Friday, 6 December 2013

Decline and Fall of the Australian Clothing Industry

I get sad when thinking about the loss of industries like clothing manufacture, and disagreed strongly with Paul Keating in his interview recently with Kerry O'Brien (that four part documentary that finished last week) where he said that it was something he thought was a good thing, all these people losing their jobs in manufacturing. He said they just got a better job. Not only is that certain bollocks, but consider the loss of skill with these industries? Since almost nobody manufactures clothing in Australia and those who worked in the industry are literally dying off, we now rely on third world countries and China to make our clothing. We should all know that their conditions and wages are very significantly worse than those who worked in our factories. In what way does this make our country or the world better?
Now that we don't make our clothing here, all the equipment has also gone "offshore" permanently. I feel that we have lost something important. How can we be comfortable with relying on third world countries? How can we be OK with mistreatment of the people who make our clothes just so we can pay almost nothing. I know I felt better with a "Made in Australia" label (or Britain, Ireland, USA) because the workers were not mistreated. I can't support slavery just because the slaves are in a different country. Think about that when you buy your next piece of clothing.
My affection for vintage machines is an extension of my affection for quality, locally made garments. I love my Pinnock machines (although I don't use them currently). Made in Adelaide and beautiful things for sure. There's no need to pollute the air shipping them to Australia (ships can spew out any amount of pollution, as anti pollution laws don't apply to shipping), because they were proudly made here. Go into a shop and look at a new "plastic wonder" sewing machine. Made in China, plastic, electronic. Sure it seems to do everything you want it to, but try sewing through a couple of layers of denim and it won't. Ask about its warranty - 12 months? It will break down shortly after this (it's meant to). Now ask who fixes them and how much they'd charge! Not to mention the extreme discomfort that I for one get when the machine continues after I remove my foot from the controller (the computer feels it necessary to finish a cycle). Older machines don't break down often and if maintained to a basic standard they may never break down at all. Of the fifty or so old machines I've owned, only one has ever broken. The Singer 498 Stylist, and this was because Singer started using plastic gears in the late 1960s. However, it was still easy and cheap to fix, and to give it credit the original plastic gears did last over forty years.

So if you ever wondered why anyone would ever pay $20 for a t-shirt, now you know. If you ever wondered why I rave about a fifty something year old sewing machine, now you know.

Additionally, I do value a treadle: Summer in Australia always comes with power outages. In the middle of a seam? No problem, pop the machine into a treadle cabinet and in a minute or two you're finishing your seam.

Pyjamas for my daughter

These were from a Vogue pattern (EDIT: I lied! They were Simplicity. Number 5552 to be exact), which I just spent some time looking for (unsuccessfully). I'll edit it in when I find it.
(edited out the bit where I raved about vogue patterns - oy!). The garment was very pretty too. Here is the finished garment, modelled by my lovely child:
It was pretty easy to follow in general, and no doubt I'm becoming slowly better versed at interpreting these instructions, but the older the pattern, the more knowledge they assumed. Simply put, until about 50 years ago, most women bought patterns, fabric and notions then headed home to their sewing machine to put it all together. It wasn't a hobby, but a necessary part of life. For me it's a luxury, a hobby, but self sufficiency seems to be something I value more as I get older.

The pants were made on my VS2, the top on the 320k.
I'm now working on a pair (different design - mine are really a Vogue pattern).

Singer 401a

I bought a 401g (German made) a few months ago. Apparently it's a fantastic machine that can do everything. It's called "slant-o-matic" and I say apparently, because I don't use it. Well, I love sewing on the 320k so why change? The 401 was just there because I was told I had to have one, and it appeared.
So, now that it was sitting on the shed for months, I see a 401a (American version). This model is probably not as good and it said "doesn't work" on the ad. Well, how couldn't I have a go? I picked it up and had it fixed in no time. Can't even recall what the problem was, but was probably lint. SO which one to keep... You'd think the German version. It is truly more handsome and almost certainly better engineered and built. That's not just because of the German thing, but they were made later, in the 1960s. The American one stays, because it had a full set of accessories and the original manual. It was a one owner machine and apparently I value that sort of thing more!
Here is the 401g:
Isn't it lovely? When you look from the side you can see why it's called slant-o-matic:
And the 401a:

Very similar but it doesn't have that rocketeer thing happening at the top. Well, the differences when a machine is this good are stupid. It's like choosing whether to live in a mansion in Paris or a mansion in Switzerland: They're both such unbelievably good options that it doesn't matter!
The 401 has a vertical bobbin, so you can also do embroidery with it. As a bonus, this machine was designed so you can fit not just a needle into its needlebar, but two needles! Yes, two needles can go in, meaning you don't have to buy twin needles for special patterns.

Singer 201s are very common, not so popular

It's a bit sad really. The greatest domestic stitcher ever made is the Singer 201. It has specially hardened gears and does a perfect stitch. It sews through practically anything with no fuss whatsoever. In its day, it was, fittingly, the most expensive you could buy and Singer still sold millions and millions of them!
 From the moment I used one, my eyes widened and I was deeply impressed with the ease with which it did its job.
Lately there seems to be a flood of them on eBay and Gumtree, and of the last two I got, the first (last Saturday) was free in a cabinet. It was, admittedly, seized and took about two hours solid work to clean and lubricate it, than another ten hours to get it moving properly! The foot controller was also faulty and didn't work at all. It took only an hour to fix and adjust this because I didn't disassemble the carbon pile (the wiring was the problem). I now make a point of always removing any capacitors in foot or knee controllers, and always checking and cleaning the motors. Cleaning them improves contact between the brushes and the armature, and results in a stronger motor.
The second machine was $50, and I didn't actually want this one, but in the picture with the machine was a very nice looking Swiss Zigzagger! It seems I was the first person to call: First of dozens according to the lady. She said she'd done research and they seem to sell for about $50. I told her about the Swiss ZZ and that it was probably the reason for its popularity. Got the machine, attachment and a buttonholer into the car and went home. She had admitted that she had never cleaned, oiled or serviced it and when it got stuck she just pulled out whatever was obviously in the way and kept going again! Needless to say it had an unusual amount of lint and dirt. Additionally, the motor's wiring, like most knee machines, was really stuffed. I carefully replaced the dangerous bits and repaired any damaged insulation. The Swizz ZZ was is very good condition, and all pattern cams were present in their original package. The buttonholer was seized up (I'd never seen one so stuck), and it took days of jiggling to loosen it up. Still not happy with it, so more work required there.
Before I post pictures, I have to suggest why 201s aren't more popular. It is a domestic machine that only does straight stitch. That's it, simply, these days people either want a domestic to do everything or an industrial straight stitcher. The 201 is not to be ignored, however. Add a good zigzagger and buttonholer (which the lady had) and you have a machine that can not only do a perfect stitch but everything else you'd expect. It won't, however, do free motion embroidery/darning very well. Apparently the horizontal bobbin makes it difficult for the machine to maintain good tension doing this.
OK, so it can do almost everything. What are you waiting for? Go get one! They're cheap, easy to fix and use the most common Singer bits: Class 66 bobbins, 15x1 needles, all common attachments, common bulbs and drive belts etc.
The free one, aluminium machine from 1954
Now the $50 one:
Bobbin area

Lovely lovely lintfest
Bare wires and melted plastic
After a clean, she looks lovely
Incidentally, I generally sell these machines for what I paid plus whatever it costs in fuel and car wear and tear. This makes for a very quick sale, very happy people and a lovely machine that will immediately see more service.