You might find her ragdoll cat, Humphrey Bogart, keeping a close eye on all of the comings and goings, but you will not find Terry Qubick stitching up any kitty cats at Terry’s Purrfect Stitches, her vintage sewing machine repair and sales business that she runs from her Newtown home.
Ms Qubick started her vintage sewing machine business two years ago, after retiring. A conversation with Chintz-n-Prints owner Dave Gardner put the idea in her head, she said.
“I’ve always loved sewing machines, and when Dave found out I knew how to fix them, he asked if he could send customers my way. I thought, ‘Why not?’” recalled Ms Qubick.
Service and repair of sewing machines is a specialized skill, and very few places offer that service, she said. She services and sells only sewing machines manufactured between the late 1800s and the 1960s, she said. She does not offer repair service for any of the electronic models.
Her love affair with sewing began when she was just 5 years old. “My grandmother taught me how to sew on an old treadle machine. I used to sew all day long when I stayed with her in the summer,” she said. So much so, as a matter of fact, that her grandmother used to forbid her to go back to sewing in the evenings.
What her grandmother did not expect is that her little seamstress also harbored a knack as a mechanic.
“Gramma came into the room where I was sewing, and I had taken the entire machine apart. She was actually pretty cool about it. She asked what I was doing, and when I told her it was dirty and I was going to fix it, she left me alone. I put it all back together,” Ms Qubick said.
Taking apart, cleaning, and putting back together is essentially what she continues to do in her business today. Most of the sewing machines that end up in her care need to be cleaned, relubricated, and oiled. Many of the older models may have been stored in an attic for years, or just not used, causing the moving parts to seize up.
Problems with the tension, which regulates the stitches, is a common complaint. “People need to understand that there is a top and bottom tension, and they have to work together. They start to fiddle with the tension and that’s where they run into trouble. Pretty soon they can’t remember where they started, and it ends up here,” she said.
Ideally, a sewing machine in regular use should be oiled after each eight hours of use, said Ms Qubick. “Of course,” she added, “that’s hard to track, so most people don’t do that. You can go for years [without oiling the parts] and it will still sew. It’s just not good for the machine.”
A Vintage Collection
Ms Qubick loves not only sewing, but the machines themselves. She owns close to 40 vintage machines, from a tiny child’s Singer sewing machine from the 1950s to the heavy iron machines housed in bentwood cases, or her personal favorite, a Singer Featherweight sewing machine manufactured in 1940. “Someone had sanded off all the clear coat and paint, and taken it down to the aluminum, then clear coated it again. It’s silvery and beautiful,” she said.
“When someone brings in a model I haven’t seen before, I get so excited to get my hands on it, and fix it,” Ms Qubick said. Best of all, then she gets to sew with it to test it out, before it returns to its owner. She usually services one or two machines a week, and before she lets customers take them home, she asks that they sew on the machine to make sure that they are satisfied.
Her curiosity also causes her seek out the history of sewing machines she has not encountered before. “With a Singer or Kenmore machine, if you have the serial number, you can look it up online and find the actual date it was made, and where. Singers were manufactured all over the world,” said Ms Qubick.
Beyond a few that she will never sell, Ms Qubick has many machines in her collection that she does offer for sale. She seeks out sewing machines at flea markets and tag sales, where she said, “They are like little puppies that just seem to follow me home.” She cleans them up, repairs them, and they become part of her stable.
Some customers come to Ms Qubick with a machine he or she has inherited, and the sentimental value is more important than the machine’s ability to run perfectly. Quilters, though, love the older sewing machine models, and most buyers are looking for a working machine, she said.
There are those who purchase one primarily for its beauty.
Many of the older Singer sewing machines are painted with black paint, called Japanning, with ornate decals layered on top before being clear coated for protection. The Tiffany or Gingerbread Singer from 1921 boasts intricate gold-colored scrollwork decals, for example, while elaborate decals of the 1911 Singer Sphinx model reflect the world’s interest in Egypt and the Pyramids at that time, Ms Qubick said. Golden curlicue decals are splashed with red on the black background of the 1911 Singer Red Eye.
She has also come across sewing machines that have been custom painted. “People will take down the old clear coated ones to the aluminum and paint it themselves,” she said. Among the more memorable custom paint jobs she has come across is one painted lavender with white polka dots. “People get very adventurous,” she commented.
Value is added to those machines that have a commemorative raised decal, she said, such as the 1951 Singer 100th Anniversary decal. Her dream, she added, is to own a Singer sewing machine with the decal from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, “But that would go for thousands of dollars, if I could find it,” she said.
Seeking A Simple Machine
Men outnumber the women who seek to buy vintage machines, Ms Qubick said, and they want to know how to use them. “I’ve taught a scoutmaster how to sew on badges, and I found a huge old machine for one man, who wanted to sew canvas sails for his boats. I taught him, too,” she said. Other men are simply seeking a simple machine and skills to do run of the mill repairs themselves.
Her buyers seem to enjoy the prospect of sewing with a simpler machine, she said. “You could buy a new machine that’s all plastic and play with all these gadgets attached to it,” Ms Qubick said, but vintage machines also have a host of attachments.
Many times, someone brings her an old machine to service and places a small box in front of her. “They aren’t sure what all the doodads in it are for, and even some who have sewn with the machine for years don’t realize it’s a box of wonderful attachments that can do things like pleating, smocking, gathering, or ruffling,” she said. An attachment to create buttonholes is common, but often overlooked by the uninitiated.
Ms Qubick is pleased to offer sewing lessons to anyone in need of brushing up on his or her skills, or who is taking up sewing as a new hobby.
That she has found a way to share her love of sewing and vintage machines, while helping others, brings Ms Qubick great pleasure. Terry’s Purrfect Stitches is dedicated to getting any vintage sewing machine purring like a cat, she said.
To contact Ms Qubick for information on repairs or service of vintage sewing machines, lessons, or sales information call 203-426-2662.