A Stitch in Time

As a result of this dreadful pandemic, I have been doing a lot of sewing. I dusted off my old Singer sewing machine and surprisingly, after several years of doing very little sewing (I do more knitting these days), I was still able to thread the old workhorse up and operate it like I’d ever been away. Whilst spending hours on the machine this last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. In the 1950s, when I was small, all my jumpers and cardigans were hand knitted by my mum as were her own and those of my brother and sister. My mum also made all the dresses worn by her, me and my sister. The same applied to all the families we knew. Towns with clothes shops were a couple of hours’ drive away and also making clothes was cheaper than buying them.

My mum’s sewing machine was a hand-operated Singer. She bought it new when she got married and she told me she made all my baby clothes on it

   

My mum’s sewing machine was like these two.

My mum was such an excellent dressmaker that I had no incentive to learn to sew myself. I was knitting for myself by the time I was in my teens but if I saw a dress I liked in a fashion magazine like Honey, my mum could have it copied for me a few days later, often combining several different dress patterns to achieve the right result. When I went to university and was living on a limited budget, I worked out that if I wanted things I couldn’t afford I’d better make them myself. There was a sewing room in my hall of residence which was equipped with electric sewing machines. I had a brilliant choice of shops and markets selling fabrics as I was in Nottingham, a sizeable city. So I taught myself to make my own clothes. Two years later my mum and dad bought me a Singer Zig Zag machine for my 21st birthday. It’s the one in the photo below and it’s still going strong.

 

Most women my age can either knit, sew or do both. Young women who knit and sew now are in the minority. I looked up the history of the domestic sewing machine and it’s really interesting. The domestic sewing machine was invented by Isaac Singer in 1850. Through the late 1800s, in the US and in Britain, the sewing machine was a status symbol and ornate enamelled models were displayed proudly in high class drawing rooms. After 1900, when the sewing machine was being mass produced and could be afforded by poorer families – on hire purchase – the models on sale were less ornamental and more utilitarian. At the same time, shop-bought clothing became more readily available. The developments of the industrial sewing machine was why factory made clothing became more affordable. As a result, hand-made items were considered inferior and the sewing machine was relegated from display to a hidden corner. People buying a new machine were sometimes reassured by the company of discretion when delivering. Shop bought clothing was considered superior. This attitude reminds me of a similar one towards baking when I was growing up. My mum, and everyone else’s, baked cakes every week for the family. They baked cakes, scones, pies, biscuits. But when somebody was coming to tea they popped out and bought a shop cake. As if home baking was inferior and a sign of poverty.

 

 

My antique Jones sewing machine which is in perfect order and sews beautifully. It was bought for me as a present by my one of my daughters a few years ago. I was a Jones – but no connection with the sewing machine manufacturers!

 

18 thoughts on “A Stitch in Time

  1. Oh my..such a wealth of informations there. Loveing it. Never-ever..saw a ‘Jones’ machine and it is really ornate. Big hugs to that daughter who was so very aware..of your many ..High Arts..in sewing/writing/cooking and information sharing. My mothers singer..a foot propelled model..is out in the barn..tucked behind some old dressers. I did try to use it..but..the stitches always came..faster than i was able to manage. When it came to ANY sports..no cordination..still was the result. I can stride, climb and dance..but..i found that..hand stitchery..was a ‘speed’..i COULD handle! On a bus/in a car..or on a train..or in the cabin of the old..one-lunger comm. fishing boat..a needle/thread and fabric bit..were no problem. The knitting/crocheting..was a ‘thin skill’..and has also..now gone by the wayside. Curr. our thrift stores..are still..mostly closed in oregon. A few things are trying to..open up again..but..when the st. vincint de paul store..reopens..i will be picking up some really odd, hugely bright patterend dress..from the 1980s..or so. Then..i will tear them apart..and make myself some..’pseudo’ hawaiian shirts..for summer. Granted..the assortment of said shirts..is always a big seller..during the early part of summer..BUT..if i look for a dress..it will have much LARGER floral blooms! I can make somthing..never yet..seen in this world. Yeah..thats my goal..be the crazy-lady..in the summer scene! ina

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    • Ina, I love the idea of buying second hand garments and cutting them up to make into summer shirts. I volunteer in a charity shop (not during lockdown!) so I might try that idea myself. Thanks for the full, interesting comment! Meryl

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  2. I sewed most of my daughter’s clothes when she was growing up and a lot of my own. Sewing must be like riding a bike. Even after I’ve been away from for I while, I have no trouble picking it right back up again. I hope you’ve made something pretty for yourself!

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    • Yes, just like riding a bike! Muscle memory my guitar teacher calls it. I’ve been making face masks. Good idea Liz, I’ll make myself something nice when this awful situation is behind us. Meryl

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  3. There is nothing like a homemade cake or a dress you make for yourself! I love to cook and bake but I did not inherit the ‘sewing gene’ from my grandmother. I do have a sewing machine in the attic and in the eighth grade I took a sewing class. Much later in life I took a quilting class. I made a pretty skirt back in junior high and I did quilt a pillow cover. Other than that, the machine is up in the attic. Reading this, I wonder if I should not take it out and give it a try just for fun. I would love to make anything for my grandchildren as my grandmothers did for me. Not sure where to start…:) Something easy! Any ideas?

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    • What a happy way..to enter the world..we have..swirling around us all..nowdays. A gift for the young’uns. Depending upon their ages..what about a simple..over the shoulder..totebag. A ‘sling’ affair..wouldn’t need an actual pattern..and also..if a teenager..making a slim, pocket folded coin and keys holder. A patterened fabric..with a design..that shows a joy..of theirs..and make a small pillow. Buy some lettering at the fabric store..and add their name..or..it can BE the design..on a solid cloth background. Good luck and let us know..how it goes. The more of us..following the ‘lead’..of this entry..makes our world..stronger. hugs, ina

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    • A great reply from Ina, full of ideas. I too was thinking about starting simple with a bag – carrier or drawstring. Great for organising ‘bitty’ toys and belongings. Lego, coloured pencils etc. Also for packing a few bits in ready for a walk, cafe outing or day out. Or bunting for prettying up a bedroom? I also make bedding for toys with scrap fabric or oddments of knitting yarn – small and quick! You’ll get back into it really quickly. Then you’ll move on to more adventurous projects. Good luck. Let us know how you get on! Meryl

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  4. Good grief..the tabard..is an inspiration. I just jumped from the actual uses..you said..off to the fact..son number two..has a full chain mail/metal suit of heaps of parts..can be used in acting/simulation play for med. times. I sent him an email..asking him, if he would like to design a tabard..for me to make..to wear over..the suit of mail! I love the son..but..now that I think about how..intricate..those designs can be..lets us hope..he choses to ..say no… 😉 ina

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    • Great idea, Ina. A plain tabard would be very simple. A tabard to fit over a suit of armour – presumably with a coat of arms or some other heraldic design on it – is a bit more of a task, but should be fun too! I’d love to hear more if you get to do it. Meryl

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      • Aw well..the son was in a chatty mood this morning (he checks in everyday..to see how we are doing) and he reminded me..the time of his outfit..and others who , on occasion..suit up..for the Fall games..well his time frame is 9th and 10th century Viking. No heat reflecting white tabards..like the crusades etc. He said just the brown, raggidy furs and ‘oddments’..gathered on raids..and..MUCH the worse for wear!! If i had just coffee’d up..i would have figured that out. We are..to the core..scandinavians. Sigh..another old lady..left by the side of the road..chewing on an oatstraw..this morning. 😉 Ok..off to finish seasoning the creamed eggs on toast..and then..the heading into the north fields..for the hike. A jolly day..to you all..on blog. ina

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    • A ‘knitter’..is what kept assorted cultures..alive and thriving..through tens of thousands of years.! Strands of animal ..fibers, and thin..twistable beach grasses, and..thin delicate..rootlets..from the pulled briars. Lovely..hairlike swatches..which prob. grew from our farback ansestors kids..twisting/twineing..little filaments. YOU..were prob. a math wise also! I could not , keep count’. At that stage of my life..i made enough knit simple camping hats, and knit mufflers..to keep my boys..in enough ‘gear’..to afford to lose some..no ‘screaches’..from me. Think I was in my later 40s/and into 50s. Also still have one..made of reds and orange..which was to keep us from getting shot at..in the coast range..during hunting. Knit on..and in pride!! ina

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      • Excellent comment, Ina! Very enjoyable! Men were the first knitters I believe. Early fishermen made and mended nets – twisting and twining fibres and filaments just like you describe. The skills eventually evolved into knitting as they made their own weatherproof sweaters.

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  5. My mother was good at sewing, and had a Singer, but I could never muster up much enthusiasm for it. Sewing was compulsory at the high school I went too – heaven knows why – and I hated every minute of it. Recently a friend of mine borrowed an old Singer to do some repairs on his clothing, and asked me to help him thread it. I discovered that if I didn’t think about what I was doing, I could thread it quite easily, but if I stopped to think I was in trouble! So I must have learnt something all those years ago.

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