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Our Sewing Machines, or, Weapons of Mass Construction

November 5, 2011

Dear Readers,

We thought we’d share with you the stories of our sewing machines, as we gear up to post lots of material about projects old and new.  Each of us has a cool story, so we hope you enjoy!

Love and stitches,


Miss Pascal:   I can’t recall a time that my family didn’t own a sewing machine, so I grew up around them and learned how to use one by watching my mother.  She was a competent seamstress–no expert, but I was still impressed by the magic she could produce on a sewing machine.  Her most notable creation, in my mind, was a simple Jane Austen costume (basically an empire-waisted dress) for Sixth Grade Biography Day.  (NERD ALERT:  Miss Pascal is, and was from a tender age, a Jane Austen fan.  I’m sure you’re surprised.)  Anyway, the first machine I can remember using is a Simplicity model that sadly went kaput while I was trying to sew a messenger-style corduroy bag in high school.  Due to some wear and tear in the wiring, the thing started smoking every time anyone used it…Krypton could certainly tell you that a blazing sewing machine is a safety hazard for one and all!  To replace it, my mom purchased a Husqvarna, which had seemingly infinitely more features and just plain worked better.  I still have this machine, though it’s on extended loan to a friend.

Pictured below is my current sewing machine, a Bernina activa 240, and its story:

20111104-181821.jpgI attended undergraduate at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio (Go Lords and Ladies!), and the nearby town of Mount Vernon had several adorable, independently owned crafting shops along the sleepy main thoroughfare.  One of these was Aunt Bee’s Quilts and More–I purchased my first how-to book on quilting (the results of which you’ll see soon) there and went in every so often to touch the fabric (remember my obsession with touching stuff?).  I may be mistaken, but I think it was one of the first stores to carry Amy Butler’s patterns and merchandise, since her studio started up around that time in Granville, Ohio.  The kindly ladies at the shop and I chatted a couple of times, and they were pleased that a young lady such as myself was interested in pursuing quilting.  They told me that I was free to use their sewing machine floor models (they sold both Brother and Bernina models at the time) as long as I took a sewing class there first.  They had a class starting soon for a small fee, and I showed up along with my college roommate, Stef (who I suspect still hasn’t finished her sample quilt)!  The teacher knew I was above the level of the “Intro to Quilting” class, but taught me some invaluable lessons about pressing, detail work, and finishing that have stuck with me (crafting novices, never forget the importance of your details)!

Once I had a couple of projects under my belt, I decided to make some quilts as high school graduation presents for good friends of mine and regularly went to Aunt Bee’s to work on them.  My mother had passed away that March of 2007, and I felt more than anything the urge to get outside of myself, having lost my best friend in the whole world.  Quilting was an excellent escape for me at that time and I felt comforted in the brightly lit shop filled with motherly presences–the mentorship in sewing I received at that time was an added bonus!

The ladies at Aunt Bee’s decided to stop selling Bernina machines, so they offered me the floor model I had been using at a discounted price.  At $1000, it was the biggest purchase I had ever made (keep in mind that I was a college junior whose jobs had been mostly minimum-wage affairs) and though I balked initially at spending that much money, I did my research and realized this was a great deal.  Not to mention the ladies threw in all of the accessories, including a leg extension (pictured above), walking foot, several other extremely useful sewing feet, and gave me a crash course in basic sewing machine upkeep and maintenance.  (I have first-hand knowledge now of why the phrase “well-oiled machine” has such positive connotations, har har).  This sewing machine has been awesome–I would recommend a Bernina to anyone who’s serious about their sewing–and I hope we have many more happy years together!

Krypton: The history of my sewing machine is very different than Miss Pascal’s, although just as sentimental and family related. The first time I remember sewing anything myself was in 7th grade home economics class. I made a big blue and white football pillow. I enjoyed learning the sewing basics, although I took much more to cooking class. Throughout my childhood my dad would do various sewing projects, from making drapes to minor clothing repairs to making homemade Christmas sweaters (ah the gloriously 80’s!). My dad’s family has owned a dry cleaners since 1956, so taking care of clothes as been part of the family business. On my mom’s side of the family, my great grandmother was a dressmaker back in Pennsylvania and I had seen pictures of my mom and aunt in adorable handmade Easter dresses and such. But my mom or grandmother didn’t sew themselves.

My dad always keep a sewing machine in our house, tucked away in the basement for “emergency” sewing projects, but it didn’t get much use. It was a machine of his mother’s (who died when I was only a little over a year old) so there was definitely a sentimental value to the machine. Over the last few years I had been getting more and more interested in starting to craft and sew. He would pull the machine out from the basement and help me make something and tell me how much my grandmother would love seeing us being crafty and using her machine (she was quite the DIYer). But this summer was the first time that I wanted to get serious about learning the proper way to sew.

I decided I wanted to take the sewing machine with me to my apartment and set it up. It required some love and fixing up, but this machine definitely has a story behind it (which based on my love of pictures, you would no doubt guess that I was totally in to). The machine was purchased by my grandmother Lorraine (the woman with the awesome red cape) in about 1964. It is from the Edward Malley company, which was a huge department store in downtown New Haven, CT. Malley’s was on the green in New Haven from about the mid 1850s until 1982 and was New Haven institution. From what I hear from my parents and read online, the store was very classy and their brand of products were well made and respected. At the time, this was a pretty fancy machine, with zig-zag stitch, embroidery capabilities and such. It is nearly 50 years old and cost about $150-200 at the time (with the desk!), so it can’t compete with Miss Pascal’s crazy awesome $1000 model, but it does the job for me just fine.

What makes it even cooler, is the sewing desk, complete with storage, a fold out top for extended work area, and a built in knee pedal to run the machine. When I encountered the desk it was painted a beige color with brass handles…and was definitely showing its age. My plan was strip all the paint and see what it looked like. The paint came off the top and drawers easily and revealed a beautiful dark wood color. However, the sides were more of a paneling and the paint didn’t come off that great. Not wanting to spend days fighting it and sanding so much, I decided to repaint the sides a warm white color to contrast with the wood (and fit in the color scheme of my bedroom). I then needed new hardware for the drawers. I was going to go out and buy some modern pulls when my dad suggested we just spray paint the old ones silver. Instead of looking dated they looked totally modern and amazing! Check out the final product (the top part folds out to the left and you flip up the machine):

If I continue to sew and get super serious I may need to upgrade to a more modern model, but for now this sewing machine makes crafting so fun and sentimental!

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