The Golden Age of Sewing Machines

by Dale Yelich
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No woman could accept the true title of 'housewife' if they didn't have a sewing machine. After all, with the 60's as part of the 'Baby Boom Generation' these little boomers needed clothes. But even more importantly, hand me down clothing, or even clothing that was torn or ripped, could be repaired with a sewing machine. Just doing that alone, was very cost saving, especially if there were a lot of kids in the house.

My mother was a classic housewife, bar none. She made sure dinner was on the table every night, got all us kids off to school every morning, and kept the house spotlessly clean during the day. That was her job, as my dad brought home the bacon, as they say.

However, her pride and joy was the Singer sewing machine (see photo) that resided in her bedroom, that was able to sew the lightest fabrics, yet punch through the heaviest denims, especially when my jeans needed to be patched up, which was pretty often.

She began sewing during World War 2 to help out the war effort making uniforms for the soldiers. It stuck with her, and she found that if she bought a pattern and the right material, she could create the most up to date fashions.

This served her well, as my parents were definite socialites, being involved in community service, church groups, 4-H, as well as going to functions like weddings and company picnics. Needless to say, at the fanciest of these engagements, my mother showed up wearing the newest trends in fashion, almost straight off the runway, that she completely created using her sewing machine, patterns, and raw material!

The sewing machine companies quickly realized the connection between the boomers and housewives willing to sew new clothes or repair old ones, and began to flood the market with machines of all types. Principals among the sewing machine suppliers were the Japanese, who made extremely rugged and inexpensive machines, that almost anyone could afford.

Names like New Home (see photo), Domestic, Dressmaker, Brother (see photo w/cabinet and accessories), and some really obscure names like Sew Mor, Stradivarius, and Royal were Japanese staples to the sewing machine market, and they were bought as quickly as they were made.

The basic models of these Japanese made machines sold for $99.00 for a portable with a plastic carrying case. Add another $30.00 to $50.00 dollars to that for your choice of cabinets. Higher end machines might go as high as $300.00 with cabinets.

Singer sewing machines were still at the top of the heap, but other imports like Pfaff from Germany (see photo), Necchi from Italy, Viking from Sweden and Bernina from Switzerland were also on our shores. These machines were generally higher priced then a Japanese machine, but they were also more precise and had more built-in features as well.

Basic Singers sold in the $130.00 range, add $50,00 for a cabinet version. High-end models with cabinets might go near $500.00. Most other imports from the other countries above sold for considerably more. A high end Bernina or Pfaff might sell for close to $900.00 new with cabinet. They weren't cheap, but their stitching was as close to perfect as a sewing machine could come.

For most of those boom years of the 60's, sewing machines were hot commodities. Even my mother was enamored by these newer featured types, as she traded in her Singer-which was very common in those days since the sewing machine shop could easily resell them-and got a brand new White for X-Mas. She was absolutely tickled that this White had a built in buttonholer and zigzag, as well as a few fancy decorative stitches, none of which were available on that old Singer she had.

The late 50's and early 60's are referred to the golden age of sewing machines, not because of any one particular ground breaking model, although there were a few, but because of the incredibly high sales for any and all machines. Every company that was involved in their manufacture thrived during this time period, as the insatiable need for sewing new clothing and repairing old clothing outstripped demand.

In today's day and age, sewing has primarily become a luxury item for most people, but if you were a housewife in the 60's it was almost an absolute necessity more than anything else.

Dale Yelich has been a creative freelance writer for over 25 years. Among all of his other writing projects, he is currently authoring a maintenance column for the LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Tribune, and you may read those articles at this link.

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