One of my friends and I decided we would love to have a sewing machine. We want to make pillows and dresses and curtains and alter our clothes. We asked around and looked up possible locations on the internet. Then we decided to check out a minimum of 3 of our 9 options. We saddled up onto our motorbikes and headed West.
The first shop was about the same width as a closet but as long as a hall, with shelves lining each side. On the left, there were computer monitors and sound systems. On the right, there were rows and rows and rows of vintage looking sewing machines- old Singers and Brothers, as well as some new Chinese and Indian knock-offs. We were pretty sure we’d found Mecca. The salesman was a barrel of a fellow with a full grin of beetle-nut stained teeth, a stained T-shirt, a plaid longyi, and customary velour flip-flops. He was very happy to see us foreigners and would have been very happy to discuss every bit of cultural and political information he knew related to our countries (if only we’d stayed that long). We did manage to pull the information about the sewing machines out between his opinions and facts. We could get a used sewing machine from Japan for 95,000 kyats that did multiple stitch types or a brand new Chinese or Indian one for 70,000 but it could only sew straight lines. We wanted to go back and forth at the very least to hold the thread in place.
We headed out to the next shop. It was difficult to find because of a lack of signage, or confusing signage. There was a red cross out front advertising the hospital clinic next door so we had to drive up and down the block a few times before we noticed the rainbow of fabric behind the woven bamboo walls. Unlike the last shop full of men, this one was clearly run by women. I would have liked to have supported them for that fact alone, but unfortunately, they were only offering the new Chinese and Indian ones or machines where we’d need to manually pump a foot pedal. The electricity is so unreliable (and for some unavailable I presume) that the manual pedal machines are MORE expensive!
We went to our third shop, which turned out to belong to a friend/parent at school! We knew they had a shop on the street but it only sells yarn. I assumed they had a machine-selling neighbor, but as it turned out, the listing was just misleading. Two of our other friends were chatting inside with the parent/friend so we went in too. Mandalay really is that small. Maybe it was a lucky mistake. We had some cold water (because it’s always scorching here) and headed back to the first shop.
The main guy was headed out to lunch with his sister. Here sister can mean sister or cousin because their families are just that close. He shouted some Myanmar instructions over his shoulder to the two skinny men still in the shop and left on his burly motorbike with his sister side-saddle on the back. We waited on low plastic stools while the shop guys fine-tuned our new machine with tiny screwdrivers. Then they demonstrated the machine’s use with the sort of ease that someone who does something very regularly exhibits, not with the patience of someone who really wants you to understand and remember the details that they are showing you. Most of the demonstration was in single words and gestures. I took some pictures to hopefully jog our memory later but generally we nodded like it was all very obvious and clear. We’ve both sewn before but there was something different about this machine, perhaps just that it was older than the ones either of us used in our childhoods (we’re young, but not THAT young). Next the man asked my friend to test it to really prove it worked. She did with lots of giggles and quick adjustments by the repairman. Then he cleaned it with a toothbrush for a surprisingly long time. He showed us the converter that we MUST use. Finally, it was ours. We handed in or money and the man strapped it on the back of my friend’s motorbike.
At home it was a bit more difficult. Who will adjust all of the knobs? How do you access that place where the bobbin goes? Why isn’t there a little hook to hold the thread in place by the needle? We took turns with it sitting on our desks, imagining we would create something or fix something then the other one would ask for it so it would sit in her room gathering dust. My friend made some curtains then I felt guilty enough about having accomplished nothing to buckle down and make a dress. It was incredibly frustrating. The thread would NOT stay threaded. I cut the fabric I’d chosen (local traditional dress- longyi- fabric) from the pattern for a “Reversible Little Boxy Dress” before I realized that it was not actually one size fits all. Luckily, I’m just barely small enough to fit into this little Japanese pattern, but then when I tried it on, I found out I actually don’t find boxy to be a flattering shape on me. So I took it in: lots of pins and taking the dress on and off. Then I looked in the mirror and it had a little pouch here and there from taking it in. Oh dear. More pin pricks and pulling it over my head. Then there was a bulky part next to where I’d taken the pouch in. It felt never-ending. 6? hours later, I had a dress that I really like. It was tough though. I think my next project will be boxy square pillows with super straight, non-form-fitting sides.
You can also check out another one of my sewing projects: pillows!