This is my cherished sewing space. Next to the closet are my sewing machines. Obviously, I prioritize function over form. I sew most every single day and this photo represents what my sewing room always looks like. I didn’t stage this photo to make it look better, I wanted to show what this space looks like in real life.
I’ve been sewing for 6 years now. I didn’t grow up with a parent or grandparent that sewed, so why am I a sewist now? It is only because of several big life events that I started sewing.
I’m an inquisitive person and often wonder how people find themselves in their current situation in life. For example, how does a 32-year-old guy with a B.A. in Biology and a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience find himself all of a sudden, a 1st-grade paraeducator in a special education classroom with autistic students? How does this relate to sewing? Well, this is the beginning of my story about how I now find myself as a sewist! My machines are interleaved with this story.
Patrick Kyle Hunsaker
I need to back up a little to explain how my husband ended up a special education teacher. Let’s start with probably the most critical day, the 24th of April, 2012. Patrick Kyle Hunsaker, my husband’s non-verbal autistic twin brother, unexpectedly passed away. When Ryan and Kyle were growing up, they were involved in many of the early and pivotal studies about autism. Labs from UCLA and Utah were continually asking them to participate in research. These early experiences imprinted on Ryan that the way he could help his brother when he grows up is to become a scientist! It was never a question that Ryan was going to dedicate his life to helping kids with neurodevelopmental disorder. That’s how he found himself at the University of California Davis completing his Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience studying the biological and behavioral relationships of neurodevelopmental disorders. It was April 2012, and Ryan was 1 month away from defending his dissertation when Kyle was unexpectedly hospitalized on life support with a severe bladder infection that had spread to his kidneys and other organs. We rushed as fast as we could from Sacramento to Brigham City, UT, and in a few days, Kyle had passed away from multiple organ failure. Shocking as this may seem, it is not uncommon in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Kyle was included in the following paper but is placed in the wrong column since he died while the paper was in press.
Excess Mortality and Causes of Death in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Follow up of the 1980s Utah/UCLA Autism Epidemiologic StudyBilder, D., Botts, E.L., Smith, K.R. et al. Excess Mortality and Causes of Death in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Follow up of the 1980s Utah/UCLA Autism Epidemiologic Study. J Autism Dev Disord 43, 1196–1204 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1664-z
Ryan defended his dissertation on time, but the seeds of change were already in place. Fast forward a year later, July 2013, when the massive NIH budget cuts hit. Labs were left with the difficult choice of PIs (heads of labs) accepting a salary cut or letting go of staff. Ryan was in one of those unfortunate labs where he was considered disposable. Ryan was given less then a months notice he’d no longer be paid, but that if he wanted he could still do his research uncompensated. Um, no! At the time, Ryan thought he was close to securing an assistant faculty position back in Utah, so we just moved back home. Ryan had done enough work for a study to be able to published his research and leave. By November 2013, Ryan was in another fight, finding out that the job he had interviewed for and was in the process of finalizing salary, startup funds, and research space was a fictitious scam. The head of the research consortium had made up the whole thing. There was no job. By this point, we saw what academia was, an institution of mostly affluent whites grappling to maintain power and importance, but this post is about sewing and not about the racist policies in academia meant to keep the privileged few in power.
Special Education Teacher
Ryan hadn’t lost his dream of working with and helping autistic students, and upon reflection, he saw how his mother, a paraeducator, had done more for students in her 30+ years of working. This is how by February 2014, Ryan found himself as an elementary school paraeducator.
Because of Ryan’s advanced degree, he was able to apply for teaching positions that spring. In August 2014, he started his job as an elementary special education teacher in a classroom with autistic students. More importantly, he was an intimidating, 6’5″ tall, male teacher that went by Dr. H that had to find a way to easily relate with 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders with autism. I had come up with the idea that he should wear a different and unique bow tie each day to school. Why a bow tie? Neckties quickly turn into strangling hazards with students who have unique behavioral challenges. Bow ties offer an anchor point for students to look at that isn’t the face. Finding bow ties with fun prints would give Ryan that fun and silly aspect he needed to soften his towering and intimidating image.
I bought my first sewing machine during the summer of 2014, and the first thing I sewed was a bow tie. Bow ties were all that I sewed. I spent the summer purchasing all the cute fat quarters I could find. I visited nearly every fabric store in northern Utah hunting for enough unique fabric to make over 100 bow ties. My first sewing machine was a Singer Curvy. It cost less than $200, and I was able to make over 100 bow ties for the first 100 days of school. Once I finished that task, I wondered what else I could sew?
In the spring of 2015, I took a garment drafting/sewing private lesson and thus started my life as a sewist. I made myself several t-shirts using my Singer Curvy, then I made pajama pants, pillowcases, raglan sweatshirts, and a few quilts, but my sewing machine was struggling with these new tasks and eventually broke. I can’t remember what broke, but when I tried to get it fixed, they said that it was going to cost more than what I original paid and that they’d have to send it out of the state for repairs! Nope.
Baby Lock Elizabeth
I had been sewing consistently for 8 months and saw the potential of what sewing could provide. Something as simple as a basic knit t-shirt and flannel pajamas was enough to excite me. Ryan is tall. I am tall. We had never been able to purchase or wear these items and I was so thrilled. I know it seems silly now, but 99% of store-bought clothing is unavailable to us because of our height. Ryan’s inseam is 37″ and mine is 35″. Tall men’s pants only go to 36″ and women’s pants only go to 34″ and that’s not long enough. Before I sewed, I wore a lot of men’s pants and Ryan just suffered with cold legs in shorts.
I decided I could let myself buy a legit sewing machine. I understand when you are first starting a craft, you don’t want to spend a lot of money to find out you don’t love the craft or don’t have time for it. I tested the waters and knew I was hooked.
Remember, your frustration with a new craft like sewing may actually be because of your machine. If you can, borrow a family member’s / friend’s machine for a project or two. You could also register for a class somewhere that offers sewers use of a nicer machine.
I wanted a machine that obviously wasn’t a beginner level machine. At the same time, I didn’t need a machine that did embroidery and had a fancy LCD screen. Shopping for a machine was rather difficult since all the sewing shops I visited were focused on quilting. Every sales associate was trying to show me all these fancy options for quilting and embroidery. I wasn’t interested in these options. To this day I still don’t quilt and doing embroidery on a machine holds no interest. If I had listened to these sales associates, I would have bought a machine that wasn’t right for me. As a garment sewist you need only a few stitches, not 200! I’m never going to stitch out a word or put fancy flowers on something. The more decorative stitches the machine has, the more expensive the machine.
I went to all the sewing shops. I listened to all the sales pitches, some were better than others. In the end, I was torn between a Janome machine and the Baby Lock Elizabeth. The Baby Lock was $150 cheaper and did everything that the Janome did, so I ended getting the Baby Lock Elizabeth.
If you are buying a machine for the first time, make sure that the machine can be serviced in-house, at the store, with a reputable local technician. This goes for purchasing machines online and not through a local sewing shop. When I’m helping friends decide what brand of machine to buy, I really have no opinion. Baby Lock works for me because they are ubiquitous in Northern Utah and the sewing stores are all able to repair the machines and not send them out. It makes no sense to purchase a brand not available locally to you and can’t be serviced. When you buy a machine, ask if the technician is certified and able to fix everything with the machine? Technicians have to go through a lot of certification to be able to work with certain brands, and it’s important to check that they can fix yours. Sure, you can buy Brother machines through Amazon, but most shops won’t be able to fix that machine.
Vintage Singer Serger
My mother-in-law let me borrow her 3-thread vintage Singer serger. This serger is older than me. For the first time, I was able to serger my raw edges instead of using a zig-zag stitch. I even started using the serger to construct knit garments, but I realized that 3-threads wasn’t enough to hold seams. My seams were busting open constantly and would never keep shut. Then, I started going over the 3-thread serged seam with a zig-zag stitch in an attempt to hold the seams closed. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked, sometimes.
The Singer serger was a bear to re-thread and I was wasting a lot of time serging and then stitching fabric. My seams would still occasionally come undone too. Much like my Singer Curvy machine, this serger was a good introduction to sergers. I knew after a few months of use that I needed to seriously consider purchasing myself a serger. Sewing knit fabrics without a serger just isn’t optimal. You can do it, absolutely, but having a serger is so nice! It’s also quick for finishing raw edges on woven fabrics.
Baby Lock Imagine
I was by this time committed to Baby Lock. I loved my Elizabeth, and so I looked no further than Baby Lock for a serger. At the time, there were three classes of machines: sergers that you had to thread by hand, fancy machines that were combination serger and cover stitch, and the Baby Lock Imagine. I knew I didn’t want to thread by hand since I hated rethreading the Singer. The combination machines were WAY outside my price range, so the only option was the Baby Lock Imagine. It was one of the first sergers with the revolutionary self-threading option. I was sold.
Baby Lock Jane
Sometime in the spring of 2018, I decided it was time to make jeans. I had made pants before and noticed times that my Elizabeth struggled to stitch: thick fabric, many layers of fabric, humps, and bumps, etc. I also was finding myself a little frustrated with how slow the Elizabeth stitched. My serger was awesome because it would fly through the fabric, and I was getting comfortable with a faster speed. I didn’t want to purchase a new sewing machine since the Elizabeth works so well in most circumstances. One day, when I was looking at Baby Lock’s website, I saw a machine that piqued my interest. It was an all-metal machine like you see with industrial machines, and it could stitch up to 1,500 stitches per minute! The best part was that this machine didn’t feel like it was redundant to my Elizabeth. The Jane can do one thing and one thing only, stitch a basic straight stitch really fast! It can’t do any zig-zag stitches. It can’t make buttonholes. But because it is an all-metal machine with a fixed needle, it can fly through even the most difficult tough fabric like denim, leather, and wool coating. When I make jeans now, I will use the Elizabeth to construct the pants, the Imagine to finish the raw edges, and the Jane to tackle the challenge of topstitching through layers and layers of thick denim.
One of the things that I find annoying with most sewing machines is that to find machines that can handle the thicker fabrics they also come with a ridiculous number of decorative stitches. When I was purchasing the Elizabeth, that was what I had a hard time balancing. I wanted a machine that could handle fleece, wool coating, twill, denim, etc. but I didn’t want to pay for all the extra gizmos and gadgets. Unfortunately, as a garment sewist, you aren’t left with a lot of options. If you’re shopping for a machine, it’s helpful to create a list of options you want. What are the type of projects you plan or hope to be able to sew in the future. Quilting and embroidery are NOT on my list, the machine should be able to handle 6+ layers of thick 14 oz. denim, and maybe leave off the alphabet and nature decorative stitches!
That’s my story of why I sew and how I ended up with the machines that I have. Baby Lock recently came out with a coverstitch machine that may eventually make it into my sewing room, but not right now. If you read my previous post, you’ll know I need to upgrade my pressing station and iron. Let’s wrap this tour up with the other things found at my sewing table.
I followed the idea of machine covers from Closet Core Patterns. I used outdoor canvas fabric from JoAnns, but recently I thought about upgrading my covers using holographic plastic leather instead. Dust still gets through the outdoor canvas, and I want my covers to be even more protective.
After not being able to use my awesome cutting table as a sewing machine table as well, I’ve placed my machines on a basic table from IKEA, LINNMON / ADILS table, 78 ¾” by 23 ⅝”. The table vibrates a little when I really get going with my machines, but not enough to bother me.
My chair is an ergonomic stool from http://www.fully.com. The stool is no longer available, but the brand is Håg if you are interested.
Ryan and I have moved a lot, like a lot a lot. I’ve lost count, but I know we’ve averaged at least 1 move a year. Therefore, I don’t decorate. I don’t coordinate. I don’t care what matches in my house. I have no interest in trends. My only concern is whether the item is modular! We have wasted so much money buying stuff that works only in one place and then doesn’t fit or work in another location. My cutting table just about became victim to this!
That’s how I found Flor tiles. They’re great because they work in any situation and can be put together however to make a rug. Better yet, because I have no preference regarding style, I will go to the Flor Outlet and buy random patterned tiles for $2.99 or less. And trust me, the tiles you receive are truly random. I actually think the more random they are the better they “match”. It looks intentionally wrong! Much like the IVAR shelving system throughout my house, I have random Flor tiles everywhere.
Here are the tools I have at my sewing table. At the top, I use this knitting needle whenever I’m turning out corners and need help pushing out that last little bit to get a crisp point. This knitting needle has been with me since the beginning. It got a lot of use turning out the four corners on each bow tie. From left to right, hand turned wooden seam riper I found in an art museum shop in Pittsburgh, disappearing fabric pen, thread snips, duck bill scissors for grading, regular scissors for any snips, and a seam gauge that’s seen better days.
I use both pins and Wonder clips. I keep my pins on a magnetic holder and my wonder clips in a ½ pint mason jar. Wonder clips are a great alternative when you’re worried about missing pins and destroying your serger!
While writing this post, all I could think is how odd I must seem. I understand why people think I might be this super serious, boring, and cold person because everything I do has to have a purpose. I really don’t do anything frivolous like start a new hobby for the heck of it or do something because I think it looks “cute”. And I definitely don’t do anything, because everyone else is doing it too. I got a good giggle reading descriptions of how various Enneagram types would decorate their house. This is another story altogether, but I ended up where I am, having a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience because I was OBSESSED with the Enneagram back in the late 90s. I have to roll my eyes a bit when people now act as if it’s this new radical idea. It isn’t. It’s been around for decades. And for decades, I’ve relished that I am a 5w4. I’m a nonconforming minimalist!
Type 5’s are secretive, withdrawn, cerebral and perceptive — the accidental minimalists of the Enneagram. This minimalism is reflected throughout their decor, with the only exception being objects that reflect one or more of their special interests.
Type 5’s have a different type of minimalism to the other types, though. They don’t do it to feel in control (type 1) or to create a certain aesthetic (type 3). No, they choose to live with little because it means less effort and because having “more” generally doesn’t occur to them. They want to be constantly downsizing in all areas of their life. Less obligation, less to clean, less to deal with; ultimately less energy expended.
For this reason, a lot of their furniture are going to be items that seem to be the most convenient. Couches rescued off of roadside curbs; plates bought in bulk at their local Kmart. Their items will largely be void of any prestige, as they’re looking for convenience. The less hassle in accumulating the items in their house, the better.
This could mean they completely buy their kitchen and most other homewares from the local Kmart or Home Depot. Even more likely, they order all these things online.
Type 5’s don’t believe in excess or indulgence in the senses and see that as dependence on the physical, sensory world (something they spend an awful lot of time fearfully avoiding). Thus, a Type 5’s home tends to be furnished, clean, but also feel a bit cold and empty.https://www.truity.com/blog/heres-how-your-house-probably-looks-based-your-enneagram-personality-type
But add that little bit of 4 that I have, and you get a single Star Trek TNG cross stitch pattern in my sewing room! Giggle.
Anything that is too conformist will make them uncomfortable. For instance, a type 4 who enjoys the minimalist aesthetic will still collect objects from a favorite hobby to decorate the space and put their own ‘touch’ on to the style.https://www.truity.com/blog/heres-how-your-house-probably-looks-based-your-enneagram-personality-type