The Teal Wizard: Regina O’Connor’s Sewing Machine

As a household fixture, sewing machines feel ancient, a thing of the past. However, the first sewing machines didn’t appear until the nineteenth century, with the iconic Singer sewing machine receiving its patent in 1851.[1] From that incarnation, the machine exploded in popularity. As most women were hand-making clothing and furnishings for their homes, mechanizing this time-consuming labor made the sewing machine irresistible for those who could afford it. In 1906, the Singer company alone sold over 1.25 million machines.[2] 52 million families sewed at home.[3]

After World War II, however, things changed for this popular fixture. Every fact of American life was mass-produced and factory made, leaving household creations a rare delicacy. The popularity of the at-home sewing machine fell significantly, with three times as many clothes made in factories than in homes.[4] More people than ever, particularly women, were buying ready-made clothes, curtains, and cloth, eschewing the time usually devoted to handicrafts for career development.

In Milledgeville, however, there was at least one sewing machine still in use. At Andalusia Farm, Regina O’Connor sewed up a storm on her teal Wizard brand machine. This particular machine comes from the Brother brand, most likely constructed in Japan.

(Andalusia Collection, Regina O’Connor’s Sewing Machine, 2018.1.931)

She remained in the vanguard of domestic seamstresses, emphasis on the stress. While Regina “sewed beautifully,” according to Mary Barbara Tate, Flannery was not so fond of the machine. Her mother made her a coat without sleeves, “so Flannery could use her crutches more easily.”[5] Regina also fashioned curtains out of feed sacks for guests in Hill House.[6]

The most hated product of Regina’s sewing machine were the curtains that hung in Flannery’s room. After returning from a trip, Flannery discovered new curtains with a feminine flair that she was less than fond of. The hangings disrupted her usual environment enough to give her cause to worry that they might ruin her creative process.[7] Regina then replaced them with a more neutral patterned material. However, their “inch-long stitches” provide evidence of their rushed creation, so their raucous installation would not disturb Flannery’s work. Still today, these are the drapes that hang in her bedroom.

Regina O’Connor’s rushed inch long stitches.
(Andalusia Collection, Flannery’s Drapes, 2018.1.88)

Despite the occasionally displeasing products, Regina’s sewing machine stood as a reminder of the processes of the outside world. Following a trend of other women and households, Regina doubtless used the machine to cut her time doing menial labor so she could “get on to more pressing business.”[8]

(Andalusia Collection, Flannery’s Drapes, 2018.1.88)

[1] Jennifer Latson,“The History of Sewing Machines: An Invention That Spawned a Revolution,” Time, Time, August 12, 2015, https://time.com/3985665/sewing-machine-invented/.

[2] Mona Domash, American Commodities in an Age of Empire, (Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2013).

[3] History of the Sewing Machine, Accessed November 15, 2019, http://flappergirl.org/darnmachine/timeline.html.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Marshall Bruce Gentry, and Craig Amason, At Home with Flannery O’Connor: an Oral History: Interviews with People Who Knew Flannery O’Connor When She Lived at Andalusia Farm, (Milledgeville, GA: The Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation, Inc., 2012), 26.

[6] Flannery O’Connor The Habit of Being; Letters Edited and with an Introduction, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979), 30.

[7] Ibid, 215.

[8] Gentry and Amason, 27.

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