Changing Women’s Lives: The Sewing Machine


Singer Sewing MachineI have a Singer Sewing machine very similar to the one pictured here. It no longer works but I keep it threaded and on display. It always makes me think of how exciting it must have been to own one of these marvels of technology. The sewing machine released many women from the tedious task of making clothes for their family and made mending easy rather than a chore. It was first invented in the mid-1700’s and was mostly purchased for industrial use, but was plagued by constant battles between patent owners who each had invented some piece of the final machine until patent agreements and payments to the their owners were reached. The first sewing machine to resemble what we would recognize as  the modern machine was made by an English inventor, John Fisher, in 1844. In the US, Isaac Singer and Elias Howe produced and refined that original and by 1870 the sewing machine was a staple in middle class homes. Singer developed the electric machine, similar to what is pictured above, in 1889 and by the end of the WW1 were offering hand, treadle, and electric machines.


If you have an older SinHallway Table 3ger machine like mine, you can look up when it was manufactured by going to the Singer Website and finding your serial number within the list. The serial number on my machine is H1290308 and was made in 1907. I’ve always been partial to the sewing machine bases as well with their scrolling metal work, pedals and wheels. I found one at a flea market, wire brushed the base and painted it, and had a wood worker make a top that would fit, without the hole for the machine. I stained the top, attached it and it serves as my foyer catch-all.

In my historical romance, Romancing Olive, Olive Wilkins has her precious Singer sewing machine shipped to Ohio where she has gone to rescue her niece and nephew after their parents have died. A librarian in Philadelphia, she has never married, and has little understanding of rural life when she arrives in Ohio and finds the children living with a neighboring farmer, Jacob Butler. Here’s a scene from when her Singer arrives.


“It’s Aunt Olive’s sewing machine,” Peg said and grinned.

“A sewing machine! Wait till Beth hears. Show me how it works so I can tell her,” Jack said.

Olive explained the workings to Jack and Peg and Mary. Jacob stood back and watched the four of them nod and grin. Olive was smiling again, this time at Jack. He heard Olive tell him to bring Beth by soon and she would show her how to use it.

“If you get me a chair and help me into it, Mary, I’ll show you how quickly we can finish your dress,” Olive said.

Jacob slunk out the door and began to hammer. I’m building her a room, he thought, do you think she’s happy about that? No. I’m building shelves in a corner cupboard, too, so she doesn’t have to keep her things in that silly suitcase of hers. Is she smiling and grateful? No. Just complaining about the noise. Jacob dropped the hammer to his side, pausing. He suddenly and desperately wished Olive were smiling at him. He was building a room, trying to please a woman who was leaving. Leaving the children. Leaving him. By God, those children will miss her. He would miss her as well.

Romancing Olive Final eBook Cover Large





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Holly Bush writes historical romance set on the American Prairie and in Victorian England. Her books are described as emotional, with heartfelt, sexy romance. Holly recently released her first women’s fiction title reviewers are calling ‘smart’ and ‘laugh-out-loud funny.’ She makes her home with her husband in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Connect with Holly at on Twitter and on Facebook.

10 Responses

  1. Barbara Monajem

    I first learned to sew on a treadle machine in England when I was twelve years old. We girls had sewing and cookery classes, and I made an apron from purple gingham. Funny the things one remembers! I absolutely loved the treadle — it’s quite soothing to work, and I think I would prefer it to the electric pedal if I had the opportunity to compare the two now.

    • hollybushbooks

      I know what you mean when say soothing. I have used one and between moving my foot, the sounds the machine makes and the rhythm of moving the cloth, there’s a cadence that is soothing. The first thing I made was a sit-upon, to use when camping. Many, many moons ago!

  2. ginaconkle2013

    My grandma had an old Singer sewing machine (similar to what you have pictured). She also had an old washing machine in her basement, the kind with the hand crank where you feed clothes between rollers. We’ve come a long way!

    • Barbara Monajem

      My mom had one of those washing machines with rollers when I was very young (but it was electrical — and therefore more dangerous, I think, because you could get your fingers crushed in the rollers if you weren’t careful).

    • hollybushbooks

      I vaguely remember an old roller washing machine in our basement growing up, too. And then I remember riding in the car with my mother when we went to the Laundromat. I remember my mother acting as though it was very cool of us to go there! How funny!

  3. Victoria Vane

    My great grandmother had one that pumped with your knee. She still used it until she passed away a few years back!

  4. dholcomb1

    I have several of those old singer machines–don’t ask why. the last one is a non-electrified treadle. got it off freecycle. the wood cabinet is in horrible shape. my intent was to take the base and make a table like the one you have pictured–until my dad proved the treadle worked. now, it’s in my garage because I don’t know what to do. I hate to disassemble something which really works just to make a table, but the cabinet is beyond repair. and, it’s driving my husband crazy.

    my grandma had a treadle and she could sew like nobody’s business on it–she was fast for a treadle. my grandpa bought her an electric, but she never liked it. she preferred her treadle if she didn’t sew by hand (you should see my quilts made by her).

    and, my grandma’s old washing machine with rollers is still in the basement of the old house on the property where my parents live.


    • hollybushbooks

      I love the table I made, Denise. I always get tons of compliments on it too. I have another base in my basement with a cabinet that is coming apart. I’m going to do the same thing with this one but make the top bigger so it can be used as a desk.

  5. jessicajefferson

    I love old machines, but I have an electric Singer that I’ve owned since I got married. My mom made sure I knew how to hem and put on a button, and my high school made all students go through Home Ec, where we all made duffel bags and aprons. I don’t think its just for women, but any adult – you should at least know how to hem a pair of pants!

  6. Maggi Andersen

    My mother had a Singer sewing machine and she made me many great outfits on it. It wasn’t a chore for Mum. She was an artist and very creative, she could turn her hand to anything. She would consult the German fashion magazines and whip something up for me to wear that week. I was always stylishly dressed in those days. Lovely memories.