Monday, June 30, 2014

Before the After

I've always enjoyed the before and after photos of home improvement projects so I will share a bit of my latest. A Pfaff 130 sewing machine came in a wonderful art deco cabinet that had already been stripped of its original finish:

Doesn't look too bad like that so I sanded, used wood conditioner, gave it a light pine stain and then I saw how much of the original finish was still there. Ugh! It was like paint in every part of the grain that I could only remove with coarse steel wool and wire brushes. I got the top leaves and surface free from this old finish but didn't have the heart to get every little part this pristine. Here's the result with an additional chemical strip, natural stain, and 2 coats of semi-gloss polyurethane:
I wasn't totally happy with it but knew if I would put all the extra hours into it I could never get a price that was equal to the time. I also like to get a cabinet to the place where it is functional with a nice smooth surface that is very durable for sewing so my choice is usually polyurethane. The seat is  not totally done in the next photo but you can see the chair with drawers for additional storage:
My plan was to put a Necchi BU into the cabinet because the Pfaff was an electrical nighmare and the finish on the Pfaff was pretty far gone. After lugging the Necchi into the garage to put it in place, I found out the hinge pins were way too large to fit into the Necchi:
This is a pin/post after I spent too much time filing it down (and it still doesn't fit). I try other cabinets to see if I could trade the hinges out but there are problems with every single one of them. So I go to bed a bit discouraged but I can usually find a solution when I've slept on it.

The next morning I find a photo of a post on Facebook Vintage Sewing Machines group that I really didn't want to see:
This is how the cabinet looked when it was relatively new, coming into the hands of one lucky lady for about the same price I paid for mine. Of course, the Pfaff 130 is in good shape, too. I could have cried: all my work and it will never look like this one. Okay, there are some chips on the finish down on the bottom, but my antique piano had those and we thought they were charming. I will have to sleep on it for more than one day before I can find an agreeable solution to this before and after.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Taking a Break

Those who follow my posts on a regular basis are probably wondering what's happened to me since I have not posted for several days so I will have to tell you about my vacation. I know, I know, it's not about sewing machines, but we all need to take a break from time to time and here is my break:

We traveled north up to the Gunflint Trail to one of our favorite places, Gunflint Lodge, north of Duluth and west of Grant Marais in Minnesota. We had been there before when it was snow covered with a frozen lake so were anxious to see if it was just as beautiful in the summer and we were not disappointed. Above is the path to our cottage, well groomed, even with patches of annual flowers planted by the doorways. On our first night we witness a serene sunset:

We spent an afternoon paddling a canoe, and another one catching fish. the scenery had the greatest impact as we tooled around by boat:

Can we stay in this cabin next year?

There is never enough fishing gear.

Boats waiting at the dock at our lodge.

Ah, the loons taking off with their sorrowful cry.

My captain.
We had a great time even if we only caught one fish. That's right, one small mouth bass that was my catch. I would like to share it but it is only about three bites once it was filleted. We said good bye to our mini-vacation via this wonderful sunset:
Sunset over Gunflint Lake

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Initially Impressed

Wanting to have writing on my various sewing projects, I have tried three different monogramming tools on sewing machines. I have a Viking 1100 with interchangeable "cassettes" that have various stitches and two of them are for lettering. The nice thing about the Viking is having the ability to use the memory function to save a set of letters so once you get it as you like you can save and reproduce it. Sweet.

Viking 1100: seems I have some extra loops there!

The Singer monogrammer for a slant needle sewing machine has been more of a challenge but I have practiced with so-so results. Part of the difficulty is the fairly small size of the results, much like the Viking, but with less than stellar monograms:
Singer 171256 Monogrammer: placement problems needed to use stabilizer, too
When I bought the Kenmore 158-18130, complete with accessory kit, buttonholer, and monogrammer, I didn't expect much after my initial (pun intended) attempts with the Viking and Singer sets. Now we have two sizes of letters, much larger than either of the other series, but all upper case lettering so you couldn't write words, just ... monograms. Well, they are called monogrammers so I will have to settle on only two or three initials:
Kenmore : with these great stitches, good monograms were next

Kenmore without stabilizer

There are a few things to keep in mind when using any of these sets: stabilizing fabric, thread choice, and placement. Most fabric needs something to hold it firm under the needle, a bit like tattoos, you can't be wiggling around or it just won't turn out too well. I can't even say it will be less painful than a tattoo because I find this effort quite a challenge and sometimes a real pain!

Oops! this was supposed to be all upper case

You can place interfacing or a special type of stabilizer that can be purchased which is what I use. It's a cross between paper and interfacing in texture plus when you are done it can be torn way and your fabric is back to it's original shape, unlike interfacing that will stiffen the fabric permanently.

Backside of fabric with stabilizer
Thread makes a big difference so using specialized thread that has a sheen will make the letters really stand out. With machine embroidery so popular now it's easy to find excellent thread right at the fabric store along with ordinary cotton covered polyester thread. How you place the design on the fabric remains a very large problem that only is resolved as you practice. Just when I think I have everything lined up, needle in the cross-hairs of the fabric markings and template set at the precise beginning point, something goes awry and one letter is higher or lower than I would like. Too many attempts will leave a mark on most fabric so the first time must be right. A suggestion is to practice on a scrap of the same fabric several times until it's perfect before attempting on the finished piece or to cut out 2 pieces to monogram, just in case. No problem if it's a pocket but not so great if it's on ready-made wear. No do-overers there!
Top letter had thicker, shiny thread (but not a good color match)
Finally, with stabilizer and special thread

Now that I have three of these systems and it's still a hit-or-miss proposition, I will have to spend more time with each one because I do want to have the ability to write out: Karen was here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


It's been a very busy week showing and selling vintage sewing machines with visiting friends. Knowing I had a wide variety of sewing machines to try out all in one place, we tried them all! Well, there wouldn't be enough time for that, but here's the list of sewing machines that we plugged in and had fabric between the presser foot and feed dogs: Singer 401A, Singer 403, Singer 221 (Featherweight), Dressmaker, Elgin-Free Westinghouse, Minnesota S treadle, Bernina 730, and Necchi Supernova Julia, plus Singer 99 and 201 were just listened to. Why so many? Why so few!

Each machine has a feel, sound, and stitch quality to consider. I know some people consider the stitch quality to be their top priority and I almost agree with that but I need to have an experience that I can enjoy. My all-time favorite, the Singer 401A, was not her favorite by any means. The Dressmaker was second place:

She's a lovely blue, this one is in excellent cosmetic shape, great stitch quality, sound is soothing and quiet, but there was one big hitch: the needle was a left position type:

Dressmaker needleplate
This model is stamped JA-8 so I know it's one that was made in Japan in the '60's when they made the needle position left for a lower manufacturing cost. That means you need to adjust your thinking every time you sit down to sew. This would be no problem if you only had one sewing machine but when you sew on two or more you have to adjust. So it was love for so many features but she went back on the shelf in favor of a Necchi.

Just as an afterthought I said "You have to try the Julia just to see how different it is" so I cleared off the cabinet and plugged her in, thinking why not? Indeed, this was love at first stitch. I could not have predicted this but glad Julia was so loved:

Necchi Supernova Julia
She is beautiful, came with a cabinet and chair plus all of the accessories you could want: set of feet, cams, tools in original case with the Wonderwheel for special stitch configurations, plus two manuals. The cabinet top needs refinishing but that's not too much to do or too difficult so it was loaded into the SUV and we said our good-byes. It was fitting that I had bought Julia, my first Necchi, when it was -5 degrees and it was sold on a warm summer day. Many happy sewing hours are ahead and Julia has found a wonderful new home but it was a bit more difficult to let her go than I thought. Knowing she is going to be used and appreciated and that I share this bond with an old friend makes me glad. I'll have to sing the Beatles song "Julia" and remember my pink Supernova:

Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you, Julia

Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia
Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering
In the sun

Julia, Julia, morning moon, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia

When I cannot sing my heart
I can only speak my mind, Julia

Julia, sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me
So I sing a song of love, Julia
Hum hum hum hum... calls me
So I sing a song of love for Julia, Julia, Julia

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cabinet Ready

Portable or cabinet? That is a question I think should be asked about every sewing machine purchase. There are reasons for each:
  • need to travel with a sewing machine
  • no room for a permanent cabinet
  • larger number of sewing machines in limited space
  • infrequent use
  • space needs to double as guest/dining/laundry room
Desk or Cabinet
  • need to leave projects set up in order to finish
  • desired machines are to heavy to lift and carry
  • have/can make space for a sewing area
  • can disguise a table as other furniture
There are people who only sell the sewing machine "heads" with no carrying case for portability or cabinet for stability. That probably cuts down on the storage space you need as a dealer but I think there are some sewing machines that need a cabinet/desk. For example, the Singer 185 looks so compact and cute but it's way too heavy to be carried around comfortably:

Singer 185: 26 lbs. without a carrying case
I now have a Singer 201 in a bentwood case which looks absolutely beautiful:

Singer 201: 45 lbs. with case

Bentwood case: extra long!

 I can hardly lift it. To my way of thinking, if the sewing machines size or weight is going to keep you from sewing, you need a more permanent structure (or a different machine?).
No room? there are many cabinets that are only 22"-24" wide and about 18" deep. When opened that can give you four feet of work space, including the sewing machine itself. Okay, that's not going to let you maneuver a quilt, but for garment construction that's pretty good. When not in use you can close it up and put a lamp back on top or whatever you use to decorate your space. Please, please, please, don't put a live plant that needs watering on top of a sewing machine cabinet; it will inevitably get watered too much and spill over onto that nice finish and make those white rings that eventually turn black. Even refinished, this was the best I could do with a Singer 99 cabinet that's getting ready for a Singer 185:
Finish is smooth but faint rings remain
Then there are cabinets that take up a much larger amount of space but the remain opened up:
There is a whole line of cabinets for the Singer 401, 403, 404 series because they have larger beds and the older cabinets just won't work. Pretty sneaky of Singer to produce a whole line that required new cabinets! They all have a 1960's styling so there was great appeal on top of the new size.
So where do I put all these cabinets and how do I work on refinishing them? Welcome to my garage in the summer months:
You might see a few you recognize but when they are done I'll post their photos, just like a line-up! For now, there is a reason for cabinets and I would encourage you to find space in your home so you can have a designated place to sew (you'll be more likely to sew!)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Help Along the Way

Today is Father's Day and I'm thinking about my dad who has been gone almost thirty years by now. I think he would love my sewing machine collection, the mechanics of it, even the sense of adventure it brings. The father of four daughters, he loved sports and music, playing golf, bowling, and his trumpet. It took at bit of growing up before I could see that not every home had live music with a dad who played his horn while listening to his favorite big band music. Here are a few photos I have:

1938 on the farm
1942 in the Army

 So what does my dad have to do with my sewing machine obsession today? In my post about getting a new sewing machine to replace the old White Rotary, I'm sure my mom had to pass this purchase by my dad. We also had a corner of the basement for that machine and frequently spread our fabric out on the floor to cut out the newest project. I don't remember any complaints about making too much noise while sewing but we must have been a real nuisance while he sat at the opposite end of the room watching TV. But maybe he enjoyed watching us labor over these projects, too.
Some old car, huh?

Elsie, his mom, in 1968
 One thing I do remember was struggling on a Saturday morning with a sleeve placket, a style I had never done before. I went to my mom who was cleaning the house and doing some laundry and asked if she could help me with it. My mom certainly had sewing skills but I suspect she hadn't done something like that in a very long time and wasn't sure about it herself. She said she really didn't have time for that now but why not ask my dad? She must have seen the disbelief on my face or maybe I was brazen enough to say "But he doesn't know anything about sewing!" She persisted in encouraging me to go ask, that I might be surprised. Well, he always could help with my math homework so just maybe...

Sure enough, he said he needed to take a look at the guide sheet for the pattern and took it from there. I not only put the placket in the right way, but I did it again for the other sleeve, too. My admiration for him soared on that day. Who knew he could read patterns and guide sheets? I really didn't understand what he did for a living but my dad worked in precision sheet metal and read patterns and fabricated parts all day long. That translated nicely into my little problem and I think fondly of that Saturday morning when my mom was too busy but my dad could help me out.

Here's to you, dad, on this father's day you won't get to celebrate with us but one I'm remembering you.

Friday, June 13, 2014

On Stage

I've been trying to clean house so a few of the sewing machines are just going to have to go now. This prompted me to sell the Minnesota A treadle in the very ornate cabinet:

Isn't she pretty? That's why I brought her home in the first place. But then I found out she could only have a Minnesota head unless I wanted to have a new top insert made. Bummer. The Minnesota A was is sorry cosmetic shape but ran good enough:

Most of the decals are missing or silvered and the hand wheel was rusty looking. That prompted me to buy a Minnesota S in a parlor cabinet at an estate sale that was in great condition:
Parlor Cabinet

Minnesota S treadle
 I put the S in the A cabinet thinking it was the best of both worlds but I loved using the A in the S parlor cabinet. After months of practicing with both, I finally switched them back. The A was in it's ornate cabinet and the S was in the parlor cabinet just as they came to me. Why didn't I like the A's cabinet? I did: it was the action of the treadle that just wasn't comfortable for me. It felt like a little too much work. The parlor cabinet had shorter pumps but was easier while the larger treadle was just too much work. It's possible there could have been some adjustments but I knew I couldn't keep that many treadles since I already had a good Singer 66 Red Eye that was great. So the A in the ornate cabinet went on Craigslist.

Several emails later and even one visit, she went this afternoon to a high school drama department. That's right, she's going to be on stage! The man who came to pick her up said they perform Fiddler on the Roof every year  and had been borrowing a treadle but it was getting to be a big hassle. After one donation fell through they saw mine and said it was perfect for the part. They wanted one that would actually work and look good on stage. She even had a short audition to make sure she could actually act (it was no act but her natural state.) Although I think the cosmetic condition of the Minnesota A left much to be desired, it did look like it belonged in a tailors shop.

How exciting for a sad little treadle sewing machine to make it big on the stage. Maybe I'll have to be a stage mom and go see her perform. Nah, she wouldn't recognize me anyway.

Silver Linings

As I have been buying and selling sewing machines I have learned a few lessons on life. One is that people are basically trustworthy. I have yet to have anyone pull any kind of scam on me or even lie outright. There have been a few times I got a sewing machine that I didn't agree with the owner as to its actual worth, but basically people tell the truth and want you to know that.

The second thing I've learned is when you think something has been lost, another one even better will be found. Many times I've hesitated and called too late on an ad and then it's sold to someone else. I used to silently flog myself for my procrastination but I've learned that when I quietly wait another one will pop up. Usually it's even better: better condition, better price (sometimes even free), and closer to home.

Today was an example of missing an opportunity but still getting a deal. There was a wonderful Singer 99K in a simple cabinet advertised on Craigslist for Goodwill. The online auction and CL Goodwill storage is not too far from where I work, only about a 10 minute drive, so I check these things out on a regular basis, even winning a few bids. This 99 was especially wanted because the cabinet was in such good shape and I'm working on refinishing one that is not. It would be nice to have a good cabinet for the 185K and I can just pass the one is poor shape onto another contact who wants old cabinets. And here's the kicker: it was only $25. I could either keep it electrified or make it into a hand-crank, a real win-win. I got the email confirmation this morning that it was still there but to call first to check but I drove directly down to St. Paul's Goodwill to go check it out only 20 minutes after receiving the email.. They take you into the back of their warehouse and over to the CL section so I could see all the items they have listed. Cool. But no Singer 99. No Singer anything. A White treadle and a no-name iffy electric in a poor cabinet but no 99. Someone else beat me to it and it must have been by just minutes.

I went back into the store part of the building and looked around, especially looking for old suitcase handles for a sewing machine carrying case. There was a sorta nice one but maybe the wrong size, on a compact suitcase so I lifted it up and WOE, it was heavy, not empty. Oh no, but oh YES, it held a sewing machine:

Montgomery Wards UTH-J1460
This might not be the be-all and end-all in sewing machines but it is a very clean, all metal, free arm model that will give years of good sewing for the right person. If you look carefully you can see the price tag of $14.99: it's even a bargain! I plugged it in and checked out the accessories, manual, feed dogs, to find out everything was there and in good working order. The case and machine are so clean, no scuff marks, nothing, and then I look into the box of accessories:

and can see most of the extra feet and plates are still in plastic wraps. By looking at the cams I can see there are some with red letters and I'm thinking this indicates stretch stitch patterns for sewing with knit fabric, another plus. As I'm checking out, the woman behind me sees the suitcase and says "What's in there? It sure is heavy." and I tell her it's a sewing machine. She is all interested now, admires its pristine condition and said "Well, you know what you are doing!" so I agree with her and take my prize out into the spring day. Sometimes when you think you have lost, you actually have won.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

...and the winners are...

Which sewing machines are kept and which ones are sold? This is a complex question with somewhat subjective answers that will be different for everyone. The sewing machines that I have more difficulty parting with always have a smoothness in how they sound, handle, stitch quality but also a bit of pzazz. In order of appearance on the scene they are:

Viking 1100
Even without a foot control (an extra $120) and only one stitch card, she handles beautifully, came with all her feet and accessories. This is my main sewing machine. Next up is a free vintage sewing machine:
Brother Select-o-Matic
This one came very complete with dozens of class 15 bobbins, a ruffler, 2 manuals (you are going to need them) and weighs about 40 pounds. That's what all metal does for you: builds muscle! Now I get to try our many Singers, even some Touch-and-Sew, but I fall in love with a Singer 401A:
Singer 401A
Complete in every way, even with a wood cabinet, she came very dirty and didn't mind it one bit. She is now in her own portable case and comes out to play when I need a sturdy sewing machine. Next I stick my neck out and try out a Pfaff:
Pfaff 1222
 I love the built-in walking foot for the quilted pot mitts, tea cozies, etc. but she can be a bit picky. I definately needed to read the manual to understand the many features and keeping her oiled is a must.

I tried a Necchi Julia, Bernina Record 730, Singer 221 Featherweight, Elna SU 62, many more Vikings, but my final electric sewing machine in a humble Singer 99K:
Singer 99K
I love the way she sounds, stitches, feels; she came from my neighbor in a cabinet but now lives in her own bentwood case with a handy carrying strap:

It would be nice if she were as light as a Featherweight or Kenmore 1030, but she's all metal and a hearty girl but she's a keeper in my eyes. Of course, I have an Elna Lock Pro5DC serger and a Kenmore 158-18130 (makes beautiful monograms), and there are 2 treadles upstairs, but these are the ones I'm sore to part with. At least until I discover I can't really use them all or my heart grows exceptionally large in giving them away.

How Many?

I get asked by the brave few "How many sewing machines do you have anyway?" To my ears that sounds like "How many do you really need anyway?" and I take it as a criticism and maybe it is. I'm not going to defend myself here because I clearly have more sewing machines than I can use or sell at this point so the acquisition has to slow way down and the selling has to speed up.

Acquisitions This is a library term for our book buying and processing so I feel comfortable with it and it sounds so official. I'm not hording, I'm filling an acquisition order. Everyone must want a vintage sewing machine of this caliber so why not buy every one that comes on my local market for a cheap price? It's an acquisition. If course, even the best sewing machine must eventually find a new home so that leads into

Sales We must have sales to keep any business afloat. At the end of the first year I was willing to show a small loss because I was building inventory and supplies. Now I have to prove myself and make a profit by actually selling these wonderful sewing machines. There is a season for this and I'm just discovering what might be the high points as well as the low. I predicted it would get slow when the weather was good again because we would want to be outdoors, not inside sewing. I also hope hot weather will send people indoors to their air-conditioned homes and they will start sewing again.

Storage To answer the question of how many sewing machines I have I counted last night and found I have 50 in one room:

and nearly as many in the next room. This takes up half of my basement. Of course, there are sewing machines upstairs, too: one treadle on the porch, one in the kitchen, two treadles in the living room along with 3 cabinet models, and one small cabinet in the guest bedroom. Oh boy. That's a lot of sewing machines for sale. Right now I have 2 tables in the garage that are listed for sale and 4 sewing machines on Craigslist. Sales are slow (because of the great weather?) yet I got a call today for the treadle in the living room. I always have high hopes!

Next post: which ones do I keep and why?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Broken But Still Running?

Answered a Craigslist ad for a broken Singer sewing machine, only $10 and I wanted the carrying case. Sure enough, the wood case was sturdy but missing a handle but I think that can be found or at least substituted. Machine looked okay but  that carrying case was too old for this model yet she comes home with me:

Singer Fashion Mate 237
This Singer 237 is called a Fashion Mate, which I think is a bit of a lower line when they came out. The Touch and Sews were coming out about then and were pretty different with the type of dials, wind in place bobbins, etc. You can find Fashion Mates in a variety of colors: aqua, green, tan, (you can join in with comments about colors you have seen) that make them appealing for the 1960's seamstress. Although no one can recall, I think this is the model my mom brought home one day. How exciting to get a new sewing machine!

We must have been about 15, 12, 10, and 8 if my memory serves me right and we were sewing on my mom's White, probably a White rotary with a crinkle finish. I have some wonderful memories of my mom making doll clothes on that machine but when I started to sew I was a bit frustrated because it was only straight stitch so no zig zag for buttonholes, no attachment to make buttonholes. I went over to a neighbors house to have her make a buttonhole on a waistband of a pair of shorts. But moms are wise in these kinds of things and one day we came home from school with the announcement that we needed to get our homework done first and then we could use the NEW SEWING MACHINE!

We raced to the downstairs of our 60's tri-level house to find a new Singer Fashion Mate in a color not black like those dreaded old fashioned numbers. Man, this was cool. We got our homework done that night and fought over who was going to use it next but it did get used quite a bit. When it sat unused for many years my mom sold it to a friend of mine who was giving it to her daughter. She even got the old cabinet that had a well for supplies and a large drawer that we kept patterns in. I don't recall that we ever closed it up unless company was coming because it was always in use.

So my broken Fashion Mate 237 featured in this post? I plugged it in and hit the gas to find it ran pretty good. A light cleaning and heavy oiling really brought it back to life. My husband commented on the like-new wiring so that was good, too. Not a thing wrong with this one, it works just fine. It brought back some nice memories, too.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fun tools

Part of the fun with any new venture/hobby is finding all the tools you just can't live without or didn't know you needed until now. I have borrowed some of my husbands tools on a permanent basis (hex keys anyone?) and have bought a few items that weren't very expensive such as sets of small screwdrivers, but haven't bought much in the way of  "do I really need that?" until now.

Various machines need a way to clean out small shredded parts, such as bobbin winders gone bad so there are very small black tire bits all over the inside. Remember this post about the mouse nest? I really needed a full sized vacuum cleaner then but there were finer points I just could reach very well. Now I have the perfect companion to my big vacuum cleaner:

The plastic tube connects to the hose on the vacuum with the large adapter end (on left) and you put various attachments/brushes on the adapter on the right end of the hose. Had almost as much suction as my big vacuum as it cleaned up the bottom of a wood box carrying case quite well. With 2 brushes and a crevice tool, plus other extenders, I could get into some pretty tight spots inside the Singer 237 that had to come home with me. Since it's just a set of attachments the cost was only $7: why did I wait so long?

At the same time I ordered an ultrasonic cleaner, having gotten a tip from another vintage sewing machine person on Facebook. This wasn't exactly cheap but could be used for cleaning other household items so I went ahead and ordered it:

This is so cool! You can put just plain water into it or add a touch of detergent, put the sewing machine feet that are no longer new (that's a polite way of saying "layers of petrified oil gunk") and in less than 5 minutes they look like new or at least better. After the feet came out clean I tried some screws because I hate to clean them but are pretty cruddy on some machines, especially as they are on the top and get years of dust on them. Not only did they come out clean, they still turned great in the holes. I was sure it would strip off all the oils and make them hard to turn but that wasn't true. 

Here are a few pics of another set of feet, some better, some need more work, and some really shine!
Feet before the cleaner

There they are in the murky, dirty water!

After? some need more help!

I did these sewing machine feet in plain water so maybe adding the cleaner is really better. Because it loosenes the dirt, you also need to wipe the dirt off for a better final effect. Still, I love this new tool and think I will find many ways to use it.

For the love of gadgets and tools!