My Singer® story spans 75 years. It’s a tale of thrift, tenacity and innovation, a story which I I expect will resonate with the experience of Singer® users who have lived and worked with the brand over the same period...
The Beginning: Ladylike Aspirations
My Granny Pamela’s family were not well off by any stretch of the imagination, but by a twist of circumstance, she always had exposure to fine clothes. My Great Grandfather Walter was the youngest male of an aristocratic line who had lost the last of the family money when he was a boy. So, rather than getting what his well-off brothers had received in terms of education, Walter had to establish himself using the same method people always have: hard graft. Walter ended up working as a Storeman for an Engineering firm, then met and married my Great Grandmother Helen, a fiesty girl from the North of England who nursed wealthy ladies for a living. Together Walter and Helen produced three children: Eileen, Collette, and Pamela. The home they grew up was humble, yet into spilled tales from of a lost era of finery: lavish balls, romantic dances, and radiant ladies dressed in absolutely beautiful clothes. Occasionally one of Walter’s relatives or one of Helen’s patients would die, and from them would come boxes of meticulously made items: antique fans, top hats, generous petticoats, and sparkling jewellery. It was this which lit Pamela’s imagination.
The Talent in Her Hands
Pamela’s early gift for knitting was no joke. She’d first picked up some needles and asked to learn at the age of 3. Truly, if there was such a thing as a knitting prodigy then she must have been it. By 7 she wasn’t just making advanced designs but actually adapting and inventing her own. The three girls did very well out of Pamela’s hobby, but then inevitably something strange happened: adults started to notice. Relatives and friends of the family started asking if the little girl would make things for them.
The Singer® Treadle
Spurred on by the praise for her knitting, Pamela also started experimenting with pattern cutting-- tacking her garments together with meticulous hand sewn stitches. It was soon clear that, like the knitting, this wasn’t just some ordinary hobby- this was a child in serious want of a sewing machine! Money, however, was tight. Then the Second World War came and Walter and Helen finally decided that Pamela ought to have a sewing machine. With the onset of rationing and clothing coupons, to have a capable seamstress in the house could prove very useful for the fundamental task of clothing everyone. So Pamela’s Singer® Treadle was presented to her on her 11th birthday and my Granny recalls this as one of the most exciting days of her entire life.
The Young Girl and the Dressmakers
Just like with the knitting, when my Granny set about learning to sew on her Singer® Treadle she did not do it by halves. She started off making dirndl skirts that summer, which had recently come into fashion but by the following spring she was making complex garments and pushing herself to make things as beautifully as possible—figuring out how to adapt for a better fit or a more flattering line. By the time she was 15 Pamela’s skills had come to the attention of the owner of the local high end dressmaker’s, Celete’s, who had offered her a job sewing their designs for wealthy local ladies. Pamela grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Here she learned all of the professional secrets of dressmaking, and assisted those who even during the hard times of war could afford to wear the best of the best. Obviously this was an exciting time for a young woman to have the ability to create good fashions- she and her sisters regularly went to dances with the visiting troops. The pressure was on to make-do-and-mend yourself into a glamour queen in order to keep your own morale high as well as everyone else’s, and my Granny, perhaps a little more than most, had the ability to do just that. She and her sisters would visit the unreachable glamour of the department stores and she would note down the designs for inspiration.
A Borrowed Wedding Dress
Unsurprisingly my Granny proved rather popular during this period with the servicemen. My Grandpa Peter, who had been sent back from Belgium to recover from illness, had just about regained his strength when he saw Pamela at a dance for the troops. All he did was clap eyes on her, then he turned to his friend and said, “That’s the woman that I’m going to marry!” And he did. Their courtship played out against the difficult but romantic backdrop of the final years of the war, my Grandpa going AWOL from the army three times just to see her. Peter and Pamela wed in 1946, the year after Hitler was defeated, by which point, people all over the world were living with severe shortages of everything. Much to my Granny’s disappointment, she and her sisters were unable to cobble together enough clothing coupons to pay for the amount of fabric a bridal party would require, so rather than realising her dream of sewing her own wedding and bridesmaids gowns, she was forced to borrow the dresses from friends.
Tenacity on the Treadle
When my Grandparents settled down and produced four children, it almost went without saying that she would make their entire wardrobes herself. This was no small undertaking and she still only had a treadle to use but she really loved to do it. When asked about this today she tells me proudly that, “I only ever bought five dresses in total for the children. Two each for Diana and Sally, and one for Helen [my mother]. All from Marks & Spencer!” Presumably my Uncle Richard, who came afterwards, never wore anything shop-bought at all! My Grandpa had come out of the army straight into teacher training college and in those days teachers earned an mere pittance so my Granny’s talented came in real handy.
An Electronic Athena Singer®!
Two decades later, there came onto the market something which caused a stir: an Electronic Singer® Sewing Machine known as the Athena. My Granny could not believe what the new technology could do, and she despearely wanted one. My Grandpa was by that point was a Deputy Headmaster, but they were expensive. Still, one day, he managed to track down a secondhand Athena for her and my Granny was absolutely delighted. She tells of how fantastically easy the sewing became from that point on. However, once their children hit their teen years, sometimes her sewing was not entirely appreciated. My Mother recalls my Granny taking them into Chelsea Girl (the store that eventually become our famous Topshop) and asking them to show her the styles they liked so she could emulate them, just as she’d done with her own sisters. But by then, she said they all would have much preferred the “real thing”, even if it wasn’t so well-made!
A Brand New Singer®Starlet!
During this period, my Granny gained some financial freedom of her own. Eventually she went out to work as a cashier at the local Building Society. It was there that she was able to buy herself the ultimate treat: a Singer®Starlet from an actual Singer® Shop which had opened in her town! She describes signing up for a buy monthly scheme, and carrying it back in her arms through the streets of her town and stashing it under her feet behind the counter with a giant smile on her face.
The Urge to Pass Down Her Skills
The Singer® Starlet was to bring my Granny into the third and fourth eras of her sewing history: first she made all the family bridal dresses on it, and then baby clothes and toys for her plethora of grandchildren which is where my own history starts to come into this story. Of course all of this is just the tip of the iceberg- there has been so much more than I could tell here. And I understand that in many respects, that these are experiences that many others will have shared during the same period. However, reason that I feel so strongly about our story is because my Granny did it all on such a vast scale, and with professionally-honed finesse. Now, my Granny taught all her children how to sew, but none of them expressed a genuine interest in it. This was something which, understandly, disappointed her. They all started their married lives in the 70’s and 80s- a period when large swathes of the Western world were moving into an economic Boom. None of them had to think twice about going out and buying shop-bought clothes, and none of them felt compelled to learn.
The New Make-Do-and-Mend Generation
Then me and my cousins came along. There are 7 of us, 4 girls, of which I am by far the one most interested in fashion. And right now, our generation is not having things quite so easy as our parents. Getting on the property ladder, even when in possession of a college degree, is proving pretty tough. In order to survive, we’re having to deploy some of the thrifty makedo-and-mend ideas of our Grandparents. The styles in the clothing and interior shops have a wartime nostalgia to them and the double-dip recession has forced us all to reassess any extravagant spending habits we may have acquired during other eras. And it is in this climate that I have taken up sewing lessons. I am still living at home, having graduated from college years ago- saving and dreaming of evenutally some day owning my own place. I have a Pinterest account on which I envision the home of my future. Unlike many Pinners, it’s not a Hollywood home I dream of, but something which has a feel of both my parent’s home and that of my Grandparents. I have a “bottom drawer” spilling out from under my bed consisting of domestic items, vintage-style kitchenware, old satin-lined blankets, all kinds of things bought in sales and bid for on eBay. And the aesthetic of these items is just like that of the Singer® 160: modern in ethos, but with a deft and an elegant nod to the past.
A Girl in Severe Want of a Sewing Machine
Since I am not abundantly well-off, I have been having sewing lessons at the local library where I can borrow a sewing machine for the price of the class. Then, when I go and visit my Granny she teaches me the finer points- the professional things that I couldn’t pick up in these classes. So to draw this to a close, the reason that I hope so badly to win one of your Singer® Limited Edition 160s is that I want to learn to sew with the same finesse as my gifted Granny. I want to receive the skills from her while there is still time, because to me, at 86, she is a real Limited Edition. I want to be able to share and marvel and experiment with her with on the newest, most cutting edge Singer® technology on the market today, not just because it would give us both immense pleasure, but because it will tie us together forever, as her incredible skills are fed, stitch by stitch, into the future...
NB. The photograph is of my Granny Pamela, left, and her sister Collete, right, outside a department store, where they used to go and get inspiration.