“The Greatest Sewing Machine Ever Built”

Behold! My mother’s Singer Slant-O-Matic 401—the 1958 model. I inherited this dear old machine a few years ago when my mother passed away, and with it, wonderful memories. (Not to mention an assortment of machine attachments that look like tiny instruments of torture—more on that later.)

Mother had it set up in her “sewing closet,” a hall closet that my Dad outfitted for her with shelves and a piece of plywood on top of an old desk. The tabletop fitted the entire perimeter of the little square closet, and the machine was set down into it to create one big extension of the machine bed. Mother had an old wrought-iron pinup wall lamp shaped like a chicken, with a flowered shade, and it bathed the closet in cozy light while she sat and stitched.

On that Singer machine, in the closet, she sewed pretty much everything my sister and I wore—skirts, dresses, blouses, nightgowns, bath robes. Some garments, like my gold brocade Senior Prom dress and my beige wool Jackie Kennedy-style spring suit, I adored. Others—not so much. Some of those flannel nightgowns were a little, shall we say, clunky. But through the good, the bad, and the ugly, the old Slant-O-Matic never seemed to fail her; it just chugged along miles and miles of seams without flagging.

What a machine! I’ll quote from the copy inside the manual cover:

“The greatest sewing machine ever built . . . From the moment you see the new SLANT-O-MATIC, you’ll know it’s excitingly different. You’ll marvel at its automatic sewing. You’ll delight in its sure, beautiful stitching. The only automatic zigzag machine for home use made entirely in America, it out-sews all other machines in both straight and fancy stitching.” And so on . . .

This little honey has more attachments and weird-looking feet than I can describe, let alone actually use. It has: a satin stitching foot, a button sewing foot, a zipper foot (of course), a hemming foot, a multi-slotted binder, a ruffler (quite a contraption), a darning/free-motion foot (yay!), a gathering foot, an edge stitcher, a tucker, and other stuff I can’t even identify.

The automatic buttonhole attachment comes in this cool pink pod-shaped plastic box, which it itself is a delight.

This machine can produce fancy decorative stitches galore, although I have to confess I’ve never experimented with these. You can create a lot of designs just by setting the dial in various positions on the machine front.

Those little black discs in the photo are “Fashion Discs,” which you insert into the top of the machine to produce even more designs, like monograms and dainty sprigs of flowers and snowflakes. Amazing!

The Slant-O-Matic was built to last. Even though it’s more than 50 years old, it keeps on stitching through quilt fabric and batting, as well as through an assortment of materials that it’s never even heard of— fusibles and odd fibers like Lutradur. This machine can sew anything! It sounds like a junior version of a freight train, but I don’t mind; in fact I kind of like that mechanical clunking noise and the feel of the vibration under my fingers.

Besides, sometimes as I sit there guiding fabric under the needle and the Singer chugs along, it’s my mother I see, not myself, bending over the machine under the light from that old chicken lamp, stitching, stitching away.

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