Looking Back


And Sew It Goes

Back in the early to mid-1900s nearly all the children's clothing, men's shirts, women's dresses, diapers, curtains you name it were created at home. Money and fabric were sparse so women soon learned to use the treadle sewing machine to meet the family's clothing and household needs.


Eaton's catalogue was the "fashion magazine" that let everyone know what was in style this year. Patterns could be purchased (from the catalogue, at the big department stores in Edmonton or through newspapers) but many women learned to create their own patterns. They'd look at a piece of clothing in Eaton's catalogue, do some calculations, then cut the pattern out of newspaper. Fabric might come from the catalogue or, if they were very lucky, a visit to Silk-o-Lina fabric store in the city. Some women became extremely skilled and were able to sew wedding dresses (those needed a pattern!). Mary Lafleur sewed uniforms for local ball teams and costumes for school plays.


So the treadle sewing machine had a special place in the home. Onoway Museum has fine examples of Reliance, Singer, Domestic and Jones treadle machines. Companies began to develop compact hand-cranked models that could be stored in a closet. Even though Eva Majeau's compact Singer 99K was converted to electric, she persisted with the hand crank and sewed tailored suits for all seven sons.


Eventually the electric machine won out. It was portable and very intricate types of stitching developed over the years. Today's seamstresses (who seem to prefer making quilts) create works of art rather than daily necessities.


The "toolbox" for early machines was a sewing basket filled to the brim with wooden spools of thread, needles of different sizes, pins and clips, and various bindings. There was the button box for the extra buttons.


Come visit the Onoway Museum's sewing room!


                                  Mrs. Hay
Beatrice Hay used this Singer machine to sew the wedding gown and five bridesmaids' dresses for her daughter's wedding.
Pattern Maternity Outfit
Simplicity, Butterick and McCall's were most common patterns available for anything from swimsuits to coats and everything in between (this one bought at Woodwards).
Toy Elna
Check out the "toy" Elna machine (that fits in a box about one foot wide) with which young seamstresses could get a start at sewing.

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Last updated: January 6, 2020