Saturday, August 29, 2015

Getting Started

A topic that keeps coming up is learning to sew: where, how, tools? I enjoy all aspects of sewing and almost get itchy fingers thinking about all of this. The conversation today on Facebook was about sewing machines for those wee ones in our lives. It's a vintage sewing machine group so, of course, they all think an older machine is best. I heartily agree yet...

A beginning sewer needs to be able to actually sew: that means either having a dedicated space or the ease of setting up a space at a moments notice. I would love for everyone to have a sewing room with space for cabinet models and table work space but that doesn't happen too often. Even as an avid sewer I have only had dedicated space a few times and even then not a sewing table that wasn't covered in projects. Back to reality, most of us might have the luxury of having a corner of a busy room with one desk or cabinet model with a nearby table that is shared with all sorts of other activities. The rest of us will need to store a portable machine in the bottom of a closet or the corner of a sturdy table. That means these great vintage sewing machines and their associated weight of 30-40 pounds is almost a hardship. Those beginning sewers will want something they can easily move out of storage or they won't sew at all and lifting weight probably isn't something you want your eight year old to be doing. Sigh. That is going to mean either one of the most sought after models that are lighter weight (Singer 221, the Featherweight, Singer Genie, or Kenmore 158-10X0's) but are becoming more expensive. It is no wonder that beginners look to the big box stores and their plastic sewing machines. STOP! While you might begin to sew on one of those sewing machines, you will not sustain your sewing because it will be so painful: bobbins jamming, needles breaking, tension issues, seams that don't look like you would expect, etc. It comes down to where you want to feel the pain: pocketbook, body, emotional frustration, or or a combination of all three.

Might I suggest you try an option of getting the best vintage sewing machine that can still be moved upon occasion but will give you great sewing results and is a pleasure to sew with? You know how much I love a wide variety of Singer's but I'm going to suggest an older model Elna or Bernina that is still within a decent price range.
Elna 62C (blue top)
The Elna 62C's are a great model that has stood the test of time and are not too much for weight, about 22 pounds. They have great versatility with straight and zigzag stitches plus come with a whole collection of cams for additional stitches. You might buy a model that doesn't have too many cams and add to your collection as you find the need. Although they take special bobbins they are not way out of price, standard needles, and regular presser feet. All I have had to do with a neglected model was to oil and loosen things up with a hair dryer: they have all come back to life.
Bermina 807 "Minimatic"
Bernina is such a great brand and seems to be one that never goes down in price but I have bought several for a reasonable cost of $100-200. In comparison to a plastic model of the same price, you will have a sewing machine with superb stitches and long lasting quality. Most were made as portable models and cabinets were almost an afterthought. I have a Bernina 807 Minimatic that is just a dream, weighing only 19 pounds. There is a modest variety of stitches with no additional cams, takes regular needles, uses class 15 bobbins but works best with Bernina bobbins. Presser feet are specialized so if the model you find doesn't come with them be prepared to buy a non-Bernina set for $30 that will work fine or just stick with one wide zig zag foot that will take you quite far in your sewing projects. Older model Berninas, with fewer features, can be more reasonable but still expect to pay around $200.

You might find a Singer 221 at a good price but they are only straight stitch and I think most beginning sewers will want the ability to use a zig zag stitch. I love the Kenmore 158-1030-1040-1050's and you can still find them for around $100 and are a good bet.
Kenmore 158-1030, 1050, 1060
 The Singer Genie's are so cute and retro but I find the machine itself to run loud and somewhat laborious so it doesn't get my full recommendation.
Singer Genie
 And what about those grandkids? If you are going to stay close by and sew with them, an electric sewing machine might be fine but I think a hand crank gives them the feeling of accomplishment without having too much speed or lack of control. Just be prepared to bring it along because it's so much fun!

Singer 99 with handcrank

Monday, August 24, 2015

And They Keep Coming

The start of the weekend was fun with a surprise discovery of a Singer 99 crinkle finish sewing machine in a bentwood case:

Singer 99 with crinkle finish
It was in great shape, especially the case, so I snatched it up thinking there probably wasn't anything seriously wrong with it. I could see the power cord had been cut so I was prepared to do some wiring on it but that had been done before, too.  My $5 discount coupon made it even sweeter. Once I got it home and took it apart I could see it was wired a bit differently with wire nuts so I would be breaking new ground with my wiring skills. That's good! It is dated 1941, appropriate to have such a somber and durable finish during those difficult years in our history.

Cut power cord!
With the weather turning cooler I could finally get some of the cabinets in shape so I got one stripped on Friday night:
Singer 99 table base
This is the cool model that has a bentwood case to fit down into it so it's truly convertible as a table (above) or carried out in the bentwood case. Didn't turn out too bad but it hasn't even been sanded yet so I hope for even better end results.

Sunday afternoon I tackled the latest Singer 15-91 cabinet that I think is going to be a real beauty:
Singer 15 Queen Anne style cabinet
It is so difficult to get out those spots that have appeared when the original finish flaked off: now there are patches that are very light in comparison to the rest. Sanding might help that but I doubt I can get it looking like new again. But it's not new! You would think I could embrace the antique quality of these woodworking projects with a bit more grace. I love to bring them back to life and usable quality and get so much satisfaction in selling a great sewing machine in a cabinet that is also a compliment to the machine. Plus, I need to get them out of my garage and in desirable shape means a better chance to sell!

Sewing machine garage sale coming up!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Looking Out For Each Other

Community. That's what makes this sewing machine adventure so much fun! This week I've had four people reach out to me with offers of sewing machines and I haven't even made a good connection with two of them yet. The first one came in a Facebook message about having a treadle sewing machine in a cabinet that needed more work than the owners wanted to do and I was getting first pick. I asked for a photo but there was no response; 24 hours later I get another message saying it was on the curb: come and get it. But I didn't get that message until hours later when I was home and looking at my Facebook account. There was the photo and I could see the cabinet did need work and the machine itself had lead a long and work-worn life. They noted it only lasted ten minutes as neighbors were grateful to find it to replace one they had lost in a flood. This looked like a win-win to me when someone who really wants something meets up with someone who wants to get rid of it. No hard feelings and a good result in the end.

A few days later I get a late afternoon call from a friend asking if I wanted an old sewing machine that was at their neighbors garage sale. By then everything was half price so for a mere pittance I could have this old black Singer in a Queen Anne style cabinet. He read off the serial number and I identified it as a model 15 with a motor off the back but the electrical cords looked like they were shot. But what about the condition of the paint and decals? "Karen, they look really great!" so I drove over immediately, less than 10 minutes away. He was right: decals were near perfect, no chips along the front edge, but the cords were dangerous and no foot control. That was alright as I could change those things easily enough but the cabinet would need refinishing yet had a nice pattern to the wood, really extra special and worth refinishing.
Singer Queen Anne style cabinet
Looking through to the wood pattern

Singer 15-90 all cleaned up and stitching great
Once home and worked on, I was a bit stymied by the replacement of the belt. Using the right v-belt and many many adjustments I just couldn't get the motor to run very fast. It was the belt, not the motor, so I finally put a stretchy belt on it. This is somewhat of a no-no because they are supposed to put a strain on the motor but, clearly, the v-belt was doing that. It worked great with a stretch belt and I had all of the speed I could want. This was one nice sewing machine. But here's the real kicker: it's a blackside. It was manufactured in 1941, an era where metal was at a premium so many of the chrome finished items were now made with a black finish. It's a bit erratic where maybe attachment feet are black, or needleplates, but I think I've hit the jackpot with this one: faceplate, presser foot, needle plate and slide plate, round backplate, presser foot take-up lever, even the spool pin are black. Wow. I already have at least one set of black accessories and several black bobbins so I think I've got a real gem here for a collector. But it sews great, too!
Presser foot and needleplate in black

Faceplate in black (trust me, it's black)
Black accessories with some silver

I put it to the test with a buttonhole project, making five buttonholes on a new blouse with the standard green box, straight stitch and shank buttonhole attachment. The thread cutter on the presser foot bar needed to be removed but that was about all. See how nice they turned out?
Buttonhole attachment made this 5/8 inch buttonhole
Community. My community of sewing friends, some old, some new friends, help me locate gems to remind me that they are gems when they find a vintage sewing machine and think "Karen might like that." Indeed, she might.

Roaring Twenties

Along with vintage sewing machines, sometimes I come across vintage reading materials. I've reported on sewing books in prior posts and now I'll share pages from Needlecraft, a large format newspaper type of periodical. At the time of its publication it came out monthly in a non-bound set of pages that are 15" by 11". There were six editions folded neatly and resting in an oblong basket for only $2 at an estate sale and I was intrigued. They contain stories, patterns, advertisements, and readers questions and comments. My set starts with December 1919 and ends with January 1921 but not all issues within that time frame. Many of the articles emphasize that with the war going on they need to be careful, etc., and to remind women to support their soldiers.
Here's a portion of the leading page of one issue from 1920, over 95 years ago:
Needlecraft July 1920
That's a lot of reading! But it is interesting and a slice of life at that time: the need for high quality items in your hope chest, possibly because older women will be looking to see. There seemed to be a great deal of articles and patterns for underwear: making, embellishing, the importance of wearing underwear for hygiene purposes. Interesting...

Along with the actual patterns for crochet and tatting, there were fashion patterns you could send away for:

Needlecraft July 1920, pg. 18
 A reminder at the end states they are still twelve cents each. Times have changed and, thank goodness, styles have too. I can't imagine any of the above fashions were flattering (but probably cool and comfortable in their non-air-conditioned homes).

What magazine would survive without advertisements? There were some products that have fallen by the wayside like freckle cream, Del-A-Tone (hair removal), and cures for stammering or deafness but others remain: Bayer Aspirin (Genuine Aspirin), Cream of Wheat, and Borden's Eagle Brand. Here's a full page ad for Perfection Oil Cook Stoves and Ovens:
Needlecraft July 1920 back page advertisement
Each issue contained several contests you could enter and had a nifty list of prizes such as a manicure set, magnifying glass, or silk handkerchiefs for children. Some things never change and the human spirit to win something for nothing does also. Or maybe this is the American spirit?

I might enjoy sewing machines from earlier eras but I'm glad for electricity, central heating and cooling, and indoor plumbing. This look into the past is interesting but I'm not looking to live there!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Repainting season

While the weather is mild, or even hot out, it's time to work in the garage and get the repainting projects done. I have three planned before it's too cold to paint, mainly 50 degrees, and have one well underway and paint for all three. Here's the progress on Mr. Green Machine:

Starting life as a humble Singer 99, this baby was worn, scarred, and in need to something. I took a vote earlier for a repaint of a Singer 15-91 and it seems people like a classic look. Not one to follow the crowd, I decided instead this little gal was going green, a lively green apple:
Singer 99 painted green apple green
I have found this older Singers are easy to strip with a chemical stripper, much work to mask off the parts that don't get painted, and after painting two black machines this green one was so much easier. No, I don't think I've gotten much better but it might be the actual color goes on smoother, fewer flaws. How to trim a sewing machine that is a color was a real dilemma: gold or silver decals? I don't think there would be enough contrast. Other colors? Pretty much just black but there wasn't a huge selection of styles. I finally decided a Singer 301 decal set in black would give the look I'm going for.
Singer 301 water slide decal set
I like the clean rectangular lines of the prism decal set and think it's not too pretentious. I could have used a Singer 221 set that are also fairly sleek but those are for the Featherweight and I didn't want anyone to think I was trying to pass off the repainted 99 as a Featherweight. The decals came today and were applied tonight:

Singer 99 in green with black 301 decals
I've been struggling with paint removal on the Phoenix 283: that paint is on there to stay! I'll give it another try but I might have to settle for a good sanding and then primer. This is really ugly looking:
Phoenix 283
I'm still going to paint it the original metallic green but, so far, this is way more work than it is worth.

A final repaint is going to be PINK! I love pink, I'm a pink kind of gal and just have to paint one pink. It will most likely be another Singer 99 but I do have a Singer 15-91 that is in need of a repaint but . . . pink? Even I can't picture that!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Oh Those Kennies!

I continue to love the older Kenmore sewing machines and wished more people could see the value in them. But maybe I'm singing to the choir on this one! Here's my adventure this week:

A free Kenmore 158-1430 came my way a few weeks ago because it wouldn't zig zag. It started out at only $10 (or maybe it was $5?) but in the end the seller just said to come by and pick it up while they were gone. That works for me! She was right: it wouldn't zig zag. After taking the cam mechanism off so many times I could now return it into place and connect up all the various points almost in my sleep. It would zig zag on the downstroke rather than the upstroke, meaning it would make the movement from left to right and right to left when the needle in in the fabric instead of at the top of the stroke. Research showed I might need to loosen the worm gear and rotate it but I couldn't get the screws to loosen. After a failed trip to Ace Hardware I took it back and did some deep contemplation. That means I left it on the porch floor in pieces until I had some inspiration. It worked! I thought instead of rotating the worm gear maybe I could rotate the gear it attaches to. I gave this a try and I got it to zigzag at the top, making a perfect stitch. An adjustment was needed to center the stitch, probably because I don't have tools to measure the exact distance I need to change the gear, but it works now and I'm happy. I placed it in a cool cabinet and I'm thinking about leaving it there since I don't like the machine that came in said "cool cabinet."
Kenmore 158-1430 in cabinet with built in chair (cool, no?)
A second Kenmore adventure came right before lunch when I get a text from a number I don't recognize letting me know there is a 3/4 sized Kenmore at a particular thrift store today for a very good price. I was in my car and there before she could go back and get it! We weren't in competition but I didn't want her to have to do this for me. It was a Kenmore 158-1040 in fair shape but I'm certain it will stitch and look much better when cleaned up. It came with a power cord that I'm sure isn't original, the bobbin case (common) is missing as well as the front storage compartment, but the rose embossed case was there and in good shape. Score! As I was looking around for the storage compartment I found a Singer buttonholer in the dark red box, the one for the Singer 301 or other slant shank, straight stitch Singers. This just keeps getting better and better, especially since today is senior discount day and I save 40%. Sometimes you just gotta love being old.
Kenmore 158-1040
Missing storage compartment
Rose-embossed case in perfect condition
Who was this mysterious text from? None other than Ellen who travels to Haiti to teach women to sew items to become independent business women. She already had a Kenmore 158-1050 and just loved it. I should have guessed because who else would call this very special sewing machine by its know nick name, a 3/4 sized Kennie? This one is going to make someone else very happy one day. Thanks, Ellie!

Once home and working on the 1040, I can hear it's not catching just right and suspect it's the belt. An inspection reveals the belt is nearly shredded but I have a parts machine and use one of those belts. As far as the missing storage compartment, I find a nice white plastic box (see photo) for accessories that is going to work just fine. That foot control that seemed a bit off? I find another one that fits much better into the case. Yup, it was meant to be, another sweet Kenmore ready for a new home.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Johnny on the Spot

I hinted in my last post that something wonderful was up so now I have to deliver. While I was getting ready for company and had so much to do, I received a request to see a Kenmore that
I had on the local Craigslist. We agreed on Saturday morning early but a phone call at 7:30 to come now did catch me off guard but I still scrambled and was ready by 8 am. Although he was a bit later than planned, I got the Singer 15-91 in a cabinet cleaned up a bit so the waiting time was put to good use. The Kenmore was sold to Nate who needed to make boat seat covers and I proved the Kenmore was more than able to stitch two layers of vinyl. An interesting conversation was had when I found out he was a machinist and he was very willing to try out his 3-d software and printer to make parts for sewing machines. I've got his phone number!

After he left I continued to work on the Singer 15-91, knowing I would be in trouble later in the day when the pressure to get all of the other things done would not be realized. What could get cut from the list? How about washing windows? Maybe dinner could be really, really simple like reheated leftovers. Then I started to rationalize: it was my vacation and I should spend some of that time doing things I like to do, such as sewing machine repair. Yea, that sounded about right. By noon I was back inside and nose to the grindstone as I cleaned and prepped for company. By four o'clock I was beat and told my husband I was going to take a nap out on the porch. I sat down with my smart phone and looked at the local ads for sewing machines when I found a "Singer sewing machine: old and think it works" with photos. It was a Singer alright, a Singer 221 a.k.a. The Featherweight. I checked and saw the ad was two hours old. AUGH!!!!! It would be gone by now but I fired up my husbands laptop so I could see the contact info better. Hurry, hurry, hurry! I wasn't sleepy anymore as the adrenaline was rushing through my body. A Featherweight! Cheap! I could call or text so I sent a quick text and then phoned. She answered and said "Oh good! We were hoping someone would want it!" Clearly, they didn't know what they had. It was at her mothers house and they even lived nearby so I left immediately and was there within fifteen minutes. I got the low-down on why they were selling and its history: the young woman I talked to was going on a trip with a girlfriend to California and were raising money for the trip. They asked friends and family to donate things for a small garage sale and her mom said she had a sewing machine from her grandmother. They pulled it out of the carrying case and it had been used so was dirty but was not musty. There was the green Singer buttonhole kit but almost no other accessories, no bobbins but the bobbin case was there. We plugged it in and she ran slow but fine. The mom told me she had it serviced when her grandmother gave it to her many years before and she even used the buttonhole maker way back when so she knew it worked. They were charmed that I knew about these old sewing machines and would even use it. Then she told me the kicker, at least to those of us who love and use vintage sewing machines: she already had a computerized sewing machine and didn't need or use this one. Thank you: I will find several people who will gladly use this sewing machine even if it is old and not computerized. I smiled all the way home, gleeful to have found such a gem:

First pass with cleaning and she looks great

Now I needed to work on this baby so more things got cut from my to-do list as I cleaned, oiled, adjusted, sewed until she was acceptable. Yes, I was vacuuming at 10 pm but it was so worth it. Although there were nicks and scratches on the bed of this Featherweight,

Chips on the edge but well loved
the carrying case was better because of the lack of smell. Sunday morning I got up early and cleaned the metal parts on the case and they came out nearly gleaming.
One of the better cases

Although it was almost one fourth of the price of the last one I found in an antique shop, condition is everything. Scratches on the bed versus smelly case: maybe I would switch them? Nah, I'm going to continue to find ways to clean out the odor of the antique store find and have a very nice specimen  that will be reflected in the price and one with a bit more wear that will be priced accordingly. Sometimes stopping to take a nap can bring surprising results and it always pays to be johnny-on-the-spot (even two hours later).

Singer 221 posed with buttonhole kit and case (doesn't she glow?)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Vacation in Paradise

I've been home from my vacation for a week now but I haven't reported the details of how I brought home some real gems. An earlier post about the Bernina 831 via pony express from Illinois to Minnesota was planned when Jane heard about my trip to Chicago and all turned out well but I already planned to pick up a machine from one of our host families. A lovely little Singer 185, those real cute green models, was purchased at a garage sale and stored in the garage for several weeks so we knew in May that we were going to bring a cabinet sewing machine home during this vacation. Then we heard about the Bernina and figured we had room for two cabinets.

On our last day in Michigan we planned to drive out of town after stopping at a close out sale at an antique market. Sounded like fun to us so we were there when they opened at 10 AM. here is what we found:
All those machines and a table of accessories!

So many machines, so little time.

This was a sale that had been going on for three months and this was just the last day so things were pretty picked over. I was sorely tempted by a Necchi Lydia 2 and when the price went down I just had to try and see if I could fix it:
Necchi Lydia MK2

Along with Lydia I did get a whole bag of serger odds and ends that included many knives that I thought would be useful, a dozen Viking bobbins for my 1100, a bag of Singer 221 bobbins that were marked Singer Slant Shank but I recognized as Featherweights and 301's, and a few foot controls that I could use. Seemed like a nice bag of goodies.

We did some thrifting on our last day in Illinois but didn't find much in the way of sewing but that was fine: wasn't our car pretty full already? On our way back to Minnesota I checked local Craigslist and found there was a Singer 15-91 that was almost being given away and it was going to be on our way when we got into the Twin Cities! Let's get it! Once we got home we had to pull out two cabinets as well as luggage so we could deliver the Bernina. I was just itching to get to the three that were for me. I cleaned up the Singer 185 first because it was easy:

Singer 185 all clean
Back in blond cabinet, so cute!
When I could stand it no longer I got out the Necchi Lydia MK2 to see why she moved so slow. When the side was opened up, I could see a chunk of the camstack dislodged but was hoping it was only a chunk that could be glued back but then upon further inspection this is what I found:
Lydia camstack
It's a broken crumbling mess! As I did further research I found you could get a brand new one for a slightly different model but not this one. Oh yea, it would also be $120. So now I have a parts machine. This was pretty disheartening so I almost forgot about the Singer 15-91 and I was pretty busy getting ready for company by that time. While I was waiting for someone to come over on a Saturday morning to look at a sewing machine, a 7:30 am call no less, I looked over and found the Singer 15-91 in need of cleaning. Although it wasn't in great physical shape it ran perfectly. I wasn't sure about the cabinet but after a cleaning with an orange cabinet cleaner it isn't half bad:

Singer 15-91 cleaned up
Cabinet cleaner than it was
It would be a nice refinishing job but I'm not sure I really want to spend the time on a set that isn't really "worthy" of the whole clean-up process. It's still a great sewing machine in a decent cabinet, just well used. Maybe I should sell it like it is at a reduced price? That's an option but time might make that decision for me.

So that 's the end of our vacation and the sewing machines that came home with us. Not always what was expected but sometimes there are surprises waiting in the wings. But that will be for another day.