Choosing a sewing machine – good luck!

One of the questions we get asked the most is ‘how do I choose a sewing machine?’ We don’t profess to be experts on this – we use very old, very nice 1930s Singer sewing machines which do just what we want (most of the time!), but they’re not high tech and weren’t the result of a lot of research. There’s a quote from Poppy in our little film for the Eden project where she says ‘you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a good one’ and that is certainly true of the way we work.  Our machines have come from car boots, the dump, charity shops and the odd sewing machine shop (oh yes and ebay).  Quite often chosen because they’re pretty! We have about 13 of them in our studio at the last count!

One of our beauties in the studio we use on a daily basis - and nothing else!

One of our beauties in the studio we use on a daily basis – and nothing else!

Deciding on what machine to go for largely depends on what you want to do with your machine…..Do you want to just do a bit of dressmaking with an array of fancy stitches?  Some serious upholstery projects?  Or just have a play with freehand machine embroidery?

    • If you’re after something to see you through some really tough fabric, then a ‘flatbed’ machine is probably best – these are bigger, more industrial-type machines that take up more room but will serve you well when it comes to making curtains and other bigger projects.
    • Most modern machines will have a selection of decorative and functional stitches, some digital sewing machines will even do the sewing for you – you don’t even need to put your foot on the pedal!  Modern machines are great but we have found that a few people who own a new machine have said they are very light weight, even ‘throw away’ quality.  We think it depends how much you will be using your machine.  If it’s just for the occasional small sewing job, these would be fine.
    • If it’s the freehand machine embroidery you want to have a go at, then most machines old and new will have the ability to do this – it just takes a little practice to get used to the technique.


Your best bet to start with is your local sewing shop as they will have a wealth of experience on the subject, although be clear on your budget before you go in and don’t let yourself be seduced by the array of possibilities! It’s a good idea to write a list of what you want the machine to do first and then you’’ll know whether those extra features are of value to you or not. Experience says you should look for a machine that is metal rather than plastic and quite heavy and sturdy.

Our machines have a little screw on the undercarriage which allows you to drop the feed dogs and then we hold our fabric stretched tight in an embroidery hoop but if you can’t find one which does this then you can purchase a metal plate that covers the feed dogs whilst you’re sewing. We don’t use an embroidery foot when we’re stitching but again this is something you may have to experiment with for yourself, kissing frogs again!

Our Freya who makes all our lovely badges.

Our Freya who makes all our lovely badges.

Once you have your sewing machine you’ll find most bunching-up and bobbin-snarling issues are down to tension of the cloth, the machine and you! So you just need to play with it, and relax, till you get it right.

We hope you don’t have to kiss too many frogs!


A crafty day at my new job!

Hello, it’s Sarah. I have been working in the Poppy Treffry shop in St. Ives for nearly 2 months now and I thought it was about time I tried out some of this freehand machine embroidery! I attended one of Poppy’s courses last Friday and had such a great time. I am used to a sewing machine so that was a bonus but there were a few on the course that hadn’t even sewn before and everyone still completed their piece by the end of the day. Poppy was really friendly and helpful and explained everything in a simple step by step way so that it wasn’t too taxing! The course took place at the studio at Penzance, it was nice to see the environment that all the products are made in. It was a sunny day and Poppy had the doors flung open to let the summer sunshine & breezes flood in. It is such a lovely place to make and create, I’m very jealous as I would love a studio for making and crafting; I’ll have to put up with the tiny spare room office at home for now!

the stichers at work

So the day started off with a meet and greet with Poppy and my fellow stitchers for the day. Of course there was immediately a cup of tea served in Poppy Treffry mugs. I had the boat one! Poppy demonstrated how to stretch the fabric tightly in the embroidery hoop, this is the basis of freehand embroidery and is very important as it doesn’t work properly if your fabric is too loose. Once this was done we could start having a go at sewing. We each had a singer sewing machine and sat down to start stitching away. The first hour or two was spent having a play and getting to know the techniques and getting used to the machine with a few Poppy demonstrations for appliqué in between. I seemed to stitch variations of flowers and leaves, so it was clear that this would feature in my final design. I had quite a scribbly style which was handy as if it didn’t go quite inside the lines, I could say I was meant to do that! Others were more precise and neat; the lady next to me was a teacher and she was amazing at freehand embroidery writing. It was good as everyone had a unique style! When we got to a point that we were happy, we could start thinking about the design we wanted to create in the afternoon. Once it got to 1 o clock it was time for lunch so we walked across the road to the beautiful Trereife House where we all had lunch together in their café and a little walk round the garden. The food was lovely and it was the first time I had tried potted stilton and frosted grape – find something similar here

my design laid out ready to stitch

After lunch and some sunshine it was back to the studio to get started on our pieces. You can either make a bag, cushion, tea cosy, egg cosy or a purse. I chose a cushion with of course a floral design. I sketched out what I wanted it to look like on paper and selected and cut out my appliqué pieces, took a deep breath and made a start. At first I thought it was going to take forever but as you get going you get quicker and before I knew it, it was 3 o clock and time for more tea and biscuits. Then it was just some finishing off, some ironing and then to actually sew the cushion and, tadah, it was complete! We put everyone’s creations together on the sofa and stood back to admire with a sigh and a sense of achievement. We even got a little goody bag to take home with us.

Our finished pieces or art! Cue smug faces!

I was so pleased with what I had produced in a day, I met a lot of nice people and it was great to work with Poppy in her inspiring studio. Now I can tell everyone that comes into the shop how amazing the course is and that everyone should have a go at freehand embroidery as it really is very fun, and quite addictive!

My lovely cushion in it’s new home!


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