Sewing History, Part IV: The first time I ever got laughed at by adults…

After my mom had found out that I had been secretly sewing Barbie clothes with her old green Bernina (without having ever been taught how to use it) she actually sat down with me and showed me how to sew backwards and make a zig-zag stitch. I think she might have even explained what all the specialty machine feet did and that they were not, as I had suspected, miniature mouse traps.

Knowing that I had her support and I didn’t have to hide my new hobby from her (or anyone else) was quite liberating…

One weekend two of my mom’s sisters (both of whom were avid seamstresses like her) were visiting and the three of them were in the TV room, most likely watching some BBC costume drama, and — surprise! surprise! — I was off down the hall sewing. I had run out of bobbin thread and started winding a new one, which I had always done by hand. As I wound the bobbin — something I’d done seemingly a million times – I had this flash of inspiration: that I would invent a machine that could wind bobbins! Immediately, knowing that there were three very seasoned seamstresses just a few steps away who would certainly be dying to hear this amazing news, I ran down the hall to the TV room — bobbin in hand — interrupted their movie, and boldly announced that “one day I’m going to invent a machine that will wind bobbins automatically!”

They all looked at me and then each other and burst out in laughter. I couldn’t figure out why my genius idea had been met with such ridicule — why weren’t they showering me with praise for the obvious technological advancement I was going to contribute to the world?!

“You’ve been winding all those bobbins by hand?!” said one of my aunts.

“Your sewing machine already does that!” said the other.

I think my face probably went purple and I started to cry. I asked my mom why she didn’t show me this feature when she taught me how to use the backstitch function and everything else; in between her laughter she said that it had never occurred to her that I didn’t know how to use the bobbin winder because I had been doing so much sewing that I must have already figured it out.

They tried their best to restore my bruised confidence and took me back to the sewing room to show me how to wind a bobbin with the machine. I sat there, just thinking over and over again: I wish I had learned this such a long time ago… it would have saved me so much time. And embarrassment!

Mom’s Old Green Bernina

I used to always look at this picture and wonder what gifts came in those really big boxes. When I finally asked my mom a few years ago she said, "Those big boxes? Those were all fake gifts, just for looks, to show people where to put the real ones." I still like to imagine that the biggest box has the Bernina sewing machine in it!

My mom has this puke-green Bernina that she got as a wedding present from my dad’s parents in 1967. It was, according to my mom, “the top-of-the-line sewing machine back then!” She was right; it really was. It was a Bernina 730 Record! It had this collapsible, fold out stand with shiny tubular metal legs and two particle-board-covered-with-brown-wood-grain-laminate countertops. One countertop was on the bottom that the machine sat on, and the other was a bit higher and had a bunch of hinges at the back and underneath it. These hinges enabled it to fold down flat around the free arm of the sewing machine and make a nice, large sewing surface. To the right of the machine and tethered to it somehow, there was this thing — in the same lovely shade of oxidized avocado flesh as all the knobs and levers — that had pegs to store spools of thread and bobbins on the top. On the bottom there were three plastic trays which swung out on a hinge to reveal a myriad of what looked like (at best) surgical tools and (at worst) hunting traps for small animals. These were the specialty presser feet: a roll-hemmer, a button-holer, and an edge-stitcher, etc. Though they scared me when I was very young and didn’t know what they were, they became some of my best friends as I grew up.

Whenever I go home to visit my parents, I always take a trip into the laundry room, where the Old Green Bernina has a permanent perch atop a custom-built counter. (After renovating 15 years ago they threw out that awesome retro wood-grain stand, dang-it!) I open the little drawers to see if all the little specialty feet are still there. I check to see which hideous colors of thread are still wound around the bobbins and what old spools of thread — you know, the ones that are actually made of wood — are still in the sewing box. And I look for any scraps of fabric that I would remember from my childhood in the drawers under the counter.

Without that Old Green Bernina my life would have probably taken a whole different course… I’m very grateful for it.