Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A lesson learned from a sewing machine

(As you may be aware, I am the proud owner of a Brother sewing machine.  It may be 24 years old now, but it does exactly what I always wanted; among its 21 stitches are a one-step button hole, a special stitch for sewing jersey fabric, takes a double needle, a sort of overlock stitch, etc. While it is in desperate need of a service - one of my 2016 challenges is to get it serviced and then to use it more often - this story isn't about it.  This story is about another sewing machine, not mine...)

I mentioned on Facebook yesterday, one of the few pieces of advice I ever dish out to people, when it comes to possessions, is to buy the one you really want.  If you can't afford it, then wait and keep saving up until you can buy the one that you really want, because if you don't, if you buy something cheaper that "will do", it never does.  You will replace the latter two or three times with another that "will do", because you'll always find a fault with it; and eventually it will cost you double what the original would have cost in the first place.  And you still won't be satisfied because what "will do" is never good enough.

This is a lesson I learned from my mother over a sewing machine.  My mum always wanted a super-duper machine that did amazing embroidery automatically, at the touch of a button.  Embroidery was one of her things, although she seldom did it by the time I was born.  It was too hard on the hands and the eyes.  Looking back I think that what she really wanted to do was make and embellish baby clothes - that was her great love - but it was never something that she pursued once I grew beyond 6 or 7 (I'm the youngest).  Her style for children's clothes was classic mid-20th century:  embroidered and smocked dresses, or velvet with a lace collar (she made lace, too).  It was a look that was well out of fashion by the early 1970's, by the time I was old enough to start to notice fashion.  Anyway, I digress...

The sewing machine was always part of our lives when we were little.  If we needed new clothes, they were home made.  A trip to the shops "for clothes" always ended up in the fabric department, selecting a pattern and some cloth, after we'd made a circuit of women's wear and children's wear.  Like knowing how to crochet, I do not remember learning to use the sewing machine or getting lessons on laying out a pattern on fabric, etc.  These are things I have always known, things I learned almost by osmosis.

The other place we would always visit would be the sewing machine department.  Mum would chat to the demonstrators, always checking out the latest models, occasionally giving them a test ride.  In the late 1970's, there were a couple of big home exhibitions at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne.  I remember wandering around them for hours with mum, always stopping at the stands run by the sewing machine manufacturers: Singer, Janome, Huskvana, Bernina, Pfaff.  (Oddly enough, I don't remember ever seeing a Brother machine.). We always looked at the high-end embroidery models:  some were confined to built in programs that were selected from a dial; others took an infinite number of cams that you dropped into a slot, which were expensive optional extras.  I remember Singer making the latter.  The machine mum lusted after, though, was the Pfaff:  it had multiple push-button programs and she was convinced that you could combine designs by pushing two-or-more buttons together at once.  

(Remember, this was before computers took over the world. Everything was mechanical or manual. (As an aside, one of the first conversations I ever had about computing was to discuss whether you could program a computer to drive a sewing machine to embroider a picture.  She'd got to me, too.))

Anyway, as I said, mum really wanted a Pfaff sewing machine.  Even if she didn't get one that did all the whizz-bang, you-beaut embroidery, she still wanted a Pfaff.  As far as she was concerned, they were the BMW of the sewing machine world:  German precision engineering, heavy duty but elegant and a dream to use.  They were also expensive, probably the most expensive sewing machines on the market at that time.  I don't remember the exact costs now, however I'd guess a top-of-the-range model was more than my dad's take-home wages for a month.

Somewhere along the line, mum convinced herself that her old, 1960-edition sewing machine just wasn't good enough.  If it wasn't the stitches, then it was too light weight for the type of sewing she wanted to do.   (Built into its own sewing table/case, it would literally bounce about if you went too fast.). That was her argument, anyway.  During my teenage years, she talked herself into replacing that machine. Twice.  Neither replacement was good enough.  Since she kept the original, I remember doing a direct comparison: beyond having a free arm (the original had a flat bed), there was virtually nothing the new machines offered that the original couldn't do; maybe a one-step button hole, but that was it.  (Frankly, though, as long as your machine can do zig-zag and change the length and width of its stitches, it can do a button hole.  I learned how to do that on the old machine.). If they had fancy embroidery stitches, I never saw them being used.  

I have absolutely no recollection of what was wrong with the second machine, that convinced her to purchase the third.  All I can tell you is that she continued to lust after a Pfaff.  Here's the heart of the matter:  mum couldn't bring herself to spend that bit extra on the Pfaff she always wanted and the substitutes never matched up.    

They weren't cheap machines, but individually each wasn't as costly as a Pfaff.  Collectively, however, she spent more on them than she would have done on the Pfaff she really wanted.  I remember discussing it with my dad, who found the whole thing as frustrating as I did.  Yes, Pfaffs were expensive.  No, they didn't have a lot of spare money to throw around.  However, if it doesn't match up to your expectations, why bother buying it?  Dad was prepared to spend the money, but mum would not.  In his mind and mine, mum already had an "it will do" machine, so if you weren't going to buy the one you really wanted, with all the bells and whistles on it, why bother?  Why not just continue to save until she could get the Pfaff?

This is when I learned an important life lesson:  if there is something you really, really want, don't try to make do with an "almost as good as but cheaper" substitute.  It will never do.  You will always find fault with the substitute.  Keep saving your cash until you can get the one you really want*.  I have no problem with you buying a cheap-as-chips "temporary" substitute/second-hand model if you absolutely need that piece of equipment**, but don't fork out two-thirds of the price of the one you really want on something that doesn't add up and then moan about it for years afterwards.  

Certainly, expensive isn't always better.  However, don't settle for something on the "it will do" basis when clearly it won't.  Just don't do it.  

- Pam

* Why do you think I waited and saved for years for a top-of-the-range-at-the-time iPhone?   It did exactly what I wanted, had a good camera and came with the most data storage.  (When it comes to computing, always buy the biggest storage.)   At that point, it's predecessor was 8 years old BUT 8 years earlier, pre-iPhone-invention, the predecessor was the exact phone I wanted so I was happy to wait.

** Of course, after using your "temporary" model for a while, you may decide that it is perfect for your needs and you don't actually want the other one after all.  At least you'll have found out without spending a fortune.

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