We met my Singer treadle sewing machine yesterday but I would like to tell you a bit more about it.
This particular one was built in about 1945. Actually, I can tell you exactly when it was built. By looking up the serial number that is on the little metal plate attached at the front of every machine,
I can find the information on the ISMACS website, home of information for Singer enthusiasts (read “nerds”) around the world. I knew where to find it so would make me…
I can see that my machine was made in the huge Singer factory in Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland in December 1945 and was one of a batch of 20,000 turned out by the factory at that time. I think this date is hugely significant in terms of home sewing. The War in Europe had finished almost exactly 7 months earlier and the close of war was releasing raw materials such as the metal used to make sewing machines back into the manufacturing stream. Although rationing of clothing was still in place and would still be a fact of life until 1952 in the UK, fabric for making clothing and home furnishings was a better buy. Both in terms of the money needed and the points available with the government issued ration coupons everyone still needed to use, if you had sewing skills you could get more for your money. Seven months after the end of WW2 the men were home, babies were on the way, and people were longing for new things after the privations of wartime. I believe one of these top of the range machines would have made a very welcome Christmas present for many women in that post-war December.
This machine is a wonderful example of the “built to last” leitmotif I return to time and again. I bought this one for £30 in about 1982. It weighs an absolute ton and takes two people to move without risking back damage. Newly married and pretty skint, I used the skills I had learned at school and from my Grandmother to sew some clothes for myself. A couple of projects stands out in my mind.
The first project was made with fabric bought from Shepherd’s Bush Market in London, a cobalt blue cotton fabric printed with tiny white spots, it was SO cheap that I bought yards and yards of the stuff. I made some unlined curtains first for a bedroom in our rented house, an uninspiring project but one that was very useful to me as I grappled with the mechanics necessary to operate a treadle machine. This was NOT as easy as I had first thought it would be. I had no one to teach me and no internet (gasp) to reference a friendly You Tube video to get me going. I eventually got the hang of using my right hand to set the flywheel going on the right of the machine. It has to rotate towards you and not go backwards to start the machine sewing without breaking the thread. I broke a LOT of thread making those curtains.
Curtains done and with numerous yards of the same blue spotted fabric left over, I launched straight into the project I had been itching to get on with.
Laura Ashley was all the rage in 1982. We all wanted Laura Ashley everything- wallpaper, soft furnishings, clothing- we were all mad for it. I couldn’t afford to buy “off the peg”, but McCall’s sewing patterns and Laura Ashley teamed up to cater for people in my state of 1st job-ness. I was very ambitious. A long-sleeved blouse with pie-crust ruffled Peter Pan collar and cuffs and with tiny covered buttons down the front and on the sleeves was one half of the project. A matching full, calf-length, skirt with wide pleats set into a buttoned waistband and with concealed, set in, pockets on both sides completed the outfit.
With the energy and enthusiasm that seems abundant at the age of 24, I finished it and wore it proudly for quite a while.
It was a look that was very much of it’s time and would look…
absolutely up-to-date in 2022 given the cottagecore vibe that has taken over fashion just now! I cannot believe we are here again…
- What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
I am thrilled to see how much home sewing has become fashionable again. It has an advantage over ready made clothing in that whatever we make for ourselves or our loved ones is truly unique. I love that. I think it is a skill that we can’t afford to lose. We are seeing now that the supply lines for food, raw materials and lots of other things we have taken for granted for the last 50-60 years are fragile. They can break, seemingly over night. And each time this happens, the butterfly wing effect disrupts the next layer in the supply chain. We start to realize how vulnerable we are when we have too few skills, or readily available supplies, to fall back on.
Never mind. It’s not too late. The internet has so many new and vitally enthusiastic people from all around the world, ready and willing to show and teach online. They want to help us to think outside the box about what can be done with fabric and other found objects we may already have. Upcycling of second-hand clothing is a really huge “thing” now. Visible mending takes on art form status, and sometimes a price tag to go with that if you are not “doing it yourself”. I am really not sure my Grandmother would “get it” but I am particularly keen on the work of this man in Brighton:
tomofholland – The Visible Mending Programme: making and re-making
Here’s a sample of my visible mending: moth hole in garden hat-be gone!
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Oh so clever!
Impressed with the sound of the blue spotted garments you made. Shame there is no photo. Anyone who can work a treadle sewing machine has my admiration.
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I will show you how when you next come for a visit!! It’s great fun.