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100 masks from a 100+ year Singer treadle machine

When Karen Liston posted that she had produced 100 mask covers from her 100+

year old treadle sewing machine, I just knew there was a story that needed to be shared!

Her story is one that spans

generations, history, resilience, and hope.


Karen inherited this treadle Singer sewing machine, from her grandmother when she was just six years old. She learned to sew on this 114-year-old sewing machine which had been made in 1906. Being so little she had to stand and operate the treadle with her foot. Prior to that, she had already been learning how to hand-sew and embroider.


The joy that Karen shares when she is talking about her machine is obvious: “This is my most treasured item and it still works so amazingly well! It has a beautiful stitch as long as it is used to sew woven cotton”. This is why it was perfect to sew these cotton mask covers, she tells me. Apart from varnishing the cabinet about 25 years ago and occasionally having to change the belt, the machine has required very little maintenance. In fact, it was in better working order than Karen’s other electric sewing machine which had broken down when the mask cover initiative began.


Over the years she has used this sewing machine to sew beautiful valences and draperies. When she joined the TX n95 Covers Initiative, she fossicked through her fabric collection and found fabric that was perfect. She also discovered large reels of bias tape that she had purchased years ago from a mill that had closed down in North Carolina. Everything fell into place!



As she sewed the covers, she could not help but reflect on her granny’s journey and legacy with this machine. Her Dad, the youngest of nine children was born during the Great Depression in the 1930s, on a farm in Illinois. His grandmother, a widowed mother, was a professional dressmaker before the depression and passed on her wonderful sewing skills to her daughter (Karen’s granny). When their farmhouse burned down in 1934, leaving the family with nothing but the clothes on their back, one of the first things her granny bought was this Singer sewing machine which she used to stitch every piece of clothing for her nine children. There was no electricity in rural Illinois in those days, so the treadle machine was essential to making sure the family was clothed during those hard times.


Karen notes that her sewing skills were not exactly passed down to her (especially not from her Dad, she laughs) and her passion for sewing seems to be “in her blood” even though she was only six when her granny passed away.


One thing is for sure Karen - your granny must have been sitting right beside you and your beloved Singer treadle machine as you sewed those mask covers - proud that her legacy, skills, passion, and resilience had been passed to you to help others in this time of crisis.


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