It’s the Little Things…

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It seems somewhat petty to post what I was doing the day after Anzac Day, Australia’s national day for commemorating war dead. After spending the day contemplating the effects of various battles, of hearing about what happened in Tobruk, at Messines Ridge, Beersheba, Long Tan, Kokoda, Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan and, of course, Gallipoli, I found myself contemplating Gumtree instead. Specifically, contemplating the effects of my Gumtree perusal and bullying of my father. Ethel now has new wheels (which I haven’t yet photographed as Ethel and her wheels are still in two different suburbs. Whole other story). It was while I was doing this that I came to certain conclusions about an article I’d read the day before.

Sam Brito blogs for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. His blog is usually on subjects relating to men’s view of the world and is an often entertaining read. On Anzac Day, he blogged instead about the perceived differences between my generation and that of my grandparents – the ones dubbed the “Great Generation” for having lived through such momentous events. After my initial read, I was quite happy to concede his point. I very much doubt that I would have been comfortable picking up a rifle and trotting along to the western front. It was only later – after starting to fume at the assumption that it was a good thing to blithely accept the declaration of a war on my behalf, and deciding that war would be a very different thing today – that I really gave serious thought to his basic premise, that the current generation are useless and soft. That was when I started the comparisons.

Let’s leave my grandfathers out of the equation for the moment. They played their own part in proceedings, but back in WW2, I would not have been on the same playing field with them (whatever I may think about that today). The only fair comparison I can make is with my female forebears. My grandmothers are very different women. One of them was a seamstress by trade, raised in a large working class family and growing up sharing a bed – not a bedroom folks, that’s a bed – with 2 of her 5 sisters. She was very much what Brito was talking about, able to get down to it and make do with whatever came to hand. The other grandmother is a spoiled only child used to having everything delivered to her on a plate – much like what the current generation are accused of being. Yet she survived the war, and often casts up the hardships of being away from her husband and the general privations suffered as an excuse for her poor behaviour and sense of entitlement today. The other grandmother never mentioned any of it.

You might guess from the descriptions which one I’m most like. So yes, I like to think I would have coped admirably with life as a woman in WW2 Australia. I get by with what I have, make do, and I mend surprisingly well. I can bake – and improvise to get around rationing. I can handle the stress of parting, and I can put up with terrible conditions when I know there is no alternative. I’m more realist than princess, so I think I’d cope just fine. And, as the assembly of Ethel’s new wheels shows, I can turn my hand to many different fields. Sure, i couldn’t pull a Nancy Wake and become a hero of the Resistance – but neither could most people, which is what makes those who can do it much more notable. I like to think I’d at least manage to be a Jessica Mitford, but the truth is that I’m more likely to be her sister, Nancy.

So what is the outcome of all this linking and thought? Well, even my princcess-ish grandmother made it through the war years intact. As did her aircraft mechanic husband. And given that at least part of the “Great” generation was roundly criticised throughout the 20s for their wayward and fast lifestyle (flappers, anybody? Bright young things?), what nobody has looked at is the possibility that the times made the generation great, not necessarily the people. Cometh the hour, and all that. It’s a terrible way to find out what your generation is made of, and not one that should be wished for in any sense.Wishing for a lasting global peace is probably the only thing the critics and I have in common. Huh, who knew that was possible? Meanwhile, I’ll take the best of Rosie, and be on my peaceful way – continuing to refuse to take weapons against enemies and disputing anyone who says there is a need for any conflict.

Tools of the Trade

Sewing requires accessories. I have to admit, I’ve spent an extreme amount of time playing with the toys that go with my machines, that can be used for hand sewing, that I have no clue what they do and no memory of ever buying but somehow find in my toolboxes. After all, whseller respecting geek canresist the allure of toys? I certainly can’t.

One of my biggest and least used toys is in fact a family heirloom. Originally purchased by one of a pair of great- great-aunts, my beloved Singer treadle machine would have ended up in the local tip when they passed away in the mid 80s, if not for my mother seeing its potential and diverting it to our house. Once there, after a brief time when I was allowed to play with it as a ten year old, it served such useful purposes as fish tank stand and pot plant rest. When my parents downsized a couple of years ago, I took it with me to my flat and it has moved twice since then without experiencing anything other than the back of two moving vans,and serving as a handy place to store the mail in a series of shared living arrangements. Its current location means its inconvenient for that purpose, so I’ve started to look at it again and think, “I really should use that.” Truth to tell, it’s more accessible than my normal machines of choice right now.

So recently, I actually took steps to getting it usable. I went through the drawers and found any number of attachments, as well as the original instruction manual – helpful, as I have no earthly clue how it actually works anymore. The manual is also helpful in dating. Like all good nerds, I like to know about my tools. Googling the serial number tells me that this machine was built in 1920, One of about 70000 turned out in Newcastle in June/July of that year.  It’s a model 66k, one of the most popular models ever produced by Singer, and in production for decades. It is the forerunner to today’s machines in ways earlier models can only dream about, and the first appearance of many features we take for granted now.

Thats what I can learn from Google. The manual is a slightly different prospect. It was stored in one of the drawers of the table where oil leaked onto it, making it incredibly difficult to read. What I can gather suggests that it might be worth attempting to get my hands on another copy. It disagrees with Google in one respect though; it is dated 1922, the year before my grandmother, the niece of the original owner, was born.

I plan on finding out how it all goes together, though. The great-aunts and their siblings sewed for their whole families. Nana still talks about her mother’s feats of dressmaking, and my aunt’s collection of original Barbie dresses backs up the claims to greatness. And, as a period piece, the machine is invaluable. I know it could fetch a few hundred dollars but even in my poorest moments I’ve never considered selling it, something that can’t be said about anything else I own (except perhaps my bed).

So there you have it, a working antique that I intend to put to the purpose it was intended for – making a 1920s – or at least vintage – wardrobe. Pointless? Perhaps. But as a fan of all things vintage, my sewing can only be improved by going back to the days where the average wardrobe involved more than a trip to the nearest shopping centre. Anyone with any clues how to use the attachements to a 66k would be welcome to get in touch!