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.

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