Originally posted on March 12, 2018, by Cheryl Sleboda
Alex Askaroff is a machine history and repair expert as well as accomplished author from Sussex in the UK. Alex shares a little more about himself and the trade in this interview.
For those that are not familiar with you, tell us a little about how you got involved with sewing machine collecting and repair?
I grew up in the sewing industry, my earliest memories are running around factory cutting tables and picking up pins for machinists. It gets a bit embarrassing when some tell me they used to change my nappy!
It would be so hard to choose a favorite, but do you have a favorite in your collection?
In my Sewalot Collection have one machine for every day of the year but there is a unique model called The Dolly Varden, named after a character created by Charles Dickens. The imaginary Dolly became so famous that in the late 19th Century the ‘Dolly Varden’ fashion swept the world. It even ended up on sewing machines made by the American giant New Home. I have a great page on her on my Sewalot Site.
A Singer Featherweight from Alex’s articles in Machine Quilting Unlimited.
We don’t think about innovations in sewing machines that much in our day to day life, but I’m sure you have seen an innovation or two that was exciting. Is there one in sewing machines that sticks out to you as particularly amazing?
Oh yes, and for all the wrong reasons! Sewing machines have kept pace with technology (not really sure why as 90% of stitching is still good old straight line stuff). HOWEVER the Brother Compal Galaxie answers back! Let me explain. When the machine is running well all is fine, a modern marvel, but when it has a ‘glitch’ it turns my life upside down. I try to sew, the machine over-rides the power to the foot and cuts it off. Then a voice (a little like our old Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) erupts ” YOU HAVE EXTENDED YOUR BLUE BUTTON HOLE LEVER. YOU CANNOT CONTINUE!” Of course I haven’t even been near any lever, so I try again. This time the beast grabs control, “YOU HAVE NOT LOWERED YOUR PRESSER FOOT. YOU CANNOT CONTINUE!” A simple computer problem has transformed me into a fuming kettle with steam trumpeting out of my ears. Luckily it is one of the few machines that talk. It is the only machine I repair that I often end up arguing with! We usually make friends in the end.
Your writing about sewing history is complimented by your books about the coast of England. What made you want to be a writer?
I come from a long line of writers like Matilda Mackarness and J R Planche. They were friends with people like Charles Dickens, A C Doyle, Beatrix Potter, Oscar Wilde, and many more. Crazy as it seems many of their books are still in print. My book on Isaac Singer went straight in at Number 1, so I guess it is in the blood. If I see a piece of blank paper there is an uncontrollable urge to fill it with information. I have never understood it. Do I need therapy?
What’s one thing the home sewist can do to keep their machine in the best working order?
Oh that is the simplest thing, really it is. Simple cleaning is all most machines need, unless something serious has happened (who hasn’t sewn over something too thick and thought that was close!). Sewing machines seem to me to have a gender, some are male some are female.
People who sew a lot often have an affinity with their best machine and often give them names. I’m sure all machines work better when they have names. I have a customer who sews on ‘Clackety Clara’, a 1940’s Singer 96 industrial made up in Kilbowie, Scotland. She has used the machine since leaving school at 14. When Clara starts to mess around with the tensions, she gets some soothing words and starts to sew properly again. Crazy but true. I have one customer who calls her machine Merlin as she say’s its magic. I have one called Pavarotti as she paid a tenner for it (£10 English money).
Real maintenance is about being aware of your machine, the feel, the sound, it’s moods and its limits. When you are stressed, the machine is stressed, and the work is stressed. To keep your machine happy, stay happy yourself. Not as easy as it sounds but give it a try and you will see I am right. Bye for now and happy stitching!
Thanks for chatting with us, Alex! To see more of his work and read about all manner of machine history, visit www.sewalot.com. To read about the Singer Featherweight, check out Alex’s two part articles in the January/February and Mach/April2018 issues today!