dear reader | to the one who is scared to sew

by | Aug 10, 2015 | All Things Home, Decorating, Secret Weapons, Sewing, Tutorials | 78 comments

This time of reassessing my business and blog has been so rejuvenating for me.  I find myself flooded with ideas, anxious to create, bubbling to write…almost to the point of being overwhelmed by it.  It’s like my ideas are little children who keep interrupting one another and I have to tell them to pipe down and wait their turn.  So, I’m making lots of lists and trying to shape them into a plan of action that does involve time to eat and sleep.  I’m working on it.

One of the ideas that keeps surfacing is doing more series on my blog.  Not just individual blog posts, but ones that are strung together by a common topic or tell a story that arcs over several posts.  I have three blog series currently underway – how my business began, the evolution of my house (we’re almost done with that one) and Megan’s office makeover.

And now I’m going to add another one, dear reader.

This series will be open letters to readers with a specific challenge, issue, circumstance.  Whether it’s to someone who’s tired of renting, struggling with contentment or doesn’t know how to use a hammer properly, I want to share my thoughts and speak directly to them.  I’m not going to give answers.  Just my thoughts, opinions, “two cents”, if you will, and hopefully some encouragement.


Today, I am writing a letter to those who are scared to sew.  This is also for those who “can’t sew” and hate sewing.  I know you’re out there.

I know that sewing has earned a bad reputation with you.  You’re used to tangled threads, crooked lines, fabric that ends up bubbled and pulled.  You’re used to frustration.  You’re used to your creations being a disappointment.

Maybe you’re even afraid to try.  You’re afraid you’re going to mess something up.  The sewing machine that was handed down to you looks foreign and even a little frightening.

I want you to not worry about the machine for a minute.  Set aside the thought of winding a bobbin and adjusting thread tension.  Let your past frustrations, failures and disasters go.

Instead, let’s look at all of the possibilities that come with knowing how to sew.  The slipcovers, pillows, curtains…

The things you could transform…

…and customize.  The mis-matched furniture and accessories that can be made to match.

Look around your house.  What could you do?  What would you do?

Take a minute to daydream about it.

Are you with me, now?  Do you see the potential and why sewing is a worth-while skill, especially for those who love homemaking?

I know, for some of you, there are still those bad memories or doubts, trying to suck the hope out of the moment.

I know what it’s like to want to chuck a sewing machine out the window.

I have felt the red-faced irritation that comes when something doesn’t turn out as planned or when a seemingly quick project turns into an all day ordeal, because the machine is giving you attitude.

Sometimes I need a minute.  Or a month.  And then, I come back and finish the project.

I don’t sew because I love sewing.  It’s a means to a end.  I want a custom pillow or chair or slipcover and I’m not willing to fork out the money to pay someone else to make them, so I have to step up and give it my best try.

If you really look at my sewing (and I know some of you have), you’ll see that my finished results aren’t perfect.  Sometimes the piping goes awry or things don’t line up the way they should.  And I have decided that I am totally okay with that, because waiting until I’m good enough to sew a perfect slipcover will mean that I will never sew a slipcover.

So, I want to encourage you to let go of the idea that the result needs to be perfect.

Oh, I how I wish I had a picture of some of the first pillows and curtains I made!  I actually took a cheap valance from Wal-Mart and sewed some new fabric directly over it, so I wouldn’t have to sew a pocket, which seemed intimidating.  I have no idea why I did that, but it made sense to me then.  And my first slipcover?  Oh, goodness.  It was baaa-ad.

And still, after years of sewing and hundreds of projects, most of my finished pieces have a “good side”, wonky places and mistakes.

You know why I’m okay with that?  Perfection isn’t the goal.  Getting something completed that looks great in the overall room is the goal.

Isn’t that an easier goal?

Remember that sewing is a learned skill.  There may be some people with an affinity for it, but no one is born knowing how to sew.  It’s something they have learned and practiced.  You can, too.  So, I don’t want to hear “I can’t sew” anymore.  You may not want to, you may not be willing, but you can.

Get to know your machine at a time when you’re not working on a project.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m working on a project, I want to finish as soon as possible.  When I get slowed down by “technical difficulties”, that’s when I get bummed out.  And I’m sure I’m not alone in that.  So, take time to learn to thread your sewing machine, get the bobbin wound and working, make sure the needle you’re using is sharp and the right one for the fabric you’re working on and make sure you understand all of the settings, so you don’t end up smocking fabric when you’re just trying to sew a straight line.

If you’re having trouble, refer to the manual or call the company for support.

And don’t worry if you have a cheap or old sewing machine.  My first sewing machine was older than I was.  I currently have two machines and neither of them are digital or fancy-schmancy.  My light-duty machine was only $150.

Whether you’re just starting or starting over, start on a simple project with straight lines, like making a pillow cover out of a tea towel.  Give yourself success in a little project, so you feel confident to move onto bigger projects.

In that same vein, work with an inexpensive or free fabric in the beginning.  That way, if you mess up, it’s not a big deal.

If you’re even nervous about starting a specific project, just sew two pieces of fabric together and see how that goes!

As I said before, it’s about success in the little things.

If you haven’t noticed, I get a little passionate about sewing.  Again, it’s not because I love it, but because, of all of the skills you can learn, there are two that will transform your home on a budget more dramatically than any others – painting and sewing.

I want for you to learn, so you can pick up that free wing chair with a great shape, but ugly fabric.  I want for you to envision a color scheme for a room and be able to make pillows and curtains to perfectly match that vision.  I want you to experience the satisfaction of turning a flat piece of fabric into something that you made!

And if this letter encourages even one person to try sewing or to try it again, then I am a happy blogger.

 If you need some inspiration and instruction, you can scroll through all of my sewing posts HERE.

Sincerely, Marian

Do you have an idea for a “dear reader” topic?  If so, just leave a comment or send me an e-mail (


  1. Deb McK

    Oh, this was so directed at me! I even went so far as to buy a machine, determined to learn, and then let it spook me off.
    Thanks for always being an inspiration and I look forward to seeing you again at the Market at Chapel Hill.

  2. B Folk

    “Dear Reader”, another great idea of yours! I think this may become my new favorite part of your blog. Your caring, daring, let’s-get-to-work-have-fun-get-it-done “voice” comes through!

  3. Toni

    Great post! I wanted to sew for a long time. I got a sewing machine to sew curtains for exactly the reasons you said plus I wanted to choose my own fabric and my size windows are not really available. I ended up becoming a quilter and not really sewing that much for my house but I do have a slipcover project in the wings. This might be just the nudge I need to get it going.

    How about a Dear Reader for those of us too scared to try upholstery? How to know what we need in the way of materials, etc.

  4. B Folk

    Just noticed that there is still a sidebar advertising Miss Mustard Seed’s “Furniture Feature Friday”…

  5. Elizabeth@ Rustic Maple

    Great tips and advice! I agree that it is so worth trying sewing for home decor. So much starts with just straight lines and is so different from all the pattern cutting and fancy seams from home economics class. Start simple. I recently sold my late mom’s machine and a basic one I bought 23 years ago when we first married, on our online classifieds (my sil was kind and gifted me with her oldie but goodie.) Online classifieds or sewing stores that trade in are also great places to find inexpensive machines (having the original owner’s manual is a big help.)

  6. Trisha

    What a great post! Thank you so much for this! This speaks to me not only in regards to my sewing projects (or lack thereof recently), but for all of my projects in general. Perfection isn’t the goal and that’s a point I need to remember, so thank you!

  7. Leah Prevost

    I also love this post! But I love all your posts haha. Anyways, when I started reading your blog you inspired me to learn how to sew. I have a pillow obsession and whenever I see one I love I HAVE to buy it. But they’ve become ridiculously expensive so now I’m bound and determined to make my own pillow covers!!! I’ve been watching some youtube videos on basic sewing tutorials. I let my family and friends know that I wanted to start sewing and one of my Bff’s has an extra sewing machine that she wants to give me. Thanks for always making things less intimidating and giving us that want to learn the extra little push to get started 🙂

  8. Karen

    Marian, reading your posts always make me smile! Tonight was no exception. My husband and I just returned from supper (yes, we’re in the south so it’s not dinner) at my sister and brother-in-law’s house. This was our our usual sibling get-together (without kids and grandkids) that we do at least once every week or so at someone’s home. The “girls” (my two sisters age 70 and 72, my SIL age 58, and myself age 59) are always talking about getting together to try a new project. Our topic tonight was sewing so I naturally brought up your name and your blog to show them all. What a pleasant surprise when I got home and checked my inbox and found this post from you! It must be a sign, right? I’ll let you know how our project turns out!! BTW, I started following you several years ago shortly after I retired and you got me into furniture painting using chalk paint. I’ve painted at least 20+ pieces of furniture (all for my home or our children’s homes – never to sell) and I love it!!! I am embarrassed to admit that I am still afraid to try milk paint. Hmmm, maybe that should be my next project! My husband will be thrilled – that would get three pieces of furniture out of our garage. Anyway, thank you for sharing your life with all of us! You really are an amazing woman! God Bless You!

  9. Suzanne Davis

    Hi Marian, I really enjoyed reading your post but rarely post a comment. I have such passion for sewing. I love to sew! I have been sewing for a long time. I am your reader that had the blue fabric you were looking for last year that was discontinued. What did you make with it? I love the blue check you posted. Would you please give me the pattern name and manufacturer? This summer I did a sewing class with my 10 year old granddaughter. She really enjoyed it and was so proud of the blouse she made from a flat piece of fabric. Sewing has become a lost skill but is so easy with little time! Marian is correct ladies don’t be afraid!

  10. Jenny B.

    Love this, Marian. I am one of those people who owns a sewing machine, but is too intimidated by it to even take it out of the box! Maybe I will give it a try someday soon. 🙂 For future ideas, maybe Dear Reader: Don’t Fear the Sandpaper.

    After reading lots of DIY tutorials, I was so dreading sanding our kitchen cabinets, that I almost didn’t paint them. The strangest thing happened, though… I actually enjoyed sanding them. Seriously. There is something therapeutic about sanding off the grime (or the grain that raised up after a coat of paint) and running your hand over soft, smooth wood. So, I decided that all the shortcuts and tricks to avoid sanding just aren’t necessary, and people should stop being so afraid of having to sand something. For most projects, only a little sanding is needed. It’s not difficult, and it’s really not all that messy, either. 🙂

  11. Cathy G

    This is perfect for all of us timid perfectionists with hundreds of ideas rolling around in our minds when we go to bed, in our dreams, and when we wake at 4am in the morning! I have all of the tools and fabric but I am so afraid I will mess something up. I will listen to you and just go for it, Marian. I love your work – thanks for the boost! ?

  12. Nancy Soto

    This is an awesome subject! I am SO very grateful that I was blessed with many family members (mother, grandmother, great grandmother, sister and more) who sew(ed) and I actually took Home Ec in middle school AND high school. I honestly LOVE to sew, but mostly home decor projects although I’ve been sneaking in doll clothes lately for my granddaughters as well as a few quilting projects. Just an FYI to those who are just starting out, I still have that stressed out feeling while sewing, but I think it’s just because I am hopeful the project turns out as I hoped.

    My other thoughts while sewing are wondering why it’s called sewing when a large bit of it is either ironing or measuring. For those timid of math I say take your time and re-measure as much as you need to (several times) until you are reasonably confident.

    There are SO many how to videos and webpages out on the web. Virtually every answer can be found, any machine, any technique. I usually read several before jumping in to the technique.

    Also, while they are becoming really hot items now, a “vintage” machine might serve some better than newer models depending on the type of sewing planned, especially if it’s one that was left from an estate where the original owner took good care of it. Machines made before about 1990 will have metal gears versus plastic thus will be more durable. There are folks now a days that buy these machines, clean them up, adjust them, replace parts that might need replacing like power cords, etc. and from a reputable person could even be purchased for less than a new machine.

    Thank you for encouraging folks about sewing, it truly is high on the list of satisfying projects.


  13. Jennifer

    I can tell that I’m going to LOVE your “Dear Reader” series already! Thanks for the encouragement about sewing. You hit the nail on the head. This is the one skill that definitely intimidates me the most. I have two drop cloths that are still in their package because I haven’t gathered up the courage to follow your slipcover series and cover my 2 wing-back chairs that are as fabulous as the orange one you covered in your videos! Thanks for the kind words and perhaps I’ll get the gumption to make some changes after all!

  14. Jo

    I do have an idea for a subject. What about if your rooms are small and you really can’t rearrange the furniture. My living room has a 3 seat sofa, a chair, a recliner and i just put a little chest in there between the two chairs. That’s all I can fit in the room. Everything has to be against the wall. How do you make something like that feel new and fresh?

  15. Kathleen W.

    This is such a great post ! I am not a seamstress but I can sew and make pillows, valances etc. I have learned so much from my mistakes. From my mistakes I have made great improvements in my skill !

  16. Ronnie Gunn Tucker

    Thanks for this “letter”, Marian. I took Home Ec. in High School for three years and fell in love with sewing for the same reason you have. I could sew my own clothes and look different than my classmates. I wish I still had all those Butterick and Simplicity patterns for A line dresser and tunics!
    My sewing machine hasn’t seen the light of day for years, but now you have me thinking again…. 🙂
    P.S. I’m dying to know the purpose for the little screw eye on the apron of your dining room table.

  17. beverlee

    I have been a ‘sewer’ since I was 10 yrs. old, and I can’t tell you the freedom that has given me. A confidence that helps with so many other things. I still make huge mistakes sometimes. Start over.
    I would really like to see your thoughts again on cleaning your house. You say it so well, and sometimes, you can see what need to be ‘made over’ looks so much better if it is clean and straight.

  18. Victoria


    I really appreciate how you have stepped up recently, having asked us readers our opinions about the blog. I didn’t realise but some of the earlier posts from this year were falling a little flat for me. I notice it now, because I see the contrast with the last few posts. I’m excited to read again and I think the open way you asked people, took the criticism well, and have let it drive you and flood you with new ideas is admirable.

    Well done, keep up the good work. I like the new dear reader idea.

  19. Hope Williams

    I sooooooo needed this post!!!
    I am attempting to learn to sew….. I bought a machine from a local church about 5 months ago. It’s been in the repair shop for 3 of those. (He’s fighting cancer). I’m going to jump in and play!
    I’ve got a couple questions:
    1. What/how to determine right needle?
    2. Tension of bobbin and thread?
    Mine has this issue of it sees fine for about 1 foot. Then the bobbin side just goes berserk! (Hence staying in shop).
    Thank you for all your encouragement!

    • marian

      So glad I could help! As far as the needle, there are needles to light, medium, heavy and super heavy duty and they are labeled on the package.

      As far as the thread tension, it depends on what you’re working on, but you can adjust it, usually using a dial on the front of the machine. Sometimes if you’re having snags, loops, etc., it’s because the thread tension is set too high or too low.

  20. Barbara Schnepper

    I am so inspired by you and your can-do attitude. I have been sewing since I was very young. My mom sewed out of necessity – far cheaper than buying us clothes at the store. For me there was never any doubt that I would sew even after earning a C in sewing class in middle school. I make mistakes but who doesn’t. I have learned that it was important to follow the instructions of the pattern – no shortcuts. Thank you for inspiring me & so many.

  21. Trish

    I’ve been trying to sew and was inspired by your slipcover tutorials….perhaps not the easiest project when you are new to sewing, but I will continue to try. Just trying to run my second-hand machine is stressful, but I’m getting better!

  22. Bea

    Your comment about using Free or cheap fabric or your first sewing experience is right on. I have been sewing for 30 years but still to this day if its a hard pattern or expensive fabric I will do a test run on a old sheet first just to make sure .

  23. Andrea

    I love you.
    You’ve read my mind. Again.
    Thank you.

  24. Lisa

    How did you know my sewing machine has been sitting on the shelf? I have a running list of pillows, slip covers and curtains dancing through my head. Now, if I could just get that darn needle threaded. ?. Thanks for the pep talk!

  25. JudyCinNC

    Topic: Dear Reader …

    I would love for you to address the issue of trendy fabrics vs. timeless fabrics and how they should fit into out lifestyle and why. I see geometrics of every description on the walls, floors, sofas, chairs and beds in other’s homes and wonder what will replace it next year when someone sitting in a position of power to influencer decides we are only doing plaid and stripes this year !!!

    I cannot bring myself to buy something in the trendy geometric design that is currently so popular knowing that it is going out of style in the next year or so. The industry pushes these geometrics so hard that sometimes even I have a hard time finding decent fabric to make a pillow for my cottage home. IMHO Judy C

  26. Betsy

    Hi Marian –

    I am not afraid to sew, but FURNITURE painting concerns me (back in 2004 when I was getting ready to host a family reunion, I decided to paint an old black stained rocking chair in cream to match a recently redone room. I went to the paint store, armed with pictures of the chair (which was a mission-style with flat slats), and was told to use OIL paint. Now, I am a master at using latex paint – rolling, cutting in, fine detail work – not a problem. However, for this particular job, it was a disaster. After painting it the first time, I hated how it looked, so I ended up letting it dry, re-sanding the worst bits, and repainting. It took 3-4 days, and most of my sanity. While it’s held up beautifully, I have another project that I want to do, and am terrified. I am going to be purchasing the Kamran French Restoration bookcase/wall unit from Wayfair soon, and I’d like it to be black for the room that it’s being used in. Unfortunately, it only comes in pearl white in this style, so I am contemplating painting it once it arrives. I am concerned, however, as I don’t want to do a lot of sanding (so I’m considering milk or chalk paint), but I’d like to have no brush marks or streaks and an eggshell finish. Any advice you can give me would be welcome!

    Thanks –


  27. Claudia

    Timely, timely post, Marian! I too would like to tackle a couple of slip covers and draperies. I’ve had the fabric for years, and I still love it. I just this week decided to go for it, I’d rather mess it up and fail, than die with it still on the bolt in my sewing room.
    Question: I have a simple wing back recliner…is that something you have ever attempted, or is it best left to the professional?

  28. Virginia

    This post came at the perfect time for me. I have had my grandmother’s sewing machine for about a year. I learned the basics of how to use it, and I made a set of pillow covers. They were not as great as I wanted them to be though. While the seams were straight, I made them a little too small for the pillows, and they just don’t look quite right. I have been using them, but recently came across loads of fabulous fabric at a thrift store and have been wanting to make new (and hopefully better) pillow covers to replace them. I have been putting it off though because I have been afraid that they will turn out like the last ones. I don’t care anymore, though. After reading your post, I’m going to give it a shot. The worst thing that can happen is that I waste a little inexpensive fabric. Thanks for the little push!

  29. Carla

    I took sewing in high school and hated it. But when I got married in my 20’s I wanted things I couldn’t afford. As I looked at curtains and other bedroom items I realized it was almost all sewing straight lines. If I wanted to make something and couldn’t figure out how I bought it and looked at it and then returned it after I understood what I was looking at. I made a balloon curtain this way. My mother actually did not believe I had made it. But compared to making a garment it was a piece of cake. I am much older now and I have a new sewing machine that I don’t much care for so I took a class to learn how to use it better. For $30 I became much more confident of my machine. Having a machine you feel comfortable with is very important. Loved this post.

    • Winnie

      You are SO right, Carla. Years ago I did alterations for people, and I always said I learned more from taking those garments apart than any other effort I put into learning!!!

  30. Judy

    I’m still waiting for the double piping tutorial. Or, did I miss it. I plan to use it on a baby wingback chair that I am reupholstering. Will be doing it in October, so was hoping to get a bit of instruction/tips from you on that.

  31. Sarah Phillipps

    I would love your thoughts on how to incorporate a wood stove into a room. We have a very large wood stove that sits out away from the wall a ways and really dominates the room, we actually call the room the “fireside room” because of its ominous presence.

    Our house is a farmhouse built in 1906 and the wood stove is our only real heat source so I can’t just remove it. But, I would like to work with it better than I have. No painting or slipcovering that crazy thing!

    I can send pictures if you like.

  32. Cami

    I am right there with you. Sewing is a skill I am so happy that I have and affects every single space – not because I love it that much, but because I love what you can do with this skill. I for one, would love to hear you talk about balancing a blogging career with kids and family. I’m just getting mine rolling and I feel so overwhelmed at times. You’ve been going at this longer and I would love to hear your ups and downs and ways to manage it all. Balance. The great juggling act of life! 😉 Thanks for all your words!

  33. mary m young

    Marian, Several years ago I used your slipcover tutorial to cover my dog’s chair in doggie fabric. Can’t tell you how many times I had to run back to the computer tutorial either to bail myself out or what to do next. Did it come out perfect? No but love it just the same and it makes one smile.
    Just this morning our golden retriever Lucy “went to sleep.” All day I have been wondering what to do with the chair as I wanted to keep it because it is a great chair. Your topic was perfect and fired me up. I decided to use some heavy cream color fabric and use the doggie piping to make
    a new slip cover. If I depended upon perfection my sewing machine would be on eBay!

  34. Alice

    Amazingly great idea for a series of posts … I’m inspired!!

  35. Hippie's Chick

    What a great idea and it couldn’t come at a more perfect time for me! The kitchen and bathroom are going under a major reno in 30 days (closing is on Sept 9th). I am so excited. For the living room, I am going to change the throw pillows and curtains for now and of course strip the “lovely” wallpaper and paint! Is there a way to upload a photo if we have questions about a specific item or room?

  36. Susan

    I have been following you for a long time and I think your, “you can do it” words are why you have such a following. You are so correct, things don’t have to be perfect and if we waited until we were perfect, or totally skilled, nothing, but nothing would get done. So thank you for reminding me and encouraging your readers that just giving a task an honest try is the best thing to do. You are a very talented person with great skills but you are so postive and supportive toward people who want to create in their homes.
    Sometimes good enough is good enough!

  37. G.S.

    There is an issue I want to address that encompasses a number of your websites: I live thousands of miles from where you live, in the middle of the great plains, Circumstances here are far different, so far as acquiring furniture pieces to “re-make,” “re-do,” and “re-design.”
    1. Furniture is NEVER found alongside the road, on the curb, etc. NEVER.
    2. There are no thrift stores, second-hand stores, etc. as sources for items to “re-do.”
    3. This is a small town in a rural community, populated by good, hard-working rural people, who buy inexpensive (chipboard) furniture and big, poufy, cheap upholstered pieces at a nearby “big box” store, wear it out (it falls apart quickly), and then haul it off to the local landfill (to then buy more of the same). There isn’t a “French chair” (or the like) for miles and miles and miles.
    4. I have no relatives to donate pieces to me. Period. End of report. I’ve lived elsewhere & understand what you’re saying, but it is of absolutely NO help to me here.

    • marian

      I totally get what you’re saying. A couple of summers ago, we were driving through a sparsely populated part of Utah and one of my thoughts was, “Where do people shop?!” I live in a rural area, but I can drive 30-45 minutes to hit some good antique stores, thrift shops, retail stores, etc. So, to those who live in an even more remote area, I know it’s a challenge.

      Here’s what I would suggest…

      Shop online! You can find tons of furniture and antiques on Etsy and eBay that people are willing to ship. I would also order from home retail stores like Overstock, Joss & Main, Ikea, Pottery Barn, etc. I ordered almost everything for my bathroom makeovers online from Amazon, including the tile, toilets, sinks, light fixtures, etc.

      I would take a road trip to visit family or friends in locations where there is good thrifting or shopping and load up my car/van/truck/trailer with things to take home.

      Also, I wouldn’t give up on Craig’s List altogether. Things travel in the US as people move, inherit piece from family members, etc, so something good might pop up once in a while.

      I’m sorry my advice isn’t as relatable to you as it is to other readers. I know different areas in the world have different things to offer and different limitations. I look at some of the Instagram feeds of people living in France, showing the cafes and beautiful flea markets and, well, what we have here just isn’t the same. Maybe I can visit one day, though…

      I think, in the end, it’s about blooming where you’re planted. And I hope you find a way to do that. 🙂

  38. Janine R

    I sew every day and have been sewing for decades so I feel like I can jump in with some advice. First off, that Singer on your table isn’t a very good machine. I worked several years for a Viking dealer and we sold some Singers, including that one, so I know how many problems there were with it. Nothing will put you off sewing than a machine that doesn’t work properly. If any of you ladies are planning on buying new, stay away from Wal Mart machines, Costco, etc. Buy from a dealer and google reviews on the machine model before you buy. Used machines can be great, if you know what to buy. If not, ask a sewing friend their opinion or to go with you to the store. Lots of help online for learning how to-Craftsy has many classes and some are free. Nancy Zieman, “Sewing with Nancy” of Nancy’s Notions has lots of TV sewing programs online and IMHO, she is the BEST teacher ever. And lastly, just practice sewing staright and curved lines, over and over until you can stay online.

    • Judy

      Thanks so much for the tip regarding buying a Singer at Walmart. Was just thinking about doing that. I needed one as a second machine. I have a model 830 Bernina which I bought new in 1968 and still use it. Just wanted a plain little machine for straight sewing in my summer home. Think I’ll go to the Bernina store and see if they have any used machines.

      • mary m young

        The Singer’s of today are not what our mothers and grandmother had believe me. I have a
        Viking as well. My best advice is to get yourself an old Singer Featherweight. They were sold from 1934 to 1964. They are heavy, compact, fit in a black box and will sew through rocks. I taught my 6 year old granddaughter on it and she felt very comfortable. My Viking
        does have issues with heavy fabric so I usually go to my featherweight.

  39. karen piehl

    idea: what to look for when picking furniture to paint.

    idea: do you ever re-paint something you’ve painted because you did not like it?

  40. Winnie

    I agree that perfection shouldn’t be a short term goal But you do really need to care as a sense of pride that it looks good when you’re done! If you don’t care, then you can sew for a lifetime and never be very satisfied with finished products! Caring means trying and learning . . .

  41. Karen U

    I love this new series! You are the one that encouraged me to sew slipcovers and pillows for my home, and to not be afraid to try things. One other thing I do love that you’ve done, is the use of different fabrics. I would love to see a Dear Reader on mixing fabrics without fear. (And without going overboard ) 😉

  42. Dorothy Bruner

    I have always disliked sewing since I sewed the side of my finger on the skirt we had to make in jr. high many many years ago. My mother could only make gathered skirts and someone asked me if she was planning on making my wedding dress over 53 years ago. We both nearly fell on the floor laughing at the image of me walking down the aisle in yards and yards of a gathered skirt wedding dress with a placket at the waist as she didn’t do zippers . My main problem was understanding what the directions meant. I was able to make little one piece jumpers like John John Kennedy wore and as he grew older he was horrified that I put those on him and they only needed grommets. Thus my sewing career went down the drain and I took up tennins. (My mom was a great tennis player) Now, many years into our marriage, I have no place for furniture so I’ll stick to the painting. I still have Mom’s sewing macing with the original sales slip and extra parts from the early ’40s, but somehow just can’t part with it.

  43. Jerelle

    Thanks for the inspiration, yet again! You inspired me years ago to START sewing. My very first project was seat covers with a pleaded skirt for my dining room chairs. They were born out of watching many of your tutorials. If you lift the seat cover up and look underneath, you can see all my frustrations, extra thread and unfinished edges. I have learned a lot since then!

  44. Jude Jones

    Angela Walters, a famous long-arm quilter in the quilting world, says “finished is better than perfect” and she had that mantra put on wrist bands for the quilt shows and she uses it all the time. While her quilting is more than perfect, she started at some point where we are all starting. Your post went right along with it.
    Thanks for everything, you are a wonderful incentive to all of us out there.

  45. Diane

    Oh Marian, I could cry, seriously. I was thinking about this just last night. I have sewn a pillow cover or 2 in the very far past. I did okay, but it was overwhelming because when I messed up I didn’t know how to correct the mistake. I’m embarrassed to say my living room sofa was bought in 1991 and because if financial issues I haven’t purchased another. I love my sofa and have longed and even shed tears over the fact that I can’t afford for someone else to make a slipcover for it. I think of so many things I could do if I could sew. Thank you for this post. I am going to try my hand at sewing once again. Love your blog.

  46. Kelly Patto

    Perfect post for me! I bought a sewing machine a year and a half ago with good intentions. It’s sitting in my office still in the box……

    Now I feel inspired so this weekend, it’s coming out of the box and I am going to start just sewing two pieces of fabric together. Thanks for the encouragement!

  47. Mills

    This post is so timely…again! You really do inspire me to move some mountains. I repainted my 7-yr-old son’s room, replacing his not-very-good-but-he-loved-it-Winnie-the-Pooh-that-Mommy-painted-before-he-was-born mural, with a creamy white, with bold red stripe around the room.

    I bought an $80 vintage dresser (antique store) on which I’ll be painting a Union Jack (he’s an Anglophile) and yesterday, I started work on 4 panels of royal blue and white check curtains.

    You provide just the right nudge at just the right time! My 23-yr-old Husqvarna had quite a LOT of dust on it (haven’t used it in 8 years, and before that only sporadically), but the dust came off and I have 2 panels almost done. You’re absolutely right about not worrying if it’s not perfect – why wait 10 years for perfection and do without in the meantime. You reminded me it’s okay to deal with the imperfections as we see our skills increase over time.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. I get so many ideas on how I can improve the look and feel of our 225-yr-old farmhouse! Once I’m done with the curtains for ALL the rooms in our house, I’m going to tackle slipcovers (including piping and maybe, just maybe ZIPPERS!)

  48. Naomi S.

    Marian, I think your idea for a series of “Help Column” postings is great!

    Reading the above comments was interesting because sewing is so daunting to so many of the other women. I have been sewing since I was around ten or eleven and I learned on my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. However, I can recall a few sessions when I would get in quite a fit when things weren’t turning out quite right or I was having some trouble with the machine. Grandma always calmed me down, however! Such patience as she had!

    I learned to sew primarily because I wanted more clothes than my mother would buy me and in those days it was quite a bit cheaper to sew them than to buy them. Looking at fabric prices these days, I doubt that is true anymore. But I think I made almost all my clothing during high school and into college. I sewed darling dresses for my two daughters who are now in their thirties and forties, but have done very little since then. I’m wanting to get back to it now, though, and even bought myself a simple little Janome machine a couple years ago. But so far I haven’t found the time. It was always such an important factor in expressing my creativity that I miss it quite a lot.

    One thing I’ve never wanted to do and tho’t I really couldn’t do is upholstery. But, now, I am seeing some old chairs that I would like to be able to refurbish for my living room. The room needs some serious up-dating and my budget doesn’t allow for purchasing new furniture items, so I am considering trying my hand at a simple upholstery project. I’d like to experiment with a drop-cloth slip cover, but I’m wondering whether I would need a heavier duty sewing machine to stitch on that type of fabric. Did you use your regular, everyday machine for that?

    I’ll be looking forward to your next helping discussion and to hearing what others are wanting to hear about.

  49. Vikki

    I loved this post. I think you are so right on with your advice. I am an experienced seamstress but have as yet to make slip covers for my furniture. Why? Because I know it will take me at least a week per chair I want to do since I am a perfectionist. I have been sewing since I was 5 when my mom taught me how to thread a needle and I stitched up doll clothes by hand. I then graduated to the treadle machine which my mom used to make us clothes at that time. I love to sew but since I am a perfectionist in all that I do it does sometimes make me crazy. Some times I just have to say good enough, who is going to see the back? But I say to all you sweet ladies out there who are afraid to sew what one of my friends once told me, “You have to be like a turtle, you never get anywhere unless you stick out your neck. What is the worst thing that can happen? It won’t turn out and you will have to try again. No one is born knowing how to do anything well, it is practice all the time.

    Thanks for a great post and your kind answers to those of us who are your readers.

  50. Laura W

    Marian, great post! Lots of comments, but I just had to add my 2 cents worth. I love sewing and used to make a living making childrens clothing so I sewed from dawn to dusk.

    My thoughts on sewing are: buy a good used machine, you will not have the problems that a cheap Walmart sewing machine will. It may cost a little more but is so worth the investment in your frustration level. Possibly do research online and then check craigslist or ebay or local sewing shops.

    And then you need a decent iron. Pressing fabric so you cut pieces evenly or matching seams is very important to a good finished product.

    And last, invest in good scissors. Again, you will not have the same issues you have with cheap Walmart scissors and you’ll end up with a better finished product.

    Pillows, placemats, table runners, tote bags are all good starting projects. And all of Marians suggestions are perfect. Just try. And try again. And take a break when you get frustrated. An old sewing instructor on TV’s mantra was ‘As you sew, so shall you rip’.

  51. Brenda Attaway

    I am longing to know how to find good real antique pieces for my house like little tables and bookshelves. I can find chests all day long, but not good accent tables. They all look cheesy, even were I to paint them. Thoughts? Where do you find yours?

  52. Lynn

    What a timely post! I grew up with a mom and aunt who both loved to sew. I can remember many a weekend spent camped out with my cousins with popcorn and movies while our moms sewed into the wee hours. Everything from clothes to crafts to upholstering. I have said many a time oh how I wish I had paid attention and had the patience to learn. I recall early on in my marriage when my husband had to sew a button on for me! My daughter is 10. Two years ago she sewed and stuffed a pillow all by herself! She has sewn holes in her stuffed animals- she decided she wanted to learn and she just did it! For her last birthday we got her a sewing machine. My mom, who is 79 now, has been spending a day a week giving sewing ” lessons”. My daughter has learned how to thread the machine, wind the bobbin, and today she made a little pillow set all on her own! She was so proud of herself. I’m sitting in on the next lesson- I see a new shower curtain in my future!!
    Thank you for all the inspiration Marian. I’m a long time reader. I love your blog, really have enjoyed your new series- no complaints of the old ones !

  53. Karen

    Marian, I loved this post! I have been sewing for over 25 years and LOVE it! But I can still remember when I didn’t know how to sew and how intimidating it was.

    My recommendation to anyone wanting to learn to sew is to start with an easy pattern. Keep in mind as you choose a pattern that the fewer pieces the easier the project. Or, take a class from a vocational school or JoAnn Fabrics. One class will give you the courage to try more and more difficult projects.

    I would love to hear a post on the computer promoting of blogging. Not how you got started, but how to promote your works. Like, how to instagram, tweek, etc. I mean, what is the deal with the hashtags, etc…?

  54. Maaike

    What a great post!!! I love sewing, and I completely agree – sewing and painting are two skills that are never wasted!!! I can’t wait to see what your next series will be, I’ve been so enjoying the current ones!!
    And for another “dear reader” post; how about a similar pep talk for those of us who are scared of ruining our freshly (milk) painted furniture with botched hand drawn birds, leaves, etc.? I love what you do (that dresser with the tree on it!!!), but feel NO confidence that I can emulate you.

  55. Nancy

    Marian, did you know that my machine, forlorn and dusty in the attic almost caused me to break leg the other day? Poor thing is begging to be used.
    I need to give it another try. It’s not my favorite and I am ashamed because my grandma was a seamstress and my mom is great at sewing and needlecraft but I got a 65 in middle school sewing class

  56. Natalie

    Please teach us what to use, and how to best clean soiled/dirt caked, or rusty antique and vintage pieces we buy/acquire. I have a rusty vintage aqua kitchen scale and a red painted wooden child’s chair I need to know how to clean.

  57. Sally

    This was an encouraging post. I’ve wanted to learn how to sew as I got older, but just the thought intimidated me. I get an anxiety attack trying to sew a button on! I would break out into a sweat if I had to hem something! Does JoAnns Fabrics really give beginner sewing lessons?m

  58. Rose

    Love your “how your business began” series, very informative and encouraging. You had mentioned before that Jeff might do a few posts on tools. I would love to learn about the Kregg jig, and routers. I’m already proficient with all of the other basic power tools.

  59. Barbara Bussey

    Great post…great ideas. Yes, the time to learn your machine, is not when you have to make a dead-line, or pick the kids up from school in an hour. Give it time and a chance to breath. For one week, turn the dining room table into a work room, to experiment in. Have I learned how to do piping, upholstery, quilting? No, but one thing I do know, is that it can’t be rushed by a dead-line.

  60. Cheryl

    Thank you for this post Marian!! I have been scared to sew for years and years. I have a love seat I bought material for in hopes to make a slip cover for it. I bought a sewing machine years ago and have never used it because I can’t figure it out, lol. You should be a happy blogger because you have encouraged me to do something, I am going to enroll in a beginners class some where and sew my slipcover, yay! Thank you, thank you and thank you.

  61. Lee

    I love this post! I desperately want to get back into sewing, all the pillows, curtains, table runners are calling my name! Can you recommend a basic, dependable machine that can do zippers and maybe buttonholes?

  62. Sherry

    You had already inspired me before this post. I have a chair that I have been wanting to redo but I was intimidated about sewing a new cushion cover for it. The chair has sat waiting for a year now. I recently inquired about having someone just make the cushion for me and me do the rest but I didn’t want to pay $75.00 for 1 stinking cushion. Finally after reading through your blog and hearing how you just started making those things I found the courage to just throw cation to the wind and do it myself. I am happy to say that I DID IT! I finished the cushion last night and will be working on the rest of the chair over the next few days. I will let you know when it’s done. 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration and sharing your beautiful home with us.

  63. Jessica

    Hi Marian,

    Great post! And yes, I completely agree… I’ve had times I’ve been SOO frustrated with my machine… My $50 walmart machine and I weren’t on speaking terms after sewing an upholstery fabric cushion, it’s a little wonky, but hey, it’s okay!

    Quick question, can you share the source for the blue floral pillow fabric on your couch?


  64. Antonella

    Thanks for the new series: I’d like to suggest the topic of how to clean older things (how to wash textiles, how to remove “crud” from metal, wood etc).

    Hope this interests other people as well 🙂

  65. Lauren Baxter


    This is a great new series! I love your content lately, it feels much more you and helpful and real 🙂

    Thanks for sharing! As I am a sewing hater and really should practice and get back into it for my future kids & career enevours

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor

  66. Erin

    I looked like a bobble head while reading this because I couldn’t agree more! I also don’t love sewing (or painting) but I do love how both transform my home. I make a lot of drapes and pillows, and normally when people come to visit our house for the first time, those are the things they complement is on. Thanks for this nudge, and it makes me feel good that I’m not the only one who wants to chuck her machine out the window sometimes.

  67. Debbie

    What a great post! I, in the last year, have gotten back into sewing. I made most of my clothes in high school, even a prom dress. I’d add details like covered buttons which I had embroidered! Very creative…..Life intervened and I put my machine aside. One day I looked at some clothing and realized, “Good grief, I can make that for just about nothing!”. Pulling out the machine, I happily started making my skirt….as my two youngest kids bounced around the room and on the bed. My skirt went together beautifully and I excitedly tried it on to mark the place for the buttonhole! Looking at myself in the mirror, I put my hands in the in-seam pockets….backwards….yep, I’d excitedly pinned the pockets in backwards, sewn them in backwards, sewn the waistband on top of the pockets that were….backwards…..I calmly took off the skirt, rolled it up, and put it in a sack. The next time I donated to GoodWill, it was in that pile. Twenty-five years have passed, with only small projects and repairs being done. Kids are grown, I’m retired….and I’m gonna get back at it. You’re my inspiration!

    • marian

      Funny, but only 25 years later! I actually helped “mini mustard seed”, if you remember her, with making a dress. She brought a pattern and fabric to me and asked for help, since I “know what I’m doing.” I warned her that I really didn’t, because I hadn’t used a pattern to make anything since I was 11 years old (a halloween costume with my mom.)

      We pinned and cut out the fabric and I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing, but then I realized that we didn’t have anywhere near enough pieces cut out to make an entire dress. And I was right. I didn’t “book” the fabric, so we had enough to only make half a dress! And I ruined her fabric, since it was already cut in little pieces.

      So, I hear you, Debbie! 🙂

  68. Krista

    This series is a fantastic idea and I loved this post!! Thank you! I do have a suggestion for the “Dear Reader” series, “What are you afraid of?” What I mean by this is I have ideas, plans, goals for my own business/craft projects but I always put them off. I’m too busy with house cleaning, gardening, and kids to just do my own thing. So I never ‘do my own thing’. And I wonder why. Why can’t I just make time for me to do what I want to do? Certain things can wait so why don’t I try? I think I’m just afraid to do it. How did you do it? How were you able to justify time on what you wanted to do when you first started out? Do you know what I mean?

  69. Cindy

    Oh man, you totally nailed it for me, and i’m sure a lot of others out there who are intimidated by their sewing machine. I have one, but have only used it once or twice. I may take another look at it with a different eye now, because there is this fabric i really want made into a pillow!


  70. Martha

    Thank you for this. Great post. My mother was a good seamstress & my sister nearly an expert but I’ve always disliked sewing. I am, however, a fabricholic & get a thrill out of finding a beautiful piece & envisioning how it will look in my home. I’ve bitten the bullet & forced myself to embrace my. 50 year old hand-me-down Singer & am now proud to say that every window treatment in my home was made by me, as well as most of the pillows & a few slipcovers. It’s always great to hear that others have struggled & don’t always wind up with a perfect finished product! As always, you are the soul of encouragement!

  71. Melanie

    No matter how many times I have tried, sewing and card games just don’t fit into my brain. I desperately would like to learn to sew (I ask my mom all the time why she didn’t teach me when I was a kid!), but all of my previous efforts have been utter, total disasters. Maybe, just maybe though I will give it a try again 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement. As for card games, that is probably a lost cause. I will never be able to play spades.

  72. peggy smith

    What an interesting post. it seems there are so few that can sew anymore. I used to sew all the time. I enjoyed and it was proud of many things I made. I made sure that I taught both of my daughters to sew. But neither sew now that they are grown. One simply doesn’t have time and I think the other one sees it as something I did because we couldn’t afford to buy the things I made. What she missed was that sewing was my creative outlet. The only other thing I would like to add is about the machine. Yes, use what you have but if you enjoy sewing but hate the fight you have with your machine start saving your pennies. The machine can make all the difference in the world. A few years back my niece wanted a machine. Her mom bought her one at a chain store when they were on sale. My sister bought their top of the line but that thing was a piece of junk. Anyone that tried to use that thing would have given up on sewing FOREVER…and felt like a failure!!!!!! A quality machine is worth every dime and will last forever.


Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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