I don’t know how you’d measure this, but I reckon that the most popular subject for sculpture over the years is the human form. As we all have one, the body seems a very natural starting point for exploration. So, if a sewing machine could sew what it liked, would it, too, turn its mind to its own form?
Leeds Industrial Museum has, within its collection, a number of Singer sewing machines. To me, and to many visitors, they bring back memories. My mother’s sewing machine was a black and gold Singer. Hers was an electric version and I remember the post-war brown Bakelite foot pedal but lots of visitors remember treadle and hand versions too. On display are a clutch of industrial machines – longer in the body and sleeker than their domestic counterparts, with less decoration, it is easier to admire their stripped back form.
So, where to start?
First with the sketch book and a tape measure to take some vital statistics.
To convert this into three dimensions, I would need first to construct a tailor’s dummy. Fun with papier mâché ensued.
And then to calculate the intricacies of the balance wheel.
Once I had the dummy I would work out how best to cut the pieces of felt. The first stage was to cut toile pieces out of old shirt cotton, then a version out of commercial felt to work out how the seams and darts would work. Eventually card pattern pieces emerged for the main machine body.
I then needed to look at the details. Some of the more intricate parts like the needle and presser foot took me back to my sketchbook.
And then to drawing more, smaller pattern pieces.
But it paid off in the complexity of construction.
Before joining the seams, I needed to add as much of the free motion embroidery as possible while the pieces were flat and also add smaller parts as long as they didn’t get in the way of the seams. This was the fun bit.
The lettering on the top was a bit of a challenge, but I was pleased to revisit gothic script. As a child I had an old copy book and used to delight in practising different lettering forms.
Gothic was my favourite, so when I came to sew it, it was very familiar.
Once all the details were done, it was time to sew up some of the seams – and things began to take shape. I had the option of stuffing or stiffening to add sufficient strength and decided on Paverpol fabric stiffener painted on the inside. A messy process!
The tailor’s dummy came back into use to shape the machine while the stiffener dried.
It only remained to make the base plate, assemble the machine and have fun with some accessories.
I can’t wait to see this one take its place in the museum alongside its black and gold siblings!