Monday, May 26, 2014

The Cabinet Craze

How I wish there was a rush on sewing machine cabinets! I have them all over the house (with sewing machines in them) and in the garage without machines. I have refinished one for myself and sold 2 that I only refinished the top surfaces. This summer I know I need to start the process of getting those in the garage in shape (and out the door). Here's a selection of the ones I have not given away or sold yet. Yes, I gave 2 away in September.

This popular art deco style has shown up many places but I love the new finish. I have a Kenmore 158-1813 inside and an Elna Pro 5DC Serger on top

Only the top needed to be refinished: inside was a White 

Real wood cabinet for Singer 403; bench not original to this model but works well.
Prairie style treadle cabinet that came with a Sew-More electric that is now in a portable case.
Blond wood cabinet that was sold with a White Model 77 inside.

This is an Art Deco cabinet that I could hardly resist. The Pfaff 130 inside got my attention but the cabinet is the real winner. Unfortunately, the Pfaff's wiring is shot and the finish is crumbling so it's on the shelf for now but the cabinet got sanded down today and will get a coat of stain tomorrow. These photos were taken when I got it home so it's in a pre-sanding state and looks like it's been stripped of its finish already. Look how cool it is with the center of the cabinet pulling out to reveal it's a chair. But that's not all, the chair also has 2 drawers in it. Additional storage in the cabinet includes four small drawers on the right and a false set of drawers on the left to hide 2 shelves. The pulls were pretty dirty but they cleaned up to show they are solid brass. Oh yeah.

Now if I could only find a way to keep this one...

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Upholstery, anyone?

Portable sewing machines today come with built in handles and plastic carrying cases. They are lightweight making them truly portable. They go to quilting class with their owners, to friends houses, anywhere you might want to travel. Vintage sewing machines are in another whole dimension: portable only means they are not bolted into a cabinet. They also come in carrying cases, sometimes even plastic, but they are anything but light. The average weight of a vintage sewing machine is about 30 pounds, sans case. Add that wood carrying case and you can be talking about 35-38 pounds to be carrying around. Not exactly something I would like to carry across a parking lot to a quilt class!

Many of the cases are plywood covered with a heavy paper finish. If you find one is good condition they can be very handsome with piping trim and color coordinated with the sewing machine resting inside. Most are not in good condition today and I have had several that are damaged. Here is my recounting of an upholstery job on a plywood case. The original case was splitting apart and underneath the top handle there were visibly mildewed sections. Ewe! It got stripped off, wood joints glued, and fabric chosen. since the original case was in 2 coordinating papers, I decided to use 2 fabrics, sewn together for the top of the case and glued using spray adhesive. This works pretty well and for my first case, a big success:

Carrying case for Singer 306

What a joy to sit down to sew on this 306!

Another case to be recovered used some printed corduroy with a beautiful black Singer 66:


Singer 66 in new base

I was very in love with this new cover and was sorry to see it go during the cold winter months: it just looked warm and cozy with its corduroy cover.

Case Cover
Here's another portable case cover that looks pretty wild but quite fitting for this jet black White sewing machine:

White 628 sewing machine

Looks pretty snazzy, huh? 

Spray glue, a large sheet of cardboard on the floor and your geometry skills from high school make this a very do-able project that gives you a very unique carrying case for your not-so-portable vintage sewing machine.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

All Boxed In

In search of a wooded box to hold the Singer 99 hand crank, I answered a Craigslist ad for a garage sale.

Above is a photo with a tiny shot of a Western Electric that I was hoping had the smaller base that a Singer 99 needs. The Singer 99 is the little sister to a Singer 66 and the only smaller box I had was a nice bentwood case that I was using for my own 99. This could be a long search. Much to my delight, they answered my email and said it was not sold and I could come early on Saturday morning before I got into work. Here it is in the back of my car:

Not only was it running well, it was clean and in good physical condition. What were the chances? Did they have the top for it? Of course! The motor is a bit odd, having to swing it away to put the top of the case back on:

Hard to see in this photo (sorry!) but it is hinged onto the back of the sewing machine and moves forward onto the center of the harp (bed of the sewing machine).
From the top down, you can see there is a motor pulley that comes into contact with the hand wheel to make everything move. It looks very worn but it seemed to work fine.

Just my luck. I find the right box, the right price ($10), and I don't have the heart to take it out of the case just to use the case for the 99 hand crank. I'm not fond of the vibrating shuttle system this one sports so that might encourage me to set it aside while I recover the wood box for the 99 but when will I find another small sewing machine case for this one?

Just as I was driving down the street to see this sewing machine I remembered having come here in the winter to look at a Necchi Julia. Back then it was -5 degrees and I was standing in a garage looking at the Julia. By the time we agreed on it, only 5-10 minutes, my toes were very numb. Today was a beautiful spring day so I hardly recognized the house but it was the same family! I reminded them that I was the one who came out in the cold to buy their Necchi but they had shorter memories than mine or I'm not as memorable as I think I am. Oh well, this time I got a real bargain, leveling the 12 times the price I paid last time on that bitter cold day.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Happy Birthday!

A frequently asked question among sewing machine aficionados is "How old is my sewing machine?" The first place to start is the brand of sewing machine: Singer  kept records of serial numbers that are easily found at ISMACS, the International Sewing Machine Collector's Society. They have a comprehensive list of serial numbers for Singer's only. You need to carefully look up your number, note the number of digits because it's easy to just check the first 3 numbers thinking it's a 7 digit serial number when you are really only checking the top of the list with 6 digit numbers and the 7 digit numbers are in the next section.  Here's an example:
Using the chart at the ISMACS website, I go to the listing for AA, then scroll down to 700361-715360 because 702154 fits in that range. The chart shows it's a model 99, there were 15000 made in that run on October 22, 1925. She's not exactly a one of a kind, huh?
Let's try the next one: using the chart we go to the G listings to the bottom of the list, past the 6-digit number to the 7 digits to find 8987101-9037100 because our 9025908 fits in there. We find out it's a 66, 50000 were made on September 20, 1921.

If you have almost any other brand of sewing machine you are simply playing a guessing game. Here's some ways to investigate:
  • Check the printed manual, if it still has one. Not all manuals are printed with dates but the style of print, illustrations, and format are all clues.
  • Sales receipts: I have several sewing machines with the bill of sale included. That doesn't mean that's when it was made but it's a good indication of the era.
  • Cabinet styles are listed in several websites that can help date your machine. Of course, many different sewing machines fit in some of the cabinets but it's at least an indicator.
  • Google it. You never know what might come from a broad search like Google.
Here's one that was easily dated from the manual and a little bit of online research:
Brother Select-O-Matic

The manual clearly was printed in 1954, although research showed most of this model were first manufactured in 1956. This vintage sewing machine resembles a 1954 Packard (all that chrome!):

Packard Convertible (

The Sears Archive has a section on Sewing Machines as well as a chart to help you date a Kenmore. Although the name Kenmore didn't really appear consistently until after WWII, earlier models were labeled Minnesota. The chart starts with 117.101, produced in 1934 up to 158.1980 in 1977 (and a rogue 1980 model, too). So not all of Sears is included but a very large percentage can be traced.

At the ISMACS site you can find dating information for Pfaff, New Home, Elna, and White sewing machines that might help narrow the dating process.

But what about those very detailed Singer records? Isn't it great to have a real "birth date" for a sewing machine? It appears that this is not the real story: number plates were produced and attached to machines as they were able but sometimes there were more number plates manufactured than sewing machines so the dates are close but not spot-on. Moral of the story: if you find a year or era of the sewing machine in question, you are an ace investigator!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Crowd Control

As my husband Jim reminds me "It's getting crowded in here!" and I have to agree. In the love affair I have with sewing machines, I have to remember that when one goes in another one needs to go out but it just doesn't work that way. There are times when I acquire several machines and no sales but then I will sell three in one week! Sales have picked up, though but so have garage sale finds and I have to step up the ads on Craigslist or we won't be able to walk around. Here is one of my typical listings:

White 675 Sewing Machine in Cabinet - $80 (Blaine)

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More than just a basic sewing machine, this vintage beauty has a whole selection of decorative stitches including stretch stitches for sewing knits and fleece. Take a look at the stitch sample to see what it can do. Comes with an original manual, bobbins, needles, assorted feet, etc. in an accessory box. Sturdy maple cabinet in excellent condition has drawers for storage, including a top drawer with pin/dowels for spools of thread or bobbins. Check out the comfortable reupholstered chair (really is green leaves with dark blue accents) that has a seat that lifts to reveal even more storage. Desktop opens wide for a great work surface and closes up to made a discrete desk. Now you can sew without having to set up: it's always ready for your current project!  

I really, really like this sewing machine in a vintage cabinet but it is not selling, even with a ridiculous price of only $80. Jim has a new camera so a redo of photos might be in store so they can see the green and blue upholstered chair does go better with the green sewing machine.

Last week there were two responses to a retro Singer 328k. One person came on Saturday but did not leave with it, instead buying a much higher priced Singer 401A, one of my all time favorites.  She did not like the way the decorative stitches showed on lighter weight fabrics and I had to agree, the 328K just did not have the best decorative stitches, especially on light fabric. I showed her an Elna but she was really set on a Singer so the 401A came out to play. She was very sold, even without a carrying case. 

Here's the Singer 328K, which is a workhorse of a sewing machine, just not great with fancy stitches:

That's alright because someone else is coming tonight to look at it with hopes it will be sold (or maybe enticed with a different sewing machine?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feeling a Bit Cranky

"When you feel cranky you might as well be sewing."  No one ever said that but it seemed to fit today's mood and the results were not sour but sweet! I wanted to know what all the fuss was about hand crank sewing machines and why would anyone even want to bother? Then I saw a photo of a 4 year old with a hand crank Singer, not a child's toy model, and it started to make sense. Children can't reach pedals and motors are too fast and injury prone so a hand crank would slow the speed down and give them control. I had a Singer 99, dated Oct. 22, 1925 that came with a broken motor mount but I only wanted the bentwood carrier anyway. I ordered a spoked hand wheel and a crank to come up with this:

A bit beat up but just the right size!
Here you can see the crank attached to the machine.
This sewing machine should be in a wood box base but it's now on my electric Singer 99 that I adore. You do need a spoked hand wheel because part of the mechanism needs to grip onto a spoken space. Of course, as luck would have it, I didn't have a single spoked wheel I wasn't using but it was only $12 so I added it onto the order for the hand crank, also only $12.

After I had placed this order and on the day it arrived, I found a Singer 66 for only $20 and it had a spoked wheel so I jumped in and brought it home. It needs a slide plate and looks a bit rusty inside the bobbin but without its slide plate to keep it covered maybe it was more vulnerable to rust. I cleaned it up, oiled it up, attached the hand crank and she started to loosen up, too.

Singer 66 (full size of the Singer 99 above)

She's a "Red Eye" with the red decoration in the center of the bed, dated September 20, 1921. Once I get the box cleaned up and recovered, this is going to be a very nice hand crank. It came with the motor and electric cords but they were too scary to even plug in:

The light was even worse so it was best to find an alternative plan and either a treadle or hand crank were going to work this time. It is really fun to turn the handle! It might be a novelty but it's one way to have a people powered sewing machine without the huge treadle mechanism. As some would say:

Treadle on!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ode to a Grandmother

There are many stories that go with the sewing machines I come across, mostly sad or nostalgic but the one for today is the first time someone cried when I bought their sewing machine. It's garage sale season here and after a very long winter, the second in a row, we are nearly giddy when it warms up. It's too early to safely plant and the yards are just starting to green up, but it's not too early to enjoy garage saleing! This last weekend I found ads for 2 sales where they actually had photos of the sewing machines so I stopped at one (too high!) and emailed the other one and asked for the price. After confirming the model number and the time she was closing the sale, I showed up for the last hour. After looking everything over I sashayed over to the lovely Singer 403 in a cabinet complete with a storage stool. They guessed I was the one who had done all the emailing and since they had no other interest in it beside their neighbor, it was mine. As she showed me how full the drawers were with buttons, zippers, thread, sewing machine accessories (pristine in their original box), I gladly gave them full price, a mere $50. I heard how this was her grannies, and it was the last of her things to sell and that's when she teared up. I already had been frank with her and told her I buy and sell these lovely older sewing machines so she knew it wasn't going to be my pride and joy like it had been her grannies, but it was still hard to see her husband carry it out to my car. I assured her it would find a good home because it was such a classic piece and in very good shape. I took her home, cleaned everything up, spent hours sorting through the odds and ends, and here it is:
So clean and beautiful, easy to use, too. Hardly a nick on the enamel.
Real wood cabinet with storage stool (yup, 3 drawers to fill)

Complete with the original box of feet, cams, and manual. WOW

A little bit of cleaning the cabinet and she is ready to live another whole life, another adventure with someone else. Grannie would be proud.

My second find was a surprise because I went back to the neighborhood sale and the Elna SU 62 had been marked down but the woman who was selling it was no where to be found. I checked it out and everything was there except the carrying case, a big loss because in this model it folds back around the free arm for an extended work surface. I asked her son if she would go lower, wrote down my name and phone number so when the owner returned she could call me back. My offer was half the price of her first day posting so I was taking a chance on losing it: she called back and said she just wanted it to be used and she had a new sewing machine and just didn't use it anymore. It got delivered the next day by her son and here she is:
Came with 2 manuals, 9 cams, extra feet, bobbins, and needles
Top door opens for a cam to be inserted for special stitches.
A little cleaning, oiling, and putting her through her paces, she's a very good machine and I hate to say it, but less fuss than the Vikings. And I'm a Viking girl! I could get converted after sewing on this one.

Not bad for one weekend (and I even sold a very nice sewing machine to a young woman who had been using her grandma's treadle but wanted her own electric sewing machine!)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Just Serging Along

I knew it would happen sooner or later but I found myself longing for a serger. What could a serger do that a sewing machine couldn't do? Now much, actually, but it does everything so much easier and faster! It can sew an overlock seam and trim all in one step and oh, oh so fast. With a regular sewing machine an overlock stitch is quite slow as the machine moves back and forward because there is only one needle and one bobbin. In a serger sewing machine there are dual needles and dual lower threads so the action is not just twice as fast but, but, but...four times better?

I waited patiently for a good serger to appear on Craigslist but at a bargain price. I was eyeing an Elna Pro 5DC so I did my homework and it appeared to be a good model, 20 years old, but with mixed reviews so I was taking a chance. The woman I bought it from said it was her mothers, who bought a new self threading model, and she was just not into sewing like her mom and was given permission to go ahead and sell it. She showed me how it worked and it came home with me:

Not too huge, fairly easy to follow with good diagrams, many attachments, and all threaded up with white cone thread. I did have to buy a manual online so I could figure out what the electronic readout was telling me but it was a decent guide. After playing around with it awhile I figured I better put it to use so I cut out a knit dress, pretty simple style but not too much to lose. It was so quick and made sewing on knits fun. Since I had always avoided knits (too hard to sew on) but used them anyway, this is quite the revelation. Here it is in action:

I am actually resewing this seam because it didn't lay flat and the skirt portion was too large anyway. This color forced me to rethread with darker thread since I had only been working in white and that was hard but it was my first attempt and I expected it to be difficult. Cone thread is expensive to initially purchase so I stopped by my local thrift shop where I have seen cone thread and snatched up 2 variety bags to get me started. I was using dark blue, tan and gray on the cranberry red skirt; not the greatest but better than white, I thought.

Here's how the dress looks without hems:

I hope it looks better when it's finished and I'm wearing it but it was a good first try with a new toy. Now I'm looking for new projects what I can make with a serger but I don't think I'll have to twist my brain too hard to continue to have fun with my Elna serger.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What's your reputation worth?

"Reputation: the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something."
This definition is generally true, including sewing machines, but there are always lemons, over-performers, and user error to muddy the water. The name Singer carries a bit of love/hate for many of us: love Featherweights, 15's, 66 Red Eyes and hate Touch & Sew. There are some names that only bring smiles and yearning: Bernina, Necchi, Pfaff, and Viking. I had to see what all the fuss was about so I bought a Viking Freesia 415 and a 1100 and they were right: sewing dreams!I was on the lookout for other classic sewing machine brands to see if they would live up to the hype but you have to be patient. Waiting at least 6 months brought me to my first Pfaff:
She's a 1222 without any accessories but the sleeve to cover the free arm for a larger work surface. There is a cracked cam stack inside and I have the replacement but not the nerve to perform the surgery yet. It has an IDT (Integrated Dual Feed) foot system to give equal movement of the feed dogs underneath the fabric and on top. This replaces a walking foot but is even better! I use this machine for quilting the hot mitts I sell:

This Pfaff has lived up to its reputation even if it did come without the goodies, somewhat seized, and with a cracked cam stack. It was worth it!

Next came a Necchi, complete in a cabinet that needs refinishing and storage seat chair. It was at the top of my price range but was such a good package I had to say yes even if I was standing in someone's garage and it was -5 degrees. It works perfectly, no repair, just clean up and learn to use as she came fully loaded with a cool kit of feet, cams, and every other accessory you might want:

Pink was just the frosting on this piece of cake! Julia has come home.
Now I had to try a Bernina but they are so pricy. Patience. It finally paid off when I could get a 730 for a very reasonable cost since the owner was going to assisted living and hadn't sewn for a long time. Here is BettyAnn, named after her first owner:
The cabinet was modern so the handy accessory holder for inside the door of a regular cabinet didn't work but it came with everything: bobbins, feet, tools, 2 inserts for the free arm, etc. It was "frozen" in the stitch pattern selector but oil, hair dryer, and more patience freed it up and now it stitches great. I wasn't sure what all the hype was about until I made up a sample of the stitch patterns: perfect!

It's also cool the way they construct their manual as I could see she had taken a class where they made up samples of all the stitches. Even though the cabinet is modern, It do like the chair on wheels with storage underneath. Now I want all my chairs to have wheels!
So there is a reason why some sewing machines are classic and some companies are known for their high quality. They have earned it. Reputation is everything in the sewing machine industry.