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Sew old skool

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I have been sewing since I got my first second hand machine for my eleventh birthday. I got into it immediately, once my aunty passed on her know-how. I felt such achievement whipping up easy pencil cases and cushion covers. I never excelled at sewing in school though – I found the projects inane (why get teens to sew a picture of a house?? Rather than a boob tube?) So I spent most of the class hand stitching my fingers together.

Still, on the quiet, I kept at it through my teenage years, mixing up typical clubbing (er, I’m gonna be honest with you here: slightly chavvy) attire with the odd home made number. I have ZERO skill – I simply can’t get my head around patterns, but get by with my fair share of stitching a line/ trying it on/ unpicking/ stitching another line…

I left that original sewing machine at my In Law’s home in NZ, they are kindly looking after it for me. So for our last 5 years here we have been on the hunt for the perfect one – ending  up with a bit of a collection. (Even though since motherhood my sewing has mostly been ornamental – cards out of vintage  kids books and the like- or 5 minute jobs – like whimsical lace flapper bands.)

I began with this beautiful old singer on the top shelf- my mum gave it to me for my birthday, it was a bargain £15 from the Oxfam in West Wickham. I can’t seem to find out how old it is. There is no pedal, only a hand wheel, so quite old- possibly early 1900s? It came with a beauty bundle of little bits and peices and a stunning wooden box.

Just days after being given this my husband saw a similar wooden coffer by a wheelie bin on the street. He bought it home and we had some fun trying to gently break into this locked box. Once we did we discovered an almost identical but just much less loved machine. There he is on the bottom shelf.

Whilst they look incredible, they are a bit slow to work with! For my next birthday Tim found me this beautiful retro Singer on Gumtree:

Like most electric Singers it is an absolute DREAM to work with. We have much fun, this old machine and I. However, it doesn’t do Zig Zag. I use Zig Zag stitch quite a bit so I do miss it. When we came across a machine in a charity shop called the ZIG ZAG O MATIC, we did have a bit of a laugh and pounced on it immediately. (Read all about that adventure here – it was my first Magpie Monday link up. Ah, fond memories!)

It ran well for a while but then started playing up, getting all clunky and it quickly got relegated to the bench.

And our fifth and final machine is also tucked under there, keeping Zig Zag company. He was another discarded box on the street, hauled home and broken into. We borrowed the motor from Zig Zag to get him whirring again and now he is a happy little mite.

Ramona loves fishing out the reels of cotton from their jars, popping them on every sticking out thing she can. She turns their wheels, fiddles their dials. Learns a lesson about not playing with sharp things every time the needle pokes her. (BAHA, jokes, we have removed those, promise.)

We are a loving rehab for old sewing machines. I think they are beautiful, filling little corners of my home with their history. I love imagining the stories they’d tell – the hands working their wheels, the hundreds of  fabric, fashions of the day, they would have had fed through them, who they first belonged to and who eventually forgot them.

Meanwhile, my quest continues. My dream machine is retro enough to look beautiful on our side board but new enough to work smoothly and have zig zag. Can you keep your eyes peeled for me?! Or if you’d like to do a swap, let me know…!

Linking up with the magical Liz and Magpie Monday – celebrating all things secondhand.

31 responses »

  1. sammy millar

    Love it Lu, I inherited my Nanas sewing machine when she passed away, she’d brought it in 1985, it needs a bit of a joosh before it’ll be working well again, but it’s amazing how many memories of my nanas sewing endevours have come flooding back since having it. Love it!

  2. I too inherited a sewing machine from my Oma (Dutch for grandmother) when she passed away, It turns out from the receipt that she bought the machine on my birthday. I also have an old black manual Singer in a wooden case, love old sewing machines. x

  3. It is so lovely to see someone else with a love of old sewing machines, I have quite a collection too though my sewing skills are limited. I get my machines off a great guy in Eastbourne who also services them for me. I have a very old Singer in a table that I picked up from Freecycle, it works too which is great. I also have a retro electric Singer which does zigzag and other things I need but is still a basic machine that keeps on going. Good luck in your search and if you want the sewing machine man’s number drop me an email.

  4. I love how beautiful the old Singers are. They just don’t make electrical things that pretty anymore. My mum has leant (ha like she’s ever getting it back) her elna sewing machine (1990’s). Although its not retro I remember her making all my dance costumes when I was younger.

    I love sewing but have yet to make a garment of clothing. I will……….I promise I will………

  5. You have outdone me!!

    I have 4 machines and everyone thinks that’s crazy. I must introduce them to you ;0)

    Your photos are so beautiful, thanks for sharing x

  6. Your photography is beautiful! I love old sewing machines, my mum always sewed on an old treadle machine when we were young, and now has my grandmothers treadle machine. You can trace the history of of a singer machine through its serial number, here’s my mums machine

  7. That photo of your daughter with the machines is fantastic. Contrasting the young girl with the old machines…simply adorable.
    Love all your machines. Good luck finding your dream one.

  8. What a lovely post! I do love the old machines but don’t have the space for them so just stick with my new one. I hope you find your retro dream machine!
    Katy x

  9. i also have an old pedal singer sewing machine that i learned to sew on when i was in highschool. right now it holds my 1950s manual typewriter 🙂 they make a great pair. i did a bit of a google search on the hand-crank singer and found one that looks similar to yours that’s identified as “circa 1880”. pretty cool, eh?

  10. I’d love to have some space to collect old sewing machines. I have a vintage Singer which I love but it only does the one stitch which is quite limiting! Mine has a number engraved on it which I googled and found a list which listed when each serial number was made. I’m obviously really sad with lots of time to spare!

  11. Love this post. My mum used to have an old hand cranked singer when I was tiny and Grandma had a treadle. They are both long gone and I am so sad about that. I don’t have a collection of ol machines but I think I need to add a great big YET onto that statement. It’s just a matter of time now 😉

  12. A little story of recovery
    My first year of grammar school I started getting behind making my cooking apron. Every domestic science lession from the next 5 years I had to make excuses for not having my sewing with me! (The ‘creativity’ this required was astounding and has stood me in good stead ever since!) Last Saturday, over 40 years later I bought my first Singer for £10 from a gentleman at a boot fare who was selling his dear departed mother’s old electric with all its bits. One day soon I’ll get it out of the boot fo the car. The healing has begun 🙂

  13. I love this post. I don’t have any sewing machines, but have been thinking about investing in one. I was thinking maybe of this one to get me started it’s not unattractive for a modern one! I do love old singer sewing machine’s though. I used to sew on them when I was at primary school, making endless cushions!! x

    • Oooooh, I love this, it would go perfectly in my living room and I wouldn’t have to keep putting it away!

    • Yeah, for a modern one that is pretty cute. BUT you should SEE what £50 could buy you- from the retro Singer shelf, something stunning! The one above- which I now know (thanks, Twitter) I just need to buy a Zig Zag pedal for, was only £25.

  14. I’ve got 3 1/2 sewing machines – an old Singer passed on from my nan, another old Singer, a modern toyota and an ancient kids one : ) I always use my Singer for anything that’s heavy
    duty, my modern machine just doesn’t cope with it!
    I’m going to hunt for serial numbers, right about now!
    I love the fact that you’ve given all those lovely old machines a home : )


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