A few months ago, I found something special during my regular op-shop rounds. It was a sewing machine: in particular, a vintage New Home model, in the perfect shade of retro teal. With its chrome fixings, tactile knobs and dials and wooden carry-case, it would not have looked out of place on the set of a 60s TV show.
Obviously, I had to have it. However, my recent experiences with the quality of goods at Salvo’s had been disappointing, so I enlisted the help of a volunteer to test the machine. She eagerly obliged, and soon I was set up at a table with the machine plugged in, and thread, needle and scissors in hand.
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To an observer, this must have been a comical sight. The table in question was for children and barely reached my knees standing. All 178cm of me was squeezed in a kinder chair, with my knees bent so high I could rest my chin on them, while I clumsily tried to operate this machine. Luckily, the volunteer knew more about vintage sewing machines than I do, and threaded the machine for me.
It worked! As well as could be hoped, at least. The needle went up and down and formed adequate stitches. For $25, that was enough for me, and this heavy beast came home with me.
When I arrived home and set up the machine, problems soon presented themselves. It was gunky, I presume from decades of neglect. The stitches which seemed to form in the op shop soon failed to catch, and I was left with lines of skipped stitches. Never mind – I was in a entrepreneurial mood, and ordered some parts on Aliexpress before attacking the machine with WD-40 and carnauba wax.*
This was a tough job for my poor, weak body, and I soon found myself thinking that perhaps vintage sewing machines were not for me. They just require so much more effort than modern, computerised machines, effort I am unable to proffer. This might be difficult for an able-bodied person to understand, but every knob manually turned, every ounce of strength required to operate a stiff vintage sewing pedal, and every thought process that is more involved than just pressing a button requires energy that I cannot afford to expend.
So my dear New Home machine sat idling in the garage while I decided what to do with it. At the same time, my friend Alyce mentioned she had taken a sewing class and had enjoyed it so much she wanted to save up for a machine. A ha! Serendipity! I offered my machine to her, and it was soon destined for a new home.
Meanwhile, I hoped that the parts I had ordered from Aliexpress would be easy to install, and solve the problem of the unformed stitches. They were, and they did. My purchase, which cost all of $10 and included a set of needles, bobbins, feet (with adapter) and a bobbin case, brought new life to the machine. The bobbin case did the trick, but as the machine was missing a few extraneous bits and pieces, the order made the machine complete.
On a recent visit home, Alyce picked up her new, old sewing machine. It now sits in her study, next to her matching teal typewriter. I am glad to share the joy that is creating with others, and hope that she finds she loves sewing just as much as I do.
*I can hear vintage sewing machine lovers screaming their disgust. I now know that WD-40 is not at all suitable for cleaning sewing machines, as it strips the machine of any lubrication. I’m hoping that the one clean-up job, with wax applied after, didn’t do much harm to the machine.