Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sewing Machine Repair: The Musical

More than once in my life - three times now that I can think of - I've had a very unfortunate experience with very unfortunately insulting mechanics, each encounter leaving me ready to call the BBB and/or wave sharp objects dangerously close to their crotchal regions and watch them yelp in horror.

My sunny outlook on the subject may have you correctly guessing that the third and most recent experience was this week. We'll get to that in a moment. But first, a trip down memory lane to examples one and two.

1. 1995. My almost new Plymouth Neon (ie Barbie's Dream Car) is not braking properly, and I am just about having to stand on the brake with both feet to avoid slamming into anything in my way. Concerned that this is a major problem as stopping is not generally optional in city driving, I take it to the local repair shop. Not naming names, but it is in Woburn MA and shares a name with a famous roast beef chain in the Boston area.
File:Kelly's Roast Beef Revere.jpg
I've actually never been, although I hear Ben and Matt love it.

I arrive and explain why I am there. Without even looking at my car, mechanic laughs and says "Oh, you must just not know how to brake properly. With women it is usually their high heels getting in the way."

Can. You. Even?

I could not, and stormed out. Mr Quilting Hottie, who at the time was just plain old Mr Me and just barely that as we were just barely married, takes my car to the same place the next day whilst standing on the brakes with two feet at every stop sign, demands an apology and for someone to actually look at the car before passing judgement on his wife's braking abilities and/or shoe choices. Cue "I Need a Hero." Lo and behold, my rotors were so far out of alignment that the pads were barely able to touch whatever it is they touch in the wheel to stop the thing.

Score one for me not being an idiot, beyond not knowing how a brake/tire combo really works. Score negative one for certain good old boys.

Not the culprit. Wear your heels confidently, hotties.
 2. 2010 - 2012. In another American-car related debacle during which time I pledge over and over again to Mr QH that I am putting a flag pole in the front yard and proudly waving a Japanese flag every day until he promises we will never again buy an American car*, my Buick Rendezvous goes through an 18 month period of randomly speeding up while I am driving, without benefit of my putting the foot on the gas. I kid you not, I more than once drove from my home to Nashua NH, more than 12 miles away, without ONCE putting my foot on the gas and continuously hitting the brake to slow it down about every 30 seconds. When put into park, the engine would rev up to about 4000 and the car would buck like a drunken bull. The girls were forbidden from walking in front of it even when it was turned off. Conveniently, every time we made an appointment to have it brought to the shop, this behavior would stop. However, the mechanics at a local place that shall remain nameless but it doesn't matter as they are out of business now anyway, checked it out and could find nothing wrong.

You know where this is going. The conclusion drawn by mechanic: "Are you SURE you are hitting the brake and not the gas? Because there is nothing wrong with this car and I wonder if you are mixing them up."

How is this for an explanation - You are an !@#(**^ to suggest such a thing. I have been driving for longer than you have been alive and unless the gas and brake have been switched by elves overnight, think of another possibility.

After 12 months of on and off revving engine syndrome, cue "Greased Lightening," finally one day I managed to pull into the repair shop parking lot while it was happening, throw it in park, and for the first time ever IT KEPT REVVING FOR THEM TO SEE! I ran in to grab the young buck who thought I didn't know my gas from my elbow (see what I did there?) and he was in shock and awe over what was happening. It must have been magical for him. I mean, after all, my foot was nowhere near the gas. How could this possibly be happening without my stupidity playing a role?

The mystery could not be solved. Apparently apologies for blaming my natural stupidity when driving could not be mustered, either. They replaced a part and crossed their fingers and hoped for the best, but it kept happening. Eventually my father, who is neither chauvinistic about female drivers nor an auto mechanic, suggested the idea of a frayed wire. Which I told them to check out and which it turned out to be - cue the "Hallelujah Chorus". The look on their faces when my suggestion of what was wrong after their many looks at it turned out to be true was stupendous. Cue the band for "Who's Sorry Now."

Score another for me, and take several away from these mechanics who need a charm school lesson.

 *Eventually we will get to the sewing related debacle. But first, lest you think I am a horrid unpatriotic human being, know that between the Neon and the Rendezvous, we also owned a Taurus for 16 months which really wasn't awful other than the fact that it made me feel about 85 years old, and an Explorer, which was in the shop more than it was in the driveway and whose back window fell out TWICE, once on my head while I was trying to get the stroller out at Kohl's, and once in the lot of the repair shop right after they had called me to tell me it was ready to pick up after some random repair. Imagine my joy, when after I had called a friend to come help me pick it up and we had strapped two infant car seats into her car, they called back and said "Oh, Mrs. Helfter, sorry. Don't bother coming. The rear window fell out again and is in one million pieces all over our parking lot." 

I can't make this stuff up. Also know that we've had two Nissans, one of which we had for 13 years and the other we just replaced it with 3 years ago. Neither has been in the shop more than twice.

I rest my case.

Cue a choir singing whatever the Japanese National Anthem is. Say what you will about me, but I love their cars.
 But enough about how much I hate just about every car I have owned. Unfortunately this week I discovered that a tendency for mechanics to think women aren't at all inclined to have a clue extends to the sewing machine industry.

Longtime readers of the blog know that I came into possession of a mid arm industrial quilting machine about a year and a half ago. For $100, it seemed like a great deal and really has been, so despite the fact that it is made by a now-defunct company and came with the most ridiculously unprofessional "instructions" one has ever seen, it has helped me quilt some of my larger quilts in record time and with minimal swearing, so it has been $100 well spent.

Just a little something I quilted yesterday, as proof this story, as long as it is, has a happy ending.

Unfortunately, the fact that it was made by Design-A-Quilt, a company that went out of business apparently overnight and with no warning several years ago, and the fact that it is at least 150 pounds and set into a table 8 feet long means that any repairs needed are, in a word, a PITA. The parts list I have is full of numbers that mean nothing in modern day industrial machine world when I google them, and finding someone in the repair business who will make housecalls? Cue "You May Be Right, I May Be Crazy."

 Recently, I was sewing along, quilting my little face off on a fabulous creation (of course), when this piece of machine, the tension knob, came flying off and hit me in the face.

That's going to leave a mark.
 I tried to put it back in. It fell out immediately. I tried twisting when I put it back in. The machine laughed at me. I told it to shut up.

After a few days of mourning the loss of the use of the machine and wondering how I was going to get it out of the studio and where I could junk it for free because wow that wall it is against would make a great big huge design wall and think of the shelving I could add, I made one last ditch effort to find a repair person. In the event, I found a person. There is no need to describe him with "repair," but we could describe him with "insulting to my intelligence - AGAIN!"

Since I couldn't take the whole machine in, I drove over 35 miles to the nearest shop specializing in industrial machines to show them the part. I was told upon arrival that the man who knew I was coming in did not bother to show up at work that morning, but that I could leave the part. Cue "You Gotta Be Kidding Me."

It's a real song. And had I known it at the time, I would have sung it loudly.

With no other option, I left the part. I was called two days later and the following is as accurate a transcription of our conversation as I can remember:

Part guy: There is nothing wrong with this part.
Me: But there must be, as it popped out of my machine and won't go back in.
Part guy: It's a tension knob. (silence)

Me: I know that. The note I left you in my own handwriting says that. What does that have to do with why it won't stay on?
Part guy:  Well, it should stay on.
Me: But it won't.
Part guy: It isn't broken. There is no reason it shouldn't stay on.
Me: Obviously if it isn't staying on, there is a reason. Can I bring you some photos of the machine and that general area so you can maybe give me some guidance?
Part guy: Sure, I'm in the shop on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Me: Great.

Not the best convo ever, but despite my feeling like he found me stupid, I managed to keep it civil. So on a Thursday, I brought it in.

Guy was not there. The best I could do, after internally screaming for 25 seconds and reprising "You Gotta Be Kidding Me" in my head, was a repeat of the conversation above with the lady working there, who also assured me there was nothing wrong with my machine "because he couldn't see any problem with this part" and I began to wonder if it is just considered normal in the sewing biz for parts to fly off without warning and if maybe I'm the only person who thinks this all might be a problem. Cue any Headbanger song from the 80s, because I did a little of that. And then I left, deciding mechanics of every ilk need to stop assuming everyone is inherently dumber than dirt.

I may also have begun to dream again of my big design wall.

When I arrived home hours later, I sadly attempted again to put a round peg in a round hole and get the thing to stay in.
The round hole. As we can all see, there is nothing in there to grab a peg and hold it. But let's all remember, there is nothing wrong here.

 As a last ditch effort, I looked around for a screw or something that might hold things in place. On the underside of the machine, I found a small screw, and throwing caution to the wind, I unscrewed to see what might happen. Because if worse came to worse, I was shopping for shelving.

And what did I find? The part pictured above can be removed! There is a set screw in that part! Put the parts together and tighten and VOILA!

Well, there goes my design wall.
 Screwed the whole thing back in place, and suddenly the machine was working just fine. I thought about wearing some safety goggles just in case random things popped off again, because apparently this is now considered normal according to machine people, but thankfully nothing happened. Cue the Hallelujah Chorus Reprise.

Shout out to Angie
 Score one for me, take several away from repair people who not only refuse to be available in their shops, but also insist nothing is wrong when clearly something is.
Shout out to Anne because if she is still reading and laughing in her office today she is my new favorite.

And once again, a Happy Ending. Cue "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar"
 So what have we learned?

  • A good repair person who doesn't immediately assume we have no idea what we are talking about is extremely hard to find and may well be non-existent.
  • When you see a screw, unscrew it.
  • I won't be getting my design wall and shelving any time soon. 

Thank God there is always wine. Cue "The Theme to Cheers"."


Quilting Babcia said...

Clearly it's a conspiracy. I had to look up my Buick's continuing problem on the internet, find a reputable site and copy off the data on exactly which part was malfunctioning and present it to my dealer before they finally could locate the source, and even after they did, had to take it back three more times before they actually completed the job (they cheaped out and didn't replace ALL the parts that needed fixing). Cue I am Woman Hear Me Roar.

Angie said...

That is THE best combination of blues and greens I have ever seen in my life!

Katie said...

Beth -- perhaps you should consider going into the repair business and teaching good customer service, as someone that has experienced many similar encounters with repair people (usually technology related).

1000 points to you for fixing the best find ever.

Kaelyn Angelfoot said...

Fortunately my experience with stupid mechanics is minimal but when I run into someone treating me like I'm an idiot, I usually refuse to deal with them. Their boss will often backpedal furiously in order to keep a customer. Although there have been times (like the time I tried to cancel a newspaper subscription I didn't agree to and they wanted me to pay for it anyway) when being married to an attorney has its benefits. People shape up pretty quick if you have your lawyer call!

Kelli Fannin Quilts said...

With all of the auto malfunctions (SERIOUS dangerous ones), and things randomly hitting you in the face, how can you NOT go around in life without safety goggles AND a helmet?! I'm so glad you lived and now we get to be friends! Wow! I've had great luck with repair people being so honest and kind that they actually saved me money when I wouldn't have known better. But the only two cars I have ever owned on my own (pre-hub) was a 1982 Honda Prelude (my first little, though kind of a beater, car) and an Acura Integra. (note they are both Japanese-and ran like charms):) But when I bought the Integra new, it wasn't even the car I set out to buy. It so happened to be the only dealership in town that treated a single girl in her mid-20's like a human. Every other dealer we went to, (my dad and bro. helped me) even after being told that I was the one looking to buy and that I had a pre-approval letter from my bank, would only talk and sell and make eye contact with my dad or my older brother. It was so ridiculous and frustrating for me. So when my dad took me to see this Acura he saw and thought I'd like, when we walked in, and he said, Oh, I brought my daughter back to see this car, and the guy said, "Oh, you must be Kelli, let me show you the car," I was sold. I can't believe the sewing machine guy didn't at least say, did you see any loose screws around anywhere, the only reason this would come off would be..." Not well the part is fine. (except for that it was in your hand) ??

Kelli Fannin Quilts said...

oops, sorry.. i kind of wrote an essay for a comment! ;)

roberta mill said...

OMG! Quilting should not put your eye out. Lately I have noticed that if I can't find what I'm looking for, check the floor. Kudos to you.
Beth, it can be said you have a screw loose!:)
Keep calm and quilt on!

Susie Jensen said...

Loved the post. Had a car that slipped out of gear when warm. Mechanic didn't believe me until I took his car and left him mine. It took 2 days but he fixed it! I hate having to be a bitch to get treated the way a man does. Only buy Honda for me.

Lisa E said...

You ROCK. I'm so impressed with your tenacity and ability to fix mechanical things! But the best part -- your writing. I loved this post and laughed out loud many times. Kudos for making me happy.

Unknown said...

I totally understand where you are coming from!!! I had similar issues with my mid arm frame, and machine.
Had to be put on my "inquiring minds want to know" hat and find my own solution to why thread was shredding. No, it wasn't the tension.
It had a tiny, naked to the eye burr inside the throat plate that was shredding the top thread. Everything you shared is so true, what happens to women and getting a repair man to show proper respect. I laughed too as I read your post.

Unknown said...

I believe I am the Anne that is mentioned in the blog. I was riding the train into work this morning and was laughing out loud while I was reading. Got lots of looks by fellow passengers out of the corners of their eye. Bet they wished they had asked me what I was looking at. Got to love your sense of humor and writing skills. I have long been a fan of "foreign" vehicles with few issues with their maintenance - Datsun B210, VW Rabbit, Toyota Corolla, 2 Subaru's. Loved them all. Have a gladd of wine for me and maybe with me.

pennydog said...

Oh wow, I really do need to finish my sewing machine repair training.... My experience has been that I come across too much like I know what I'm talking about when I'm bluffing and then get blinded by science and technology and feel a bit stupid afterwards. This happens especially in reference to computer networks but it does cover cars too. I've never owned an American car, mine have all been European and manual so thankfully haven't had the same experiences!

Kevin the Quilter said...

Cue "Adele's Laughing Song!" After reading your post! You truly should be a comedienne!

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