I was in college at the time, back in the ’80’s, working part time as a piece-worker in a garment factory.

The head of production took a shining to me. He liked that I was in school, learning to become a designer, yet working as a factory  seamstress, and doing a really good job at it. Besides all that, I looked like I was twelve, so it made me quite an anomaly in that world. I remember clear as day this Indian dude that worked there sweeping floors. He always wore several miss-matched plaids. I found it borderline offensive from an aesthetic point of view. In today’s sensibilities, I think it actually works. The lesson: Keep an open mind to all possibilities! 

We got to talking, and I told him I wanted a sewing machine like the ones we worked on. It was my first experience on an industrial machine. Once you have worked on one of those magnificent beasts, a home sewer just isn’t enough. Industrial machines, besides their power and speed, free up both hands, allowing you can really manipulate and control the cloth and every aspect of every stitch.

He said he knew of the perfect machine for me. A week later, I took possession.

This wonderful man’s name was Eddie Jessberger. I imagine he is either very old or dead by now, but he is certainly not forgotten in my memories. I adored this man. He was so kind, and so helpful. Incredibly stern, almost scary at times, but I think that was what gave me the desire to measure up. I credit that stern form of mentorship for much of my success.

Eddie got me an old singer circa 1936 95-40 body, refurbished it, and set in in a new table with a new engine. 30 years later I still stitch every stitch on this machine. The few times it has broken down, I have fixed it myself. Today was one of those days.

Every square inch of this machine is. solid iron. I think you could drop it off the empire state building and it wouldn’t break. That gives me comfort, because I know if it stops working, it is fixable. Today it seized up. I went online, found a copy of the original owner’s manual, and found a Youtube video that solved my problem. Basically this seizing up is often from poor maintenance (I’m totally guilty of that.) The solution was to brush out any threads or dust, drench the thing in oil, and then set that oil in motion with a hot blowdryer! Clever, huh?

Today we don’t make products like this, and logically so. They would cost a fortune to ship (Not even considering the table, the solid iron machine weighs a ton) And, they last forever! This machine is from 1936!!! And it still works like a dream. And best of all, it keeps a very fine memory of a very fine man from my youth alive. In fact, it keeps so many memories alive.

I have always resorted sewing for my supper when my goals called for it.

There was the drug dealer who loved custom patches on his jeans. This man was so cool. He had a way of looking at you like he understood all, and he paid really well! It was weird to sew his jeans. As a true eccentric, he had his odd ways. He never washed those jeans, so the smells that lilted up from under the needle were uniquely his.  Then there was the opera singer who I made a big beautiful navy lace dress for. The curtains I sewed for a man during my gypsy days when my father was dying, and my own wedding dress. I could go on. There were literally thousands of memories this machine has been a part of.

I love that I have this non-disposable functioning mechanical friend in my life, continuing to build my dreams.  I will keep it forever, like a family member. How empty my life would have been if it had been replaced with a dozen newer better models.