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Saturday, December 2, 2023

A 1905 Singer Treadle Sewing Machine – Jane Masutani

A 1905 Singer Treadle Sewing Machine

That’s right. That is the topic under discussion, not the wildfires destroying much of the province, indeed the world’s  temperate zone forests, not the sinister idiots running the world, and certainly not this bizarre talk of rampant child abuse. I am turning my back on all of it in an effort to preserve my sanity. You’re welcome.

I’ve had electric sewing machines over the years but have never achieved any real skill on them. They’re too noisy.  And I feel they’re running away from me. I’m good at straight lines, add a bit of complexity, such as sewing in a sleeve, and I tend to sew it in upside down and inside out. Truth is, I’m no good around any electrical machinery, coffee makers, lawnmowers, vacuum cleaners,(I prefer to sweep where at all possible) I seem to be  anti-noise. Perhaps my nerves can’t handle it. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me. The list seems to be growing exponentially. Perhaps I’m just a 19th Century girl? And, as far back as I can remember into my young adult life, I have harboured a desire to own a treadle sewing machine. 

And, the word “harbour” always brings to mind a Dorothy Parker quote, (and isn’t that annoying, for both of us.) “I harbour a fleet of doubts.” She also said, “I drink to drown my sorrows but the damn things have learned to swim.” These quotes have nothing to do with sewing machines. Why have I filled my mind for 50 years with ridiculous quotes? 

A treadle machine just never came my way until a couple of weeks ago when a friend gifted me this “Feather Light” Singer out of the kindness of her heart. I have offered to pay something and she has steadfastly refused. (I’m the same in restaurants. I never know how much to insist.) As a result I feel I now owe her my next born child. 

I’m over the moon. It’s such a delight just to look at my antique machine standing dainty and black in its scratched up cabinet (120 years!) under the bedroom window proclaiming, “The Singer Manufacturing Co.” in ornate, gold Victorian script. My grandfather wrote like that. It was as if he had channeled Shakespeare. 1905 is a hell of a long time ago. It’s just outside living memory. The machine is a thing of elegant beauty. It is built like a tank with few moving parts. Not much can go wrong and around me, that’s perfect.  My “Feather Light” is a time traveler, an emissary from the Edwardian age, a time when my grandfather was a four year old boy and my grandmother was three. I tell myself it is a wonderful heirloom to pass onto my daughters even if I never master it. It’s okay to have it just standing there, gathering dust. But that’s not how I really feel. This machine is wrapped up with something deep in my psyche. It seems to be some symbol of womanhood, creativity and servitude rolled into one. It’s what my life has been all about, really. Although, if I’m perfectly honest, I seem to have fluctuated in my mindset over the years, months, weeks, days, between Mother Hubbard and a riverboat gambler. What could be more grounding, more stabilizing, than a 1905 treadle sewing machine? I must master it. (And perhaps finally master myself while I”m at it.)

Youtube is full of young women working away on machines just like mine whipping up medieval dresses, Long Victorian walking skirts and jackets, leg o’mutton sleeves, cumberbunds… Impressive does not cover half of it! And they are doing hand stitching as well on starched ruffs and bodice inserts. The danger with watching stuff like this is that I feel I’ve already accomplished something, when the bald fact is, I haven’t. As my eldest daughter explained to me recently, it’s best not to imagine too much or tell people too much about what you are about to do. The unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between the act and the imagination. It just dissipates the energy to actually do the job. That might explain a lot of short-lived enthusiasms, when I look back. And here I am doing it again with you!! But, I will prevail and sew pockets in all those skirts and dresses that have no pockets and from there no doubt go on to more challenging stuff. 

The really interesting thing to me is that all these talented young graduates of costume and theatre design schools that I’m watching, such as Bernadette Banner, are using non-electric sewing machines to do the job. I’m thinking it’s because the sound they make is a soothing slow clacking, it’s actually relaxing, far removed from the frantic commotion of the electric machines. . 

What I need now, to really get into it, is a room like Bernadette has. Her living room has been transformed into a sewing studio. There’s a mannikin, a huge trestle table to lay fabric on, an ironing board, and a floor to ceiling bookcase with a ladder, just because it looks fantastically scholarly and Victorian, in keeping with the sewing machine. So yes, It may be difficult to begin my sewing enterprises until I have converted the living room somewhat. We can always get rid of the couch and loveseat and just sit around the kitchen table. We often do. I’ve mentioned these changes to my husband and he has responded with alarm.

So, I’ll be gently clacking away soon. I can imagine rain hitting the window panes and slowly wending its way in rivulets, a mug of Earl Grey tea at my side, Rusty curled up near the treadle, my hair piled elegantly on top of my head and, of course, it goes without saying, all will be right with the world.

Author: TIG

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