The Stories of Vintage Sewing Machines

Did you know your machine can tell a story?  Some of the stories are well documented, the person selling the machine knows exactly what that machine was used for and others can just be guessed.  I none of the machines we own came with any sort of stories.  We haven't been that lucky but that doesn't mean that they don't have a story.  I hadn't even thought about those stories until I saw a post in one of the groups I'm a member of online.  She told us about someone who didn't like her machine because of the scratches on it.  It was then when I realized what those scratches meant.
Vintage Sewing Machines and the Stories They Tell @homeecmel


Pin Rash





This is called pin rash.  Back in the day women wrapped a piece of cloth around this part of the machine and used it as a pin cushion.  This tore the machines up.  It scratched them, wore the decals off, sometimes the bare metal is all that is left under there.  What does that mean?  A lot of pins were taken out of fabric and put into that wrap.  

Worn Bed




This machine's bed has been worn.  You can see the decals are all but gone.  Lots of fabric passed over the bed of this machine.  



The Teaching Machine





I sort of know this machines story.  I don't know how the person I bought it from got her but I know what she did before that.  She is out of a Home Ec. class room of my neighboring school district.  She suffered through teens learning how to sew, hopefully both girls and boys.  She's got tape on her.  The district just scratched it's info on to the back of it.  The case it's in looks great because it's mine and if fairly new.  

Vintage Sewing Machines and the Stories They Tell @homeecmel

The Story of the Machine

So what do all those marks and scratches mean?  It means the machine was used.  My husband calls them love marks.  Sewing machines were liberating for women.  Singer had a payment plan so they were accessible to everyone.  Women sewed not just for their families but for others as well.  They were able to make money for their family.  Today, a woman making money is no big deal but in the early 1900s it was unheard of almost.  Each mark on the machine is from fabric or pins.  The deeper the scratch the more fabric or pins that were used.  Now do I know for sure the woman who used the machine made money with it?  No, I don't.  I do know that she was making life better for her family.  Sewing by hand had never been efficient.  A sewing machine made the task of sewing so much faster allowing more work to get done in the same amount of time.  Even the hand crank machines could do a few hundred stitches per minute.  A person who is a good treadler can get those machines up to 700 stitches per minute.  Think about how liberating that had to be for a woman!  They were able to produce full garments in the time repairs used to take.  The woman could sell what she made or hire out her services.  This continued on for years and it still continues today.  There are women and men who today sell what they make on their sewing machine.  They sell their talents, mending, altering, even full one of a kind garments.  There are those of us who teach others how to use the machines.  

So what was/is the money used for?  Well that would certainly depend on the family and how much the person brought in.  Some have sewn just to make enough to cover the fabric they needed at home.  Others used the sewing machine to put a child through school.  There are the ones who have an inner need to create and there isn't room to keep all their creations so they sell them for some mad money.  Some of us hope that our sewing machines will one day change our families economic status. 

The next time you see a sewing machine all beat up remember that they weren't beat.  They were loved.  If you can't find out the real story than make one up.  Maybe those scratches are from making all the dresses for their daughter's wedding.  Or maybe the woman wanted her own car so she took on others sewing.  Maybe the woman wanted to be able to stay home with her kids so she did seamstress work at home.  We may never know but I like to imagine what the machines did before they came to me.

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About Melissa Shields

Mel is a 30 something year old quilter, attempting to balance her old school roots with today's trends. When not sewing or shopping for a new sewing machine Mel enjoys reading, reality TV, and Nascar.

8 comments:

  1. Every machine has a story you just have to look a little bit harder, Ive also learnt that the attachments etc can add to the story, I purchased a great old machine at auction and it came with a sewing box and it was obvious this machine was loved, everything was carefully recorded. Always think of the lady ( I would see her on her front verandah often) and how I am now the caretaker of her legacy.

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    1. That's awesome!! I wish we knew more about the owners of some of our machines but most were headed for a trash can.

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  2. I love old machines. I've got 1/2 dozen or so. And my favorites are the ones that are from family members. I'd just love to know more about them, maybe have a little documentary shown to me about their little life.

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    1. What machines do you have? We are at around 50 now. It'll take me forever to get them documented here on the blog.

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  3. What a great post! Definitely food for thought. Thank you for sharing

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  4. We have quite a few machines. My husband seems to like making them run again. We also have his grandmother's treadle Singer that was purchased in 1935 on the payment plan. Have the paperwork on it. Also have my grandmother's treadle Singer that was made in 1892. Bonnie in Iowa

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  5. Oh I love this! Never thought of it before! This was great. You have to come over and see the post I linked. You'll understand one of my photo's for sure!
    Come by and say Hi.
    Thanks for sharing this. You made me smile.

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  6. ... Stories are wonderful , I grew up in a family that sewed for practical reasons and now those who sew are doing it for pleasure ... with the well loved machines that have become our inheritance ... with many a tale to tell ... Thanks for helping me to remember some of them ...

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