Category Archives: heirlooms

Why is Sewing with Antique Machines so Sweet?

Singer

Singer Treadle Machine 1912

This Singer treadle sewing machine was manufactured in 1912. I learned to sew on one just like this one when I was six years old. The first thing I sewed was my index finger!

In my early years I thought that Elias Howe invented the sewing machine; however, later I learned that this was not accurate. This is the history I soon learned about the sewing machine:

  • 1804: Thomas Stone and James Henderson receive French patents.
  • 1804: Scott John Duncan receives a British patent.
  • 1810: Balthasar Krems of Germany invents a cap-sewing machine.
  • 1814: Josef Madersperger, a tailor, awarded an Austrian patent.
  • 1818: John Doge and John Knowles invent the first American sewing machine.

Then, in 1830, a French tailor named Barthelemy Thimonnier invented a machine that used a hooked needle and only one thread. His machine made a chain stitch similar to that used in embroidery. The machine was powered by a treadle and it worked! He quickly moved forward and secured a manufacturing contract for army uniforms from the French government. His enterprise was short-lived, however, because tailors saw him as a threat to their livelihood and they joined together and destroyed Mr. Thimonnier’s uniform factory and his 80 sewing machines.

Elias Howe secured a patent in 1846 for an American-made sewing machine. His machine created a lock stitch that utilized thread from two different sources. Mr. Howe had difficulty marketing his invention and defending his patent. One of those who adopted his mechanism was a man who would make the treadle sewing machine a necessary household item – Isaac Singer. It was portable, after all, and could be carried out on the porch or in a truck. Sewing could be done anywhere. I have a faded photo of my grandmother mending long cotton-picking bags with her treadle machine in a cotton field when she was in her early 20’s.

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Singer “Featherweight” circa 1933

Cottage industries were birthed as women began sewing and mending for neighbors and friends.  Shortly thereafter, electric machines came about. Many treadle machines were converted with a small motor attached.

A youthful customer came in the shop the other day. She uses her treadle machine every day and even rebuilds these antique machines for others. I keep my tiny Singer Featherweight (see above – these machines have a very interesting history as well) set up in the shop. These Featherweights are still popular with quilters due to their portability – they fold up and fit into a compact case. I use it often when I just want quiet security, and I offer students the chance to learn to sew on this machine. The stitches are very pretty and dainty, yet strong.

There’s beauty in simplicity. There’s something sweetly endearing about sewing on these old machines, the quiet click, click and hum. If you use one of these, what draws you to them?

 

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Old Things & Holding On

Going through things and sorting is a never-ending task at the shop. Today I pull out a box of my old sewing supplies and decide it is time to purge and throw or give away that which I cannot use. Tucked away in this box is a tiny crocheted hat, about three inches in diameter.

 

“In my crown your thimble hide; in my felt your needle ride,”  reads the carefully typed note pinned to the brim.  In the crown is indeed a little golden thimble, and in the felt are two very tiny hand quilting needles (my eyes cannot begin to see the eye in this little needle). This little treasure was given to my Mammau, my father’s mother (who taught me to sew when I was 6 years old), as a remembrance from one of her friends in her sewing circle, and Mammau passed it down to me. These sewing women I met on occasion, and they were very sweet and thoughtful to one another. They cared for one another. They always welcomed me when my Mammau brought me with her to those gatherings. They taught me embroidery and hand-quilting.

il_570xN.1170832447_tm2bThese women all looked like Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith Show. Hats and gloves were worn, but removed when they began sewing. Coffee was served in little demitasse cups, and always a sweet of some kind had me drooling.

I look at this little crocheted hat and think about the person that made it – the work and care they put into it – and I wonder where it will go from here. Who will care for it, protect it? I do not have the heart to part with it, although I will never use it because it is much too fragile. The next generation will make that decision for me.

What do you keep (or treasure, hoard or stash away!) even though you know you will never use it? Why do you keep holding on to it?

 

Gleaming White Paint Covers Neglect of the Past

This corner cabinet has been in my family for as long as I can remember. My father took it with us every time we moved. At one time it was built in, but somewhere along the way it was detached. Like anything this old, it carries stories. Not only family stories, but the stories of it’s life before my father claimed it.cabinet1
In my advance of years I’ve become somewhat of a hoarder when it comes to furniture and things that evoke memories. I don’t want to let go of them. But sometimes one must part with things that are meaningful. I am happy I did not part with this piece because it now has a new life in gleaming white paint. the amazing thing about paint is that it hides a multitude of sins. This cabinet was coated with some type of varnish that kept bleeding through the white enamel that I applied.  The only thing that covered that goo was spray enamel with built-in primer. After years of built-up grease and grime this piece is really a beautiful piece of furniture – after it’s covered with gleaming white paint. This little corner cabinet has a new home in the shop and holds colorful yarns. I’d love to see somethings you have re-done into something new. Send me a pic.
cabinet2  photo 2