Minutes With Messiah Logo

Sewing, No Machine

by Tim O'Hearn

I just finished sewing two blouses for my wife’s birthday. Well, one was finished three weeks late, on our anniversary. Still, sewing is something I enjoy. With a machine, of course. I find it hard to fathom what it was like before Mr. Singer’s invention. In Fiddler on the Roof, Motel the tailor brags about a new piece he has sewn because the stitches are so even, “made by a machine.”

Samson posed a riddle to the Philistines. The wager he made was for thirty cloaks and thirty garments. In his time that was quite a bet. Because of the difficulty of hand sewing (not to mention making the fabric and the thread), the average person might be able to afford only one or two sets of clothing. The wager was only moderately expensive for Samson’s thirty companions, because if they won each would only have to pay for one set. Samson was betting a lot, though, because he would theoretically have to bear the expense all by himself. They say never to wager that the jack of spades won’t jump out of a deck and spit in your eye, because as soon as you make the bet, he will. Samson thought he had a sure thing and wouldn’t have to pay. He lost. In the end, those garments were very expensive, because they cost thirty men their lives.

The Bible mentions a number of people who sewed, or at least made items out of cloth or skins. Sewing is almost as old as mankind. The first tailors were our ultimate ancestors, Adam and Eve. “They knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves loincloths.” (Gen 3:7) Ever since the need for clothing, there has been a need for someone who sews.

Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was one who sewed. Every year after she had given her son into the service of the priesthood, she “made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.” (1 Sam 2:19) It is entirely possible that it took the greater part of each year just to make that garment for her son.

One of the first men known specifically for his tailoring skills was named Betzalel. He was a gifted craftsman, known for more than just sewing, but was tasked with making the “beautifully stitched garments—the sacred garments for Aaron the priest.” (Ex 31:10) He and his assistant Oholiab were tasked with teaching others in the crafts that they knew. Thus, the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness may be the first example we know of a Jewish garment district.

As with anything, some people turned the honorable craft of sewing to sinister purposes. Ezekiel pronounced a woe on “the women that sew amulet bags” and veils used in idol worship. (Ezek 13:18)

Jesus was a carpenter, not a tailor; nevertheless he knew of the craft. In his parables he uses shepherds, fishermen, merchants, farmers, and others in order to teach lessons. Those who sew are not exempt from that list. “No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.” (Mk 2:21) This was his explanation that his disciples should not fast while he was alive. The time would come when they would mourn, but to do so while he was with them would be destructive.

The book of Acts tells of three people who made a living sewing. Paul sometimes had to supplement his income by other means in order to be able to preach. In Corinth he chose not to be a burden on the young congregation, and so spent some time sewing. He joined himself to a couple named Aquila and Priscilla. “And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.” (Acts 18:3)

It took me three weeks to find time to complete a hem, five buttonholes, and sew on five buttons, all by machine. The Preacher said there was “a time to rend, and a time to sew.” (Eccl 3:7) Sometimes I wish I had more time for the latter.