Sunday, 16 July 2017

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

From the Program Coordinator Emma Lang:
Have you ever wondered why museums do what they do? What do staff do when the visitors aren’t around? These questions fascinated me as a kid and when I started working at museums when I was 15 learning the answers was just as exciting as I thought it would be. Over the summer I’m going to share some stories of behind the scenes at LBMCOC Museum.  Let you peak behind the curtain and learn about more about the work that we do and why we made some of the decisions we’ve made. First up, the story behind our new program Objects Up Close.

I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to old tools, particularly household items, sewing machines, cast iron pots, egg beaters etc. I always preferred tin baking sheets to non-stick ones, typewriters to computers. Our museum has many of these objects on display and as part of my job as Program Coordinator I wanted to come up with a way to bring you, our visitors, up close to the objects, to see how they work and hopefully, be inspired to learn more about the objects in your own homes. I decided to start with of objects in our Lifestyles section, to see what I could learn about who made them and bring in working versions I have at home that to share.


 2 of the museum’s 3 sewing machines. 

By the early 20th century Singer sewing machines were ubiquitous in homes across Canada, the UK and US and the houses of Logy Bay Middle Cove and Outer Cove were no exception. The LBMCOC Museum has three of these machines in our collection. With access to the shops in St. John’s and the opportunity for women in the communities to make money by doing laundry and mending clothing for the well-off of St. John’s, owning a sewing machine was both economically possible and could help to bring in money for families year-round. Lucky for me, Singer machines are well documented and easy to research. Each machine has a serial number that can be used to look up where and when it was made as well as the model number of that specific machine. 

The serial number on the museum’s treadle sewing machine

With the help of the lists included on the International Sewing Machine Collectors website at,  I was able to establish that our treadle sewing machine was made in June 1910 while one of the two hand crank machines was made in February 1909. The other hand crank has a damaged ID number but my current guess is that it dates from 1904. We tend to think of treadle sewing machines like this one IMAGE as pre-dating smaller more portable machines such as the hand cranked ones, but in actuality they were being manufactured at the same time, and in the same factories. Just as today people choose between laptops and desktop computers for a wide range of reasons, those purchasing a sewing machine in the early 1900s would choose a portable or treadle sewing machine depending on what their needs were.
While many of our younger visitors have seen their nans or moms use a sewing machine, watching them look at in amazement at the heavy metal machines we have on display and try to figure out how they worked led me to create the Objects Up Close program. I brought in my still functional 1950s Singer featherweight which—save the lack of crank or treadle—looks almost identical to the machines on display and now visitors of all ages can see how the machines would work and see how portable they could be. 

My 1953 featherweight electric Singer sewing machine (left) and the museum’s 1909 portable crank Singer sewing machine (right)

As Objects Up Close continues over the summer visitors will have the opportunity to see up close others of our objects and even try out modern versions of the same items.

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