Friday, August 31, 2012

I Have Vintage Feed Sacks!!!

Just a very quick post to gloat a little.  On my last post I showed the pile of vintage fabric I found at the Estate Sale.  At the time I was more caught up in the new sewing machine (which I gifted to my daughter-in-law who is learning to sew for her two little girls) and of course the Gun Story.  

So I finally got a good look at what I've got in this fabric stash.  I am a little slow on the uptake sometimes, but it finally dawned on me that these four pieces are Depression era feed or flour sacks.  CLUE: (for those as dense as I was!) they were sewn into sacks with a very heavy cotton thread.   I googled it to be sure, and  the dimensions match those of feed/flour sacks from the 1930's - 1940's that were made of bright prints which women would re-use to make clothing.   (Today we call this "Repurposing" but our Depression era grandmothers were way ahead of us in this concept.)  

During the Depression and the War years these were vital sources of fabric for many families and women were extremely competitive about getting the patterns they wanted - and enough of each pattern to make an entire garment.   Since they measure approximately 44" X 38", that is basically about one yard of fabric as it would be cut from the bolt.  Therefore it might take anywhere from 2 sacks to make a little girl's dress to 3-4 sacks for an adult woman's housedress.

These came out costing me about .50 apiece.  They sell on eBay for anywhere from $12-$30.   Score!  :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Granny Get Your Gun - an Estate Sale Adventure

This is where it all began.  I was chasing an Estate Sale and this one was F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S.  The kind I really love where Grandma dies leaving her 1950's ranch house filled with vintage treasures and the family just wants to liquidate the estate and move on.

(Note:  yes, I do feel a little creepy being one of the people pawing through all the worldly goods of someone's dearly departed.  One day, I imagine, someone will be pawing through my stuff this way.)

Anyway, I arrived a few minutes before the sale began and folks were lined up outside the door. When they let us in everyone swarmed through the house with something specific in mind, I'm sure. Everyone looked intent on scoring something they saw in the ad.  I was here for the "vintage sewing machine and fabric" (of course!)  

Within 5 minutes I had laid claim to this pristine Singer Touch & Sew 600e in a very nice desk.  All the accessories and the manual were included and the whole thing looked like it had just come off the showroom floor.  It held a place of honor in the Dining Room, no less - this was a treasured and well cared for sewing machine.  $75.  MINE!  (I gifted it to someone in my family.)

Then I found the room with the real goodies, I'm talking Died and Gone To Vintage Fabric Heaven kind of stash.  Stacks upon stacks of fabrics labeled "$1 per piece" and best of all there were feed sacks included.

But here is the real adventure....


I'm rifling through a large carton of fabrics picking out the prints I like when I come across a small, heavy box buried near the bottom in folds of fabric.  Hmmm...some kind of sewing machine attachment?  The box was circa 1950's and said that this was a revolver - yes, as in gun.  At first I thought it was funny that an old lady would store her sewing supplies in that box - except that it really was a gun in the box along with a supply of bullets.

Bad Angel, perched upon my shoulder whispering in my ear:  "Leave the gun in there and ask how much for this whole box of fabric then pay the $10-$20 or whatever and walk out with it.  You didn't put it in there, it was already in there, so this is totally legit.  They snooze, they lose.  Finder keepers, losers weepers..."   


Good Angel: "Okay, this isn't supposed to be in here.  This was someone's mistake, they didn't know it was here, they overlooked it.  You could get away with it on a technicality but you know it's not yours to keep.  Let's give it to the grandson and do the right thing".

But, but....

"No buts.  Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them..."

Okay, okay!  Yes, that is right.  I will turn it in.

Let me just say that waving a gun around a crowded room of treasure seekers resulted in a few startled expressions but nobody's jaw dropped lower than the seller's when I handed him the gun and told him where I found it. This dude was flabbergasted, he took it and stammered that it wasn't for sale...he didn't even know it was there....thanks...

And also let me just say that Bad Angel yammered in my ear all the way home about how much I could get for a vintage gun, and how it would pay for the sewing machine I just bought, and how anyone else would have taken it, and wasn't I a schmuck.  But Good Angel smiled smugly because she had already won the argument and it couldn't be undone.  So There!   

(And the family always wondered what happened to Grandpa...)


Well I'll end this story with pictures of the most darling EVER vintage aprons that I bought - along with all the fabric shown - for a total of $7. 
Isn't this the cutest apron EVER???  It is organdy with appliqu├ęs and binding.

And how cute is this?  
One of my best ever days Estate Sale-ing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I Hit The Mother Lode

Now this is the score every vintage Singer lover lives for:

Gorgeous 201-2 in the fantastic #42 cabinet.  Came with the Pinking attachment, hemstitcher, buttonholer, Singer fabric gripper and blind stitch attachment plus all the regular attachments and a stool full of various goodies.  I mean this is "Died and Gone to Singer Heaven" in Vintage Singer World. 

I sold it all except for the Pinking attachment and fabric gripper. To this day I wish I had kept that amazing cabinet, but it had a stale cigarette odor which was just enough to annoy me and the new owner didn't seem to be worried about it.   But looking at the picture now I weep a little for having let it slip through my fingers.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Cheap Imposter

Decades ago, Singer made sewing machines to literally last a lifetime.  There are hundreds of thousands of Singer machines (maybe even millions) made 50-100 years ago that are still going strong.  But from the manufacturer's point of view, if you want to sell more sewing machines then a little built in obsolescence is in order.  If Grandma hands down the machine to her daughter and granddaughter, and if these machines need few parts or minimal service as the years go by, then how is this company going to continue to make sales?   

Well first of all they add more features.  You started out with a basic straight stitch machine.  Here's what it will do - it will SEW.  Perfectly, beautifully, and without hesitation day in and day out for years and years.  It was also a treasured showpiece in the home.  I imagine that generations ago a beautifully appointed Singer with its gorgeous gilt decals was a woman's pride and joy.  

This isn't even one of the more stunning examples of a vintage Singer (like the Lotus or Red-Eye models) but it is simple, elegant and beautiful.
Singer 201

In the 1940's and 1950's this was a TOL Singer.  But other companies had machines on the market in the '50's with dazzling features and a more modern appearance.  

Here is an illustration of an alternative a seamstress would have to a basic straight stitch Singer.

So the ladies started trading up and who could blame them? Hey, if I saw an ad like that in 1952 and I could afford it, I'd hustle on down to the dealer and buy it. Maybe I'd even trade in my older Singer for the downpayment.  

No doubt by the 1960's an old black and gold Singer would be regarded as nothing more than "old fashioned."   ("Vintage" being a word usually associated with wine.)

The Singer Featherweight got an updated look in it's last few years. 

As did the 15-91, whose modernized version was the 15-125

And the 201K

The changes were mostly cosmetic as these were still basic straight stitch machines.   All the newest features were on the Slant-O-Matics which came out in the early '60's.  Not only space age styling but now we were doing zig zag, decorative stitches, twin needle stitching, buttonholes and all the other bells and whistles.  However, these were still solid, mechanical, all metal machines made for a lifetime of service.

I'm going to skip ahead now...past the era of the Touch & Sew, the Fashion Mate, the Genie, the Stylist...past the Athena and all the early electronic models... right up to the computerized models of today.  Somewhere along the way gears were no longer made of metal, but nylon.  I don't know exactly when the plastic began to creep in (I think about the late 1960s) but over the last 40 years the domestic sewing machine has morphed into the blob of plastic as we know it today.   A mid-range sewing machine today costs anywhere from $200-$1000 and looks like this

The machine housing and the knobs are all plastic.  Unbelievably even the presser bar lever is plastic.  That is a lever that gets constant use, how long before it snaps off?  The cheap plastic construction almost makes it seem like a toy.   

When I read the list of features these machines have I'm not impressed.  Needle up/down feature?  I've got that, it's called a hand wheel.  Never fails to work after all these years.  

88 built in stitches?  My Rocketeer has 22 stitches and I have yet to use more than 6-8 of them.  But I do know that they will work perfectly every single time - and have been for 50 years - because they are made with cams. It takes an extra 15 seconds of my time to switch them out, but they are absolutely reliable and fool proof.  I  move levers to change stitch width and length.  I turn knobs to adjust presser foot pressure and tension.  No "automatic" tension or pressure adjustments here, I fine tune it exactly the way I want it.  (And my knobs and levers will NEVER break off.  That's a fact.)

One model boasted that it had "centered zig zag tapering".  What's the big deal about that?  My 503 can do that.

So this is all leading back to here.  Singer is commemorating it's 160th year with this model reminiscent of the classic, vintage machines they built their reputation on.   But sadly it is only a cheap, flimsy imposter of the real thing.  That shiny hand wheel?  That's not chrome, that's plastic.  YUCK!!!  I think these sell for around $500.  These will be in landfills while a 201 from 1950 is still sewing strong.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nostalgic Singer Ads

I always thought that I was born 25 years too late...I can't get enough of anything 1930's-1960's.  Of course we tend to see the past through rose colored glasses but I know that Americans struggled through the Depression in the 1930's and WWII in the 1940's.  The 1950's - well that post war era seems nearly idyllic by the standards of the entire century.  I know it wasn't perfect, but I pore over it and recreate a little bit of it in my life whenever I can.  Hence my obsession with all things "vintage" (which is just a marketable way of saying "old".)   

Now this BH&G cover has almost nothing to do with Vintage Singers except that it evokes an era when the housewife who had a kitchen like this almost certainly had a shiny black and gold Singer somewhere in the house.  I LOVE, love, love this kitchen!

Moving on to the 1940's, here is a Singer ad from 1945.  The war was ending and "at last" she could order a new Singer.  Production of appliances, cars, stockings, rubber items, etc. all but stopped in the early '40's and went to the War effort.  I don't know if the Singer factories were involved, but of course many factories were fitted out to build planes, tanks and munitions.  Even if the factories weren't otherwise occupied, there was a shortage of metal, rubber and other material for any manufacturing that wasn't absolutely necessarily.  

According to this ad it seems that new sewing machines were among the items that were hard to come by.  

 How about those Singer Sewing Centers? When you bought a Singer sewing machine you were entitled to a free sewing course to learn how to use it.

 The "Career Gal" makes her own clothes on a Singer - the secret of her success.  Note that she has a roommate, not a husband.  "Career Gals" were usually single, supposedly just working until they achieved their highest career goal of getting married and being a housewife.

Here's the '50's housewife with her smart suit and well dressed daughters.  She makes all their clothes.