Among the many questions I’ve been asked about the Fortnight in 1916 project is ‘Are you going to be sewing like you would in 1916’?
Why yes, yes I am!
My goal is to make a blouse entirely as it would have been made at home in 1916, and to cut and start one of my outfits for Costume College (obviously, one that is 1916 themed!)
To do this, I need an era-correct sewing machine. Meet my new, very old, hand-crank Singer Model 27:
She dates from 1893, and is version 3 of the 27 model.
Singer launched the 27 series in the mid 1880s, as the first of their machines to use the new vibrating shuttle technology.
A vibrating shuttle is a different kind of bobbin which swings back and forth inside the machine, instead of having the threads carried around the machine, like a modern bobbin.
So the inside of the machine looks like this:
That point silver bullet looking thing is the bobbin, and the arm that is carrying it swings back and forth in the undercarriage, making the whole thing vibrate as you sew – hence the name vibrating shuttle!
Because the bobbin case is long and skinny, the machine takes a totally different kind of bobbin, shaped like little tiny barbells, like so:
Obviously 1893 is a good 23 years before my experiment, but the 27 series was made and marketed as a lifetime investment, and they were still in production in 1916, so it’s very likely that many Wellington housewives of the 1910s had and used similar ones.
Mine may even have been used by a Wellington woman of 1916 – it’s certainly been well used and loved!
The 1893 date really appeals to me on a personal level too, because I’m pretty sure I got my first sewing machine in 1993. I have and use one that is the same model as my first machine, so there is a nice symmetry to 1916 me and 2016 me and our machines.
As this machine is very well used, all its decals have worn off, but I can just see that it originally came with the Ottoman carnation decals – my favourite for this series!
In addition to being well-loved cosmetically, the machine needed a bit of mechanical TLC, so she’s currently in the shop getting tensions and bits adjusted, and I am holding my breath that all of that is going to make her sing (or, more accurately, whirrrr…whirrr..CAH-LUNK, which is the sound she should make) properly again.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that she’ll be fixed in time, because if not I’m going to have to get my 1903 Standard treadle dusted off, and honestly, that machine makes me want to throw things. There is a reason old Singers are so valued as working machines while so many other older brands are not! Ironically, it’s pretty much the opposite today, where modern Singers are pretty poorly made, rubbish machines.
Obviously, the big thing I still need to do with her is name her. What do you think? What’s a good name for an 1893 machine?
UPDATE: And she has a name! Ladies (and occasional gentlemen), meet Harriet.
I started thinking about names as soon as I published the post – lying in bed turning over options in my head.
Like many of you, I noted the significance of the year 1893 as being the year New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote, so thought the name should tie into that. While Kate Sheppard is the obvious choice, she’s been honoured with many things, and she was far from the only suffragette in NZ. And how could I possibly go past Harriet Russell Morison, suffragette, tailoress, and vice president (and later secretary) of the Tailoresses Union, and general campaigner for the rights of women workers and the mentally ill? Here she is in a photo from 1911. May my machine be as awesome and hard-working as her namesake!