Aleda Johnson has rebuilt, repaired, restored and re-homed 22 vintage sewing machine in the past 18 months.
These machines are more than conversation pieces from a time long past, though they all have a story to tell. They are hard working, elegant, useful machines that are capable of becoming a great tool for the modern day crafter, and with the careful work of Aleda, they are poised to stitch together a tapestry of memories for another generation.
The sewing machine was once the focal point of a home. The steady workhorse of a mom set to cloth her family, decorate their home, and for some, a status symbol. Now, in many cases the art and practicality of sewing has been lost, so out with the need went the machine.
Aleda Johnson has rescued many machines left out to pasture – literally. Speaking of her rescues - and she really does speak about these machines and the life and personality they carry - she tells stories of being called out to farms where machines were left out in fields or in barns. Rusted relics that the family had no use for, but didn’t have the heart to sell or throw away, the machines were shuffled off here and there, and let go until the are so rusty people often think they are completely useless.
Here is where our heroine enters the story. Aleda, equipped with skill, passion and a lot of patience, takes these poor wrecks into her care and begins the journey back from the brink. Oiling, scraping and working the irons of a cabinet, resurfacing an aged veneer or re-topping a table completely, salvaging parts here and there while she oils and gets the machine back in working order, she has restored machines for families who didn't know it was even possible.
She has also collected old machines from near and far, fixed them up, re-homed them and given a new life to an old beauty, and beautiful they are.
Johnson has several sewing machines in her home. Some have fancy bentwood cases, others have elaborate iron legs and treadles, one has the most delicately painted flowers on the machine, and another is striking in its industrial simplicity, but she can’t keep all of her projects, so she finds new owners.
However, Aleda is as careful in her selection of owner as she is in her work. She says, “If I see a machine for sale that is unique, special, I will try and make sure it doesn’t go to someone who is just looking to make an up-cycled art piece.” She continues, “Lamps, railings and that, it’s just kind of horrific.”
Johnson often finds her machines for less than $100, but “free is what they should be if they are not working,” she says. Her labour can be upwards of 40 to 50 hours, but when re-homing machines she only looks to cover her costs outside of travel and labour.
“I find people who love the machines,” says Johnson. “They can’t stop petting them. They can’t even look at you.”