The Sewing Machine

Before returning from a recent trip to Taipei, a last-ditch hunt at the Taipei airport for local culinary cuisine turned up more just than a steaming bowl of beef noodles.  I found a thematic food court with the 1960s as its theme.  But what caught my eye was not the coffee shop tables and cutlery that were a blast from the past.  It was a small, plain, wooden and metal contraption, easy to miss amongst the many antiques scattered around the area.

Yet, the moment I saw it, I caught my breath and my heart skipped a few beats.  It was a manual "Singer" sewing machine, complete with needle guard, pedals, drawers and the "Transformer"-like drop-in casing which allows it to be neatly hidden away during festive seasons.  I opened the drawers, played with the spindle, and traced the old cuts that marked the wooden fold-out flap, just like I had done so many times, decades ago, as I played out my childhood adventures on my mother’s sewing machine.

When I was in Primary 2, we had to tell the teacher what our parents’ occupations were.  My classmates were mostly from the well-to-do and spoke of parents that were teachers, doctors, managers and businessmen.  When it was my turn, I struggled to come up with the correct terms and finally said, "My father is a bag-maker," as per what I remembered was written on my birth certificate.

There was silence, before the teacher corrected me.  "No, you should say that your father is a factory worker."

"But he makes bags," I protested.

She ignored me.  "What about your mother?"

"My mother is a sewing-machine," I said.  There was another silence before the giggling started.  The teacher rolled her eyes.

"Where does your mother work?".

"She works at home," I replied.

"Then your mother is a housewife."

"But she sew clothes for people for money," I argued again.

"Your mother don’t go out to work but stay home to look after you and the house, right?", she asked.

"Yes.  All the time.  She doesn’t go out to work."

"So she’s a housewife," concluded my teacher briskly.

At that point, I just kept quiet.  The teacher wouldn’t understand.  My mother did indeed stay home to look after my siblings and myself.  But she was also the main bread-winner of the family.

As a mother, she was always there for each and every one of her seven children, caring for us when we were sick, and bearing with all the nonsense that we put her through as we grew up.  And as a seamstress, she was a sewing-machine that worked non-stop, 24/7, weekdays and weekends.  When she’s not mothering us, she’s plugged into the machine, her right foot stepping on the pedal feverishly, transforming cloth into clothes by the hundreds.  She was the engine that drove the sewing machine; and the endless chug-chug sound it made was to me the sound of her very heart-beat and a lullaby that lulled me to sleep every night.  Each time she completes a batch of clothes, we would help her fold the clothes and tie them into bundles with strings.  We will then make the trip down to the shop to hand in the clothes so that she can collect her pay of a few dollars.

As early as I can remember, we all had our duties to do, my sisters will do the cooking and laundry, I will do the sweeping and mopping of the floor.  We just did it without complaining, because we knew we had to free up our mother as much as possible so that she can focus on doing what she had to do.  She did it without complaining, even when her body was wrecked with arithritis and piles, and her hip gave way from the years of stress at the machine.  She only had one goal, which was to keep at it until all her children were able to take care of themselves, and hopefully, her.

Her super-human effort did indeed see the last 3 out of her 7 children through to our university degrees, but her body gave up soon after.  She barely lasted 6 years after my graduation before she was felled by a massive stroke in 1996.  To this day, my greatest regret was how I had focused so hard on setting up my own career and family during those early years that I neglected to make time to spend with my mother in her last years, to bring her around the world so that she can see the things that she had, through her own efforts, allowed me to see.

My mother was an illiterate woman.  She never taught me a word of English or Chinese.  She never read a storybook to me.  She never helped me with my homework.  But her immense love and the personal sacrifices she made for the sake of her family is manifested in each and every one of her children today.  We are able to live as we do today, only because of this incredible sewing machine.  For all the effort and money that I spend on my kids’ education and enrichment today, I still do not think I can match up to even half of what my mother has given to me in terms of the best part of her life.

I wish Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers, past and present, this coming Sunday.  It is easy for us now, as parents, to understand the pain that our own parents have gone through to bring us up.  For those who still can, make sure you tell your mother how much you love her.


33 Likes Share

My supermum

My mother supported my two brothers and I through school .. yes also with the sewing machine. I remembered the sewing machine vividly as I helped her quite a lot to thread the needles, her eye sight was failing after too much intense work.  She had no choice but to take up a blue collar job. She used to work from morning till late afternoon, returned home to do laundry, housework, cooking and then gave us tingxie at night.  She had little education but was very strict with us regards to studying. She said it was because she never had a chance to go school. Eventually, all the three of us got into universities and had professional qualifications.  She is retired now and living her life to the fullest … looking after grandchildren, attending CCs activities, going for exercises, karaoke etc … she is my supermum.

Sewing machine....

Dear Chief,

You have succeeded in making me cry again!  Or I should say your mum has succeeded in making me cry……………

Pls help to save energy

Dear Chief,

Pls help to save energy by doing the following steps:-

step 1. Release yourself from prison of guilt which contains nothing but -ve energy;

step 2. Transform the -ve energy (- qi) remain on your body into +ve energy (+ qi) with help from your internal driver and external energy transformers;

step 3. Add the newly transformed +ve energy  into your existing accumulated +ve energy pool;

step 4. Voila! You are ready to shine brighter and longer and farther…can serve beautiful ppl like…hmm…us, better liao!  

i suppose we all make

i suppose we all make mistakes in life. but with every lesson learnt, it shapes us into better beings. that’s the value of our ‘past’ and ‘present’.

so take heart …

Whining and pining for stuff

Yes, I’ve gone through the same process too, wondering how come I did not have the tiny matchbox cars my friends had in Primary 1, and I hankered after my mother to get me a bicycle too in Primary 3.  I did not feel blessed then, I just felt deprived and inferior.  I told myself that it was up to myself to work hard to get whatever I want, and that my parents cannot help me.  Now, I feel totally ashamed of myself for having thought this way about my parents, for all the times I had given them a hard time in trying to give me something beyond their means, instead of thanking them for giving me the best part of their lives.

Remember the TV ad on the schoolgirl who was always trying to get her daddy to buy her stuff?  It felt like a red-hot poker through my heart the first time I saw it, because it amplified my own failing as a son.  There was a time, in a fit of frustration just after I returned home after completing my overseas studies, I told my mother that I got my overseas scholarship purely on my own merit, that I’ve paid for my own higher education without her help.  She kept quiet then – she was a strong and proud woman – but I knew she cried in private.  I was ungrateful.  I was a terrible son.  And I’ve yet to forgive myself for having made my mother cry.

Thinking Back ...

Hi chief, thanks for sharing the story. guess a lot of us of this generation can all relate well to the Singer sewing machine as a prominent feature in our childhood …

my mum owned one too, and yes, she used it to supplement the household income, and yes, she used it to sew our new year clothes. she was illiterate, but she made sure we had good education as she did not want any of the 5 of us to end up with a hard life like her.

My parients had tried their best to nurture me when i was young, giving me lessons in swimming, drawing, etc. But like any wilful kid, i asked for a lot more, wanting a piano when i saw my rich friends taking piano lessons, or wanting a bicycle when i saw my friends riding one. thinking back now, I really feel ashamed of myself. also not forgetting the times when i threw tantrums and took things for granted. how big their hearts have been in putting up with such things.

now that i have kids of my own, it really helps me appreciate some of the pains and hardship that my parents went through when they were raising us.

its a cycle of learning in itself …




I’m not really that close to my mum growing up, but i do remember all the sewing she did… for the extra income without leaving the home. She wanted to ensure we never needed to be left with any other caregiver other than her. She still has the same sewing machine Chief uploaded above and she also has the more digital versions with embroidery and all..

With the economic downturn, i decided that i will contribute to saving money in the household by doing all alterations for clothings myself. And where better to learn from than the guru aka… my mum herself! She’s more patient now compared to before and i do enjoy the bonding we have giggling over my not-so-nimble fingers during our sewing sessions together. I broke loads of needles during home econs class (typical tomboy problem) so much so the teacher barred me from any of the school’s machines eventually. Mum bailed me out with the sewing projects each time. Be it pockets, or skirts or raggedy doll projects, she did them all! Muahahahahaaa! We laugh over those moments and i feel so blessed… still having her around… to still share my laughter and my tears.

When i shared with my mum how it ached just sitting down, altering a few clothings and not even yet going into making all clothes myself….. she said, now you know…. πŸ˜‰ That "now you know" phrase is a popular phrase she likes to use on me.. πŸ˜‰

We underwent relationship renewal, which i am thankful i still have time to forge with her. Better late than never… Happy Mother’s Day, mum… I love you.


Chief, you made my heart ache-acid and trickle-teardrops with your story but the reminiscence proved extremely heart warming. for me. Thanks for this… tsk… tsk…

My mom was also a sewing

My mom was also a sewing machine then!  She sewed not only to earn money to supplement our family expenses but also for every of her love ones (us children of course, my father, my grandparents, my grandaunt, etc.). 

Ya, its really tough to earn that little money.  Remembered that she sewed many stacks of clothes but each stack (shd be a dozen), is only like maybe 20 cents?  My 4th brother will help to lug those clothes before and after being sewn. There was a litte notebook to keep track of how many she submitted each time and she only got to collect the money when it reached certain sum.  At a later stage when her eyes were not as good, I need to help her to string the needle.  Yes, she always wake up at 5am to be a housewife and sewed to earn money when we slept at night.  I really don’t know what time she slept then.

Currently, the sewing machine is still with her.  I think I better ‘book’ it from her…that I want it after she passed away.  The machine really brings back a lot of memory – our hardship, difficult but happy and lovely times. 

Yes, glad that i still have a chance to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom today….Just she and me together for a few hours today.  Too much of our time now are spent on my triplets….

Brings back memories...

My mom too was a sewing machine! She worked as a seamstress at home (no she’s not just a housewife, she so much more!!!) and took care of the 3 of us as well. I see her work as kind of creative, cos she helps design clothing for her customers to make them look better (sometimes the customers just draw something up and expect a miracle)! And yes, most of my clothes were made by mom (up til the time I got married)!

Its amazing what precious memories your picture has brought back…..and thanks so much for sharing a part of your life with us (very touching leh).

God bless all mothers, past present and future!

Spend time with your mother!

I’m really glad that so many of you still have the opportunity to spend time with your mothers and to look after her for a change.  Some people, myself included, do not realize what a privilege that is, until it is too late.

The sewing machine was also my desktop, ironing board, make-believe spaceship, hideout, and engineering puzzle.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how it worked.  It was really a very complex beast!

Mums are So Alike

Thanks Chief for sharing but how come I seem to be there at your childhood memories?  It’s all too familiar an image to me what you have described.  We still have the sewing machine in my mom’s place now….a red one and a precious keep.  When the sewing machine was kept, it was my homework table…hahaha…  Even though my mum was not sewing for a living, she sew alot for us….virtually everything..from curtains to school uniforms with love…  Similarly, had to toil day and night.  I could relate to the sound of the sewing machine as lullaby because our bed was just next to it, so it soothed me to listen to the constant rhythm as I drifted into my lala-land.  I relished and cherished those tough but good moments of growing up with my mum.   

Now my child is enjoying her skills at the sewing machine to fix her little things like altering skirt length for school uniforms, using unused t-shirts to make into PJ pants for her to sleep in….

For those who cannot spend time anymore….I am sure your mom knows your love for her and smiling upon you from where she is……..Happy Mother’s Day!   πŸ™‚

Β  Hey chief, I realise we


Hey chief,

I realise we share a similar childhood. My mum sews school uniforms (ζ΄‹ε­ζ±ŸοΌ‰to supplement the family income while 5 of us kids help out with the housework. She worked hard all her life, from sewing to sawing plywood. She sews our clothers and curtains for new year. Together with my just as hard-working dad, they see 5 of us through university. We’re always grateful for that.

She was in her 50s when she had breast cancer followed by a mastectomy and chemo/radiation; I remembered how we cried buckets and wondered if we ever would have the chance to repay her. But buddha is kind and she’s now enjoying life in her 60s. And we make it a point to spend more time with her.

My mother-in-law has a similar one at my house. It is really antique and she still uses it occasionally.

Mums from the previous genration have it much tougher, while ours had the help of maids and do not have to rely on manual labour to make a living. So, to all mothers, especially the senior ones, a happy mother’s day. We will not forget your hardwork.

PS: Today’s news article about the elderly women still clearing plates at food courts prompted me to think if we kiasu parents would go up to them this mother’s day to wish them well and perhaps give them a token or two?


Yesterday is History. Tomorrow is a Mystery, and Today is a gift.
That’s why we call it the Present.

I am moved too. Wish all

I am moved too.

Wish all mums in the world, Happy Mother’s Day!

Nice memory

Thx Chief for the touching story. Yes… the sewing machine was so familiar to me too. My mother also has one. She used to sew my dresses when I was young. She still uses it on and off now. The photo of sewing machine has reminded me part of my nice childhood memory with my mother.
Mother’s love is unconditional.
Really wish my mother can relax and enjoy her life now… πŸ™‚


Thanks for that, Chief. Your write-up brought a lump to my throat. Like your mother, mine is not educated too. She can’t even read the papers. Though she is not able to gain access to theories and techniques of parenting, she is an excellent mother to her 5 children.

She used to take on two jobs a day to help support the family and yet able to find time to prepare breakfast and dinner for us. In fact, she was still hard at work even after all of us had graduated . She stopped work only after a heart operation a few years back.

I am so thankful that the operation was a success and now she is able to spend her time taking care of the grandchildren and enjoying life.

I’m really grateful for her sacrifices and unconditional love for us.

Related Articles