Friday, May 30, 2008

An Essay : My Life as a Singer Sewing Machine

This picture from the American Heritage series has inspired me to write the story about Singer Machine. My grandfather Lau Kah Chui was a tailor who used a machine very well. Had he gone to America, he would have been one of these Chinese men who helped California garment to earn more than $3 million in the early 20th century in making garments alone.

One of my favourite movies is "Fiddler on the Roof", which has a very touching scene centred on a sewing machine. The setting of the movie was turn of the 20th century, before the then Russia turn Communist. Great musical. If you can see the actual musical, it will be even better.
A Singer Sewing Machine below - a very important and beloved household appliance.

This is the story of my Life as a Singer Sewing Machine

July 12th 1948 - My beautiful mistress was married as a post war bride when the economic situation was not even recovering yet. She wore a beautiful flowing white gown. Every one was dressed in colonial style and the two cute flower girls were enchanting in their white frocks.

The wedding was held in Sibu and many photos were taken in Hua Hong Ice Factory, owned by her new father in law.

Although I was not bought as part of a Foochow dowry for my owner it was nevertheless considered so because it was so lovingly bought by the happy bridegroom a few months later when I arrived in Sibu. He was handsome, tall, and purposeful in life. He wanted to make sure that his young bride would lack nothing. And one of the biggest gifts he bought her was me.

In fact I even considered myself an important part of the "dowry". Life had been hard for many after the war and rubber price had hit rock bottom.Sibu brides did not receive much dowry from their families, perhaps three pieces of the most essentials like a set of bedding, a wardrobe, and a dressing table. The more prosperous brides would get five or even seven items. For years, the married ladies would talk about how generous their parents were.

As I stood upright, glistening in the sunshine I was happy to be within the midst of this happy new family. My wooden panel was brown, polished to a great shine, my body was black, wrought iron, with lots of beautiful European designs. My needle was sharp, ready to eat into any material which came into my teeth and clamp.

I met many women and even men who came to have a look or a respectful touch all over my new body. In the days and years which followed , these men and women would be frequent visitors and supporters of this new family. There were many visitors to this new home. Grandmother Tiong Lien Tie was a frequent visitor who came to help out. I was glad I came to a good and happy Foochow home which was open to lots of visitors.

I was eager to serve my mistress because I knew she had lots of plans to use me.

She was a brilliant wife and housewife. She would use me to sew everything she and her husband needed:pillow cases, bolster cases, cotton underwear, curtains, and even handkerchiefs!! Anything. Friends would ask her to sew too and she would gladly and generously sew for them. She said, "What is a small seam? Nothing my sewing machine cannot do!!"

I was glad that she was expecting. And she made so many of those little tops and bottoms for her unborn child. Her mother came and helped her do some hand stitches. Mother and daughter formed such a good team.

Other children followed and she did the same. Sewing clothes, simple ones, without much pattern, made her happy.

I remember her eldest daughter, when she was in form One, making her first skirt following the pattern given to her by her home science teacher. She did not get an excellent mark though. The skirt was a patterned maroon pleated skirt. She made her pleats quite well. she wore this skirt until it was too old and too tight for her. It was quite a feat for a 12 year old to put a zip on for her skirt. Never mind the "B".

But great unhappiness came one day when she lost her beloved husband all too soon on the 16th year of their marriage. On that day, friends and relatives used me to make all the mourning clothes from thick muslin or belachu cloth, all the black patches that the children must wear for 100 days. Her hair turned white just overnight and it was hard for her to smile again from that day onwards.

Her second daughter took over the sewing. She made beautiful clothes for all her siblings, and her nieces. She made doll clothes from the scrap materials. She was very very intelligent and creative. The frugal life of the family continued and I was so glad that the family was together . They held on with their love and strong spirit.
Every one of her daughters and even sons, learned to use me and were fairly good at what things they made. I was an appliance that could not be "spoilt" because I was so well made. Luckily I did not have to be sent to a workshop for maintenance or overhaul. I was placed in the living room, with a fine window to look to. Just a little bit of Singer oil here and there would be enough for me to run beautifully and hum gently.

The years quickly passed, the children graduated, my mistress started to say that she could not see to sew and left me entirely to her daughters who sewed quilts, little things, and others, including baby clothes again!!

I continue to be well maintained and well oiled by her daughter. when the wood became frail, I was given a good formica top. But my mainframe is still as good as new!! My American factory had made me well.

And I continue to enjoy the presence of the grandchildren waiting expectantly by my side for the goodies that they can get from their aunt. "Aunty , please make me a doll dress. Aunty, please make me something. Aunty please patch this up for me." These were beautiful words that I love to hear.

And of course there has been a lot of mending and patching. I have served the family well and lovingly. They have been a great family to me. A garment is considered new for three years. It can still be worn for another three years with a little patching. A few more patches, the garment can still be worn for another three years. Finally, when the garment's life is all gone, the material will be taken apart and cut into patches to become part of a patch work. This has been the way the Chinese look after the cloth they have been given in the olden days.

In July last year, I was wondering if I had made my final journey ! They moved me to Kuching after I have stayed in Sibu for 59 years!! Almost sixty and I have moved house three times. Each move made me feel good because I was a treasure to the family. they would never sell me off.

There is still a lot of life in this old girl yet! Yeeeeeeeee Ha!!

Written by a 60 year old happy and grateful Singer Sewing Machine, 31st May 2008.

extra notes

Brand History The Early Years (1850 - 1899)

Isaac Merritt Singer, with US$40 in borrowed capital, develops the world's first practical lock stitch sewing machine at a machine shop in Boston.

Isaac Singer and a New York lawyer, Edward B. Clark, form I.M. SINGER & Company.

Factory moves to New York City. The first machines sell for US$100.

A SINGER sewing machine takes first prize at the World's Fair in Paris.

Edward Clark originates the hire-purchase plan, the prototype for installment selling. A new lightweight machine - the "Turtleback" - is introduced.

First SINGER showroom and headquarters is located in New York City.

The SINGER Manufacturing Company, holding 22 patents, is incorporated. Some 20,000 home sewing machines are sold annually.

The SINGER Manufacturing Company opened sales and distribution centers in England.Red "S" girl trademark made her debut-destined to become one of the best known emblems in the world.

SINGER introduced the first practical electric sewing machine.

To find out more about SINGER Corporation Limited, click

17 memories:

Gaharuman said...


I have found the following book online:
An Introduction to Sibu and the Third Division by Sarawak Information Service (Paperback - 1963)

Gaharuman said...


You havent written anythong on Sarawak House, once the tallest building in Sarawak. The tallest building in Sarawak has always been in Sibu and it is now the 28 storey Wisma Sanyan. But that will be broken by Kuching Tower soon!

Sarawakiana said...

Hi there,
I am sorry I really have very little info on Sarawak House.

Even Sanyan Building is totally alien to me!!

I was told a few stories a long time ago about Sarawak House but they seem to have been lost in all the passing years.

Sarawakiana said...

Dear Gaharuman,

I hope you like the new exquisite look of my blog. My daughter helped me with it. The brown is a difficult colour. May be I will have it turned red for a more aupicious and Gawai look.

Selamat Gawai to all who have a reasons or a harvest to celebrate....

tumi said...

Hello, Sarawakiana, how nice is the new looking of your blog!It suits.I enjoy reading your blog very much, bringing back streams of memories. Can i link your blog to mine?

Sarawakiana said...

Dear Tumi,

I have just been reading your blog and thinking about you!! Yes, you can link your blog to mine. And I was just about to ask you for the same thing too.

Did you study in the Methodist Secondary School? What year?

May God bless you every day.

Gaharuman said...


I like the new look of your blog.

By the way, I have written something on Sarawak House (which might be relevant to me as I gre wp in the 1970s when the landmark was built.

Happy gawai to one and all!

Gaharuman said...


Go to my blog to read the Sarawak House posting

Gaharuman said...


I am not a good writer and do comment on my posting on "The Sarawak House".

Gaharuman said...


You should add a cluster map to your blog besides the web counter so that you will know where your visitors are from. That will make your blog interesting!

It is not difficult to set up, just like your web counter. Let me know if there is a problem.


Daniel Yiek said...

I like the Singer story. It's an important piece of machine in people's home.

It would be nice to add more pics to your blog posts. Would be good to compare old vs new Sibu.

tumi said...

Sarawakiana, i think my elder sis knows you. She was from Methodist Secondary School, now a retired teacher.

Pls feel free to link my blog.

Nice to know you & may God bless you!

lynnx01 said...

Singer... my church bought over Singer factory and turned it into what we call "Dream Centre"!

Sarawakiana said...

Hi all, I have been away for a few days of Gawai holidays. And it was like having cold turkey (from the computer addiction)
Came back to have a "fix"immediately and wrote "snails" . Now I feel better because I am in touch with my kids and friends and all of you.

Yes, Tumi, I can guess who your sister is too.... I would be two or three years older than her. And I will add your site to mine.

Daniel, thanks , I will take more photos,and look for more pics in the Internet too.

Gaharuman, the paper back( 1963) you mentioned, do you think it is in most public libraries? I will try to look for it. Thanks.And I will read your posting too asap.

Have a good holiday or what is left of it. This is a good mid year break.

Sarawakiana said...

Tell me about the Dream Centre!!


Gaharuman said...


Thanks for your messgae.

You can probably check with the Pustaka Library in Miri whether they have a paperback. If they dont, suggest to them to order a copy. It can be order online. Just do some google search. I remember a friedn of mime did just that and the Library order a copy of the book he recommended.

Sarawakiana said...

thanks will go to Pustaka and check it out.

have a good week.


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