One of the first things I noticed inside Billiam Jeans—a small Greenville, South Carolina, atelier that I visited a few years ago—was the row of antique sewing machines carefully arranged on a window ledge. The half-dozen people working inside happened to be seated at contemporary sewing machines, but the array of prewar counterparts was no mere window dressing.
Bill Mitchell founded the company, which sells its high-end denim at boutiques both here and abroad. A svelte, bearded twentysomething, he pointed to a first-generation Union Special 43200G hemming machine, or “edge locker.” Stout and brimming with thread, it looked like something you’d find in the dusty corner of a provincial industrial history museum. Mitchell told me that he’d purchased it from a seller in Thailand, at a cost more appropriate for an automobile.
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