A stitch back in time

By Marla Boone - Contributing Columnist

If a stitch in time is important. How vital is the time of the machine that makes the stitch?

My mother is a wonderful seamstress. She made all our clothes, she made draperies, and she even reupholstered our furniture. She and her trusty Singer have been together for more than 60 years, which is a pretty good union by anyone’s standards. Inheriting her frugality, I bought a sewing machine more than 40 years ago. The machine was used when I bought it and it has seen some interesting fabric drawn under its needle. There are currently four airplanes flying whose fuselage fabrics were sewn on it. This machine has stitched together fabric for rudders and elevators. It helped me construct a cockpit cover and the interior of yet a fifth airplane. Oh, yes. It has also sewn clothes. Like me, it is starting to show its age. Not like me (I hope), a replacement for it is not too far in the future. So when I heard of a machine for sale locally, I had to go take a look.

An elderly couple was trying to downsize. If you researched “kindly grandparents,” their picture would pop up. They had a machine they never used and just wanted to get rid of it. They urged me to take it home, see what I thought of it, and then if I wanted it, I could pay them whatever I figured it was worth. Make that “kindly trusting grandparents.”

The machine was in a rigid cardboard case that looked like something Humphrey Bogart would have hoisted up onto a train. I undid the brass latches and click/click the case fell open to reveal a beautiful little two-tone gem that obviously hadn’t seen the light of day since the Eisenhower administration. It was absolutely pristine. Inside the case were the original manual, the original tool kit, the original attachments, and what looked to be the original oil can.

Knowing I had something special but not quite sure what, I did what any red-blooded American with wifi would do. I Googled it. There was a small plaque on the front of the machine identifying the model, so I went from there. That was a good place to go from because the Internet had a great deal to share about the Singer model 301A. The first thing I learned was that it was considered a vintage machine, highly sought after by quilters because of its light weight and reliability, and it came in three different colors and was almost certainly made in Anderson, South Carolina, probably in 1951. This was great, but what I really wanted to know was: could I mend my blue jeans on it? The second thing I found out is what they normally sell for.

I immediately (and carefully) packed it back in its case and returned it to those poster children for kindliness. I told them they had a real treasure that was worth a lot more than I was willing to pay to fix a pair of pants. But they, having learned the joy of open closet space, didn’t want it back. I offered to sell it for them. No dice. Nothing would induce them to have anything else to do with this machine. So I took it back home.

Luckily for me, embedded in all the other verbiage online was the contact information for a man who was cited as the guru of the Singer model 301A. When we spoke on the phone it was clear I was in the telephonic presence of a True Believer. He not only shared his knowledge about this particular model, he also clued me in on every sewing machine manufactured since this one came off the assembly line (yes, in Anderson, South Carolina). He walked me through the care and feeding of the model 301A. (Note to self: Oil it once a year.). He warned me to have Bandaids on hand because of how fast this machine sewed (Note to self: Already found this out the hard way.) He broke the news gently that the oil can wasn’t original; it was from the mid-’50s. (Note to self: I don’t care.)

He did everything except tell me how to fix those jeans. I think my mom can help with that.


By Marla Boone

Contributing Columnist

Marla Boone resides in Covington.

Marla Boone resides in Covington.