The Gift

I got a little emotional as I finished my jacket up yesterday. I sewed most of it on my 1941 Singer 221, which is the machine I have been teaching myself to sew on. But I finished up the cuffs on the Singer Stylist from the 70s which I inherited from my late mother-in-law. The Stylist has a free arm base, so it was much better for sewing up the cuffs. As I sewed on the machine, I thought about my mother-in-law, wishing she were still here and could give me advice about my sewing, and about anything else too. I thought about all the things she made on the machine, and I felt connected, and sad she was gone. She died this month three years ago, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot, and I know my husband has been too.

I think part of what I love about vintage machines is their sense of history. People have been sewing on them for a long time. I don’t know the history of my 1941 machine, but I can feel it when I sew a seam on it. So many people who have used it before me. And I do know something of the history of the Stylist, as my mother-in-law was its only owner.  My husband says he mostly remembers her sewing on a much older machine when he was young. She made clothes for him and his sister. This one must have been her modern upgrade. I don’t know how often she used it, as not long after she purchased it, I think she must have gone back to graduate school for her PhD and then after that she was a chemistry professor. But she kept the machine in good condition, and I’m sure she used it for little repair jobs, even if she didn’t sew full garments on it often. I can feel her presence when I use it, and that is a gift.

My husband says when he walks through the guest room and sees his mother’s machine, it makes him smile. That reason alone would be enough to give it its pride of place in the guest room. But it is also a good zig zagger, and a free arm machine, and it looks like a 70’s station wagon, and those are good reasons for its place as well. The Singer 221 lives on the tall dresser in that room when it isn’t being used, and it looks handsome in its place. It makes me smile when I see it, as I think of how I’ve learned to use it over the past months. How I can now wind a bobbin, thread the machine, and clear a thread jam, all without referring to the manual or to a YouTube tutorial. And how I’ve used it to make a garment that makes me feel like me. I see it, and I think, “Yes, that’s something I’d enjoy wearing.” And I do.

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