White 970 human whisperer

Human Whisperer

This week I pulled an insane maneuver: I sold the sewing machine I use to make cycling caps — before getting a replacement. I sold it right out from under my business, without warning or much planning. It had been listed on Craigslist for several weeks as part of my plan to buy a new machine to improve my tax situation, and suddenly one evening someone wanted it badly. Off it went to a happy new home, perfectly good but massively depreciated. Off it went, leaving me high and dry. A replacement won’t be here until mid-next week.

White 970 SewingWhite 970
New HomeNew Home 441

I do own these two vintage “backup” sewing machines, though. They sit pretty, high up on a shelf above my desk, collecting compliments and dust. I pulled them both down this week in a desperate attempt to keep up with sewing jobs. One of them surprised me: My White 970.

“Beast of all Beasts” as described in the video below, this thing weighs over 40lbs and has a 1.6AMP motor. It is Jetsons-era goodness, with sexy shaping and a distinctive marking on the needle plate reminiscent of times when people weren’t at all in denial their electricity was nuclear. This video is pretty boring unless you’re a sewing machine dork like me. Otherwise skip it. Or, for laughs, just watch the last minute or so where the husband starts up the lawnmower in the middle of wife’s sewing machine sales pitch.

When I took the machine off the shelf and started playing with it, I was so surprised to find that it has many of the features modern machines boast of. Except of course a computer. That made it difficult for me to quickly adapt. I’m so used to everything being computerized! These days you can move your needle into position millimeter by millimeter with the touch of a button (sometimes even with a soft key). But the White 970 must have been ahead of its time — or at least very top-of-the-line — with its many stitch patterns aside from zig zag, variable speeds, and automatic buttonholes.

If you turn the top left dial to “L” and the knob below it to its middle setting, then the zig-zag lever to wide, then move the stitch cam clutch to zig-zag and the knob on the race cover to baste position (follow all that?) you get an extra-long (6-7mm) baste stitch. A basting stitch that long is rare these days. Granted, it’s nearly impossible without a lot of practice to tell where your needle will land as only the left side of the zig zag stitch picks up. What I’m getting at is this machine is pure… machine. I almost couldn’t get over it. I had to step away from it after a few hours of banging my head on it, trying to get it to fit into my model of what a sewing machine is: a computer.

Today I worked with it again, and got some of the most beautiful stitches I’ve seen in a while. I had to exhale, relax, and just imagine where the needle would land, follow forward with my eye and imagine the needle landing there next. I realized I wasn’t at all the machine whisperer I thought I was. On the contrary, this machine is a human whisperer.

White 970 human whisperer

It purred along reassuringly, and even though I was certain I would end up with horribly crooked sewn lines, I came out with beautiful, straight lines. And I did it faster. I think it had to do with letting go, allowing the machine to suck up the fabric, looking ahead and aiming at where I wanted stitches, and plowing on. I was no longer paying so much attention to a seam guide, or where the needle was at any given moment, but where the needle would be. I am shocked at how much better my seams became, instantly, on what is actually a more difficult machine to use.

This is very interesting to me because it’s not only a huge, overdue lesson in sewing, but it also parallels my mountain biking — and life — education. I am learning to not focus on what the needle or what my tire is doing at the moment, but looking ahead and anticipating what it will be doing. And the rest falls into place.

Looking ahead…