I Sew

For a long time, as an adult, I wanted a sewing machine.

For a long time, as a child, my family had two sewing machines and one overlocker.

All my thinking about sewing is muddled with memories of sewing as a child.

Underneath my childhood home, in a space barely a metre square, was an old Singer sewing machine.  The previous occupants, perhaps the occupants before them, had left it behind.  It was sleek and black, the gold Singer label chipped.  My father oiled and tweaked until vigorous pumping of the foot pedal caused the needle to go up and down.  It worked.  My mother used it initially to mend our clothes, but eventually, we got a new electric machine.  This new machine was not for mending clothes but for making t-shirts.  Piles and piles of t-shirts for which my parents were paid a pittance.  At the time, however, we were grateful for any income and my parents were not skilled enough sewers to make anything more complicated than t-shirts.

As with all things in my household, we kids got tasked with relevant chores, depending on our tastes and abilities.  One of my sisters, in her early teens I think, became the main other sewer and she was very skilled.  So skilled that many years on, she designed and made a beautiful navy dress that she wore to a different sister’s wedding.  But I jump around in my recollections. Let me return to our childhood.

My sewing sister was excused from other chores once her talents were discovered.  I remember her sitting most often at the machine, piecing together t-shirt after t-shirt after t-shirt.

My most frequently occurring task was to thread the machines.  I had tiny fingers (my family started sewing t-shirts when I was about six, I think) and a naff ability for perceiving patterns, for following method.  My mother, father and sister were mostly happy to thread the sewing machines but if I was around, they asked me to.  And if the overlocker needed threading, it was my task, because it involved multiple needles and multiple threads.  And I found much pleasure in following the thread pattern through the intricacies of the machine, covered in a fine layer of dust.

My other most frequently occurring task, shared with my brother, was to flip completed t-shirts right way out, stack them into piles and then stack those piles into neatly folded groups of twenty.  I did not like this task.  The one, and only, time my brother and I tried to find some pleasure in this task, we were roundly upbraided.

We’d realised that the mountain of t-shirts to be inverted and stacked were so many, that we could form a barrier across the living room; each stack of twenty forming a brick, each brick placed in such a manner as to form a wall.  This we accomplished with aplomb, testing the height of the wall by leaping from one side to the other.  Alas, when the wall got high enough, a leap knocked it over and the ensuing mess meant that we had to re-stack.  My father caught us mid-leap, just as a foot caught a pile.  He was not pleased with our game.  We finished the task, in silence.

My family stopped sewing at home when I was in early high school.  Physically, neither of my parents could cope with it anymore, and they preferred my sewing sister to focus on her schooling.

During a home economics class at school, we were taught to sew.  It never really occurred to me that other kids did not know how to sew on a machine.  A week was put aside to complete a pillowcase.  I finished mine before the lesson was out.  The teacher left me alone, thereafter, to get on with the next few things we had to sew (a pencil case, a cushion, a t-shirt <-ha!) and anything else I wanted to do to fill up the time.  Oh, and also to help the other kids thread their machine.  You just never forget, really.

The machines sat in our house for a long time; we continued to use them to raise the hem of skirts and trousers (a vital necessity if one is five foot nothing).  And for some strange reason, I dreamed of having my own.  Last year, I achieved that dream.  (Well, okay, I just bought one for not really that much money.)  So far, I have only sewn ridiculously simple things, like curtains, an apron and a “mug rug” (a large fabric coaster or a really teeny tiny quilt).  But I have grand plans.  Oh yes I do.  And, er,  lots of spare time to execute my grand plans.  (Oh no I don’t!)  And insufficient hobbies (also, not true).  Oh well, what’s one more hobby?  More blogging fodder!




  1. Ah, I understand better your venture into sewing. I think my mom had one of those pedal sewing machines in VN, though she worked in a bank and didn’t sew for a living. I inherited roomie’s mom’s 1959 Singer some years ago and mostly use it to hem (I’m five foot nothing, too). Did you family sew T-shirts in VN or was it here (Australia)?


  2. My family sewed t-shirts in Australia. I like you referring to Aus as here! Yes, having a machine to hem is vital for us vertically challenged types, isn’t it? I wish we still had that Singer – it was beautiful.


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