I may not have a sample of my grandmother’s DNA, but I do know that Arline Kinsel and I both share the “sewing” gene. A 1919 letter from Arline to her mother in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, mentions that she’s earning a little cash sewing clothes for local women:
[Pueblo, Colorado] My dear Ma-
I got your 3rd letter today. I have made $4.00 sewing since you’ve been gone. Got $2.50 from Mrs. OB. for Camisole for Viola and $1.75 for Waist for the woman Mrs. OB. sent over.12
In other letters, Arline writes about sewing for herself or gives instructions for her sewing machine to be shipped to wherever she’s living at the time. Knowing that Arline was an able seamstress makes it likely that she sewed the white eyelet dress she probably wore for her second wedding. Fashion expert, Betty Schubert suggested that the dress was a personal adaptation of an outfit in the 1915 Sears catalog, and made as early as 1913.3
I also know that Arline’s ability to create something useful from fabric and thread wasn’t set aside as she grew older. Arline’s letter to her mother share that she was sewing in 1919, but a sewing machine contract dated 1955 show that she was still creating with needle and thread more than 35 years later. I like to think she enjoyed sewing as much as I do today, although my first sewing machine cost several times what she paid for a used Singer Model 66 in 1955.
Singer Sewing Machine Model 664
An original sales contract dated 21 March 1955 was among the old family photos, bank books, and letters stuffed into the large trunk I inherited in 2000, and tells much more than the buyer’s name and address, but that’s a good place to start.
It shows that:
- On 21 March 1955 Mrs. Frank A. Brown (Arline Kinsel Brown) was living at 12922 Pine Street in Garden Grove, California. I knew that the Browns lived in Santa Ana and neighboring cities after moving to Southern California in the 1930s, but I didn’t know they lived in Garden Grove, about six miles from the Singer sewing store. Today 305 W Fourth Street is home to Starbucks, not Singer.
- Arline signed a contract with the “Company” located at 305 W. Fourth, Santa Ana to purchase a Singer Sewing Machine Style 66-6 OLD 40 No. AA882269 priced at $49.50 plus tax by making a down payment of $7.99 and agreeing to pay 9 installments of $5.44 on the 21st day of each month.
- The contract was witnessed by L.A. Busch and signed Mrs. Frank A. Brown.5
After studying this worn receipt I thought it likely Arline could only afford to buy a thirty year old machine on the installment plan. I was only partially correct. Other records show that my grandparents didn’t have any extra cash, but Singer had been selling machines on the installment plan since the mid-19th century and people were used to buying on credit.
The fact that she bought an older model Singer doesn’t necessarily mean than Arline bought an inferior machine. The Model 66 is regarded as a workhorse domestic machine that remained popular from its introduction in 1902 until it was superseded by the new Model 221 about 1956.6 The popularity of the Model 66 Singer is obvious from the 50,000 allotted for manufacture on 26 January 1926 at the plant in Elizabethport, New Jersey.7
As someone who loves to sew and quilt, I can understand Arline’s attachment to an older model machine. Our first purchase as newlyweds wasn’t a car or washing machine. We bought a Bernina sewing machine on the installment plan. And after learning to finesse a seam on good machine, I didn’t upgrade to a newer model for many years.
I like to think that maybe I inherited the “sewing” gene in my maternal DNA. All the women in our family have enjoyed sewing, crafting, and handwork, a common thread between the generations. Isn’t it interesting what you can learn from a few scraps of paper ephemera? No DNA kit required!8
- A “camisole” is a sleeveless undergarment worn under a blouse or dress; a “waist” is a “shirtwaist” or button-down blouse or shirt.
- Arline Kinsel (Pueblo, Colorado) to “Ma,” [Minnie Kinsel], letter, postmarked 19 March 1919; privately held by Denise Levenick, Pasadena, California, 2017.
- “My Grandma Was a Fashion Maverick — Ancestral Fashion Review from Betty Shubert, Author of Out of Style for Treasure Chest Thursday,” The Family Curator, 3 October 2013 (http://thefamilycurator.com/my-grandma-was-a-fashion-maverick-ancestral-fashion-review-f/ : 12 June 2017).
- By Panjigally (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.
- Singer Sewing Machine Contract, 1955 in Arline Allen Kinsel Papers; privately held by Denise Levenick, Pasadena, California, 2017. Contract between Singer Sewing Company 305 W. 4th Street, Santa Ana, California and Mrs. Frank A. Brown [Arline Kinsel] dated 21 March 1955.
- Alex I. Askaroff, “Singer 66 & Singer 99,” Sewalot Site, (http://www.sewalot.com/singer%2066.htm : 12 June 2017).
- “Singer Sewing Machine Serial Number Database,” International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society, (http://ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/serial-numbers/singer-aa-series-serial-numbers.html : 12 June 2017).
- I’m a fan of using DNA for genealogy research, but I like the old-fashioned approach too.