93 not out

Before Christmas Mr Snail decided that he’d like to learn to sew his own clothes. It all started when a kit arrived with the pattern and all the bits and bobs required to make a pair of boxer shorts. I’d ordered it because I fancied having a go and the pattern looked good (and had got good reviews). I opened the parcel and there was a little box, with the fateful words “A beginner’s sewing kit…” on the outside. “Ooh,” said Mr Snail “could I make these?”. Well, I really couldn’t say no, because a quick glance at the pattern suggested that they were quite straightforward.

Practice

The main issue was that Mr Snail had never used a sewing machine before, but he was convinced that it couldn’t be very different from playing race cars on his PS4 (which has foot pedals and a steering wheel). I did point out that if he makes a mistake in a video game, no one gets hurt, but that sewing your own finger is extremely painful. Nevertheless, he was sure that he would be fine… and so I gave him some scraps and let him play with my Bernina. Apparently, it turns out, a sewing machine is a lot more scary than a video game and nowhere near as enjoyable. So, we had a rethink…

Fortunately, my family owns a Singer 99K… we’ve had it from new (1927ish) and at least three generations of us have learned to sew using it. So, Sister of Snail dropped it off and, after some oiling and fiddling, we got it running ok (although it wasn’t as smooth as last time I used it, about 25 years ago). It really is much more difficult to sew your own finger with this machine, as you have to put all the effort in yourself, so Mr Snail was much happier.

I guided him through the cutting and construction, and he was able to make his own boxer shorts. A rather impressive first project in my opinion.

Anyway, I was a bit unhappy with the way the machine was running, so we decided to get it serviced. I was pretty sure that the tension spring needed replacing and the presence of an experienced Singer servicing/repair shop just down the road from the flat in Reading seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. On its return, this lovely old machine is running like a dream and Mr Snail has been able to complete a second project using it (which I’m sure he’ll blog about soon).

I’m so happy that our 93-year-old machine is still going strong, and still being used to produce garments. My mum says she thinks it was originally bought by my great auntie Dolly, who was a dancer and used it to make her costumes. I just wish I had some pictures of her wearing some of the things she made. Let’s hope it’s still going strong in another 93 years.

New but old

When I was 16 my mum and dad bought me a sewing machine – a relatively simple Singer, which did straight stitches, zig-zag, buttonholes and about six other fancier stitches. I used it to make skirts, coats, curtains, toys, ballgowns and even the most amazing fully boned purple satin dress to wear for a friend’s wedding. It has been serviced regularly over the years, but in 2018 it became clear that it was struggling and no longer up to the jobs I wanted it to perform – most notably zig-zag stitches in jersey fabric. I dithered about getting a new one because I really didn’t want anything too complicated or that relied on electronics, and so I made do.

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A mechanical marvel

However, back in the summer we were discussing sewing machines at Knit Night and one of the ladies mentioned her old Bernina 830 and what fabulous machines they are. She explained that secondhand models were greatly sought after and worth looking out for, but, even so, relatively easy to find because they were so well built and so long-lived. I searched ebay and finally found what I wanted in a location where I could go and collect it. And so, on my way back from the Crochet Sanctuary weekend, I picked up my new (old) machine. Indeed, it is actually older than my Singer. The lady selling it told me it had belonged to her late mother, who bought it new… and for which there was the original paperwork. Not only that, but she had the original cabinet for it that she also offered me, and for which I made a donation to a charity she selected. The cabinet is brilliant, with a platform that allows the machine to drop down inside at the flick of a lever.

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Complete with cabinet

Having had the same machine for 35 years, it has taken me a while to get used to a different set-up. Nevertheless, it has turned out to be a great purchase. The first thing I made with it was Sam’s t-shirt, but I’ve progressed on to more complex thingsĀ and am finding it a joy to use. It has needed no more than a quick clean and the application of oil to get it working smoothly. I haven’t tried sewing jersey fabric yet, but my current project involves lots of layers of fabric/interfacing and it’s turning out to be a breeze, so fingers crossed for future projects.

I’m so pleased to have avoided buying a brand new machine, and the lady I bought it off seemed delighted that it was going to a home where it would once again be cherished. Hurrah for well made tools that can last more than one lifetime.

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