The piece of December is a 24-60 sewing machine. It was manufactured between the 1920s and the 1930s by the American firm USMC and distributed throughout Spain by its subsidiary (established in Barcelona in 1917). The machine is featured on a table by Singer, the famous American manufacturer of sewing machines (established in 1851). Mounting sewing machines on tables previously used for other machines was a very common thing to do back then, as you will see from other examples on display in our museum.
Sewing was part of the process in which the different cuts of leather were prepared, feathered, sewed and stitched together to assemble the final shoe. The sewing process was basically about ornamenting the upper part of the shoe with eyelets that created different reliefs and sometimes resulted in different designs. Great accuracy was required in this task, since the small holes had to be punched at the right distance in order to obtain the right pattern. The cut of leather would be placed on the metal plate with hard cardboard in between. The pedal (located at the bottom of the machine) was used to activate the straps and the wheels moving the mouthpiece (the filter) that would punch in the leather. There were many different filter shapes and sizes, some even would allow several holes to be made at once. The motor and the light may have been added a few decades later in order to speed up the manufacturing process. The inscription “SINGER” is featured on both sides of the machine, while the nameplate with the Barcelona subsidiary of USMC is featured on the back. These machines were first introduced in Majorca between the late 19th century and the early 20th century and where crucial to expedite and increase production.
According to the shoemaking information documented, sewing has always been performed by female workers. Some seamstresses worked at the plant, although working from home was also very common back then. This offered companies many advantages in times of high demand. They would hire home-based seamstresses and offer them worse working conditions than plant workers: they were paid less, they worked on a piecework basis (they were not paid if there was no work), they didn’t pay social security contributions and they were not entitled to holidays or accident insurance. Therefore, machines like this one may have been used not only at shoe manufacturing plants but also at seamstresses homes.