Essential DIY Tools – Sewing Machine

When it comes to essential DIY tools, a sewing machine is definitely at the top of my list. And before you say, “Oh, I don’t know how to sew,” let me assure you, you can learn.

Sewing machines seem to intimidate so many DIYers, but once you learn the basics (mainly how to thread the machine), you find that there’s really nothing to be intimidated by.  And while many sewing machines can do fancy stitches and really advanced things, you’ll be amazed at what you can do if you just learn how to sew a straight stitch.

Choosing a sewing machine

kenmore sewing machineWhen you’re just starting out, I would personally recommend that you don’t purchase a fancy, high-dollar sewing machine.  You can start out with an inexpensive one, learn how to use it, see if it’s something that you’ll stick with.  That will also give you time to see how exactly you’ll want to use your sewing machine, and to figure out what, if any, special features you may require on a higher-end sewing machine when the time comes to purchase one.

I’ve actually never owned a high-dollar, fancy sewing machine.  Oh, I’ve used them.  And they are amazing!!!  Even with the fancy stitches aside, they sew so smoothly and effortlessly.  But I’ve never brought myself to purchase one.

I’ve been sewing since high school, and I’ve always found that the inexpensive ones are sufficient for what I need to do.  The one I use right now is a $120 Kenmore machine that I bought at Sears, very similar to the one pictured here.  You can see that it has no fancy computerized settings.  It just has basic manual settings.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’d love to have a nice, fancy sewing machine that can do loads of fancy stitches, but if you’ve been around her a while, you know I’m cheap.  :)  And when the inexpensive machines seem to do all that I need, I find it hard to part with my money just to get bells and whistles that I may never use.

The one feature I can’t live without

Regardless of the cost of the machine, the one feature that I can’t live without is a blind hem stitch setting.

If you’re going to be sewing draperies at all, a blind hem stitch setting is an absolute must.  This will allow you to do all of your hems on the draperies using a machine (rather than by hand…yikes!!) in a way that the stitches won’t show on the front of the finished draperies.

Projects I’ve made with my sewing machine

Just glancing through my project gallery, it’s pretty obvious which ones I made using a sewing machine — pretty much any project made with fabric.

But if there is one reason alone for purchasing a sewing machine and learning how to use it, that reason would be draperies!!!

I will freely admit, I’m a huge drapery snob.  :)  I absolutely cannot stand store-bought window treatments.  Unless you spend a pretty penny on the really nice stuff from the really nice stores, then what you’ll usually get are curtain panels that are too narrow and too short.  And if they’ve labeled them as “lined”, that usually means that they’ve used the absolute thinnest and cheapest cotton fabric they could find just so that they could use the term “lined” to charge more for the product.

And don’t even get me started on the quality of the sewing on store-bought curtains.  :)  I don’t think I’ve ever bought a store-bought curtain panel that wasn’t pulled and puckered on the side hems.

Yep…I’m a drapery snob.  :)  I like custom, drapery-workroom-quality, lined draperies that are lined with actual drapery lining (preferably blackout lining).  But if you purchase those through an interior decorator or drapery workroom, be ready to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

And it’s not just draperies for me.  It’s any window treatments.  For example, my lined pleated valance in my breakfast room is workroom-quality at a fraction of the price since I made it myself.

In addition to window treatments, those of you who know me also know that I’m all about the custom shower curtains.  That’s another thing that I can’t stand buying ready-made, and again, it’s because of the length and the quality issues (pulled and puckered side hems).  I like my shower curtains to look more like drapery panels, which means that they’re longer than store-bought shower curtains.  However, I don’t go to the trouble of lining my shower curtains.

This is one of my favorite shower curtains that I’ve made.  It was for a designer showhouse, and the bedroom and bathroom were for a six-year-old girl.

And then there’s this shower curtain that I made for Gwen’s bathroom makeover.  She had a shower with a glass surround, but I wanted the shower curtain to draw attention away from the bright brass on the shower surround.

And of course, the fanciest shower curtain I’ve ever made was for my own bathroom makeover.

But in addition to draperies, other window treatments, and shower curtains, of course there are many other things you can make for your home, and naturally if you do it yourself, you’ll save a great deal of money.  Have you noticed how expensive decorative pillows have gotten?  Yikes!  Make your own, and reduce that cost by at least half!

 

Obviously, I could go on and on.  With a sewing machine, there’s a whole world of possibilities that open up to you — slip covers, bedding, fancy upholstery projects, and so much more!

I couldn’t decorate like I do without my sewing machine.  It’s definitely worth of a top-five position on my list of essential tools for DIYers.

Do you own a sewing machine?  Do you know how to use it?  :)  What do you find yourself using it for the most?

Did you miss my #1 and #2 picks for Essential DIY Tools?  Click here to read about my #1 pick — a miter sawClick here to read about my #2 pick — an electric sander.

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you so much Kristi for sharing this! I have wanted to get a sewing machine for sometime now.I did take a sewing class in high school too.But that was many…many…many years ago.Still I know I could sew a straight line and I know I could make my own curtains and pillows.Now that I know what to look for in a sewing machine I am going to start shopping for one.I agree you don’t need a fancy one especially since I am just planning on using it for basic stitches!

  2. says

    I agree completely. I sew on a circa 1975 avocado green Kenmore that my husband found at Goodwill for $8. It is very sturdy and does a great job. And I am just into sewing straight seams, but I’ve made quilts, pillow covers, and cafe curtains. I could’t live without it!

  3. Julie says

    I’m in the same place Anne is. Ready to buy one again, moving into a house with a potential dedicated craft room to put it in, so this is timely. Thanks so much!

  4. says

    “… you’ll be amazed at what you can do if you just learn how to sew a straight stitch…”

    Alas, that has never been my strong suit. Sewing a straight stitch and sewing a stitch that is STRAIGHT are two entirely different things. :-)

  5. Ruthie says

    I cannot imagine life without a sewing machine. I wish I had my paternal grandmother’s treadle machine. It made a beautiful stitch. My old Kenmore does a decent job also. Two great-grandmothers and both grandmothers were excellent needlewomen. That has been passed down, in varying degrees, to the next generations. What a gift they gave us.

  6. says

    I sewed growing up on my grandmother’s 70s Singer. It broke about 7 years ago and ever since I have failed miserably at sewing until a few weeks ago-it was so frustrating. I realized that the cheap replacement singer (lowest model) I had bought when my old machine broke was notorious for bobbin issues, I ended up buying a Brother and am finally back to sewing and so happy about it!

  7. Charlotte says

    I have been sewing almost all my life . . . and I agree totally with Kristi . . . you DON’T need a fancy-dancy machine with 952 stitch options ! That is TOTALLY confusing to a novice sewer.

    In my lifetime, I have made drapes for my home, clothing for myself, my husband, and my children . . . window seat cushions (with welting/piping) . . . Barbie doll clothes . . . square dance outfits . . . custom decorator pillows . . . baby room accessories . . . travel bags . . . hats/caps. Learning to sew is an awesome money-saving skill that you will NEVER regret !

  8. Sue says

    I’ve been sewing since I was 10 years old, making clothing, pillows, window treatments and a lot of other things. These days I still get out the old machine and make window treatments, a few clothing items, doll clothes for my granddaughter and pillows. My machine is just a basic low price Brother sewing machine and I find myself using the straight, zig-zag and blind hem stitches the most. Rarely use the fancy stuff. Sewing really is pretty easy to learn – thread the machine, pin your article together and sew a straight line. Kristi, I totally agree with you that the sewing machine is an important tool for home decorating.

  9. Beverley says

    I would not be with out my Bernina. It was a top of the line model when it bought it in 1986. I have all ways had a Bernina and would not consider any thing else. I mostly sew cushions, curtains and the odd bit of alteration. I recently thought about a new machine, but decided against it. New machines lack the solid weight as they are mostly plastic frames with small moters inside. I will be back on to my machine to day as i am reupholstering a chair for my sister. by the way very pleased you are not wrapping up your blog. cheers from still sunny Brisbane.

  10. Carla says

    I totally agree with you. I have been making window treatments, bedspreads, pillows etc for year. I could not make a garment if my life depended on it. And until your drapery tutorial I did not know how to properly line them. But I have ALWAYS gotten tons of complements from ‘non sewers’ who have no idea how easy it is to make these things. Straight stitch is all you need to know.

    I did buy a pair of Eagerly drapes once. They cost the earth but were true quality. I still have them and they are still awesome and have to be at least 25 years old. But once I learned how easy it was I custom made mine from then on. Even learned to ruffle. It is definitely a way to impress folks.

  11. Maggie says

    Have been decorating all my life. Elbow grease ,paint, sewing machine and fabric are the frugal woman’s most important tools. Always made money on homes we sold ,realtors and buyers expressed to us many times over re the charm and warmth of these homes.
    We started doing this because we could not afford to have a charming home unless we did the work. As time progressed we could have afforded to have some things done, but now actually enjoy doing what we can ourselves. My original $12 ,used sewing machine had been replaced and the new one works every bit as hard helping the next generation learn the skills to save money and enjoy the benefits of creating a welcoming home without going into debt.
    Just purchased some real silk ,very large draperies in an off white color at a yard sale for $20.
    Soaked in cold water wash ,rinsed , air dried and steamed. Am in the process of making drapes, bed skirt and pillows for my guest room. I love having really nice things at a price that is hardly noticeable in a budget.
    I would soooo encourage all of your younger readers to just jump into a project .You will make mistakes, we all do. You will get better. The results are good for the pocketbook and the eye.

  12. says

    Kristi, this is one of your most helpful posts ever. Nice work.

    As another gal who grew up behind a sewing machine, I can’t imagine decorating a home without one. As you point out, the cost and the quality of off-the-shelf draperies and pillows just don’t match up. Not to mention what you can do with table placemats, napkins, runners, outdoor cushions, shower curtains and bedding. All with straight stitching.

    Go with second hand, and have it serviced regularly, and you’re in the game! This kind of sewing isn’t rocket science.

    I had never seen your novel way to disguise an older glass shower door with a beautiful, custom floor-to-ceiling drapery. Unique. Just like everything you do. So relieved to know your April Fool’s post was a joke. We need you.

  13. Becky says

    I can sew a little, but your things are amazing! I love to do it though,it’s so relaxing. I really love to sew small things by hand and repair items. I can fix a lot of things and keep using them with my handsewing.

  14. Toni says

    I tell people that I am teaching to sew, “if you can make a pillowcase, you can rule the world!” Get the best sewing machine you can afford and have it serviced regularly so it doesn’t let you down in the middle of a project. My daughters have super inexpensive machines that Santa brought them. They are okay, but I much prefer to use mine. It is a 20 year old Viking that I bought used after the lady had made one pair of pjs on it. I have looked at new machines, but I just keep sticking with the one I’ve got. I sew almost daily. : )

  15. says

    I learned to sew as a 9 year old in 4-H and kept on going all through high school.
    I really am glad that my Mom who was an excellent seemstress insisted I learn.
    I still sew. I mostly do table runners, pillows, curtains etc.
    But now I have started sewing some little dresses and skirts for my toddler grand-daughters.
    I seriously do think it’s become a lost art and I hope more folks jump on the bandwagon.
    It really can be fulfilling to sew something at the fraction of the cost of store bought items.

  16. says

    I have a Kenmore sewing machine that I got when I was 16. I’m now 50 and yes I still use it. I don’t sew as much as I used to, but I really want to. It’s amazing what you can make.

  17. says

    Great topic, I too have a Bernina that my husband bought for me in the 70s. I always have said thru the years that they can bury it with me so I can continue to sew in heaven with it!! I hate these tv programs where they show people how to make curtains or make cushions with no sewing, that doesn’t teach people anything. As you have all said, sewing isn’t hard, it is fun and very, very rewarding. My mother gave my daughter a used machine when she was in high school and used it until married, but was always discouraged because of bobbin problems. For a Christmas, I gave her a middle range Brother, with a sewing class included. From that point on, she because an excellent seamstress, makes all her kids clothes and sells items on Etsy. It changed her life when she wasn’t struggling with a machine to work.

  18. Jessica Sala says

    I love my $20 yard sale singer! I know how to use it and do so frequently. Usually for curtains, small repair projects etc :)

  19. says

    Actually, sewing is my first love! I started with my grandmother’s Kenmore as a kid, and while I still have it, my Husqvarna is my baby! I did get a “base” computerized model, but I didn’t really see myself using all the functions on the higher end models. I even bought a budget embroidery machine later, and spent less on the two machines combined than I would have on one of the high end models, so I’m pleased. I have saved a fortune in slipcovers for my pillows, table runners, and of course curtains!! I sew for “me” as well as for my daughter. I don’t always find that I spend less sewing, but I know I always get quality. And I love that I can customize to “my” needs and wants :)

  20. designdreamer says

    Now THIS is where I’m well-equipped!! I’m hesitant to tell you what I all own. Lets just say back in the day when I bought my Bernina 1650, I couldn’t BELIEVE I was paying as much for it as I was, and I bought it second-hand!! I bought it over 20 years ago, and as much as I would have liked to buy a fancy schmancy embroidery machine, they cost more than my first new CAR!!! and this was several years ago, NOW they’re just unbelievable expensive, BUT, if that’s your “thing” then I guess it could be justified?!

    • designdreamer says

      BTW, MOST of the sewing I’ve done is garments for my girls, including Heirloom (also called French-hand sewing by machine – ever heard of Martha Pullen?) And I really needed, not to mention appreciated what my machine could do!!
      I’ve done very little home-dec sewing, but intending to sew some curtains/drapes, and Roman shades. Glad I have my Bernina.
      Oh, and whatever happened to that rip-off designer?

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