The story of a family and a Singer Sewing Machine (Number: 2261060 490260)

A Beeston lady told this story …

The year is 1886, in a small town called Wolverton near Northampton lived a thirteen year old girl, Miss Edith Rock, and Edith had just completed her limited education.

However, she had shown an interest in all manner of needlework, and was very adept at all she attempted. to encourage their daughter’s independence, her parents bought her a ‘Singer Sewing Machine’. The model was known as a ‘Table Top’, it was dual-working, the operator could work by hand or have it hands free and work by a treadle from underneath.

During the late 1880s and early 1890s the machine was in constant use, consequently with progress, Edith rented two small rooms, the front room as a Haberdashers (Drapers Shop) and the rear room where the machine was installed for her work.

In 1897, Edith now aged twenty-four had met and was marrying a certain Edwin Mackerness (Ted). He helped Edith acquire much larger premises, now owned not rented, in Church Street, Wolverton. Another ‘Singer’ was purchased, and a young lady was employed to help with the sewing and serve in the shop, though only Edith herself would use the ‘Table Top’. The machine always in use, the dressmaking progressed, and the Drapery Shop continued to flourish, a printed card for this business still survives with the machine.

In June 1901 and Edith had a baby boy, the clothes for him being turned out by the machine. Six weeks later her mother-in-law produced a baby girl. Bearing the same surname, and being christened ‘Edith’ there were now two Edith Mackerness’ to feature in the life of the machine.

As the years passed the second Edith was taught to use the machine, the only person allowed, apart from the first Edith.
Through the First World War our machine is churning out military undergarments. On into the Roaring 20s and the machine, now back to producing lightweight civilian clothing, mostly it was undergarments, with the occasional ‘Made-to-Order’ dress for ‘Better Off’ customers.

By 1938 the first Edith Mackerness had reached her mid-sixties and with failing eyesight and arthritic hands decided to retire. The machine was passed on to the second Edith, now Edith Rollings, married with a daughter born in 1933, and living close to Wolverton at Stony Stratford.

So the machine now has a change of venue, change of ownership, and less work, it being mainly for domestic use only for family and friends. Fabric was hard to get hold of during the Second World War, but Edith managed to find some ‘Parachute Silk’. She used some it to make a dress for her seven year old daughter. The white fabric was brightened up with coloured binding at the neck and sleeves, with a matching coloured sash; this I remember well for I am that seven year old daughter, now aged eighty-six.

I moved to Leeds (Beeston) in 1980 and in 1983 the ‘Singer’ came north after my mother, the second Edith, passed away aged eighty-two.

Following in family footsteps I had been taught to use the machine in my teenage years, it had been many years since I had seen it let alone use it, and the first thing to gen-up on was how to thread it. Leeds being a city with connections to the clothing trade most of my friends had a sewing machine, but more recent models, with a bobbin, mine had a shuttle and there lie the difference. The shuttle was about 1¼ inch in length, pointed at one end, looking just like a toy open rowing boat. To accompany the shuttle there are several small spindles about an inch long, any one of which could be clipped into the shuttle.

The shuttle had a row of holes on one side with a bar below them, and when threading, the thread needed to go back and forth from hole to hole, and then under the bar, there was a set sequence through the holes and if you got it wrong nothing worked. Fortunately, the second Edith had written out instructions on a sheet of paper (now brown with age) and once these were adhered to the ‘Singer’ was back in action; not making garments any more but altering and shortening, skirts, trousers, etc. and on one occasion making curtains and sewing on ‘Rufflette Tape’.

All went well until the late 1980s, when I went to purchase more needles, only to be told they were shortly becoming obsolete. The salesman had just seven left in stock, so I took all seven (of which there are still six left). Then in the early 1990s it was realised that the machine, though sewing was not locking and a pull on the thread meant that all that had just been stitched immediately came undone.

A resident in Beeston, qualified and renowned for sewing machine repairs was called in. He could find nothing wrong with the mechanism, when he noticed I had threaded the machine with a fine ‘polyester thread’! Apparently it was all that I had been able to purchase, but the ‘Singer’ had been designed to work only with Sylko Grade 40 and the new polyester threads were much too fine. Unfortunately, Sylko was no longer in production, the Company having gone out of existence.

So at last, after 100 years and probably a lot more, the machine has gone into retirement, not dead, as its still workable, with the right equipment, but forced into sleeping.


This post was written by Ken Burton

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22 Replies to “The story of a family and a Singer Sewing Machine (Number: 2261060 490260)”

    1. Very nice story, unfortunately nothing is eternal. My wife, owns a SINGER, Quantum Stylist 9960 Computerized Portable Sewing Machine that most of the time is sitting in a closet.

  1. Such a heartwarming story, thank you so much for sharing the history behind the machine. My Mum loved her Singer sewing machine purchased in the early 1970’s. It was built into a cabinet known as a flatbed which was a lot easier and quicker to use than the raised machines. Sadly, after many years of use, the cogs became worn and the parts were no longer available. After leaving school at 14 in the 1940’s, she worked in many of the sewing factories in South Leeds where she learned her trade and always relished a challenge.

  2. Sylko thread is still available on eBay -sold as vintage thread. I buy job lots for my collection of Singers – some can be variable quality but most are still great. I use it for thread painting and textile art work.

  3. I recently sold a Singer Treadle Sewing Machine made in Great Britain.. When checking on line it was a 1902. I still have my Singer portable and still use it. I now in Sechelt, BC on Canada’s Beautiful West Coast but am from Beautiful, Digby, Nova Scotia where my portable was purchased in 1956 a Christmas Present. My mom had a Singer electric purchased in 1926 with walnut cover. I spent many creative hours using it as a very young girl.

  4. Perhaps size/weight 40 us cotton thread will work. Maybe Coats and Clark brand? A quilting teacher advised that weight thread with size 14 needle for piecing quilts. Works for me for garments on my 1952 Singer 99k. My 1974 Athena 2000 had to be trashed because parts were no longer available. My 1952 is a workhorse and if I’m binge sewing it handles 7-8 hours a day of sewing.

  5. Beautiful Story. I have a 1937 singer treadle machine and a 110 year old hand crank model. They are wonderful machines and with a history of that machine it would make it priceless, I hope the family find a yarn that works and are able to start using it again.

  6. Beautiful story. I also own a Singer, Tabletop circa 1918 without the treadle. Of 5 sisters I am the only one that showed an interest in sewing, so rightfully so, I inherited the Singer beauty. Although my mother was not a seamstress, she made clothes, curtains, crafts and was sewing til she was 89 years old. We were blessed to have her with us to celebrate her 90th birthday.
    I have considered adding more Singers to my collection.

  7. I have a Singer model 12 fiddlebase made in 1874. Sews great with Coats and Clark cotton covered polyester.

    1. So lovely to read these stories, I’m giving my 7year old granddaughter a sewing machine for christmas it’s a child friendly electric one,she enjoys making and cutting out patterns and pressing the foot pedal on my machine but I’d love to find a manual one for her to start with so she can experience how they work
      Any suggestions on where they are available I live in york.
      Kind regards

  8. What a delightful story! I have been sewing for 60 yrs. on a Singer, as was sent to a summer “learn to sew” class when I was 14 even though my mother sewed. Remember she said it would end in a fight if she tried to teach me! Unfortunately, it is a skill that not too many “young ones” are interested in, not like past generations.

  9. I have a feather weight singer # 221 purched by my mother in the early 50s I got it after she passed away, she made clothes for all her grand children and loved doing it. I only use it now for repairs as I am a machine knitter and love that more than sewing.

  10. I have my grandmother’s feather weight machine. It’s is an excellent machine and I am proud to own it.

  11. I have a vintage tredel sewing machine in a beautiful oak cabinet,the actual machine is adorned
    In a beautiful Egipsion monogram, the serial No on machine is R163522 on the needle plate it has a patented No 1886,I know this is not the information your asking for however I did enjoy your article .I have being trying to find the model number in another page,reaching the R there was only 4 other numbers the above number was not their, I would be most gratefully for any assistance in this matter as I am hoping to to sell ,have you any idea how old it is and what it may be worth,

  12. I think you will find that gutermann sulky 30 cotton will work just fine. Send a message to sewlincs, and I’m sure the owner will have ways of getting your old girl out of retirement. He is an absolute genius with old singers.

  13. What a lovely story! I have collected a few old machines, several “Singer’s”
    a “Jones” hand crank and an original Bebafald Bureau, its a “Bluebird” sewing machine and writing desk purchased in Sydney Australia. I hope you find a thread that works.

  14. I am 78 years old, now living in Florida, but originally from WV. My grandmother had a treadle Singer machine, and used it to make most all of the clothing for her very large family. She also made a lot of clothes for me as a child. She could do amazing things with that machine, including darning holes and tears in linens.

  15. I have a singer 1030 bought in the seventy’s, and also a vintage treadle. Not sure what year it is, needs a belt. Singer was such a good brand. The hand cranked machines were used by the Seminole Indians in Florida Everglades. Have seen them on a tour, and they are retired.My sewing started by watching my sister sew, and am now in a sewing ministry with my church group, and make dresses, for little girls, and short sets for boys, and given to those less fortunate. Who new at 78 yo, my sewing skills could be used to help others, a heart warming feeling for me. Bless all, Cecilia Huether

  16. Lovely story… I collect Singers I have about 50 machines. I find that any thread works even polyester…. You can still buy sylko try ebay… Please don’t let the history end here… She needs to be sewing forever

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