These Villages retro sewers have no dues and best of all, no rules

Imagine a club in The Villages with no dues and no rules that meets every week.

Most of the 30-some members have one thing in common: they tote along their Singer featherweight sewing machine and a pile of fabric for their latest project.

Alice Nichols, president of the Vintage Sewing Machine Club, works on a quilt project during a recent Saturday afternoon meeting at Lake Miona Recreation Center.

The Villages Vintage Sewing Machine Club meets from noon until 4 p.m. every Saturday at Lake Miona Recreation Center.

“We don’t have any restrictions. It’s just bring a little machine and a project and your smile,” says club president Alice Nichols, who founded the group in 2013. “We all have great, modern sewing machines at home that do all kinds of things, but one day a week we go retro.”

Between 1933 and 1969, Singer Sewing Machine made thousands of belt-driven featherweight electric models 221 and 222 in the United States and the U.K. They weighed about 15 pounds, including their carrying case, featured a cast aluminum body, and had a number of small variations as improvements were incorporated into the machines over time. It was usually black, although other colors were made, and it was certainly not fancy. It sewed a straight stitch forward and reverse.

The original Singer sewing machines date back to 1851, when Isaac Merritt Singer opened the company with Edward Clark, a New York lawyer. The featherweight 221 model debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934 as a portable replacement for the heavy treadle and electric machines of the time.

“It’s an amazing little machine,” Alice says. It’s all mechanical – perfect for quilters and people who like to sew and appreciate old-time things that still work. You can get replacement parts and all you need to do is clean, oil and adjust them.”

The original machine sold for about $125 in 1934, a hefty sum at the time. The equivalent sum in 2019 would be over $2,200. There is a brisk market for featherweights on eBay, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to close to $2,000 for a unit with all of the accessories.

Many of the club members acquired their featherweights at yard sales or from family members. Alice relates the story of one person who spied a featherweight in a pile of castoffs at a garage sale. “She got it for $20.”

Working on an unusual white Singer Featherweight made in the U.K., Kim Buske, of the Village of LaBelle, sews a pillowcase dress destined for a Methodist mission in Africa.

The Vintage Sewing Machine Club members are not Luddites.

“We all have modern sewing machines, including embroidery machines, with all of the bells and whistles,” Alice notes proudly, counting several in her own collection, including two Berninas.

Alice started sewing as a girl growing up in Maryland and spent most of her life in Anne Arundel County near Baltimore. Her husband, Tom, was a childhood friend.

“We went to school together, grew up together as childhood sweethearts, and we will have been married for 53 years on Valentine’s Day,” she says.

Alice went to work as civilian federal employee for the U.S. Army at Fort Meade as a clerk typist and retired as an administrative officer in 2002. Tom worked on the ramp at BWI airport and rose to be a supervisor.

The couple spent their first anniversary at Disneyland. With no children of their own, they doted on their many nieces and nephews, took family members to Disneyland, and eventually, to Disney World. They are still Mickey Fanatics.

“I just got a small Brother embroidery machine because it has the Disney designs in it,” Alice says.

Mary Ellen Mineo, of the Village of Amelia, sews colorful triangles together for a baby quilt. The Singer Featherweight machines sew only straight back-and-forth stitches, which are ideal for quilters.

After retirement, Alice worked in a fabric store and taught quilting.

“Tom, to support my fabric habits, took a job as a sewing machine repair technician. That’s where we first heard about The Villages,” she says.

A tech at the bench next to Tom talked about it.

“We’d been coming to Florida since they opened Disney in ’71,” she says, adding that The Villages wasn’t on their radar then.

In 2009, on a trip to Disney, they visited The Villages and looked at 10 houses.

“I was overwhelmed by the time we got to number eight,” Alice says. “’Can we see the first house again,’ I asked? We bought that house and, on our way home, we should have been breathing into a bag – we were both hyperventilating.”

They closed on their house in the Village of Amelia in January, 2010 and returned to Maryland to the worst blizzard in the history of the area, with 82 inches of snow.

In the spring of 2010, SeaBreeze Recreation Center had just opened. Alice joined the quilting club. Now, in addition to the Vintage Sewing Machine Club, she belongs to three machine embroidery clubs, including one that she leads at La Hacienda Recreation Center.

The real purposes of the Vintage Sewing Machine Club are both social and charitable. Members talk, show their work, help with projects and exchange ideas. The projects range from quilts for Honor Flight vets to dresses for overseas missions to breast cancer pillows to clothes for grandchildren.

Pat Awood-Yates, front, works on a prayer quilt while Gloria Frenza sews a ‘paper piece project’ at the Vintage Sewing Machine Club. Both are from the Village of Lake Deaton. The Club meets from noon until 4 pm on Saturdays at Lake Miona Recreation Center. New members are always welcome.

“One of our members made a beautiful dress for her granddaughter with a matching dress for the granddaughter’s American Girl doll,” Alice says.

Not everyone in the Club has a Singer machine, Alice admits.

“One of our members has a green 1952 Elna. It’s called a ‘grasshopper,’” she says.

For information, contact Alice Nichols at alicemae47@comcast.net.

John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. For more information visit www.GoMyStory.com.