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November 2015


Weather Words


Diary Words


Quotes For Shorthanders


Sewing Machines


Weather Words (6 November 2015)



I like to know what the weather is going to do each day, so every morning I check the UK Met Office website. The map is covered in weather icons of white or grey clouds, raindrops or shining suns dotted about. There is no icon for fog but, being a short word, it does duty as an icon itself. It is small, compact and can be repeated all over the map, just like a shorthand outline. The weather for my area of the UK generally arrives from the south or the west. For the last few days we have had very thick fog in the mornings, clearing slowly and with a few sunny* or brighter patches in between. In the park all the shrubs were covered in cobwebs, looking like tiny white trampolines or hammocks strung between the tips of the twigs and drooping with the weight of water clinging to them. The grass was sodden but ideal for cleaning the mud off the soles of my shoes with virtually no effort!

* "sunny" Always put the vowels in "sun/snow, sunny/snowy"



You may have seen the shorthand perpetual calendar which I produced some years ago, which has two pages of additional vocabulary, for diary items and weather terms, as a way of encouraging learners to use and practise shorthand every day. This blog uses all the weather words in one place, so you can get them practised* and learned. You will then be able to take down the weather forecast, as they tend to speak more slowly than other news items, but you need to know the specialised* vocabulary first otherwise it will seem faster, not slower. The weather presenters have taken to guarding their* predictions with words like possibility*, probability*, likelihood, or a fifty per cent chance of a particular condition occurring, and similar phrases that let you know that weather prediction cannot be as precise as viewers sometimes expect it to be.

* “practised” Short dash written through the last stroke of a contraction to signify past tense

* "specialised" Always insert the diphthong, to differentiate from "specialist"

* "guarding their" Doubling for "their"

* "possibility" Optional contraction

* "probability" needs to be written in full, as it is being presented as an example word. If you used the contraction, there would be no way of knowing whether it was "probable" "probably" or "probability"



The weather at dawn is often entirely different from mid-morning and midday, changing again in the afternoon, getting cooler in the evening, with mist returning by dusk. There will be further changes at night, with a drop in the overnight temperature. Last week* may have been fine, this week* will be changeable and next week* we are likely to see further changes in the weather patterns, leading to entirely different conditions for the following week and on into the period under review. The forecast for the next month* has to take into account* the movements in the atmosphere and the fluctuations in atmospheric pressure, including the high pressure* and low pressure* systems coming in from the ocean and moving over the country.

* Omission phrases "last week"  "this week"  "next week"  "ne(k)st (mon)th" Similarly "this (mon)th"  "take (into) account"  "high (pre)ssure"  "low (pre)ssure"


In summer we can expect dry, warm and hot weather, getting much warmer towards midday. When the weather is at its hottest or warmest, we say it is a heatwave or sweltering, especially if the great heat persists for some days and is hotter than we would normally expect. If the temperature remains high but the humidity is also high, the conditions are muggy and sticky. The body is unable to lose heat as rapidly as needed, as there is little evaporation taking place to cool the person down. This type of weather feels oppressively hot and uncomfortable, with excessive temperatures making us feel drowsy and lethargic. As soon as the air becomes cooler and fresher, we can enjoy the sunshine and warmth without the discomfort of humid conditions. If the air continues to cool and freshen, then the pleasantly* moderate weather may come to an end. The sky will become hazy and overcast. The haze will turn to patchy cloud and eventually the cloud cover will cause a lowering of the temperature.

* “pleasantly” and “pleasingly” Insert the first vowel, to prevent misreading, as the outlines and meanings are similar



Low cloud can bring either bright or somewhat overcast days or more often much gloomier conditions, with grey rainclouds. There will be the possibility* of a short sharp shower, intermittent or scattered showers, heavy rain or possibly outbreaks of thunderstorms in some areas. Before a storm arrives, the temperature will drop rapidly, with the wind becoming stronger and colder. Light levels decrease as the whole sky darkens and gusts increase in strength. The rumbles of thunder will be heard over long distances and the lightning may affect unprotected buildings, tall structures and trees. I remember a night when it thundered and lightened all night, the thunderclaps were deafening and the sudden bursts of lightning went on until the early hours, when the sky finally cleared. Precipitation may fall from the thundercloud as hail, with hailstones as big as marbles, or soft and slushy as it turns to sleet and melts on the ground. Hailstorms can flatten a crop in the field. Weather is called foul when it is cold, wet and windy all at the same time.

* "possibility" Optional contraction



In winter the conditions are often cold and wet. Frost may cover the grass, called hoarfrost, as the heavy dew becomes frozen* overnight. Ice that cannot be seen is called black ice, a thin glaze on the road or path, and these icy and slippery conditions make the route* very dangerous to travel on. Once the snow arrives, it will be bitterly cold, and in the UK we sometimes experience a bitter east wind bringing prolonged periods of freezing* weather. Heavy snowfall combined with wind is called a blizzard, and the snow may collect in deep drifts. After severe snowstorms, the snowploughs will be needed to clear the roads and gritter trucks will be sent out to help break up the ice and slush. Householders will be out shovelling the drifted soft snow from their paths, sometimes while it is still snowing, with the snowflakes settling faster than they can be swept away. Next morning they may find it has snowed again overnight and any melted snow has turned to treacherous* smooth ice.

* “frozen” and “freezing” Always insert the vowel, as outlines and meanings are similar

* "route" Vowel advisable, as it is similar to "road" although the latter is a more common word so could be left unvocalised

* "treacherous" Ensure the hook on the T is clear, so it does not look like "dangerous"



When the temperature increases, the frosty weather is gone and a thaw will set in. The icicles begin to drip and the thawing snow turns to sleety showers and muddy slush. The slushy puddles that thawed yesterday afternoon* may freeze overnight and become hard, crunchy and slippery, causing people to prefer to walk in the soft snow nearby, which gives a firmer* footing. A slight rise in temperature will cause the weather to turn misty, foggy and damp with grey skies. The fog settles in the valleys and the mists cover the trees and low buildings. The sun appears hazy and dim, with a weak watery light. When fog combines with smoke, the result is called smog, which is a 20th century portmanteau of these two words, although nowadays it also means fog combined with vehicular* and industrial emissions. Mist may gradually turn to drizzle which is fine rain, and the in between stage is mizzle, another portmanteau word.

* Omission phrase "yesterday af(ter)noon" Keep the final hook clear, so it does not look like "yesterday ev(en)ing" - see this range of phrases on www.long-live-pitmans-shorthand.org.uk/phrasing2-theory.htm#FVHook

* "firmer" See www.long-live-pitmans-shorthand.org.uk/distinguishing-outlines-list2.htm farmer, firmer, former, form-er

* "vehicular" If you prefer to indicate the H sound, use the 3rd place dot vowel with Dot Hay over it, instead of the diphone


These gentle if uncomfortable conditions are in stark contrast to the more severe weather conditions that can occur. Stormy weather and tornadoes, also known as twisters, are a regular feature at certain times of the year in some areas. The monsoon is a period of reversal of the atmospheric circulation, bringing persistent rain, heavy torrential downpours and flooding, after a dry phase of heat and drought. A cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system, with a low pressure centre, producing thunderstorms and gusty high-speed gale-force winds. It is also called a hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, tropical depression or cyclonic storm. They can cause extensive storm damage and flash floods. Coastal areas may experience a storm surge due to high water and higher waves than normal. Once a cyclone makes landfall, it weakens and dissipates.


At this time of the year there is a strong likelihood of damper air and more dewy mornings. Sometimes this is followed by further wintry weather arriving. This would result in worsening conditions on the roads, and things could deteriorate quickly as the thermometer plunges to below zero centigrade. An easterly or northerly wind would significantly increase the likelihood of widespread unsafe driving conditions and dangerously slippery roads. The forecasters will keep us up to date with the developing features and approaching weather systems, with warnings of unusual or less typical features that we need to know about and whether the outlook is getting better or worse for those who have to travel through it.



The least interesting weather is mild and moderate with temperatures near normal for the time of year or slightly above average, with no significant change in the usual normal daytime or night-time temperatures. We are then mildly interested and moderately pleased with the improved* outlook and settled conditions, and relieved that no prolonged periods of rain or unsettled conditions will delay our journeys. The milder the better, with maybe a pleasantly* sunny afternoon to brighten things up, good visibility and a warm southerly or westerly breeze improving the air quality over the cities. We prefer it to be drier with blue skies, pleasantly breezy but not blowy, with no risk of showery interludes. We don’t want it becoming wetter or raining with a violent stormy gale and chilly blustery north winds blowing. At least we will be forewarned, with our friendly weathermen and women* telling us what will be happening in the northern, southern, eastern and western areas of our particular part of the world.

* “improved” Optional short dash written through the last stroke of a contraction to indicate past tense

* “pleasantly” and “pleasingly” Insert the first vowel, to prevent misreading, as the outlines and meanings are similar

* Omission phrase "weathermen (and) women"


There is one last batch of vocabulary that our weather presenters like to amuse* us with. At the beginning of the* slot, we are reminded that it might be shirt sleeves and sandals weather at last, advised to store away the winter coat, put on the sun block cream, stock up on the hay fever treatments, get out the umbrella (or brolly as they like to call it), don’t forget to take a raincoat, hold on to your hat during the gales, or wrap up warm for a chilly start to the week. The tennis may be washed out, the football held up by snow, gardening can start with the glorious spring sunshine, plant the daffodil bulbs before the frost comes, or hurry up and finish the Christmas shopping before the blizzards arrive. The only thing they never tell me to do is get out the knitting needles to make some more mittens, or settle down with the shorthand books to occupy my time as I sit out the stormy* blasts of winter with my feet on the hot water bottle. (1714 words)

* "amuse" and "amaze" Always insert the vowel


* Omission phrase "at the (be)ginn(ing) of the"

* "stormy" Insert the final dot vowel, as "storm blasts" could also make sense



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Diary Words (13 November 2015)


This article practises words that you might wish to use in your diary, as listed in the Shorthand Perpetual Calendar, so that you can make brief entries on each month’s printed page. At least, that is the plan, whether it is an extensive description of your day, or just jottings to remind you of items and events coming up. When I was learning shorthand, as soon as we had finished the theory book, I did my best to use it for taking notes in all the other commercial lessons. This meant that I was consolidating what I had learned as quickly as possible* after learning it. One day we had a lesson on the different types of organisations and the word oligarchy came up. I made my best effort and the word made its way accurately into my longhand course notes. And of course I looked it up so that next time* I would get it right. I don’t think it ever came up again but all the other shorthand that I was writing certainly did pay off when I came to sit the various speed exams.

* Omission phrases "as quickly as poss(ible)"  "ne(k)s(t) time"


Shorthand learning is best done in manageable amounts every day, more on some days and perhaps less on others, depending* on your other activities and time available. It is like exercising, gaining weight, losing* weight, filling up a bath, using up the fuel in a tank, waiting for the bread to rise, the cake* to cook, the glue to set or the paint to dry, watching ice melt or a kettle boil, waiting for Christmas morning to come, or the Christmas snow to settle thickly enough to make a snowman. The minutes and hours pass, the days slip by and before you know it, “crunch time” is here, the speed exam, the job interview requiring a shorthand certificate, or the long-awaited opportunity to use the shorthand to make life easier or more efficient. Or it might just be the end of an opportunity and spare time* for serious study, which some are glad they did and others wishing they had applied themselves to in a more focussed* manner. Of course, you are the former, as you are reading this blog shorthand, ever watchful for new outlines and phrases.

* "depending" Keep the Ing its correct length, so it does not look like a halved N = "dependent/dependant"

* "losing" The outline for "lose" has upward L

* “cake and “cookie” Insert the vowels to differentiate

* “spare time” Halving for the T of “time”

* “focussed” and “fixed” Insert the first vowel to help differentiate, as the outlines and meanings are similar

Practice sentences are written, passages read from your comfortable armchair, short bursts of almost impossible dictation are attempted from the newsreader. Diary entries are made and read back correctly later on, telephone messages are scribbled on the pad, and shopping lists compiled and read back in the shop without the slightest qualm. The shorthand has established itself in your mind simply by being used for the real necessities of life, and eventually flows out of the pen or pencil on command, just like your longhand already does. Like the birds eating the crumbs from the lawn, shorthand prefers to get on with its job undisturbed, while you are busy thinking about something else*. Even if you are annoyed with yourself at apparent slow progress, this does mean that you are still with the game and have not given up. The following paragraphs are fictional and use all the diary words in the Perpetual Calendar list.

* "something else" Note that "else" on its own is written upwards

This is a schedule for a typical 7-day period. On Monday morning I go to the office to get my assignments for the rest of the week. On Tuesday I am generally with clients all day and working out at the gym in the evening. Every Wednesday I meet our suppliers and other contacts to discuss and make all the arrangements. Thursdays I travel to head office which is a long journey on the motorway. On Friday I return to the office to catch up on the paperwork. Saturday is spent shopping and taking the children to their clubs and activities. Sundays are full of activities as well, starting with a dawn exercise run, followed by music practice, then a church service, and a special Sunday lunch with grandmother and grandfather, or other relatives. On Sunday afternoon* we often visit the sports club and during Sunday evening* I check over my diary for the coming week and write in all the reminders that I shall need.

* Omission phrases "Sunday af(ter)noon" "Sunday ev(en)ing" both using the hook for the F/V instead of stroke. Ensure the final N hook is very clear, otherwise the two would be similar.

Last year was quite an interesting one for us. In January we enjoyed the sales, and escaped the cold by going on a short winter holiday break somewhere warmer. February was when the pipes burst and we had to have the plumber in. In March we bought a new car and in April we spent Easter down on the coast enjoying some unusually* warm spring weather. During May we had a wedding to attend and in June we had to go to a funeral. During the hot summer weather of July we spent two weeks* on vacation on the West Coast. In August we celebrated the college exam passes of our son and daughter. In September we had a late autumn or fall holiday, before our youngest child started pre-school. October brought the good news of promotion* at work. November was quite eventful with various important meetings and conferences around the country. In December we enjoyed an extended break over the Christmas period and finally saw in the New Year with our family in the Highlands.

Cap signs are not necessary for days of the week or months, but may be helpful with November (same outline as "never") and Tuesday (which might be misread as "outside"). Vowel in "May" helps with reading back.

* "unusually" The -ly is included in the basic short form, but writing the stroke L is essential here, as both "unusual" and "unusually" could make sense

* Omission phrase "two wee(k)s"

* "promotion" Always insert the second dash vowel, so that you can leave the identical outline "permission" unvocalised, and so distinguish them


Monday: Today has been quite busy. I drove to the airport to pick up my mother and father after their night-time flight and take them to their apartment. Then I had an appointment at the dentist for a routine dental check-up and on the way I bought a card for my aunt and uncle’s wedding anniversary. I made arrangements for the florist to deliver a bouquet of spring flowers to their house and I arranged to meet my nephew and niece at three in the afternoon at the restaurant, where we had organised a surprise celebration for them. Approximately ten* of us attended and Auntie Mary and Uncle Jo were very pleased with the surprise party and their special cards and present.

* “ten” and “eighteen” Always insert vowel signs when writing the outlines for these numbers

Tuesday: First thing I booked an appointment at the hairdresser and then went to the bank to obtain a statement of my account. I drove to the doctor’s surgery to pick up my grandmother and then to the post office* to pick up a parcel for my grandfather. After her examination by the duty nurse, Grandma was happy to get back home in time for a visit by her brother. Grandad was delighted with the item that had been posted to him by his sister. I took my car to the garage for its annual service. I ordered a taxi so that the whole family could go shopping downtown at the mall. My cousin telephoned me but I missed the call and so she had to text me the message. She said she had texted me yesterday but I did not receive it.

* "post office" omits the lightly sounded T

Wednesday: My sister arrived with her new baby, after their hospital appointment and visit to the nursery. She has had many visitors now that she is a new mum and her husband is a new dad. I had ordered a special gift online and the driver had emailed me with confirmation of today’s delivery time. I had made the payment and my order was on its way. During the morning there was an urgent knock at the door, and the package was handed over. After that, we telephoned for a table at the restaurant and we drove there through the heavy traffic that evening. They had made our reservation and had remembered* to put out the special flowers on our table. We sat down at our reserved table and reminded ourselves of the last time* we were here, looking forward* to this celebration. We paid for our meal, and on the way home stopped off to post some letters. Then I remembered* I should have posted the enquiry form so I made a note on my phone in order to* remind myself to do it tomorrow.

* "remembered" Ooptional short dash through the last stroke of a contraction to indicate past tense

* Omission phrases "las(t) time"  "looking fo(r)ward"  "in ord(er to)"


Thursday: I spent most of the day in the office. In the morning I checked all the new enquiries and other mail, and in the afternoon I interviewed some new staff. One applicant had phoned in to say he could not attend his interview, and another rang to say she would be late due to her journey on the trains being delayed. After that I sent lots of emails* and fortunately met the deadline for finishing my report. The phone seemed to ring constantly. On the way home I stopped at the service station to fill up the car and get some groceries, and then picked up the kids from school. Thursday evening* I helped the children organise their notes for their* homework which they had to hand in to their teacher* tomorrow. We had soon finished the homework, which the tutors* said had to be ready by the deadline of early Friday afternoon*.

* “email” and “mail” Always insert the first vowel

* "Thursday evening" "Friday afternoon" see paragraph 4

* "for their" uses full outlines, only "if" can use doubling for "their"

* “tutors” Always insert the diphthong, as the outline is similar to "teachers". The singular "tutor" is T doubled because the U diphthong is able to be joined on.


Friday: As soon as I arrived, I received a message asking me to meet Mr Black in reception in order to* finish our discussions on the forthcoming trip, and to confirm all the details for the flights and transport. The manager’s car had been serviced and someone had to collect it from the garage by the church, return it to our premises and leave it in the reserved parking space. I decided to send out the new employee Miss Brown and she collected it, paid the bill on the company visa card and soon returned. Later on I had to organise a home visit to meet a client called Mrs White. I soon found the house and she was happy to hear all the details of the trip we had organised and booked. I asked her to confirm her details and send them to us in a letter so that we could* check them against our records. I requested that she pay the amount due as soon as possible*, as we have to book the flights well in advance.

* Omission phrases "in ord(er to)"  "as soon as poss(ible)"

* "could" Avoid phrasing "could, might, note" to prevent misreading as "can, may, know"

Saturday: Today is my birthday and I have booked some places at this evening’s concert. I confirmed the booking by email* and they emailed* me back with the ticket codes. I prefer to buy tickets online so that I can request a particular seat. I spent some hours catching up on writing letters to friends. Some of them* wrote weeks ago and it has taken some time* to finish my replies and get them mailed. In the afternoon I delivered some clothes to the dry cleaners and heard about Mr Green who is going to celebrate his eightieth* birthday next week*. We are going to arrange to have some flowers and chocolates delivered to him and see if we can manage to visit him one day in the week. Later on I made a start on sorting my home office paperwork. By the time I had it sorted, the daylight was almost gone and daytime became night all too soon.

* “email” and “mail” Always insert the first vowel

* Omission phrase "some (of) them". Note that the phrase "some other" doubles the M

* “some time” Halving to represent the T "of “time”

* "eightieth" Diphone sign essential, as otherwise it would look like "eighth"

* Omission phrase "ne(k)s(t w)eek"


Sunday: Today has been a very fine day and after all the usual Sunday morning activities, we were ready to start on some of the easier repairs around the house. We fetched the tools and expected* to be finished quite soon. Neither of us was an expert at Do It Yourself but we had taken some advice, after enquiring online about it, and so there was no delay to the start of the work. We met few difficulties, got on with it and were done in next to no time. It had taken only about an hour. After that, we visited some friends and went for a walk in the park. We walked about two miles and were soon looking forward* to getting back indoors. I wanted to ask my friends home for a meal but we found the buses were cancelled. I did not want to cancel our dinner, so we walked to the town centre to find a taxi to take us home. Very soon we were back home enjoying a lovely meal.

* "expected" Optional short dash through the last stroke of a contraction to indicate past tense

* "looking forward" If there is space, this can be phrased, omitting the R hook “looking-fo(r)ward”


By bedtime I was ready to fill in my diary for the day. If I hadn’t learned shorthand, I am sure I would not have been able to record all the details so quickly and noted all the things I needed reminding of. It was all done very rapidly, with nothing left out, and so I turned off the light and slid down under the blankets for a good night’s rest. (2062 words)

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Quotes For Shorthanders (26 November 2015)


I am sure you can supply the shorthand learning equivalent of all these quotes:

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. Or: speed is fine but accuracy is final. Wyatt* Earp

Accuracy of observation is the equivalent of accuracy of thinking. Wallace Stevens

Employ every economy consistent with thoroughness, accuracy and reliability. Arthur C.* Nielsen

We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction. Malcolm Gladwell

It is the worst of madness to learn what has to be unlearnt.* Desiderius Gerhard Erasmus

In the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply. Johann Wolfgang* Von Goethe

* "Wyatt" The diphthong and dot give greater scope for accuracy than the triphone sign.

* If using strokes for the initials in a name, ensure clearly written and with vowel, as many come in pairs - P B, T D, F V, Gee/Jay/Aitch, S C etc.

* "Unlearnt". If using halving, that could also be "unlearned", so the stroke can be used instead for greater clarification. This is a non-theory alternative, but does come within the general advice traditionally given, to use full strokes wherever greater clarity is needed.

* German pronunciations also given i.e. "yohan, volfgang"


Fast, accurate


In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. Attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out. Robert* Collier

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. William Feather*

Hard work spotlights* the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all. Sam Ewing

Any act often repeated soon forms a habit; and habit allowed steady* gains in strength. At first* it may be but as a spider's web, easily broken through, but if not resisted it soon binds us with chains of steel. Tryon Edwards

* "Robert" Compare "Albert" which uses upward L and halved Br stroke, in order to distinguish

* "Feather" Use full strokes for this name, as the doubling covers several endings: ter, der, ther

* "spotlights"Insert vowels, so it does not look like "spoils"

* "steady" Archaic usage, nowadays we would say "steadily"

* Omission phrase "at (fir)st"


Steady increases towards 100wpm


The most interesting thing about a postage stamp* is the persistence with which it sticks to its job. Napoleon Hill

Mechanical difficulties with language are the outcome of internal difficulties with thought. Elizabeth Bowen

I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander. Isaac Asimov

What good is speed if the brain has oozed out on the way. St. Jerome

To me, speed is really about convenience. Marissa* Mayer

I share my name with an aerobatic bird that can whiz across a whole summer sky in seconds. A swift is so equipped for speed that it can scarcely cope with being stationary. Graham Swift

* Omission phrase "postage s(t)amp" The T of postage is omitted in the basic outline, so does not count as a phrase omission

* "Marissa" Insert all the vowels, to ensure it does not look like "Marcia" (pronounced marsia or marsha)


Ooohs from the mouth


It's a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water. Franklin P.* Jones

If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers. Doug Larson

The human brain is a wonderful organ. It starts to work as soon as you are born and doesn't stop until you get up to deliver a speech. - George Jessel

It usually takes me more than* three weeks* to prepare a good impromptu* speech. Mark Twain

Paralyze resistance with persistence. Woody Hayes

* Initials, see paragraph 1

* Omission phrases "more (tha)n" "three (w)eeks"

* "impromptu" omits the second P sound, so uses M, not Imp



If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all. Michelangelo

The perfection of style consists in the use of the exact speech necessary to convey the sense in the fewest words consistent with perspicuity, at the same time* having regard* to appropriateness* and harmony of expression. Its greater excellencies* are directness, accuracy, appropriateness* and perspicuity. Joseph P. Bradley

I hope you survived the above writer’s verbosity, even though the advice given is admirable. The answer might be a space-time notepad that writes the outlines for you, a possibility* that the following writer seems to hint at:

It is theoretically possible to warp space-time itself, so you're not actually moving faster than the speed of light, but it's actually space that's moving. Elon Musk (578 words)

* “at the same time” Halving for the T of "time"

* Omission phrase "having (re)gard"

* “appropriate” Insert the diphone, and the dash vowel in “proper”, as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "possibility" Optional contraction


After the warping comes removal of the creases

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Sewing Machines (29 November 2015)


A few weeks ago* we went to visit a sewing machine museum. It fills two large rooms over a sewing machine workshop and is absolutely packed full of machines of every size and shape. In the centre are treadle machines and on shelves all around are hundreds more. I knew I was going to be spending some time* in there! There seemed to be a machine for every purpose, joining, binding, edging and making buttonholes, and for every material, from lace and fabric to canvas and leather*. Some were for normal sewing, others for stitching boots, straw hats or edging carpets. There were* the familiar upright machines and others with needles entering sideways, for non-flat objects like boots.

* Omission phrases "few wee(k)s ago"  "there (w)ere"

* "some time" Halving for the T of "time"

* "leather" A lone stroke L is only doubled for -ter, not -der or -ther


London Sewing Machine Museum in Balham, South London


Each item bears the marks of a long life of service, with the paint and patterns worn in varying degrees, but the amazing* thing is that all of them look as if they would never wear out. The ones from the mid eighteen hundreds look as robust and ready for service as those of more recent date and indeed we were told that many of them* are in working order, given just a little more oiling to get them going. Some had two needles or three or five. Some were giants, ready to stitch up any fingers that were not skilled at feeding the material through. Just looking at them in their rows brought to mind the thundering noise of the workshops in which some of them* must have been* used. Some might have been the only machine in a back room of a small workshop, maybe tailoring, repair or some other small scale* production of goods.

* “amazing” and “amusing” Always insert the vowel

* Omission phrase "many (of) them"  "some (of) them"  "must (have) been"

* "Small scale" Note that "scale" on its own has the normal anticlockwise circle

Carpet stitcher of 1952

The first sewing machine I owned was bought as a Christmas present from my parents at age about 12, an old Singer treadle machine on a dark varnished table on an ornate iron stand with decorative wheel and footplate. It was what I asked for, when Mum enquired what I would like, and I am sure she was delighted that we would have such a useful item in the house and solve the Christmas present problem as well. It came with a box of attachments, for hemming, ruffling, pleating, ribbon binding and many more. The ribbon binder was particularly fascinating as you had to thread the narrow ribbon down a cone and the ribbon was folded to both sides of the fabric edge and stitched in place. The pleater was quite ingenious, pushing up the material into little folds at regular short intervals, just before the needle stitched each one in place. We also had the well-known little green Singer booklet, full of intricate diagrams and grainy photos, showing all the attachments in use and the fantastic results that could be obtained with little work.



When not sewing, I would play with it using paper, and make sheets of pretend postage stamps, by making rows of holes in both directions. Sometimes* it was just fun to treadle it to see how fast it would go, and also how long it would continue on its own before it stopped (not long). As I learned to use it, it became easy to keep fingers safe because really the needle is only going up and down, it is not moving about and having to be avoided. The real danger, as with modern machines, is if you pull the material through, which pulls the thread, and so bends the needle tip which then misses its hole in the base plate and breaks, maybe sending a piece of metal flying into your face. Before starting to sew, you have to give the wheel a push in the correct direction and then it carries on. For reverse direction stitching, the wheel is pushed the other way. With use the drive belt became stretched and too loose to turn the wheels properly*, and then it had to be shortened by cutting the existing join and re-joining with a staple.

* “sometimes” Halving for the T of "times

* “appropriate” Insert the diphone, and the dash vowel in “proper”, as these are similar in outline and meaning


I tried my hand at making dolls’ and teddies’ clothes, headscarves, pencil cases and fancy shoulder bags, but soon moved on to the more attractive pursuit of producing clothes for myself. A few years later I made the summer dresses for my school uniform. This meant I could have more dresses than would be affordable if they were bought ready-made. The school material was a choice of blue or green, and also patterned or plain, and as long as the style was nothing wild or immodest, I could choose one that was comfortable and easy to make. That was where I learned the wisdom of trying it on at every stage to ensure it fitted properly*, and leaving large seam allowances, that could be trimmed down later, or used to gain back some width.

* "properly" Insert the dash sign, and the diphone in "appropriately", as these are similar in outline and meaning

The mighty French "Atlas" of 1886, double the size of a household machine


After I started work, I decided to buy an electric model that did zigzag* as well as straight stitch. It was set in a smart table and could be folded down out of sight. I was impatient to master all the controls and I set about finding out immediately after delivery, playing around with endless scraps of fabric. The old treadle machine became neglected and was used as just a corner table, with dust and cobwebs gathering on the treadle plate and wheel. One day we decided that we no longer wanted it and it was given to a passing rag-and-bone man (junkman) who took it away on his cart. I felt a slight twinge at seeing it go, but knew that we were unlikely to use it again. But now I would just love to sit in front of it again and get the treadle moving, listening to the smooth clacking and gentle whirring of the well-oiled machinery*. I have to hope that it eventually passed into the hands of another person who appreciated its usefulness.

* Always use stroke Z for the Z sound at the beginning, but circle can be used within the outline (unless there is some other reason for using a Z stroke e.g. derivative, facility, or a final vowel)

* "mach(in)ery" Optional contraction



Back to the museum, where we have now entered the second room, full of smaller machines displayed in glass cabinets, and more treadle machines in the centre of the room, this time ones more suited to home use. The treadle footplates, instead of being big rectangles, are now two little foot shapes, to match or flatter the owner. Some were designed to fold away and turn into writing desks, a popular feature of Victorian furniture, in order to* have several uses and also be a talking point. Two in particular I noticed were clearly designed to impress visitors. One is a figure of a standing lion on a wooden plinth, with a hinged head so it can be opened to reveal the workings, in order to* thread it up. The other machine has the main body in the form of* a chunky fire hydrant, a novelty maybe for the gentleman* paying for it, and I am guessing tolerated by the lady as a necessary evil!

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)"  "in (the) f(orm of)"

* "gentleman" above the line, "gentlemen" on the line, following the last vowel, in order to differentiate (same as woman/women, human/humane)




In total contrast, my favourite* is the slim-line model in the photo, a Whight and Mann Excelsior from 1865, with gold ornamentation and mother of pearl* inlay, delicate in appearance* but with a long arm so that it can accommodate any amount of fabric placed under it. I would simply be looking all the time for excuses to run something up on it and probably not want to fold it away or cover it up for too long. I think the first thing I would make on it would be a transparent plastic cover, so I could see and admire its beauty every day, while still keeping it in pristine condition. Another interesting machine is a small hand held stitcher, looking like an oversized pair of garden secateurs or eyelet pliers. It was threaded up with a thick thread and I can only guess that it would have been used on a loose fabric such as sacking which would not need very much force to stitch through.

* “favourite” Note “favoured” uses normal Vr stroke

* Omission phrase "mother (of) pearl"

* "appearance" Insert the first vowel, so the outline does not look like "patterns"



Once home, I glanced at my present machine, a small portable tucked under my computer corner beneath its white plastic cover. It is an electric table-top model, and although it does the job admirably, fast and without much effort, I still have ringing in my ears from 45 years ago the gentle noise of the treadle, its greater ability to go very slowly without stopping, and the feeling that it would last forever, with a little help from the machine oil and the occasional new drive belt. I am sure I could find the time to play more earnestly with all those pleating attachments, despite not having a real use for the result - or maybe I could get away with a few ornamented ruffle edged pillowcases around the house. Whether for practical or frivolous purposes, all my sewing machines were definitely a girl’s best friend. (1445 words)



http://ismacs.net/index.html  International Sewing Machines Collectors' Society

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=999ph8iRT4o  Clip from the 1947 Paramount film "The Perils of Pauline" Betty Hutton singing The Sewing Machine song

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