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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made
WORK: Marilyn Haynes-Smith
  Marilyn Haynes-Smith recalls how sewing machines have shaped her family's life for generations.
Occupation: Estate agent Lives: Highgate, London
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© Science Museum/Science and Society Picture
 

Transcription of audio file:
The Singer sewing machine has been very significant in my life. My mother used to sew for a living, and she started doing this when she was twelve. Her mother bought her a sewing machine, and she made dresses, she would take an old dress and cut it open, and make a pattern and then sew it. And then she started sewing for other people.


picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

As soon as I could remember myself she taught me to sew. She had an old machine where you pressed the foot - you call it a presser-foot machine. It was manual, essentially, and she taught me to sew on that one.

Many years later - because she sewed commercially - she had to sell that machine, because it wasn't fast enough. Singer started making new electric machines, at the press of a toe it just went very much faster. So she decided to sell the old machine that she had since she was twelve. And it stuck in my mind because when the person came to collect it she followed the truck with her eyes, and then she cried for the rest of the day, because that was a very significant part of her life.

Subsequently I've always had a machine at hand, and I can sew my own clothes, and I've made these little necklaces for summer. I like the Liberty's fabrics because they're nice and soft against your neck. So I made these and put them together myself so they look pretty for summer. But I can essentially make just about anything, I do alterations, fix clothes.

The Singer sewing machine has been a significant part of the life of black people throughout the Caribbean, because not many people could afford to buy clothes that were already made. So they would buy fabric and sew their own clothes and their own uniforms and everything, and make other clothes for other people.

In my mother's case too she assisted her brothers going to college because her father died young. In those days women didn't go to college, the boys did.

Indeed, everybody should learn how to use a sewing machine. I've taught my son to use one, because I think we should all be self-sufficient. It just helps you a great deal, if you need to sew a seam, if you need to put a hem in your trousers. Just to help yourself!

Resource Descriptions

Lock stitch electric sewing machine by Singer, model 319K, c.1953
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