I briefly did needlework at school. I think we did some sort of embroidery and we did sewing. I was good at neither, a fact which didn’t go unnoticed by the teacher: while the rest of the class made skirts, I had to make a floor cushion.
In 2012, I went to a sewing workshop, where we were taught a few basic hand-stitching techniques, and we made a little needle holder from felt. On the front is an owl with a wonky foot and a slightly bloodshot eye; he’s got character.
A year later, I was passing a sewing shop — a haberdashery, you might say — and saw an old sewing machine in the window. It looked a bit like the one I remember my nana having years and years ago. However, where hers was a Jones, this one was a Singer. I went and bought it. Apparently, my uncle (on the other side) used to be the manager of the Singer shop in what used to be West Hartlepool. He presented my auntie the best one available at the time, a Singer 201K. She still has it, with all its bits and pieces, and it still works. They don’t make them like they used to.
My sewing machine is a 1950 Singer 99K; the K means it was built in the Kilbowie Singer factory. The 99K is a 3/4 version of the 66K, meaning it’s portable. It’s made of cast iron and it’s too heavy for me to lift; not what I’d call portable.
Some old Singer models have foot pedals to power them; some have a new-fangled electric motor bolted on. Mine has neither: it’s hand-cranked. This is actually quite awkward to use because it means that you only have one hand free to guide the fabric under the needle. That free hand is my left hand, and I’m right-handed, so it’s no easy task. To add to the difficulty, the machine was made before they put numbers on the tension and stitch length controls: I have to use trial and error.
As far as stitches are concerned, modern electric machines have all manner of fancy stitches. Mine has one stitch: forwards.
My first project was a tiny step up from the floor cushion I made at school: it was a bean bag for Colin, made from a copy of an original pattern from the seventies or eighties. I chose fire-retardant upholstery fabric and thread to match the colours. The thread was a devil to use in my machine, for some reason. Still, I persevered, and made a liner out of old sheets, and the bean bag itself. Colin loved it. Sadly, I lost my balance, stood on it, and burst the lining and busted the zip. I need to fix that.