Thursday 28 August 2008

Modern technology and nostalgia

I have fought and lost many battles with the tension setting on this old Singer, and today decided that I should move with the times and buy a new sewing machine. After years of undertaking little more than running repairs on the Lovely Son's jeans and chainsaw trousers, both very dull projects, but well within the capabilities of the old cast iron workhorse (the machine, not me), I felt that as a retired person I might at last have time to learn to make more interesting things, though I remain vague on the detail of exactly what or why. Or indeed for whom, but friends, beware - Christmas is coming, and we all know how lovely a home made gift is, especially if home made by someone who can't sew in a straight line....

So this morning I girded my loins for a trip into town, and sought advice at John Lewis about sewing machines suitable for someone just emerging from the Dark Ages. I had in mind that I might get the second-to-cheapest model (yes, I did some online research first, so I knew what feed dogs and free arms were, and hoped that I might not look a complete blithering idiot as I thriftily spent my gift vouchers) but the enthusiastic saleswoman on the sewing machine counter had other ideas, and after a long time talking and demonstrating, she had me convinced that this swishy Janome model would be just right for me. It all looked so easy! Buttonholes, zig-zag, fancy stitches, blind hems, all within my grasp! Etsy, here I come, I thought, give or take a year or two.

Then I had to get it home, not difficult with Sandra and her little nephew and his buggy to hand, but en route, serious doubts began to gather at the back of my mind. Why had I spent so much on what might be another dust-gatherer in the attic? Did I really need a sewing machine at all, now that I had mastered iron-on hemming tape?

So I left it in its box in the hall and ignored it for several hours while I did some therapeutic sorting and wiping (plaster dust takes months to eradicate!) of books and papers, and had a quiet armchair doze with the cat. Then Sandra, not a devotee of delayed gratification, called to see how I was getting on with the new machine, and together we unpacked it and had a little play with it.

And, astonishingly, it is ridiculously simple to use, and the instructions are veritable child's play, a balm to the soul after yesterday's underfloor heating debacle. It even threads its own needle, fancy that. And it purrs. And it has lights. And it sews in a straight line without me having to try. And, best of all, I made a buttonhole all by myself, a real, working buttonhole! All that remains is to think of things to make with it, but blogland is full of charming examples with tutorials, and maybe my friends won't have to cringe as they open their Christmas presents from me.

And what of the old Singer?
It is crammed with childhood memories. Originally hand-operated until my mother converted it to pedal-power, it travelled with us round our Army-life world, and made so many of our childhood clothes, including my wonderful First Communion dress - oh, the grief of being able to wear that marvellous confection, made from a French pattern, only once! - and doll's dresses made from the remnants. And it made fabulous gowns for the Regimental ball, back in the Fifties, when skirts were full and taffeta was the most glamorous stuff I had ever seen. The machine now sits forlornly in its battered wooden case, which smells as potently as it ever did, throwing me back fifty years; if it wasn't so stubborn about its tension adjustment, I would be sadder than I am to see it go. I think there is a charity somewhere local that welcomes these old machines, reconditioning and re-converting them to be used by hand in areas of the developing world, and I hope that it could be used in this way. If not, it might have to go back into the loft for a while till I am ready to let it go; meantime, Janome DC3050 and I have a relationship to build and buttonholes to make.
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