These are a few stories on the sewing machines that passed through my life and how they helped me become the seamstress I am today.
The age of the pedal (cca 1987)
Meet Ileana, the pinnacle of Romanian communist sewing machine industry. There was this running joke that it’s better to get one already put together, as if it came flat-packed, no matter how many times you assembled it, you could still end up with a machine gun – a nod to the fact that the factory that produced them also had weapon building facilities.
The upside: there was a sewing machine in my gran’s house (like the one in the picture, not electric). The downside: it was more furniture than an actual useful object. Gran sort of sewed a bit, but I never actually got my hands on it, ‘those pesky kids messing around with the delicate machinery’ kind of palaver!
Unfortunately, gran passed away and I never actually got the chance to even begin learning. But I was left with the interest in one day learning to sew for myself.
Walking the talk (2009)
Fast-forward about 10-12 years, with weird attempts at up-cycling and refashioning my mum’s clothes from the 70s, which I cut-up at home and stitched together at my local alterations shop. The ideas were clearly there, but I was nowhere near it on the skills side.
So after Uni, when I got my first proper job, it was time to stop dreaming and start sewing. That’s how Maritza (sort of the equivalent of Flossie in Romanian) came into my life.
She was the cheapest machine in the Cash&Carry I ended up in one day around midnight – once I got the idea in my head, I just couldn’t wait until morning! I was convinced I would get bored and lose interest, so there was no point to getting an expensive one.
Maritza’s official brand is Lucznik and I later found out she was the Polish version of Ileana, admittedly, less furniture-like and electric, but oddly enough, with the same weapons association. I dare you to put Lucznik into Google Images :).
Maritza got me started sewing and we even finished some projects. She and I discovered shirring and we merrily shirrred for a few good months, whilst attempting and failing miserably at Burda Mag patterns. I still have the first dress I made for myself back then and an enduring love for Burda to show for it too.
She and I have parted ways since (currently on loan to a friend who wanted to get into sewing) but still fondly remembered.
The beginning of the rest of my [sewing] life (2011)
In February 2010, I moved to London and, after a settling in for a while, I decided I really want to take up sewing again, and do it properly this time. So I started taking lessons with a wonderfully knowledgeable and patient lady called Helen and learning to do things how they should be done. Obviously, it’s really important to have someone show you how to do things right, but never underestimate the importance of having someone tell you what you are doing wrong. And boy, was I ever doing things wrong!!
Once I started sewing again, it was all I could think of, I couldn’t wait to get off work to go home and sew and sew and sew. I was daydreaming all day long about what I could be making in the evenings, always looking up tutorials, ideas and designs. During this period, I got a new machine for my birthday, Brother X9. Probably not my first choice, but she was a bit better than Maritza, so she stayed for a while. I’ve learnt a lot on that little Brother and it will always remind me of the period when I improved a lot and learnt so many things, growing in confidence and increasing my me-made collection.
Now we’re cooking with gas (2012)
Getting the overlocker in Oct’12 was another huge milestone for me, it felt like the next best thing since sliced bread, I absolutely fell in love with it. I think I had a few months when overlocked projects were all I did, just loved it. Though I must admit, we did have a few run-ins, tension settings and all that. But I did discover that mostly it wasn’t his fault, who knew that bad thread would have such immediate, annoying and painful effect on the stitches?! Getting the overlocker made me feel like a proper seamstress for the first time! I can’t imagine life without it now.
Alex + Hildi = Best friends forever (2013)
In July’13, I decided (and my teacher agreed), that I have graduated from the little Brother and I need a proper sewing machine. Many have twitted, blogged or posted on forums about how to choose, what to look for, advice, prices etc., so I won’t bore you. I had a fair amount to spend (yey annual bonus), so money was almost not a criteria. Heck, it ended up being one of the most expensive things I ever bought (cars and houses excluded of course). The most important criterion was for it to be 100% mechanical, I am feeling really prejudiced of electronic stuff. Besides, I don’t embroider, I don’t quilt, it’s between me and the pedal, ha ha! Now the question was which one, after having narrowed it down to Pfaff and Bernina. My teacher had this old Pfaff that after almost 40 years, still ran like a dream, so that swayed me a lot.
Although Bernina is considered the queen, but I just wasn’t convinced when I gave it a whirl. I really really liked the IDT, so finally decided for Pfaff Select 4, the highest end mechanical at the time. And it’s purple, how could I resist?!?
For the first time ever, I actually went into a sewing centre, in Battersea, which I warmly recommend. This is their site. They were very helpful, so I went in to have a play, we discussed options and I was supposed to go in a week to pick it up by car (C was driving me). I was so very excited, properly bouncing when I got there, only to discover that the only Select 4 they though was in stock was actually a Select 3 in the wrong box. Believe it or not, I actually burst into tears in the shop! Yeah, it did make me question my sanity, but clearly not my commitment to this whole sewing thing. It did get it the following week, with a little discount to say sorry (told you they were great guys!). So I got this beauty of German engineering coming home with me and we became best friends. I called her Brumhilde (Hildi), because she is strong, German and can almost literally sew through rocks! I have a feeling she and I will be together until my or her retirement (whichever comes first).
If you want to have a look at what my past and present machines have been creating, go visit my Makes gallery.
Since starting sewing, I gained many new skills, confidence and that wonderful ability to whip something up and proudly say ‘I made it’. Sewing is therapy for a bad day in the office, dreaming ideas and making them up in the morning, sewing in your pyjamas because you don’t want to waste any second of the sewing day!
And now, through this blog, sewing is a way of connecting to a vibrant, inspiring, supporting and fun community of lovely people who are just as crazy as I am about making your own clothes. I no longer sew in silence, alone in my sewing room. Definitely the right next chapter in my sewing life!
Hope to see you again at Sewrendipity and would love to hear about your sewing machines stories!