Tag Archives: Simplicity Prevue 1939

Thinking About Sewing Machines

Sewing; Butterick's Delineator magazine, July 1924.

Sewing; Butterick’s Delineator magazine, July 1924.

A recent post from Two Nerdy History Girls reminded me that I have some vintage sewing machine advertisements to share. The Two Nerdy History Girls linked to an article in the July 2015 Smithsonian magazine, “How Singer Won the Sewing Machine Wars.” An interesting read, pointing out the various features — and business practices — that helped Singer to dominate the American market. For an excellent, illustrated overview of sewing machine history by Terry’s Fabrics, click here.

Singer ran a full page ad in October, 1939 to celebrate its fiftieth year of producing electric sewing machines.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, Oct. 1939.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, Oct. 1939. Let’s not take the feed dog, which moves material through the machine at a steady pace, for granted! in 1939, “88 years ago” would be 1851.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, October, 1939.

From a Singer Sewing Machine ad in Simplicity Prevue, October, 1939. In 1939, “50 years ago” would mean 1889.

Electricity in private houses was not usual in the 19th century — gas lighting was then more modern than candles and kerosene lanterns, but all were in use. Most home sewing machines were run by human energy: a hand crank or a treadle.

A Singer Treadle sewing machine. Image from pastiane blogspot.

A Singer Treadle sewing machine. Image from pastiane blogspot.

I learned to sew on an electric machine belonging to my Girl Scout leader, but I made parts of my college wardrobe on a treadle (foot-powered) machine very much like this one. It was down in my parents’ laundry room, and it worked, so I used it.

A woman using a treadle sewing machine in the 1940s. I used one in the 1960s.

A woman using a treadle sewing machine in the 1940s.  I used one in the 1960s.

There have been times since then, when I was sewing velvet or other tricky fabrics, or trying for a very exact needle placement on each stitch, when I wished I still had a treadle machine, because it gave absolute control:  when you push the peddle, the machine makes one stitch. You can go as slowly as you want, and stop exactly where you want — take one more stitch into a corner, for instance. Of course, I usually appreciate my electric sewing machine’s speed and the many other functions that you didn’t get with my treadle machine — like a reverse gear for backstitching, zigzag and hem stitches, easily adjusted stitch length, and a built-in light so you can see what you’re sewing. Many of these improvements came twenty years after this ad:

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, March 1917.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, March 1917. “You don’t have to pedal it.”

“. . . Every disadvantage of the old-fashioned sewing machine was thrown aside. You don’t have to pedal it — a pressure on the foot control starts that motor, regulates the speed and stops motor instantly. You can sew all day without tiring — and at a cost of about one-half cent an hour for current.” 1917.

Of course, before home electricity, and before the big treadle machines, there were small, hand-cranked ones.

VIntage hand-crank sewing machine.

Vintage hand-crank Singer sewing machine.

In the 1950’s, I had a toy sewing machine. (I wonder what sexist relative assumed that I’d like one of those– presumably to go with my toy stove and my toy iron? Not my idea of fun! Besides, my mother expected me to do real housework with real sweepers and vacuums and irons.)

My toy sewing machine was much like this vintage Singer. Turning the crank produced a chainstitch — no bobbin thread was necessary.

Which makes me wonder:  Why did makers of the first sewing machines expect you to do the easy part — turning a crank — with your right hand while guiding the material with your left hand?  And now that we’re aware that a majority of people are right handed, why do they still make sewing machines that way? And why do they always have the part you really need to focus on (the needle and presser foot) off to the left side instead of in the center? Just asking….

I don’t have any sewing machine ads from earlier than 1917, but the selling points mentioned through the 1930’s certainly make me appreciate my thirty-year-old , all metal, Pfaff.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, Delineator, April 1917.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, April 1917. “You can use it on the porch.”

$35 was a lot of money in 1917; one way the Singer company gained dominance over rivals like Western Electric was that Singer offered the first installment plan in the U.S.

Portability was not a new concept; the early hand-cranked machines were portable. But in a world without air-conditioning, many women appreciated a chance to work outside on a breezy porch in the summer. You still needed a source of electricity, however, and most houses did not have base outlets in the walls.

Western Electric Sewing machine ad, March 1917.

Western Electric Sewing machine ad, March 1917.

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Mar. 1917. You can use it anywhere there is a light socket."

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Mar. 1917. “You can use it wherever there is an electric light socket.”

That’s right; instead of plugging into the nearest wall outlet, you unscrewed the light bulb — most rooms only had one in 1917, since houses like my grandmother’s were built during the gaslight era. Then you screwed the sewing machine’s cord and adapter into the light socket.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, Oct. 1917.

Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine Ad, Oct. 1917.

This ad emphasizes the convenience of a portable electric sewing machine, which takes up less room than a treadle machine.

Top of sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917.

Top of sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917.

Bottom of Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine ad, Ladies' Home Journal, Oct. 1917.

Bottom of Western Electric Portable Sewing Machine ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, Oct. 1917. “With a Western Electric 2-way Plug you can operate both the machine and a lamp from a single socket at the same time.”

The 2-way plug was a stroke of genius; you could have a light bulb and a sewing machine going at the same time! (Just in case you wanted to see what you were doing….)

Sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917.

Sewing machine ad, Oct. 1917. “Connect to any light socket.”

A light directly over the needle and work area was a selling point for Singer in this 1937 advertisement:

Singer Sewing Machine ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937.

Singer Sewing Machine ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937.

Notice the 1937 reference to treadle machines…. Many were still in use.  In fact, we now take for granted the wonderful new things this 1937 sewing machine could do.

Singer Sewing Machine Ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937. Full page ad.

Singer Sewing Machine Ad, Butterick Fashion News, Dec. 1937. Full page ad.

It could reverse! (On a treadle machine, you have to rotate the entire piece of fabric 180 degrees to backstitch at the end of a seam.)

Singer Ad, Dec. 1937. "Sew backward or forward."

Singer Ad, Dec. 1937. “Sew backward or forward.”

Singer ad, Dec. 1937. You can sew over pins!"

Singer ad, Dec. 1937. You can sew over pins!

Of course, professionals do not sew over pins today, but we did when I learned to use a home sewing machine.

"I was still struggling with my old treadle machine..." Singer sewing machine ad, 1937.

“I was still struggling with my old treadle machine, as out-of date as a 1910 car. Now I’ve traded it in for the grandest Singer made — and am I tickled!” Singer sewing machine ad, 1937.

Singer’s willingness to accept trade-ins was another reason for the company’s success. Of course, the deluxe, non- portable models were still being presented as important pieces of furniture:

Singer ad, 1937.

Singer Anniversary Model ad, 1937. It had “A lovely period cabinet.”

Which period? Don’t get picky!

Singer sewing machine cabinet, closed and posing as a side table. 1937.

Singer sewing machine cabinet, closed and posing as a side table. 1937.

Singer sewing machine cabinets disguised as living room and dining room furniture. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930.

Singer sewing machine cabinets disguised as living room or dining room “fine furniture.” Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930.

This Singer, disguised as a “library table” when not in use as a sewing machine,  “is most frequently placed . . . in the living room. There it is admired by guests for its simple beauty in design. They would never guess . . . that this attractive table is really a sewing machine. . . . All its lines express simplicity and good taste.”

Singer ad, Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

Singer ad, Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

Of course, my family wasn’t the only one to own a foot-powered treadle machine long after these luxurious Singer models appeared. For one thing, sewing machines were expensive. And those treadle machines just kept working. (A delightful company that makes historic re-enactment clothing is Treadle Treasures; when I corresponded with  Heather a few years ago, she was still using treadle machines for special jobs.)

If you didn’t want to buy a new electric sewing machine, you could purchase a little motor to run your old treadle machine:

Ad for Hamilton Beach Motored Appliances -- a motor for your treadle sewing machine. Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

Ad for Hamilton Beach Motored Appliances — an external motor for your treadle sewing machine. “You just set it under the hand wheel of your sewing machine and sew without pedaling. Both hands are free to guide the material….” Better Homes and Gardens, 1930.

It was also possible to buy attachments for your sewing machine; I’m not sure how this zigzag attachment for a straight stitch machine actually worked, but unless your machine has zigzag capability, you have to make most of your buttonholes by hand. (When using a treadle machine, I bought patterns that called for zippers, not buttonholes.)

Singer zigzag attachment advertised in Butterick Fashion News, May 1938.

Singer zigzag attachment advertised in Butterick Fashion News, May 1938. “Fits on any modern Singer machine.”

I’m just guessing that the needle stitched in a straight line while the attachment pushed the fabric back and forth?

Even stranger was a Singer attachment that enabled you to make rugs on your sewing machine:

Singer sewing machine attachment advertised in 1934.

Singer sewing machine attachment advertised in 1934. “All you need is the Singercraft Guide — a simple attachment that fits any sewing machine.”

“All you need is the Singercraft Guide — a simple attachment that fits any sewing machine. For the materials, use rags, old stockings, or wool yarn. The result is amazing. . . . Get Complete Singercraft Set, including Book, Guide, transfer patterns and instructions — for 50 cents.” (The Depression may have had something to do with this rug maker.)

This hemming attachment — with free embroidering attachment — cost a dollar in 1929.

Hemstitcher attachment ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

Hemstitcher attachment ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

If you sew, take a minute to appreciate how much sewing machines have improved over the years.

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

Western Electric Sewing Machine ad, Ladies Home Journal, Nov. 1917.

“It is the modern way. . . .” It’s so modern, that the model has bobbed hair, which was just becoming acceptable in the U.S.A.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1930s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

Indestructible Breast Forms, 1939

Ad for Nu-Wa Style Assist Breast Forms, Simplicity Fashions Prevue, October 1939.

Ad for Nu-Wa Style Assist Breast Forms, Simplicity Fashions Prevue store flyer, October 1939.

Well, doesn’t she look perky! In spite of some problems in the printing process, this young lady is smiling ear to ear because of her Indestructible Nu-Wa Style Assist Breast Forms. I suppose that should be pronounced “New-Way,” but it says “Nu Wah” to me.

Cover, Simplicity Fashions Prevue from S.S. Kresge Co., Oct 1939.

Cover, Simplicity Fashions Prevue from S.S. Kresge Co., Oct 1939.

The flyer came from S. S. Kresge (a chain store similar to Woolworth’s), so in addition to the latest Simplicity patterns, it contains ads for other products you could buy at Kresge’s, which included: shoe dyes, curlers, chewing gum, deodorants, compacts, sanitary napkins, back to school supplies, buttons, and Nu-Wa falsies, or bust improvers.

Nu Wa Style Assist: A "Nature-Soft" and Shaped Breast Form Aid. Oct. 1939.

Nu Wa Style Assist: A “Nature-Soft” and Shaped Breast Form Aid. Oct. 1939.

“Indispensable in the fitting of This Season’s Stylish Gowns, which are designed for full, natural bust. NU-WA MAKES THE WAIST SEEM SMALLER. Wear NU-WA in the Specially Designed Pocket Bando, which holds each one securely, immovably in place — UNDETECTED.

Back in the 1920s, a “bandeau” was usually worn to suppress the breasts:

Bandeaux. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

Bandeaux. Picture from Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

But this “Bando” is more like a modern brassiere, with “pockets” to hold the “indestructible forms” in place. (“Crushed?” Indestructible?” This girl led an exciting life.)

Ad for Nu-Wa Style Assist Breast Forms, Simplicity Fashions Prevue, October 1939.

The “pocket bando.”

“Nu-Wa is ventilated, comfortable, washable; adopted by you, it becomes YOUR FIGURE. When crushed down, always resumes right shape and size . . . .”

“NO. 31 STYLE ASSSIST FORMS 25 cents A PAIR;

“NO. 32 POCKET BANDO TO FIT SAME 25 cents EACH.

“SIZES TO FIT  32 – 34- 36  NORMAL FIGURES.

“You can buy without embarrassment at Bando and Brassiere Counter.”

Of course it’s not embarrasing to buy a “Style Assist” so your clothes will fit better. And waists were definitely supposed to be small in 1939; just look at that red suit on the cover of the Simplicity flyer. cover top 500Yep. Her bust does make her waist look smaller.

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Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Bras, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc