Irene Frizado's contribution - a short story from grow up
Posted Friday, May 5, 2017 09:00 PM

Everybody has a story: Learning on grandmother’s antique machine sows frustration

I recently had an excerpt of the book I'm writing printed in the local paper.
I hope you all enjoy it. Any feedback is appreciated.



At age 9 or 10, in the mid 1950s, I approached my grandmother with a request: “Teach me how to sew.”

She took me into the bedroom where her old Singer stood against the wall. It was almost toy-size, but the sheer weight and the look of that weight was intimidating.

“There’s nothing to be scared about it. You can’t get hurt if you know what you’re doing.”

It was jet black and had almost an elegant slimness to its silhouette. There were no cords, no electrical connections to worry about. I never saw the machine in a “down” position, hidden in a cabinet. This machine was there, and it made a statement to that effect.

This was a “treadle” machine, meaning it was operated by pumping foot plates back and forth. That turned the mechanism that moved the needle, with the thread in its eye, up and down. There was a flywheel at the top that had to be turned to start the machine’s rotation. This was completely different from a modern machine’s gas-pedal style.

My grandmother let me sit at the machine. “Just try the treadle. Push front then back and then front again.” Tentatively I pushed. Surprisingly, it didn’t take a lot of effort.

“We’ll try with no thread and just paper at first.” My grandmother put a sheet of paper under the presser foot, the part that holds fabric flat as it is fed through the machine.

I lowered the presser foot. “Just work the treadle and move the paper slowly, pushing it back toward the wall,” she said. OK. At first I was tentative, then I got a little too enthusiastic with my foot action.

Whoops! My feet and my hands were working at different speeds, and I was shredding the paper. “Try again.” Again, a little better, but the spacing on the needle holes was far from even. How does one maintain speed and equilibrium? How did my grandmother do all that sewing using this difficult machine?

My mother and her sister had both learned on this “antique,” and survived to continue with newer electric models. Both had pooh-poohed the idea of my trying this old-fashioned device, and offered to teach me on one of their machines. But, for whatever reason, I felt I wanted to try this method and master it, if at all possible.

After about 30 minutes, I almost had it down. Next lesson: threading the needle. “How does she do it so easily?”

Here I am struggling, going cockeyed, biting my lip with no success whatsoever. Now what? Back to the paper. Learning to back stitch. Great, I’ve shredded the paper again. Still getting the hang of coordinating my feet and feeding paper into the machine. When do I get the chance to really sew something?

The big day. “Now we try it for real. You’ll sew these two pieces of cloth together to make a neat and even seam.” Bring it on! Oops, broke the thread. Try again. Finally, it’s working.

I came to the conclusion that, although it’s satisfying to get this big hunk of iron to work, it may not be worth the aggravation. So, it’s back to my mother’s machine.

That old Singer still resides in my late grandmother’s attic.