Last time I told you a bit about The Sewing Machine Project – an exhibition that Studio 21 are showing in October/November at South Hill Park Arts Centre. I thought I’d give you a bit of insight into the two pieces of work that I have made for the exhibition.
A sewing machine repeats its actions over and over again in a replicated sequence of rhythmical movement. These highly rhythmic repetitions mark the passing of time.
(From my entry in The Sewing Machine Project booklet)
I have used the fold and the seam, the most basic construction methods, to explore two themes.
For the first part of the project the group thought about the sensory effects of the sewing machine: its sound and its feel, and what the machine means to their practice. We each chose three words to describe our response. Mine were Repetition – Duration – Succession.
My first piece, Fold, is a response to these words and considers the relentless mechanical movements of the sewing machine: the way the needle punctures the fabric as it moves up and down, the action of the feed dogs and the of stop/start action of the machine user. I stitched, folded, pierced with wire and rolled eleven, 12 metre strips of cloth to represent the fundamental processes of the machine.
My second piece originated with a piece of historical research and looks at the domestic relief and benefits brought to women by the invention of the sewing machine.
It started with finding this interesting piece of information in Godey’s Lady’s Book. (Godey’s Lady’s Book was a magazine intended to entertain, inform and educate the women of America. The Lady’s book was produced in Philadelphia and included works of fiction, latest fashion, recipes for cleaning andeducational activities for children.)
‘In 1860 Godey’s Lady’s Book reported that the sewing machine was the ‘Queen of inventions’ and that a gentleman’s shirt required 20,620 stitches which at the rate of 35 stitches per minute took about fourteen hours and twenty six minutes to finish by hand. Operating a sewing machine at 3,000 stitches a minute, a seamstress could assemble a shirt in one hour sixteen minutes by machine’.
I thought I would try this out and see how long it would take to sew that many stitches by hand as opposed to by machine. I rounded the number of stitches down to 20,000 (I like round numbers) and got stitching. The result were two pieces of work. Seam I: 20,000 stitches (sewn by hand) and Seam II: 36 metres (sewn by machine).
I chose to do back stitch as I thought using running stitch a shirt would quickly fall to pieces! Well …. I can’t sew 35 stitches a minute! I only managed 10-15 stitches a minute (mostly nearer 10 than 15 minutes). 20,000 stitches final took me 30 hours and 38 minutes to complete and the seam was 36 metres long.
You can see how tiny the stitches are. I counted every stitch and inserted a little red marker thread every 50 stitches – I timed each session.
Seam II: 36 metres compares how long a 36m seam takes to sew by machine as opposed to by hand. And the answer is….
It’s definitely quicker to use a machine!
I’ve put all the research into a little hand-bound book that will be at the exhibition for you to look at.