A retired engineer takes pride in restoring old sewing machines to their former glory.
Retired engineer YC Yeow has a rather unusual hobby – he loves to collect and restore antique sewing machines.
“I’ve always been interested in the nuts and bolts of mechanical devices. My job as an engineer required me to understand how gadgets could be redesigned and improvised to speed up production. Troubleshooting and repairing electronic equipment were part of my job scope,” said Yeow, 78.
Yeow’s interest was sparked off in 2008 when he discovered his late mother’s antique sewing machine in his brother’s backyard. It was almost reduced to a piece of junk.
“I grew up during the Japanese Occupation. Those were tough times and money was scarce. To supplement the family income, my mother worked as a seamstress. The old and rusty sewing machine brought back memories of my childhood. It pained me to see the old sewing machine left to rot at the back of the house. I was inspired to restore it and turn it into a masterpiece,” he recalled.
The process of fixing the antique sewing machine took more than two months. Yeow de-constructed the treadle sewing machine, polished the rusty parts and gave it a chrome finish.
“The entire structure of the machine was dull and grimy. The spool pin, bobbin case, needle plate, fly wheel and metal stand were rusty. It was a tedious and time-consuming job, scrubbing off the rust, polishing the parts and chrome-plating it. Though a tiring process, I took it as a challenge and completed it in memory of my late mother,” said Yeow.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Yeow proceed to repair other sewing machines. Over a span of six years, he has restored 15 sewing machines, some dating back to the 1940s. The sewing machines are sourced from friends, flea markets, and second-hand stores in Malacca and the Klang Valley.
The creative septuagenarian has gone on to attach an electric motor to a few antique machines to upgrade them.
At his home in Petaling Jaya, Yeow has a room dedicated to fixing and restoring mechanical items. Yeow spends four to five hours a day in his home-based “workshop”. Faulty electrical appliances, transistor radios, speakers, and weighing scales are among the items that line the shelves.
On a rectangular table, there are tool boxes that hold screws, hammers and nails of different sizes. There is also a magnifying glass and table lamp which help to extend the limits to what his eyes can see.
While some items in his room may seem like junk, Yeow sees them as a challenge and finds fulfilment in restoring appliances and gadgets to their former glory.
“Some items can be fixed easily by figuring out which is the faulty part. However, some gadgets require more work; fixing one circuit impairment can lead to repairs for a series of malfunctions,” says Yeow, who re-sells some items to second-hand stores. The rest are given away to friends or stored as keepsake.
When it comes to repair work, Yeow gets his ideas from books, magazines and social media. At other times, he relies on his inventiveness to come up with ways to repair broken stuff.
Besides books on mechanical instruments and do-it-yourself manuals, Yeow likes to read biographies. History, politics and Chinese literature are among his favourite subjects.
Yeow also keeps busy by serving in several societies. He is assistant secretary of the Damansara Jaya Senior Citizens Association, and enjoys organising events to enhance the quality of life of retirees. To keep physically fit, Yeow plays table tennis and joins a group of senior citizens who practise taichi and qigong in the morning.
“The tight schedule keeps me mentally alert. Through the association, I get to socialise with other retirees and participate in outdoor activities which help us to live life to the fullest.”
When Yeow is not busy outdoors, one can only imagine him engrossed in repair work as he takes apart rusty sewing machines and restore them to mint condition in his workshop.