year in review

The Best Thing I Bought This Year: An Aqua-Blue Sewing Machine for Teenagers

Photo: Katherine Gillespie

I spent year one of the pandemic defiantly backsliding in terms of self-improvement, picking up few new skills and devoting most of my spare time to refreshing Twitter and a select few cherished group chats. But by the time 2021 dawned, I was exhausted by the discourse and found myself on a belated homestead hobbyist kick after all. Bread baking was too basic, woodwork a safety hazard. Picking up a book was obviously out of the question. So I settled on sewing and started scrolling around in search of the perfect entry-level machine.

With a shredded attention span and only scattered recollections of high-school home economics, I knew I needed something designed for complete beginners with clearly decipherable instructions for tasks like bobbin winding, needle threading, and adjusting stitch length. Obviously, most pieces of mechanical equipment come with a manual, but what sold me on the aptly named Janome Easy-to-Use Sewing Machine was its series of accompanying YouTube videos apparently aimed at teenagers looking to hem their Depop jeans. (It was also available in no fewer than three Urban Outfitters–esque colorways — a nice contrast to other sewing machines out there, many of which have a distinct “midwestern quilter” ’90s design sensibility, no offense.)

With Janome’s calmingly paced videos as a guide, setting up the machine was effortless. I went through the playlist a few times before I felt confident enough to sew, but seeing the machine in action was much more beneficial than pouring over a series of vaguely detailed diagrams before giving up and texting someone to meet at a bar. While there are a million free learn-to-sew videos out there, machines tend to vary wildly across brands and models when it comes to crucial setup tasks (especially bobbin placement), so it’s a real advantage to watch a tutorial that’s specific to the one you’re using.

Post setup, I’ve found that the Easy to Use Machine is neither over- nor underloaded with features, which is ideal for beginners and the easily confused. You probably won’t be quilting family heirlooms with it or enrolling at FIT, but you can definitely make simple dresses and cushion covers and, in my case, a wonderfully wonky bucket hat that my friends have been very polite about. The machine boasts 15 different stitches and comes with a buttonhole gizmo. Adjusting sewing speed using the presser foot is easy enough — you won’t feel like you’re totally in control as perhaps you would with higher-end sewing machines, but that’s half the fun.

Most important of all, and I cannot emphasize it enough: This thing is easy to switch on and use. Kind of the whole issue with sewing, at least for me, is I spend most of my time preparing to sew rather than actually sewing my way across a gorgeous piece of Etsy-sourced fabric. There’s the constant bobbin winding and rethreading, the finicky cutting of pattern pieces, the politics of grain alignment, the eyesight-destroying task of pinning little bits of paper and cloth on top of each other. There’s a lot more ironing involved than you’d think. Even dragging the heavy machine out of storage in the first place is a hassle that’s hard to surmount after a long day at work.

The reward, of course, is that big-reveal moment where you turn your construction right side out and discover that you — yes, you — constructed a whole entire seam. Take that, fast fashion! Janome’s beginner-friendly machine, while obviously gimmicky and aimed at Zoomers younger and cooler than myself, is a delight to own — and has given me many more of those moments than I could have hoped for. I’ll be flipping customized vintage finds on Depop any day now.

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The Best Thing I Bought in 2021: A Sewing Machine for Teens