The Terror of Tutors

Well, it looks like it’s that time again. Time to listen to some more of my inane ramblings! Sorry it’s been so long, but the flu is awful, and I promised to demo at a big quilt show which, on top of the flu, really knocked me for 6, so I’m just getting back to the land of the living now!

Sewing in a shop is one thing. Even sewing on someone else’s well loved machine is Ok. But sewing on a brand new one, when neither of you know anything about it? Well, that’s very different.

Silly (name due to him going to work with the workshop keys and forgetting that a collection driver was coming to, well, collect, something within said workshop which he couldn’t get because the keys weren’t there) is a good lad really. Note: Silly certainly wasn’t the name I was using for him at 8 this morning when said collection driver arrived! Initially, our spare room was full of spare bed. And boxes. And more boxes. And then some boxes for good measure. Oh, and his old dining table just randomly in the middle of it all! “Why don’t we take the bed down and put it in the loft?” I suggested. “Then we could use the table for the sewing machine. We don’t have guests that often, and even when we do, we could just put a matress down on the floor.”

Now, the trick with dealing with the knuckle draggers is to make sure that they think every new idea is theirs. If it’s theirs, they will not resist. I promptly employed distraction techniques. Noooo, not those ones you naughty lot!!!!! I offered him a cup of tea! Suggested he might like a beer! Sat with him while we watched TV rubbish!

“Hmmmm,” said he eventually, in a rather thoughtful tone. “Why don’t we take the bed down and put it in the loft?” Yes! Score 1 for women-kind! Who’s the daddy! Ahem, I mean mummy. Oh, it just doesn’t sound the same, does it?

“That’s a great idea!” I enthused, and we sprang to it!

After some frantic activity, lots of rearranging and lots of swearing (on his part of course, not mine as I’m way too polite to do that!), it was done. I had a table. I had a machine. I even had a thread box and threads! I set it all up prettily. I should have taken a picture or something as it’s the one and only time it’s ever been that way! I have this problem where I tend to breed meyhem and distruction wherever I go!

Threading was reasonably easy thanks to H’s instructions. So was sewing actually. I wish there was a funny anecdote about how I sent bits of needle pinging round the room as they broke one after the other, or the machine jammed, but actually it all worked like a dream. After some initial support from Silly, I was up and running. But what should I sew?

For a while, I just put lines of random stitches down fabric. Then I started to look at the accessories that came with the machine. There were loads! Bobbins! Yaaaay, go me! I knew what a bobbin was! But what was the rest of this stuff? Loads of little metal bits. I knew they were feet, but who in their right mind needs more than 2! Ok, 4, let’s not forget the animals! I had about a gazillion! I snapped them onto the machine, sewed… And got no difference at all! what was the point? The mind was boggling! Then there was a huge long doodad that I knew was something to do with buttons! But could I get it to work? Could I heck! Even reading the manual didn’t help. Overcasting foot? Sounds like a thing you’d use for a fishing rod! And last time I looked, tuna in my house came from a tin, not from my sewing machine! Blind hem foot? Hey hey hey! Was someone trying to be funny here? Man, even my sewing machine mocks me! Monogram foot? Whaaaaaaaaat?

A few days later, I was back on the phone to H. “You know all that stuff you told me in the shop about the machine? Well, I’ve forgot it all. Pretty please will you agree to teach the idiot how to use her machine?”

And thus, the lessons started.

I toddled off to the shop a few days later for what I was told would be a brief and simple look at the machine and its foot. Well, H obviously speaks a different language from me, because brief and simple it was not! I have to admit, at some points I really did think it was a different language, with the amount of sewing terminology raining down on me!

Somehow, more due to H’s amazing patience and even more amazinger teaching skills, I managed to absorb at least some of it. I learned that a 1 step button hole is perhaps the most awesome thing in the whole wide world! I learned that, no, a zip foot could sadly not be used to sew Silly’s mouth closed when he was not saying what I wanted to hear. Apparently that’s considered illegal. Sometimes, this country’s legal system is very, very disappointing. I also discovered that a quarter inch foot is out of this world! Seriously! Like maybe as good as posh chocolate! Nope, I kid you not. That little foot rocked my world. Who cares if you can only do straight stitch with it (actually, I do quite a lot as it’s limiting, but it doesn’t serve my purposes to admit that just yet!). Who cares that you can only do set seam allowances! The fact is, it has a guide in there, and that guide enables you to sew in a straight line! And straight lines are awesome if you actually want to sew something together! The world loves straight lines, so I do too! No more wonky, wiggly catastrophes for me! I’d done it! I’d cracked the problem! I’d…

“Hello? Earth to Carly!” I snapped back to the lesson with a guilty apology, but now I was really excited. I was desperate to sew something up! But what?

“Um, H,” I said, “I’m not an artsy person. I’m not creative. I can make things, but I do best by copying. Any ideas for a starter project?”

She thought for a while, then admitted “I think you’re at the point where we need to meet with your tutor. She’s a really good quilter…” And then she told me all about what she’d done. This lady has done loads of quilts, written books, teaches classes all over the place, teaches at some of the largest quilting shows… So no pressure then! I have to admit, my heart sunk a bit. She wasn’t going to want to teach a complete beginner surely! Nah, no way!

“Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll meet with her anyway and she might at least give me some ideas!”

The meeting was scheduled for the following week, and I’ll admit to experiencing trepidation for the whole of the wait. She was SCARY! Someone with that much experience was down right terrifying, when next to me who has only just learned to sew a straight line! I felt like I was going to a job interview or something as I prepared to head back into the shop.

Sarah has told me I’m allowed to tell you all what she’s called… So she’s called Audrey and she works in Scandanavia! Oh wait. Audrey’s not a very Scandanavian name, is it? All right, all right, so you’ve caught me! I fibbed, all right? She’s actually called Sarah Wellfair, and you should all go and buy her books! They’ve got lovely patterns in there for awesome bags, quilts, tea cosies… All sorts! And they’re idiot proof. I can say this for certain as I’ve made some of them! you’d better buy them cuz she said she’d give me a fiver for every million sold! Nah, just kidding. She didn’t offer me anything! She’s tight you see! Seriously though, if you were thinking about having a go at bags etc, they’d be well worth a look. And that’s genuine. She hasn’t asked me to advertise for her, but I think the books give you the ability to make some really lovely things.

Right, back to me now! And let’s face it, reading about me’s far better than anything else you had planned, or might need to do. Forget that screaming hungry baby! What do you mean your dog needs a wee! It’s all about me right now, so pay attention!

It seemed that Sarah and H had been doing a bit of conflabbing of their own, because, as I sat there quietly on the chair (yep, I can be quiet sometimes. Admittedly it doesn’t happen often, and is probably worthy of national notice or something when it does, but it is still a rare possibility), over they came. “I thought we could start by making this bag,” said Sarah without any preamble! “I’ve brought one so you can feel it and copy it as you go.” Without further a-do, the item under discussion was depositted in my lap… And my heart sunk all over again! It’s been sinking that much in this post that it should probably be tunneling under Australia at this point, but we’ll use artistic licence here.

To a beginner, the bag looked ridiculously complicated! It was quilted on the inside and the outside. Different quilting methods were used on the top and the bottom. It had inset triangles! It had loads of bits sewn together. It had handles that were all stitched too. It had a zip for goodness sake! And everyone knows how difficult zips are! I mean, everyone complains about how hard they are to put in! Everyone says, in knowing tones, “Oh, avoid zips at all costs”. EVERYONE! And here’s the super duper quilter extraordinaire deeming to stoop to new lows to teach this stupid beginner, and she’s asking me to do a zip! I’m gonna fail! This is gonna be sooooo embarrassing! Someone of her skill level’s gonna get sooooooo bored teaching me sooooo quickly!

“Are you sure?” I asked, feeling a bit, well a lot, panicked. “I mean, it’s got a zip! And it’s, well, hard!” Yep, go me, the queen of not saying what I mean!

“Piece of cake. Pretty easy really.” said she, and with no more than that, she took me off to choose fabric.

After a whirlwind cutting session in which Silly got taught the ins and outs of a rotery cutter (we unanimously decided that a blind person whielding a very sharp pizza cutter without a pizza in sight was probably not the brightest of ideas, particularly when cuts needed to be very accurate, and fingers or blood were not part of the bag design), Sarah matter of factly handed me 2 pieces of fabric and said casually, “Right, pin them together then sew them up”.

Panic set in. Pinning! I didn’t know the right way to pin! And she’d be watching me! And I’m sure there is a right way, but I don’t know it! And then I had to sew in front of her!

Hap-hazzardly, I shoved pins into the pieces, roughly lining them up. Then it was time to sew. Gingerly, I lined the fabric up and gently eased down on the foot pedal.

Now, the brother is a very different beast to Silly’s Bernina, so instead of jerking the fabric away with the strength of a kid grabbing a lollypop right before their sister gets it before them, it eased it gently out from under my fingers. My pace would have rivaled any snail. In fact, I’d stomp all over snails! Actually, I don’t like doing that. I’m the kind of stupid who feels really sorry for them. I once got very upset that we didn’t see a snail who’d climbed up onto the car before we drove off. We relocated him to the grass when we got home, but for the rest of the evening, all I could think about was poor Brian lonely and trekking through the grass, searching hopelessly for Mrs Brian and his little Brianinas and not finding them! Yep, I know. I’m hopeless!

Anyway, back to sewing. It took me an age, but eventually, voila! I held it up with a flourish! It was sewn! It had stayed together! I was da bomb! I was… Ouch! I’d pricked my finger on one of the pins I’d stupidly forgotten to take out. Bravely, I didn’t make a sound. There was no way my victory was going to be spoiled by letting el supremo quilter see me make a rookie mistake like that! Nuh uh!

Just as proudly as any rookie, I displayed my very simple, very basic work. With glowing pride I remarked, “There you go! And it even stayed together!” Oops! Way to undermine my pretence at being casual!

“Well,” said Sarah, “I reckon you can come along to a class now! If you can put in a seam, then I can teach you along with the others.”

And it’s only gone from strength to strength from then on. I attend classes weekly with some of the nicest, craziest, naughtiest women I’ve ever met! I make things, but I also make mistakes just like everyone else. I’m finding it really lovely to sew in company, and Sarah continues to think outside the box to find ways of me doing things. We’re learning together as we go, and it’s lovely that everyone’s as enthusiastic as everyone else!

In my next post, as it ties in with the storyline, I plan to do a review of the Brother Innov-is 55, both from a sewing and an accessibility point of view. Don’t worry though. My story continues, and that will also be a regular feature… Whether you like it or not! It’s all about me, remember?


2 thoughts on “The Terror of Tutors”

  1. I’m from the sewing board on Facebook, and I think you’re doing great. Keep up the good work. I have a Bernina Bernette 55 that belonged to my late aunt, and while I know it was an expensive machine it’s not the greatest. Still, it gets the job done. Now that I’m retired I have plenty of time to sew. The problem I have is this: Once I’ve made myself some “around-the-house” clothes and a bunch of tote bags, then what do I do? I’m not going to sew for anyone besides my husband George, because I don’t consider myself adept enough at sewing; besides, sewing for him consists mainly of hemming his jeans, as he drives a school bus so doesn’t have to dress fancy to work, either. Hope you’re feeling better!


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