Matt Bean

Make more than just clothing—make memories, too.

Matt Bean  – August 25, 2020 | Updated August 27, 2020

These are heady days for anyone in the home improvement and DIY industries, and our newfound national obsession with crafts and skills has not spared the sewing business. I had time to ponder this during the hour and a half I spent on hold waiting to speak with a human being at the Singer Sewing Machine Company a couple of weeks ago.

Salvation came in the form of an unbearably sweet customer service staffer, who apologized for the wait. No surprise: They were slammed. Oxo is out of silicone baking cups; Costco is out of rice; and now this poor woman is getting harangued by sewing groupies like she’s running the Turkey Hotline at 12:37 Thanksgiving afternoon. I wanted to give her a hug through the phone. She passed on all of the info I needed and then my quest continued.

I was obsessed: The Singer “Heavy Duty” Sewing Machine, which can be found refurbished for as low as $160, was proving difficult to find, thanks to the quarantine crafting boom, and I refused to settle for anything less.

This was precisely the machine for me. My aim, beyond some light garment tailoring, is to add upholstery to my quiver of skills, thereby making my pipe dream of amateur furniture making closer at hand. My friend Eric had extolled the virtues of his own adventures in sewing and by this point in the pandemic I’d just about run out of Netflix to watch. So: Sewing, it is!

I started by surfing product review sites for advice. The Singer Heavy Duty quickly emerged as the champ, with a bigger motor and stronger metal frame allowing you to tackle thicker fabrics such as canvas, cordura, and denim. It’s painted a gray/green hue almost as if to nestle into the machine shed alongside jerry cans and a howitzer.

This wasn’t just an aesthetic choice, for me. It was an emotional one. My grandmother used a Singer back in the day. And we still have the machine, even. Talk about a link to your past.

My Grandmother’s Singer Sewing Machine

A week later and I’d unboxed my new machine, given it pride of place on my dinner table. I work there, I eat there, and now I sew there. Is sleep too far behind?

Getting Started

Project one: To tailor a long-sleeve T-shirt. But first, I needed thread. A trip to Michael’s revealed a forgotten section toward the back of the store for sewing. Thread, they had—and a handful of “notions,” the buttons and zippers you can incorporate into projects. To get there, you had to wend your way past styrofoam skeletons, every faux flower variety ever invented, and enough glue gun ammunition to repair a battleship. Don’t go to Michael’s if you’re into sewing.

Back home, I loaded the bobbin—a remarkably satisfying process. And talk about a time machine: That electro-mechanical hum transported me to my childhood. I was there, in our extra bedroom, standing as still as a 7 year old could, my mom fussing with a hem or making an elaborate halloween costume. I was at my grandmother’s, helping her sift through reams and reams of patterns and half-finished projects she’d collected through the years. Memories long dormant took on shape like a cactus awaiting water in the desert.

Making Memories

I remembered the Stegosaurus costume my mom made for halloween one year, an impossibly complicated stretch of triangles stuffed with synthetic fluff atop a gray bodysuit (we didn’t yet know about Dinosaurs with feathers, thankfully). I remembered all of the 70s clothing she made herself to save money and look fantastic anyway. I remembered how much she cared, and how this act of crafting was the physical manifestation of that love. What gift is more personal than a piece of clothing that won’t fit anyone else?

Lots of Stitches to Choose From

Matt Bean

The machine is simple enough, and you’re buying it for the strength and durability, not the bells and whistles. But it will auto-wind your bobbin (the lower spool of thread beneath the needle) and includes a hundred or so stitching patterns, if that’s your thing. There’s a dial selector for the type of stitch, and then a dial to adjust the length of it. You can tackle button holes, add in zippers, tailor pants and shirts and all of that.

But really, you’re not just making clothing. You’re making memories. Connections. Now seems like a good enough time to start, doesn’t it?


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