“She’s Swiss, and she’s older than me. He is besotted with her. Because she’s new and exciting, I guess, even if she was born in 1963. In bed last night, I couldn’t get through a paragraph in my book without him talking about her technique.”
That’s what my wife posted on the online message board where she hangs out.
And it’s all true. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Bernina lately. When I’m with her, I am elated and she purrs. Anything feels possible; the only limitation is my creativity. And my wife doesn’t mind at all.
At this point, I am compelled to admit that Bernina is my new avocado-green sewing machine, recently purchased via Craigslist. The Bernina is made of heavy, thickly-painted metal and is packed with sturdy-looking gears and parts. Peeking in the top of the machine, and turning the hand wheel on the side, I am mesmerized as dozens of mechanical parts turn and move up and down. (I overlook the rare plastic or rubber bits.) There’s so much metal inside Bernina that moving her makes my arms ache, a fact which gives me a perverse pleasure.
I’ve used or owned power tools since I was in middle school, but until recently, sewing machines were off my radar screen. Once I started working on my own boats, I found myself wanting to make countless things – oar bags, a cockpit tent – but I lacked the knowledge and a suitable machine.
Now, through the accidental tutoring of Andy Bike, I’ve become sewing dangerous. No one has really taught me the rules, so I just envision things and make them. A ten-foot long, three-pocket bag to hold my oars and tiller; an anchor bag with compartments to separate the rode and chain; if I can imagine it, I can sew it.
None of my creations are perfect, but I’m proud of what I’ve learned in the process of making them and the high degree of personalization I can achieve. More often than not, a store-bought item has several problem issues, right from the start. But when I make my own gear, I get exactly what I want, or have myself to blame. While working on a project, I find myself studying items around me in new ways. The pocket on my colleague’s Carharts jacket becomes a source of fascination; in what order did the pieces get sewn together? Through the eyes of a sewer, even my own shoes become a marvel of construction.
Although my newfound passion for sewing is a lot like that of a young lover, my machine itself is a more enduring affair. As I learned from the original receipt accompanying the Bernina, it was purchased in 1963, at the Mars Sewing Center in Gardena, California for $305. In today’s dollars, that was a very serious $2,365 investment.
Whether or not I stay entranced with sewing, I know one thing: Bernina is a first class machine, worthy of admiration – and not only because of what I can make with her. How many other household appliances are so old, yet still so useful, after all those years? That’s really something to be besotted with.
Stick around: This is the first in a series of three articles about sewing.