Needles – Part 1

Operating a retail sewing machine store for 25 years gives one a different perspective on sewing machine needles. We quickly learned that needles are misunderstood by most sewing enthusiasts, even those who have been sewing for decades. It also became apparent that the sewing business, like most others, had a shady side.

A customer came in with a machine that was misbehaving badly, breaking threads, skipping stitches, and generally not working. It didn’t take long to see why. The needle was in backward. We replaced it with a new needle, showing the customer how to insert it with the flat to the back, and the machine was immediately working perfectly. The customer then revealed that she had this problem with her machine many times in the past. Each time her dealer had diagnosed very serious problems and charged a lot of money to “repair it”. Sadly this practice was not uncommon at the time, and more than a few dealers did it. Our fledgling business gained a lot of customers quickly, just because we didn’t trick people that put the needle in backward.

These days machines have needle clamps that make it nearly impossible to insert the needle backward, but that’s not the only needle-related problem that we encountered. There was the machine brought in from years of storage in a barn, that was not working well. The needle was caked in rust. We said we would start with a new needle, which caused the shocked owner to say “Why? It’s not broken!”

Then there was the lady who brought her machine in for service. She had two or three needles loose in the machine, and asked us to be very careful not to lose the one currently installed, as it was “My favorite needle”. Apparently she had no idea that needles have a lifespan and need to be replaced on a regular basis.

By far, though, was the case of a new-to-sewing customer who bought the top of the line (at the time) embroidery-capable machine. She was a minor celebrity, having been on television a decade or so before; not someone you would recognize on the street, but enough of a celebrity that a sewing machine selling for more than $1,000 did not raise an eyebrow. As we did with all customers, we gave her a short introduction to her machine. When we started with bobbin winding her comment was “What’s a bobber? Do I need that?” Patience, and a request that she come to new owner classes, as well as beginning sewing, got her out the door with her new machine.

A week or so later she was back, somewhat despondent. She said “I need a new machine. I broke this one.” We were pretty incredulous, because it looked fine. As it turned out, what she broke was the needle and she was prepared to buy another machine as a result. A new needle and several classes later she was happily embellishing her wardrobe.

At the time our store was one of only two owned by women, having been started by my wife Diane. It was the attitude of the local “good ol’ boy” network that motivated her to open her store, and her honesty got her a lot of flack from competing dealerships. By the time we retired many more women had entered the traditionally male-dominated business and things were much better.

Next time we will discuss the obvious role of needles in the sewing process, and how to get the most from them. Don’t miss it!