Saturday, March 25, 2017

What Are Friends For?

Sometimes I feel sorry for some of my sewing machines. They get listed and no one wants them. Or they get listed and I find they are hugely popular...but no one shows up to actually try them out or purchase. Such was the ordeal of the Brother ES-2000. It's a pretty nice sewing machine and in the category of starter or beginner with a bit more to it. I liked the sound of it and the quality of the stitches so I posted it locally and got about six calls for it. No one showed up. Each time someone called they wouldn't follow through or changed their time again and again until, finally, Corina actually showed up. I hoped my text back and forth didn't sound too surly but I feared this poor, but nice, sewing machine would start to get a complex. Corina showed up to try it out:
Brother ES-2000
She liked it just fine, glad it seemed pretty simple yet still had a print manual to fill in any of the gaps. As she was leaving I handed her my business card and she remarked "If you have any more like this..." and I told her you-bet-I-did. She called a friend of hers and we pulled up my current ad for beginners sewing machines. With five to choose from I suggested the best one, a Brother XL-3100:
Brother XL-3100
Corina looked it over and got a five minute lesson in the basics: threading, stitch selection, stitch length and width, and backstitch. There was no manual but one should be easily purchased online yet I can't do that with the low price I offer. She was pretty sure her friend would like this one so she bought it with the assurance her friend would pay her back. I added a new box of class 15 bobbins and a package of new needles for both and she was on her way.

Now this is a good friend! It's been 24 hours and I haven't heard from either woman so I'm thinking they are happily learning how to use their new sewing machines. I welcome calls, though, and would give a free lesson in sewing to just get them started but Corina and I agreed that you can learn most anything via YouTube and that just might be the answer they needed. To Corina and her girl friend: happy sewing days to you!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Let's Begin At The Beginning

Beginner's sewing machines is a bit of a misnomer: why would a beginner want a sewing machine that was "less than" any other sewing machine for a person who sews? There are several reasons why you might not want a "serious" sewing machine:
  • Just trying out a new hobby: why spend much money on something you are only going to dabble in? If you like sewing you can always buy a better sewing machine later.
  • Money is tight and you think you can save money by mending your clothes or making new ones cheaper.
  • Your child/grandchild has expressed an interest in sewing but what if they don't stick with it? Better to buy a beginner's sewing machine.
  • Money is still tight and you can only afford a beginner's sewing machine , just under $100.
Of course, I'm going to refute these ideas but, not to insult my readers, I'll just sum this up quickly. Poor equipment is just that: poor. No one would stay with a new hobby when they struggle to get the equipment to work or it produces poor results. Poor results? You might think to yourself "I must not be very good at it." Yet maybe your equipment isn't very good. Many, many people have used rather crappy sewing machines for years and wondered why their garments do not turn out too well. Of course you will get better with practice but poor equipment can only take you so far.

Enter your choices in beginning to sew:

Brother XL-3750

Brother JX-2517
Brother XL-3100

Brother XL-5130

Most people go with a Brother sewing machine or Singer because they are cheap and easy to find: they are in Walmart, Costco, even Aldi (I kid you not, I almost took a photo).  But these won't last for long and do not give you a good, even stitch. If you happen to jam the machine from sewing over a pin or trying to hem jeans, it can throw the timing off and/or break gears. Let me suggest some alternatives.
Montgomery Wards UHT J1947

Signature UHT J278
Buy vintage! Only the strong survive so the poor sewing machines have all gone to landfills and the better ones are ready for you to try out. I have been pleasantly surprised at some brands that have attached their name to some pretty nice sewing machines: Signature (Montgomery Wards), J.C. Penney's, and Kenmore (Sears), where none of them are actually made by the company that sells them. Even some big names have made more-affordable lines like Bernette by Bernina, and Elnita by Elna. Here are some I've used and thought were pretty nice:
Bernette 330

Elna 1010
J.C. Penney's Stretch Stitch
They usually sell for less than $100 and are made well. For beginning sewing I usually recommend straight, zigzag, and stretch stitches, with a 4-step buttonhole maker. This will take you quite far before you find the need to expand into a "better" sewing machine. What constitutes a better machine? It's not always about money but about performance. If you have never tried a classic Elna, Necchi, Pfaff, Singer or Bernina you are in for a treat. Each one performs differently and speaks to you (or not). If you go into dealerships they basically have the new models and only for a few of the different lines. Where can you try out all the different brands? Why, at my house, of course! I don't have all of my models out all of the time either but if you come to one of my sewing machine garage sales...then you are in for a treat.

I know, I know, I've said I won't do another one and I'm not even looking at anything in a cabinet, but next fall might be a different story. It's a bit like a siren's call but I hope I don't get dashed onto the rocks!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Hit and a Miss

This is the tale of two sewing machines and goes to show that it is not always clear which ones are keepers and which ones are losers. My friend Ellie, who sends sewing machines to Haiti, brought over a Singer Scholastic 717 to see if it could be sent off. She heard it had plastic gears and didn't want to bother with anything that might not hold up.
Singer Scholastic 717, oh so '60's
Sure enough, when I looked inside I found four plastic gears for the hook and feed dogs but they all appeared to be in excellent shape. Removing the top cover showed a big plastic gear under the top one pictured below that I couldn't see very well. There were other plastic parts that were oddly placed such as part of the take-up arm and on the main shaft:
Under the lid of the Singer 717
Why? After removing the bent needle and running it a bit, everything sounded normal, at least normal for this model that tends to grind. It does have the geared hand wheel and is very similar to the Singer 400 series, a real favorite of mine. As I cleaned out lint and old grease, it started to run slower. I could not figure out what was causing the slowing down. The foot control had something rattling around in it but that didn't seem to be the problem. I loosened the clutch to see how the motor would run when there was no load: it spun freely and strong. Then I noticed a light coating of cream colored shredding: shredding of plastic? That would be a reason for it to be slowing down but where was that shredding coming from? I bet when I started this machine up the hidden gear worked at first and then started to break down, causing it to spit parts out and kept the machine from running. It's not going to Haiti with all of those plastic gears anyway but I just wanted to find out what happened.

The next day I found a sorta sad sewing machine at Savers, a J.C. Penney model 7102. I say it was sad because the plastic parts that were exposed to daylight were yellowed while the metal part was still cream. It appeared to be very lightly used with all by two of the snap-on presser feet in the front storage compartment and very little lint inside. It cleaned up nicely and started to run smoothly once it was oiled.
J.C. Penney model 7102 storage compartment up front
There was about eight inches of thread wound around the take up levers/arm next to the needle bar so that could be why someone gave it up, thinking it was having problems.  The thread /spool holder on the back of the machine was positioned in such a way that the built in handle for the sewing machine would fold down and catch one of the plastic pins and it was nearly broken off. I checked my parts and found the exact same configuration, just a thicker pin so it was traded out:
New spool pins in place
All cleaned up and threaded, it sewed a great stitch, including stretch stitches and a four-step buttonhole stitch. This is one nice sewing machine even if it does have plastic gears inside. It runs smoothly and is probably twenty years younger than the Singer 717, something to pay attention to. There could easily be only thirty years of wear on the J.C. Penny's sewing machine and fifty plus years on the Singer. That's just something to keep in mind.
J.C. Penney 7102
Out of these two sewing machines, one a classic Singer but with many flaws and the other sold under  other names of department stores, it's a bit of a switch to find the no-name runs better at this point in time than the Singer. When new, the Singer models were quite nice and more modern that the earlier 400 series that introduced  the slant needle, built in cams and removable cams for decorative stitches, plus the gear to gear smoothness and strength like the earlier 15-91 and 201-2. Yet, over time, the switch to plastic was the big downfall and the Singer name has never been the same. For my time and money, I'll take the J.C. Penney's, thank you very much.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Making Up For Lost Time

While away from home, my business continued of buying, restoring, and reselling vintage sewing machines. Through an auction I managed to buy an Elna Air Electronic model 62 and even though it was a local buy and I usually pick up my  winnings, this time I had it mailed for a mere $10. It arrived and I got to take a look at it yesterday while resting up:
Elna 68 cleaned up
It came without a power cord or foot control but I was pretty sure I had them at home. It was dirty, taking several steps to get the layers of dirt off but it does run. This sewing machine is a real classic and desirable: Ray White says Elna really got it right when they designed this model.

Emails and text continued while I was gone and I promised to get back to each one. That meant I ended up with three appointments on my first day home while recovering from a midnight flight arrival. Remember that I average selling one sewing machine per week so I had some catching up to do. First on the list was the Free Westinghouse Rotary, such a nice sewing machine but one of the downfalls is the specially sized needles it requires.
Free Westinghouse in custom wood base
Linda arrives and, wouldn't you know it, pulls out a lightweight leather collar that she needs to sew multiple layers. Oh oh, this is not the machine she needs. We try several adjustments and it skips stitches when going over the tough spots. I'm not surprised so we have an honest talk about what she needs this sewing machine to actually accomplish and what other sewing machines she has at home. Linda really does have great experience in sewing, even has a Singer 15-91, but she's thinking she's going to send it to her sister. She agrees to take a trial run with a Singer 201, one of my all-time favorites. Of course, it sails right through the layers, the stitches are even and beautiful, with top and bottom stitches. Success! She's sure this is the one but has to run more errands and will be back later this evening. No problem. I go take a nap.
Singer 201: decals gone from the bed (a little too much cleaning?)
Next up is Mickie who loves Kenmore sewing machines and has spied the Kenmore 385-1960, a lovely electronic model that preforms well. In less than 5 minutes she knows it's the one she wants so this is one of the quickest sales and the fastest one today. She teaches 4H sewing and despises the plastic wonders the students try to use, knowing a Kenmore is going to perform much better and is sturdier to boot.  As she goes out the door with my business card she promises to tell her friends about my little business and I hope she does!
Kenmore 385-1960
Hillary is up next, looking at one of the higher end sewing machines of my small group of modern sewing machines. A long-time fan of the Viking Husqvarna 6000 series, hers is sorta underwater. It's a long story, but an upstairs bathroom leak found its way into her sewing machine that has now rusted inside. Although she is sick about it she is moving on and the Viking Husqvarna Platinum 730 is just the sewing machine to easily forget your past troubles. It's a real beauty that performs well for a computerized model and she is a bit dazzled by it, asking why anyone would give it up. There's usually only a couple of choices: bought a newer model or giving up on sewing.  It was the first choice with the Platinum 730, nothing wrong with the seller or the model. Hillary went home very happy.
Viking Husqvqarna Platinum 730
The day wasn't over because Linda was coming back for the Singer 201. She thought a table might be nice since she was used to a knee control so I found one in the garage from my fall sale and got it all set up minus the bracket that holds the foot control up into the cabinet. That's right, it's the same foot control that slides into a large metal bracket. Once in place, all you have to do in push the knee control to engage the button on the new-mounted foot control. It's not magic but it is pretty slick! We end up waiting all evening for Linda and when she comes she's distraught because her phone isn't working and she got sorta lost in our neighborhood. That's alright, she is finally here, pays for the Singer 201, but needs to think about the table: she will be back.

At the end of the day I get to continue to work on the Elna 68, freeing up the stuck places until I can get it to sew as I know an Elna's can. I finally practice stitch with built in stitches and some cams from another model:
Elna 68 stitch sample: cam stitches on left, built in stitches on right
I can see it's going to be a whirlwind month with much catching up to do but you know how I love this hobby-turned-business: it's almost never any work and fun to play!

Friday, March 3, 2017


I'm still in Florida, taking care of my mom who had a very brief bout with pancreatic cancer, dying only three weeks after hearing the diagnosis. We had one good week together where we had some fun together and some tears, and her calling out our names in threes "Karen, Karen, Karen!" or "Girls, girls, girls..." On her last day she had a sponge bath and got arranged comfortably in bed, quietly taking her last breathe while we were each off doing something else. It was a quiet moment to say goodbye to this world.

In taking care of her household belongings, we have found some interesting things I hope my readers would also like to hear about. While she had sold her sewing machine to a friend of mine for her daughter decades ago (I think it was a Singer Fashion Mate), she still did some mending and had a long ride with counted cross stitch projects. We did find a sewing drawer where she had spools of thread, ribbons, snaps, and all those kinds of things for minor repairs. And she had buttons, lots and lots of buttons:
Buttons, buttons, buttons!

At first it was a jar of tiny zippered plastic bags with spare buttons that come with some clothing. I opened up each bag and put the buttons in a smaller jar, keeping those little bags for other items.

Buttons from recent clothing purchases
Then we found more jars of buttons, and finally THE jar of vintage buttons. Actually, it was a box that had been covered with Contact paper but I recognized it immediately from my childhood. Wow, I knew these were dating from the 1940's so I gladly put them in a safer place.
Vintage buttons

Then my husband found a tiny tube that contained three needles. Rolled up inside was a note from when I gave it to her over thirty years ago:
Thi note was kept since 1986?

One time when we were talking about gifts she told me this little tube was such a simple thing and something she loved very dearly, saying you just never know what is going to tickle your fancy. Apparently, this one did:
Wood tube painted to hold current project needles
It just goes to show you that you never know what is going to be valuable: sometimes it's a jar of old buttons, sometimes it a wooden tube painted with flowers to hold your sewing needles. It's about making memories along the way, loving those you hold dear, and letting them go while keeping your memories alive with buttons and needle holders.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Moral Support

My posts have been a little sparse as of late and will continue to be because I'm not at home where I can indulge my sewing machine addiction unabated, or at least it seems that way. I have been in Florida where the sun shines and the evenings are mild but this isn't a vacation. You see, I've come to assist a sister and brother-in-law care for our mother since she has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For those who have walked down this same path, you know how hard this can be and we are no exception. She was diagnosed two weeks ago and I have been here a week so I did get to see her while she was talking and still a little bit feisty but just as quickly she is now unable to eat and does not get out of bed. Our hearts are breaking but she has been quite up-front and realistic from the beginning so we have hospice care to help her and us, her caretakers.

My mom has been my biggest fan of my sewing machine adventure blog, always reading each post (especially when I could put her on an alert list so she would get an email when a new edition was posted) and sending an email back with her praise. Now, she has said she didn't always understand what I was referring to, but that was okay since my writing sounded just like I was speaking. She said she felt closer to me when she read my blog and what I was up to. That always felt good since I didn't spend enough time on the phone with her but she didn't really complain, just told me how much she liked to hear the sound of my voice. Isn't it like that with people we love: we just want to hear their voice!
Alison, Emma, Mom, Karen summer 2015
When I became an adult and got the chance to view my life from a broader perspective, I went back to my parents and thanked them for three things.

  1. My curly hair: this has made my life easier with a quick wash and blow dry.
  2. Letting me go to college: my sister Sue was the trail-blazer but they didn't put up much fuss and I knew they could have.
  3. Encouraging me in my sewing: fabric was bought, items cut but never finished as I tried new skills and wasn't too successful, clothing worn that didn't flatter but I had made it myself, and even helping me learn some new skills like putting in a placket for a sleeve cuff. 
They kind of laughed it off and siad they really didn't do that much but those were things I wanted them to know before I wouldn't have a chance to tell them. That was almost forty years ago and my dad has been gone since 1985 but I'm still learning things from my mom.

She left a job of eighteen years when a friend asked her to come work at a better company. It took courage to leave the comfort of her job as a secretary in a retail store (remember Wieboldt's?) and venture farther from home and into the unknown and she said it was my encouragement that got her out the door. Only a few years later she left that job for a better position and this was where she stayed until she retired. Again, it wasn't easy but she made new friends and enjoyed learning new skills. In retirement she decided to move to Florida because her arthritis was so much better in the warmth of the south. We were a little unsure of such a big move far away but we have all visited her, some every year, and she has always been a wonderful hostess. 

In her youth, my mom was a bit of a beauty queen as her town "Miss" going onto the county contest but from there we aren't too sure and we know she was never Miss Iowa. She was always a beauty in our dad's eyes and we could see the admiration he had for her. In her widowed years she continued to be a beauty and has had a few boyfriends in Florida and we can't help but chuckle at our beauty queen mother. 

And now we have the privilege to help her in this new adventure of leaving the familiar behind and to go on alone. She's been quite a lady, one we will miss, and my biggest cheerleader. We miss you, Mom.

Kelly, Mom, and Karen

Friday, February 17, 2017

Oh, Brother!

My adventure with the Brother Select-O-Matic is not over...yet. I love this model of vintage sewing machine and that is what you will find when it is on your radar so another one came up on my local Craigslist. I made a beeline to it.
Brother Select-O-Matic in teal (again)

Although it wasn't the cool two-tone pink and teal, it was in great working condition until I arrived. Henry bemoaned how it was breaking thread so we both looked it over and he thought it might be the needle opening on the needle plate. With a bit of emery cloth he smoothed out the roughness and it stitched just fine, no broken threads.
Needleplate in rough condition

As happy as I was to get this great sewing machine, I was even happier to hear about Henry and his own sewing machine adventure. Henry had a Singer 31-15.
Singer 31-15 
I have heard about these industrial type sewing machines but had never seen one so I happily tagged along behind him to see this treasure. Just to prove you do not need a large room to have a sewing space, Henry kept 2 treadles at the bottom of the stairs in what would be considered wasted space, just for turning around in or to place a decorative pot or something equally useless. His Singer 31 was a gem, with the presser foot lift lever, too. I also did not know about this, but it's an added on feature where there is a lever at the back of the machine head that is tethered to a knee lever by a leather belt just like the treadle belts:
Knee lever for presser foot lift (look above the letter R)

You can move your knee to the right and it will lift the presser foot while your hands are engaged with the fabric. This is a feature on some Berninas from the 830 Records on but to find this on an antique Singer? Yes, my eyes were wide and I was excited.
Industrial treadle base

And this unique set up continued as Henry showed me his Pfaff 130 treadle.
Pfaff 130 in treadle base: pristine!
It was in pristine condition  and even had the "coffee grinder"  or Automatic 50010 attachment for 54 decorative stitches on the backside of the head. He had rigged up a table top with an old bamboo shade, gluing it in place and added a healthy coat of something durable over the top. There was a hinged back and side section for extra space to support your work present on both treadles, another feature I had not seen before. Wow, oh wow, I was very impressed.
Pfaff 130 with decorative stitch mechanism on back
Henry walked the box with the Brother sewing machine inside to my vehicle and we continued to talk about our mutual interest in sewing machines when I remembered to give him one of my business cards. You never know where any single contact might lead you and Henry and his sewing machines were a real find. By the way, Henry's wife told me he also sews on them and even made all of their window coverings. Way to go, Henry.