About Singer itinerary


The opening page of the Singer Sewing Machine is based on an advertisement in the upscale magazine Stolitsa i usad'ba (Capital City and Country Estate), the Russian equivalent of the English Country Life and Ladies Field. The offices of Stolitsa i usadba, which described itself as "a magazine of the beautiful life," were located in the House of Singer, the most luxurious office building in St. Petersburg. The aesthetic orientation of the journal was eclectic and included art nouveau imagery – in Russia called style moderne – the new artistic style of the beginning of the twentieth century. The advertisement from Stolitsa i usadba is an example of the kind of ornamental art nouveau with floral motifs and sinuous organic lines associated with early modernism and used in a variety ways at the beginning of the twentieth century. The architecture of the House of Singer on 28 Nevsky, moreover, was in an eclectic art nouveau style featuring ample glass and gilded cast iron decorative molding.

The sewing machine was one of the truly ubiquitous modern material objects in the domestic sphere, speeding up the act of sewing. It allowed women everywhere to enter technological modernity in the everyday sense; the sewing machine was also an all-important tool in the modernization of the textile industry, but in contrast to the home, there it turned women into modernity's labor force exploited in industrial sweatshops.

Art nouveau and the Singer sewing machine, associated with American inventor and industrialist Isaac Merritt Singer whose company became the largest in the world, were strange bedfellows, representing different realms of the modern. Art nouveau had a nostalgic sensibility, and instead of the machine, celebrated nature as it introduced new ways of picturing nature by means of modernist – not modern – undulating serpentine lines; the Singer represented the technological pragmatic aspect of modernity that was directly linked to progress, but not modernism. Yet the two came seamlessly together, not only in the building affiliated with the American sewing machine, but also in some of the images used to advertise it. The stand of the standing Singer machine has become a fashionable piece of furniture in Russia today, and the machine itself is the object of nostalgia for many Russian women who remember it fondly in the everyday lives of their mothers or grandmothers.

Russia was Singer's largest foreign market at the beginning of the twentieth century, whose headquarters were located in the House of Singer. The company built a factory in Podolsk, not far from Moscow, which became operational in 1905, producing sewing machines for its Russian, Balkan, and Japanese markets. It was also the primary source of American influence on Russian industrial and business practices at the beginning of the twentieth century, training thousands of worker and salesmen for Singer throughout the Russian empire (See Fred Carstensen, American Enterprise in Foreign Markets: Studies of Singer and International Harvester, 1984).

To explore the Singer pathway, you can also go back to the opening page and mouse over the four images at the bottom, which will open four ways of exploring the life of the sewing machine in St. Petersburg and Russia or just click: Singer Advertisements; Seamstress; Singer Conquers Nature; and House of Singer's Architecture, including the interior of the building.