While I didn’t know it at the time, my first exposure to hemstitching came when my former college roommate gave me a receiving blanket for my first child. She had made it from two pieces of flannel, back to back, and had crocheted a simple edge all the way around. When I first got it I thought it was nice but wasn’t overly impressed. However, as I used it, I found it was my favorite blanket for my son. It was soft, bigger than the store bought ones, and personal. When I next saw my friend, I asked her to show me how she had made the blanket.
For the next several years I began to make similar blankets for friends, each time painstakingly pushing my crochet hook through the two layers of fabric as I single crocheted around the edge to begin the first row of my decorative edge. At some point, my sister, who also liked the blankets, told me there was something called a hemstitching machine that would put the holes in the edge so I wouldn’t have to push my crochet hook through. I had never heard of this or seen it. My sister knew someone near where she lived in Salt Lake City who owned a hemstitching machine and, for a fee, would hemstitch the edges of my flannel.
So, over the next several years I managed to ferry my receiving blankets, one way or another, from Fairfax to Salt Lake City and back. I made more and more of these blankets and began to gather a large collection of varied patterns for crocheted edges. I received many compliments from my friends for the blankets – both for their beautiful appearance, practicality, and use by their children over a period of years. As time went on, more and more, I wanted to own a hemstitching machine. I had made some inquiries into whether or not new sewing machines could make this stitch, or something similar. Rarely did I talk with anyone about this who had any idea what I was talking about. I didn’t find a new machine that would make this stitch – although recently I was told some of the Elna’s do – and I knew I wasn’t in the market to spend thousands of dollars on a new machine even if I did.
Most of the hemstitching machines in use today are Singers from the early part of the 20th century. They were originally used to make decorative stitching in women’s clothing and fine linens. The machine makes small, bound holes. This is the only stitch the machine makes. It is this kind of machine, for example, the woman in Salt Lake City used to hemstitch my blankets. I began looking for one of these and found they came up for sale periodically on Ebay, in various states of repair, and were quite sought after. I tried several times to buy one but in the end was always unsuccessful – I would forget about the auction at the critical time, I would be outbid at the last minute, or the bidding went higher than I was willing to pay.
I then started searching Craigslist. I found one in Pennsylvania, but I made the mistake of thinking about it for a day. When I called back, the woman had already sold it to someone else who had called shortly after I hung up. I found another one and was persistent in letting the owner know I wanted the machine, but for various reasons, the sale didn’t happen. I stopped looking for several weeks and when next I searched Craigslist, there was one in Oregon, at a very good price, in working condition, and built into a sewing table with two drawers. This was a real find. I was able to get the machine shipped here (for more than I paid for it). With my husband’s help, we cleaned it up and oiled it and it has been working well ever since. That was two summers ago. I don’t know exactly when this machine was made, but probably in the 1930’s – the owner’s manual that comes with the machine is dated 1928.
Since getting the machine I have tried to promote the concept of hemstitching, and it has been a gradual process. I set up a website, www.hemstitchingforyou.com and have set up a table at some bazaars and craft fairs. My goal is for people to bring me fabric or items to hemstitch, although I also sell blankets that have been hemstitched, so others can crochet the edge, and I sell blankets on which I have crocheted an edge. I’ve had one customer who had me hemstitch on fabric that she was going to make into pillowcases and attach edging her grandmother had made. I have also hemstitched, and then crocheted, on the bottom of little girl’s dresses, as an embellishment.
A few years ago I joined the American Sewing Guild and have found that many of the members have new machines, and often multiple machines, that quilt, embroider, use computer programs, and do all kinds of sewing stitches. I think I have gone the other direction. I still use my 1976 Bernina 830 for basic sewing and now have an eighty year old machine that makes one stitch. Right now that’s about all I have time for and I’m enjoying trying to increase people’s knowledge about hemstitching.