Not Martha

your first sewing machine

Advice on getting your first sewing machine is something that gets asked a lot and is awfully hard to answer. I certainly don’t want to encourage somebody to buy a machine that they end up leaving in a closet, or worse, one that does not work very well and only leads to frustration and more expense. Somebody recently emailed asking me for sewing machine advice and this is what I came up with. (I have some book suggestions below, so if you already own a sewing machine, you might want to skip down there.)

– You can learn to sew from a book but taking a class will give you a better feel for what is normal, like how you should (almost) always backstich at the beginning and end of a seam, how fast you can expect to go, when you really need to iron before proceeding (almost always). You can also get a feel for this by watching old Martha Stewart sewing segments, or sewing shows on PBS or HGTV.

– A lot of new machines appear to be expensive because they contain computers that are capable fancy stitches and embroidery, and are able to use a lot of software. Unless you’re a hardcore textile geek who is moving past the basics, I don’t think these are necessary. Beyond using the buttonhole feature and the occasional zig-zag stitch, you’re unlikely to use many fancy stitches.

– Having a free arm is worth spending a little bit more, in my opinion. A free arm allows you to hem cuffs and finish the tops of bags easily. My own machine does not have a free arm and I found I was at a disadvantage when making sturdy bags as gifts this past Christmas.

– A common theme for new stitchers is fear of the tension knobs. This leads to a near religious fear of touching or changing them, and lots of fretting over broken threads being your own fault, not the machines. I am guilty of his myself. But the owner’s manual will show how to use these and one should adjust them whenever needed. Throwing your own machine out of sync is frustrating, but understanding how to get it to work again is important.

– Do you need a serger? Really, not until you’re making a large part of your own wardrobe.

– See this diagram understanding a sewing machine at, a machine manual and any basic sewing book should also have this.

– See this animation of how a bobbin works at Craft, it’ll keep you from wondering and possibly help you untangle threads if they get stuck.

– What sewing machine brands are good changes all the time, so it’s difficult to recommend one company. Viking, Pfaff and Bernina are good names, but these can be pricey machines for a beginner or occasional stitcher.

– Cool Tools gave a recommendation for this small Brother machine, which has gotten pretty good reviews on Amazon.

– A while back Craft did a round up of sewing machines and got these beginner sewing machine recommendations from the girls at Stitch Lounge. Craft also has this mid-range sewing machine round up.

Here are some books you might find useful or inspirational.

Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing
When I entered college as a costume design major, this was the book we were instructed to bring to draping class. Well, mine was an older edition with hilarious 70s clothing and housewares projects in the back. This book has complete instructions for all sorts of clothing construction and I still use it as a reference.

Vogue Sewing
I’ve seen this referred to as the bible.

Sewing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Sewing
Start at the beginning.

Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe
Built By Wendy shows you how to create your own wardrobe.

Bend the Rules Sewing: The Essential Guide to a Whole New Way to Sew
By Amy Karol, the loveliness behind Angry Chicken and Kingpod.

Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projects
This book comes with patterns tucked away in a special pocket, I love this book. You can read what I wrote about it here.

Amy Butler’s In Stitches: More Than 25 Simple and Stylish Sewing Projects
This book also comes with patterns tucked away in a special pocket, you can read why I love it here.

Sew Subversive: Down and Dirty DIY for the Fabulous Fashionista
They start with the basics of sewing and show you how to alter your wardrobe. Read more of what I had to say here.

Simple Sewing With a French Twist: An Illustrated Guide to Sewing Clothes and Home Accessories with Style
I’ve only peeked inside this book but it had plenty of inviting projects.

· comments [37] · 05-11-2007 · categories:books · craft · sewing ·

a small but tiring dress search

I have been looking for a dress for a daytime, outdoor wedding I’m attending this summer. This particular dress needed to be pretty, but also stand up to being packed in a bag for a few days as the wedding is on at a resort campground. The campground has massages and a beach, but we’re staying in a yurt so there are no closets. Also, I have some brown sandals that I’d like to wear so I was looking for a brown dress. Shopping is not something I do often so it’s been an exhausting search.

After a lot of looking for a dress that wasn’t empire waisted* I settled on this one from Anthropologie. It’s cotton gauze so I will stand up to a little broomstick packing, and there is a fun secret ruffle on the hem on the underskirt. The silhouette is flattering and it doesn’t require any fancy or strapless undergarments. I’m very pleased.

This is my first Anthropologie purchase since 2000, when I ordered an ill fated sweater set from the catalog that mysteriously showed up in my mailbox, back when I suspect there was only one physical store. I know a lot of people who are Anthropologie fans, so I’m surprised I’ve managed to go this long without falling under the spell.

I also flirted with this cute Ballet Dress from the Gap. It was delightfully swingy, but would have wrinkled when packed. If I wore dresses more often I might get this anyhow. Interestingly, I fit into a size 2 in this style, and I’m most definitely not a size 2.

Almost every dress I tried on this season has pockets on the side seams. What is with that?

* I simply cannot pull that look off without appearing a little pregnant, made worse because I’m at that age where people have started speculating that I could be any minute now.

· comments [35] · 05-9-2007 · categories:shopping ·

craft links

How I want one – hungry softies, via Craft.

Where to buy felt, at AT:NY.

Knit shopping bag at Craft.

1-hour cardi-wrap via Bleu Arts. This might work well for a wedding I’m going to this summer.

How to make Big Warm Fuzzy Secret Heart, at Craft. It was made in honor of Jonathan Coulton‘s song Code Monkey.

· comments [3] · 05-7-2007 · categories:craft · sewing ·

shopping and crafts

Eco Fleece wrap hoodie at Mighty Goods, looks so comfy.

Rose petal cannon at Boing Boing.

Ichabods, cool clothing and bags, I particularly love the Fleur De Lis and Skeleton Keys bags. They are also sweet, $2 of each purchase goes to charity.

Keep Calm and Carry On towel, at Swissmiss.

How to reinforce your handbags, at Craft.

Mi roll-on perfume, at Indie Fixx.

· comments [7] · 05-4-2007 · categories:craft · shopping ·

food swap

This week I attended a brilliant food swap hosted by Jess, it was called Take It, Bake It and it was adapted from the Soup Swap. The guidelines for this swap were a little different, the idea starting with having a freezer full of food that would serve well as instant dinner party fare. So each participant brought six batches of something that would serve six people, as well as a hot (or ready to be cooked) batch so that everybody could have a taste of the offerings.

I don’t have a lot of experience cooking, let alone figuring out how to unfreeze and bake something so I played it safe and went to the “Freeze It” sections of my old Everyday Food magazines. I was considering making lots of bolognese sauce and including bags of my new favorite pasta, but the freezer-to-oven cooking instructions for this Spinach Pie won me over. Also, that recipe makes two pies that serve six each, so I would only be making three batches of the recipe which sounded easy. I needn’t have worried, despite a minor incident involving spinach juice spilling inside my fridge I had a lot of fun cooking. I listed to This American Life, To the Best of Our Knowledge and then old episodes of Smodcast and the evening passed quickly. The only thing that took a lot of time was chopping all the onions for the recipe as I had to keep stopping and pacing the hallway to get onion fumes out of my eyes (I regret not getting those onion goggles now).

A few things if you should want to make the Spinach Pie – I used disposable 10″ pie plates and they needed a little more phyllo to cover the tops than is called for in the recipe. The phyllo is the best part anyhow so use 12 ounces instead of 8. It’s easier to separate the phyllo before tossing it with the olive oil, otherwise you’ll never get it to unroll. They phyllo will deflate when tossed with the oil, there isn’t much to be done.

The gathering was lots of fun, and I came home with quite a haul:

That pile includes: Chicken Marbella made by Lulife (it’s like grown up chicken wings), strawberry-rhubarab-apple crisp with creme anglaise made by Jess, some luscious macaroni and cheese made by Sarah, an asparagus-leek soup made by Noah, potato phyllo samosas made by Justin and Laura, and chocolate cookie, strawberry ice cream sandwiches made by Alex and Clair. I’m thrilled to have a freezer bursting with excellent food.

I even came home with a few gifts!

The spice packets were a party favor and the incredible rhubarb marmalade was a prize for having the first dish to disappear from the selection table (thank you Everyday Food).

In her entry Jess give this recipe for Vinegared Beet Salad which she served at the gathering, and which was incredible. I wish I had thought to ask if I could purchase the leftovers!

· comments [21] · 05-3-2007 · categories:food ·

tech related stuff

Color palatte picker from Adobe Labs, at Craft.

Independent Game Awards at Jay Is Games.

71 Miles at Cool Hunting.

Top 30 WordPress Plugins at Swissmiss.

Pop Mechanics top rated CFL bulb, at Apartment Therapy.

Yay for Thunderbird 2.

HTC Shift tiny computer, at Uncrate.

Snipshop free online photo editing at How about orange.

How to minimize Firefox’s memory usage at Apartment Therapy Home Tech.

Ha ha, FlickrBlockrs, at Cool Hunting.

· comments [4] · 05-3-2007 · categories:technology ·

food links

This recipe for Chocolate-Topped Peanut-Toffee Bars won the Betty Crocker Baking Contest, and the secret ingredient was potato chips. at Loveschool.

Blood Orange Martini at Smitten Kitchen.

Sassy Priscilla’s King Sized Cupcakes.

Megan’s Spicy Mexican Dip at Pensive Frog.

Freezing bread dough at Baking Bites.

Chicken Pad Thai at Splatgirl Creates.

How does one become a star customer at a sushi-ya? at Ask Metafilter.

How to make kettle corn at Craft.

Finding the name for a Scotch, ginger ale and bitters drink, at Ask Metafilter.

How many calories in a marathon? at Brownie Points.

Search for favorite frozen peas, at The Kitchen.

Peter’s Wine Quiz, Excerpted from Educating Peter by Lettie Teague, at The Splendid Table.

· comments [4] · 05-2-2007 · categories:drink · food · recipes · likes you

Happy news! The girls over at Delight would like to show their appreciation to readers of this site by offering a 10% off coupon for anything at for the entire month of May. Additionally, there will be a special gift tucked in with your order, how very sweet. All you have to do is enter the offer code NotMartha at check out.

If you’re not already familiar with Delight, they offer one delightful thing for a special price each day starting at lunch time (noon CST), each week they have one thing for guys, and on Sundays they feature artwork and unique design pieces. You can have your package smartly gift wrapped for $5.

While most items are gone in a day, they do keep a 30 Day Store where you can find need-worthy items like the Envirosax bags and these adorable ceramic bird houses handmade by Rae Dunn. Delight also has a blog where they talk about the offerings so you can peek at what you might have missed.

· comments [3] · 05-1-2007 · categories:shopping ·

stuff for the home

DIY stain removal, at Make.

“It’s like someone actually wanted to create a useful how-to guide.” A strong recommendation for the Black and Decker Photo Guide to Home Repair, I need this. At Modern Cottage.

I love the way the bathroom wall is painted in this home tour at San Francisco Apartment Therapy.

Reviews of eco-paints at EcoVertex. We used the basic white American Pride paint on nearly all the interior walls and ceilings of our house and it’s great. I’m considering using the very lovely Yolo shade Petal.02 on my back door. via AT:SF.

Beearo eco-chic wall vinyls, at Design*Sponge.

Tidy 2-bin recycling center from The Container Store. (Lost the source! AT maybe?)

Organic bloom duvet at Outblush.

What the heck is Plynyl? at AT:LA. I’ve been looking for something like this for entryway mats.

Wall mounted accordian dryer, at AT:LA. Also see this bathroom ceiling mounted drying rack for very small apartments.

Nice in-view, off the surfaces home office storage, at AT:Home Tech.

How to make an herb garden gift at AT:NY.

Mini-Pendant Chandelier Made From IKEA Lamps, at Instructables.

Balance Ball Chair, at Outblush.

How to clean rust off chrome? AT:LA.

The many qualities of vinegar, at Swiss Miss.

Bookcase doors, possibly silly looking but I have a door that could use one on the back to utilize some extra space in the office. at Uncrate.

Gardening in pots and planters, at SFGate.

Small vaccuums, at Bluelines. Also, Swissmiss loves the Swivel Sweeper, which might be just what I’m looking for to keep upstairs for small jobs.

Stairway storage, at AT:LA.

Taking note of the frosted window film at AT:NY.

Note the wall in the bedroom at AT:Chicago.

Tubular, modular storage that can be mounted to a wall, at AT:LA.

· comments [2] · 05-1-2007 · categories:the home ·