Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A sewing machine at home

I grew up with Rita, our sewing machine!  Mother recalls it was bought from monthly small savings my grandfather made at "Pattu Brothers", a popular general stores [opposite Clock Tower / Town Hall] whose proprietor was also his friend.  Many shops provided these small savings schemes to customers in those days. The machine had cost three hundred rupees in the early 1960s.  
Click on images to see them larger.

Before marriage, my mother had attended sewing / embroidery / crochet classes in the early 50s.  These skills were useful in earning small amounts which contributed in making ends meet, she being the eldest daughter in a large family.  I preserve those tiny samples she made as practice lessons at those classes.  Here is just one. There are many others in this album.
[Click here to see more, also crafts of aunt and grandmother].  See pencil placed for scale.

This is her certificate from 1954 for needlework and embroidery. She is very adept in whatever she does, even at 77.

I used to attentively watch when she was at the machine.  Most of the stitching requirements up to a certain level were done by her, be it repairing of clothes [of all of us], stitch her own blouses, petticoats, or pyjamas for my father, patch up torn pockets, stitch door curtains, patch up bed linen, sew buttons, etc.

There is no clear memory of me making the first stitch, but when I was 13 or 14, I started to sit at the machine taking waste pieces of cloth to stitch. I also used to observe our tailor Narayana Rao whose shop was just a furlong away, where the garments of male members of our family were got stitched. That is also where I made a strike of sorts. [Read here - Click] I had learnt to re-thread the needle when it snapped, to fill the bobbin with thread and to insert it in place. I had learnt the basics just by observing.

Some impetus in school [Sarada Vilas High School] also helped, in the form of one teacher called "MKG" [Gopal Iyengar] who filled the extra free period of 45 minutes [weekly].  Tailoring was his hobby.  It was his intention to spread the sewing knowledge among his students.  He showed us how to hand-sew, hem, make buttonholes, stitch buttons, different stitches etc. but not with a sewing machine.  He used to emphatically tell what he taught would come in handy in our lives. I have preserved the thimble which he made us buy, but carry forward the skills.

In 1973-74, I had made two pairs of gloves from thick khaki cloth just for fun to catch the tennis ball in my  home-cricket!  I dared to wear the ugly thing in street cricket!  But I got kicks out of just making them!

By 1977 or 78, I could stitch easier portions of my pyjama or cotton shorts while mother did the basic cutting and made the pockets or front opening.  They were 'drawstring tie waist' type [In Kannada it is ಲಾಡಿ].  The shorts had no side pockets and I could stitch the entire thing myself.  

Now I ventured into stitching my own half sleeve shirt.  If tailors can stitch I too can!  There was cheap cotton cloth at home. I took a shirt for measurement and cut all the required pieces except for the sleeves, which mother helped.  I found the collar and yoke to be difficult, but I managed.  The shirt came out okay with the trial-wear.  I made buttons and buttonholes.  I put it on proudly.  My fingers went to button the shirt by habit, but there was something amiss!

I had put the buttons on the left portion instead of the usual right side!  Rectifying this small faux pas was possible, but it did not occur to me at that time.  I continued to wear it with pride and felt funny every time I wore and buttoned or unbuttoned while removing.   

I used it for many days showing it off to friends who raised eyebrows "Did you stitch?".  My second and last shirt in 1978 came out much better.  I had improved.

Last week when I took up some tailoring projects, I found the remaining cloth from that length I used for my shirts. It was in a steel trunk. Here is the cloth:

Much later, in the mid 90s I turned two pairs of trousers that I did not wear anymore into two track suit uppers!  Bi-colour.  I had made two and enjoyed using them before giving them away to another young player who needed them.  I have also made several caps for myself [Click here for my blogpost] and derived lot of joy from using them. 

While a stitch in time saves nine, a sewing machine at home saves time!  Those who have one at home will not hesitate to vouch that it is one of the handiest things to have!  I cannot list out what all have been done with this machine and we know we cannot live without one.  

Following pictures were taken during the latest project - curtains, pillow covers, etc.

Some pictures from Feb. 2013.  I had made some small bags before.

A light is necessary as the eyes get older. 

A shoulder bag from my grandfather's cotton trousers....

Another pic of the machine.

Yet another from 2013. You will see something on the yellow thread roll.  It is actually the original screw driver which came with Rita.  I have converted it into a seam-ripper by filing the tip sharp. 

My paternal aunt whose crafts you saw in that album also knew how to stitch simple things, but due to her poor eyesight, someone had to re-thread the needle if the thread broke. The machine always occupied a spot near the window where good natural light was.  

My father also had poor eyesight.  Once he was repairing something one night and he came out of the room holding up his middle finger [I think left hand].  I do not forget this sight easily as blood was pouring out!  We were shocked!  He had accidentally put the finger under the moving needle.  The fingertip had sliced badly.  

In those families which have a sewing machine, at least one person must know how to take care of it and be able to do minor adjustments to keep it in perfect working condition, always. Oiling is a must.  In our case, there is me. It has not gone for any major repairs so far. Rita continues to do excellent work even after fifty years. 

My good gardening friend from half way round the earth, Sue is also good at suing.  
Read Susan is also good at sewing! 


Rathi Narayanan said...

Is there anything you are not good at? :-)

Susan Hirneise Moore said...

I love the comment that was left by Rathi, and I second that sentiment: Is there anything you are not good at?!
I have to ask: Does that machine have its original BELT? If so, that is astounding.
I have six sewing machines, as you know, Dinu, and I do have my favorites, but nothing like Rita! Oh, that's right: I don't have my grandma's machine still because I forced it to go in reverse so many times! I don't suppose you have ever asked Rita to do something she did not want to do. Sigh!
Great blog entry; it makes me want to rush to the sewing room and make something!

Dinakar KR said...

Thank you Rathi and Susan.
No, the machine's belt [made of leather] has been changed several times. It is a tricky job, but I have learnt to do it on my own and in my time itself I have put new ones at least 4 times. Rita did not want to stitch thick clothes or rexine bags. I have broken many needles too. Now I keep a stock!

Kumar Sharma said...

Very nice to read about your long-lasting affair with Rita! Between you, I can see you have produced many useful items (Gloves, bags, Shirts etc.)- yeah a very useful 'Simple Machine'. In 6th Std. General Science, we had the last chapter on "Simple Machines" . Sewing Machine was one the other was the Bicycle - this was in 1967-'68. I wonder if you did have the same text! I "LIKE" what you say and the other friends' comments as to are you bad at anything at all! Yeah - you must start using the Mobile Phone and also start Driving a Car - there are advantages for others too!

Py Santosh said...

All rounder :)