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Teena Lee Sorrell: A Still Stitching Profile

Posted by James Wolfensberger on

This is the second installment in a series of profiles of collectors and contributors in the online VSM community. If you would like to nominate an interview candidate, please contact us.

Teena Lee Sorrell

Every VSM collector possesses the most important thing to contribute to our community: their story.

People, and the tales behind their passion for VSMs, fuel the growth of a community determined to cooperate and support one another in a common interest: in our case, preserving the history and usefulness of all-metal machines through teamwork. Each VSM enthusiast helps ensure that the history of a bygone era isn't lost - an era of heirloom quality manufacturing; a time when domestic skills were necessary to thrive, and those skills were held dear by a mother in a "traditional" role; an era that introduced the industrial age to the average household; an era that brought us new forms of commerce, and so much more.

When Brenda and I began filming Still Stitching, we were ourselves only casual collectors and knew little of the historic significance of the sewing machine and it's profound impact on society. It took others' stories to get us hooked. Feeling the pull of this community's passion inspired our increasing zeal as much as the look, feel and effectiveness of the machines.

Meet Teena Lee Sorrell

“I've never tooted my own horn before,” Teena tells us. “Kinda makes me feel weird. Not really sure there's a lot to tell either.” Not true, just as I expected. There's plenty to tell.

Her mother taught her to sew at an early age, so naturally her Barbie dolls enjoyed a custom wardrobe.

Mother always had the newest Singer, because every time a new one came out, Daddy would go trade her old one in, and bring home the new one. She even had a Rocketeer at one point. She and my grandmother were also avid quilters, so I learned "kinda" to quilt as well. In my twenties I made a lot of my own dress clothes, since I worked for a lawyer for many years.

Teena's mother also taught her to refinish furniture, and in her late twenties, Teena operated what she calls "a very small, one person business" for a while.

Then I had children, and that stopped. I had made costumes for myself for Halloween throughout the years, and once the kids came along that kinda grew into a thing. I made costumes for the whole family at times. We got into going to Renaissance Faires and I started making those costumes as well. Then at 40 I took up belly dancing, so I made loads of those costumes.

Belly dancing! Of course... that always leads to vintage sewing machines!

Teena Starts Collecting

Singer 15-91

Above: Teena's Singer 15-91

She had already been sewing on a Singer 15-91, but the VSM bug had not bitten her quite yet. A friend was already collecting vintage machines but found repairs costly. "So I told her, and I quote, 'Hell, it can't be rocket science. I'll see if I can learn to fix them and I'll do it for you!'"

Teena started collecting inexpensive VSMs from thrift stores and yard sales.

And I got online, and searched, and searched, and then searched some more. I joined the Vintage Sewing Machine Facebook group and asked the gurus questions when I couldn't find what I needed online. I messaged them privately. I asked questions on VSM boards, but I tried not to ask stuff unless I just couldn't find it online first. And from all of that, I taught myself how to work on them, including rewiring motors. Then of course people started GIVING them to me. Next thing I know, I have a house full of machines!

Kenmore 158.1813

Above: Teena's Kenmore 158.1813

Exploring the various groups on Facebook, Teena landed on the Vintage Sewing Machines (Non-Singer) group. A night owl, she would be up late chatting with other collectors, and she got to know the group's founder, Paden Wagner. He invited Teena to help with the group's administration.

I was flattered that out of all the folks on the page, he asked me. So I jumped in. There was nothing in the Files section, so I started putting in what manuals I had. Then people started asking me for manuals.

Singer 226

Above: Teena's Singer 226

Atlas Select-O-Matic

Above: Teena's Atlas Select O' Matic

There are presently more than 650 files available in the VSM (Non-Singer) group, and while Teena has handled the bulk of the work, she acknowledges the invaluable help of other members.

Kathy Allard helps me tremendously - she's my right hand gal! I couldn't handle all the requests without her. And a huge thank you has to go out to our members who share their manuals generously with the page, and take the time and effort to scan manuals and send them to me. We wouldn't have as many as we do without their contribution.

Teena doesn't give up easily when searching for an in-demand manual.

I spent over a year hunting for a manual for the Belair 620. That's the cool red machine everyone moons over. Anyway, I had posted - begged actually - all over the internet for this manual. Finally, a year later a lady from Canada, I believe, saw one of my posts and message me. She had the manual! I offered to pay her for a copy, but she was a sweetie and scanned it and gave it to me for free to add to our files. I asked her to join the page so everyone could thank her. It was a HUGE celebration when I posted it!

She usually puts about 6-8 hours a day into her efforts online, mostly late at night.

I do it because I remember how hard it was for me to find info, and it's my way of paying it forward. And now, my Google Foo is strong! About a month ago, the founder of Sewing Machine Fashion Cams asked if I'd take over the page - once again I was flattered that she asked me out of so many members. I didn't want to lose all that info she had worked so hard to collect, so I now administer that page.

I first became friendly with Teena when I noticed that she had nice things to say about our film and VSM products and I reached her to say thanks.

I would have never been able to do any of the things I've done without the kindness and help of others over the years. I've chatted at least once with most of the online VSM personalities. When I see good stuff others have taken the time to do, I know how time consuming most of it is, and I like to make sure others see it. I believe in thanking people for their hard work.

We do, too, Teena. Thank you for your generous contributions to the VSM community.

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