Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The miracle of the sewing machine

One of the things that always amuses me (sometimes annoys) is the "experts" – usually self-proclaimed – who insist you have to have a fancy, new, usually expensive, sewing machine in order to quilt.

Last weekend at our guild workday everyone else had their new sewing machines. One person was using the computerized embroidery machine to embroider some Christmas motifs, another was using decorative stitches to finish a crazy quilt ornament. Everyone else was straight-stitching. So when someone said about my Featherweight, but all they do is straight-stitch, I just shrugged and said, that's all I really need to make a quilt.

And that's true enough. But the fact is that a woman of 1900 with her straight-stitch sewing machine and box of attachments could probably do more than most people today with their computerized machines. Think about the clothing of the day, tucks and ruffles and plackets and eyelets. And there was a way to do them all on the sewing machine.

Machines of the day came with a basic set of attachments, like the puzzle box I've shown, which would have come with a Singer 27. Basic attachments included a ruffler, tucker, various hemmers and a quilting foot. The angled wire piece in the top right corner is a quilting guide. Very handy when you want to make parallel lines of quilting, whether they are straight or curved. The machine's instruction manual would have information on how to use all these basic attachments.

The really fun thing, to me, is that this is just a start. All the modern ideas, free-motion quilting, thread painting, and so on, were done 100 years ago, using straight-stitch sewing machines.

I was recently looking for something online and found the1911 Singer Instructions for Art Embroidery at the Internet Archive site. This is a book I've wanted for years, but never had the money when one came up for sale. Thanks to the wonderful people who share resources online, I can now try it out.

While I was looking around, I found another treasure, the Domestic Handbook of Art Needlework, a similar book written even earlier, in 1896, by one of Singer's competitors.

These two books have some wonderful ideas and techniques, and I'm looking forward to trying them out.

I thought this was a good day to share, as I didn't do a lot of sewing after work yesterday. I did decide on the thread I'll use to quilt the bow tie quilt and wound a half-dozen bobbins. And I started putting together a background for the little art piece I'm thinking about.

Now, time to get back to work, more later!


wlstarn said...

You are right! I went to a guild sit-and-sew last Saturday. Everyone else had their fancy machines, except for one person with a featherweight. Everyone else pieced blocks for donation quilts. I free-motion quilted two on my singer 301. I'm not great at it yet, but the recipients won't care. The other quilters all looked at my machine trying to figure out WHAT it was! And not one of then, fancy machine and all, was brave enough to even try free motion herself.

Loreen Leedy said...

Hi Vicki,

I put a link to your blog on my blog so people could see how great your work looks as the background image. Very cool!