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A Sewing Exhibition on the Fly

The main exhibition board in San Francisco International Airports Terminal 3 details the history of the domestic sewing machine.
The exhibition stretches the length of the Terminal 3 walkway.
Display cases containing vintage sewing tools and notions are positioned on both sides of the walkway.
Vintage pattern illustrations help put the exhibited pieces in context.
The exhibition also explores the historical differences between home sewing and ready-to-wear sewing.
Vintage garment drafting systems, like the one exhibited here, are explained.
A variety of different machines and innovations are featured, like the Elna machines shown here.
A variety of childrens sewing kits illustrate the importance of learning to sew in previous generations.
Sewing birds, needlework clamps, and chatelaines, as shown in the exhibition, werent merely utilitarian--they could be works of art.
The main exhibition board in San Francisco International Airports Terminal 3 details the history of the domestic sewing machine.

The main exhibition board in San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 3 details the history of the domestic sewing machine.

Photo: Courtesy of Thomas O. Miller

If you're flying into or out of San Francisco International Airport by August of this year, visit the airport's Terminal 3 North Connect Gallery, part of the SFO Museum, for a unique exhibition that's currently on display. "Threading the Needle: Sewing in the Machine Age" focuses on the history of domestic sewing and the home sewing machine from the 1850s to
the 1970s, tracing more than 100 years of innovations in home sewing tools. The exhibition features everything from antique machines, sewing boxes, garments, and notions to sewing machine advertisements, documentary photography, and 10 decades' worth of pattern illustrations-each accompanied by explanatory text.

It's an interesting exhibition, especially if you love antique sewing machines, and it lines the walkway of the airport's Terminal 3, making it easy to view as you progress toward your connecting flight or baggage claim. Even if you aren't flying into San Francisco, you can view exhibit details and selected objects on the airport's museum website, as well as see photos of the actual exhibit space within this post.

Do you like visiting exhibits on the history of sewing? Have you seen this exhibit?


Comments (7)

EvaDress EvaDress writes: Nice to see you post about a retrospective feature such as this, Threads. Thank you, Stephani
Posted: 7:22 pm on July 9th

NomadNeedles NomadNeedles writes: I've been able to enjoy the exhibit twice--the last time I had plenty of time :) to really check it out. It's a great exhibit! I especially enjoyed the vintage patterns and drafting exhibits as well as the wonderful photos. Would love to see it come to Denver at any venue--we hosted the YSL exhibit this year (amazing) so why not?
Posted: 9:20 am on June 13th

SLMiller SLMiller writes: Wow, thanks for sharing your experiences, everyone! I agree, it would be great if this exhibit were moved to a more traditional museum once it's finished at the airport's museum. It is unusual to have an exhibit in an airport terminal, but this has become somewhat common around the country at some of the larger airports. Call it cultural pretension if you will, but I think it's a fantastic idea. Airports can be so boring and lifeless; an interesting exhibit like this one offers a little distraction from the stress of waiting for a flight. So long as you don't miss your flight!
Posted: 8:55 am on June 13th

Tatsy Tatsy writes: I saw this exhibit yesterday, literally "on the fly," as we were running to make our connections back home. Even though I couldn't slow down to enjoy the individual displays, the overall impact of the exhibition was pleasing and made a nice change from the mental fatigue at the end of a long trip. The crisp, clean layout and the distances between displays made it easy to take in the overall impression and muse about how sewing has changed from the first black metal chain stitch machines to the computerized embroidery machines and sergers available now. Great job!
Posted: 7:31 am on June 13th

DeeCoz DeeCoz writes: I saw the exhibit yesterday as well, as a non-ticketed local, having called the SFO Museum as described by Countess11, The quality and quantity of antique sewing boxes and implements is impressive, with many objects from private collections that are not normally on view. I second the hope that this exhibit will be displayed elsewhere. It includes dozens of early sewing machines, fascinating in their variety. A great overview for those who don't know much about sewing, and a wealth of detail for those who do.
Posted: 10:48 pm on June 12th

LaurieDiane LaurieDiane writes: Wow, this would be so cool to see, but what an unusual place to have this type of exhibit. Very good additional comment from Countess11 on how to see this if you are in the area. I'd like to see this come to Minneapolis but another Museum venue would be a better our Textile Center in St Paul.. But thank you for posting this so we can at least see a bit of it here!
Posted: 2:24 pm on June 12th

Countess11 Countess11 writes: I did visit this exhibit yesterday. Although only passengers passing through terminal 3 can see the exhibit easily, it is possible to make arrangements through the SFO Museum to get a guest pass to the exhibit and go through security, just like a ticket passenger, to see the exhibit. It requires pre-planning but is worth it especially if you are interested in historic sewing machines or the implements of sewing. On display are also sewing boxes, chatelaines, pin cushions, scissors, needle packs and patterns ( and I am sure I am forgetting somethings). I came to the airport 3 hours early for my flight after making arrangements with Nicole at the SFO Museums, saw the exhibit, and was still able to change to my flight at terminal one and get on the plane in time. If you are local to San Francisco you do not even need the airplane ticket, you just need to make the arrangements with the people at the SFO museum to get the guest pass to the airport. Remember you will still need to go through screening like any other passenger so don't bring scissors or any of the other things forbidden by TSA.

Posted: 1:49 pm on June 12th

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