Friday, November 19, 2010

Do You Own Your First Sewing Machine?

Who needs fiction when life is so amazing!  I was visiting a girlfriend's studio recently, admiring the art quilts she makes hung on the walls and stacked antique quilts stored in a tall cabinet. Along one wall were shelves and shelves of small old sewing machines. Some were made as toys, but  I was amazed to hear that most of the 30 or more on view were  not. They were made small with hand cranks in the days before electricity.  The miniature machines were a smorgasbord for my eyes and heart as I envisioned a woman using one.

Next I landed upon a metal machine that looked like the outside of an Art Deco building,  made with variegated green metal. In fact, it looked completely different from all the others. I wasn't familiar with the name stamped in the metal along the front edge.

My friend pointed toward the ground to a smallish square red sewing machine case. Oh, was it heavy to lift. I unlocked the sides, removed the top and voila, there was another one just like it, only this one was stamped Betsy Ross on the front. It wasn't a toy machine, but small for a child to use and it was electric.

She explained that when she found the machine displayed on the shelf, she was called by it looked until one day it dawned on her that it was like the machine she learned to sew on as a child  in the 1950s. Excited about the memory she searched the Internet until she located what was her machine and discovered that yes, they were exactly the same machine!

She bought the Betsy Ross machine on eBay, in perfect condition, case and all. As we looked at it, we wondered if this might actually BE her childhood machine. Stranger things have happened, right?

Then I heard a couple on the Today show this morning, who married in the 1950s and couldn't afford to buy their wedding photos. Recently the wife was searching through a 55 gallon barrel of scrap at a scrap/junk yard.  Digging through photographers scrap, when she was near the bottom she came upon THE  negatives of her marriage ceremony. Apparently the photographer had held on to them for years before tossing them and others out.

I think I'll make a mental list of what I've lost or tossed and would love to have back.  Let's see, there was a beautiful necklace from my Grandmother who wore it as a child herself that was taken by a house cleaning in the 1980s. It's funny what jumps to mind when I hear these stories.  How about you?

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Marceli said...

I would do anything to have my granmother's sewing machine from the 1950's back... a sales person convinced my aunt replace that with "modern" machine (a plastic piece of junk).

PatchworkRose said...

We live with over 100 old sewing machines dating from as early as 1860 and wouldn't it be wonderful if they could talk :-)
Probably about 90% we have had sewing. Many of them have been photographed and are on our blog. Would have loved to have seen photos of some of your friends.
Have a great Weekend

Scrapiana said...

This was a great post, Kimberley. And, yes, I have two machines which qualify as my first.

One was a child's white plastic Singer (a Golden Panoramic) which was really my big sister's but got handed down. It was terrible. Clunky and battery-operated and with 100% unreliable tension, guaranteed to put off all but the most determined of stitchers. But I was the kid with grit, the kid who had pushed her baby-walker around even after her mother took the casters off (she'd had enough of my accessing all areas...!) and when I finally got my hands on her 2nd-hand grown-up mid-twentieth-century Singer, the contrast in performance was intoxicating, and I was off. This was the 1970s, and there was a whole lot of patchwork to be done. I also made my first clothing on that machine (Laura Ashley dresses).

The grown-up black Singer wasn't pretty. It looked like it had been converted inelegantly from either a treadle or hand-crank and was electrically rigged to be plugged into a ceiling light-fitting, giving every sewing experience the added frisson of potential electrocution. The necessary removal of the ceiling bulb led to obvious lighting dilemmas (the machine had no built-in light), but that's another story. The machine's cover was ugly brown hardboard, the casing was no-frills pine. But the machine worked. I think the motor now needs looking at. In fact, I was on the point of getting rid of both machines when I read this and it's given me pause.

Whether I get rid of them or not, you've prompted me to take pictures as soon as I can of both and post them on Flickr. Thanks for helping me tap into these memories.

Scrapiana said...

I've blogged about this subject here: Thanks so much for the inspiration, Kimberley!

Alice said...

I am still using my first sewing machine (an Elna Stella from the 1980's). When my mother bought it she thought it would be small enough to carry to friend's houses if I needed to. I never did that, but a good friend did carry it as hand luggage on an international flight for me.

Anonymous said...

I don't have my first sewing machine, but my sister does. It was here first machine too. It was my mother's old black 201 Singer from the 1950s. A fabulous straight stitch machine that I used to make my first quilt (I wanted it warm, so I put in 5 layers of batting and that machine quilted through it! LOL). About 10 years ago, my DH drove 100 miles to my Aunt's house and brought back my Grandmother's Singer treadle for my Christmas gift. I spent all Christmas Eve, cleaning it and getting it to run, which it does. This summer I modeled with it for a new children's book, "F is for Friend, A Quilter's Alphabet" to be published Spring of 2011. Look for me in the frumpy black shoes!

Anonymous said...

I don't have my first real machine, but it was similar to the Singer described by Scrapiana.

The toy Peter Pan is kept in my sewing room, I think I got that when Iwas about six.

I also have the machine I learned to sew on, a Singer tradle which belonged to my Daad's foster mother , and the head of the much older one which belong to my great grandmother. The timber part of the cabinet has disintegrated, but I know where the metal legs and treadle are.

Judy B

Louise said...

That's a great topic! Yes, I do own my first sewing machine. It's a 1950's 2-tone seafoam green, heavy metal. It was my mother's and she taught me to sew on it in the 1970's, then gave it to me. It still has the little numbers she stuck on it to remind me how to thread it!
I always have it set up, and use it all the time to piece quilts. I actually prefer it to the newer machines that I own.
Even if it stopped working, I wouldn't give it up...I'm sentimental, and so many memories are engrained in that machine!

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