What’s on my bench?

I have been sewing by machine for a good many years. I prefer to machine sew, not hand sew. I can’t get the hang of hand quilting, but watch me fly while I free-motion quilt on a sewing machine. I teach sewing. I have a good amount of experience with sewing machines. Why was I still frustrated with using these machines?

The reason was I didn’t understand them. There was something mysterious about them. When things didn’t work right I often assumed it was me. Early on, I learned to obey my sewing machine mechanic when he said “Don’t touch that tension dial?’ or “Don’t open up your machine?”  Stuff goes wrong when you sew and I thought understanding the mechanics of these ingenious machines might make life easy. Just “why” did it go wrong? User error? Thread issues? Burrs? Needle problems? How do you teach if you don’t understand what’s going on?

I solved that problem a couple weeks ago when Dear Husband and I spent 4 full days learning how to repair sewing machines. We talked, ate, slept and dreamed about sewing machines all 4 days. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with my husband, to learn under the tutelage of Ray White and be amongst the company of 9 other enthusiastic learners (all more experienced then us). I obtained a lot of knowledge during that week, both from Ray and my comrades in class.

I am now a mechanic, a novice mechanic…but a mechanic non-the-less. I GET IT! I understand and above all appreciate how these machines work. I respect the genius of the craftsmen of the 1800’s who engineered the first machines. The ingenuity of these first machines is the basis of every sewing machine today, computerized or not. The guts are all basically the same.

I also learned something else…I learned respect and admiration for the old machines. I own a treadle machine and my Grandmother’s 1950 Singer (model #15-91). But until Ray’s class, I never really understood their value. They were often clumped into my brain as one of those “old black machines.” My comrades showed me the way to the “dark side,” exposing me to the quality and workmanship of these workhorses. Machines 50 to 100 years old can often out perform, and most definitely outlast, the plastic disposable machines they sell today.

When I got home, I loaded up my Grandmother’s 15-91 and started quilting (pictured top right). It was like a “V-8” moment. Why was I looking for newer machines when I had this gem? Grandma knew best.

Since the class, I re-inherited my mother’s Singer 66-16 (pictured bottom right). The very machine I learned to sew on. This cast iron beauty unfortunately has some issues that need attention and isn’t quite ready for prime time. However, after some cleaning, lubrication, and re-wiring this baby will be back to doing what she was made for…sewing up a storm. Currently, she’s what’s I’m working on. As I progress through this part of my journey as an fiber artist, I’ll be dropping in now and again to show you what’s on my bench. Hang in there, because this is gonna be fun!



  1. Jean Skipper says:

    What fun! You light up when you talk about this experience, and your enthusiasm is contagious. I’m looking forward to seeing all that will follow for you. 🙂

  2. Mary t says:

    Ooh! I’d have enjoyed that class!
    I”m so excited I found an old sewing machine for $10 this week with a table–a thrift store in Pittsboro NC==and by gosh and golly it worked perfectly, and I think has very few miles on it as it still had some protective clear plastic over some metal parts. 🙂 JOY JOY.. I’m thinking of making some pretty art like the kind you make for our house. 🙂

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