My Nan’s sewing machine
I have inherited my Nan’s Singer sewing machine, and after our visit home at the end of July, we finally managed to collect it from my parents house and bring it back here. We had to wait until we had a van as it’s really heavy. My Nan passed away back in 2007, and then the machine moved with my Grandad to his new home, where it lived in a cupboard. Then my Grandad passed away at Christmas and the machine has been at my parents’ ever since, but they knew I would really like to have it. I did a blog entry once before, when I’d been to visit my Grandad, and taken some photos of the machine when it was in the cupboard. I’d tried to find out how old it was from the Singer website, but because it was in the cupboard and not easy to see, I’d written the serial number down completely wrong and got the wrong model number and allsorts, which led to me dating it totally incorrectly! Oops!
My Nan worked as a glover like lots of people in Somerset, including my Grandad on my Dad’s side. There were lots of gloving companies with tannerys and factories in and around Yeovil, including Southcombe Bros, Burfield & Co, and Pittards. Nan started working at the age of 14, and the machine was bought, I think, from Southcombe Brothers, the firm my Nan worked for, based in Stoke sub Hamdon. They are still going today, and still produce the finest gloves in town, or maybe even the world! They now specialise in producing gloves for the fire service, police and military, as well as fashion gloves.
I’ve now checked the correct reference numbers on the machine with the Singer website, and found that it was manufactured in 1932 at the Kilbowie factory, in Clydebank, Scotland. This factory was opened in 1884, finally closing in 1980. It was the biggest machine manufacturing factory in the world. The model number, 46K15, is fixed to the side of the machine on a brass plate, and the unique serial number is on the front of the machine on a silver plate. So the machine is now 78 years old, and still looking good for it’s age I must say! I think, although I’m not 100% sure, that it is a prix seam machine, which is the style of sewing construction used. Prix seam is mainly used for men’s gloves as far as I know.
The machine is a heavy duty industrial model, hence the unique appearance, and was produced specifically for leather work and glove making. It isn’t as beautiful as some of the really ornate portable dressmaking machines, but it is beautiful to me! It is mounted on a wooden table top, above a black cast iron stand, with the treadle foot and foot lifter beneath, and is powered by a leather belt! It has 4 wooden wheels, and is VERY heavy! I have found some images and photographs of other 46K15′s on the Needlebar website (an antique sewing machine forum). Click here to look!
I can always remember the machine being in the spare room at my Nan’s when I was growing up. It used to have a blanket over it, which I always used to go in and take off! It used to really fascinate me, and I liked putting my foot on the treadle to see the wheel go round!
My Mum can remember the machine always being there when she was growing up. When my Nan bought it, it meant she was able to work from home. A man called John used to call to the house to deliver boxes of leather, which were already cut into basic glove shapes, and stacked in a thick pile, ready for sewing into gloves. My Nan then used to pair them up and stitch the fingers and sides, and trim the seams. The gloves were turned inside out (so they were the right way round!) and the seams had to be pushed out using a small stick. My Mum said she can remember both my Grandad and my Great Nan helping my Nan out by doing that job for her!
John would then return to collect the gloves, and bring more ready to be made up. I don’t think the gloves my Nan sent back were the finished article, but they were basically all made up and ready to have any embellishments or linings added. She used to stitch them in brown and black leather, and sometimes used to make Policemans gauntlets! Most of the finished gloves would have gone on to be supplied to shops and department stores around the country.
I like some of the details…there is still a reel of white cotton on the spool. I didn’t like to take it off, as it’s probably been there about 35 years! There are also some small scraps of black leather wedged underneath one of the clamps! I wonder how long they’ve been there? The machine must have got a bit wobbly at one point!
You can obtain old instruction manuals from the Singer website, in the form of PDF’s, for all makes and models of machine. I managed to get hold of the 46K15 manual, here are a couple of extracts…
Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve got any photos of my Nan with the machine, or even any photos with it in the background of a room anywhere, which is weird considering it was always there! Here is my favourite photo of my Nan, taken during the war.
We’ve stood the machine in the corner of the front room. I’m not sure if it still works or not. I think it probably would do if the belt was in a better condition (it’s come off of the wheels) and if the machine was cleaned up properly and oiled, I’m sure it would run like a dream! I think the last time it was in regular use was in the early to mid 1970s, before my Nan retired from gloving.
I’ve stood some plants on it and I’m really pleased to have it in Sheffield with me, and on show in the room to remind me of my Nan! I’ve cleaned it up a bit as it was very dusty. Maybe one day I will have a go at seeing if it still works, perhaps I’ll run up a pair of leather gloves for myself, who knows!?
.Here are some links -
If you have a Singer sewing machine, and want to find out the year of manufacture, click here.
To download old Singer instruction manuals, click here.
For the Southcombe fashion gloves website, click here.
For Southcombe Brothers industrial and protective gloves, click here.