The Treadle Sewing Machine

on November 27, 2018 in All Roads Lead to Tucker Georgia

Helen Story’s Richmond

In the ‘50s, Helen Story was an enterprising young woman. For $20 she purchased a used Richmond Treadle Sewing Machine from church member, Winnie Gravitt. With that Richmond she kept her three daughters well dressed – and entertained.

We watched her change thread, fill the bobbin and sew in zippers with the speed of light. Watching the bobbin fill was mesmerizing. Helen slowed down when pulling a thread through a piece of hemmed cloth making a “pretty little ruffle.” She smiled as though surprised – every time. Not much she couldn’t do, but make button holes. With a stack of gingham and seersucker, she walked across Morgan Road to Aunt Sarah’s house. In a day or so Sarah returned the clothes with button holes. Good as store bought. It took a special feature for button hole-makers that the antiquated Richmond did not offer.

But what she had Helen perfected. Hours on end her feet powered that machine to a fine hum. We took turns sitting on the Richmond foot-petal, atop her feet and went for a ride, mindful not to grab the big wheel. A lesson learned the hard way.

My mother was an organizer labeling every article of clothing down to the white socks, pink thread for Patricia, always blue for me and yellow for Barbara. Just a few stitches of our favorite color and that article was assigned to rightful owner, making laundry day a breeze.

Diane and Patricia, halter-shorts by Helen Story

Waste not want not was her motto. Only one Simplicity Pattern purchased for her 3 daughters. She cautiously cut out the tissue paper pattern. Positioned it on material laid out on the kitchen table, careful to crowd the pieces in as much as possible. Cut, then took the pieces to the sewing machine. There we watched her every move. Serious she was. With the rider of the foot-petal determined and positioned on her feet, Helen started slowly, then as a powerful locomotive she gave it more steam, then take off time. That’s when she bit her lip as her big brown eyes focused on the foot-feed. Time for silence except for the Richmond whirl.

With the hum quiet, magically a halter top appeared. Hum a little more, the shorts appeared. Question. What color rick-rack? She listened to our in-put then made her decision. Sometimes we won, sometimes not. Helen had an eye for color but kept in mind our favorites. But first the owner of the new outfit had to be determined. That’s when she snapped her fingers to the tune of no-nonsense. Though she’s been deceased for 10 years, I can still hear it. We lined up in pecking order. Whoever the outfit fit – was the proud owner.

Diane, Barbara and Patricia Story

If the piece fit me – Diane – the middle girl, it was mine. Then she laid the used pattern piece on the remaining material on the kitchen table. She cut a couple inches wide for Patricia. Then she folded her paper pattern in a couple inches to cut smaller pieces for Barbara. If short on material, she worked it like a puzzle to get every inch. Back to the machine. Miraculously, the clothes fit. If not no problem. She had a handy dandy seam ripper and knew how to use it. Alterations no problem for Helen Story.

That is how the little girls of  Tom and Helen Story stayed well dressed for school and church. Yes, she made beautiful little dresses with petite embellishment. Nothing fancy. “Nice for my girls,” is what she wanted.

Thanksgiving of 2018, Helen Story much on my mind as I prepared her recipes. Then I read about disappearing treadle sewing machines by Southern Writer, Tom Poland. Mama got a little closer. I opened the put-away sewing machine, now used as a table in the guest room. With a damp cloth, I dusted the cabinet including that big wheel that bit my fingers. Looking at the foot-petal I realized how tiny we were then. I carefully put my hand in the well and grabbed hold of the cold iron machine hidden so many years. And there it was, Helen Story’s $20 innovative clothing store for her daughters, Patricia, Diane and Barbara. Thank you Mama; you made us look so “nice.”






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