Each Christmas I’m reminded of a Christmas long, long ago when I received a special present. I’m reminded of this same Christmas each time someone asked me how long I’ve been quilting. See, the special present was a little red Singer sewing machine, and I was 5 1/2 years old. I’ve no idea what happened to that particular sewing machine, but over the past few years I’ve tried to recapture my youth by collecting children’s sewing machines. Machines that really sew, like my little Singer did. In fact, one of my machines is very similar to that first Singer, but it’s not red.
The first quilt I ever made was sewn with that little Singer. I’d been given a Raggedy Ann and Andy embroidery set for my birthday. It came with blue stamped fabric, embroidery thread, needle, blunt-ended scissors and instructions. My mother taught me how to thread the needle and carefully sew the little cross-stitches and stem stitches. There were two small squares that could be used as handkerchiefs or sewn together to make a pillow cover. There was also a larger square that was intended to be a quilt for a doll.
I carefully stitched the designs and when I was finished, my mom showed me how to make a quilt. I remember embroidering little x’s all around the edge of the pillow-cased top. Then mom showed me how to knot ties here and there to finish the quilt. The quilt and pillow fit perfectly on the doll bed that my dad had made. Oh how my dolls must have enjoyed that hand-made first quilt. They didn’t care that the stitches were uneven or that the quilt wasn’t exactly square. And neither did it.
So you can see why these children’s sewing machines are dear to me. Two of the machines are Singers. Both are metal; they were made in Great Britain in the 1950s and hand-cranked. One has a clamp and must be clamped to a table to hold it steady while sewing. The other has a weighted bottom to keep it from moving around. These machines, like most children’s machines, sew a chain stitch. They machine with the clamp as a 3-position stitch regulator that adjusts the stitch length.
The third machine is a Betsy Ross Model 707-E. This metal machine is screwed to the base of the hard case, enclosing the electric motor. Yes – this one is electric so you can actually use both hands to guide the fabric. I love the sort of Art Deco design on the green metallic face.
The manual for one of the Singer Sew Handy machines suggests quilting clothes or blankets for one’s doll, or making a quilted hot dish holder for mother. To make the items more decorative you simply had to sew with the face side down; the lovely chain stitch loops would then be displayed on the front side.
During this holiday season I will sit and sew and remember that Christmas long ago that started me on the path to becoming a quilter. Thank you, Santa!
Photos by Patrick di Natale