Audrey’s first attempt on the Singer sewing machine

Jul 13th, 2017 | By | Category: Mary Cook's Memories of the '30s

By Mary Cook

The old Singer sewing machine was considered a piece of parlour furniture in our house in the ‘30s. To fold it down into the top leaf we had to pull the strap off the wheel, and it hung there like a huge elastic band when not in use. And when Mother wanted to sew, it had to be forced back into the groove on the wheel. Primitive today, but considered the height of modern technology in the ‘30s, and Mother treated her Singer sewing machine as if it was a member of the family.

For many years she was the only one who ever touched it. My sister Audrey and I sewed by hand, because Mother thought it her duty to make sure we were well prepared for the day when we would have families of our own. And, as Audrey got older, she badgered Mother constantly to use the Singer. She hated rolling hems on the flour-bag tea towels by hand, and just knew it would be so much easier on the sewing machine.

Then came the day when Mother thought Audrey had reached the age of maturity when, under strict supervision, she would be taught to sew with this foot-powered modern piece of machinery.

Mother said we would take apart some clothes that had come in Aunt Lizzie’s hand-me-down box, and Audrey could make whatever she wished.

I was thunderstruck when I heard my sister say she would like to make a dress. I thought she should start out on an apron or something as simple, but Audrey was filled with confidence and was sure she could master the machine with little trouble. She took apart an old men’s light serge suit, and Mother had her press out all the seams and ready the material for this grand dress that my foolhardy sister said she was going to make. Mother fashioned a pattern out of the Ottawa Farm Journal, and Audrey turned down anything more than an occasional suggestion from Mother. She was a stubborn one, alright!

Once or twice Mother intervened and said she didn’t think Audrey was being careful enough in following the newspaper pattern. But my sister said she wanted it tighter than Mother suggested, so I saw her cut a swath with the scissors that would put an experienced tailor to shame. Mother insisted, however, on showing her, in great detail, how the old Singer worked. The thread had to go through the needle in a certain way, and when I offered to turn the wheel to get the thing started, Audrey roared like a banshee. Mother told me I had to leave Audrey alone … after all, this was her first venture with the sewing machine and she needed her wits about her.

Audrey was at the machine all day. She was even excused from setting the supper table and redding up the kitchen after. I could see the dress taking form. Audrey found six red buttons in the button box for the front, and I had to admit that it looked very much like my sister had mastered the fine art of sewing on the machine, the first time around. I was more than a bit envious.

Mother lit the Coleman lamp and put it close to the machine. Audrey was down to turning up the hem. The floor was covered with pieces of thread and scraps of material and I moved slightly away from the scene of action so that I wouldn’t be asked to clean up the mess.

Finally, Audrey announced, just before we were ready to turn in for the night, that her dress was finished. She said she was going to wear it to the Lutheran Church the next morning. She pressed the seams and marched upstairs with the dress, not letting it out of her sight for a minute.

Sunday broke clear and cool for a summer day. Audrey commented that it would sure be nice to be in a good wool dress on a day like that.

She was struggling to get it over her head. With a great effort she succeeded. But the buttons were obviously not going to meet on the chest. Audrey said it didn’t matter, she’d wear a middy under it. I thought the sleeves were upside down because the fullness was under the arms. She shot daggers at me when I mentioned the fact. The hem was six inches higher in the back than it was in the front, and one side seam was already puckered like a crumbled newspaper. I decided against pointing out these flaws to Audrey.

She waltzed into the kitchen as if she had been outfitted by Eaton’s catalogue. The three brothers were hysterical, and Mother cuffed them all on the ears with one swoop. Emerson wanted to know if Mother was really going to let her wear that thing to church. But Audrey was as proud as punch. It was really the most awful dress I had ever seen.

But, as Mother always said, every cloud has a silver lining. Audrey had suggested she make me a dress out of the same material if there was enough left. I said a silent prayer of thanks that what was left was nothing more than a few scraps, and they were fed into the Findlay Oval.

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