Amor Veteris Mundi

In a world where a garment is cheaper than a sandwich, I wonder what the value of an old sewing machine would be.

We are swift consumers in a world of speed and consumption, especially fashionwise but not only. We see an outfit, we want it, we get it, we use it, and we throw it away to make room for another one with most likely a seemingly short-lived destiny. But let’s not be consumed with guilt over it. We were born into this. This speediness was not of our own making. We merely inherited it and took it to perfection. For this we ought to feel a slight remorse, it is true.


This speediness that defines our times brings to mind a text written in Romanian around the year I was born, that is nearly 45 years ago. It was true then and it is true now. And it goes like this: ‘’Every century has, perhaps, a mal du siècle of its own. Ours pushes us not to have patience… Waltzes, now? Who has time for waltzes, mon cher? We need something else to suggest the drunkenness of speed in formula one racing…Festina lente? Who said that? Ah, yes, we learned in our Latin classes that poets advised the Romans to hurry slowly, while armed cohorts made the roads of the empire tremble… But what’s the point of remembering outdated sayings? … We don’t want to go over the reasoning, to weigh the arguments, we want to jump straight to the conclusion, we don’t have the patience to read a whole book, we settle for a beautiful, wise phrase, that’s all.’’ (Caminante, Octavian Paler).

So, in such a world where living is rapid, I wonder what the point of an old Singer sewing machine is. I have one, I grew up with it in my grandmother’s house and since I started making clothes, which is quite late in my adult life, I can’t even think of parting with it although I do not use it. All my AWE collections and unique garments are made using professional sewing machines which are fast and efficient. And it is only natural that it should be so.

The sewing machine was an industrialist invention meant to decrease the amount of manual work in textile companies. And it additionally liberated women from hand sewing which thus was significantly reduced. It actually changed their lives for the better. It bought women time. And they used it to emancipate. To look for and engage in other jobs and activities. And this is exactly what my great-grandmother used it for: to repair old clothes and make new ones faster to save time. And I was told she was very good at it. She used to make small clothing items for her granddaughter, my mother, when she was a child. And then I remember her daughter, my grandmother, working on this machine, during the cold winter evenings of my childhood mending various garments for herself and for my grandfather. So, the Singer machine was like a silent partner in our family, helpful and handy when needed, beautiful and elegant in appearance, but quiet and dependable.

Perhaps, that’s why it is hard for me to part with it even though it has no use for me now and only occupies a considerably large place in the domestic space so small in our far too crowded world. The old sewing machine is the silent but bold witness of another world when things were homemade, slowly and thoroughly, nicely and carefully, out of genuine fabrics and genuinely beautiful textiles. Such sewing machines were used to make garments that lasted longer, even longer than a human life. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of most of the clothes made these days.

The picture above shows myself in a traditional Romanian blouse hand sewn entirely by my great-grandmother, the owner of this Singer machine. The blouse is not of course machine sewn, but it was sewn by her own hands before her marriage, which would place the making of the garment around 1900. So, this blouse I am awfully proud to wear whenever I get the chance, is nearly three times older than me and if I might add, it looks younger; not to mention more beautiful.

This might explain why in my fashion projects I partly turn for inspiration to the good old times when time itself was kinder and patient and things were made to last. And I am trying to replicate this formula as much as I can in what I do.

But to resume my rhetoric question above, I would say that the point of keeping a non-functional Singer sewing machine in a home today is precisely to serve as a live memory and a stop from falling into oblivion. To keep good things and beautiful people alive by remembering them.

And then I sit and wonder whether I stood any change of doing something else in my life considering this little personal history behind, except for clothes. That is for modern clothes looking much like the clothes of another time and place. I guess none.

This understanding reminds me of some other words of the same author, Octavian Paler, and of his famous question left unanswered: ‘’What is it we leave behind? A biography or a destiny?’’ Well, only time will tell, but it will be too late for us. Perhaps we will have our answer when the matter becomes old-fashioned altogether.

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