Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Couple restores antique sewing machine to make face masks

Back when we were still going through the first wave of Covid, but still pertinent today, come these two strikingly similar news items from either side of the Atlantic featuring the use of antique machinery in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.  In each case this involves the manufacture of homemade face masks - albeit with a vintage twist (of course!) in the form of traditional sewing machines being pressed into service to make them.  The stories are almost identical in fact, the only real differences being the geography and the fact that the second effort also benefits a local charity, with both even including the same machine - the ubiquitous 1920s-30s Singer.

To begin with the first article we head over the Pond to the town of Arvada in Colorado where Giselle Williams, the owner of a local business hit like so many by the pandemic, has taken advantage of a long-forgotten family heirloom and her husband's technical restoration abilities - not to mention his own sewing skills! - to produce face masks for not only the local community but for people around the world.  This previously dormant piece of equipment is nothing other than her great-great-grandmother's 1922 Singer Model 66 sewing machine, which until Covid struck had been languishing in the Williams' loft.  Now thanks to Mr Williams it has been given a new lease of life; dusted down, re-oiled and even fitted with an electric motor as so many old Singers subsequently were (like much old technology they were designed to be repaired and upgraded rather than thrown away and replaced) it is performing sterling service helping to make upwards of thirty masks a day alongside a more modern Juki machine.

source - CNN.com
This is truly a heart-warming story in every respect - from the rediscovery of the century-old machine and its refurbishment by the husband, to his imparting the sewing skills he learnt from his own grandmother to his wife and the opportunity it has given both of them to provide a much-appreciated service to those near and far who have need of it, not to mention the chance to reconnect to their ancestors through a machine both of them would have used.  I'm very pleased to see them make such a success of the project and so be able to continue their business in an important new direction and I wish them well in their vintage-inspired endeavour!  

Back over in England now for the second equally heart-warming and remarkably parallel article, this time featuring two retired friends in Shropshire working together to provide face masks to local general stores in Wolverhampton, Bridgnorth and Telford with all proceeds from sales going to the Midlands Air Ambulance charity.  And just as with the Colorado business it is all being done with the aid of a near 100-year-old Singer sewing machine, in this case a 1934 Singer Model 127(?) that belonged to the mother of one of the ladies and which far from supplementing a more modern model actually ended up replacing the newer machine after it was unable to cope with the pace of production!  Now having far exceeded their original target of both face masks and charitable donations these two indomitable ladies are well on their way to continuing to churn out handmade masks for the local community, with the local air ambulance still standing to benefit.  Their sewing machine shows no signs of stopping either and with plans for Hallowe'en- and Christmas-inspired designs literally on the table this is another pop-up concern that seems destined for ongoing success and rightly so.  

Both these stories are a welcome reminder that old technology can still have its uses - sometimes over newer advancements and sometimes in partnership with them - especially in trying times such as these when it behoves us to all pull together and make good use of what equipment we have at our disposal.  I know for a fact that these two accounts are not rare occurrences, as my own mother has also been hard at work at her machine making masks for friends and family.  Until several years ago she also had a Singer of similar vintage to the Mmes. Harrison and Warrilow, which Dad had converted to electric pedal power, but alas it became to heavy and bulky for her to use comfortably so it was sent on to pastures new and replaced with a modern machine.  Judging by these two stories, however, I wouldn't be the least surprised if it is still out there somewhere working away happily - perhaps even helping to make a face mask or two!


  1. Lovely story, Bruce! You can't beat those old Singer machines. I had a lot of fun sprucing up two last year (youtubes is a wonder!) and they've been busy mask-making, among other delights, this year. The Shropshire ladies may be working with a Singer 99? Looks practically indistinguishable from my own. The Red Eye in America is a thing of beauty. The decals are gorgeous.

    1. I bow to your superior sewing machine knowledge, Pipestrello and agree with you about the American Model 66! Mum's was almost identical to the Shopshire ladies' one but it's been so many years since it was replaced I don't know what model number it was - I shall have to ask the mater if she can remember.

      It's definitely a good news story of the sort I very much like to feature on here, so I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm also pleased to hear you've been pressing your own examples into similar service, as I expected would be the case!


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