Eastbourne's Alex Askaroff talks family heritage and sewing machines
Sewing machines have been a part of Alex Askaroff’s life for as long as he can remember.
His family owned Premiere Baby based in Eastbourne from the 1950s until the early 1990s.
The business made all things needed for a baby from Terry Towelling nappies to rain covers Afor prams all the things you need before they wear ‘proper clothes’.
“Growing up I got the sewing machinery running on the factory floor as well as all the outworkers that stretched from Hastings to Hove,” explains Alex.
“I learnt to sew from some of the best engineers.”
In the early 1990s the business was priced out of the market as things were made cheaper abroad.
“We just couldn’t compete, it is why so many other factories collapsed.
“My younger brother still does manufacture though covers and cushions for wheelchairs which is basically the same as a pushchair just on a larger scale.”
Alex hasn’t strayed too far from the family business and now repairs machines for companies and for people in their own homes.
“I have evolved with the machines so I have gone from the mechanical to the electric and to now computerised,” he explains.
“I went to one house and the husband let me in and went into another room. I saw the machine ahead of me and as I went to it he shouted ‘I’ll show you what’s wrong’. He was controlling it from a computer in his living room.
“I can be at a sheltered home in Brighton one minute to driving up the drive of a big country house.
“I can visit an elderly lady with the latest computerised machine or a young girl who loves the sound of a hand turned machine.
“Sewing is timeless and has no boundaries.”
His passion for fixing machines has also seen him start collecting and he says at present he has around 200.
“The sewing machine was the first mass produced item for the home that everyone wanted,” he explains.
“It would be in the parlour and people wanted to show it off so in that time they were really beautifully decorated with mother of pearl inlay and different colours.”
The machines are sourced from charity shops, auctions and eBay, and he even received a machine as payment once.
“My first ever machine I found in a skip but I couldn’t reach it so I had to get my dad to get it out for me,” reveals Alex.
“But the first one I bought was a 1860 Raymond machines I was in Sidlesham doing a job, I asked for payment and the lady walked out the room and came back and said ‘would you like payment or would you like this?’ So I took the machine, my wife wasn’t too happy.”
Alex admits that over the years he has sold some of the more common machines in his collection to accommodate the rarer finds, including one shaped like a dolphin.
“I bought it from a watchmaker. There are only six known in existence so when I saw it I had to have it,” he smiles.
But there are still some on his wish list
“There is a sewing machine which is shaped like an anchor lying down and a Kimball & Morton lion machine imagine a bronze lion and the paw is the needle,” he enthuses.
“I actually missed out on one on ebay as it went to crazy money.”
Alex is also an author and has written a number of books on sewing including one on Isaac Singer.
“I just found that there were no books out there about sewing machines so I thought I would write them,” he explains.
“Isaac Singer went from a vagabond to this really successful businessman, he also had six wives and about 20 children.”
His latest book focuses on Eastbourne and the Duke of Devonshire who built the town in the 1850s.
“He just kept inheriting land and titles and when he inherited land and property at Eastbourne he decided to build a town,” reveals Alex.
“He had it in his blood his family had built towns before so he did it.
“Much of the front from the pier to The Grand hotel is his vision. He brought in gas, water and rail to the town.”
One for the outlets for the book is at the RNLI at Sovereign Harbour, with proceeds from the sale going back into the RNLI.
Back to his passion of sewing with it more popular than ever Alex has no concerns about being busy.
“I say to my wife I’ll be busy repairing machines five years after I died,” he laughs.
See Amazon for all Alex Askaroff’s books or visit www.sewalot.com