An ebook sensation, selling over 100,000 copies, The Sewing Machine by Scottish author Natalie Fergie is published this month, in paperback, by Unbound.

Spanning the years from 1911 to 2016, Fergie’s novel was inspired by her own collection of sewing machines and her desire for just one more – the Singer 99K. When she googled it, she discovered that it had first been made in 1911 in a factory on the banks of the Clyde:

[T]o my astonishment, what appeared on the screen was information about the mass strike at the Singer factory, a strike that started when just three women were moved from one department to another, leaving the remaining dozen to do the work of fifteen. 12,000 workers went on strike.’

At the time, the strike was polarising and yet it was an extraordinary feat of organisation in a working-class area against an influential company, at a time of great political and social change, when both labour and women’s rights were contentious issues.

The Sewing Machine opens in 1911, with Jean about to join the strike, a decision that has long-lasting and life-changing consequences. In the following chapters, we meet other characters in different timelines, all connected by the sewing machine: Connie and her mother in 1950s’ Edinburgh; trainee nurse Ruth in the 1980s; and Fred in the twenty-first century, at a crossroads in his life, living with a cat in his grandfather’s flat in Edinburgh, where he discovers a treasure of family documents in his grandmother’s old sewing machine.

Fergie’s etches her characters with a fine hand, using her own experiences – such as being a nurse, trained in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh – to create authentic situations and locations for her cast. Her knowledge of, and love for Scotland, particularly Edinburgh and Leith, shines through, informing the book’s landscape. We also experience the changing landscape for women in the workplace, society at large and with regard to reproductive rights, as seen through the eyes of Jean, Connie and Ruth.

The Sewing Machine is a great debut,  deserving of the many accolades it has already received. We look forward to reading the author’s future titles.


The Sewing Machine | Natalie Fergie | Unbound | paperback | £8.99 | 9 February 2019 |

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Acknowledgements: Quote from Natalie Fergie. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour organised by Anne Cater, of Random Things Tours, to whom we extend our thanks. Many thanks also to the publisher for supplying a review copy of the book. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.

Also of interest: The Lost Man‘; ‘Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing’; ‘The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland‘; ‘A Greater God‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.



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