Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Past

It’s Christmas. Santa has delivered his packages, enjoyed his cookies and cocoa, and gone his merry way. All is calm once again.

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Is It Art?

A trip to a local thrift shop almost always uncovers a treasurer, and today’s trip was certainly not a disappointment. It wasn’t a significant purchase in either dollars or importance. It was simply a round ball with buttons pinned to it.

The pins were fairly new, with round, colored heads and there were two bows made of vintage cloth at the top. It had a big red button on it, and I’ve been looking for just the right big red vintage button. The price was $1.99 so in my cart it went.

This evening I pulled it out of the bag intending to remove all those pins and buttons, but something made me stop and take a closer look.

Someone took a lot of time to pin all those old buttons to a Styrofoam ball. I assume it was made to be decorative. Were the buttons from someone’s collection, or their mother’s or grandmother’s collection? Was this a “memory ball”? The fabric bows were definitely vintage, possibly 40s. But the base was much newer. What is the story behind this treasure?

I’m a victim of the Antiques Road Show. I keep thinking that some day I’m going to stop at a thrift store and pick up an amazing treasure for almost nothing. Well, this button ball isn’t that treasure. The buttons alone are worth more than the price I paid. But it definitely isn’t a valuable treasure. What it is, or at least in my mind, is a piece of sewing folk art. Quilts that I find often talk to me, and this ball of buttons is talking to me. Saying, don’t take me apart. I’m pretty; I’m special.

So it’s going on the shelf with my other sewing collectibles. And I’m still searching for the big red button.