Posted in Writing Life

*Sewing Machine Adventures

Remember the 1950’s ad for a Singer, here? The next part of the story was supposed to be this:

Singer 185J (click on pic to see larger)

As featured in the ad, now in my living room. Well, not. As it turned out, the thing kept jamming. I cleaned it, I oiled it, put in a new needle, joined a vintage Singers list serve to no avail. Fortunately the guy I bought it from on Craigslist took it back and we agreed on a fair refund. He restored my faith in humanity just in time for the shortest day of the year, after which the days will get longer and sun return.

Yes I know the sun doesn’t go anywhere, not factually, or at least not without its solar system following along as the universe expands. Even so, I think that the sun goes away in these dark days, to nestle with its other spouse, the Southern hemisphere.

Today I went back to my gruff guy in the sewing machine repair shop, which he is closing at the end of January. He is neither Russian nor Ukrainin, but Bulgarian in origin, and today I learned that the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia was invented in Bulgaria, where there is a letter for every sound and all words are spelled phonetically. We also had a long conversation about Stalin (mostly on his side; I listened).

I was there today to get a power cord repaired, which he skilfully did, after which we had a conversation about history and the present state of things. (He said that in the middle East one side of fanatics and another side of fanatics are fighting and spending money on it, which they could be using to support a 3 day work week and living well. I totally agree. He also had some views on the end of days, of which I reserve any opinion.)

The power cord belongs to the second sewing machine I bought from him. You remember my Toyota (same link as above). She sews well and daintily, with some coaxing over denim seams. I wanted to get an old straight sew, something I could use for sewing leather or canvas or quilts or bags, that kind of things. A hearty eater.

Meet the Kenmore:

Kenmore 1203
Kenmore 148.12030 (click to see larger)

This is a 1968 straight-sew and zigzag machine that keeps saying: More layers! I want more! Yum yum, chomp chomp. I folded a scrap of denim over 2, 4, 6, 8 times! Yum, gobble gobble, stitch, stitch. What will I feed it next?



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

12 thoughts on “*Sewing Machine Adventures

  1. I have a really old Eureka, (40’s) which is very similar to a singer of the same age. So similar the parts are interchangeable. We harvested parts from a singer we got at the dump including the foot pedal. The original book and all the attachments were with it. $15!

    When I got it it was completely seized up. Oil and a good cleaning got it going. Great machine. Very strong. Very simple.

    I also have an old Phillips (50’s) that I need to get to and fix, which was my grannies, and a newish Kenmore with the fancier stitches. But as you say, it isn’t nearly as good on thicker heavier fabrics.

    Love these old machines. πŸ™‚
    They have a certain smell too.

    1. Yes to the smell–I wondered if it was sewing machine oil on metal. It’s good in any case. How cool about the parts from the dump. A friend of mine has an old Singer that she got from someone and never used as she has others in better shape. I’ve got to ask if I can have the old one and see what I can do with it. I think she mentioned the power cord is a problem, but I might be able to get a replacement…maybe even from my friend from Bulgaria. And if not, I’d like to just take it apart to see how a sewing machine works. I wouldn’t feel confident doing it with a working machine that I actually use and need.

  2. Some of those oldies were just like a treadle, with the motor added on the outside…… That is what I learned to sew on actually, my Aunt used one.

    Wonderful control over the motion.

    I think you are right on the smell, it is like a book for me, very comforting.

    I do not find the time anymore. That and the little ones running about. The last thing I made was a quilt for the babies crib.

    One day. πŸ™‚

    1. I remember those baby days! Mine are now 8 and 11 and it makes such a difference to what and how much I can do. I mean I have the sewing machines on the floor. I could never do that in their baby and pre-school days.

  3. every time I read about your sewing adventures I wish you had my mother’s sewing machine. she was an expert at this, incredible, really, and when she passed away, there wasn’t the right person for her machine.

    I wish I’d known you then.

  4. What fine beasts they are, your machines! And very masculine, hunky sorts of sewing machines. My mother’s was cream coloured and sleek but a bit ferocious – not entirely unlike its owner. πŸ˜‰

  5. I learned to sew on my mum’s ancient Singer treadle, with the bobbin shaped like a little torpedo. The machine was black and shapely, almost like a Victorian lady in a corset lying on her side. She would have bought it right after the war (1945), but I don’t know how old it was then or how she came by it.

    Sometime in the sixties my dad had the bright idea to buy her a new machine and to gut the old one, saving the oak cabinet as a bedroom cabinet and throwing out the machine and treadle and all the works. If I’d still been at home, I’d have put a stop to that. πŸ˜‰

    My machine is a 1971 Singer, cheap cabinet but terrific machine. The last time I had it checked over, the techie said “Never let this machine go. It’s one of the last metal machines they made.” It’s a pretty good chomper too, although I scoff at these modern plastic bobbins. I miss the old torpedoes.

    1. Skdadl, I haven’t seen those bobbins around. Do they go around and around or back and forth? My machines still use metal bobbins. I agree about the plastic! I love to hear those old sewing machine stories.

  6. Wonderful machines but do be careful as to what you ‘feed’ them and how often πŸ˜‰ After all they are domestic machines designed for home use, not a steady diet of thick leather or denim…for that consider a true ‘industrial’ model.

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