That machine can sing
From Page 27
Sharon Armytage James recalled that her mother made many dresses for her on the sewing machine. “I remember beautiful dresses she made for my Oscar in ballroom dancing and the Latin American outfits. They were beautiful. I remember my ballroom dress was white with a gorgeous lace bodice and mum filled each flower of lace with a diamante, each one hand sewn into place. It was stunning, she was very clever.”
Celeste Burgess recorded: “My dear mother - who, I admit I took for granted - made her own patterns... I would come home from work, 15 years old, on a Friday and announce: ‘Mum, I’ll need a dress to wear tomorrow night.’ She would take me shopping on Saturday morning, pay for the material I’d chosen, and spend all day making the style I’d chosen. This was a regular event. And sadly, I took it all for granted.”
And Morvyth Howard remembered how she learned to draft patterns in home science class in school: “Nobody in my family sewed, but I taught myself on the treadle sewing machine, as did my sister. Then I managed to make clothes for my boys using the Enid Gilchrist pattern books. It’s such a shame that it is cheaper to buy clothes today than to make them, because we have lost those skills.”
It is widely accepted that the Singer sewing machine revolutionised the way the world created and repaired its fabric. It transformed not only the textile industry, but became the world’s first truly global business.
Isaac Singer could hardly claim to have invented the sewing machine, but the one he patented in New York in 1851 was the most practical and the most commercially viable. Its success was proof of his adventurous spirit. He had worked as an actor, a ditch digger and a cabinet-maker
before striking it rich in the sewing business. Although millions of his sewing machines were sold worldwide, Singer himself seemed to care less about the usefulness of his invention than the riches it brought him. “I don’t care a damn for the thing. The dimes are what I’m after,” he once said.
He was apparently more caring for his other creation, the world’s first time payment plan, which allowed his customers to pay in instalments for a machine that was far too expensive for most to afford in a lump sum.
His enormous wealth led him to build Singer Tower, the company’s headquarters in Manhattan’s financial district, from which it controlled and communicated with its sales agents around the world. It was one of the first corporate skyscrapers in the country and, for about a year, the tallest building in the world.
Although Isaac Singer may not have been in love with his invention, several global charitable organisations today are using it to bring hope and a brighter future for people in developing countries, including India and Africa.
As one of the charities says on their website; “Everybody needs clothes, which makes tailoring the journey of choice for many seeking a way out of poverty. Wherever you go in Africa, from busy city street corners to quiet rural backwaters, many with no dependable electricity supply, you will find a tailor with their sewing machine. The gift of a treadle sewing machine will allow a newly trained tailor to work from their own home or market place and use the proceeds to keep a roof over their family’s head, put food on the table and send their children to school.”
It’s impossible to estimate how many thousands of the Singer treadle sewing machines were originally sold or still remain in Australia. Most will have now been retired and moved into a dusty spare room, some kept as treasured family heirlooms or as decorative pieces while a small number, I’m sure, still remain in active service.
Although the Singer Corporation was completely taken over in a corporate raid in 1987 and the company broken up, the name still lives on with a range of consumer products, including electronic sewing machines. BOB BYRNE IS THE AUTHOR OF ADELAIDE REMEMBER WHEN AND POSTS MEMORIES OF ADELAIDE EVERY DAY ON FACEBOOK.COM/ ADELAIDEREMEMBERWHEN/
‘ It’s such a shame that it is cheaper to buy clothes today than to make them, because we have lost those skills’ A MUST-HAVE: An 1851 advertisement for Singer Sewing Machines. SWEATSHOP: From top, the view inside the stitching department of Messrs. W. & H. L. Clisby’s Adelaide clothing and shirt factory, where about 50 Singer sewing machines were used, from the Chronicle, October 19, 1907; women working on Singer sewing machines making curtains at the Burns Blinds factory at St Marys in 1976; and Noel Batten, left, and Joe McGlen examine a Singer overlocker at the Singer Shop at Parabanks Shopping Centre in 1980.