Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Little Ingenuity

After writing about those great Singer bentwood cased sewing machines, I ran across two gems that just needed to be rescued. They were advertised together and the photos were pretty dark and without many details but I took a chance and drove over after work. In an upstairs apartment of a house in St. Paul, the owners were refinishing the attic and came across a Singer 99 in a bentwood case and a Minnesota vibrating shuttle sewing machine that were pretty badly rusted. They were pushed to the side until the house went on the market. In their rush to get the house ready to show they found the antique babes in a corner and now it was time to deal with them. They were pretty sorry looking, especially the Minnesota, but they went into the back of my car anyway.

I got them home and had to clean them up or they were not going to make it very far. While I was on the phone with my sister later that evening I wiped them down and then proceeded to wipe with sewing machine oil. The Singer had already been wiped down to remove surface dirt  but nothing was moving. Sewing machine oil was used to coax the presser foot up and then off, removal of the needle (now stuck in fabric under the foot) but eventually it started to move. It's in poor cosmetic shape but there is hope for a complete recovery:
Singer 99 dated June 1928
The Minnesota was not as happy. It had not been wiped down and there was quite a bit of debris on the bed. Think attic and years of dead bugs. Yup. But even worse were the very rusted parts like the tension mechanism on top and the shuttle slide plates.
Rusty little thing

It also got oiled and cleaned but nothing was moving. I turned it over and then I got another surprise: It was embedded into a plank of sorts, screwed down, and has large rubber cushions on the corners. The motor wasn't too bad either so this one had some kind of conversion from treadle to electric in its history.
What is going on underneath?

After sitting overnight, I looked them over again and this time used a large pair of pliers to remove the handwheel and force the needlebar to budge. It worked and now the oil went to work. I could tap the shuttle covers off with a hammer and screwdriver to find the shuttle and bobbin were in pristine condition. I think with some work on the rust this little Minnesota might actually sew. It seems smaller than my Minnesota S and this one doesn't even have a letter A or B or anything: it's just a Minnesota:
Minnesota (no letter)

What intrigued me about these finds was the bentwood case that was pictured with them. It's in pretty rough shape, too, with one end completely off and both end pieces have peeling  wood laminate. This is not so bad, though since I can clean, glue, and clamp to get it looking good again:
Bentwood case: at least it has a key
I hope to have a good report about these orphans, who huddled together under the eves of this old house, waiting for their hibernation to be over. I'll just have to tell them: it's spring, ladies! Time to get back to work!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bentwood Cases

I love wood: the colors, grain, variety. It's no wonder I have fallen in love with the Singer bentwood cases:

My Singer 99 in a bentwood case with a carrying strap
Mine are not pristine but show their age with the usual nicks and dings but I try to at least clean them up. This can be a challenge because they are old and have usually been heavily used. It takes wood glue and clamping to get them sturdy again but they really are not sturdy enough to be picked up by the handle. that's why the one above is sporting it's own set of straps as a handy way to carry that supports the bottom.

I try to pick up the 3/4 sized cases whenever I can, switching sewing machines out for a better one, adding a hand crank, cleaning up in general. Who wouldn't want a cute Singer 99 with a hand crank in a bentwood case? I keep my Singer 99 hand crank on display: that's right, everyone that comes into my home sees it and says "How does this work?" and sometimes "Can I get one, too?" The answer is "Of course."

Besides the traditional Singer 99, that 3/4 version of the classic Singer 66, I sometimes find a different 3/4 sized sewing machine like this Singer 127:

Singer 127 with hand crank

It's a vibrating shuttle style, something I'm not as fond of, but they are usually older and this one was not only in good shape but the case had it's original key! Without the key you need to devise something that will lock and unlock the lid. Most of the time you can use a screwdriver that has a square or flat end, depending on the style of the lock.

Singer 99 with bentwood case in need of refinishing!

My story for today is now I found one bentwood case in two very far flung ways. Last spring, in a local antique shop, I found the top of a bentwood case, just the top. I bought it hoping I would one day find the bottom but little did I know at the time that the bottoms are much harder to find because they get all of the wear and tear. I just hung onto it, storing it with other portable cases for sewing machines. Fast forward 11 months later and someone emails me about my Etsy shop and selling vintage sewing machines. Beth had navigated to my blog and was asking advice about her vintage sewing machine parts, a new part of her shop MyVintageDiscoveries. Should she sell parts in lots or as individual pieces? You guessed it, in her shop she had a 3/4 sized wooden base that was less than a new one and so authentic. When it arrived, with a free Singer 99 needle plate and slide cover that were in very used state, I hustled it downstairs to the bentwood top...
Long lost parts - reunited!

...for a perfect fit. A lid and a top, joined together again. Well, maybe not again, but joined  for a complete set. You notice I don't have a sewing machine in it yet but I do have two or three candidates. Should it be motorized or a hand crank? Maybe both? That would be my first "convertible" sewing machine. Convertible not like cars with a top up or down but convertible with a motor or a hand crank, all under a bentwood top. Wanna take it for a drive?
1959 Cadillac Eldorado

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's Still Raining Men

Readers of my blog know about my sales report for sewing machines to men who are not at all afraid to tinker with these old sewing machines and don't mind if they are over 30 pounds of metal. The White in a zebra striped case was reported upon in a previous post when  man and his "teacher" came to try it out and claimed it was more than good enough to learn on. Next up I have two men who are interested in a Singer 237:
Singer 237
This is a very basic sewing machine and it's possibly the same model my sister Sue has. Or maybe she has a Singer 457? Mike has been calling and emailing all week about the "Learn to Sew" ad I have on Craigslist and just knows the 237 will work for his needs. Now so does Jon, right on the heels of Mike. I let Jon know there is someone ahead of him but maybe he would like the Singer 328K, a very good sewing machine that is strong and quite serviceable:
Singer 328K in gray
Jon is fine with either one so now I can get back to Mike and tell him he better hurry or he might not get the 237 (but I think he will like the 328, too). Decisions need to be made.

When Mike gets here, he's all excited to see this sewing machine and tells me his story about what he is sewing and why he needs a zigzag capable machine. Their family does all kinds of crafts and they already have a Jukki industrial machine and mom has a good machine, too. But Mike makes book covers for the kids at church and wants to put their name on the cover in an embroidery style zigzag. The fabric is fairly stiff but as he sits down to sew he can see how easily it feeds and how straight the edges of the zigzag turn out. He is sold! In our conversation I tell him that if he wants a good zigzag at minimal cost I have a Hamilton that is so wonderful....maybe he wants to try that one out? No, he really wants the Singer 237 but could he see what else I have? Here is the dilemma: do I let anyone see what a jungle it is downstairs? In what condition have I left it? Is there even room to try any of them out? It's a chance I take and Mike seems like a really nice guy, so down we go into my workroom and storage central. There are some of my blog readers who have been there and know only too well the tight quarters I work in. Mike is delighted and wants an instant education: he's an engineer by trade so finds all of this quite facinating! We take a look at the Hamilton and hear it run:
Hamilton J-A/3
It just has a different sound and feel plus it makes a wonderful zigzag. Now Mike is conflicted but we go on to look at Singers 403, 401, and 15's. As can be expected, Mike loves them all, but is going to go through with buying the Singer 237. But he has two teenage daughters who are afraid of the Jukki so maybe one of the other machines would work for them? Mike and I agree I will be hearing from him again because he has caught the vintage sewing machine bug.

Just in case you are reading this Mike, I checked my inventory and I do have another Singer 401A, my all-time favorite after the Viking 1100, Brother Select-o-Matic, Kenmore 158-18130, Singer 99 handcrank, Pfaff 1222, various sergers...who can play favorites? I love them all in their own way.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Trading Post

In my love for sewing machines, there are times when I'm willing to make a trade for a sewing machine. There's a deal in the making that started before Christmas but we are finally getting down to the actual exchange. Last weekend Cheri came over with several sewing machines and we tried to sort it all out. I hope I can make it clear for you, too:

1. Montgomery Ward Precision Round Bobbin: This is a Singer 15 clone, looks just like them but was made in Japan.  It's in very good cosmetic shape and was in a portable case that needed some work. Upon further inspection, after I had given it a once over and plugged it in and ran it for awhile, I gave the electrical cords a better inspection. Oh oh, the cords were stiff and brittle with the protective covering chipping off. When the head was taken out of the portable case I could see the motor would need rewiring and the light fixture was toast. Cheri said she wanted this one back for herself. Are you sure?

2. White with blue top sewing machine was in a small cabinet and in need of cleaning. It is amazingly lightweight for a vintage sewing machine but they were smart and made the "lid" plastic, something that probably doesn't need to be metal. It stitched nice and came with accessories; Cheri wanted this one back for a sewing group she works with. The cabinet is just okay but might clean up nice.

3. Also in a cabinet is a Singer 15 that we think is in good shape but is so dirty that it's hard to tell. It has probably been stored in a garage, judging by the thick layer of greasy dirt. It remains in the cabinet because it's wired up to a knee control so Cheri brought a friend along to help her haul this baby around.

4. Finally up is the boat anchor, just the head but heavy enough to require both arms to pick up. It's a Signature UHT J276B and in rough shape with paint bubbling up, pretty dirty, and not moving too well. Cheri doesn't want it back; it's mine.

Over the course of the weekend I get to look at the first three and this past week found me working with the boat anchor a bit every night to get it loosened up. Sometimes the sewing machines that look the most hopeless are those that turn out well. That's what happened with this group:

1. MW Round Bobbin ended up on the floor of my repair room, waiting for rewiring. The light needs to be replaced and I have one with a silver metal cover that will work but it's nothing special. I hope to put it in a wood base but at $45 per new base I'm not sure I can recoup the price. The blue portable case is now free to be used elsewhere.

MW Round Bobbin
2. The White machine cleaned up well and runs good, having straight stitch and zigzag so pretty well equipped to be used in a sewing group. That blue portable case? It got cleaned up, glued and clamped, and now houses this blue sewing machine. Looking good! Cheri will take this one and use it for the group sewing circle.
White with accessories, manual, and a box of bobbins
3. Singer 15 did clean up nicely and runs well but it doesn't fit into the cabinet like it should. That will take some doing to shave off a bit of the front edge but it's worth the work. Cheri considered this a "bribe" since she didn't want it but knew I would and I'm happy to be bribed! It's a good solid machine and should sell if I price it right.
Singer 15-91 is gear driven
4. The Signature, even with the bubbling paint, cleaned up fairly well and is running better. The motor was giving off a burnt smell but that has stopped so I hope it was just from storage. The motor doesn't look exceptionally dirty and I don't want to pull it apart unless I have to! I checked the brushes and they are good with no sparks or smoke from the motor  It went into the cabinet the White sewing machine came in, a decent fit and appropriate for such a heavy sewing machine.
Signature with accessory box in cabinet

Selection of stitches and fold-out bobbin winder
In summary, I'm keeping the MW Round Bobbin, Singer 15, and Signature, Cheri is taking back the blue sewing machine in the portable case. Now that is not working out too even is it? So I'm going to give Cheri two sewing machines that she can take back to her group, two that are basic but have zigzag and in portable cases or with handles. This works for me since I get two that are good (after rewiring the MW) and one that is fine and works but not a great find. That one will need to be priced very low yet it does have an very nice accessory box (but no manual). Here are the sewing machines I picked out for Cheri and her sewing group:

Kenmore 158-12111

Montgomery Wards
Both are free arm, include accessories, with the Kenmore in a portable carrying case and the Montgomery Wards has a handle plus a heavy vinyl cover. They are good machines but not gorgeous. Well, we all can't be rock stars; some of us are just dependable. I never wanted to be a rock star and maybe that's true of these two dependable sewing machines. Sometimes it just okay to be good at what you do without all of the flourish. But I say quietly to each one of the plain Jane sewing machines: rock-on, baby.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pink Princess

There are advantages to "being in the business" when I find lost and lonely sewing machines. I know what to look for, those to avoid (Singer Touch & Sew), and when to grab and run to my car before the gem gets away. It also helps when parts are missing because I know how expensive it could be to replace those parts or how cheap. Today we are going to look at a sad little Janome 344 in pink!
Janome 344
She was sitting on a shelf at one of the local thrift stores but didn't have a foot control. I thought I might have one that would fit but that's usually only a $25 item, not huge but could be a deal breaker. It was missing all accessories including a foot, and bobbin case so there wasn't going to be much testing it out. I went home, checked online for the model and type of foot control it would need and I figured I could go back on Wednesday when senior citizens get 25% off. Sure enough, it was still on the shelf so I pulled out two foot controls I brought from home and got one to fit. It has a nice built in handle so I carried it over to an outlet and turned it on: beautiful sound. I happily brought it home and got it cleaned up. Then we start to notice the flaws: she has a rusty needle plate! And it wasn't just missing the bobbin case but almost the whole mechanism. Good thing I have many, many parts so I got to work:

Bobbin area before

Bobbin with hook and retaining ring in place

Bobbin with casing inserted that holds the actual bobbin
One of the photos isn't very clear but I think you can see the progression of empty to full. Next came the rust on the needle plate. I had the most success with a razor blade and scraping the rust off until it was smooth to the touch. It still shows two marks but is not going to snag the fabric.

There are a nice variety of stitches, nothing exciting but it does have stretch stitches and a four step buttonhole. I'm pretty excited to get this modern but basic sewing machine and will sell it to someone young who doesn't want the weight of an older model. It's probably 20 years old with metal framework and back but plastic on the front. Janome is known to make pretty decent sewing machines and this one surely is. And it is pink...

Sold the White sewing machine in the zebra print case also to a nice man who is going to learn to sew. His teacher came along and tried it all out and claimed it was a very nice and smooth sewing machine so they walked out happy. I was a bit sad to see it go because it was so very nice but it needed a new home.

Black White model is pristine
More appointments on Saturday for some good sewing machines, a Singer 301 in a trapezoid case and a learn to sew Singer that will be going to a family man who needs it for something specific that he is going to bring along.

We are happy at Sewing Machine Mavin's house today with things getting fixed and machines moving out the door. Now if I could only figure out the Pfaff 262 and 332 this weekend.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Sewing machines come via sad circumstance some of the time and this story is one of them. When people hear about my sewing machine business they might seek me out for assistance when theirs' is acting up and Joyce was one of my brief sewing machine encounters. She had her Kenmore back and forth to the local Sears store and still she wasn't happy with it. After several attempts to either bring the machine to me or to have me stop on my way home, we finally connected in the church parking lot. The weather was still mild but it was autumn and nice days like this were limited. Her sewing machine was in the trunk and she wanted to know if I could help her with the clutch: she couldn't release it so she could wind a bobbin. Her grandson had even tried to twist the inner knob counter-clockwise while holding the hand wheel still but no luck. I peered into the trunk of her car and there was a basic Kenmore 158-1212 that was in very good condition so I leaned in and moved the inner knob and it released with ease. Joyce was a bit speechless - how did I do that? I suspected that young man had released it just enough to make it easy for the next person, like that pickle jar that won't open for you but is easy for the next person. Joyce and I had a good laugh over it but we were both happy she could now wind bobbins and we agreed the technician had really yanked on the wheel to tighten it more than necessary. Problem solved.

Later that fall I got a call from Joyce to see if I knew of someone or could post a help wanted ad where I worked because they were going to need a cleaning woman once a week. You see, Joyce needed serious surgery and she knew she wasn't going to be able to clean house for months. Joyce and her husband were raising two of their grandchildren who were now teenagers and had busy lives so a cleaning woman was just the thing to ease her mind. I got a few responses to the ad but in the end they hired a woman through another contact and wasn't she a wonder, cleaning like the place had never been cleaned. With her mind at rest, Joyce went to the hospital and we all took hope in a full recovery but that's not how this story ends. Four days after the surgery she took a turn for the worse and she died very quickly.

Our church was heartbroken to have Joyce gone: she was just a wonderful woman, full of life and enthusiasm, wise in the way of relationships and giving her heart to her family, especially those two grandchildren. This loss was a big one for me because I grew to love Joyce - how could I not- and I was going to miss her greatly.

Kenmore 158-1212
Fast forward about fifteen months and her husband is asking me to take Joyce's Kenmore and see if someone would want it. I reluctantly agreed, asking if his granddaughter would want to have it instead but, no, she didn't know how to use it and wasn't interested so I understood and stopped over to pick it up.

Not only was it sparkling clean, it came with a set of accessories in a cardboard box that was carefully used, included a manual, and a nice carrying case to give a convenient way to move it yet still have the free arm feature available:
What more so you need?
Everything worked, although it was a very basic sewing machine with a simple zigzag and no other features beyond the free arm style.
Only two controls, easy to use!
I did notice the four bobbins in the box: two were wound fine but the other two were very loose and irregular so it was possible the bobbin winding mechanism was problematic, sending her back to Sears, and that's when they tightened up the knob so she couldn't even release the clutch to wind a bobbin.

I saw her husband yesterday at church and he wanted to know if I got the sewing machine to work. Well, it was never broken, but yes, it was working fine and would be a nice starter machine for someone. When it gets sold I will have to tell him who bought it so he feels at rest. But for now it's sitting with other sewing machines, waiting its turn to be on display, patiently waiting, in a way that reminds me of Joyce who patiently waited for her sewing machine to be fixed, helped raise her grandchildren with a large amount of patience, but got so much love in return. I miss Joyce. I hope I can find a happy home for her sewing machine.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Loving and Being In Love

Facebook friends post interesting sites others might be interested in and one that really caught my eye was The Difference Between Loving Someone and Being in Love. A summary of the article is recognizing that there are many things we love and can appreciate, want to have, spend time with and doing things together, but to be in love is when you want to give back to that relationship, seeking ways to please. Ahhhh. That's it, isn't it? So naturally, I started to think about my sewing machines and tried to decide if I love them or am I in love with them?

This sounds a bit silly, but anytime something takes up as much of my time as sewing and sewing machines, you need to give it some thinking time to decide if this really is a hobby, business, obsession, or a love/hate relationship. It's all of the above! What started as a hobby that gave me a creative outlet, became a way to save money on clothing along the way. From time to time my services were paid for as I replaced zippers, hemmed dresses for women without sewing machines, and once even made four bridesmaid dresses in floral taffeta. And decades later I "upgraded" my Kenmore with a Viking and this whole adventure began. I'm not sure I would have continued without my husbands encouragement and support (even though he sometimes complains about "too many I can't even walk through here") as he listens and drives me to far off places in search of an unusual sewing machine. Make no mistake: it is key that you know you are going in the right direction or you can find yourself in financial peril or emotionally spent. I know I could have done this when I was single but I'm having so much more fun sharing it with someone who appreciates what I do.

From time to time I prove that my skills are useful as I alter wedding dresses, make pirate costumes, repair hunting garments, and make mother-in-law's happy with a new outfit for a wedding. This is my way to give back and make my husband happy that he has a wife that is more than a little bit obsessed with sewing and sewing machines.

What are we doing on Valentine's Day? I have two visitors who want to talk about sewing machines, he has a speech to practice for a class so is getting together with a classmate to rehearse.  I'm planning a meal with the venison from the 2014 hunt and we might watch an episode of "Call the Midwife." Nope, not too romantic by the world's eyes but through my eyes, I see the man I not only love, but am in love with. I hope you have known this kind of love, too.

Brother Select-o-Matic
Happy Valentine's Day!
Singer 401A
Elgin Rotary

Kenmore 16
Kenmore 1030, 1050, 1060
I'll leave you with a few photos of some of my most beautiful sewing machines (that were easy to love)
Sewmor 606
Pfaff 1222

Singer 99 handcrank conversion

Monday, February 9, 2015

Weekend Surprises

I had to work this weekend (translated: Saturday 10-5) and the sewing machine funds are low, so I expected to stay home and work on the machines I already have. Last weekend I was sewing and tried the jumper on my mother-in-law on Friday night but it was a big disappointment. I checked for the buttonhole placement but had to put it aside and give it some time for thinking how to resolve the issues. I have discovered my Pfaff 332 that I thought had a broken gear does not because the Pfaff 262 I'm working on has the same gear with a line on it. That's not enough proof until I watched a brief video on fixing these beautiful machines and the gear had the same line! No crack at all, just how it's made. Now I need to figure out why neither machine can make the right stitches but I have the service manuals for both models and I'm working on it. I would post a photo of the workroom but it's just not a pretty sight now.

As luck would have it, I found a Singer 127, vibrating shuttle model, in a bentwood case at an affordable price so I went to pick it up on Sunday afternoon. The wiring was shot and there was no knee control so, you guessed it, I put a hand crank on it:
Singer 127 with hand crank added
Isn't she pretty? Then I started to sew with her and I had to hold my ears. It was like a rat-a-tap-tap-tap, similar to bullets raining down. After much consternation and consulting with Facebook friends, I find it has to do with the needle bar that has too much play in it:

I know this is difficult to see but the needlebar, at the top of the swing, can drop about half an inch, giving it the noise as it hits the bottom. There is play in the area marked but even with 2 screws for adjustments, they are already tight. This is not right! I got out another vibrating shuttle model to see what it looked like:
Singer 28 from a treadle cabinet
Of course, it did not have this problem and looked the same inside so now what do I do? Here they are front to back:
Singer 127 in front and Singer 28 in back
I know they look the same size but the 127 is a 3/4 sized sewing machine and the 28 is full sized. The different number is due to the position of the bobbin winder. By the way, the bobbin winder works on the 127 even with a hand crank due to its upright position, something the Singer 99's can't do. So now I'm in a conundrum. I'm asking for all possible solutions. Yet I'm having fun just looking at these sweet ol' sewing machines.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Running Out Of...

bobbin thread, serger know-how, patience? This weekend I decided I would like to do a little sewing. I had just gotten a new plate for my Elna serger and after some practice I figured this was a good time to try it out. I had a dolman sleeved dress pattern picked out for my mother-in-law but the more I looked at my selection of fabric and views I decided to try it out first as a dress for myself. I've done this before and it can be a good way to figure out if it's going to fit and where to make the alterations. At the Fiber Arts garage sale last spring I came home with several patterns with Mary in mind so here's the one I chose:
Remember Stretch & Sew?
Very little fitting, nice and comfy, but she wouldn't want to wiggle down into it: maybe the view with the front opening would be better. I chose the v-neck and got cutting and sewing. My first seams were with the serger but maybe I should change the thread from black to navy? Tying on new spools isn't too much of a problem until I decided the first one wasn't as nice a quality and color as the rest so I changed it out so they were all Maxi-Lock. Big mistake. I spent the next hour threading and re-threading until I could finally get it right. An hour. All for navy thread. But it finally worked and I was going to town. As it was, I needed to sew parts of it on a regular sewing machine and since I had recently cleaned off the desk with my Viking 1100, I started sewing with it. Bobbin ran out. Only had purple in it so no problem anyway. I put in a medium blue thread. Thread broke. One more seam and thread ran out. So I decided I needed to fill a whole bobbin with navy thread and you guessed it, my thread from the spool ran out. I finally got down to the very last part, sewing a casing at the waist, and yes, by now the bobbin thread ran out AGAIN. These are things that can build patience.

Here's the dress sorta finished, without hem:

Dolman dress unadorned
Kinda plain but I plan on adding a navy belt I already own but this dress is begging for a scarf:

Navy with light pink?

Navy with shades of purple?
I think I like the more colorful scarf best but I have choices. It's pretty cold here in Minnesota so this might have to wait until March when it's not below freezing but I'm pretty happy with it. There are pockets in the side seams and the neckline was easy. I learned a few lessons on how to do this right so my next one can be for spring for Mary:

Center view with high neck and spring colors
I'm not sure about the pale yellow for the top but it sure is cheerful. She does get to vote on these things but sometimes she says "If you think so that's okay by me." Let's hope my judgement is working on that day.

So that was my big project for the weekend along with getting a few more sewing machines photographed and posted for sale. With it being the Super Bowl Sunday I hoped there would be football widows who were anxious to try out a new sewing machine but not one of mine so  I have to sit tight. I am patient. I got my patience from sewing with a serger.