Thursday, June 13, 2013

June 13th is Sewing Machine day!

Today, June 13th is sewing machine day! (Whoooo!)

The sewing machine has existed in many forms since 1755 (258 years!) and many variations were invented and patented over time eventually leading to a "patent war" in the 1850s between Isaac Singer and Elias Howe.

Singer won but had to pay out Howe with some of his earnings as Howe owned the original patent. Even though it was 20 years old at the time. 

The first machines only sewed straight stitch using the system we have today of a bobbin, top thread and needle. The Zig-zag stitch machine was patented in 1873 by Helen Augusta Blanchard of Portland, Maine and electricity eventually joined in the party in 1905 (much better then those silly dog powered ones...)

The iconic Sewing Machine that your grandma might have owned or that you might see in antique stores is the Singer sewing machine. An ornate black machine often with gold detailing and and sometimes a hand or treadle (foot) crank. 

Singer bought out a modern version of this machine for its 160 year anniversary 

These first machines were often flat bed which meant you couldn't sew sleeves on to a bodice that was already stitched down the inner arm. In order to do so, you would have had to stitch sleeve hem first, followed by the shoulder seam and then close the sleeve, sewing up under the arm through to the hem on the bodice

The classic Singer Featherweight is still a valuable item - used by quilters and vintage enthusiasts (Gertie Hirsch uses hers to sew her special VoNBBS projects)

Nowadays sewing machines have a removable flat bed to make it easier to sew set in sleeves, collars and hems.

This is my darling little machine - Dolly. 
Named after my Nanna - Dolores Lucy or Dolly for short. She was an avid crafter often knitting crocheting and sewing - she had 6 children, 5 of which were boys, so sewing and mending were part of her daily life. When I was little and my parents noticed my creative streak they decided that it had come from Nanna. 
And so it's with her apparent crafting genes I named my machine.

It's a Janome D├ęcor Excell II 5024 - it's about 6 years old and needs a service as it squeaks when I sew sometimes, but I can't bear to be without it for too long! 

My favourite thing about Dolly is her automatic needle threader - which sounds fancy, but it's just a little hook that drops down into the needles eye and grabs the thread and pulls it back through. Ingenious! 


The thing that annoys me the most is its tendency to jam right when I'm trying to sew something tricky. The only way the solve the jam for some reason is the re-thread the machine - both the bobbin and top thread. It also used to jam when I changed stitch type but its stopped that now. 

One of my favourite movies begins with jammed sewing machine - seen here being used by Shirley McClaine (with a little James Booth) in "The Bliss of Mrs Blossom". Hers looks similar to this Maxfield Agenoria machine 

Dolly is plastic fantastic with manual operation (knobs and dials) and 25 stitch functions and some very nifty feet, so we get along fine. She was about $500 when I bought her but you can now get great basic machines for $290.

Some other interesting machines of note;

The Ikea sewing machine - SY - which is a basic machine intended for home sewing at a bargain basement price of $69.99 (not available on the Aus website!!)

Apparently it's not too bad - apart from the fact that you can't adjust the stitch length. So I wouldn't recommend it for garment sewing as you cant gather or do pretty top stitching

How-about a Hello Kitty machine? That cat does everything!

This beautiful machine by Sarah Dickins uses your touch to move the fabric through the machine. She also simplified the design to make it less intimidating to a new sewer and widened the arch to make bundling up fabric less of an issue. The machine is threaded by following the metal path saving confusion from the up and down of the thread race 

If I could buy a practical vintage machine I would want something like this 

Such beauties!! 

Do you have a sewing machine? Dose it have a name?
Make sure you give it a big hug today and think of all those people who contributed to one of the most wonderful machines of the industrial age!

Cat xo


  1. I had no idea it was sewing machine day today! I get my love of sewing from my nan as well, she worked as a seamstress in the East End of London (where my family are from) and would make all of my dad's clothes when he was a boy x

    1. I didn't either until a few days ago - i saw it in one of those calendars that tells you what special day it is. How nice to hear about your Nan. A lot of women in those days sewed because they had to and didn't actually like it, but it seems our nans enjoyed it enough to pass it on!

  2. Thanks for all the interesting facts! I love the beige Singer beauty. Will definitely give my Elna a hug when I get home from work.

    1. Did you click on the link for the beige singer machine? Some really beautiful machines on there - streamline, pink and metallic blue ones!

  3. Fancy that! Jon's been using my sewing machine today, I've got halfway through a project and seem to have come to a grinding halt!
    Love the anniversary Singer. I think every home in the UK had the cast iron versions at one time, I've inherited two of them but only use them as doorstops. x

    1. Well he must've known subconsciously! I wonder what your sewing? Hopefully another gloriously coloured frock?
      Great idea for the door stop - im sure they weighed a tonne!

  4. Crazy - I just spent alllllllll day with mine! We made 2 tank dresses today, haha.

    1. How appropriate and productive! I hope it behaved for you?
      I need an all day sewing session - I'm super keen to finish my Pattie suit

  5. I love old machines! Mine is a 1940s Singer 201-2. Her name is Marilyn ;)

    1. Marilyn! What an wonderful name for a vintage machine! I hope shes a sassy as her name sake?

  6. Old School Sewing Machines are pure love, I too have a 1973's Singer.


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