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Ronda Rich: The sweet sound of a Singer sewing machine
ronda rich
Ronda Ronda Rich is the author of "Theres A Better Day A-Comin." - photo by File photo

Ronda Rich

Syndicated Columnist

Mama loved to sew and was remarkably gifted at it. She had the mountain people common sense, which allowed her to decipher the most complicated situations.

When I was 4, I admired a dress in the window of a local department store. It was pale green with lace around the neck, sleeves, waist, with rows around the skirt that included a stiff petticoat.

From Mama, simple dear Mama who grew up on a Sears-Roebuck catalog, I developed an eye for design and have always been quick to catch the latest style trends. That day, while Mama was inside buying a package of hose (in the days before pantyhose), I stared at the pale green loveliness and daydreamed of prancing into church, wearing such a stunning dress.

Package in hand, Mama emerged from the store and inquired as to what had caught my fancy.

I pointed to the dress. “Isn’t it pretty?” I sighed. “I wish I had it.” Even at 4, I knew that was impossible. We bought only necessities in our family and either made the rest or went without.

Mama looked at the dress and nodded. “It’s very pretty.” I watched as she moved around to study the dress from every angle.

“Let’s go over to the cloth store and see if we can find material like that.” Lo and behold, in the basement of the Belk store, Mama found fabric in the same color and lightweight cotton. She guessed on the yardage for the fabric and lace.

At home, Mama cut a pattern from a newspaper. She measured carefully like a mathematician who was designing a space ship. Three days later, she snipped the final thread from the sewing machine and presented it to me. It was identical to the one in the window. In fact, a few asked if she had bought it at that store where it had been in the window.

Mama taught me many things. While the art of sewing is quickly disappearing, I blessedly possess the skill. I used to stand up in her chair, behind her, my hands on her shoulders, watching every move she made with the sewing machine. Even though I was a mere toddler, she’d often explain, “When you finish at the end of a seam, backstitch a couple of times so the seam won’t unravel.”

At 6, I received a tiny metal sewing machine for Christmas and began making Barbie doll clothes. Mama taught me to use her heavy metal Singer sewing machine, which I still have, at age 8. I used it, when Mama wasn’t sewing for customers (this is how she put me through college), for the next 15 years.

After college, it was time to buy my own sewing machine. I studied all the consumer recommendations and bought the highest-rated one – a Sears Kenmore which I bought from my Aunt Kathleen. It cost a mountain of money -- $650. I paid for it, on time, for 12 months.

It was a humdinger. For over 30 years, I created wonderful, incredible clothes using difficult Vogue patterns or my own designs, often inspired by the breathtaking style of Princess Diana.

Though it was a Kenmore, I still admired Singer. The first stock I ever bought was Singer. It promptly went bankrupt due to competition from Japanese and European companies. I lost the battle but the war was not over.

Singer reorganized, bought some of its competitors and moved its headquarter to LaVergne, Tennessee. About a year ago, the Kenmore that had served me so well, just up and died out of the blue. It had never posed one problem. I found a repairman who reported that the inside parts had turned to dust and could not be replaced.

Recently, I bought a new Singer, out of nostalgia, for $109. I didn’t expect much but it hums sweetly and runs beautifully.

After all the years, Singer and I are happily reunited.

Ronda Rich is a bestselling author. Her new novel is “ST. SIMONS ISLAND: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.”

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