New Orleans House Project

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pieces of the Past: St. Anne's Virtual Sewing Machine Gallery

Several years into my quilting life, I came across a treadle sewing machine in an antique store.  I was captivated by the colorful flower-like decals on the cast-iron machine head.  I rationalized that a quilter should have a connection to the quilters of history, and an antique sewing machine was a great connection.  The machine came home with me.  It proved a decorative conversation piece and my young sons loved to mash the pedal up and down.

Fast forward several years - another antique store - another sewing machine.  This one was in a charming wooden box and had a hand crank instead of a treadle.  It followed me home as well.  By that time, the internet was just beginning to demonstrate its usefulness as a research tool, and I immediately took to the web to find out more about my new machine.  I discovered a network of antique sewing machine resources and I was hooked!

It didn't take long to discover that as much as I loved the hunt for antique sewing machines, my house didn't have room for a huge collection.  Instead, I focused my collecting energy on sewing machine-related Victorian trade cards.  Victorian trade cards (sometimes called Chromos) became popular in the late 1870s when new technology came along that made color printing easily and inexpensively accessible.  The cards were used for advertising products and services; they became wildly popular due to the novelty of color printing and romantic images pictured.

It was easy to find sewing machine cards for sale online and I developed a nice collection.  As I acquired new cards, I was inspired to learn about the history of the sewing machines and the various sewing machine manufacturers in the US and abroad.  For several years I maintained a website - St. Anne's Virtual Sewing Machine Gallery - devoted to sewing machine trade cards.  Eventually I pulled the plug on the site, as web design and coding became ever more complex and sophisticated - I just didn't have the time to keep up with the changes!

I still am on the lookout for new cards, and thumb through the collection albums on a regular basis.  I hope you don't mind if I bring out some of these old chestnuts from time to time!  They are a great window into the past - giving a peek at the everyday life of seamstresses who stitched before us.

More Sewing Machine Cards