Speaking of more fun things writers get to do–

The Pratt Museum here in Homer has invited all the local writers, of whom there are many, into the museum to select one object and write 250 words about it for their newsletter.

The short term goal is to alert newsletter subscribers to all the cool things the museum has in their collection in hopes of enticing them back into the museum after COVID shut everything down.

Longterm, they are hoping to put all the articles together in a book called The History of Kachemak Bay in 100 Objects and sell it as a fundraiser for the museum.

Naturally I immediately shot down there to discover what I wanted to write about. It turned out to be that truly revolutionary object in women’s history: a sewing machine. Here’s what I wrote:

“I have an idea for making the sheets,” said Laura. “I’m not going to sew those long seams down the middle with over-and-over stitch by hand. If I lap the edges flat and sew with the machine down the center, I do believe they’ll be smooth enough and even more serviceable.”

                                    —Laura Ingalls Wilder, These Happy Golden Years

            Laura made her trousseau in 1885, right after Pa brought home a sewing machine for Ma. Making a dress by hand could have taken her ten hours; with a sewing machine, as little as one. The relief to her eyesight alone must have felt miraculous.

            The Pratt Museum’s Willcox & Gibbs sewing machine is an elegant example of industrial revolution hardware, and of the kind of sewing machine Laura used. It was made in 1860, one of 6,000 that year. It measures 15” X 6“ X 10” and weighs about twenty pounds. The arm is shaped in a graceful arch. The steel plate mounted beneath the presser foot is polished and etched with a table for thread, silk, needle, and stitch. Its shiny black paint is flaking now, but a leaf and berry motif in gold is perfectly preserved.

            In 1860 the New York Times wrote

            No one invention has brought with it so great a relief for our mothers and daughters as these iron needle-women. Indeed, it is the only invention that can be claimed chiefly for woman’s benefit.


Read more:

“The Story of the Sewing Machine,” New York Times, January 7, 1860.

International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society website, http://ismacs.net/index.html

Wikipedia entry on the sewing machine, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewing_machine#Social_impact

Read through back issues of the newsletter here, where you can also subscribe so as not to miss out reading Nancy Lord writing about an arrowhead, Rich Chiappone writing on bones, and much more to come. Fun.

Chatter Writing

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. What an excellent article for the museum, Dana. I have been getting the museums newsletters for a few months and it is an interesting place with interesting people.

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