

    I actually used to use my mom’s when I was a kid, but haven’t touched one in over 25 years I’d guess so I’m back to square 1 territory.

    Funny story, when I was using my mom’s sewing machine back in the day, I accidentally broke the needle. I was so upset – I thought that by breaking the needle I’d broken the entire thing. Luckily I confessed to my mom right away and she just laughed and said it was no big deal – that needles were easy (and cheap) to replace. Whew!

    I’ve been wanting to make my own version of the floofy duvet cover you did a tutorial online about – I have the supplies but have not yet gotten over my fear of sewing machines to do it. I don’t have a “real” one – years ago I bought a mini “as seen on tv” one – can’t remember what it’s called – but too intimidated to actually try it out.

    Maybe soon.

    Um, is your husband ok with your passionate relationship with the new Singer? 🙂

    • The floofy duvet cover is an awesome project to start on, because nothing has to be perfect. I think Andy would be jealous of the new Singer, if he didn’t appreciate it so much. 🙂

  42. I had a meltdown making drapes for my son’s room, so for Christmas my husband insisted that I get a new machine *twist my arm*! I got it, and even with the woman at the store training me on it, it sat in the box for two months. I finally got over my fear, and I love my new machine!! Glad I’m not the only one who is intimidated.

  43. My husband makes fun of me when I try to sew anything: “look at the little happy seamstress…!” Because I turn into a bitch and everyone around me needs ear muffs 🙂
    And he does also take pictures of me sitting at my sewing machine which usually annoys me even more 😉
    Love your curtains so much.

  44. Now I have guts to try my hand at this! Maybe I will only throw 12 tantrums..

  45. Scott will be very thrilled to hear that you’ve just convinced me I need a new sewing machine. I mean I do sew FOR A LIVING (sort of) now. I probably deserve a machine that cuts thread for me, damn it!

  46. Diana Walters says:

    Tension is for sure the root of all evils! Especially with sewing machines! I never knew they came with self adjusting tension….who knew????

  47. Oh, how I love the description of your pre-hemmed curtains as slobbery. You did a lovely job – that office looks fantastic! I think everyone who’s had a sewing machine has had that moment of “what the flip is happening here?” Even with new machines…Pinterest has some nice tutorials on how to fix. (Who’d have thought right?)

  48. Terri L Lupton says:

    So it’s the machine!!! I’m going through the same thing trying to recycle longer curtains for shorter windows and realized yesterday that there is no such thing as ‘simply sew a straight line’. Uh uh. I’m actually in physical pain from trying to wrestle the fabric and the sewing machine to work together in harmony. Husband has taken the day off work to help even. Time for a new, better, machine.

  49. Hi! Love your blog…and wow. So, what I need is a new sewing machine! (Now I just have to convince the husband of this, too…) My machine has decided over and over to stop working (bunching thread under the fabric even after I’ve replaced the needle, tried adjusting the tension, rewound the bobbin, and re-threaded the machine over and over) only to then begin working again (after I get to the point where I threaten to take it apart) for NO APPARENT REASON. It makes no sense to me, and I’ve felt like there’s some magical aspect to sewing machines I don’t understand, but now I’m starting to see that it has something to do with the fact that it used to be my grandma’s machine, and has probably been around since the 70’s! New machine, here I come! : )

  50. Congratulations on overcoming the sewing machine tyranny! Equality for all! Yeah!

    I would die for a sewing machine. last year I had the same curtain problem you did (plus 10″) and had to sew 8 feet of curtains by HAND. I managed the first alright, but on the second one I had to rip out 1′ of stitches when I discovered I’d pinned the thing crooked. I got through 2 entire Harry Potter audiobooks….

  51. mmhmm. i had pretty much the same experience with my old sewing machine – a 70s plastic hand me down from my grandmother where the plastic was literally falling apart. i got a new sewing machine for christmas (and started using it that day) and it is a dream by comparison. i only have to use a seam ripper when i don’t follow the pattern instructions now – i never have to rip out junk my machine made.

  52. Found your blog from pinterest, Im attempting curtains! Sewing is new for me and I love your humor along the way!

  53. I need that machine! I have the same feelings when it comes to sewing. bleck.

    Those curtains are pretty stellar!

  54. Hi! New to your blog. So fun! I just bought the same sewing machine this past January with Christmas money. LOVE it! I have sewn more since I got it than I ever have before. Pillows, curtains, clothes for my girls. My problem now is I’ve become a fabric hoarder. I have these projects running through my head and don’t have the time to finish. Or I keep changing my mind. I’ve bought fabric 3 different times for pillows in the living room and then changed my mind. The love of my sewing machine has created a whole new problem.

  55. Lisa Johnson says:

    I am so happy you posted this! I too am afraid of my sewing machine. Well, more specifically, how inept it makes me. Considering the fact that both my parents were Tailors and I can’t even thread the machine. I have however comforted myself in the past by telling myself, “But they used “commercial machines!” Conveniently forgetting the hundred or so dresses (with pinafores) my mother made for me on her home machine. Starting a new machine savings account so I can actually finish reading a how to instead of coming to the words “sew”, “stitch”, or “top stitch”.
    It’s nice to know I am not alone.

  56. awasome story….. Mini Sewing Machine 4-in-1 is super light and very cute. You could easily carry this around with you without any problems. I was pleasantly surprised how this machine performed. It feels like a toy, but does not stitch like one. Its stitches are straight and look great. I really like this portable sewing machine and would have no problem using it.


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  2. […] So, no big deal, but my entire world was rocked this week and nothing will ever be the same again. If you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you might know that I have an adversarial relationship with my sewing machine. It mocks me, you guys. I’m not imagining it. It coos to […]The post A little sewing machine story appeared first on * View Along the Way *.  […]

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