Today I retrieved my sewing machine from the back of a cupboard. I suppose all the preparations for the novel launch had got me thinking it might be time to reconcile with those feed dogs. I had to unpack piles of sketchbooks, leather portfolios, and boxes of embroideries to get to it. Bobbins rattled indignantly; spools and needles were sent scuttling across the floor as the door of the front compartment flapped open. It was like lifting a stone and upsetting an intricate insect community that had been merrily going about its daily business.
I set the sewing machine solemnly on the floor and removed the dust cover. I felt it bristle with resentment at the sudden transplant. Are we on the move again? it seemed to grumble as if it hadn’t already seen me through enough nomadic ramblings to have earned a peaceful repose at this stage in its life. Bought in Belfast, it had accompanied me to London, then on to Milan, followed by New York. As a reward for its loyalty I had unpacked it from the international movers crates upon landing in my new Manhattan apartment, and promptly rammed it inside the cupboard. That sewing machine and I have always had a dysfunctional relationship. I blame my mother.
Huskystar Model 50 is cream with lilac detailing, Swedish-made and charming to look at. I bought it as a student having shopped around thoroughly before making the big purchase. It was essential to my dreams of a career in fashion. The handle felt reassuringly warm to the touch and I thought Yes, this is the one. I was certain Huskystar 50 felt a similar sense of purpose as it was lifted onto the counter and boxed up, convinced that fashion students and their first sewing machine should automatically experience a bond––like Harry Potter and his wand.
The sewing machine would be a quasi-sentient device through which I would channel my vision. It would read my thoughts. And if for some reason that bond didn’t happen immediately, it would be induced by all those late nights spent together, staring eye to eye, frantically working to assemble garments in cramped student digs under the light of its 15-watt bulb. A sewing machine really gets to know its owner at 3am, the morning of an important crit, as she is ripping out the zipper on a skirt for the third time.
But the truth is I never felt allegiance with my Huskystar 50. There was no love. Instead it was unyielding and obstreperous. Huskystar 50 didn’t care a whit about my dreams of fashion. It was when my mum flew over to help me sew my graduate collection that this became abundantly clear. She gently lowered her foot on the peddle, gave the wheel an affectionate nudge and off they went, a love match. Huskystar 50 purred and mewed when all I ever got were ugly grinding sounds. Mum was not presented with looped threads nor bunched fabric for her efforts. They were entirely simpatico.
To compensate for her fading eyesight and the inadequate light in my room, the machine’s needle seemed to widen its eye to aid her rethreading attempts. I realized Huskystar 50 was sorry to have been picked by me that day in the shop.
“She runs like a dream,” my mum confirmed.
She would know. My mum had worked at a sewing machine most of her life, first in local factories and then as a dressmaker working from home while rearing a family.
She had the gift. She was the sewing machine whisperer, known locally as Sadie the Sewer. All through my childhood, industrial-sized sewing machines occupied our kitchen and I found them invasive and ugly. They became the target of much of my teenage vitriol. I wasn’t averse to giving one the odd kick as I squeezed by. Well, my past indiscretions had returned to haunt me. The community of sewing machines is a closeknit one and my domestic sewing machine resisted domestication. In many other ways I’m my mother’s daughter but just as Muggles can’t use wands, I am missing her magic touch with sewing machines in my DNA.
I replaced the dust cover and put the Huskystar back in the recesses of the cupboard. I realized I didn’t have a UK to US adapter to make it work. All that traveling and time spent together and we still didn’t connect.
You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.