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Reflections of Ponoka: The art of sewing down through the ages

I always enjoyed watching my mother darn a big hole in my socks or sewing a big colored patch on a well worn favourite pair of play pants.
This new display at the Fort Ostell Museum vividly depicts the colorful history of sewing throughout the centuries

I always enjoyed watching my mother darn a big hole in my socks or sewing a big colored patch on a well worn favourite pair of play pants. As we grew up, we likely tried it ourselves, carefully threading the tiny eye of the needle, and poking our fingers on many occasions while nervously attempting to stitch in a neat and straight line. Later on, the girls in the family were likely given the opportunity to hewn their skills and maybe even make a dress on mom’s shiny new sewing machine.

The art of hand sewing is over 20,000 years old, dating back to the Palaeolithic Age, where natives skillfully stitched together animal hides to make the sturdy clothing and shelters that would assure their survival. The first crude sewing needles were made out of bones or animal horns, and the first thread was made from animal sinew. As methods improved quickly, strong iron needles were invented in the 14th century, followed by those handy-dandy needles with eyes just a century later.  In those early days making clothing was very expensive and time consuming, so getting lots of use out of each item meant many long hours of mending. If they became faded, they would be turned inside out and worn much longer, then later as hand-me-downs.

With the rapid settlement and population explosion throughout the world, the demand for clothing and other fabric products became overwhelming. The first possible patent connected to mechanical sewing was a 1755 British patent issued to German Charles Weisenthal. The patent for this exciting international invention also featured a needle, however, did not describe the rest of the machine or how it worked. The world’s first functional sewing machine was invented by the French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonner in 1830, and the exciting era of automated sewing and fancy needlework had begun. On the rather dark side of the ‘sewing revolution’, many massive sewing factories, mills, and ‘textile sweatshops’ were formed, with thousands of employees toiling up to 14 hours a day for poverty wages to meet the overwhelming demands of the lucrative clothing industry. Before the introduction of the treadle and electronic sewing machines, it would take a seamstress 14 hours to make a dress and three hours to put together a pair of pants. Nowadays with the modern technology the textile clothing production lines can produce a dress in one hour, a fancy dress shirt in an hour and fifteen minutes, and a pair of pants in just 38 minutes.

In 1851, the Singer Sewing Machine Company came into being, and for many decades has become synonymous with the magic world of sewing and many new exciting and colorful concepts along the way. The spirit of practical design and creative innovation that characterized the Singer Company at its beginning, and became internationally successful due to many firsts in the field, including the world’s first Zig-Zag, the initial electronic machines in 1916, and just recently the world’s most advanced home sewing and embroidery machine. From home decor and clothing to embroidery and quilting, Singer and many other companies are avidly dedicated to helping people express themselves through the magic of sewing.

So many of us, whether involved in the hobby or not, will always be amazed and appreciate the great and traditional skills displayed by those who enjoy doing needlepoint, macramé, embroidery, quilt making or turning out countless other delicate and spectacular items that are still being sewn by hand, just like they were for so many decades in the past.

Exciting new display at Fort Ostell Museum

In honour of the long and colorful history of the ‘world of sewing’, the Fort Ostell Museum has put together a delightful and authentic display that is now open for the enjoyment of families, individuals, and groups of all ages. Here are some of the unique items featured in the new display all to see, as well as everyone always being welcome to stay browse through many others that tell the story of the proud heritage of our town and districts.

● A hand-crank 1876 Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine which belonged to Charles Palecheck, who owned a general store in Hobbema from 1936 to 1957.

● A 1916 treadle sewing machine, as well as the original Singer Featherweight electric sewing machine that was used for many years in the busy sewing room at the Provincial Mental Hospital.

● A Pfaff Treadle sewing machine that was manufactured in 1920, was owned by Adolf Schmidt of Ponoka, and is personally engraved with his name. The Coronado machine was manufactured in Canada in 1950 and was sold exclusively by Macleod’s.

● Also featured are many great samples of early buttons, needles, and threads, colorful patterns by Hollywood/Butterick/McCall, and Advance, swaths of material, sewing kits and baskets, and instruction books entitled ‘Short cuts to Home Sewing’, ‘Smart Fashion Stitches’, and much more.