A Century of Sewing Machines

Meaningful coincidences? Without having studied Jung’s theories of synchronicity, I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but I have experienced plenty of serendipitous events that certainly support the hypothesis that “things happen for a reason”. Take my new sewing machine.

As I related in a recent post  I now have lovely new curtains in my living room. Fourteen metres of pinned-up hems waiting to be sewn. A daunting task for someone with poor eyesight who no longer has a sewing machine. How come I have no sewing machine? Well, actually I have, but it’s 1200 km away in our house in Brittany, so not much use to me here. 

In an exchange of text messages with my “girls” I mentioned that I was considering buying a self-threading machine, since threading needles – and especially sewing-machine needles – is a huge challenge for me and very frustrating. My granddaughter – who sews a lot – has such a machine in her impressive collection and gave me some advice, so I had a look online where there is a bewildering choice of incredibly sophisticated computerised contraptions offering all kinds of sewing services for which I have no need.

I thought of my mother’s sewing machine, a pretty little black enamelled Singer with gold appliqué designs all over it: you turned the handle and it sewed a line of lockstitch. That was all. There was nothing to adjust but the tension; it didn’t have any attachments and it didn’t make the coffee or tea. It served us both very well for many decades. (The model shown at the top of this post is very similar – read about it here.)

When I got married in the early sixties, my mother bought me an electric machine, also a Singer. This dark green wonder could stitch backwards as well as forwards, and also did a zigzag stitch. It sewed everything I needed – clothes, curtains, loose covers etc. – and came with me as I emigrated twice, which involved changing its plug from a German one to a British one and then to a Swiss one. In fact, it almost killed me when I changed it to Swiss. The colours of the wires didn’t match anything I had seen before, so I assumed brown was ground. It wasn’t, and I was thrown across the kitchen when I switched the machine on! The wiring was easily remedied, and I was luckily none the worse for my mistake.

I had this for about twenty years until my next machine, a state-of-the-art Swiss Bernina. That had plenty of bells and whistles: it did several different stitches, could make buttonholes, sew in zips, had a swing arm allowing it to darn and embroider – far more things than I needed. It also did excellent service for another twenty years or so, and was passed on to my daughter when she wanted to try out some of the fancier gimmicks. I then bought a simple little machine from the local supermarket, since my sewing was now almost entirely restricted to making curtains and cushions, and took it with me to Brittany (to make curtains and cushions) where it has stayed for the past ten years. 

So here I am now, looking for a self-threading machine that isn’t a computer so that I can hem my curtains. I found a relatively simple model online for CHF 150.-, and consulted the oracle (daughter and granddaughters) who thought it looked OK, but we were all very busy last week so I didn’t get around to ordering it. 


Because on Saturday I discovered that the discount chain Lidl was offering a limited number of self-threading Singer machines for just CHF 99.-! 

Oh, happy coincidence, serendipity, synchronicity, providence, guardian angels – you’ve done it again! I am now the proud owner of a pretty little white and blue Singer Serenade, considered very basic nowadays: it sews backwards and forwards, has 23 different stitches of varying length and depth, does zips, can make buttonholes and sew on buttons  – as much and more than I will ever need as I continue making curtains and cushions. 

My mother’s machine was made over 100 years ago. Although I press a pedal instead of turning a handle, the fundamental design is pretty much the same. Still the same complicated way of threading the yarn from the spool to the needle, and a round bobbin instead of a bullet-shaped one, but that too is threaded in the same way. Mr Isaac Singer would have no problem in recognising my little machine, though he might be surprised at how clever this new generation is! 

10 thoughts on “A Century of Sewing Machines

  1. My mother had a pedal Singer. She would sew almost everything sew able. My late wife could too. Of course she came from Finland. Those long winters!
    I draw the line at knitted underpants though. I remember them well. The horror , the horror. So long ago.

    • My cousin has our grandmother’s treadle Singer – it still works perfectly, well over a century old. But no, I don’t fancy knitted underpants either! (Bet they were nice and warm though!)

    • Go for it! I thought these old machines would be valuable, but apparently there is no great demand for them (yet). maybe in a few years they might be worth something. Meanwhile, they are a joy to the eye at least!

  2. I’ve been exposed to sewing machines for all of my 71 years alive. My maternal grandmother used to sew on the thing with the peddle, using it to make quilts, clothes for grandkids and a plethora of other stuff. I look back and realize how amazing it was that she made so much stuff with that anient tech. BTW, I sew a little, and threading the needle is a real challenge for my eyes, too.

  3. The joy! I too have a Lidl bought sewing machine. It is a treadle too. I have made curtains galore in my time, now I take in my innumerable trousers at the hips. The trouble these days for me is taking the machine out of a tightly packed wardrobe because it’s quite heavy. I often feel more inclined to sew the side hems by hand whilst watching TV or listening to it in this case. I do despair that my granddaughter shows no interest in using it but quietly hands me things to repair when I see her. Her mother has my old singer as shown in your photo and it is still working. They have been fantastic work horses.

    • How I envy you, taking your trousers IN at the hip!! Mine all seem to need an extra panel in that area! I have been wondering where my new machine is going to live in my small flat – but maybe behind the curtains.

  4. Talk about synchronicity! My book club got together this afternoon to plan our upcoming season. The subject of sewing machines came up. I guess old Singer Featherweights are a “thing” now. I don’t know if my mother’s machine was a featherweight, but I know it was one of the first “portable” electric sewing machines made by Singer. She sewed EVERYTHING on that machine, including draperies and fitted slip covers for her wing-backed chairs and sofa. She even put piping on these covers. And a self-threading machine. Oh la la! That would be the cat’s meow. I’ve tried holding a magnifying glass up to the needle on my new cheap machine while I thread the needle. Not enough arms for that. I made a brilliant discovery that I can use the plastic tooth flossing loop that allows me to thread floss between the gum and top of a bridge as a cheater that works well to help me thread the sewing machine. The upside of having modern dental work. 😄

  5. Synchronicity – such an amazing concept, yet how many instances we experience of it! I’m scared of the self-threading mechanism!! it’s plastic, and I have dire warnings from my granddaughters that the needle must be absolutely in the correct position or else …! I put on my reading glasses and used a magnifying glass, and was able to thread the needle. Not just once, but three times! Your solution is ingenious, but I still have all my teeth (but one, extracted 60 years ago) so I don’t have that little gadget. I just have to play with the machine a bit now, to get used to it, and make sure the tension is correct etc. Then – onto the curtains! And cushions … and all the little sewing jobs that will doubtless present themselves.

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