handcrank sewing machine

The culture that produced our extraordinarily strong, elegant, exquisitely engineered handcrank sewing machine must have envisioned a very different future than one of planned obsolescence. All its parts are built to last, and they have done, so exceptionally well that using it is like looking deep into history without the translation of a word or photograph. If I had the skills to build a machine, I would study this antique. Watching the bobbin winder alone is a delight. Working the crank is surprising, nothing catches, only smooth, magnificent turning movement. Absent of the electrical, the digital, it’s an object that I find at once enigmatic and much more accessible than any contemporary machine. Such a design! The children stitched their hand puppets on it with ease.

handcrank sewing machine © elisa rathje 2012

It’s no surprise then, that this gorgeous little singer from the early 1900’s, with its curved wooden case and elegant paintwork, is the star of a couple of movies I’ve been making with my sweetheart. This is a sneak peek of the singer on set. Our little moving pictures will have homemade projects to go with them, I’m bundling the kits up now. Do sign up for the appleturnover quarterly to get an early invitation to the appleturnovershop opening, I’m aiming for later next week.

Oh! If you’re in England and you’d like your own vintage sewing machine, my dear friend Sarah has a shop full of them.


Our tall girl fell in love with an old family desk typewriter this summer, and spent hours composing stories at it. Something about a typewriter appeals to her romantic sensibilities about writing. I have to agree. I think the immediacy, the physicality, the sound of a typewriter possesses something gorgeously satisfying. Not unlike my beloved writing book and fountain pen. Only punchier! The aura of it’s history, all those writers and typists, since the late 19th century, surrounds you.

typewriter © elisa rathje 2011

For her birthday, my sweetheart found her a beautiful 1930’s machine, a Bluebird. Its petite and low like a Jaguar roadster, and it already has quite a mystery story running through it. We’ll see if she let’s me take it for a spin.


We’ve spent an extraordinary day in sunny London, music lessons, art museums, restaurants. Most days we don’t live by the clock, but on such a busy day when we need to meet people, catch trains, make reservations, I like to wear my wristwatch.

wind-up wristwatch

The watch belonged to my maternal grandmother. It’s a petite little thing, a wind-up Tissot. I adore winding it up and setting the time. So do my children, I have to get them to take turns. I know the battery is a useful thing, but I find the ritual winding of the watch ever so gratifying, in great contrast to the annoyance of a dead battery. The scratches and cracks make it all the more dear to me, like writing across it. I took it to see a wonderful clockworks in Crouch End, and the lovely fellow there gave it a new strap and sent us on our way. I’m so glad there are mechanical things like this old fashioned wristwatch that last and last. Especially when I’ve used my phone for texts, maps, videos, photographs, train schedules, emails, websites, and telephone calls, until it has expired for the day. As I’m about to, myself.

treadle table

Dear friends visited today with a secret, very special sewing machine for our little girls. I’ve hidden it away. They also set up my vintage singer machine in its treadle table. I’m so pleased to see it like this! I can’t wait to organise the space around it for fabric arts, and settle down to use it. I need to get the knack of sewing with a treadle, working with my feet. That sort of rhythmic work is deeply therapeutic, and largely missing from our electric world – I love that I can use the machine without electricity now. Unlike so many tools, this one has been going for sixty-odd years, and will continue long after us. There’s a long lineup of projects waiting, among them several sets of curtains and quilts to warm our very old house, though winter has eased up here this week. Such a lovely visit, with our children playing sweetly together, and a visit to the village pub.