Marion McKinsey knows so much about the history of the sewing machine that she can’t wait to share stories about them.
“I’m interested in antiques and interested in sharing information,” said McKinsey, 88, who began talking sewing machines Monday as soon as a Gazette-Times reporter and photographer arrived. And when we left, she said she could have kept talking for two more hours.
“When I do something I dive in head first and hardly come up for air,” McKinsey said. “A lot of things turn out to be fun if you get into the nitty-gritty."
McKinsey’s collection of sewing machines grew to as many as 125 when she owned a shop in Philomath. Now, she has between 15 and 20, many of them sturdy looking cast-iron models, most of them made by the Singer Corp. And it’s not hard to pick a favorite. It’s the featherweight, a sleek yellow Singer machine.
“I had to get a featherweight. I just had to have one. That started it,” she said of her collection.
McKinsey traveled to France and Germany to visit sewing machine museums whose officials were convinced that she was going to sell the photos she was taking.
“I wore out a camera,” she said while showing off photo books of her trip.
McKinsey made good use of her machines, sewing clothes and other items, but once she “dove in” with quilting, “I forgot about everything else.”
She has created hundreds of quilts, with images of them filling a second photo book. One honored the USS Lexington, the aircraft carrier her son served on. She occasionally traded quilting services for dental work and carpentry.
McKinsey also developed a free lecture that she has given at local sewing shops. The lecture focuses heavily on the life and business practices of Isaac Singer, who had a simple model for his success: Take in trade any machine offered and let customers pay on an installment plan. His models were known for their practicality, particularly for home use.
Singer also was a "complete cad,” McKinsey notes, with multiple wives, dozens of children and households with spouses and children who had no knowledge of the other households with spouses and children.
McKinsey says that modern machines are “marvelous,” but that there are “too many plastic parts on them that wear out and break.”
“You just can’t kill 'em,” she said of the cast-iron models. One she owns was once used as a boat anchor. It now sits outside in her garden.
McKinsey, who is a member of the Mensa high IQ society, has worked as a pottery teacher and in bookbinding and book repair and also is a Master Gardener.
And she occasionally will sell one of her machines at her lectures.
“I’m 88,” she said. “I’ve outlived everyone I know, and I’ve got to get rid of some of this stuff.”