Man vs. Machine – the Christmas Version

This year, ampoule as last year, refractionist I decided to make the girls’ Christmas dresses. I was inspired by a smocked dress in a high-end children’s boutique that I knew I could make, and make better. I decided this back in August and bought the fabric and pattern at the beginning of October. I assmebled the bodies of the dresses and started gathering pleats well before Halloween. I started smocking at the beginning of December. These dresses have a ton of smocking/embroidery on them and have been very time-consuming (but fun), but I’ve been watching the calendar carefully and pacing the hand sewing so I wouldn’t be scrambling at the last minute. I may have to revoke my Procrastinator Extrodinaire card.

I finished the last bit of embroidery Sunday evening and was all set to do the final assembly. I needed to sew the back seam, put in the button placket, bind the neck, sew the under-arm seams, hem the bottom and the sleeves, and put the buttons and loops on. It should have been one solid evening of machine time followed by an hour or so of hand-sewing time.   I was so proud of myself for being on schedule (Wednesday is my deadline). 

Last night I finished Claire’s machine sewing.  I sewed the back seam on Anna’s dress, put in the placket, and was in the middle of binding the neck – the trickiest part of the whole assembly – when my machine crapped out.  Right in the middle of a seam.  A critical seam.  With two more seams to go before I was done with the machine.  This machine is known to be temperamental.  It has a knack of knowing when I’m most tired and frustrated.  That’s when it makes the thread jump course and the bobbin vomit thread in a big gob on the back of a piece.  Or the bobbin jams.  Or the needle snaps.  It laughs at me.  It dares me to punt it across the room.  But I’m on to all it’s little quirks and can straighten it out with a little tinkering and cursing.

Not this time.  This was no ordinary bobbin jam.  The machine had a terminal failure to sew.   Oh, sure, the motor ran and the needle bobbed up and down, but it would not take up the thread from the bobbin.  I fiddled.  I swore.  I changed the (perfectly fine) needle.  I brushed out the innards and blew out the tribbles and doused the thing in enough sewing machine oil to deep fry with the sucker, but something was seriously wrong. 

I did what I always do when things are seriously wrong in my life.  I grabbed the laptop and googled for a solution.  It’s easier to do this when you know how to describe your problem.  “Sewing machine goes ‘thunk’ instead of picking up bobbin thread” was less than helpful.  I considered “demonically possessed machine hates me,” but where was I going to find an old preist and a young priest at 11:30 at night?  Eventually I stumbled across a very helpful tutorial that suggested that my problem was loose hex screws behind the shuttle.  This meant taking the majority of the machine apart, which was just what I felt like doing at midnight!  Many’s the night I wake up from a sound slumber, grab a glass of warm milk and a screwdriver, and start disassembling small appliances for kicks and giggles!

I gathered up an assortment of allen keys and screwdrivers, got the machine open, fiddled with the timing as instructed. . . and. . . it still didn’t work.  There was still play in the shaft that runs from the motor to the bobbin assembly.  More cursing.  It’s late.  I’m tired.  I want to get this fixed and reassembled because I have a schedule to adhere to and this is screwing it all up and why the hell is the shaft still slipping?!?!?!  Oh no.  No no no.  The shaft that’s slipping is further into the machine.  I’ve got to go deeper.  But how?  The base plate.  I removed the base plate on the underside of the machine.  There’s an assortment of shafts with stupid teeny little hex screws in nearly, but not quite, inaccessible locations.  I found the loose one on the other end of the shaft of interest.  I tightened it, and, holding my breath, tried to turn the bobbin.  SUCCESS! 

I was able to get the machine back together with no leftover parts by 1:30 a.m.  I threaded it up and it worked fine, maybe even better than before.  Had I but known, I could have saved myself 45 minutes of disassembly and reassembly and just taken off the base plate, but all’s well that ends well.  Plus I saved myself a trip to Mom’s to borrow her machine tonight (that was Plan B).   It remains to be seen if I’ll be able to stay awake long enough to finish the job this evening. 

May your days be merry and bright, and may Google always have the answers you need in the new year.


I was right!  Having already assembled one iteration of the dress pattern, weight loss Claire’s went together assembly line style.  Piping on the bodice – check!  Bodice to skirt – check!  Interface back bodice panels – check!  Placket in skirt back – check!  It was great being able to whip that puppy together without consulting the (frequently confusing) directions every five minutes.  Since I still had to assemble and set sleeves in Anna’s dress before I started Claire’s, valeologist I didn’t get Claire’s collar and sleeves done (I promised myself I was not staying up past midnight).  But I should be able to finish them off tonight, more about which means I can schedule their picture appointment for this week.  Check! 

This week is crazy because I’m trying to get everything out of the way except baking.  I’m off all of next week, and my gift to myself is to have a few days before Christmas where all I have to do is hang out with my family and bake cookies.  Assuming this week doesn’t kill me first.

The conversion is nearly complete

No painting this weekend.  I ran umpty-million places on Saturday instead.  On Sunday I decorated indoors (at Anna’s request).  The girls helped, bronchi for certain values of the word “help.”  Once they were in bed, I got out the sewing machine and sewed until 1:30 a.m.  Just like Mom used to do.

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with sewing.  I love planning, picking fabrics and patterns.  I love the magical moment when random shapes of fabric come together and start to look like an object of clothing.  I could do without realizing that the recently sewn, reinforced, and trimmed seam needs to be picked back out and redone.  Or that a seam puckered.  Or that I ironed interfacing on the wrong collar piece.  I am completely over every project I sew long before it’s finished.  My hope this time is that I apply the learning experiences for dress #1 to dress #2 (the girls are young enough that they enjoy having matching dresses) and I can whip it out smoothly without touching the seam ripper.  I wouldn’t bet on it.

There were many nights, particularly close to holidays, that I went to bed with the muffled sounds of the sewing machine plugging away down the hall.  The tradition continues.