An Artist's Quest

Ode to My Sewing Machine

This week I spent most of the week in my studio sewing.  I have a couple of commissions that involve sewing the first being a processional banner for St Paul’s Church in Burlingame.  Part way into the week my beloved, and much abused, Bernina sewing machine stopped sewing.  I have to admit that I work this dear old friend hard and rarely oil or service her and I have high expectations that she will never stop; this week she could go no more, so off to the repair shop she went (sewing machines are one of the few mechanical things you can get repaired anymore).  I dropped my faithful friend off with my fingers crossed that I hadn’t pushed her too hard this time.  It got me reflecting on significant sewing machines in my life.  Early on I was drawn to sewing, my mom always sewed for the family, especially special occasion dresses for my sister and I.  It wasn’t long before I was sewing clothes for our tangle haired Barbies and other dolls.  Somewhere along the way I was given a little kiddie hand crank sewing machine and away I went.  My visions were bigger than that little machine and soon I was allowed to use my mom’s mocha brown Singer (like the one pictured on the left).  When you sew you have to learn the ins and outs of your machine; the bobbin, the threading, the tension, to know your machine, to deftly put in the bobbin and thread it up in a snap is a true bond.  When I left home of course I couldn’t take my mom’s favorite friend, that mocha Singer is still the sewing machine she sews on.  So when my grandma offered me a typewriter as a graduation gift as she had done for my two siblings I declined and had the audacity to ask for a sewing machine instead.  She agreed and I was given my first full-fledged sewing machine.  It was a 1980 Kenmore, I tried to find a photo on the Internet but these were not the sturdiest machines and I’m not surprised no one is selling on one eBay.  That Kenmore served me well but I dreamed of a German Bernina.  At the time it was the premium of sewing machines sturdy and solid and full of stitches, just what a sewing machine should be.  I bought this Bernina from a little old German man on Geary Street in San Francisco.  It was the biggest purchase I have ever made.  Mr. Bernina let me make bimonthly payments and I would bring in my check every two weeks and give my machine a stroke, the salesman finally felt so sorry for me he let me take it home two payments early, I guess after so many weeks he decided I was good for it.  That machine (the middle one pictured) has been my companion ever since, sewing not just cloth but cardboard and paper and anything else I could think of.  While it was in the shop I borrowed my friend Stephanie’s Bernina.  This machine was given to Stephanie by my mother-in-law, right before she died.  As I sewed on it this week, I felt I channeled Leonora in the whirly of the motor and the stepping of the stitches.  It came to me that a great many church banners had been sewn by her on this machine, in fact the banners that grace the refectory here at The Bishop’s Ranch were sewn on this machine as well.  What a gift to revisit my dear friend and mother-in-law through the hum of her machine (on the right). My machine is back from the shop working again but with a warning that replacement parts are no longer made so who knows how long we will be together.  But with each stitch, zig and zag, this old stalwart comrade helps me sew together my passions and gifts,  so thank you to all the sewing machines that stitched their way into my heart, this post is for you.

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7 responses

  1. Martha Olmstead

    Lots of Leanora channelling these days….what a wondrful thing! XOXO

    March 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

    • Leonora is often whispering at the edges of my consciousness this week, however she was in full voice, hopefully I’ll share the finished banner next week.

      March 9, 2012 at 10:18 am

  2. Val

    I remember Leonora well from camp. What a great and creative lady.

    March 9, 2012 at 10:25 am

  3. Mary Thorpe

    Awaaaa, sewing machine love! You got your little red crank sewing machine, on your sixth Christmas, from your Aunt Margaret.
    XOXO Mom

    March 10, 2012 at 10:02 am

    • Thanks for reminding me of when I got that little beauty and who from…. those facts were lost and now they’re found!

      March 15, 2012 at 11:04 am

  4. Mary Anne

    Sewing machines in my life included my Grandmother’s treadle sewing machine that she used her entire life, my Mother’s portable (tiny) Singer that she gave to me when I began learning to sew which was the best one, and an inexpensive Brother machine that is cantankerous!

    Sewing/tailoring was a major endeavor for me in my 20s as I designed and made my wedding gown, my sister’s prom gown with an evening coat, and several of my Mother’s party dresses and suits. Beautiful fabrics were abundant and reasonably priced then so why buy ready-made? I look back and am amazed at those creative moments in my life when I was so busy pursuing a MFA degree, then teaching in a small college, and newly married . You may ask what happened….the available fabrics for elegant clothes became hard to find. Today there only are great quilt fabrics and cotton prints plus upholstery/drapery materials in my local fabric shops.

    March 13, 2012 at 8:10 am

    • You are so right about the availability of reasonably priced fabric beyond quilt cottons, there are still places to find them but they are few and far and expensive. I made a dress for a friends wedding last year out of a gorgeous red raw silk…. but I had to drive hours to get it!

      March 15, 2012 at 11:07 am

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