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5 Web Gems for VSM Collectors

Posted by James Wolfensberger on



You're interested in vintage sewing machines and here you are on the Internet, always mining for jewels... articles, photos, and discussion groups.

You probably already know the established websites, like the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society and Needlebar. You've spent considerable time digging to unearth a largely fragmented encyclopedia of knowledge and experience online, gleaning excellent tutorials and insight from bloggers and non-corporate sites. After all, the major manufacturers sure aren't interested in providing much info on their legacy machines.

Thankfully, the VSM community of enthusiasts eagerly and expertly provides the history and technical information we crave, when the manufacturers only touch on it online.

While filming Still Stitching, we discussed the documentary with the Singer Corporation. We told them that the Singer brand factored heavily in our documentary in a very positive way. We asked, "Do you have a representative or an in-house historian? Do you have a historical display in your U.S. headquarters, something that would contribute to the film?"

The representative we spoke with wanted to provide her support, but knew of no effort by Singer to preserve their legacy in words, photos, or on-site displays. The communication fizzled, momentum waned, and we thought why travel from Maryland to Tennessee when they don't even know if they have any historical resources? We had better things to do, like interviewing experts.

Thank goodness we have so many friendly, qualified experts in our online community to help us navigate the thousands of brands and models, the myriad of technical challenges and solutions, and the availability of parts. Many of these folks seek nothing more than the joy of sharing their passion with others. The VSM community has a "pay it forward" personality overall.

Meanwhile, 20% of the hundreds of respondents to our VSM Collectors Survey have been interested in vintage machines for just one year. So let's have a look at some of the online resources that newer enthusiasts might not have discovered yet. The web-savvy VSM aficionados might even find a good link or two here. Enjoy!

1) Yahoo Groups 

Facebook is home base for many of us, and Starrlee Simmons' massive Facebook group Vintage Sewing Machines is a favorite, approaching 30,000 members. But before Facebook evolved from college exclusivity into the social network of choice for us mid-lifers, Yahoo Groups were already brimming with VSM communities. Yahoo's active user base is 800 million, half the number of active Facebook users, but many of the groups have long histories and robust activity. The Yahoo Vintage Singer Sewing Machines group has been around since 1999, while Facebook didn't even open it's site to the general public until 2006. The tone on Yahoo can be a bit different from Facebook. Whereas even closed Facebook groups can have a loose free-for-all vibe by nature of the way users are accustomed to interact on Facebook (bite-sized text, quick reactions, image-centric posts), the Yahoo groups I've tried have a more cautious "old-school Internet" feel. We can be easily distracted on Facebook while group activity on Yahoo feels somehow more focused to me.

2) Active, Inactive, Obscure, and Unexpected Blogs

When I need to know how to rewire a potted motor, the Google search is easy: "how do I rewire a potted motor." But sometimes I enjoy mining for web gems by typing possibly strange phrases related to sewing machines into the search field... like "ugly old sewing machines" - no, I don't think they are ugly, I just wanted to see what previously unearthed links I might find when Google adds "ugly" to my otherwise typical query. It did indeed raise a few articles I would probably have never seen, like this fun blog entry titled So I Accidentally Bought a Vintage Sewing Machine.

And have you met Karen, the Sewing Machine Mavin? She keeps her blog current and relevant.

A fantastic blog with really substantive content is The Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Blog, which hasn't been updated for years, but that doesn't matter at all. The blog is rich and deep with information like The Difference Between Domestic & Industrial Sewing Machines (or, How Not to Get Swindled on eBay & Craigslist) and 201 Hook Assembly Removal.

Another blog abandoned for more than a year is Mi Vintage Sewing Machines, full of beautiful machines and solid information, including industrial models. Definitely worth a look.

Stitch Nerd similarly hasn't updated her blog since 2014, but it's an enjoyable destination nonetheless with sections such as My Vintage Sewing Machine Attachments, and tutorials like Vintage Sewing Machine Purchase Kit. Her recommended "kit" is what you should take with you when shopping for vintage machines so that you'll be prepared to better analyze a machine to consider its value and usefulness to you.

And how about this... a great historical article on White sewing machines on a blog devoted to bicycles? Yep. Right here at the Siegfried Bettmann & Triumph Bicycle Museum blog

Naturally, VSM enthusiasts are most often people who sew. Sites and blogs focused on sewing, patterns, quilting, etc. often have the occasional section, article or discussion on vintage machines. Bonnie K. Hunter is an admired celebrity in the quilting industry, and her site has a section on her own vintage machines. Bonnie warns that she isn't an expert and cannot answer technical questions, but you can still learn plenty from browsing her collection. Click on one of her many machine photos and you'll likely glean meaningful info from her back story on the machine, plus many detailed images and an occasional bit of history. I think Bonnie might be a little more knowledgeable than she's ready to admit ;)

Finally, this last blog is a bit of a mystery - no ads, no "about" section - but domains of *.bz (not *.biz) are intended to house Balize websites. OK, that got a little tech-nerdy but the point is that viola.bz is a pleasantly romanticized tour of "beauty in everything." You will enjoy the history and images in the article, Invention of Sewing Machine.

3) Singer Memories

 

If you haven't already, and even if Singer is not a favorite brand for you, please spend some time with Dr. Heather Carmen Martin's site, Singer Memories. She's clearly an effective author, great with words and imagery. Dr. Martin explores the impact of the Singer corporation on her own family and on the world at large. A passage:

I was a Singer baby, born in Mexico and raised all over South America by Jack Martin, a Scottish adventurer who left the Old World, like so many before him, to seek his fortune. He found it in the service of Singer. The most devoted of employees, my father rose swiftly through the ranks and prospered in Singer's service, until he was fired when the company began to lose its way. He died too young, and I always felt Singer broke his heart. Tracking this story, I've discovered he was one of the lucky ones... [many others] lost their pensions, and their savings in the company, when Singer fell prey to ruthless corporate raiders beginning in the 1980s. Many remained on the sidelines watching, with anger and dismay, the tragic dissolution of the company they once served so proudly.

Rich content fills Singer Memories with sections on topics such as Singer Salesmen and the Marketing of Singer.

While we're discussing Singer, I enjoyed this article showcasing Singer trading cards from the 1890s. This is from Print, a design magazine.

4) Sewing Machine History in Pictures 

Quilting author Janet Wickell provides thirty images, each with historical descriptions and additional links. I was puzzled for a moment seeing that the first image is a painting depicting Betsy Ross sewing the American flag, a legend with uncertain authenticity. Then I realized... aha! Hands were the first "sewing machines." Once this point is made, the article delves into the mechanical beauties.

5) How Sewing Machines Are Made

 

We marvel at the engineering genius of vintage models because they work so well, are built to last, and represent a bygone era of manufacturing vision and quality control. But how about exploring the manufacturing process in greater detail? Enjoy the How Products Are Made website's article on sewing machines, which provides both history and contemporary production descriptions. Given the weight of most VSMs, you'll be amused to read, "Lightweight housings are important, and most home machines have casings made of plastics and polymers that are light, easy to mold, easy to clean, and resistant to chipping and cracking." It puts things into even further perspective in the now versus then discussion.

While we're thinking about the construction of sewing machines old and new, try Googling "sewing machine patent drawings" and you might get lost in the fig. 1, fig. 2, fig. 3 world of patent illustrations. You can even buy beautiful Singer blueprints.

So, I lied.

I called the article 5 Web Gems, but above are actually more than 10 links offered within the body of the article - plus don't forget to Google weirdly descriptive phrases referencing sewing machines when you have some time to spare.


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