Thursday, 7 November 2013

New and Old Sewing Machines

Do you remember me mentioning, last week, that my Mother-in-law was lovely? Well, I was having a conversation with her one day last week about sewing machines, trying to pick her brains as to why my machine seemed to randomly pick moments to sew like a complete pig on the underside, and why my stitch length control seemed to have absolutely no bearing on my actual stitch length. Servicing it hadn't seemed to improve these annoying little niggles, in fact nothing I tried seemed to improve it. And then, the very next day, a delivery man arrived at my front door carrying an extremely large parcel for me, which turned out to be a sewing machine - she'd only gone and bought me a brand new, posh machine to solve my niggles! So you see, a very lovely Mother-in-law.

It's a scarily clever machine. It has a little LCD screen on it, it does letters and numbers and a huge variety of different stitches, it even has a 'memory' for the stitches. With my old machine I had just the one 'foot', with this one I now have 12 - aaagh! For several days afterwards it just sat there, and I made lots of excuses about why I couldn't possibly try it quite yet. I made a few attempts to read the Instruction Manual - not the kind of book I usually get on with too well, and this one really didn't help make friends with me by starting out with a sentence like 'Keep your work place tidy'!
But at the beginning of this week I decided I was being silly and, with the children back at school, I sat down and had a go. It turns out even scary machines have a lot of similarities with simpler models. All the basic things - threading it, winding the bobbin, sewing a simple, straight line etc - were easy enough to work out. I haven't been at all adventurous with it yet, I'm still just trying to get used to it a bit and I haven't managed to get a huge amount of time in on sewing this week either. The strangest thing of all for me is that you can sew on it without using a foot pedal. I have been trying to get accustomed to this but it feels incredibly alien to me at the moment. And, even more strangely, if I'm driving immediately after I've done a stint on there with no foot pedal, then using my feet on the pedals in the car starts to feel wrong all of a sudden - quite worrying!

San's quilt has been the perfect sewing to be doing on there as practice.

Lots of nice, easy straight lines. And it does sew smoothly and beautifully, on the top and the bottom. I haven't played around with the stitch length control yet - that's on the scary LCD screen - but I have every confidence that it will work perfectly. And my fabric feeds through amazingly easily now - without me having to push it or pull it. I hadn't realised, until I sewed with this new machine, that this was something I was having to do with the old one, it had obviously just become second nature.

So that's one lovely, new machine in the house. And then today I went and collected this lovely, old machine.

It's one I bought at our local Recycling Shop quite a while back. I'd been looking out for a cheap, old hand machine for ages because I thought it would be great for the children to use. Theo and Venetia are both really keen to sew, and Maria is very enthusiastic too.

I took it along to get it serviced with an amazing old man who's serviced my main machine for the last few years. He's 93 years old, and he and his wife seem to know everything there is to know about sewing machines - inside out, back to front and upside down. They are such a lovely couple, and today, when I went to collect my little old hand machine, the lady talked me through all the different parts and how it worked. She made me practice everything myself until I was sure it had all sunk in properly, and she even told me a bit about the history of my machine.

It's a Jones Family CS Sewing Machine. This was a small English family run company, founded in the late 1860s in Manchester. My machine has 'as supplied to Queen Alexandra' on it, which dates it to sometime between 1901 and 1910, when Alexandra was actually Queen. Apparently there were about 20 small English sewing machine manufacturers around the beginning of the century, all manufacturing similar machines for a very similar price. And then the Singer company brought out the same kind of machine but for half the price, partly as a result of more efficient manufacturing but partly just as a 'loss leader' kind of product. It worked. Very quickly the majority of the small English firms began to struggle. Some went bust and Singer bought out several of them too. The Jones company was one of the few to survive and continue. Once the dust had settled and Singer was the clear top dog, they put their prices back up again. My lovely 93 year old man's father worked for Singer around this time and struggled hugely with the scruples of the company. So I'm quite chuffed now that I've got an old Jones machine and not an old Singer machine!

I've never sewn with an old, hand machine before and I was amazed at how well and neatly it sews. It feeds through beautifully too, without any pushing or pulling. In fact it's just a beautiful machine all round. I love being able to see all the mechanisms and how they work, and marvel at the fact that it's over 100 years old.

But, when I got it home, Venetia reminded me very forcibly that it wasn't supposed to be for me. And she's been having her first go on it this evening. She decided she wanted to make a quilt - happily I managed to persuade her to start off with a simple quilt for her dolls. She chose some fabric (pink predictably) and I cut her some strips. After a brief lesson and demonstration on how to use the machine I was kicked off and sent to my 'new' machine. Apparently she knew it all. I was allowed to do her pinning and ironing for her and sort out her problems when she went wrong a few times - mostly she'd wound the handle the wrong way and the needle had come unthreaded - but generally she managed really well. She got her quilt top finished and then stuck on to a piece of a pink wool blanket that she cut out for the base. She decided that she wanted to do big zigzags along each strip for the quilting, so I got her to draw lines in to try and sew along.

It's coming along very well, she's got a couple of her zigzags done. I really love her choice of quilting and may have to do the same thing myself sometime soon! She was desperate to stay up all night to finish it, but I did eventually manage to persuade her to go up to bed. Which is exactly where I need to go right now too, new and old sewing machines in the house seem to have put me back several hours tonight!

I'll be back tomorrow (later today in fact!) with a photo, Sally.

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