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Jun 24, 2020

Adjusting to the New (Ab) Normal + My Vintage Watch Obsession

New York City is slowly reopening.

Here's our local diner, whose seating area now extends into the street between a line of parked cars and the bike lane.  Not sure how pleasant that will be for customers but it does allow the diner to accommodate more people.  Takeout food alone is unlikely to be enough to sustain a business like this.  I expect to see a great many restaurants closing in the coming year since there isn't going to be a vaccine anytime soon and you can eat outside in New York only so long.  Some restaurants can expand out into the street but they can't equal the number of seats they'd normally have available.

Our local Saturday farmer's market has reopened, so we're happy about that.  They're organizing themselves to maintain social distancing, which seems like a good idea.

The last has month has been tumultuous for much of the country but you don't come here to read about that.

You won't be surprised to learn that masks are about the only thing I've sewn in the last three months, though I do have a shirt project in the works.  I've made a lot of matching mask/shirt sets but the truth is that I usually wear a mask that coordinates rather than matches perfectly.  Let's be honest: that matchy-matchy thing can be a bit much.

Purple gingham coordinates nicely with this old shirt (below), which remains one of my favorites.  (If my photos look a little sharper than usual it's because I've upgraded my old iphone to the new SE model.)

White Featherweight print mask with my textured black-and-white camp shirt.

Same shirt, different mask....

Same mask, different shirt!  This pink linen shirt is eight years old and has held up fantastically well.  It's another one of my favorites and I wear it every summer.

It's fun to mix and match.  I see a lot of masks but none quite like these.

 I've been making a few masks for neighbors and friends too.  Two reversible ones for my friend Kat....

 And a mermaid print mask for my downstairs neighbor Edward.

Meanwhie, I'm slowly accumulating the tools I'll need to start working on mechanical watches.  Everything is new to me but that's also what makes it exciting.  Getting started in a new hobby can feel daunting but I enjoy the challenge: it's like when I learned to sew.  This week I received my first vintage watch repair book in the mail.

Mechanical watches are complex -- so many tiny parts that must be disassembled, cleaned, reassembled precisely and lubricated with multiple types of lubricants depending on the part.  There's so much to learn: a whole new vocabulary.

So far I've tackled only the most superficial tasks: changing watch straps and spring bars (the piece that holds the strap in place, polishing crystals (sometimes glass but more often acrylic in vintage watches), and changing batteries in a few old quartz watches I own.  Watch collectors tend to turn up their nose at quartz watch movements and I'm afraid I've started to too: it's similar to the way vintage sewing machine aficionados feel about computerized machines, they lack soul.

I've picked up a few watches on eBay too.  Also like vintage sewing machines, wonderful ones can be picked up for very little money since now most people just rely on their smart phones (or smart watches) to find out the time.  Also like sewing machines, at one time there were a great many renowned American manufacturers like Hamilton, Elgin, Waltham, Westclox, and many more.  Sadly they either no longer exist or have been purchased by foreign companies.  Timex is still around but no longer makes their watches in the USA.  Sound familiar?

I polished the crystal of this vintage 1940's military-style Elgin watch.

I'm over the moon about this vintage Seventies Snoopy watch which arrived in perfect working order.  The second hand is on a plastic disk that rotates so it looks like the green tennis ball is floating through the air -- clever!
My Elgin, polished and looking good.  Despite being roughly 75 years old it keeps great time.

This 1973 King Seiko is a mechanical marvel.  At one time it was one of their top-of-the-line watches.
I hope everyone is doing well.  I still haven't figured out how MPB Day might work this summer or how much interest there is.  Some activities like lunch at Panera are not going to work.  I don't know if the FIT Museum will be open by August.  I do know that some fabric stores have reopened and they could certainly use our business, so maybe I can come up with some sort of hybrid outing where we spend more time socializing (and eating)  outdoors.  I'm open to suggestions!

Happy sewing everybody and stay well!


  1. how exciting to have you back and working on watches! I have my Aunt's watch that I would love to restore. I'll keep watching to see if I can learn.

  2. So glad to see you back!
    I don't usually comment, 'cause not much to say, but I really enjoy your posts and check daily.
    Only anonymous because I can't figure out the google account thing
    -Will C.

  3. If you want to try working on a strange watch, I have my Grandfather-in-law's Wittenauer Transistorized watch from the 60s(?). It's an odd-duck not quite a quartz movement and not quite a winding watch. The only watch repair place in town that can even _open_ the thing refuses to work on it for me anymore. (Apparently the fact I keep paying him large sums of money wasn't enough.)

    If you feel up to the challenge, let me know and maybe you could fix it? It has a really neat unique ticking and I miss wearing it.

  4. I hope you'll share your experiences with watches. I've always loved them and would love to try working on them, but can't invest the time right now. Thanks for keeping things light but current, and I love this mask pattern.

  5. I have seen some very good videos (?) maybe Youtube(?) on the FIT Museum Facebook pages! Love anything you post!

  6. I d be delighted to read about your new watch obsession, but please please keep sewing and writing and posting about it!

  7. I don't know why we are drawn to vintage things - I guess when you sew, you put fabric together. When you take an old machine be it watch, vehicle or sewing machine, it is fascinating to see how it all works, take it apart and then join it back together again. I think I'm safe from watch collecting as I never wear one and rarely glance at the time (unless I have an appointment) but I think the only issue with old things are the parts - some of which are hard to find. I remember seeing the Snoopy watch - wanted but never had.
    Yes, masks and a few scrubs caps sewn here. Learning curve as I am useless at clothing - after the 3rd one and many fun frogging times, the light bulb went on and it was easy, what was the problem I asked myself. Surprisingly the masks were fast and easy so sailed through those. I guess for you life is beginning to reappear in NY. Thank you for the post, I found it very interesting.
    By the way we have 3 ducklings under a broody hen that I intend to keep, even if most are males - I think one is female. So I am naming them Sugar Kane, Daphne and Josephine - now you can guess the film! ;)

  8. How about an online summit this year, with a mailed pattern swap?

  9. I think this is a wonderful new obsession, Peter! Learning new things keeps us mentally sharp, so good for you. Your masks are delightful.

  10. That Snoopy watch is my favorite! Thanks for sharing! I think this new hobby sounds fantastic for getting your mind off all the other stuff going on.

  11. You might know this already, but early blues adopted Elgin's advertising motto as a double entendre--"my baby got Elgin movements / Twenty year guuarantee! "

    Take care.

  12. Fantastic post! Love, love, love the reversible masks -- so practical! And I have a collection of old watches, from my beloved grandpa, uncle and father. And a cool Hamilton I bought for its rose-gold face and curved crystal. It fits my skinny wrist better than most men's styles. Alas it has never worked well, but it's a fashion statement, for sure. I thought of you -- just picked up a Brother VX 809 at the town dump. A little superficial dirt, but its hand wheel works fine (I have a foot pedal on order). Just love that the "guts" are all metal, and thankfully not rusty! Keep up the good work!!!

  13. Ooh, watches! Have you ever been to the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham? If you're ever in the area -- and it reopens -- it's great. The second floor is dedicated to Waltham watches. Lots of neat old machines in the rest of the museum too.

    I wish I could go to MPB Day, but I think traveling/finding a hotel will be difficult. I'll miss it! Will try to put in some orders at NYC shops that are reopening to give them some business.

  14. I think the Snoopy watch is the most charming, joyful thing I've seen all week!

  15. First time to read your blog. Now I must figure out how to subscribe.

  16. I used to work for a company that shared the building with Timex. While my company remodeled a portion of the building that formerly housed Timex, I often dumpster-dived the construction trash hoping to find some Timex watches or watch parts. But all I ever came up with was Timex computer parts!

    1. Connecticut has such an amazing industrial history, most (all?) of it gone unfortunately.

  17. Nice hat!
    I'll be watching the watch progress. Best of luck to you.
    Stay well.
    (Thanks for sharing the Dhurata Davies mask pattern link way back when.It's been a comfortable favorite of ours.)

  18. My late Dad went to watch repair school back in the 50's. He never pursued it as a trade but enjoyed watches (and fixing them) for the rest of his life. He even had watch repair desk, which looks very much like a jewelers desk. Basically, these desks are really tall and the work sits at about armpit height. I think this to make it easier to see such tiny objects and also to reduce fatigue. These desks also have many many shallow drawers down each side for tiny parts and tools.

  19. I love vintage watches! Sometimes I'll pick one up on eBay. I don't know how to work on them though, so if it doesn't work it's just decorative unless I can find someone to fix it. I'm intimidated myself. Too many small parts! Yikes. I could never do it. I'll be interested to see you learn to do it. Vintage watches are like vintage sewing machines: they have personalities. There is something so satisfying about a mechanical thing that is well made. They're warmer, somehow. From a human perspective, we can connect with them better, perhaps? Maybe it's because we can look at the parts and see how they work. It's not like a computer chip or something.

  20. I don't know if you can get it over there but here in the UK there's a BBC show called The Repair Shop, which features an amazing watch repairer among other fantastic craftsmen and women. Thank you for your blog. It's always a really good read.


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