How Her Grandmother’s Vintage Sewing Machine Came to the Rescue

Remembering her grandmother’s loving spirit, she sewed more than 100 masks for staff at a local hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Posted in , Feb 25, 2021

An artist's rendering of a vintage sewing machine with wings; Illustration by Dan Bransfield

I wasn’t sure whether my grandmother’s old sewing machine would still work. After much fumbling around, I finally got the bobbin threaded. I pressed lightly on the pedal and the old motor began to hum, whirring to life again. The little needle moved up and down, but then, all of a sudden, it stopped. Jammed. The stitches were a jumbled knot of threads. What had I done wrong? How could I get Grandma’s machine working again?

My mother and sister had gone through Grandma’s belongings after her memorial service and decided on the sewing machine for me. I wasn’t sure I was the right person for it, though. I hadn’t sewn since taking a class in high school. This would take some experimenting.

I opened the built-in drawer to find Grandma’s stash of bobbins, still strung with old pieces of thread. I held her tomato-shaped pincushion and thought of all the memories wrapped up in this machine. Grandma had become a seamstress out of necessity. As a missionary in Africa in the 1960s with four small children to clothe, she’d quickly learned how to sew almost everything they needed. Even my mother’s prom dress was a “Clara Golden original,” sewn entirely by my grandmother on her little machine in the Congo.

When my grandparents moved back to the States after 30 years of service, Grandma kept up with her sewing. She made matching Easter dresses for my sister and me, costumes for our school festivals, Christmas stockings with our names on them. She was always in search of a new project, whether it was teaching inmates at the women’s prison in our town or sewing dresses for orphans. But for the last several years of her life, dementia had left a withdrawn and silent woman in place of the strong, opinionated, loving grandmother I’d known.

To honor Grandma’s memory, I wanted a project to help people the way she had. With the stay-at home order in place because of Covid-19, I certainly had the time. So I dug out Grandma’s machine to sew masks. But first I had to get the machine working.

I ran my hand over the top to be sure I’d dusted it. And I noticed something I hadn’t before: a tiny stick-on label with “Clara Golden” printed on it. Just reading my grandmother’s name filled me with a new determination. I logged onto my computer to research how to get the machine going again. If Grandma could do it then, I could do it now. After hours of digging through old black-and-white manuals and vintage sewing tutorials online, I threaded the machine one last time. I held my breath and pressed down on the pedal. Hurrah! It worked!

I ordered 15 yards of red-, white- and blue patterned cotton and read up on how to stitch masks. In no time, my fingers were flying, steadily moving material under the very cooperative needle. When I had sewn enough masks for family and friends, I kept going. I listened to the familiar whir of the machine that had filled Grandma’s ears for so many years, and I felt her presence. With Grandma’s loving spirit right there beside me, I delivered nearly 100 masks to a hard-hit hospital in the area. Quite a big job for an old sewing machine.

A staff member met me outside to receive the donation. “Thank you,” she said, not knowing that any thanks for my efforts belonged to Grandma, who provided the inspiration. And to God, who provided the little machine that could.

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