Ginny Farquhar is half of the collaborative sewing team Alice & Ginny. She has co-authored a couple of charming sewing books, Sew Fabulous Fabric (2008) and Home Sweet Sewn (2009), both published by David & Charles. Ginny and Alice, who first met while at secondary school, are both after my own heart, being passionate thrifters, recyclers and textile upcyclers. They also offer sewing workshops (details below). Ginny blogs and tweets as Sweet Myrtle, and it was on Twitter that I first became aware of her. I can’t wait to delve into Ginny’s sewing-machine history, so let’s begin.
Scrapiana: Tell me about your first sewing machine, Ginny. What was its make, model and
colour? Did it have any distinguishing features?
Ginny: Strangely, I remember the actual day in 1984 when I got my very first sewing machine though not the actual choosing or purchasing of it. My mother had driven me into town and with us we had £160 to spend. This amount was the life insurance money that my dad had saved from my birth and which he gave to me when I became 16. I believe my sisters had saved theirs but I decided that I wanted to use it to buy my very own sewing machine as I had been using the family machine up to that point; my grandmother’s classic old hand wheeled Singer.
We stopped at the post office first and I remember being mortified as my mum in her vague Wendy Craig way (remember Butterflies), joined the queue at the front! Sadly I don’t remember anything else about the day other than my teenage embarrassment of my mother!
The machine I chose was a Frister and Rossman Beaver 3. On reflection it was an unattractive creamy colour and it had a brown vinyl dust cover which slipped over it completely except for the small metal spool pin which poked out the top in a rather pleasing fashion. I was as delighted with it. It was pretty sturdy except for the wee table attachment whose saving grave was a one drop down metal leg which created a little more stability and stopped it wobbling.
Scrapiana: Do you still have it?
Ginny: Sadly I no longer have the machine as I passed it on to as friend when I upgraded on my 30th birthday. My friend had been itching to start sewing and I am so pleased that my machine helped her on her journey. Years later she has joined an embroidery group in St Ives and passed the Beaver onto her daughter who used it through her art and fashion studies. I am unsure if it is still going now but delighted that it has been in continual use since 1984.
Scrapiana: How lovely to have helped two stitchers with one cast-off machine! Who taught you to sew? Were they a good teacher?
Ginny: I cannot remember being taught to sew prior to secondary school needlework lessons, though I probably picked up a lot from my elder sisters whilst making clothes for our Pippa dolls and creating costumes from clothes and fabrics in our dressing up box. I took O-level ‘Dress’ at school so learned good sewing and dressmaking skills there. The teacher was strict and the approach was traditional and formal, but it was taught well and I am extremely grateful to her (can’t remember her name now) as it was a very good grounding in the subject.
Scrapiana: Pippa dolls! Happy memories! I still have my bungled attempts at making clothes for my Pippa: fiddly work as she was so small. What’s your earliest memory of using your first machine? What did you make? Do you still have any of your early creations?
Ginny: When I first got the Beaver it was in my final year of school so I must have used it to complete my O-level Dress pieces; a brown wool skirt and a very attractive (note the sarcasm) peachy asymmetrical blouse. I also used it to make a dress for my school leavers do, which by today’s prom standard was nothing but a simple dress, although I do remember attaching the bodice to the skirt late in the evening at the dining room table, only to discover the next morning that I had attached the skirt with the seams on the outside!
At college I was into tie-dyeing sheets and whizzing them up into wrap skirts. I also used it to stitch detail onto paper fish for a mermaid costume I made whilst on my art foundation course. Thinking about it this machine had such heavy usage through its life with me as during my costume course and freelance costume making days it must have stitched through many different fabrics and created many costumes; the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe for the D’Oyly Carte Opera company to a rubber condom costume for a female comedians sketch show in the 90’s. I have also just realised that part of my wedding dress was stitched on the Beaver!
Scrapiana: Do you regret parting with it?
Ginny: I sometimes feel it would have been nice to have kept the machine and been able to pass it on to my daughters though I am happy that my friend and her daughter have made great use of it and I do believe that a machine is never happy stuck away in a loft!
Scrapiana: Very wise.What machine did you get next? And can you run us through your subsequent machines and their merits?
Ginny: My 30th birthday present, partially paid for by my husband, was my current machine, a Pfaff Tipmatic 6122. I especially like it as it has an integral walking foot, is of solid construction and it has stretch stitch options which at time of purchase was a real selling point as during this period I was making a lot of lycra dance costumes. It has also become my workhorse these past 13 years firstly used for costumes and then for making products for the retail market from recycled and vintage fabrics for the small business called folkydokee handmade that I ran with Alice Butcher for 7 years. All the projects that were created for our two subsequent craft books, ‘Sew fabulous Fabric’ and ‘Home Sweet Sewn‘ were sewn on either the Pfaff or Alice’s fantastic ‘vintage’ Bernina. I still use the Pfaff and my most recent sewn project is a kimono style top.
Scrapiana: What machine(s) do you have now?
Ginny: In addition to the Pfaff, I own the following machines; a wonderful ‘vintage’ Bernina Minimatic (in a classic red case), inherited from my mother in-law, a domestic Bernina Bernette overlocker, which I have recently dusted off to complete a viscose jersey hem for a friend and a very inexpensive Singer which has been useful for teaching purposes. My youngest daughter has a half sized Janome in her room and my mother has just passed on her modern basic Singer to us too.
I also have an industrial Bernina 950, which Alice and I bought when we had our joint studio space and were creating for folkydokee’ and exhibiting at Country Living and House & Garden fairs. We purchased it from a local guy who dealt in industrials and also hired them out for films. He told us that it had been hired out and used on one of the early Harry Potter films, and this may have been true as it does seem to have a mind of its own! It gets little use these days but they is something comforting about having it, probably as it reminds me of my early working in days in theatre costume departments.
Scrapiana: What an impressive array! Do you have your dream machine? If not, what would that be, if money were no object?
Ginny: I would be interested to try one of the all-singing, all-dancing modern stitch regulator embroidery machines. Also one which would enable me to design my own embroideries would be good. Having said that though, I do still love the honesty of a basic traditional machine, well made, solid and with great tension.
Scrapiana: And finally, are you more likely to *give* your sewing machine a name or *call* it a name? – i.e. curse at it? My machines are named after deceased family matriarchs!
Ginny: I do not name my machines though I do feel it is essential to stroke them from time to time, so that they feel loved and will ultimately behave well for me.
Scrapiana: Thank you for your patience in answering all these questions, Ginny. We’ve travelled with you all the way from the fairy queen to Harry Potter, so I can honestly say that it’s been magical!
If you’d like the look of Ginny’s brooches and necklaces, do take a moment to look at the tempting selection available to buy on the Sweet Myrtle site. You can also view galleries of her other work there, including her beautiful and rather ethereal photographs.
You can book Ginny (and Alice too) for family, community and adult courses, workshops and demonstrations. One of their most popular, Kick Start to Sewing, happily focuses on using and getting to know your sewing machine and is really useful both for newbies and those wishing to refresh their skills. If you’re within striking distance of Surrey/Hampshire, here are Alice & Ginny’s upcoming workshop dates:-
West End Centre Aldershot – 01252 33004 www.westendcentre.co.uk
Forever Young Sock Puppets Sat 18th June 10.30 – 12.30 £4/ person – family fun workshop
Textile fun Fri 12 August 10.30 – 4.30 ages 8 – 16yrs £25 – a day exploring decorative textile techniques
Farnham Maltings – 01252 745444 www.farnhammaltings.com
Learn to love your sewing machine Sat 11th June 10am – 4pm £45 – a sewing day for beginner sewers
Introduction to dressmaking patterns Sat 9th July 10am – 1pm £20 – a morning introduction to dressmaking