Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sewing Machines throughout my life.

I first started sewing when I was in 4 H club when I was 12 years old.  My Mother had a treadle Minnesota sewing machine that she had received as a wedding present from her father in 1912.  I started using that machine when I was 12 years old about the last of 1939.  My first project was an apron and I did all right with that.  My next project was a cotton dress that I had to make for a 4 H club project.  I made the dress with a little help from my Mother and then had to go to the County fair and model the dress.   Didn’t win anything on it.

My next project was in my freshman year in High School in Ellendale.  A lot of the girls didn’t know anything about sewing and I knew a little bit.  I made another cotton dress and think I got a B on it.  We had electric sewing machines at Ellendale and they were easy to work with.  I didn’t take any more Home Ec classes the rest of the way through High School.

After I had made those 2 dresses I was ready to tackle some more sewing.  I remember making a sharkskin plaid dress when I was in 10th grade and I made bound buttonholes all the way down the back of the dress.   Then in my Junior and Senior years in high School I would come home from working at the Burt’s and I would sit down and make a blouse over the week end.  The kids in school couldn’t tell that the blouse was homemade.  Was getting better at sewing.

I didn’t do much more sewing except keeping my clothing mended by hand the first 4 years that I worked on the railroad.  Dale and I were married in 1948 and he bought me a Domestic 153 sewing machine for Christmas the first year that we were married.  I made a skirt and I made a  most of the baby clothes for Hugh  the first year I was married.

I went back to work when Hugh was 8 weeks old and I didn’t do much sewing except sewing buttons on  and mending and altering some of my things.  When Hugh was about 2 years old I made him  several pairs of shorts out of slacks that Dale could not wear any more.  I did make a dress or two to wear to work and I had Mrs Smith’s mother help me put a zipper in. 

When Hugh was a little older I remember making him a nice pair of pajamas but I didn’t really have time to do much sewing for any of us.  I did make a throw out of old pants of Dale’s and took it out to the lake and someone took it.  That was my first attempt at doing some piece work.

After Gail was born in 1959 I started doing quite a lot of sewing for her and made a lot of her clothing after she started school. 

The next sewing machine that I purchased was a White Sewing machine and that was in 1970.  This machine was all metal and had a zig zag and had cams to make fancy stitches.  I really started a lot of sewing with that machine.  In about 1972 I joined Extension Homemakers and took at tailoring course that they offered.  Then I started making coats and slacks and skirts for Gail and myself.  Also was beginning to do some quilt piecing at that time. 

In 1982 I went to a Quilt Show and classes in Albuquerque New Mexico and that was when I saw the little Singer 221 sewing machines being used.  I had seen the first 221 sewing machine in 1947 but thought they were very small at that time.

I didn’t get real interested in the 221 machines until about 1992 when I saw Andy fields in Ark city at a quilt show with several machines and they were priced in the $400.00 range.  I already had one with a table that we had bought at an auction for $60.00...I came home from Ark City and said to Dale “I think there is a market for those little Singer sewing machines, why don’t we try to find some and resell them and see what happens”..

That was the start of our selling the 221 machines.  We went to garage sales around here and found a few and then we went to Texas and stopped at Canton and found some and then we started stopping at all the sewing machine shops looking for the 221 machines.  We stopped at Palestine Texas and  bought 18 of those machines at one time.  Dale said “How are we ever going to get rid of these machines?”    I subscribed to several quilting magazines at that time.  I put adds in about 5 quilting magazines and we begin getting calls with people wanting to buy the machines.  This was before the internet and we had lots of business.

I had my sister in Minnesota put adds in the newspapers  up there just before we would go up for vacation and we found machines there.  We had one friend in Minnesota that went to garage sales and she would buy one every time she had a chance.  We stopped at every sewing machine shop coming and going across the country and we found machines that way.

Dale had been diagnosed with cancer and we had to go to Baltimore to Johns Hopkins several times a year and we would put an add in the Baltimore Sun and I think over the years we picked up about 150 machines in the Baltimore area.  We always came back home with a van load of machines.   One time on the way back from Baltimore we came through Cookeville Tenn and they had a 68 table and a sewing machine together in a small repair shop.  We had 38 sewing machines in our van but we made room for the table and the machine.

We were very busy with our small business and the last year Dale lived in 1998 was the best business year we had.  We had calls from all over the country just about every day.  There were some avid collectors at that time and they were always on the lookout for new machines and accessories.

When Dale died in 1998 I had over 50 sewing machines on hand.  He had told me a few weeks before he died that if I didn’t want to mess with them to just throw them in the river.  He felt like he had had the fun selling and working on them and that it had prolonged his life by several years.  Dale had talked Nancy Johnson-Srebro into writing another book about the 221 machines and several of our machines and accessories are pictured in the book. (Editor note:  One of Gail's machines is also in the book, the Crinkle Singer Featherweight.)

While Dale was alive we went to quilt shows in the Oklahoma and Arkansas area  and we made a lot of contacts that way.  We always did quite well at the quilt shows.  Gail had come up with the idea of having a web page on the internet in 1995 and we got a lot of business that way.  She also came up with the idea about selling care packages and then I included a dust cover in some of the packages.  As of 2010 I have made over 1000 dust covers.

 I started cleaning up the machines that we had on hand and selling them one by one.  I bought a few more machines also and sold them.  It kept me quite busy wrapping the machines up and all.  I learned how to rewire the foot controls.  Dale had either purchased or had given to him at least 60 old foot controllers.  Mostly they were all right and all they needed was new wiring.  I still have a few left and fixed up a few in the last month.

Dale had bought out a bunch of parts from someone here in town and they were about 20 of the 221 bobbin cases in the box of parts.  The cases needed to be reconstructed and I looked at those cases for about a half a year and decided that I could fix them.  I had the parts to fix the bobbin cases and I fixed up 11 of them and sold them .  I also had about 20 of the wooden cases that needed repair and I order material and latches and locks to fix them.  I had a man fix them for me and sold the reconditioned cases.  They went real fast.

I still sell some parts and manuals and accessories and Gail still has the web site for the machines.  About 2000 I begin getting interested in other old singer machines and so off to the garage sales I went.  I picked up several 401 machines a 500, 403 404, 185, two 301’s, a Necchi, a couple of White machines, and several others.  Some I gave away and some I sold.  I have in my collection a couple of Wilcox and Gibbs ,a Singer 24, two Elna grasshoppers, a 66 treadle, a little worker, a Pfaff 362 , 1069 and my worker horse Pfaff 1471.

Over the years I have collected almost every Singer accessory that was manufactured.  I also have a nice collection of old Singer books and a lot of written material that goes with the accessories.  I collected a lot of that stuff over 30 years ago.  I like to look at every old sewing machine out there, so I go to garage sales and see what they have to offer and sometimes I buy a machine and sometimes I just look.  Most of the machines that I see just need a good oiling and grease job and off they spin.  Some people do not take care of their machines and others look good after 60 years of use.

At the present time I sell buttonholers and accessories and oil and lube and patchwork feet for the 221 machines.  I work on the buttonholers and test them out before I sell them and that is interesting. Gail has created a web site about the Singer Featherweight at

This has been an interesting hobby and I am out in the workshop every day doing something with the sewing machines.

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