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Mar 4, 2012

Peter Visits the NYC Sewing Machine Museum!



Readers, forgive the somewhat misleading title of this post.  I didn't really visit the NYC Sewing Machine Museum.  In fact, there is no NYC Sewing Machine Museum -- yet.

But I did go out to Queens yesterday to visit my friend Johanna, avid sewing machine collector and knitter.  (Since I rarely leave my neighborhood, this was like a trip overseas for most people; I even got to eat Greek food.)  If sewing machines and knitting sound like a mismatch, you're right, but what can you collect if you knit?  Needles?



Johanna has a beautifully curated collection of vintage sewing machines out on display for all to enjoy, though you have to get into her apartment first.  All Johanna needs is a gift shop and handicapped access and she could start charging admission.  Sadly, she lives in a walk-up.

Since most you will never meet Johanna, let alone be invited to her museum and treated to lunch, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of her collection and our day.  Here is Johanna's latest acquisition, a pristine white Singer featherweight, purchased at a price so low it's practically theft.  It sews a beautiful stitch but could use a little more oil.  Nice case too.



The eagle-eyed among you have probably already spotted the majestic Singer 201 behind it.  When is this woman going to start sewing?

Johanna decorates with sewing machines, which may seem a little decadent to many of you, but you have to admit, it works.  Wouldn't you rather see this beautiful Elna Grasshopper, artfully placed above a spool of Tangerine Tango yarn, than some painting of dogs playing poker?



Another favorite is Johanna's vintage turquoise zigzagger, badged Gimbels.  Anyone who knows New York or has ever watched Miracle on 34th Street knows that Gimbels was the rival department store to Macy's back in the day.  Gimbels is gone but this sewing machine, made in Japan, is still zigzagging.



Johanna also owns a gorgeous New Home treadle that used to belong to a family on Block Island, seafarers, no doubt.  Is it just coincidence that I have a photo of Johanna admiring a very similar treadle not two years ago?  Spooky!







I helped Johanna install the leather belt on her other treadle, a smooth-as-silk Singer 15-88. 



This Singer handcrank is perhaps my favorite machine in Johanna's collection (which includes a Singer 301, a Bernina, Kenmores, and more).  If I'd had bigger pockets, I might have grabbed it on my way out.



After visiting the museum, Johanna and I toured the exotic Trade Fair Supermarket, where foodstuffs from all around the world can be found, including a vast selection of Caribbean spices.  (Quick -- hide the children.)





No trip out to the Sewing Machine Museum would be complete without a peek into the nearby Goodness Gracious Thrift Shoppe.  Goodness Gracious perhaps; What a Dump is more like it.



My tour ended with a visit to Queens' answer to Mood and B&J, Astoria Fashion Fabrics.  It's actually not bad and was quite bustling, which, given its size, requires just three people inside.





Somehow I managed to find the lone evening gown in the fabric bargain bin!



And that, friends, is the story of my visit to the NYC Sewing Machine Museum.  If you would like to visit this collection, please let me know and I'll try to pull a few strings.  Johanna's not home most workdays, so provided we didn't make a mess or raid her refrigerator, she'd probably never even know we'd been there.  She also leaves her windows open. 

Thanks, Johanna -- and a happy Sunday to all!

23 comments:

  1. lol.. The cock (chicken) flavoured seasoning gets everyone. It's something put it chicken foot/chicken soup. It adds a nice flavour that you definitely miss if it's not there.
    I add it to my lentil soup to add flavour

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  2. How do you find all these sewing machine collector friends?? Geez when i start 'vintage-sewing-machine' talk, my friends' eyes start glazing over with something akin to boredom/confusion!

    I love Johanna's collection; if i lived closer i would definitely try to bribe you with a home cooked meal to get a look-see at her machines!

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  3. Oh boy that sounds fun, I soooo miss New York. You could always take people for a tour and fill up her refrigerator, none of that crazy spice though.

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  4. THAT spice!!! One wagers that a jar was purchased.

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  5. Peter,

    What are your current favorite sources for vintage electric Singer metal machines in New York City? Are all sales as-is, or is it possible to take a machine to be assessed by a sewing machine shop and exchanged or returned if it is not in good shape?

    What is a reasonable range of cost?

    How difficult is it to find feet? How much do they cost?

    Thanks.

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  6. Oooh, thanks for sharing these pictures! I wish it really WAS a museum. When I see these old machines, I imagine the people who used them to create practical or fanciful clothing, curtains, or whatever else was the fabric of their lives. I hope Joanna realizes that each machine comes with Ghosts of Sewers Past, and that she is responsible for feeding them all. I'm pretty sure sewing ghosts eat lots and lots of fabric.

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  7. I thought the NYC Sewing Machine Museum was your apartment. I was wrong.

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    Replies
    1. Precisely what I thought, as well.

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  8. As soon as I can (read: when I'm not a poor student with no money desperately looking for somewhere permanent to live) I want to have a sewing machine collection. I've already called dibs on three machines - one my mum's, a kenmore, from the 60s or 70s, one a vintage singer that was a friend's uncle's (he didn't sew, he just collected them), one my grandmother's that she got for her 21st, dating it from the early 40s. No idea if any of them work, but they're all currently gathering dust, and that's just not good enough for such glorious machines! So I plan to selflessly take it upon myself to give them a new loving home.

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  9. Bravo you! If you got to explore Astoria, you were in my former stomping grounds!!! Gyro, Souvlaki, and Tzatziki forever!

    There was once a Paterson Silks store on Steinway at 30th Avenue, and a Broadway Silks store on Broadway (of course, at 32nd st. ) where my Mom and Grandma bought fabric for my 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, and 3rd Grade dresses.

    I later shopped there for my own little girls' dresses, made entirely by my very own hands, no machines involved. I doubt they'd remember them now, but I made them smocked dresses and coats using only thread and needles. It was a challenge I enjoyed tremendously, and would do it again in a heartbeat.

    I don't want to guilt my one-and-only Grandson, so I won't send him any URLs, and I have no great-grand-children in the immediate future, as far as I know.

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  10. Peter thanks for the virtual tour - that Singer hand crank is just beautiful.
    The less said about the spice the better.

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  11. This post made me want to visit New York!
    The variety of these machines is so beautiful!

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  12. I wish there was a sewing machine museum. I am fascinated by the evolution of the sewing machine.

    The more I sew, the more I appreciate the simplicity and *reliability* of earlier machines (the other meaning of heavy metal). The addition of electronics might've added convenience (thread cutting) and a ton of fancy embroidery stitches, but it sure has complicated a simple task. I've taught classes to women who did not know how to get a basic zigzag stitch on their new high end machine. No thank you.

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  13. Great post Peter. Lucky me, I occasionally see Johanna when she is leaving work. Holy mackerel, she has more machines than you do? :-)

    As for the seasoning, it can be used on anything you cook. It is almost as good as Pickapeppa sauce which rivals A-1.

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  14. That woman is a decorating GENIUS. I love the collection and the way the machines are displayed.

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    Replies
    1. Me too. Johanna has a great color sense.

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  15. Love. Them. All. Thanks for the virtual tour!

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  16. Hi Peter, I almost jumped out of my bed when I saw this post. I got SEW excited I could barely make it through the day without thinking about all these machines. I bring my DC based sewing class to NYC garment district every three months and we are coming at the end of April. This would be a wonderful stop by if you think Joanna would allow it. There are usually about 6-7 of us and these women would be drooling if they could see her collection. (we will bring rags to clean up the mess. LOL!) Please let me know if its possible to make some arrangements. We would be SEW ECSTATIC!!

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  17. What do knitters collect? Needles, tools, notions, magazines, books, and YARN, baby. As far as I know, it was knitters (not quilters) who invented the acronym SABLE, for "stash acquisition beyond life expectancy".

    You had to ask, Peter. And I had to answer.
    -- stashdragon

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  18. What a misleading title! I totally thought there was a NYC sewing machine museum.

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  19. Peter- Great Site, LOL , Got a NYC Orphan lost down here in the swamps of Naples, Florida....it's a Walnut Sewing Machine Cabinet made by the company Ross & Marshall, whose offices where at 91 Bleecker, and factory/workshops at 63-67 Bayard st., 9 Rose st, and 10 Riverton St, NYC. It was converted to a washstand/commode, and I am in the midst of the grueling process of stripping off 150 years of varnish and thirty+ years of "antique finish". It should be on Ebay within the week. Just wanted to let You New York Sewing Fanatics Know that Her
    Repatriation is at Hand !!! Rico.

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