Old Times and New” is by Margaret, a subscriber to Robert Merry’s Museum; it moves from a nostalgic comparison of “the good old days” with the “artificial age” of 1858, to a paean to the newly patented sewing machine, which was revolutionizing American homelife in ways that later generations might find surprising.

“Old Times and New,” by Margaret (from Robert Merry’s Museum, August 1858; pp. 49-53)

“Give me the good old times,” exclaimed my grandfather, “and you are welcome to all your modern improvements. I tell you what, your fore-fathers and fore-mothers understood the true art of living and being happy. Those olden times were more juicy and fragrant, the olden customs more genial and hearty, the social intercourse more piquant, spicy, and romantic than anything that you know of in this artificial age. You don’t begin to have the genuine unadulterated frolic and fun that your grandfathers and grandmothers had in those days, when they rose with the lark, and retired with the robin.

“Well do I remember when I popped the question to your grandmother. She was the belle of the village, the jewel of all the country round. Her father was a judge, and the richest man

p. 50

in the county. I called on her about three o’clock in the afternoon, and found her spinning in the arbor. She welcomed me cordially, but did not suspend her work. She was dressed neatly and well, in garments of her own making. She had spun and woven the whole material, as my mother and sisters had done that of my own dress. I had arranged my toilet with great care, had my queue dressed in excellent style, and looked, as you see, altogether comme il faut. Your grandmother was just enough of a coquette and a tease, to test a lover’s diplomacy, and make the courtship spicy and interesting. I shall not tell you all the particulars—but, ‘all’s well that ends well,’ and nothing in this world ever ended better than that.”

He would have run on some time longer, but, just then, I was in the mood for asking questions, so I begged him to tell me how they managed to weave large pieces of cloth by hand. Whereupon he made me a little sketch of his father-in-law’s kitchen, just as it was when he used to go there court-

p. 51

ing the Judge’s daughter—the Judge, with his pipe, on one side of the great fire-place, his wife near him, busy with her knitting, while the daughter was at the loom, weaving. The old spinning-wheel stood in the corner behind her.

“There,” said he, showing me the picture he had drawn, “imagine me, just stepping in at the door, on the opposite side. What I said, and how she answered me, I shall keep to myself. But how she managed her loom, I will tell. She sat, with one foot upon a treadle, by bearing down upon which, an opening was made between the threads of the warp, throwing one half of them up, and the other half down, so that the shuttle could pass between them. She then pushed the shuttle through, and caught it in on the other side. By moving the treadle again, the order of the threads in the warp was reversed, so that those threads which were up before were down now, and the shuttle was then thrown back.”

p. 52

“Stop a moment, dear grandpa, if you please,” said I. “I don’t know what you mean by warp and shuttle, and all these strange words you have been using.”

“Oh!” he replied, “I forgot that you are a child, and know nothing of the good old times. The threads which make the length of the cloth are called the warp. They are stretched evenly across the loom, and wound round a beam, which revolves as the loom works, and lets off just as much, each turn, as is wanted. The threads that run across are called the filling, which is contained in the shuttle, and unwound as the shuttle passes back and forth through the warp.”

“Dear me,” I exclaimed, “I am glad I was not grandmother, to be obliged to do such hard work as that.”

“So am I, my dear,” said grandpa, with a smile, that was so funny, I could not help laughing.

“But,” he added, “what would you think of making cloth on such as that which the women of India formerly used. I suppose your grandmother could make five yards, or perhaps more, while they made one.”

“Yes, dear grandpa,” said I, “but our factories are much better. They can make a hundred, or, perhaps, a thousand, while grandmother would make one.”

“Ah, you rogue!” he replied, “you have got me there, and so we will turn the subject; that is to say, I will come round on your side. You will laugh, and have a right to, when I tell you I have just been buying a sewing-machine for your Aunt Mary. She sits too constantly at her needle, and is wearing herself out with doing all the work for her large family. I am going to set some of the girls at work, and let your aunt have a little rest. I shall send her off, for a few weeks, to Uncle Henry’s, where she can grow young again, and when she comes back, she shall find all the sewing for the winter done up, as if by magic.”

He then took me into his room, and made me sit down to the machine, while he explained its mechanism and operation. In a few moments I became quite expert, so that I could sew at the rate of nearly a yard in a minute.

It was some time before he could make me understand how a stitch could be made by a needle, which did not go through the cloth, but I understand it now, and am fully satisfied that it is the very best thing in the world to lessen woman’s toil, and save the health and the lives of thousands.

The machine which grandpa had bought was Wheeler & Wilson’s, he having examined all kinds, and approved this as the best. I should like to have the young Merry girls, who no doubt are all industrious, and have a great deal of sewing to do, understand

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how this machine works, and what kind of a stitch it makes; and I hope they will all have one to do their work for them, so that they can have more time for reading, exercise, and pleasure.

The stitch, as seen in the diagram, is formed with two threads, one working always above the cloth, and the other below it. The needle, with the eye near the point, carries the upper thread down to the lower side of the cloth, where it is immediately taken and

Diagram of the Stitch.

interlocked with the lower one. The needle, flying rapidly back, draws the stitch tight. Thus, you see, the stitch is formed in the middle of the cloth, and the work looks the same on both sides. The work goes off like magic. Only think of it—one thousand stitches in a minute—a whole shirt, or a pair of sheets, finished in an hour, and a new skirt, or a plain dress, made up in the leisure of a morning, so that it can be worn in the afternoon. The entire spring and fall work of a family may be done up in one rainy week, and not an hour lost for out-of-door exercise and health. And then, don’t mention it aloud, because the boys will laugh, the machines work so beautifully, so like magic, that the young men, and even some old ones, are infatuated to take all the sewing into their own hands. I know of one man who recently made several night-gowns, three or four pairs of pants, and two skirts, all in one afternoon, and then, like Alexander of old, cried out for more.

If we could make use, in this way, of some of those brainless fops, who make fashionable calls in the morning, or waste all our best evenings with their nonsense, it would be a very economical and sensible reform. Some of our country friends employ goats, or sheep, to keep the churn going. Why should not city folks employ their brother dandies to turn their sewing-machines?

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