Sewing Machine Repair Smith

At the left of the sewing head on the wooden tabletop, the needle shaft moves up and down in accordance with the pulley wheel and foot pedal. The loop-taker cooperates with the needle to sew or bind fabric using slender thread, leaving a neat row of stitches.

Sewing is a practical life skill even before the invention of sewing machines, as per the poem “thread held by a loving mother, made clothes for her wandering son”. Due to the virtuous practice of frugality, almost all housewives sew or alter clothes for their family. When the sewing machine was first launched, it was a luxurious item only the wealthy could afford. Around the mid-20th century, sewing machines indicated a well-to-do family’s wedding gift or dowry, in combination with bicycle, watch, and radio.

Sewing machines eased the tedious task of sewing by improving efficiency. During Malaysia’s economic boost in the 70s-80s, sewing machines became a household item. However the emergence of fast fashion deemed homemade clothing unstylish, sewing machines became eradicated, being used by only a few families and hobbyists. In the event of malfunctioning, it is difficult to send the sewing machine for repair due to its bulk and weight, hence the demand for on-site repair and service.

A call away, Uncle J.S. Lim departs from Port Dickson in his red minivan to the customer’s site. Carrying a blue toolbox, along with over 40 years of experience in machinery repairs, he proficiently fixes faulty sewing machines. He generally services and adjusts the loop timing, the latter being most crucial. The loop-taker seizes thread from the ascending needle, performing a retrograde movement to ensure stitch formation. Difference by a hair’s breadth may cause the shuttle hook and needle to be out of sync, resulting in skipping stitches, therefore the timing should be precise. From old-fashioned hand crank sewing machines, foot pedalled sewing machines, to modern motorized sewing machines, all restored by Uncle Lim’s skillful hands.

In his teens, Uncle Lim was apprenticed to a shop selling bicycles and sewing machines, learning to repair sewing machines from the shopowner’s daughter who was a tailor. His quick wits enabled him to apply the fundamental principles he mastered to other devices such as chainsaws, lawnmowers, electric generators etc. At 32-33 years old, he set up his own shop, only going into semi-retirement two years ago due to lack of customers. During CMCO this May, Uncle Lim’s daughters suggested him to create a Facebook page offering on-site sewing machine maintenance and repair.

“Uncle Lim Repair Shop” was thus created on Facebook, receiving countless enquiries. Starting from small neighbourhoods within Negeri Sembilan, Uncle Lim carries out on-site repairs, catering to mostly ladies and elderly persons from any racial background. His honest conduct and diligence won praises, his customer base grew. Mrs Lim tags along wherever he goes, chatting with customers while taking videos or photos of the service process and the customers’ satisfaction. These files are then uploaded onto Facebook with touching remarks, attracting more likes and followers.

The Facebook page has created far more job opportunities for Uncle Lim, his services expanded across districts and even across states since RMCO in June. Provided the accumulation of a few malfunctioning sewing machines within the same vicinity is enough to offset his travel expenses, he will proceed to schedule appointments. Uncle Lim and wife both have a happy-go-lucky attitude, treating outstation jobs as domestic travels to destinations such as Bidor, Ipoh, and Kampar. Warm reception from customers relieves them of fatigue, local delicacies delightful to savour. The furthest they went was 400km away to Gerik, where they stayed a few days and repaired over 30 sewing machines.

Besides maintenance and repair services, Uncle Lim promotes the practical usage of sewing machines in daily living, sharing beginner tips and tutorials on his Facebook page. He hopes to encourage more people to use sewing machines, or to regain this skill. Moreover, sewing machines are durable, old-fashioned ones still in use throughout several rural areas. Uncle Lim once serviced a hand crank sewing machine more than 150 years old, a precious family inheritance over three generations.

Though sewing machine repair is a declining industry, the skill is still valuable. Repair smiths like Uncle Lim who are willing to provide on-site services extend the usability of sewing machines, issues faced by perplexed customers resolved, thus escaping the sad fate of being sold as scrap metal. Utilizing modern technology such as social media not only unlocked a new chapter in Uncle Lim’s career, but also the rebirth of sewing machines.

Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen

有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : Valentines Day Romantic Piano


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