A slight delay in proceedings


There has been, in a fantastic phrase from Walk the Line, a hitch in my giddy-up this week. And it’s all Ethel’s fault. Things had been going so well – two days of scraping off 80 years of grease and gunk had certain parts of her underside looking, well, almost shiny. I know – miracle. And as for her bobbin winder, which was in several pieces, well, it was looking positively radiant. And then it happened. I decided that the last screw holding a bobbin winder bit to another bit had to come out. Except that it didn’t want to come out. And, in self-defence, it bit me. Or more to the point, it caused my screwdriver to bite me.


Feeling slightly faint, I did what any good daughter of my family does when bleeding – ran to the kitchen to run the affected limb under a theoretically cold tap (yeah, not so much on the cold front, when the pipe runs through the roof and it’s yet another in a looong run of stinking hot days) and wait for Mum to come in and minister to the pain with Savlon and Bandaids. Mum definitely comes from the more-is-better school of wound dressing. My thumb, still coated in grease and with a cut that to me looked like it would require stitches, if not outright amputation, was liberally covered with antiseptic cream that oozed everywhere when she was done and wrapped in 3 bandaids and some left over surgical tape that she had from one of her own medical emergencies.

The thumb remains attached. The dressing has been downsized somewhat to a point where I can bend the knuckle now without having to work too hard. I have even been to my usual personal trainer sessions this week. What I haven’t been able to manage, though, is anything requiring pressure on the ball of my thumb. Now I’m not sure how much you use your thumbs in home/handy ways, but apparently I use mine all the time, for anything from turning the key in the front door, to holding a bowl steady when I’m making dinner. And it’s been rather difficult when said thumb looks like this:


Updates on Ethel’s progress, and my attempts to tame her resistance to a good kerosene bath, will follow when I’m certain that I’m not going to be causing either pain or infection by going back to work on her.


The New Arrival

96kI am pleased to announce the arrival on Saturday of Ethel, a bouncing baby 96K10 Singer industrial machine. Weighing in at far to much to be comfortably moved, Ethel joins baby sister 66K in the stable of ancient singer machines that I have been accumulating. As far as impulse buys go, I think this one is a winner.

I’ve been wanting an industrial machine for a while now, but could never justify the expense. It seems I’ve been hanging around with too many accountants, because “I want” is no longer enough to tilt the cost-benefit analysis in favour of a purchase. But then I found a gumtree listing, and suddenly my way was clear.

New Image

The 96K and it’s slightly smaller version, the 95K, have been the workhorses of the industry for a long time. I have heard that there are still factories in India and China that use these machines, if only because of their reliability. Parts are still available fairly readily as a result. They do exactly what an industrial plain stitch machine is supposed to do – they sew simple stitches very quickly, for hours on end without breaking down. Ethel herself – don’t ask where the name came from. I don’t usually name my machines, but for some reason she is Ethel, just as my dress form is the latest in a long line of Esmeraldas to be used by my family – rolled off the factory floor in 1922, one of over 15,000 made that year. That she still works is nothing short of fantastic, when you think about how much use and abuse she has no doubt suffered through in that time. It would be fascinating to work out where she has been – fascinating for me, anyway – and to compare her life with the much more straight forward existence of the 66K.

Sure, Ethel needs a bit of a facelift. She has been living in a shed for the past few years and, after all, she is around 90 years old. Her workbench has been destroyed beyond recognition, there are no drawers to speak of, and she is missing almost all of her original accessories. But she runs, miraculously, and she can be given a good going over to return her to her former glory – not least of which will involve sourcing a new work top for her. And I’m quite happy to do it. A little spending, a little time and she will be perfect. She may even look as good as one of her much more expensive cousins that I found on ebay.


But until I finish giving Ethel a thorough going over, she is living in my parents’ garage, waiting much more patiently than I am. I have also been waiting for the Melbourne heat wave to end so I could get back down into my bunker without losing a few kilograms in fluids. Jockeys could use it as a sauna at the moment. On Saturday night, I got sick of waiting and overhauled the 66K. She too has seen a lot of wear and tear over the years, as evidenced by her worn out decals. She runs like a dream now, though, provided I can keep my treadling up to speed. I then spent a happy evening sewing in front of the airconditioning. Yep, I’m such a sewing nerd…

The Journal

I’ve been a collector of vintage patterns for many years now and find that my collection is rapidly outgrowing my ability to store it properly. That doesn’t stop me from adding to it though – far from it. One of the biggest single contributors to my collection is the Australian Home Journal.


But that’s a magazine, I hear you say. And you’d be right, of course. The Home Journal was a magazine, but it was so much more than that. For one thing, each issue came with patterns to make the dresses (or hats, coats, toys – anything, really) that was shown on the cover. Which is how it came to be in my collection so frequently. For women who made their own – and their children’s – clothes and lived on a strict budget, the magazine was a god send. It gave them patterns, but it also provided them with reading material. Each issue was crammed with helpful hints for housewives: stories, knitting patterns, advice, recipes, you name it, it was there, in a breezy and topical fashion perfect for the woman who was likely to be interupted at any moment.

It’s all from a blissfully simple point of view, that everything a woman needs to know can be found in this one magazine. There is nothing about what’s happening in the wider world (although wartime issues did have handy hints for around the home, ways of making-do-and-mending). There is no hint that a woman could have a life outside of her family. My inner feminist ought to be shrieking in horror at some of the tips (one article from the magazine pushed the boundaries by demanding, “Why must we try to be slim?” The power of the headline was somewhat diminished by the sheer weight of slimming products that featured during the life of the Journal). Somehow, though, it all seems so completely foreign to my own lifestyle that it qualifies as a quaint reminder of both how far women have come and how far there is still to travel. The only areas retaining any relevance for me, other than as artefacts of a bygone era, are the sewing patterns.

I’m not sure what happened to the Australian Home Journal. I can’t find out much about it online. My mother tells stories about wearing dresses made from the patterns when she was a little girl, back in the hey day of the magazine in the 1950s. She seems familiar with it into the 1960s – enough that she when she came across some in her travels, she gave me a shoebox of them as a present one Christmas and then sat down and told me which outfits she’d made. The earliest mentions I can find date back to the 1920s, but it seems to peter out in the 1970s with nothing at all beyond 1982. Is it that the women of Australia had moved on? My own mother was still a housewife at that point, with 3 young children at home and a very tight budget. She was far from unusual among the mothers of my peers when I went to school, although perhaps more handy with a needle than most. Is it just that the magazine wars between New Idea and Woman’s Day killed off the rivals who did not stoop to scandal and celebrity – both notably absent from the issues of the AHJ that I’ve seen. There are certainly no magazines that I’m aware of today that covered the breadth of topics in this magazine without descending into sensationalism. Whatever happened to the magazine, it lives on with collectors. There’s many an ebay bidding battle over the treasured early issues. I’ve never managed to get my hands on an actual magazine pre-1945, although I do have a couple of closely guarded patterns from earlier issues, magnificently complicated affairs from the late 1930s, full of slash-and-gather detailing. And I mourn for the collection that my mother talks about, my grandmothers boxes of magazines and patterns that were just thrown away when she and my granfather moved out of the family home back about the time that the Journal seems to have disappeared. If only we could know in advance what the generations to come will find interesting.

The Bug Lady


It seems I am going through a phase of being attractive to – ahem – wild life at the moment. First, there was the sighting of The Thing in my bunker. Yesterday, the world of bugs struck again.

Out for my Sunday constitutional, it was somewhat later than I normally endure exercise, so I was hot and sweaty. A particularly persistent fly was buzzing around me, much to my annoyance. It’s hard to keep to a set pace when you’re waving your arms like a mad woman in an attempt to rid yourself of the little pest. It was sticky, buzzy, and more than I was prepared to deal with. But it got it’s revenge on my continued attempts to swat it.

Not only was I sweaty, red faced, and decidedly hot, but I was also short of breath. Which meant my mouth was open when the fly got too close. And when I say too close, I mean that it was inside my mouth and part way down my throat before I even put the equation together and started to gag. Yep, I swallowed a fly.

Just to round out the grossness, there was another incident at work today. My office is the reverse of my sewing bunker. It’s a glass box, for the most part, with the windows to the back looking out over garden beds which have struggled in the recent lack of rain. It seems they aren’t the only things to have suffered though. Some of the wild life has been drawn out, and I don’t mean the swans that have appeared on the lake.

It took a moment to notice what was climbed along the flower stalk of an iris. Then, just as the stalk wouldn’t support the weight anymore, I realised that it was a rat moving through the greenery.

Yep. Flies, vermin. It’s all happening around me at the moment. Does give a whole new meaning to the rustling I’ve heard in the grass on my way into the office of a morning…