Why I Only Sew Straight Lines

I’ve heard that my mom used to sew a lot of her own clothes, but I only remember seeing her old purple dress form gathering dust in the basement. (Until  my sister-in-law brought it back to life and gave it a much nicer home.)


When Mom wanted to sew, she usually borrowed Grandma’s old black enameled sewing machine with the fancy gold swirls. It was pretty, but too heavy for a kid to carry. It was extremely convoluted to thread, too. I don’t recall her sewing a lot when I was little, but I clearly remember helping Mom fill bobbins and her making me thread the machine. Through this, around that, through the wire loop, down into the metal ring and finally into the needle itself.

On rare occasions when Grandma needed her machine, we’d borrow Aunt Freda’s slightly newer New Home sewing machine. It was just as heavy, just as tricky to thread, but wasn’t decorated with gold scrolls. I eventually inherited the powerhouse of a sewing machine and still use it to this day.

Is there a suitcase on the table?

I swear it really is a sewing machine.

But I don’t sew clothes. I make pillows, quilts, simple curtains and one time I even made bedroom drapes. I used commercial pleating tapes, but they had incomplete instructions clearly written by someone for whom English was not a first – or possibly even second – language. A friend who’s an experienced sewer came over to help me figure out the pleats. She looked at Aunt Freda’s sewing machine — which only does straight line stitching; no zig-zags, no buttonholes, no zipper attachment, and no alternating stitch lengths unless you manually adjust the lever – and said, “Does it backstitch?”

Yes, it can backstitch. It’s electric, too!

(I’m not sure how old the sewing machine is, but on an episode of Mad Men, Betty’s sewing machine looked ultra modern compared to this one.)

Even if Aunt Freda’s very old New Home can’t compete with modern machines and their fancy stitches and special attachments, it’s the machine I’ll keep using until one of us dies. Sure, it’s next to impossible to find replacement bobbins (a worker at one place I checked exclaimed, “I’ve never seen a bobbin like that!”), but I’m not a seamstress. All I need to do is sew straight lines, and maybe a few gentle curves.

In a future post you’ll see why Old Reliable was out and running.

What old appliances or tools do you still use – and would you ever dream of replacing them?

Any guesses as to how old this New Home is? I honestly have no clue. (Apparently Aunt Freda didn’t believe in saving owner’s manuals.)

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About Paula Hendrickson

I'm a full-time freelance writer with an addiction to yarn, cooking and all kinds of crafty things. I come from a long line of creative and entrepreneurial types on both sides of the family, making creativity almost like competitive pursuit.

Posted on August 16, 2012, in Creativity, Family, sewing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hey, Paula:
    I love the article. I remembered my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. It was fancy for its day and my Mom made my daisy petal ballerina outfit on it for the recital. The cabinet was real wood and the machine was black enamel…had to be the color of the era. The foot treadle ( I guess it is called a treadle…lol) was black metal and you pumped your foot on it to sew. It had holes in it similar to a fancy grate. Gosh, I had to be all of 4 or 5 years old. I love memories and your article brought back another time long gone but not completely forgotten. Hold on to Aunt Freda’s New Home and pass it on to your niece.
    Charlyne

    • Paula Hendrickson

      Thanks, Charlyne. Hey, like I said to the friend who questioned my machine’s ability to back stitch: At least it’s electric!

  2. I learned to sew on my mother’s old Singer. Black with that fancy gold scroll paint you describe. Looks a lot like your Aunt Freda’s machine (and Mom still has hers). I loved it. Simple to use, a real workhorse of a machine.

    • Paula Hendrickson

      I bet the machines were twins, or very nearly twins, Lori! Gram’s had a case covered with a woven texture – black and tan, if I recall.

      Back in the late 80s or early 90s, I remember hearing someone talk about these heavy old machines and say they preferred them because they didn’t slide around the table like the newer plastic models did.

      I bet you mom’s machine still works, too!!

  3. jessica gregory

    I just bought this exact machine today at the swap meet and im trying to find its REAL value and the year it was made if you find out let me know!

    • Paula Hendrickson

      I doubt it has much monetary value. It’s not as pretty as some of the glossy black machines with the gold details.

      My best guess is it’s from the 40s or early 50s. It was my great aunt’s and she didn’t save the owner’s manual or any paperwork. If you find out how old it is, let me know.

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