Wednesday, June 27, 2012

History Detective


I love vintage sewing machines. When I sew with one, it’s yet another way that the past and the present can overlap, and allow me to feel connected to those who came before me. I don’t know why I have such a need for this. But I do.

I have several vintage machines, but I did not think that any of them were made before World War II. For me, the ultimate sewing experience would be to sew on a machine that had been through the war years, helping its previous owner make it through those difficult times.

My smallest machine, a 1946 Singer Featherweight, was always a puzzle to me, though. Despite the fact that the serial number clearly dates the machine to 1946, the machine’s balance wheel-the part that you can turn with your right hand to raise and lower the needle-is made of chrome. Chrome balance wheels were only manufactured prior to WWII, and once the war broke out chrome was needed for the war effort. In fact, Singer sewing machine factories were converted over to war production, turning out essential goods such as Norden bomb sights, and parts for the M1 Garand rifle. After WWII, I’m fairly certain balance wheels were made of aluminum, like the rest of the machine, and painted black.


Gladys, my Featherweight.  Isn’t she cute!



An example of a Featherweight with a black balance wheel.

I always figured my machine was a possibly a collection of parts-some old and some new, and that was the explanation for the chrome balance wheel. And then, not long ago, I was researching another vintage purchase and I stumbled upon the answer. And I was thrilled. It’s quite likely that my Featherweight was made right before WWII, but shelved when the Singer factories temporarily halted the manufacture of sewing machines. Once the war ended, those machines, like mine, were taken out of storage and given post war serial numbers.

I’ll never know the truth about my Featherweight.  But that’s ok.  I like a good story.  And pre WWII or not, I still get a kick out of sewing with such a great piece of history.


  1. Your machines...sigh...they are simply gorgeous! My mom has two old singers, and I have an old Pfaff...and a new one. I like the old one best (older than I am :-D)

    It's true--sewing bridges periods of time.

  2. How cool is that?! And yes, she's totally cute. And I take it she likes apples?

  3. Dawn-I have a new Pfaff too, and I hardly ever use it. I'm just not as at home with it as I am with my old machines-even though my old machines can't do anything fancy. What I love is the fact that my old Singers are so well made they run as well today as they did when they were new, and they are imbued with so much history too:)

    Thanks Lisa! She does like apples-and she would like watermelon too, expect they are too big for her;)

  4. Featherweight is cute! Not to mention a woman of mystery. And I love the fruit sheet.