How many of you here have a sewing machine at home? (Some women, some men.)


Yes? How many of you with a machine have made something with it in the last little while? (Three, all women I note.)


Well M. Chairman and Honoured Guests.


This, as you can see, is a sewing machine.

There is an image in my mind from my childhood of my mother sitting at a table at her sewing machine, where she spent a lot of time, making things.

Hers was a heavy old electric powered Singer model with an impressive wheel for needle control and a foot pedal as the acclerator.

I always assumed that she learned this skill from her mother, growing up as she did in the 1930's a small town in North Wales.

However recently she told me that she had an uncle, Mr. Roberts, my great uncle. Mr. Roberts lived in the same small town in Wales in the early 1900's and he was a Tailor.

So I began to think that this must have had some influence on my mother's decision to take up sewing. (She denies this, and neither did her mother do any machine sewing.)


Now a couple of years ago my mother moved into a nursing home, and I inherited her most recent sewing machine, which is your basic machine, made by Brother. That's this one here tonight . So the Brother has been sitting around the house for a couple of years now, during which time I have been looking at it and it has been looking at me.


Now I have a small boat in need of a new sail, so I began to think that perhaps I could make one on this machine. This did not prove practical, but it did get me started in thinking about what I could do instead.

I had no idea how a sewing machine worked, so one Sunday afternoon I downloaded some instructions for a similar model from the Internet, and lo and behold after some sorting out I actully got the thing working.


It was quite a revelation.


I realized that a sewing machine is quite a marvel of modern mechanical engineering.


I had always thought that the thread came from just one direction, namely from this spool here and down through the tensioning mechanism and then on through the needle.


But I made an amazing discovery. There is actually a second thread down underneath inside there which comes out of a thing called a bobbin and shuttle, and through a mechanism that I still don't understand with each cycle of the needle these two threads interlock, hence the term lockstiching, and presto, there is your stitch, a series of which make a seam.


The history of the sewing machine is interesting.


1791 was when it all began: Thomas Hunt, an Englishman, invented the first machine, using a technique called chain stitching. The invention was then elaborated by a couple of European chaps, a Frenchman (Bartholome Thimonier) and an Austrian (Joe Madersberger), and then in 1851, three American fellows, including Isaac Singer who went on to fame as the founder of the Singer sewing machine company, patented a lockstitching treadle driven machine.


In fact the public demand for their product was so great that time payments on hire purchase were arranged for the first time in the U. S. as credit was extended to buyers. Wicked credit, and we all know where that has lead.


Anyway, now that I knew how to operate the infernal machine, I needed a project. I had a pair of gold coloured corduroy pants which were destined for oblivion, so a pair of cutoff shorts seemed in order. I went to work, had a great time trying out all the stitching patterns, straight, in various lengths and frequencies, , and then ditto in zigzag. I ran out of gold thread early on, so I used blue, which made for a striking contrast especially in a heavy zigzag against the gold corduroy.


I was pretty proud of the product so I showed the shorts to our two daughters. They were horrified. They said, Dad, whatever you do, don't wear those out in public! Funny, I thought that was the whole idea.

Some time later I found myself walking down the main street of Picton on a Saturday afternoon and I noticed a store called Picton Fabric World. I had broken all of my needles on the corduroy as well as running out of thread, so I knew I was going to have to go into a place like this some time to replenish my stores. That moment was at hand.


Now I know that we are living in an era of equality of sexes. There are no longer "male" activities, and "female" activities, there are just "activities." But I have to tell you that (unlike Canadian Tire) there are not many men lining up to enter Picton Fabric World on a Saturday afternoon.


So I plucked up my courage and made a lunge through the front entrance. Once inside, a very pleasant saleswoman came forward with an offer of help. I later found out her name...I'll call her Pauline....and we have since developed quite a relationship! She went off to find the needles and thread, and while I was standing there I realized that I was on the cusp of an Opportunity. I had thought about taking on another sewing project, and here I was in the very place for the purpose! So when Pauline returned I once again plucked up my courage . I told her that I had a sewing machine at home, that I had decided that I would like to make something with it, and CAN YOU HELP ME?


Well I could see by the look on her face that she was in some doubt about this, as she surveyed the supplicant. However, she was very polite, very pleasant, very professional, kept a straight face, and asked me if I had ever sewn anything. I said, no. She said, what do you want to make? I had no idea really, but in the heat of the moment I blurted out, how about a shirt? She seemed a little surprised by this, but after a moment's consideration she replied, well how about a short sleeve shirt, it will be a little easier.


So we picked out a pattern, then I let Pauline pick out some material, cotton in a green pattern, as well as the thread and buttons, and before you know it I was at the counter ready to pay the bill.


This came as a slight surprise. I had somehow imagined that if you made your own shirt it would cost half as much as if you purchased one, but I had this in reverse. It costs about twice as much! However, of course, you end up with a very superior product!


Well, back at home I tackled the project. I found out first of all that there are some very useful tools which are essential to the job.


One is a pair of scissors. I have a massive pair that I had recently purchased at my (other) favorite store, the TSC, which is, the Tractor Supply Company. I can really make time when cutting out a pattern with this implement!


Next is a pair of Needle Nosed Pliers. Very handy for getting up close and personal with the machine's menacing needle, as well as for manipulating material.


Then, another essential, a pair of Vice Grips. Let me explain. Inevitably you occasionally finish a seam and there is something wrong with it. It has to be taken down. Just clamp the material onto your table with the vice grips, hold the other end of the material in your left hand, and then using another incredible tool, which is this small but mighty Stitch Ripper, you can take down that seam in nothing flat!


So on with the project.


The first step of course is to cut out the pattern. Having decided on an Extra Large Size, I proceeded with great confidence, misplaced as it turned out, as some time later after further consideration I realized that the size too large, and that Large was the correct choice. No problem, or so I thought, until I discovered that in some parts of a pattern the smaller size actually extends out farther and needs more material than the larger! A real paradox, and a real pain.


This lead to a frantic search through the paper leavings of the original pattern cutting, rescue of the appropriate edges, and the taping thereof onto the pattern again. Definitely something to be avoided, although eventually the desired result was achieved. Measure three times, cut once, an old carpenter's rule, serves well here.


As I ploughed along I came across some other Problems as well! I call these Acute Tailor's Emergencies.

The first is Wrong Sided Surgery. You have spent all afternoon enjoying the execution of some lovely long seams, first the straight stitch, possible even preceded by a basting stitch, and then you nailed it down with an overcast stitch, working your way around the four sides of the material. Having finished, you hold up your handiwork to the light to admire it, but wait! You have sewn on the wrong side! After muttering appropriate imprecations you then anchor the material to the table with your vice grips, get to work with your stitch ripper, and take the whole thing down to start again later!


Which leads to the second acute tailor's emergency. Your are deftly wielding your stitch ripper to take down a seam, you push a little too energetically, and AAAAGHHH.... you have torn a hole in your beautiful material. An Acute Perforation. So you spend the next two hours covering up the mess that you have made by fashioning a Patch on the back, which is very different from a pat on the back. Another blunder definitely to be avoided.


Finally, another frustration, the Back to Front seam. What? Well you have been working away furiously sewing marvellous seams in the front of your shirt. You finally take the material off the machine to admire the thing, and, what's this? You have inadertently sewn the back of the shirt to the front! So, it's time for the old vice grips and stitch ripper again.


Anyway, despite all of these various frustrations I ended up with a Product, and much to my surprise it turned out remarkably well, almost fit for public viewing. This came as a bit of a surprise, as I had been inclined to rush through the piece not really believing that all those collars and cuffs could really turn out. Should have had faith! Had fun doing it too.


Now my own view was all very well, but I knew that Judgment Day approached.


First, my old mother. So one Saturday afternoon I again plucked up my courage, drove over to the nursing home, and laid out the goods in front of her. She was impressed! In fact I had the distinct impression that she thought that her son had finally done something useful with his life.....he had made a shirt!


Then on to the perils of Pauline and the Picton Fabric World! Inside the store I once again laid out the goods. I think the good woman was a little surprised to see me, this about two months after my initial visit. She was amazed! I got a good evalution. In the manner of all good teachers she started and finished her critique with positive comments, and in between sandwiched some constructive and kind suggestions for improvement.


I could see she was pleased. She called over the store owner, another very pleasant woman, and Pauline's husband also happened to be there at the time so she called him over too. We all stood around and admired this marvellous creation of mine! Indeed I felt so encouraged by all of this approbation that I realized that Opportunity was knocking once again. Pauline and I were soon occupied, searching out another pattern, this time a long sleeved model, followed by the choosing of the material, buttons and thread!


Indeed if Paul were here today he would be sitting there this minute asking himself, indeed itching to know, if this shirt that I am wearing this evening is the result of that second effort. I would just let him puzzle over that one for a while.


There is one other essential piece of equipment that I have not mentioned so far....the Buttonholer. Of course if you are going to make a shirt you have to have one of these diabolical devices. Now oddly enough when I examined my Brother, and made a few inquiries, it appeared that it is not so equipped. What to do? Well, I ventured down into the basement again and rooted around in mother's sewing supplies, and came up with an old Singer button hole attachment. Now I thought that surely this piece is not going to be compatible with a modern machine by a different maker, but lo and behold, it was.

All I needed to make the thing work was a Machine Screw of a certain size.


So began the Great Machine Screw (In Search of) Expedition. My next door neighbour is a retired engineer who has a long record of elegantly and adeptly solving any little engineering problems that I might present to him from time to time. So over to see said consultant. Well, he did not have such an animal, but he was able to determine that it was a Number 8, 36 pitch variety. (The pitch has to do with angle of the thread on the screw, for the unitiated.)


So the next step was to track one down. First to Home Hardware. They had a No 8, 32 pitch, but no 36. Then on to Beaver Lumber, with the same results, No 8, 32 pitch. Then to the ultimate source, the great TSC, the Tractor Supply Company. But disappointment awaited there too: No 8, 32 pitch.

Now, getting desperate, I asked the sales clerk what she would suggest. Why don't you try the Industrial Park in the north end of town, she opined. She wrote down a couple of company names.

It was late on Friday afternoon as I drove up to Adam Street, and arriving there found one of the establishments straight off! It is called Fassenall.


Now these people deal in Big Projects: industrial and construction supply, bulk sales, heavy equipment, you get the picture. They don't call it an Industrial Park for nothing.

So I had a slight hesitation about entering the establishment.


Nevertheless, I again plucked up my courage and strode manfully in the front door. As it happened there were no other customers at the moment, so I had the full attention of the salesman who was standing behind the counter. A solid chap, this fellow.


I approached the counter with my machine screw specifications written on a piece of paper. Hello , I said, do you have machine screws of this size?

He looked at me with a steady gaze. How many do you want? I gulped. One.

Unphased, he paused for a moment. This guy was cool. What's it for? My sewing machine. CAN YOU HELP ME?


Well I could see, during the moment of hesitation which followed, that this gentleman had serious doubts about whether he could help me or not.

But you have to give this salesman a lot of credit. He kept a straight face. He was very polite, very professional, very pleasant.

Come with me, he said, I'll see what I can do.


We walked to the back of the store. Ceiling high shelves of great boxes of machine screws of all shapes and dimensions. The very place. And miracle of miracles, he soon found the very size in a box which was already open.

So I thought, spare no expense. I bought two. Cost me 37 cents.

My only false step was replying in the affirmative when he asked if I would like a receipt. It was in triplicate on full size paper. Probably consumed their profit on the deal.

Back at home, the screw proved to be the very thing. The Buttonholer performed like a true marvel.


One cautionary note about these things.....beware the Berserk Buttonholer. You get your button hole attachment on the machine, get the material in place, and then turn the beast loose to run through its cycle. You then remove the material from the machine to admire the result....a beautiful button hole, about an inch away from where it is supposed to be.

Well, you know the routine by now...get out the Vice grips and the stitch ripper.....


M. Chairman.


April 2009