Old Singer sewing machines evoke memories, interest


Sim showing two Chinese tourists how to handle one of the century old Singer sewing machines.

KOTA KINABALU: The Singer shop along Gaya Street is quickly becoming a tourist attraction after its manager, Gomez Sim, decided to showcase his collection of old Singer sewing machines.

Tourists stopped by to stare at the displays while some took photographs, selfies and wefies. It attracted a lot of attention and among the comments given to Sim is that his collection evoked the nostalgia of childhood memories and of mothers and grandmothers who are no longer around.

Some have also expressed their delight to have found a treasure trove along Gaya Street.

Many would enter the shop and ask if they could touch the old machines, to which Sim allowed, with his supervision — after all, several are more than a century old and very hard to come by.

Sim is also quick to share the story of how he acquired his collection to his visitors and the history behind each machine.

“I started collecting the machines more than 20 years ago, starting with the sewing machine belonging to my grandmother,” he said.

The sewing machine held special memories for him and his siblings, he recalled.

“We were not well-to-do, and so our aunt would use the sewing machine and make us these smart looking jeans and shirt for every Chinese New Year. I have no idea how she learned to do all that, but it was with the sewing machine that I now keep,” he said.

After that, he began buying old sewing machines that people have brought in to his shop to exchange for newer models.

“Usually, I would tell them to keep their old sewing machines because these are part of their family heritage. It belonged to their mother who probably inherited it from her mother and so on,” he said.

But of course, there are cases when people just cannot find the space for the old sewing machines in their home, and these are the ones that Sim usually buys.

“People make exchanges because the newer models fit the requirements of their job. Tailors prefer industrial sewing machines, for example. And most of our newer models are electronically run. We also have computerised models and affordable heavy duty models,” he said.

Sim and his unique window display which attracts throng of people walking along the Gaya street.

The old sewing machines, on the other hand, are mechanical in nature and run manually (one has to manually peddle with the feet or rotate with the hand to start them), but the perk of using them is their low maintenance cost, said Sim who is also a pro in fixing sewing machines, which explains why all the antique sewing machines at his shop still run and function normally.

One of the oldest sewing machines on show is more than 100 years old, according to Sim.

“I purchased an old Singer sewing machine from an employee of a British officer who came here during the colonial era. The officer brought it here from England and later, when he went back to his country, gave it to his worker. And the worker sold it to me,” he said.

There are also occasions where Sim gets the antique sewing machines for free.

“Some people just donate it,” he said.

He explained that the sewing machines collected are mostly derived from owners who are in Borneo.

“The Singer sewing machine was introduced to Borneo during the colonial era. This shop in Gaya Street is the first Singer shop established in Kota Kinabalu,” he said.

Sim said that he is proud to showcase his collection but he is not interested in selling any of the antique collection.

“It is just to show the Borneo heritage and the history of Singer in this city,” he said.

Since Sim installed his unique window display, he has been getting around 200 visitors a day.

“I knew it would catch the attention of many,” he said.

He is already thinking of setting up another display corner but felt he was already out of space.