I collected every discarded strand into an ugly yellow tumbleweed so that I could take a moment to honor my hard work….with laughter.
One doesn’t set out to spend a weekend topstitching the same center back zipper over and over again, but when the comedy of errors is choreographed just right, it’s best just to sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show.
- Before going for it on my denim skirt, I consulted Sandra Betzina’s Fabric Savvy book to read her profile on sewing heavyweight denim. Then, after a few tries, I sewed the most perfect centered zipper sample using a large swatch of my fabric, a twin version of my final zipper, jeans topstitching thread from an American company (*sigh*…made in Mexico), a 100/16 needle, stitch length at 4.5, and thread tension at around 7.
- I carried that sample around in my purse for a week while I worked on the Sarah shirt. I’d pull it out and lay it on my desk to stroke the stitches during conference calls. I was so proud of how they descended along the zipper opening so evenly, making the 90-est degree turns at the bottom. The fantasy of my finished skirt’s award-winning, topstitched zipper was burning a proverbial hole in my bag, putting my keys and lip gloss at risk. My alarm to sew was going off and the snooze button was disabled.
- So, I cleaned up my work space, picked up my custom drafted skirt pieces — still hand-basted together after my final fitting — and sewed the center back seam with a combination of basting and permanent stitches. Then, my daughter woke up. And, Saturday morning life began.
- The sun was out that afternoon, but my family’s needs for winter Vitamin D were not my priority. I just wanted to sew the best zipper ever. I kept my plans to eventually go to the park quiet, plopped Josephine in front of a 4-inch stack of cotton fabric swatches, instructed her to “sort them for Mommmy”, and proceeded to baste in place, topstitch and IMMEDIATELY RIP OUT my first attempt. It was a hot mess. OK. No, problem. Just a little rusty. Perhaps distracted by parenting. Let’s try this again. Later. When the kid is out of the room and outside the blast radius of an f-bomb from Mommy.
- After dinner, I snuck away for a second and third failed attempt. The stitches were inconsistent on top, looked drunk on the bobbin side, and veered off from straight in various places. Double-You-Tee-Eff! What’s a girl gotta do to repeat her own success around here? Oh, wait-a-minute….what’s this? I still had the 80/12 needle in the machine I used to sew the center back seam!
- The 100/16 needle is in. Denim Topstitching, take 4….slow, steady, not too much foot on the gas…good…careful around the corners…OK, done. Let’s see…What!? Mutha…It’s at this point in the story we must apply some censorship. When the thread hits the fan for me, I become the Samuel L. Jackson of sewing. So, I’ll deal with my sailor mouth here in the same way they over-dub Mr. Jackson when his movies get adapted for television. I don’t watch cable or broadcast TV anymore, but when I did back in the day, I saw them take Sam Jackson’s famous line from the comedy-horror, Snakes on a Plane, and dub it into the best alternative I’ve ever heard. His rated-R line, “I’m tired of these mutha-bleepin’ snakes on this mutha-bleepin’ plane!” was dubbed over for television audiences to “I’m tired of these monkey-fightin’ snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane!” Let’s continue …with a touch of silly censoring. The ends of the zipper tape folded and got caught in the stitching during the 4th attempt. While unpicking the bobbin thread, I noticed it was sitting slack. Cheese and rice! The tension is off! Was it off the whole time!? I don’t even care anymore. I’m going to bed.
- Sunday morning arrives. Finally. It’s Mama’s holy day for full-attention sewing. I make quiche to fill the bellies of man and child, dump a pile of Legos on the living room floor, and return to the Zipper That Won’t Stitch. I increase the tension just a smidgen and put my foot on the pedal. I stop mid-way to check the bobbin thread and it’s looking good. As I get closer to the top….I realize that the stitch lines aren’t even on one side! No monkey-fighting way! I stared at the carnage of yellow thread on the floor for a solid five minutes.
- After shaking off the trauma, I unpick again. Getting faster at it this time. I impress and disgust myself when I can remove the top thread in one magical pull. After saying some encouraging words to my machine, I proceed to topstitch my poor, serially stabbed skirt for a sixth time. I’m breathing in and out, my machine and I are one. Up. Down. In. Out. Good, girl. You got it. Let’s take a look. Stitch length is even, stitch line is 1/4″ away from the opening on BOTH sides this time…but, cod n’ salmon! Why are there three rogue stitches near the bottom that look like they’re trying to go AWOL!? Is this a conspiracy? Is this my punishment for supporting an American thread company that outsources all the work to Mexico? Why, Lord, why is topstitching perfection alluding me? I did it once before. I’ll give up coffee for a month if you let me get this right.
- At this point, I’d just lied to God. Things had reached Shakespearean levels of drama. I had to get out of the house for a couple hours to stop the “to sew or not to sew” monologues in my head trying to bring me down. The break did me good. I moved into the acceptance stage of grief and carried out topstitch job number seven: 90% perfect. The problem (this time) was with my basting. It was holding the zipper in place, but doing a crap job of keeping the fabric from shifting under my machine’s clunky zipper foot. I re-basted the zipper in blood red thread (as if it was war paint), checking for balance with a ruler along the way.
- I only had to fight monkeys three more times before my topstitching performance was 98% perfect. An acceptable end to a long battle with fate and stupidity. I’m not fracking with it ANY. MORE.
That last, stubborn 2% of fail will give the skirt character. I even wrote myself a topstitching checklist for next time. With my sense of humor still in tact and a new reverence for the simple tasks that can (and do) go horribly wrong, I carried on with making…humbled and entertained by my tumbleweed souvenir.
Now, it’s your turn. What was your last sewing fumble? Did you prevail or wadder-out? Got any curse word alternatives to contribute? Seriously, share your worst. Your stories will be my sewcial therapy ;-).