A lady from Beeston told this story …
It’s 1886, in a small town called Wolverton near Northampton, there lived a thirteen-year-old girl, Miss Edith Rock, and Edith had just completed her limited education.
However, she had shown an interest in all kinds of needlework and was very skilled in whatever she attempted. to encourage their daughter’s independence, her parents bought her a “Singer sewing machine”. The model was known as the “Table Top”, it was dual-functioning, the operator could work by hand or have his hands free and work by a pedal from below.
During the late 1880s and early 1890s, the machine was in constant use. Therefore, with progress, Edith rented two small rooms, the front room as a haberdashery (drapery shop) and the back room where the machine was set up for her work.
In 1897 Edith, then twenty-four years old, had met and married a certain Edwin Mackerness (Ted). He helped Edith acquire much larger premises, now owned and not let, in Church Street, Wolverton. Another “singer” was purchased and a young woman was hired to help with the sewing and serve in the shop, although only Edith herself used the “table top”. With the machine still in use, tailoring progressed and the drapery shop continued to thrive, a card printed for this business still survives with the machine.
In June 1901 Edith had a baby boy, the clothes for him being machine-turned. Six weeks later, her stepmother gave birth to a baby girl. Bearing the same last name and being baptized “Edith”, there were now two Edith Mackerness “to figure in the life of the machine.
Over the years, the second Edith learned to use the machine, the only person allowed except the first Edith.
During World War I, our machine produced military underwear. In the roaring twenties and the machine, now back to production of light civilian clothing, it was mostly underwear, with the occasional dress “made to order” for “Better Off” customers.
By 1938, the first Edith Mackerness had reached her mid-sixties and, with failing eyesight and arthritic hands, decided to retire. The machine was passed on to the second Edith, now Edith Rollings, married to a daughter born in 1933, and living near Wolverton in Stony Stratford.
So now the machine has a change of location, a change of owner, and less work, being mainly for home use only for family and friends. The fabric was difficult to find during WWII, but Edith was able to find “parachute silk”. She used it to make a dress for her seven-year-old daughter. The white fabric has been brightened up with a colored binding at the collar and sleeves, with a matching color belt; I remember it well because I am that seven year old girl, now eighty-six years old.
I moved to Leeds (Beeston) in 1980 and in 1983 the ‘Singer’ arrived in the north after the death of my mother, the second Edith, at the age of eighty-two.
Following in my family’s footsteps, I was taught how to use the machine during my teenage years, it had been many years since I had seen it, let alone use it, and the first thing I learned about was put was how to put it on. Leeds being a city with links to the clothing trade most of my friends had a sewing machine, but the newer models with a bobbin mine had a shuttle and that’s where the difference is. The shuttle was about an inch long, pointed at one end, resembling an open rowing boat. To accompany the shuttle, there are several small axles about an inch long, each of which could be clipped into the shuttle.
The shuttle had a row of holes on one side with a bar underneath, and when threading the thread had to go back and forth from one hole to the other, then under the bar there was a set sequence through the holes and if you got it wrong, nothing worked. Fortunately, the second Edith had written instructions on a sheet of paper (now brown with age) and once followed, the “Singer” was in action again; no longer making clothes but retouching and shortening, skirts, pants, etc. and on one occasion making curtains and sewing on ‘Rufflette Tape’.
Everything went well until the late 1980s when I went out and bought more needles, only to tell myself that they were soon becoming obsolete. The seller only had seven in stock, so I took the seven (of which there are still six left). Then in the early 90s it was realized that the machine, although the seam did not lock up and a pull on the thread meant that whatever had just been sewn came undone immediately.
A resident of Beeston, skilled and known for repairing sewing machines, was called in. He did not find anything abnormal with the mechanism, when he noticed that I had threaded the machine with a fine “polyester thread”! Apparently that was all I could have bought, but the ‘Singer’ was designed to work only with Sylko Grade 40 and the newer polyester yarns were way too thin. Unfortunately, Sylko was no longer in production, the Company having disappeared.
So, finally, after 100 years and probably a lot more, the machine is retired, not dead, because it is still functional, with the right equipment, but forced to sleep.
This post was written by Ken burton
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