Author's Note: This is a repost of my blog post on the history of sewing machines in Ireland. It was first published in 2017 and republished on the 21/6/2018 following a technical fault (many apologies!). While it is old, I believe that the content is very much still relevant. I hope you'll enjoy it!
We get a lot of interesting questions about our 1916 Singer sewing machine. It sits in plain sight, in the window of the shop overlooking the Main Street. Some passersby stand in awe of its rustic beauty while many more ask themselves that age-old question; What happened to the sewing machine?
Back in the 1900s, Ireland was a very different place. In the words of L.P. Hartley:
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there
We were a band of tradespeople. There wasn't a town in the country without a blacksmith, carpenter, or seamstress. Everyone worked together and all had a role to play. Rural towns were just as bustling with life as big cities; Each had their own communities, goods, and services to support their buzzing ecosystem.
Despite the community spirit, few people had money to spend on clothes. Many wore the outfits of their parents, whose outfits belonged to their parents and so on. It didn't make sense to buy something that wouldn't last so the buyers would have been incredibly savvy.
There was, however, one problem with this way of life. If there was a night out, a wedding, or another important event, people would have no means of dressing up. Some would have been forced to by a spare set of "Sunday clothes" for these occasions, but many more simply couldn't afford them.
Enter the sewing machine. More specifically, the Singer sewing machine; Whose silhouette was a staple of Irish homes for nearly a century.
For some, having a Singer was nearly as important as having a bed. For a one-time investment, it gave people the chance to alter their old clothes and to create new clothes. You could find them everywhere; from sea-side cottages to rural post offices. Everyone had a sewing machine, although it was hard to match the quality of the Singer. Quickly, they became a household name. So what happened? How did this powerful tool end up gathering dust in sheds across the nation? The answer lies with time.
As we see now, more than in historical era, technology advances rapidly. In the case of the Singer sewing machine, its time has, unfortunately, ran out. Clothing modification is unheard of as the garments we wear are being mass produced for cheaper than ever thought possible. Now, it is common to see these icons of Irish history being used quite creatively; most notably as tables for pubs as well as furniture for modern housing.
Despite this, all is not entirely lost; creativity still lives within the Irish people. Back in 1916, Jeremiah bought his newly-wedded wife, Elizabeth, a Singer sewing machine as a gift from Arnotts, Dublin. Although his mother was unsure of his investment, Jeremiah stayed strong and, by doing so, Elizabeth was able to produce wonderful clothes for not only her own children but also for the neighbouring children.
You can find out more about the life of Jeremiah Higgins and his family by reading our History.
Have your own story to tell? We'd love to hear it so feel free to leave a comment below!