Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009



I got a call the other day from my mother.  You’ve met her before – she’s the one with the longarm quilting business.  She was knee deep in crafting her weekly WIP post and needed a picture of my sewing machine.  I agreed and promised that when the light was better I’d give it a try.  I promptly forgot as I am prone to do, but did manage to get several pictures taken under the wire as it were.

They were…not particularly good, but of course I didn’t realize this until the light was gone and I had uploaded them to my computer.  Darn you tiny camera screen!

This is a Damascus Vibrating Shuttle Sewing Machine.  It was made by the National Sewing Machine Company for Montgomery Ward.  It looks to me like it could be the Grand Rotary – though I would have to look a great deal closer to verify this for sure.  According to ISMACS’ page on the Damascus Grand Rotary sold by Montgomery Ward:

Top of the range was the ‘Damascus Grand Rotary’ machine (Figure 5), costing $25.95 as a sixdrawer treadle or $29.50 as a full cabinet. The catalogue raves: ‘Our Damascus Grand Rotary is the best machine you can buy. We mean by this that no matter how much you pay, or from what line your selection is made, you cannot get a better machine.’ The catalogue hastens to add, however; ‘Remember this statement must not in any sense be construed as having the slightest reflection upon the high quality of our Damascus Vibrating shuttle, because the latter, while practically a perfect work doer, is of a different type.’

The rest of the article is a hoot and quite interesting when you consider the difference between catalog descriptions from Montgomery Ward and modern advertising.

There are folks out there (even non-Amish) that use machines like mine for sewing and quilting.  Anne Kusilek, with a Wisconsin connection, actually exclusively uses hers for projects.  I briefly considered finding a way to get mine up and running a few years ago before I went looking for a sewing machine of my own.  I ended up with a vintage Singer but then moved on to a modern Brother Innov-is 40.  While I loved the idea of both vintage machines – most especially the people powered aspect of the Damascus – I lack the patience necessary to get them up and running.

My machine is missing just about all of the parts one would need in order to use it to sew – the bobbin and case, the strap to connect the treadle to the machine, and the part the connects the treadle to the wheel.  This was not necessarily how the machine came to me.  I do know at one point there were bits and bobs in the middle drawer and in at least one of the side drawers.  The treadle was also attached to the lower wheel with a wooden piece that may or may not have been built for the machine when it was refinished.  The original leather cording was, sadly, a victim of some what over enthusiastic use and decades of changes in weather.  Really, though, what child doesn’t enjoy zooming away on the treadle and watching the wheel spin?

My children just adore this machine and it’s cabinet full of empty drawers.  I often find the drawers filled with Legos, wooden play food, and Disney fairies.  I prefer to use it as a piece of furniture.  Right now it’s home to the Buddha in the living room.  Still just as cherished, if only in a slightly different way than my Great-Grandmother would have intended.

7 thoughts on “Damascus

  1. You have such a way with words. I should have had you write my story. Interesting facts on your sewing machine. I tried finding information about the Bell sewing machine but I was not successful. I’m sure grandma would have loved to see your children play with her sewing machine. She probably would have helped them put their toys in the drawers. She was a very sweet lady. Whether you use her machine to sew or to display cherished items she would be thrilled to know that her sewing machine is still in our family.

    • I had it too easy, though. It was like picking low hanging fruit. I don’t have any attachments or manuals (like you do – how cool is that!) so I went looking for something else. I couldn’t find anything on the Bell with the few ways I tried wording the search phrase, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there we can find. We’ll have to see if we can find more clues in the manual.

      I thought your post was wonderful – mine wasn’t supposed to be better – just related.

      • I looked for info on the Bell as well and couldn’t find anything of substance. I also looked through the manual numerous times looking at least for a copyright date but there was nothing.

  2. Thank you for sharing my blog post with your readers.

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