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.
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.
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.
Brand History The Early Years (1850 - 1899)1850
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 http://www.singer.com/