How To Become a Paris Fashion Designer

This is the story of my “step one” to becoming a Paris runway fashion designer- Finding a sewing machine in the parking lot.

Since I relocated to this foreign nation of America, I’ve been overwhelmed by generosity. I’ve acquired a free computer, free monitor, $50 Cintiq (I paid $900 for the same one a few years ago,) free vacuum, furniture, lots of little things… In all cases they’re things I already own but had to leave behind in Canada. But one thing I still really missed was my sewing machine.

I had pants to hem, and needed to make a new cover for a big pillow. I had bought a $7 handheld sewing device but it didn’t work for what I needed. I tried hand stitching but it took too long. It got so desperate that I used a stapler! Really! When I was taking things apart to sew them for real I was like “Dang this is a lot of staples!” I was really frustrated.

But a couple months ago, shortly after I arrived in a new apartment, I saw it- The Parking Lot Sewing Machine. My building is small, and so is the lot. It (and a Hello Kitty toaster) were resting against the building’s wall covered in dirt. Since I was new to the place, I wasn’t sure about taking it. Are things left behind all the time? It’s not like it was in a trash heap or near the dumpsters. I left it and watched for a couple days. No one came for it. So I left a note and snatched the machine.

Original state- Sewing Machine covered in dirt

I cleaned it up enough that it wasn’t too gross to put in the closet, but that’s about it. There was no plug and no pedal, so I couldn’t test it. And I was busy in general. I even felt a little silly for bringing in trash. But I did look up the make and found that it was a basic good quality machine at least.

At work we have these weekly meetings where we have to answer ice breaker questions. It’s the worst 10 minutes of every week. But soon after I got the machine, a Q came up- something about hobbies or what you’d like to learn, I can’t remember. BUT the answer I gave was “I always wanted to make my own clothes… I have this fashion design idea.” WHICH I DO! It was always part of the “Goals Achieved” fantasy. So then when I went home I pulled out that machine. Hmmm.

I looked for signs of life. I didn’t want to open it up and start tinkering with it if it was a clearly lost cause. I tried to use a cord from a speaker that seemed compatible but nothing happened. The light didn’t come on. Maybe it was just the bulb tho? Wrong cord? No way to be sure. I hopped online. According to a sewing store, a compatible cord was $25 and a pedal was $80. For that price I could just get a lightly used Singer machine off FB. But that’s no fun.

There’s a vacuum/sewing repair shop very near me, just down Ventura. I called and asked if they had a cord I could borrow to at least test it and wow maybe even a pedal? In which case I’d hire them to do a tune up and repair. They gave me hope but then got a bit flaky and I got impatient.

In this time I had started doing some other repairs. The computer I was given didn’t have a hard drive. I opened it up to install a new drive and that reminded me how fun it is to tinker. Frankly, it was good for my confidence because at work we’re very dependent on tech support. That doesn’t really suit my personality and this made me feel like myself again. I also had recently realized that a clarinet I’d just gotten at a thrift store for $10 was better quality than a clarinet that I’d packed with me from home. The message was clear: People throw out good shit here and the machine may be worth the effort!! I decided to open it up and take a look.

However it required 3 different kinds of screwdrivers so I went to the dollar store to get a set. While there, I saw a power cord that looked like it could work? Not $25 like the web was asking, but $3. Worth a try, I picked it up.

Taking apart the machine was fun fun fun. Would there be a dead mouse inside? Maybe! Obvious water damage? Maybe! But really it wasn’t that bad. Just a bunch of cobwebs, dirt and leaf bits. But no rust or obvious broken parts. Yay!

Dirty sewing machine insides- my tetanus shots are up to date!

I cleaned it out. (Using the vacuum that I’d gotten for free and had also taken apart to repair!) One of internal connector plugs was loose so I pushed it in firmly. Then plugged in the dollar store power cord. Moment of truth… I swear it made a flickering buzz sound like in the movies and then… the light went on! I was SO excited!

Cleaned up machine insides with the power turned on!

I oiled, cleaned and tested the motion on various parts then put it together again. Sadly, I broke a piece on the top- a hinge- which made the flip up hood loose. There was also one part I won’t talk about that is still imperfect LOOKING but functional and I have to live with that because to at least get it functional took FOREVER. It’s one of those things that was next to impossible to see or reach but I bet there’s a special way explained in the service manual that makes it super easy. It was TOO impossible to be reasonable. Anyways, now it was put together and I had HOPE.

Machine looking clean, pretty, and promising.

I still didn’t have a foot pedal to make it go, but I tested all the stitches with the hand crank and they all worked as they should. Given that I had been using a stapler, even the prospect of hand crank sewing was better than what I’d been dealing with. But wow imagine if I could speed up that process with machine power!! I decided it was time to get a pedal. A guaranteed pedal was $80 plus shipping but another pedal was on Ebay for $25 all in. The Ebay one didn’t have my model listed as compatible but based on the list, it seemed it was in the right family and worth the risk. Okay- Now the pedal was on it’s way from China!

OH! But first I had gone out into the parking lot to see if maybe the missing pedal was still out there. The Hello Kitty toaster was still there, so it was possible. (And it’s still there- I took this pic today!)

The spot where sewing machines appear.

Even though it had been a few weeks, I did find some stuff! 2 more feet, making 4 total, an accessory for the light bulb and another thing for big seams. (I know what everything is and what it’s for because the user manual is available online.)

More goodies from the parking lot

Now I had to wait for my pedal to come from China. This was very hard to do because I REALLY wanted spend money and get $$-carried away-$$ at a fabric store. There’s a Michaels that’s a 5 minute walk up the street but I discovered it didn’t have much other than basics like standard needles. Which is probably for the best because if I do get $$-carried away-$$, a 5 minute walk is dangerously close.

Here’s a good part of the story- the pedal came early! I opened the mailbox and it fell out- surprise! And it was a Friday night so the universe was like “guess what YOU’RE doing this weekend!!” I got some pizza to celebrate. And then I ate the pizza and looked at the pedal. Best to draw out this moment of hope in case it will result in a let down. But then I was done gobbling pizza and it was time to test.

I put on my biggest pair of glasses before trying the pedal. I was afraid the machine would explode and maybe the needle would shoot right into my eye. In retrospect, I didn’t actually need the needle to be in to test the pedal. But anyways good news! THE PEDAL WORKED!! And I still have my beautiful eyes!!

Working sewing machine!

Okay this machine is from the 90’s so instead of bleep bloop computer buttons, the stitches are all on mechanical dials. They work in complicated combos- even to do very basic stuff. Those dots on the front are a legend to help you understand the combos… but they’re dots… and the dials aren’t labelled at all. After 3 hours with the manual, flipping the dials, I finally understood the dots and felt like I possessed great knowledge. But also quite dumb so I made labels to help me remember which I def needed already by the next day. Here are some stitches!!


There are 15 available stitches. However, the latter half are all doubles of the first half. Meaning you load a second spool of thread, and insert a double needle, and then all the first stitches are available in “double version.” My machine was missing one little post to hold a 2nd spool and I didn’t own a double needle so I could only test the first half- but they were all good!

Now GET THIS! The machine make is Husqvarna Viking and this is a Swedish brand I’ve never heard of before. Maybe it’s common in the States but I was floored when I realized that the official Viking sales center was ALSO super close to my house AND right on the bus line that I take every day to work. I just have to stay on the bus a few more minutes and it drops me right at the door. It seems like DESTINY is at play here… AM I MEANT TO BE A PARIS FASHION DESIGNER??? SHOULD I QUIT MY JOB?

I went for a $$visit$$. Who knows what accessories I could pick up! But when I got off the bus, the store wasn’t where google maps said it would be. I looked around and saw a store called “Joanns.” Hmmm. I remembered this store! It was used as a location suggestion in improv class and when I said “what’s that?” they explained to me that it’s basically the same thing as Faaaaabriclaaaaand (Fabricland!) Oh def I need to go in there!

It turned out the Joanns was also the home of the Viking store so I was in the right place… Store within a store. The lady there was SUPER helpful! She informed me that the retail price for the feet I’d found, if I’d bought them new, was $40- each. Wow… As an aside, I embarrassedly mumbled about how in my rescue efforts, I broke the hood hinge. There’s no way she could know just how much that irked me but she left and emerged with a replacement piece! I didn’t know such a thing was possible!! I was SO delighted!!

$3 replacement part saves me from a lifetime of hood-flap frustration and shame

The last bit was the “double stitch” spool holder. I had already been considering creating one with a 3D printer, thinking it would be impossible to find, and it turned out it was hard to get… she didn’t have it but another model’s version was only $1 so I figured may as well buy and try. On the way home a “FB Memories” post came up from 3 years ago about the last time I 3D printed something stupid which was a pretty big co-incidence seeing as I hadn’t printed anything since. However with a bit of mangling, the incompatible $1 post became compatible so no need to 3D print anything! That would have been fun tho!

The rest of the stitches!

LASTLY. The Joanns. What a store. My stars. Patterns run like $15-20 but they were having a sale. All Simplicity brand patterns were $1.99. I went nuts. Which means I got a huge stack of patterns for like $35… my receipt said “You saved 300 whatever dollars today!”

SO. I have everything I need… I’ll mend the things I’ve been waiting so long to do and thennnnn mayyyyybe I might sew something. I would not be surprised (or ashamed) at all if this is where the whole thing ends. In truth I’m a crappy sewer and have never been able to figure out tension… Having trouble with it now and always had trouble with it on my machine at home. So going from today to Paris Fashion Designer is a stretch. It’s a bit of a stretch.

But the fun of restoring the machine has been such a boost for me and I am excited to try and sew ONE easy thing, probably a skirt, and then wear it, and then say “Oh this? I made it myself!” *TWIRL TWIRL*

Here to end my post is a pic of the patterns I picked up. If anyone reads this, feel free to cast a vote for what I should make first! Don’t vote for the 70’s man-suit tho. As gorgeous as it would be on any man, it is beyond my current capabilities.

23 patterns… I may have gone back for more??

09/27/22- Update- I have solved my tension problem. Why don’t manuals ever mention bobbin tension? It’s ALWAYS the problem!

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