this thing's incredible

Who Knew a Table Mat Would Solve a Common Sewing Machine Problem?

Liga cork beach clean placemats
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer

Most clothes-makers will know how handy an overlocker can be. As a non-sewer, you may even recognise one: They’re a squarish type of sewing machine with four spools of threads at the back. You often use them to make jersey T-shirts and “finish” a garment’s raw edges.

I’ve owned mine since the first UK lockdown in April 2020, when I was teaching myself to sew ahead of appearing on the seventh series of The Great British Sewing Bee. The overlocker is handy and compact and stitches fast, but there was one problem: It is not the most stable at high speed. You’d often find me chasing mine around my sewing table as its vibrations sent it sliding about.

Raph with his overlocker sewing machine (and mats). Photo: Courtesy Raph Dilhan

Sure, if you were sewing leisurely that could be funny, but stopping and starting was a pain when I was using my machine for work. And while I could’ve slowed down, I’m lucky enough to be busy with lots of commissions; I’m time-poor. I’m already pretty much living in my work studio, so needed a machine running at full speed to meet my deadlines and give me a bit of personal time.

In early May, rushing to finish commissions for Eurovision and the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant, my patience really wore thin. I had to walk away. Coming downstairs to the kitchen from the loft studio, I made some toast and sought sympathy from my partner. As I sat at our dining table, I suddenly saw a possible solution right under my plate. My parents had bought my partner and me a set of place mats — complaining that we were ruining our table without them — and I wondered if their spongy, thin cork surface could be the shock absorber my juddering machine needed.

Grabbing one of the mats, I ran back up to the studio and placed it under the damned machine, holding my breath as I pressed the pedal down. Et voila … it worked! The mats were an easy pick for me because my parents know I love cork, especially as a sustainable material to sew with. The Cornwall-based Liga brand they bought combines cork and recycled plastic for a product that’s heat-resistant, stylish, and, most importantly for me, nonslip. My future deadlines swiftly transformed from ambitious to just about feasible.

I’ve since spoken to a few close sewing friends who each know the sliding overlocker issue well. They’ve crafted DIY solutions with varying successes. As far as I can tell, no strictly haberdashery product seems to fix the problem. I like my solution best as it’s functional and eco-friendly. I’ve decided to keep one of my four cork place mats under my overlocker at all times. That has left us one short in the kitchen, but it’s a small price to pay in the short term — and a new set is on my birthday wish list.

Raph Dilhan was a 2021 finalist on the Great British Sewing Bee and now works on occasionwear for celebrities as well as textiles for films from Disney, Marvel, and more.

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How a Table Mat Became This Sewing Pro’s Studio Staple