• Julie S.

102 and Still Stitching


Three of Theresa's De Carlo's sewing machines were just given to the St. Martha’s Guild by her lovely daughter. Theresa died last year at the beautiful age of 99 after sewing in the garment industry, and then on her own for over 70 years.

One of the machines she gave us is this 1920 industrial Singer 96-10 that Theresa took with her when the bosses at the dress factory shooed her off to hang out her own shingle. It is a super awesome beast of a thing that is frighteningly fast, powered by a rewired, vintage, GE clutch motor. The whole package has a super cool vibe. It is possible that I will ditch my old favorite machines for awhile and sew everything on this one.


This machine is 102 this year. 102! She sews with more conviction and chutzpah than our new fussy plastic one. That machine is embarrassingly expensive, probably because it can stitch little train characters on your kiddo’s jumper. It also has cute alarm graphics that will fill the little computerized screen if you sew over something thick. On the other hand, Theresa will breeze through dry leather without a hair out of place, and then be nice to your delicate linen, and then mop up the floor with that cassock hem that goes on for 11 1/2 miles. While she does all of this she makes less noise than plastic boy over there, and the noise she makes is like a good clock mechanism. Slick ticking, and happy clicking. It is almost disorienting because the clutch motor is really quiet. No motor noise to speak of, just well oiled machine parts.

That last bit is courtesy of one of my handy sons who took the machine apart, cleaned everything, oiled the mess out of it, and put it all back together (Thank you again!). It was actually already in pretty decent running condition, because the dear old seamstress was still cranking out stunning wedding dresses long past the days when most people quit to pet cats and do crossword puzzles. (Don't you just want to hug her!?). YouTube videos got a few minor adjustments sorted out and now she is humming along nicely. She’s smokin’ fast. The next time the Crusaders need a parish-hall-sized banner we will be ready. She has a knee lifter for the presser foot. Her task light is adorable and quite illuminating. She has story-telling patina everywhere.

Today I decided to check out the bobbin winder. As you can see it leans forward and borrows the belt to wind on the thread. I fiddled with it for a bit and then shot a question to the Industrial Antique Sewing Machine Forum. “How do you disengage the needle mechanism to wind the bobbin?”

Turns out that you don't. Why would you waste time winding a bobbin. Just hook up an empty one over there and carry on with your sewing. The bobbin can certainly wind itself while you stitch another seam or two. Don't worry, it will turn itself off when it gets full.

Last week we had a power outage that darkened the church and the St. Joseph Building which is where we were, trying to crank out a big order of vesperales. We were without power for several hours. Sister Mildred's treadle machine lifted her chin and peered down at all of the other noisy stitch monsters in the room, helpless, and silent, and not stitching. I considered going on a hunt for some Br. who needed something, anything, mended on his cassock, just so I could treadle a necessary seam by candlelight.


All of this is to say that, for the work we do, having a machine that will twist two lengths of thread together in a straight line will get ‘er done for almost all of our sewing needs. Don't discount the usefulness of these old masterpieces. They are more reliable, more dignified and will probably outlast all of the new ones, with their obsession with plastic and planned obsolescence. I have one still humming along at 102.

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