Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Mother - Sewing and Sewing Machines

My mother learned to sew from her mother on a Singer treadle sewing machine.  When visiting with her recently I asked her if she remembered the first thing she sewed.  She told me a story about sewing through her finger when she was 4 or 5.  Her mother had gone outside to do some work in the garden and my mother said she wanted to run the sewing machine even though she knew she was not supposed to play with it – guess she was a typical child.  She ran the needle in and out of her finger and remembered that it hurt but she doesn’t remember what her mother said but did remember she didn’t play with it again without my grandma in attendance.

She told me one time when her grandmother came to visit she and her sister a year older got to sew quilt blocks.  Mom thinks she was 6 or 7 at the time as she knew it was before she was in 4-H and she started in 4-H at the age of 8.   Mom said she remembered making pink and white quilt blocks but knew she didn’t get enough made for a quilt but later her mother finished the blocks and put them together for a quilt that she machine quilted on her treadle machine – see machine quilting has been around for a long time as that was 1927 or 1928.

My mother was in 4-H for many years and took many sewing projects during that time so she did a lot of sewing as she grew up.  My grandmother was an excellent seamstress and taught all 4 of her daughters to love to sew.  Mom went to college after high school, graduating with a bachelors of Science - Home Economics Education degree in 1944 as did her older sister the same year.  There were 3 sisters close together in age and they took turns working as a teachers to help the other two with their college expenses (in those days you could teach right after graduating from high school.)

My mother was hired after graduation as a Home Extension Agent in the Nebraska county where I grew up.  She wanted a sewing machine of her own but at that time they were not available as the Singer sewing machine manufacturing plants had been converted to make items needed for the war effort.  The plants were closed from 1942 until 1945.  When my mother got her job and moved to the community she drove an hour west to another town to put her name on a list get a sewing machine then went home and waited and waited.  Can you imagine not being able to buy a sewing machine when you wanted one?

She said she originally thought she would get a featherweight as she wasn’t sure she would always live where her first job was and the featherweight would be easier to move.  She needed a sewing machine to demonstrate for the women’s extension clubs and 4-Hers for her job in those years she waited for her own machine and told me there was a woman in town that would lend her a machine to take to those meetings.  What a nice gesture and so trusting to allow her machine to be transported all over the county for my mother to demonstrate sewing techniques to 4-Hers and Extension Club members.  

When her name finally came up on the list it was the spring of 1947 and she decided to get a full sized machine in a wooden cabinet instead of the Featherweight.  She was engaged to my father by that time and knew she would be staying in one place and a larger machine would be a better choice for her.  She sewed her wedding dress on it for their wedding in September of 1947.  I can’t imagine how happy that made her to finally get her new Singer 15-91 in a nice wooden cabinet.  My aunt also found a job as a Home Extension Agent in western Nebraska and she too had to put her name on a list to get a sewing machine.  I don’t know if she got her machine about the same time as my mother but she did get married about two weeks before my parents to a fellow she met near where she worked.

Mom sewed on that machine for years and years…I learned to sew on that machine as did my two sisters and it always sewed a perfect stitch.  My sisters and I sewed a lot of garments on that machine for 4-H projects and just for the occasional new outfit.  Mom always sewed our clothes and I don’t ever remember her not sewing.  

Around 1968 my mother purchased a newer Singer but kept the old Singer in the basement as a back up.  The new Singer Futura had a drop in bobbin and was a big headache for her for many years.  (I don’t have a photo of this machine nor could I find one on the internet.)  Mom said the repair guy finally figured out the needle bar was bent from when she first bought it….no wonder it didn’t sew very well.  She had wanted a machine that could do a hemming stitch and a zig-zag as she was making all the curtains and drapes for the new house she and my father built.  She never loved  that machine but used it anyway for many years.  She sewed everything…she made clothes for herself and even tailored a suit for my “little” brother who at the time was so tall and skinny that they couldn’t find any ready made suit to fit him.  Mom tailored a lot of garments over the years for herself so this was not a lot different.  Mom was a beautiful seamstress and very particular….hmmm….I think that is where I got my perfectionist tendencies!  We would be amazed that when she would buy a garment she would then proceed to take the collar off to adjust the back a little or maybe take the sleeves out and re-set them to make them fit a little better, raise or lower the hemline just a bit, etc.

Around the early 80s my father surprised CIMG2092webmy mother by buying her a new Bernina for Christmas.  My Dad consulted my older sister who had a Bernina at that time on what model to get and so he purchased a Bernina Matic 910 Electronic machine.  I asked my mother the other day if she had any idea that Dad was getting her the Bernina that Christmas and she said it was a complete surprise.  I remember her being absolutely thrilled when she opened her gift from my dad during our family Christmas gathering.  She used that machine to sew lots clothing and did make a few quilted items before she had to give up quilting about 3 years ago.  This blog post on September 28, 2008 is about the sampler quilt she made.  She has a shake in one arm and it has gotten worse over the years so when she moved to an assisted living  apartment she gave her machine to one of our daughters.  Now my mother’s great granddaughters are learning to sew on her machine and that makes her very happy.

The old 15-90 still sews a good straight stitch and belongs to my youngest brother but the wooden cabinet was retrofitted by my father to hold Mom’s Bernina 910 and now resides at my daughters house too.

I found the following information on this webpage about my mother’s 15-91 Singer.  It was made in Elizabethport, New Jersey and was one of 35,000 allotted on December 20, 1946.  Here is another interesting webpage on identifying old Singers.
Further reading….as if this post isn’t long enough. 
Webpage about the Singer company during WWI
Webpage about Isaac Singer….he was quite the character
Webpage about Singer Sewing Machines 1880-1940

I know this is a long post but want to get my mother’s sewing machine story down in writing.  We have talked a lot about her machines and sewing the last few weeks when I call her and that has been very enjoyable.  My sisters have helped me fill in some of the details as she can’t remember some things I wanted to know.  She will be celebrating her 90th birthday this summer and sewed up until 3 or 4 years ago so if you consider when she sewed those pink and white quilt blocks until she had to give up sewing she probably sewed for over 80 years.  I can only hope I am able and still enjoy sewing for that many years.

Happy Quilting,


Jane said...

I enjoyed your story and the pics of old machines.I also sew, right now I am making shorts for my gg son. Thanks so much for sharing this story. Blessings jane

Nicky said...

My mum taught me to sew - but I started on soft toys, then clothes and only more recently did I start on patchwork. My youngest is the only one slightly interested in sewing. So the sewing thing may stop with my generation..?

Karen said...

Loved reading this, Lynn. Never knew that one had to wait to buy a sewing machine during the war; can you imagine the excitement when word came that she got one? Your Dad sure knew the way to her heart with that Bernina. This was a great read, thanks for sharing.

DH Stitches said...

What a great story, Lynn. I'm so glad you shared it. How special it must be for the young women in your family to run fabric under the very presser foot used by their great grandmother, to hear the same whirring she heard, to lift the same lever she lifted to check their stitches as she probably did. Sewing serves to connect the generations in a unique way!


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