Monday, September 29, 2014

Burlap Craze

It's always an adventure to see where some of my sales and projects will take me and today I'm going to tell you a story of a woman and her project in Haiti. Ellen got in touch with me to purchase a couple Kenmore sewing machines. Her requirements were that they were easy to use and were low maintenance so Kenmore fit the bill. After buying a few she started bringing her "found" sewing machines for me to look over and bring back to life or let them go by the wayside. The Haitian project is a fascinating one where they are teaching the women to make reusable sanitary pads and diapers. Once they get the hang of it, create a market for the product, and go into business, these women become entrepreneurs and gain independence or at least contribute to their household budget. The sewing machines have been shipped over and when they have landed Ellen and others have gone to show them how to cut and sew these handy items.

So how does this all get funded? Ellen makes bags. Lots and lots of bags! Burlap, decorator fabric, webbing for straps, etc., are all bought on a large scale for a real bargain price and the assembly line begins. Ellen has at least three sewing machines at her disposal: Juki industrial,  Janome home machine, and a serger were in the following arrangement where Ellen demonstrated the Juki:

Ellen with her burlap on the Juki
The bags are wonderful and very popular now so she sells them at a coffee shop in Wisconsin and a few other places up here in Minnesota. During the winter months she makes mittens out of re-purposed sweaters, also brisk sellers.  Where does all of this take place? She's got quite a set-up in her lower level family room with shelves of fabric, cut portions, large cutting table (I was secretly jealous of that), along with her sewing machines:

Burlap bag parts
Even her husband has gotten into this endeavor, pounding in the grommets for the handles. And then there's a basic Kenmore at the edge of this part of the family room that a friend uses when she comes over to help! Of course, there also are the materials collected for the Haiti project stored there, too.

Sample of the bags hanging up when done
As generous as she always is, Ellen sent me home with some burlap so I could make some jar lid pincushions.

First try with burlap for a jar pincushion

Wow, what a vision that now has feet due to Ellen and her friends who have committed themselves to helping women learn to help themselves. As a parting comment, she told me "You know, my job just gets in the way of all I want to do." I hear ya, Ellen, I hear ya.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Today we bring you....
Goodhousekeeper "Deluxe"
this golden gem, the Goodhousekeeper! Not to be confused with Good Housekeeping, the magazine, institute, and seal of approval that seemed so important in the 1950's and '60's, this is a brand of sewing machines. I have another one in tan that looks just like it except it is missing its motor so I have it in a treadle cabinet:
Goodhousekeeper without motor
She comes to me via Goodwill Online Auctions where I only bid on those sewing machines that I can easily pick up in St. Paul, close enough that I can run over on a lunch hour to pick up. The carrying case is also gold and white and would make a very pretty sight except the bottom is badly cracked so I'm hoping to glue it back together again. But the machine goes beyond just being pretty; it sews a great stitch:

Stitch sample
The matching foot control is in great shape in the striking gold like the sewing machine but there's a fly in the ointment: the foot control races! There is no slow, just full out. When I traded it for a new foot control it ran just fine but I love the gold of the original controller! It's like matching luggage.

Yes, it's gold!
Garage sales are plentiful and the nice weather we are experiencing helps, so today I stopped at one that was advertised on Craigslist as having a vintage sewing machine. You bet they did and it came home with me:
Carlton, a model 15 type
I thought I had looked at the cord, even taped a small part, so I ran the machine but good and she is great. When I went to clean it I noticed the wires at the back for the motor and they were cracked and when touched they crumbled and I ran it with those poor wires! I got out my trusty wiring supplies and dusted off my skills but managed to rewire and motor and get it working and safe again. I did see a few "sparks" when I ran it the first time but after the rewire there were no sparks. Whew, that was a close one.
Hard to tell, but the wires for the motor are no longer cracked
She came with a manual and the case was in good shape and even clean so I'm a happy camper. The bed of the Carlton is well nicked but otherwise it's a good, strong, straight stitch sewing machine that I will let go for  a really low price. Yes, something for everyone!

Carlton manual

Goodhousekeeper manual, well used!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sailing Away

I am still surprised by the number of people who come for one sewing machine and leave with another. There are two sewing machines that I advertise that have lead to many, many sales but they never get sold. One machine is an Elna TP300 that is missing its front storage compartment so that makes it free arm all the time. I have this same machine, a bit updated, with the storage compartment so I've even offered that one if this is a sticking point but it also has not sold. But I have sold others through the offer of the Elna TP300. One woman just wanted to know if I had other Elnas because that was her favorite and her Elna was having problems; she wanted a back-up or replacement before a machine breakdown caused her to stop sewing altogether.
No one wants her but somehow she gets all the calls

Yesterday the same thing happened again but with a Singer 185K, just the cutest two-tone green 3/4 sized sewing machine. There have been so many calls about that sewing machine but no one has bought it yet. Andy got in touch with me through Craigslist to see if this machine would be good for sewing vinyl. He wanted to reupholster the seats on his boat and thought he could do it himself. About ten years ago I reupholstered boat seats for my nephew, Ed, so I know the foibles of using an undersized sewing machine. At the time I used my Kenmore 158-1780 because that was all I had and it turned out fine but it was not easy. Andy was up for recommendations so I told him I had a Singer 306 that was going to do a good job for him. I got it set up with a size 16 needle and layers of denim so Andy could try it out, still set up in the garage because it was in a cabinet.

Singer 306, this one in a portable case but just like Andy's
 Inside the house I set up the Elgin.Rotary because it would also be a good machine for his purposes since has a small motor pulley with a very different feel. Showing up on time and ready to try it out, I demonstrated the Singer 306 and asked him to try it out, too. At this point he confessed that he had never sewn before but was willing to learn. And his first project was going to be vinyl boat seats? That was ambitious for a first project but he sat down and stitched away! He must have had some latent skills or had watched several YouTube videos because he sure picked it up fast. We went into the house to look at the Elgin and he tried it out but said the Singer 306 seemed to be the one he wanted. He was interested in the name of the sewing machine because he lived in Elgin, Illinois for a few years and then we exchanged stores: I grew up north of Elgin and lived all of my adult life south of Elgin until I moved to Minnesota. It certainly is a small world.

Elgin Rotary such a handsome mottled gold
As Andy moved his new purchase towards his car I reminded him that if he was not satisfied he could always call for advice, or exchange, because I stood behind those sewing machines. He laughed and said he might need to call and that was why he paid $5 more than the asking price, just so he would have the assurance that I wouldn't abandon him. I think he's going to do fine with his project and as he said "Who knows? I might find other uses for it." He might at that.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Under the category "all things are not created equal" are sewing machine bobbins. It would be so much simpler if there was only one style, say 15's because they hold so much thread, and the sewing world would be a much happier place. As it is, there are special bobbins for so many manufactures:

Left to right:15, 66, Elna, Viking, Singer Touch-n-Sew, Featherweight

15 from the original Singer 15 model sewing machine
66 those drop-in bobbin Singers
Elna slightly thinner for less thread
Viking those little concave/convex numbers
Singer Touch-n-Sew where the bobbin winds in a drop in bobbin casing
Featherweight & 301's wider and thinner

Profile: 15, 66, Elna, Viking, Singer Touch-n-Sew, Featherweight
Several of my older sewing machine take class 15 bobbins but their newer counterparts take specialized bobbins: Bernina and Viking are two that come to mind.

Why so many different kinds of bobbins? Proprietary? Special bobbins for special sewing machines? Manufacturing? They could only make a bobbin with a certain depth or contour? Or how about the real reason that no one really wants to admit to: money! If you have a special size bobbin you will have to sell new ones and sometimes that are a dollar each. Be careful in buying super cheap bobbins, like those sold on Ebay in large quantities that are made and shipped from other companies. Their standards can be lower and in some sewing machines that can throw them off and you have a poor or no stitch.

How many bobbins do you need for a sewing machine? At bare minimum, I would think two: one light thread, one dark thread. Most of us don't want to sew with just 2 colors, though, so my real suggestion is about a dozen and mine are usually filled like this: white, cream, pink, red, yellow, brown, navy blue, black, gray, purple, and forest green.That only leaves one for anything else. My favorite sewing machines usually get the box treatment: a box that holds bobbins just for that sewing machine. Each box holds about 20 bobbins so it's not a huge amount either, especially when you think about how many spools of thread you might have.

Singer 301's on left, Pfaff 1222 on right

Bobbin winding courtesy: never wind another color thread over existing bobbin thread. Why would anyone do that? It's just lazy! Say you need a red thread bobbin but don't have an empty one so you grab the white bobbin and fill it with, you think, is just enough to get your project done. Oops, project is done and there is still red thread on the bobbin. Oh well. Days or months go by and you sit down to sew but where is your white thread bobbin? You don't remember that it's underneath the red thread bobbin so you grab another bobbin with xxx thread and fill away. After a year of these kinds of bad habits you have a mess on your hands. A few extra bobbins would have helped this situation but, let's face it, you will never have "enough", so good habits will help. When you need an empty bobbin, take the one you are going to use and unwind the thread back onto the spool it came from. Next time you need it, it can be wound back onto a bobbin, a nice one-to-one ratio. I only harp at this because in all of my sewing machine collecting I get dozens of bobbins that have little surprises waiting for me.
Like peeling an onion (imagine with a solid metal bobbin!)
How does your sewing machine wind bobbins? There are some machines that wind an excellent bobbin with nice neat rows with just the right amount of tension. Then there are those that seems to make more of a mess of it and that will effect your sewing stitch. Even a sewing machine that usually winds fine can have an off day due to the thread, how far the bobbin is pushed in, or any other reason it could be off. I suggest placing your finger somewhere between the spool and the bobbin, creating a bit of tension and guiding the thread back and forth. A correctly wound bobbin can be part of the problem with poor stitch formation since tension from the bobbin and tension from the spool form each stitch. Who knew how the bobbin is wound could be so important?

Having problems with a stitch and think it might be from the bobbin area? Looped stitches underneath come from an improperly threaded upper thread, even though it's on the bottom, bobbin, side. Still wondering what's off? Try switching out a plastic with a metal bobbin or visa-versa. Some sewing machines, even very old ones, like plastic and some like only metal. It's easy to test out, providing you have some of each. An overfull bobbin is also a no-no. Even when I have a sewing machine that says it will stop when the bobbin is full, I watch it towards the end to make sure its not overfilling, somehow not sensing that it's now full.

Now I've rambled on enough about bobbins (thanks for reading to the end of this +800 word post) but I hope you won't take them for granted in your future sewing projects. Just like a two-year-old, they might be little but they can be powerful when crossed!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Motherload

Motherload: jackpot, big winnings or big findings. That's how it feels sometimes when I walk out of a store with several much-desired sewing machines. That happened Tuesday night and I felt like pinching myself.

After working at our churches food distribution program on Tuesday evening, I try to stop at a favorite thrift store because 1.) it's on my way home and 2.) I get a senior discount on Tuesday of 40%. With their closing at 9 pm I miss stopping in quite a bit but last night I was there before 8:30 so I stopped and checked out all my usual spots. As I headed to the back of the store I found a tan Singer that made me stop but I wasn't real excited...yet. I bent down and read 301. Wait a minute, a 301? I have never had this model and I've heard nothing but good. It's touted as the big sister of the Singer 221, the Featherweight. Here it was, sitting lonely on the shelf, with power cord and foot control for a mere $19.95. Quick, with discount that makes it...$12! I snatch it up and head over to the outlets so I can plug it in. Yup, starts right up; no accessories but who cares? It's a Singer 301.
Long bed Singer 301-2
As I turn away from the outlets where I tested the sewing machine, I see a familiar sewing machine carrying case. Could it be another Singer? One I crave? Or one everyone else craves?

I flip open the hinges and see that it's a Singer 403 and it looks like its even got the accessories. I don't even plug this one in because I will take it anyway it comes. At the check out I see it's only $14.95 so with discount (never been happier to be old!) it's only $9. I sing all the way home.
Singer 403A with label tape "4-20-60"
Life is full and I don't get to open them up to take a look until  after 10 pm but what do I find? The 403A pops out of its cover and the cover still feels quite heavy so I turn the cover over to find:
Accessory box on right
an elastic strap that is holding in the accessory box and two manuals! When I looked even closer I found a "ticket" with a date stamp and a written note so now I know when this was made and purchased: March 11, 1960.
Script reads "Got machine March 11, 1960"
No great revelations for the Singer 301 but I've never had one before so I needed to read up on this model and find information at Singer 301 website. The flat side of the needle faces left, it takes the same size bobbins as the Featherweight, but unlike the Featherweight it is a slant needle model and operates without a belt but uses gears . As I read I see I have a long-bed model, a Singer 301-2, because the extension table that is hinged on the left is long, more the size of the Featherweight's table. Models in black have the decorative decals but my little number is tan that has turned a bit mottled. The only chips are on the back so it's in very good shape. The serial number, NA168994 dates mine at 1952 and made in Anderson, S.C., even though mine does not have the A on the front medallion. I oiled and greased it, cleaned up the body, ran it for a few minutes the next night and again this morning. I think it sounds a bit off so now I will check out the motor as I suspect it needs those grease points filled. All in all, a very exciting find that keeps me in the game.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


No posts for over a week! Not only was I busy getting ready for a craft fair, but manning our booth for 11 hours seemed to absorb all my free time for a week. Here I am, posing for the camera:

Karen in her booth, waiting to sell her quilted goods
My daughter Kelly drove and set up on Saturday, staying the whole day and working at selling her jewelry. Neither of us were blown away by our sales but we did sell our crafts and made a little bit of money just to keep us going! My other daughter, Alison, came to pick me up so we could load her van with the tall Gridwall structure and other bulky items that wouldn't fit in my smaller rental car. Rental car? When my Forester was rear-ended a couple weeks ago, it was finally claimed as a total loss so I was driving a much smaller-for-hauling rental. We also crowded into this busy schedule car shopping and finally came home with a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. This is a very nice vehicle for hauling all sorts of set-ups for craft fairs as well as sewing machine cabinets. No, no, no! We are downsizing the cabinet collection so I can get this new vehicle into the garage, not collecting more.

In my last post about the Pfaff 332 sewing machine, I was glad I got it sewing again and needed to work on making those decorative stitches. Here's what I found out I could do:

At the bottom are straight stitches then moving on to zigzag. Not bad, tension is fairly well adjusted. I could make some of the patterns, note the wavy pink stitch pattern next, but when I would "shift gears" into another pattern it would only start the pattern but then could not shift back. Everything moved fine for some of the pattern selections but not others? This sounded a bit familiar so I took a bright light and peered down into the top to see one nylon/plastic gear for the pattern mechanism:

Red arrow points to hidden plastic gear
It's pretty hard to see even when I point it out, but that gear has a crack in it. For a white gear turned yellow, that crack was black, probably filled with oil over time so it had been there for some time. I have not found a replacement gear on ebay yet so I think this will be one of those long searches or getting a donor sewing machine with a decent gear. So disappointing, especially since this sewing machine runs really nice, has a good stitch, and is worth repairing, if only the right part can be found. Yup, a needle in a haystack kind of a job.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tighten Your Belt, again

Losing weight? That might happen to you and when you get to lower the notch on your belt it's a cause for celebration. But that is not so when it's on a sewing machine.

I was delighted to be able to pick up a Pfaff 332, known as one of the great ones, this weekend from a woman who was selling it for someone else (i.e. she knew nothing about sewing machines). Besides a beautiful drive at sunset, I was filled with another beautiful sight when I entered their backyard where she would bring the sewing machine. The landscaping was an experience all by itself with a large rock formation with a stream running through it and plantings galore. I was a bit distracted but still got a good deal on a classic sewing machine from Germany :

Pfaff 332 with full extension table
She wasn't moving, at all, only a hum from the motor but she went home with me anyway since it seems I'm hooked on rescuing old sewing machines. Once I got it home and onto the table, I could look inside the hood. It looked like it might be rust:

Thank goodness it was only very dirty so a liberal dose of oil and cleaning got her moving again. More cleaning and moving of dials revealed a stitch width dial solidly stuck so out came the hair dryer to work it's magic. This time I watched the clock, not wanting to damage the plastic dial, so it was about 3 minutes before it was moving pretty freely. Now I could see how the other levers worked together to give the variety of stitches with an all metal camstack, just like the Berninas:

I started to see how the stitches were forming when I heard a thunk. That's never a good sign. I had to open up the side to see what happened:

Can you see all the dirt and cracked plug end?
Note the belt on the left? It was making no contact with the idler pulley in the center, to the right of the lower belt wheel. When putting it back on I moved it over to the right of the idler pulley. It was a tight fit, too tight. I started up the machine and it didn't sound happy so I knew something was wrong.

There it was, right in the manual: an illustration of the belt under "Adjusting the motor belt". It was not to be stretched over the pulley but just to run along the side of it. Wait a minute, mine is way too long for that. Way, way too long. Did I stretch it out? Miracle of miracles, another belt came with this sewing machine so I got it out only to find it was exactly the same size. How could this be? I tried lowering the motor where the lower pulley was connected but it still was not low enough. I ended up raising the motor and putting the belt back over the right side of the idler pulley. It sounds much better but I'm not happy with this situation.

Now to try the variety of stitches but the cams are not shifting and giving me the patterns I'm looking for. This is not uncommon but it will take some time and possibly the hair dryer again to get everything working as it should. She will have to sit for another week since I'm getting ready for the Elk River Craft Fair this weekend and I hate when that happens; I want to finish what I start! She might be a classic but she's a dirty girl and even cleaning her up will not cover up that she past middle age. We all have to admit to that at some time or another but let's hope it's not her time yet.

Friday, September 5, 2014

On a Mission

Did you know some of the sewing machines I have sold have traveled to Haiti? Ellen got in touch with me when she wanted a basic Kenmore I had for sale and asked if I had any others that were just no-frills sewing machines that would be easy to use and service. Kenmore certainly fit the bill and I did have a few for her consideration. We finally connected and she told me the story of sending these sewing machines on a boat to Haiti. They didn't just get boxed up and sent, these sewing machines were going to be packed up tight and put in a jeep-type of vehicle that was going on a boat to Haiti. When the boat landed and was unloaded she would be there to parse out the goods and work with those who would be using the machines. How wonderful to help women to become independent in so many ways, using these good basic Kenmore sewing machines that are nearly given away here in Minnesota!

This week Ellen has returned with two sewing machines that were given to her. Now I get to decide if they would be worth fixing up to be used for the next trip to Haiti.

Kenmore 12 stitch

She brought her friend, Karen, along and we had to talk about non-electric sewing machines especially after they saw the new hand-crank models that are on display right inside the door. Ellen told a story from their last trip when a treadle sewing machine was packed in with the other sewing machines. She learned that treadling is not as easy as it looks when you first learn! Yet a steady source of electricity is problematic so people powered machines are sometimes necessary. Anyone for a hand crank sewing machine?

I just brought home another Singer 66 Red Eye, not so much dirty on the outside but really dirty inside as it wasn't even moving. I've got it moving after cleaning out the debris and oiling but it really needs a box to sit in. It would be a nice candidate for a hand crank, especially since it already has the spoked hand wheel. Maybe it will take a trip to Haiti, too?

The donated sewing machines were a bit of a disappointment but I think they will work. First off, the Kenmore 12 has some kind of red residue that is left all over the top. I tried a variety of products to remove it but anything that was going to work was also going to take the finish off the plastic. It appears to be red duct tape residue but it's just cosmetic. The sewing machine itself ran pretty good until it came to the stretch stitches. Yup, it would only run backwards and when I could look inside there was very little I could get to. I think this is going to be a good sewing machine that just does not make it's stretch stitches. The Riccar, with those orange dots to indicate how to thread, sounded pretty funny but I got it to stitch okay. Then I noticed it had that wonderful feature of running in low gear, something that would be used to plow through heavy fabrics, and I had been trying it out in low. Once I put it up to high gear it sounded much better and even stitched a little better so there is hope. All in all, for donated machines they will work but I'm a bit disappointed. The older Kenmore's are great and I think I still have a few. Maybe I need to donate them so the women can have that great experience of sewing with a solid, not fancy, sewing machine. Gotta love those Kenmores!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vintage Fabrics

Lucky me, I like to go to garage sales and this past season I only made it to a few but they were productive if you like vintage fabrics. When I've had a booth at a craft fair I have been asked if I have anything out of vintage fabrics and I have to say no and even wondered what I could make out of this older and weaker fabric that would hold up to everyday use. The hot mitts surely aren't good out of vintage fabric! Then I stumbled on the calendar towels as tote bags and found I could line them with vintage fabric. Not a bad idea but I kept searching for just the right application. I kept acquiring these wonderful tea towels, tablecloths, dresser runners, and pillowcases, some for as little as 25 cents each. So here's what I've come up with so far:

This cute little square opens up to 3 pockets with tea bags
Same tea bag gift idea with vintage dish towel/cloth

Elegant with an embroidered napkin
They are a bit tedious to make, mainly because I keep trying to match colors and fabrics and that can be a never ending task, but I did have fun with them. Wouldn't they be nice little gifts for the tea drinker in your life?

With some larger pieces of fabric I thought it would be fun to make some toaster covers. Why not? One of the first ones was a cute plaid but which color for the bias trim? I sent this photo to my sister, Sue, and daughter, Kelly, for a vote:

Vote, please!
You might know it, Sue liked red and Kelly liked blue. As it turned out I liked red also but couldn't find my red fabric to make the bias tape so I had to use the blue since it was already in my supplies (so Kelly won after all). Here are four that were made for the craft fair next weekend in Elk River, MN:

Red border print in the back, plaid dish towel with blue bias, tiny red tomatoes behind, and vintage roses on the right
I still have time to make tea cozies out of the floral tablecloths and they are all easy to whip up with no hand sewing so they are fast, too. What else would you make on a vintage sewing machine besides vintage linen items?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tighten Your Belt

Bernina 730 with shredded belt

More debris!
In a previous post I wrote about a wonderful gift of a Bernina Record 730 that came to me with a few issues. The major problem turned out to be a shredded upper belt as you can see from this first photo. Wow, what a mess! It took awhile before I could get another upper belt and I even thought I'd order a lower belt while I was at it but something went wrong in my communication and I only ended up with the upper belt. No big deal since the lower belt is still serviceable. This weekend was the time to take apart the belt system and get that new one working.

How to get this all taken out had me a bit perplexed until I shone a bright light on the lower pulley: a c-clamp was holding it in. This one came out easily, both wheels with belt were coaxed off, so now we could get a good look at the mess. What a mess it was with the black shreds all over but thankfully due to the all metal nature of this sewing machine it was contained to only one end. Many cotton balls, flannel, Q-tips, and plane old elbow grease got all of it cleaned out; here she is for inspection:

Shredded belt debris gone!
The new belt fit nicely, old belt lined up, and some gentle pushing got everything back together:

New belt is pinkish, old lower belt is black.
After reassembly I got to try her out and found out after a few adjustments and a lesson from the manual to relearn what all the dials were for, she stitched just as nice as I would expect from a Bernina.

Bernina Record 730 with sample stitch patterns
This sewing machine might find a home permanently with me, especially because her light switch doesn't work. That wouldn't bother me but it's not a great selling point. Later in the day I sewed up a couple seams on the first Bernina Record 730 and I had to admit it had a nicer feel and sound so it looks like I might have to put them side by side and see how I can improve this one. The potential is there, kind of like a parent who says "I know my child is bright but..."