Remember Your First Sewing Machine?
What is the first sewing machine you owned? That’s the question I posed earlier this month, via this blog, Facebook, and Pinterest. Enjoy the selected responses below, plus a spotlight on one of my followers.
Note: The photo above features my mom in 1954 with her first sewing machine, a Pfaff 130. (Isn’t she cute!) This was the machine I used when I first started to sew, which are now proudly displayed in my office.
What is the first sewing machine you owned?
“In 1969, I was a secretary living at home, and my fiancé was a college junior. Knowing money would be very tight after we got married, I saved up for a simple portable Singer zigzag because that’s what my older sister had. It had a little swing-out door showing how to thread the machine, plus it made buttonholes with the flip of a switch instead of the hateful buttonhole attachment we used in junior high home ec class. I stitched up my wedding dress, as well as many dresses, jumpers, skirts, pants, maternity clothes, baby and toddler clothes, Halloween costumes, banners, quilts, curtains, toys, gifts, table linens, and holiday decorations. That beloved little Singer survived the marriage. I sold it only when it became too heavy for me to lift and carry around.”—Jane McLean, Belfast, ME
Sharing is Caring
“My first machine was a Montgomery Ward Signature. It was metal and extremely heavy, with the cams to make decorative stitching. My sister and I shared the cost ($99) and we shared the machine. The problem was, I lived in a three-story walk up and carrying that thing was just too much! My sister finally bought her own—thank God. I have moved on to bigger and better, but my cousin is still using that machine!”—Barbara Evans, Beaumont, TX
“My father gave me a Paragon treadle machine when I was seven and he was going into WW II. He wanted me to help him by ‘turning collars’ on his shirts, which was not unusual in those days of recycling white shirts. That was a big job tearing out all those stitches and putting in the collar ‘just so’. My reward then was to be learn to sew and take Singer Sewing classes. The challenge was to keep the treadle flowing evenly, but I learned. When he left, he warned me new needles were not easily available, so I was to be careful. I used the same need for two years–how different from now when we are able to purchase new needles with specialized points. By the time I was in junior high I was permitted to stay after school and use the electric machines at school, after which I was given a wonderful Singer 201 by my grandfather!”—Dorothy Martin, Rockville, MD
“In 1955 I started working part-time at a small town post office and used my first pay check to purchase a sewing machine. It was from Sears Roebuck and came along with about ten cams that could produce some simple embroidery stitches. I used this machine to make baby quilts and clothes for myself and my five children until 1988 when I retired. At that time I purchased my first of several Janome machines.”—Audrey Moore, Timberlake, NC
Dad Looks Great!
“My first machine was a very heavy portable Kenmore sewing machine. My dad worked for Sears and he took me to the sewing machine department while the gentleman showed me all the new features of the machine. Dad would use my machine later to sew buttons on his work shirts. It didn’t matter what color thread was on the machine! One of his shirts had a different color thread for each button!!! I was 16 when I got this machine and it went to college with me where I studied home ec. education. I had learned to sew on a White treadle machine, which had been motorized. I still have both machines and I’m in my 60s.”—Susan Lamborn, Paradise, PA
Built to Last
“My first machine was a White 905, circa 1982. I knew nothing whatsoever about sewing, but figured I would like it because I’d been crafty since very young, but had never learned to sew! I was 23. The sales lady asked what type of sewing I did, and I said ‘None, but I’m going to learn. What can I get for $300?’ She insisted I return each evening, and spent the next several weeks teaching me to sew, for free! She wanted me to love my investment. The White had eight stitches, but had all metal parts, and she stated that the machine would outlast my great grand children! It sewed like a champ for over 25 years. Probably one of the very last all metal machines.”—Mary Ehrhardt, Baton Rouge, LA
One Sewing Machine- Two Countries
“My first machine was a Bernina 707—it was the same as the one I used in high school home ec class. My parents gave it to me as a wedding present in 1969 and it served me well until 2006, when I learned to quilt and wanted a few more features. It’s now being used in Nicaragua! Of course, I replaced it with another Bernina—the 440 Quilter’s Edition and I love it and all the special things it allows me to create!”—Barb Herreid, Nekoosa, WI
Love of Sewing Goes Full Circle
“My first sewing machine was the Singer Featherweight. My mother was given this machine as a gift when she was a private duty nurse, but it was my father who taught me to sew. My first project was an apron I made for a Girl Scout project when I was about 10. I can still remember my father guiding me through that project. He was a very talented man who frequently remodeled our house and did his own repairs on his police uniform and any other item that needed it. I went on to college to major in home economics, now called family and consumer sciences. I taught middle school and high school for 35 years and now I teach apparel construction at the same college I attended as a student. I still love to sew and quilt as much as I ever did. And, I still have that Featherweight along with two other sewing machines and a serger. I just got an embroidery machine that I can’t wait to try out. My life has definitely been influenced by my love of sewing!”—Mary Ann Pinney, Franklin, NY
A Great Investment
“My first machine, 53 years ago, was a Singer, in a cabinet and with a knee control. My mom bought it at a house auction for $45 and was not even allowed to open it first. At home, we discovered it was almost brand new. It only had forward and reverse but it sewed everything I needed it to do from clothing for me and my children, curtains, crafts, and more. To this day, many machines later, it still made the best buttonholes with the buttonhole attachment. Because of it’s ease of use and great performance, it instilled a love of sewing in me, which is still strong today. I just turned 70 and there is no stopping me now!”—Chris Ranick, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Model T to Spaceship
“My first sewing machine was a turn of the last century Singer treadle machine. I bought the machine for $15 with my Christmas money from a neighbor who had gotten a new electric machine. It was used all through junior high and high school, and I still have it. Now I use a top of the line computerized sewing/embroidery machine. I have moved from a Model T to a spaceship.”—Jean La Clair, Moncks Corner, SC
Thank you, Spiegel.
“I won a Spiegel sewing machine by entering a contest in local newspaper in 1960, when I was 12 years old (now 68). It was the first electric sewing machine in our family’s house. I learned to sew on a Singer treadle machine. It seemed very innovative at the time, but it was a very basic machine by today’s standards. I left the machine with my mother when I grew up and left home. She used the machine until she passed away in 1994.”—Ruth Hurley, Jarrell, TX
A Collection—Starting with a Treadle
“When I turned 21 I had a job, and my first purchase was an ELECTRIC Singer sewing machine. It only did a straight stitch and reverse. I had heard of other machines that did a zigzag stitch, but I didn’t think that would last. Since then I have had an Elna, two Baby Lock’s, a Bernina 930, a Janome, and now a Bernina 880. I started out with my mother’s Singer treadle machine when I was about 11. My mom would thread the machine for me before she went to work. I made most of my clothing through high school with foot power. “—Isabel Olsen, Libertyville, IL
Sew With Nancy
“My first sewing machine was Viking 990 that I still have today because I can’t part with her. I sewed lace bridesmaid dresses, Cabbage Patch doll clothes, fur teddy bears, and my husbands first quilt. When I babysat my three nieces for the weekend, I would rent a Sewing With Nancy video and watch it with them. To this day they will say, “Sewing With Nancy— pressing with Joan. It makes me smile. Keep up the great work to keep our craft alive.”—Robin Hessefort, Waunakee, WI
“My mom and grandfather joined together and bought me a used 1960ish basic Singer machine in a basic cabinet for my 12th birthday. I believe that they saw something in me way before I saw just how much I would enjoy sewing. I used that machine for nearly 20 years. I bought a used Kenmore with more than 2 feet and two stitches, but I refinished the original cabinet, put my Kenmore in it, and donated the Singer to charity. That was 25 years ago, and I still have the Kenmore in my cabinet. I dream of a fancy sewing, embroidery, and quilting machine, but I love my cabinet given with the love of two people who left my life way too early. My Mom passed away less than a year later after giving me the gift, my Grandfather five years later. I will always have it, because they saw in me what I didn’t yet realize. I still miss them and wish I could do mending for them today.”—Pamela McCandless, Auburn, IN
“I am not sure of the brand of my first machine, but it was a treadle. My mother used it for many years. When I was about five she taught me how to “treadle it” and I became hooked on sewing. We progressed to portable and cabinet machines throughout the years and now I have one of the “computers,” as I call it, with combination machines. The memories of the treadle machine are wonderful. I am now 70 and have never gotten tired of having some type of sewing, quilting, or embroidery project going. “—Dorothea Maxey, Sun City West, AZ
Sewing It All
“My first machine was a $49 Kenmore. When I stopped working, at six months pregnant, I was alone all day and made my first maternity clothes. I used that machine for many years of curtains, tablecloths, and children’s clothing, but I was never a quilter. When my children joined 4H I helped make a Log Cabin quilt to raffle, and I was hooked. I encourage sewing as a budget asset, creative outlet, and social outing with other sewers.”—Harriet Wetherell, Plano TX
Less than $100
“I received a 616 Singer for Christmas in 1964 from my husband. It was a total surprise. I had been renting a machine for $5 a month. The next Christmas he gave me a Danish modern walnut desk for it. I sewed on it for 30 years. It was still good in 1995 when I upgraded to a Janome 8000 embroidery machine. I had sewn for four children on the Singer and truly loved it. The machine was less than $100 new. In 2013 I paid over $13,000 for a machine.”—Marie Dutro, Paradise, CA
“My first machine was a Sears Kenmore sewing machine that I bought from my boss’s wife. I started a part time job as a retail clerk; volunteering to call customers when their order was in. I would ride my bike into town when I received the call that freight was checked in. When school started in the fall, I asked the owner if he wanted me to get a work permit. So, I saved my paychecks to buy the used machine; my mom didn’t want me using her machine. I didn’t own any blue jeans until college because I couldn’t wear jeans to work, which was after school; I learned to make skirts and matching vests with my machine. I still remember that fabric, plaids and solids that matched with a white backing on it. You will laugh but I still have some of that fabric in my boxes of fabric in the basement; I can’t bear to part with it. I made my first quilt with the scraps from all those outfits, which my younger daughter claimed as hers. But, now it is machine embroidery and quilting that I love to do when I have time. Maybe making clothes will be another avenue when I retire, since I have so many creative ideas that I want to try.”—Debbie Smith, Otsego, MI
Over 50 Years a Stitcher
“I learned to sew on my mother’s Singer treadle machine, and I purchased my first sewing machine after I graduated from high school—it was a Singer 401A. I am 75 now, and I’m still proud to own it. It has sewn children’s clothing, draperies, and slipcovers, in addition to my own wardrobe. It is my “go to” machine when my Babylock Ellegante is busy with embroidery.”—Marie Hansen, Sublimity, OR
“I learned to do some hand sewing when I was a Girl Scout in the 1960s. When I went into middle school and fell in love with sewing, my dad scraped together enough money to buy me a Singer sewing machine. I made clothing for my mother, my sister, and myself to save us precious money. It was also important to do mending of clothing for our family of six. When I got married and had two sons of my own those mending skills still came in handy. I taught my daughter-in-law to make curtains for my grandkids. Fifty plus years later, I still enjoy sewing when I can and I enjoy making purses, pillowcases, and more for gifts. Now, I am hoping to start teaching my grandkids to sew too! “—Arleen F. MacCallum, Wilton, NH
Kenmore and McCalls Started a Journey
“The very first sewing machine that I owned was a Kenmore. Years after learning to sew in home economics classes in junior high, I felt confident enough to buy the Kenmore at a garage sale. I was in my nesting phase with my first child and wanted to make as many baby items as possible from that $15 investment! I got to work right away and made a complete layette. (Thanks McCall patterns!) In the ensuing years, along with layettes and clothing; I repaired many torn shirts and pants for my growing family. It was an especially favorite thing to use my sewing machine at Christmas to make holiday stockings and gifts for my family.”—Margaret Graczyk, Maricopa, AZ
Choose a Sewing Machine, not a Car
“When I first went to work after graduating high school I needed some clothes to wear. I didn’t have a car so I rode to work with my neighbor. I took one home economics course and made a skirt in high school. It was then that I found out that I liked to sew. My first thing to save up for was a sewing machine—funny, not a car! I bought a Singer with a cabinet and began my sewing of a lifetime. My love for sewing has only intensified as the years have gone by. Now I can’t hardly make it a week without creating something. A project or two or five has to always be in progress! There is so much joy in creating something new. It is a part of me, whether it is clothing, bags, or quilts!”—Karen Patterson, Riddleton, TN
“I am now 67 but my first machine was in 9th grade. I was the first person to sew in my family for generations. I wanted to sew so badly that my one hour lunch and my study hall were all spent in the sewing class. My first machine was co-owned through a friend. She lived 20 minutes walking distance from me. She got a basic Kenmore machine for Christmas and NEVER used it. Her mom let me walk down almost daily to use the machine. I loved it. I had a hunger to learn more about sewing. I later got to take the machine to my house to use it. Later in life I had the honor and privilege to sew wedding gowns for both of my daughters and my daughter-in-law. My daughters were married a month apart. Yes, the use of that first machine got me headed down a wonderful sewing path in life. I now have three granddaughters who are learning to sew. They come to my house to use my machine. Two of the girls walk to my house. The tradition continues…”—Debbie Hair, Youngwood, PA
Sewing Machines and Quality Time
“When I graduated from college and got my first job, in 1973, I purchased a Sears sewing machine. I made a lot of clothes, especially baby clothes when our son was born, then costumes for his Halloween outings, and school plays. I used that machine for over 36 years. Almost six years ago my husband surprised me with a Baby Lock Ellisimo and all the trimmings! He has since added to my collection, from Baby Lock: the Evolution serger, Enterprise 10-needle embroidery machine, Destiny, Ovation serger, as well as a Singer sewing machine. Many nights will find us both in the sewing room, with several machines running at the same time. It’s a wonderful way to relax and be together!”—Kitty Sims, Crestview, FL
March Reader Spotlight:
Mary Bryan’s Answer
“When I was planning to be married in 1974, I told my future husband that I didn’t want a big fancy wedding ring. Instead, I insisted on a simple wedding band. With the money we saved, I purchased a sewing machine. There wasn’t a name on the machine and it didn’t even have a manual. The base of the machine sat inside a carrying case so that it could be portable and you didn’t need a cabinet. I sewed with that machine for years.”—Mary Bryan, Port Orange, FL
Have you upgraded your machine?
Several times since then. My next machine was a present from my Mother. She upgraded her machine & gave her old Singer to me, along with the cabinet. I was very excited to have a machine in a cabinet. It wasn’t always easy sewing on the dining room table. It was one of the old black ones with the gold lettering on it. I used that until she upgraded again, and she gave me her New Home. Then I bought one of the first computerized Janome sewing machines. I currently sew on a Viking Sapphire which I purchased a couple of years ago.
What types of projects did you first sew?
At the time I was first married, my husband was enrolled in a trade school learning electronics and I was working as a receptionist. So, we didn’t have a lot of extra money. My mother had been a 4-H sewing instructor and taught me to sew clothing, so I mostly made my own clothes. In later years I started sewing home décor projects and am now an avid quilter.
Is the machine still in use?
I’m not sure. I gave it to a friend several years ago who was interested in learning to sew. I don’t think she ever learned to sew & I’m not sure what ever became of the machine.
Do you still own/have any of the first stitched projects?
Unfortunately, I don’t have any of those projects. I don’t even have a picture of the machine, just memories.
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