Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Yesterday, once more...

Back from the shop and back in the cabinet
Pardon this post. It has a "looking back" sort of feel that people in their middle years start to adopt with alarming frequency.
In August, Miss B said she wants to learn how to sew properly. Little bells rang and choirs of angels sang in the chambers of my soul.
"But, I really only like your old machine," said B. "It doesn't work well though, right?"
The bells stopped and the angels went on about their day.
The Singer 514 Stylist stopped working altogether nine years ago, right after I sewed some pillows when we moved into this house. The feed dogs stopped feeding and the foot pedal was hot enough to cause concern. Up to that point, I had only just started to teach Miss B the ways of the sewing machine.
My mom decided that I should get a new machine, and so, she gave me a new Brother mechanical (not computerized) machine. It came with quilters' package that included an extension table and a walking foot. I was in heaven. Miss B never really took to the new machine. It was too fast, too slick, and too hard to thread -- according to her. She is a lover of the classics.
The new machine was made of plastic -- almost entirely plastic -- and I ended up buying a special mat for it so that it wouldn't slip slide away on the kitchen table. I didn't have a cabinet or a sewing table, so the mat had to to suffice. Last year, it had a major tune up to replace a failing gear. Yep, after nine years of faithful service, a gear was gone. It came back from the shop in tip top shape.
I also had my dearly beloved Bernina 830 Record tuned up. It needed a new belt and some electrodes replaced in the foot pedal. It came back from the shop zippy, zingy and purring like a kitten.
But, my Singer Stylist 514 sat alone and broken in my Grandmother's 1930 cabinet. It was all very wrong, and it made me feel kind of sad.
This particular model has earned the ire and disdain of many sewing machine purists. As vintage machines go, it doesn't have the cache of a Featherweight or a 501, or even any given model of the slant needle variety. It just is kind of lack lustre -- oh, and they gears are made of a nylon-like substance which crumbles and dies over time.
On the plus side, it has six built-in stitches, and an internal belt system which made the stop and start more accurate than previous Singer models in the price range.
My parents, Clarence and Ruth, in 1996
In February 1977, I was about to turn 16, and my parents plotted and schemed to give me the present of my dreams: a new sewing machine.
By the winter of 1976, I had been sewing for nearly four years. I had started in my Aunt Rita's basement sewing room, and by the end of Grade 8's grim home economics sessions, I was making about 50 per cent of my clothing. I was using my Grandmother's back and gold 1920s Singer, which had been converted to electric from a treadle at some point in the 1930s.
That machine could cope with anything from silk to demin. But, you could not sew a zig zag. I had developed a fondness for zig zag stitching for finishing edges and top stitching. Threading black beauty was a good workout too, you had to perform a yoga move to change the bobbin. It was under the machine, which was in the cabinet. During one such maneuver, my right wrist touched the very warm metal lightbulb cover. I sustained a first degree burn and my father vowed to replace the lethal Singer.
They traded in my Grandmother's black beauty for the Singer Stylist 514. My dad cut a notch in the notions drawer to accommodate the thread spindles.
I came home from my part-time job at the pool one Saturday afternoon, and my parents told me to go downstairs and look at the sewing machine. I thought I was in trouble for leaving out my sewing pieces (some things never change), but they had the new machine all set up and ready to go. I could barely believe my eyes. It was the best present I had ever received.
Zigzagged edges!
In the years to come, the 514 and I would sew my suits for my corporate job, my sisters' bridesmaids dresses, the curtains and bed linens for our new baby, a Christening gown, curtains for our house, costumes for two kids' Halloween joy, Christmas presents and any number of repairs. We were a team.
When I was clearing out my mother's papers after she went to live in long-term care, I found the bill for the machine. It was $282.15 with the taxes, and factoring in the $50 trade-in for the black beauty. My father was making just a bit over that weekly. I plugged those numbers into an inflation calculator. Today, that would be $1,053.97
It was not a cheap machine, and it is mostly metal. The faceplate is plastic, as are the stitch dial controls. To make it stitch in reverse, you push in the large metal button in the middle to the stitch dial. The stitch wheel was replaced 20 years ago -- actually, after I finished making the last button hole on the last of my sister's fifth and final bridesmaid's dress...
After Miss B said she wanted to start sewing, I decided to have the 514 repaired, and I took it to the repair shop on the very day I was buying the new Arrow Gidget table for the Bernina. There, on the shelf of the shop, was a fully restored Singer 514 Stylist. The price? $250 --  in 2013. I had my answer: it was still worth it.
The gears were indeed crumbling, and the foot pedal had to be entirely replaced. After a full wash and lube, the machine was back in working order.
Yesterday, I put the machine back in Grandmother's cabinet, and just for the heck of it, reread the owners' manual.
Today, I zigzagged the edges of some remnants I found at the CreativFestival this past weekend. It is still the magical experience it was back on that Saturday afternoon in 1977, when two hard working people helped me continue my creative journey.
My parents were like that, though there was a lot of stuff that made their lives difficult, they did whatever they could reasonably to do for their kids. The money they seemed to conjure from nowhere went to help us find our bliss and develop valuable skills. For me, music lessons, an electric typewriter, and a new sewing machine; for my sister, swim club, travel and tuition for hairdressing school.
To this day, those investments in our skills and interests are still part of our lives, and have in no small way, helped us earn a living. In turn, we have become the same kind of parents to our kids they were to us.
The purists can say what they like about the Singer Stylist 514. True, it does not have the Bernina's purring finesse, nor is is portable and light like the Brother, but I know its grumbling roar and the solid advance of the fabric under the needle. I hope Miss B learns to love spending time with the 514.
It has been priceless and cherished for so many years in our home. Restored and ready, it is about to sail into this century, zigzagging all the way.
There is something wonderful about that.

1 comment:

  1. Miss B will have to join us on our Tornado Nights! Well, we need to reinstitute them first, lol. I'm glad you got the machine back and she's running well - you know I love the vinties - the 514 looks a bit like my 411!


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