What Inspires You?: My Mother’s Sewing Machine
By Connie Iacovetti Chambers
Photography: Smiljana Peros
My mother, Margaret, had the talent, knowledge, and ambition to be a fashion designer. But her father had a stroke when she was 15, and she was forced to quit school to support her mother and five younger siblings in the midst of the Great Depression.
She worked in a sweatshop on 37th Street off Seventh Avenue, sewing piecework on a black Singer tabletop sewing machine that was likely salvaged from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory after the 1911 fire. She bought the machine for $25 when the 37th Street factory closed. She kept working as a sample maker through all three of her pregnancies. She relocated to a factory closer to where we lived, on the border of Howard Beach and Ozone Park, Queens, and continued to provide for us. She sewed for 52 years, wearing earplugs to avoid the noise, not stopping even when the needle went through her finger. When she passed away in 1999, I kept her sewing machine. Now I’m looking for its final home, an institution that could display it or a person who could use it. Mom couldn’t pursue her dream of design, but I could. I qualified to work as the assistant to the director of sales at Leslie Fay, alongside founder Fred Pomerantz and his son John. In the ’70s, the company sent me to FIT to learn the fundamentals of textiles, so that I could visit the mills in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to keep abreast of the latest textile technology. My mother was so proud that my position was in the “front office,” not in the factory. I was proud, too, to fulfill my mother’s dream.