Saturday, December 1, 2012

Learning Curve

Isn’t learning to do something new such a pleasure? Next to heading out for a morning of garaging, a new skill ranks high on my list of pleasures. And when you can combine the fruits of your garaging adventures with your learning adventures…it’s a good day.

So here’s the story.

Back in March of 2007, I saw a sewing machine cabinet I liked at a sale in Huntington Beach. Kind of beat up, but a cool deco style (turns out it is Singer cabinet 42), and the price was five bucks. There was an old sewing machine inside, but I figured I could get rid of that and put the machine I already had in its place. So I handed over a fiver, got the thing in the back seat of the convertible (along with the two vintage dishtowels, 4 new cloth placemats, and 11 issues of Sew Beautiful that I found that morning – not a bad haul for March!), and headed home.

Only to find that the sewing machine I already owned did not fit into this cabinet. And to make it do so would necessitate sawing off bits of the cabinet, which made me nervous. And my husband was somewhat disparaging about the condition the cabinet was in, which I naively thought I could just paint black and it would look swell. So it looked like I had wasted my five bucks.

But before hauling it off to the thrift store, I decided to take a look at the machine in the cabinet. The instruction booklet in one of the drawers proclaimed it to be a Singer 201-2. Naturally I started researching that, and found website after website repeating that this is one of the best sewing machines ever made. Seamstresses all over raved about what a pleasure it is to sew on this model. Quiet and powerful, thanks to be gear driven. Hmmm. I went back and plugged in my new acquisition and tentatively pushed the foot pedal. With a quiet, satisfied purr, the needle started going up and down and the feed dogs pushing. Dang, sounded like it worked. I grabbed some thread and fabric, and found that all the raves were right. This is one dandy sewing machine. The only drawback I could see was buttonholes, since it’s a straight stitch machine. I barely registered a box in one of the drawers labeled buttonholer, since I figured I’d just keep my other machine around for the infrequent occasions I need to make a buttonhole.

And then we moved, and the moving van we rented wasn’t q-u-i-t-e big enough, and some inessential items got jettisoned – and that included the other sewing machine.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. We still have no curtains in our family room


and we finally decided that the exuberant chintz I found at a sale a couple of years ago would work just fine down there.


I have a LOT of this fabric. It may rank as one of my best buys ever – 35 yards of expensive decorator fabric for…five bucks. Why yes, that is less than fifteen cents a yard.

 Didn’t want to do just a plain rod pocket at the top, and I don’t aspired to actual pleated drape making. Thought about using those big grommets that seem to be popular these days, but buying them would cost several times the price of the fabric, which would annoy me, however unreasonable that may be. Then I thought about the tab-header curtains from Ikea we used to have, something like this.

WERNA Pair of curtains IKEA Densely-woven fabric makes the curtains effective at blocking out light.

And then I thought, buttonholes! Seemed like they would be way easier than constructing all those tabs. That is, if I could learn to use the buttonholer that came with my 201-2.

So a few days ago I took the thing out of its box, and was struck by terror. There was no instruction manual, and this this is not, as they say, intuitive.


I turned it this way and that and had no idea how to attach it to my machine, let alone use it. I did some Internet searching, and eventually found a set of pdf’s of the instruction manual. Whew, I thought, until I started trying to follow the directions on attaching the buttonholer to the machine. I wish I had timed it, seemed like I had to fiddle with it for nearly an hour before everything was attached. Then I had to take it all off again to insert a bobbin. Buttonholer back on machine. Only took about fifteen minutes this time. Put a spool of thread on the spindle, threaded her up, and grabbed a remnant of the (yard sale) fabric I used to line my little refurbished train case. Presser foot down, push the foot control…and off she zoomed. A few seconds later I was staring at a perfect buttonhole.


Oh. My. Goodness. Just look at that. Who invented this thing? To make a zigzag buttonhole with a straight stitch machine, all you need to do is move the fabric from side to side. I’m sure those of you who have used one of these vintages buttonholers are snickering, but it seemed miraculous to me. All those carefully machined bits and pieces fit together into something that waggles fabric from side to side while advancing in tiny increments – and then turns a corner and does the whole thing backwards.

But wait. My curtain rods are bigger than this little buttonhole. Now what? Ah, View 4 of the instruction manual: “To Make Buttonholes Longer than 1 Inch.” Okay, let’s try that. Not quite so simple. In fact, a definite learning curve.


But learn I did. I tell you, I was so pleased with myself. Don’t you love that feeling of being smart enough to figure something out?


So I’m about ready to start making curtains. I’ll be glad to get the family room a step closer to feeling homey. And when the curtains are finished…well, there’s a whole box of other mysterious attachments that came with my 201!




  1. Bet you got a ruffler in there too!! congrats on the new skill!

  2. Bravo on mastering that attachment! All of them sure look scary.

  3. I think I would have backed off and hid! Well done for figuring it out. xx

  4. I am SO, SO (or should it be 'sew, sew') IMPRESSED!!!!!

  5. Way to go! That was a great investment also. I wish I had learned to sew. I will get her machine eventually. I hope I make the time to learn.

  6. Impressed, Cousin Sharon, as always! I can't wait for pictures of the chintz curtains - I love that fabric.


I really love your comments. Thanks for coming along on my thrifty adventures!

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