Janice Schick and her obsession with vintage sewing machines

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Janice Schick is so passionate about vintage sewing machines that to get one, she once found herself in a situation straight out of a slasher movie.

In 2018, she saw an ad on Facebook Marketplace offering a range of items available a tan abandoned house – appliances, furniture, typewriters – near Greenwood and Danforth, not far from Schick’s apartment. One thing caught her eye: a 1950s Singer 191 sewing machine, made of black cast iron, a model so rare that she compares it to an eight-track tape recorder.

(Check out other great collections like Mark Henderson’s Hollywood Nostalgia and “The World’s Weirdest Recycling Center” on SkullStore.)

“I met the real estate agent of this house which was completely gutted, the power was cut”, she recalls. “As we go down to the basement, I think, ‘I’m the dumb girl from the horror movie who gets killed in a haunted house. “”

Fortunately, she survived — and bought the machine — but the adventure demonstrated to Schick, who works as a lawyer for an insurance company, the efforts she will make to add to her collection.

Schick’s apartment is filled with nearly 40 machines. All functional and in colors as vibrant as light pink and green, they stand out in display cases, on a shelf or atop her wardrobe. Books such as “Vintage Couture Tailoring” and “Techniques of Japanese Embroidery” share space on the shelves.

In her living room is an art-deco Singer sewing table, made of mahogany veneer, on which Schick repairs and cleans some of the machines she buys from collectors she mainly meets online.

For Schick, it is only natural that she has been collecting vintage sewing machines for 15 years. “Growing up in Chilliwack, BC, we all learned to sew, and my mom often made our own clothes,” she says. “Today, my wardrobe is probably half the stuff I’ve made myself in the last two years. Basically, in our family, if you didn’t sew, you were a loser.

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25 - Janice Schick collects sewing machines and owns about 32, some dating back to 1904. I had a business.  in Toronto.  March 25, 2022. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

It is also their beauty that attracts him. “I didn’t realize how many patterns and designs they had on their bodies,” she says. “And I love vintage stuff, always have. I have no interest in modern sewing machines, which are often made with cheap plastic parts inside.

She is holding a silk organza blazer. “The lapels and the collar alone took the first season of ‘X Files’ from me,” she says.

Schick gestures toward the Roman shades in her kitchen, sewn from a dazzling red fabric dotted with colorful flowers. “Yeah, I did that too,” she said, “and the blinds in my living room.”

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25 - Janice Schick collects sewing machines and owns about 32, some dating back to 1904. I had a business.  in Toronto.  March 25, 2022. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

All but one of her machines are electric, and she says three-quarters of them originally worked to some degree but either had to be refreshed or rewired or had parts that needed replacing. “A few were completely enclosed, as lint accumulates around the bobbin under the bobbin plate. If it’s not cleaned, it compresses over time and the used oil and hardens like granite,” she says. “It’s more difficult, but I learned a lot.

The machines in her collection, for which she paid between $15 and $150, feature a range of decorations, such as the Singer 66’s intricate red and green pattern called “Red Eye.” She bought it in 2018 from a Michigan woman who met her in Sarnia in the parking lot of a Tim Horton.

Schick points to another Singer classic, the 127, dubbed the “Sphinx” because of its golden imagery of the mythical Egyptian creature. Also purchased in 2018, this machine is only $15 at a local Value Village. “It was an absolute mess,” she says. “I had to use a paint scraper to remove the old hardened grease from the moving parts underneath and just put a different motor on it because the wiring was stuck together.”

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25 - Janice Schick collects sewing machines and owns about 32, some dating back to 1904. I had a business.  in Toronto.  March 25, 2022. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Among her machines are some from the early 20th century, such as the Singer 27 from 1903. She recently purchased an 1885 Singer with a violin base, the bottom of which resembles a stringed instrument. What also makes this one unique is its pedal, which is mechanically operated by a pedal pushed back and forth.

In addition to Facebook Marketplace, she scans eBay and a Facebook group for sewing machine collectors. “There is such a community of collectors and we try to get together on Zoom every Friday,” she says. “We talk and work on our machines or our projects. It’s like an old fashioned virtual bee.

When asked if there’s a particular machine she’d like to own, she shares a common complaint from collectors, especially those who live in small apartments. “Actually, I need more space,” she says. “It gets really crowded here.”

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