Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Singer, Not the Song

Wisconsin Historical Images - Singer Advertising Card - Philippine Islands "Manila" (illustration based on an 1892 photograph)

Vivid! I still remember Mother's first Singer sewing machine in early 50s. Over the open cabinet of the machine she hummed Philippine folksongs; and when cabinet was closed and machine magically hidden, it became a table for her to write stories, poems and prayers. One day the one-toothed ogre caught my thumb, I let out a shriek and mother came to the rescue really worried. It was almost painless yet I was more amused by the crimson drop that slowly spurted out of my thumbnail.

The machine became her life. She patched, hemmed and created dresses for my siblings; and the only thing that worried her was sight of almost-empty wooden thread spools. The empties became wheels for my cardboard cars and airplanes.

Man, I was only about 5 or 6 when I playfully inserted a tennis ball inside the machine's wheel cage; mom was unaware and stepped hard on pedal that spun ball to my delight. Then ..gasp..I was shocked when ball wedged between a spoke and Titanic-kind of a brittle metal cage! It cracked and fell off! Mother turned white and let out a scream that would've blown a hole through ceiling and lifted corrugated iron roofing of our Pasay abode; LOL!)

Then Dad arrived home after a hard day of driving one of Manila's first Mercedes Benz taxi cabs (Manila Golden) and was fuming mad; but Nanay's hug shielded me while she explained to him that it still worked even without the safety cage.

At age 14, after briefly enrolling in a community tailoring course, I've sewn my first pair of pants. It wasn't easy but I felt like an engineer who stood on the edge of a just-finished Hoover Dam:)

However my romance with a flat, waxy, orange chalk that I used to draw patterns on cheap denim cloth ended as I thought there wasn't enough challenge in it; and I drifted to drawing comics. There was this eerie similarity in clothesmaking and drawing amateur comics. The principles that governed the elements that made storytelling flow smoothly and effectively remained the same.The intent, the yarn, patterns, colours, padding, anxiety, drama, texture, design, stitching and sometimes reverse engineering--it was delightfully visual but often cruelly formatted ; like a tight pair of jeans worn after a long winter hibernation; an anecdote I could wear but without busting the top waist button:).

In the 60's our eldest sister found office work at Singer in Port Area, Manila.

Ok Singer, let's call it quits;). Image above (Mother's First Singer) is one of new merbau experimental painting series I've been drawing from memory for the past year. Nowhere in my web search have I found anybody seriously using merbau (a natural, transluscent stain derived from merbau trees, (also called Ipil or Taal in the Philippines) as medium for painting due to the fact that merbau is only produced commercially to stain wooden furniture. Thus I believe I'm first to try this. It was very frustrating at first for it took me 8 layers to darken areas. It's like working on watercolours, although much more unpredictable. This natural stain is brilliant as it shows unique golden hues and streak when dry, unmatched by any polyemer or acrylic paint.

(Singer Sewing Machine photos from my web search)

more info here about top image

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