This IS Your Grandmother’s Sewing Machine
Here at Threads, readers frequently tell us that they are fascinated with the details achieved on vintage garments.
A new exhibit at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, opens up “Grandma’s” sewing box, revealing notions that were once common, but seem almost incomprehensible now. It’s amazing to imagine women creating the details we love to see on Threads’ back cover without the technology and tools we use to sew today.
There are about 50 items in the exhibit, gathered from the University of Alberta’s collection, private collections and on loan from the Royal Alberta Museum. Some are from as far back as the 18th century. I’ll never take an electrically heated tool for granted again! How frustrating it must have been to heat an “sadiron” again and again to press a garment. I won’t swear under my breath the next time my iron spits.
In a short video on the university’s website, “Tools of an Enduring Craft,” a student demonstrates the technique for using a “fluting” or “crimping” iron to create pleats in fabric. An metal bar had to be heated and placed under the saw-toothed crimping base. A roller with matching teeth was run over fabric and the heated crimping iron base, conforming the fabric into “V’s.” The video also reveals what the results might have been on a garment – a vintage opera cape’s hem.
Another fascinating aspect of the exhibit is just how early young girls had to learn to sew, and the quality of the work that was expected of them. Some of the antique sewing machines in the exhibit are child-sized. These sewing machines, on loan from the Royal Alberta Museum, were used by girls as young as 4 or 5.
“It was important for a woman to be ready for her adult life, to sew and take care of her family. And the earlier they started to learn, the better their skills were by the time they were ready to get married,” Vlada Blinova, a course lecturer and the manager of the University’s Clothing and Textiles collection, said in a press release about the exhibit. The oldest artifact in “Tools of the Trade” is a a sampler completed by an 11-year-old girl in 1736.
“Tools of the Trade” opened May 10 and is on display through January 2012.
A vintage sewing kit, on loan from the Royal Alberta Museum, for the exhibit "Tools of the Trade" at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, through January 2012.
These "sadirons" range in era from 1850s to the 1920s. They are from North America and Russia, adn on loan to the University of Alberta exhibit "Tools of the Trade" from private collections.
This New England Style Patented Sewing machine (circa 1870s-1880s) is a hand-cranked sewing machine with gear wheel. The most notable thing about this machine type that it has a walking presser foot to move the fabric from above, instead of feed dogs below the fabric. This sewing machine is in The Royal Alberta Museum's collection, and currently on loan to the University of Alberta.
These sewing tools from the early 19th century from the Clothing and Textiles Collection, the Royal Alberta Museum, and a private collection. The notions are part of an exhibit at the University of Alberta, "Tools of the Trade."
Get the latest including tips, techniques and special offers straight to your inbox.