Friday, February 25, 2011

quilting on a singer 301

quilting UFOs
The term UFO is quilting lingo for "UnFinished Object"—all those bits of fabric which were intended for quilts but haven't quite made it there yet. They might be in any stage: single blocks, partially pieced tops, even quilts that are nearly complete but haven't been bound around the edges yet.

I recently took out all my ufos and decided to get them into quilts once and for all, no matter how long and tedious the process. Both kids are suddenly more independent, and there are large swaths of time that I haven't  had since they were small. I counted: there are at least ten quilts' worth of blocks stacked up. Among them is C's baby quilt.

C turns 18 in a few months, so this has really gone on too long.

I'm sewing on a singer 301, which is my very favorite machine for this kind of work. I'll never forget arriving at my friend Diana's years ago to sew together for the first time. Stepping inside, I could hear the soft rattle of her machine running the living room, and a sudden Proustian rush caused me to blurt out, "That's the machine my mom had when I was little!"

Of course, I had no way of knowing whether it was true or not; I'd learned to sew on a Touch and Sew. But somehow the distinctive chug of the 301 made me think of sitting under a table, or of drifting off to sleep. When I found one for sale nearby, I bought it immediately, even though it seemed expensive at $100. I just wanted to hear that sound when I sewed.

And as it turns out, the machine has been well worth it. The 301 makes a reliable straight stitch, needs almost no adjusting and, at 17 lbs, is light enough to move easily while also sitting solidly on the table.
It's also beautiful. I believe it's the last black-and-gold sewing machine Singer made, although it also came in tan and tan/white versions. Someone once said it looks like an old locomotive engine, and I think that's pretty good description.

More recently, S remarked that it reminds him of Christopher, the alien in the movie District 9. It's...possible, I suppose, depending on your point of view. Can you see it?
In any case, this has been my go-to portable for years; and I have been using it to finish up these old blocks, particularly the blocks that will make up C's quilt.

(Please bear with me a minute while I shift gears.)

When Dad died 3 years ago, my sisters and I discovered how much and how thoroughly he had saved. It wasn't quite an episode of Hoarders, but let's say it made my fabric stash seem tame. In spare bedrooms and up in the garage rafters were boxes full of ledgers, receipts, photos, letters—50+ years of a family's minutiae. I wish I'd been able to go through everything at leisure, but we were focused on getting the house ready to sell so instead buzzed through it all quickly, glancing and shredding over and over again. Because there were three of us tossing these papers in succession for hours each day, I considered it sheer luck that one piece which ended up in my hands was a receipt dated a month after Mom and Dad married. It was for a sewing machine.

A Singer 301.

The machine had cost $175, which I'd learned a few minutes earlier was Dad's entire monthly salary at the time. It was their first major purchase together.

Mom's 301 was clearly an indispensable tool, an investment in keeping household costs down. I'm sure the reason its sound was so recognizable to me is that she used it daily when I was young, making clothes and toys for three growing children. She even made us quilts from the leftover fabric. Mom's sewing skills far surpassed mine, but the quilt she made for my bed was not a pastime she could afford to spend years on. It was made without the luxury of choosing prints and colors, pieced simply, and batted with a wool army blanket.
I remember looking at this quilt knowing which garments each of the fabrics had come from. At night, its weight was warm and comforting and helped me sleep. I suppose that is the reward all quiltmakers want, to know that someone is sleeping peacefully under their work.

With that in mind, I'd better get back to the quilt I've been making C for the past 17 years.

I wonder if he'll remember the sound of it being sewn.


  1. Hey, I've got a commission to paint an old hand-cranked Singer!

  2. You're kidding! I can't wait to see it. I have a couple of handcranks, as well, which may figure in a future post.

  3. Close to Hoarders, though. Very close. But I'm glad we did pause to look before we blithely tossed and tossed. Certainly that simple receipt meant a lot to them, but so much more to you for the memories it evoked.

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. Love you!

  4. Well, I was trying to be diplomatic!

    Love you, too. :)

  5. What a beautiful, special blog x

  6. This is such a beautiful post. I love the memories you have of certain sounds that gave you comfort. I have two very strong sound memories. The first one is the sound of my mother typing on a typewriter long into the night hours. She was typing university student papers for extra money at night (after her full time day job, with 5 kids to boot!?) this was particularly soothing to me because I knew my mom was home, I could hear her typing.

    My second is the sound of hockey games on tv. My grandma's boyfriend used to sit in his chair and watch hockey and I would be dozing off listening to the sound of the announcer give a play by play of the game. Strangely comforting, perhaps because it was so regular and familiar.

    Thanks for triggering these memories for me! I wonder what sounds our kids are going to remember as significant?

  7. Thank you, Mel. :)
    Sam, what an interesting thought about sound memories. I actually didn't know I had any until I heard Diana's sewing machine that day. I love hearing about yours. There really must be something about falling asleep to a particular sound, huh?

  8. Your post really touched me. How so very special to find that receipt. All the more special knowing how much was made out of love and necessity on that machine. I hope your quilts turn out awesome! PS. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment on my blog!


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