So, I own a bunch of sewing machines. I gave two away, but I think I’ll take one back. The machines I own, I’d started off naming them after the women they used to belong to– Matilda was in this house, a straight-stitch Singer knockoff from probably the 50s with forward, backward, and a little lever to adjust stitch lengths; it had a tiny external motor and runs off a belt that you can still buy replacements for just about anywhere. (I bought mine at a home decor store that’s since closed.) The wiring was cracked but my dad replaced it. Betty was my grandmother’s, a grasshopper-green Elna that uses Bakelite cams to do decorative stitches like zig-zag and feather; it has no pedal, but rather a knee lever. Grandma gave it to Middle-Little sister, but M-L never learned to use it, and left it with me when she moved. I had Betty reconditioned by the technician at the local quilt shop, who passed along to the store clerk that it was such a pleasure to work on a machine he remembered working on when they were new.
(That’s a plot point.)
My sisters got together at my request about five years ago, and bought me a modern Singer, a machine designed for quilting, with 99 electronic stitches and 10 automatic buttonholes and all kinds of neato features. I never named that machine, it’s just The Singer. It broke immediately, twice, and I had it serviced under warranty by the Singer dealership, which was eaten alive by JoAnn Fabrics in the middle, and is basically useless now. It works, now, and is out of warranty, but it skips stitches when zig-zagging, so the decorative stitches aren’t genuinely all that usable unless you don’t care how they look, which. Decorative… anyway. The buttonholer thing is amazing and I love the automatic needle threader but the machine is fundamentally untrustworthy.
A few years later, my mother and sisters got together and bought me a serger. I used it pretty heavily for a few projects, had a blast learning how to use it, and did a lot with it. (It’s another Singer, for the record. Never say I learn from things. TBH there’s little difference anymore, I researched it extensively. They bought it online, not from the dealership, because there’s essential no longer a local dealership.)
And then my boss moved to South Carolina, and asked if I wanted his grandmother’s sewing machine. So I wound up with Bertha, a cabinet-mounted Singer 15J. But… I never got a power cord or foot pedal, so she’s not usable. I need to have her reconditioned and restored but need to find the budget; meanwhile, she’s got the same features as Matilda, who has settled into a semi-permanent home at the farm. I could just take Matilda back and use Bertha’s table to hold her. (I do use Bertha’s table to hold the serger.)
And now my sisters and my BFF got together and bought me an embroidery machine, a Brother SE400, which is a dual-purpose sewing and embroidery machine, duplicating the features of the Singer Quilting Thingie that’s unreliable, but adding the ability to do a 4x4″ hoop’s worth of C&C embroidery [meaning, the needle is fixed and the hoop moves by computer control]. This is how it works, I think, if you become a Sewing Lady; you acquire sewing machines.
#1 I need names for the modern machines, #2 I need to get the electronic Singer and Bertha fixed up, and #3 I need to figure out where they all live– how many live at the farm, and how many stay in my house. I have been making myself a studio at the farm, largely for dried arrangements, but there’s room for sewing in there, and a big table, so.
But anyway, the point of all this:
The serger broke. A little while back, I was trying to serge the edge of a scrap of denim to make something, and I was trying to go around a corner and I pulled on the material as it was going through the needles. Bad idea. I must have bent something, but there was nothing obvious; however, from that moment on, the interlocking stitches didn’t interlock, the thing didn’t make loops, and so the thread came out of the machine in four strands and not one chain. This is the fundamental thing a serger does: makes three or four strands into a chain. It was Not Doing That. It was clearly broken.
In despair, I confided this in my mother-not-in-law, who is far more a Sewing Lady than me. (She was a professional tailor for years. She owns seven sewing machines, and a serger.)
She said “Let me get Wally’s number for you!”
Wally? Oh yes, Wally. He had been the tech at the local quilt shop who’d done such a lovely job reconditioning Betty for me. He’s in his 80s and used to work at a big department store downtown, legendary in the local consciousness. He still does sewing machine repairs. Mother-not-in-law’s sister is an avid quilter and had followed Wally from local quilt shop to local quilt shop (they keep losing leases or going under etc) and he’d finally said, you know, we can cut out the middle-man here, here’s my number.
I called the number, and I got a woman. She said, “Oh, Wally’s at the Bills game.” I said, “Does he repair sergers?” and she said “oh, does he! Sure does!” “Well I’ll call him back tomorrow, then. I have one that needs some work.”
The next morning at 9:02 I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize, but I picked up because I had a suspicion. Sure enough, it was Wally. In the thickest local accent I’ve ever heard (maybe local-Polish, you tend to hear that kind of inflection among that community here), he offered to come get my machine. Fortunately, I had it in my car, as I work close to where his shop is. His shop being, it turns out, his house. I said Dude’s aunt’s name and he said oh yes, she’s the best. So he came and got my machine.
“It’s $80 for me to take a look at it,” he said, “that’s my flat fee. If I can’t fix it, I don’t charge you at all, but if I can, that’s the fee. If I have to replace parts, they run this much for that one, that much for this one, other stuff I’ll call you if I need to buy it so you can make your decision. But apart from that, it’s eighty bucks, cash only please.”
Well, sure enough. He calls me three days later. “Your needle guards was all bent up,” he said, “way outta whack, the front needle guard was in t’ back, and your left looper just wasn’t loopin’! So I straightened alla that out, and it’s workin’ just fine now. Your blades were fine, I didn’t need to replace ‘em, so there’s no extra charges there. Eighty bucks and I can drop it off Thursday, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, slightly astonished. The Singer warranty repairs had taken six weeks and had involved the machine journeying far, far away, and had come back with zero information as to what had been done. (In the first instance, apparently nothing; the problem was that if I dropped the feed dogs they never came back up again, and to fix it they’d just raised the feed dogs back up, so the very next time I dropped the feed dogs, they never came back up, again, necessitating an instant return to the store. Sigh. I’ve just… never dropped them again. There’s no free motion embroidering on that machine, because you’d have to drop the feed dogs, and I know they’d never come back up again.)
So, I’ll get the thing back Thursday, and I guess I’ll be bringing every sewing machine I can get my hands on to Wally in the future, because that’s amazing.
Yes, I know a new serger is like, $180 nowadays, but then you have to #1 throw the old one away, and #2 learn how to thread the new one. Fuck that! I would rather pay the machine’s worth for a repair, if the thing is mostly sound.
The problem is, nowadays, with repairs, you never get the item back like new. So it’s now the done thing to throw away a moderately broken item and replace it. Which I can’t blame anyone for. But it’s so obnoxious and wasteful. I’d rather get a more expensive thing in the first place and have it be repairable… but, as I’ve discovered to my sorrow, more expensive things don’t mean they’re more repairable.
I guess that’s why the higher-end sewing machines are so steeply more-expensive, though. Maybe someday I can get myself a Husqvarna serger or something. But in the meantime, I’ll break this one again first.
And my BFF just had her cheap machine repaired and it came back with the same problem she sent it out with, so I’ll be bringing it to Wally as soon as I can coordinate the logistics.