Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hollywood Here We Come

On Sunday I said goodbye to the California cabinet with the restored Pfaff 130-6 sewing machine, picked up by Virginia's son, to be stored until they could figure out a way to get it from Minnesota to California. Wow, the stories that sewing machine and cabinet could tell! It spend many years on a back porch, subject to the harsh weather before it came to my garage where the cabinet still sat out in the cold over the winter until it could be all restored and sold. I hope it finds a good home in much warmer California.

What is left in the garage? Only seven cabinets remain, all are listed on the local Craigslist and several have had inquiries so it might just happen yet! With the Pfaff gone there's room for three cabinets to remain in the garage over the winter but all of the sewing machines will need to come inside. Considering I had 21 cabinets at the garage sale, this is really good. Until Saturday. Somehow they just multiply.
Hollywood style cabinet
Those lovely cabinets that have built-in chairs continue to intrigue me and I think I have had three so far until another one popped up locally. It was more than I could resist so I answered the ad and arranged to pick it up on Saturday while I made the rounds to pick up a serger and get to a final close-out sale for fabric. This seemed to made the long drive for the serger more worthwhile since I could swing slightly east on my way home. A lovely young couple answered the door and showed me into the living room where the cabinet was on display in all of it's glory. They had cleaned it out but were just a little mystified that someone would want to actually sew on that old machine. Ah yes, I hear those words so often. After the head was removed with the knee control and cord carefully lifted out, the base was not too heavy. The chair portion did weigh a ton and before they carried it out to the car I was given a look at the accessories that were kept in the bottom: box of extra feet and bobbins, manual, buttonholer, skirt hem marker, and two Singer sewing books. I was very excited to see those 1960 editions!

Hollywood cabinet with surprise inside!

One final stop for the fabric sale and it was well worth my time: bolts of fabric were 75% off their lowest price so I was able to buy high quality knits for $1 per yard or less!
This was just the knit fabric
A plastic container of thread with a few cones of pink serger thread completed the sale and I went home very, very happy.
Cleaning out this tangle gave me such joy (really)

Once I could take a closer look at the Singer 15-91 hidden away in that wonderful compact cabinet, I could see it needed cleaning:
Singer 15-91 before cleaning (front)
Singer 15-91 before cleaning (back)

This time I only used sewing machine oil with lots of cotton balls and swabs but look at her now:

Singer 15-91 ready to sew

The cabinet reminded me so much of the Pfaff California cabinet so I brought out the brochure only to find it does look like the Hollywood model:

Using a favorite citrus based cabinet cleaner that I've used with kitchen cabinets, I applied it with 0000 steel wool to remove what appeared to be mildew or some kind of mold. It worked really well but I'm thinking about how I can bring the top surface back to life.

She is still a beauty, no? The foam cushions will need to be reupholstered but that will be fun, especially finding the right fabric: something with the blond wood look of the cabinet and the black of the Singer sewing machine head. Very cool.

Along with the Singer 15-91, I also purchased one of those sewing baskets that opens accordian style:

Look at some of what she kept hidden inside

It was in such good shape I asked if it was for sale and they said they had already gotten rid of 3 others. I'm trying to forget I even heard that but got this one home to empty out the treasures within. Along with the usual supplies I found this stack of labels:
I sent a photo back to the family and asked if they wanted me to send them back but they already had another bunch of them and it was okay. Now you can guess that Darlene's sewing machine, now clean and going back in the cabinet (probably to spend the winter in my kitchen) will find many more years of sewing pleasure. They were meant to be used and are happiest when they are working, right Darlene?

Monday, October 26, 2015


This might not be an exciting blog post for you but I'm pretty excited to have more of the cabinet/table model sewing machines leaving the garage. Not just leaving, but getting sold! At this point I have three requests to see cabinet models so that would only leave five. I know, there are really eight left but I always have high hopes.

Just as I passed up a Singer 237 last night at a local thrift store, telling myself "you already have one of those to sell in a cabinet" I turn the corner to find a Singer 404 in a nearly broken down carrying case. It's a 404, so I have to stop and check it out: good cords, hand wheel moves, not clean but no real chips or marks on the surface....I grab and go! There isn't much that can go wrong with this model and I love the gear driven sturdiness of this series. It's straight stitch only and not lightweight but would make a great beginners sewing machine. It comes home with me and I start to clean it up and take it apart.
Singer 404 mid-cleanup: note lever for needle plate release on bed

I can pick out the mountain of lint, thread wound around the bobbin casing, remove the tape from the bed, but I can't get the needle plate to move. there was a nest of thread that was caught in the needle hole and I can just about imagine what happened. When the sewing machine is threaded wrong on top, it makes a mess on the bottom of the fabric, even to the point where it can knot up and stop all motion. You can cut away the fabric but the knot is still there. Tweezers got it all pulled out but the needle plate release lever wasn't moving enough.

Red arrows point to the release pins

By now my husband is intrigued and starts making suggestions so with me on one side of the table moving the lever and prying with a screw driver and him on the other side with the bottle of TriFlow oil, we can get the release pins up but not down. Now the hammer comes out (his suggestion!) so they get tapped down (cover pins with soft cloth first), pried up, tapped down, over and over again with oil getting worked into them. Eventually they work easily, all that was underneath the needle plate gets cleaned out, oiled, gears cleaned and greased: She sounds terrific. Wish that was true of the case:

After the initial wipe down, then a good cleaner sprayed on, the Soft-Scrub comes out next. That helps get some of the scuff marks out but there are still mildew dots on one side so I take straight bleach to it. I would not recommend such a drastic action but I tested a small spot first and nothing dire happened. Voila! The mildew spots disappeared and it looked much better. Now it needs some carpentry so I have to pull it apart a bit to be able to get some nails and glue into the side that has nearly come off.

Gluing the vinyl covering takes many stages with clamps:
I think this is going to work out fine but I need to move on with other projects, taking this one in steps. Since this blog post was started another cabinet was sold and the BIG Pfaff 130-6 was picked up. With only seven cabinets left in the garage, I have high hopes for getting my car in before the snow comes. Did I say seven? Well, another one got added...but that's another story.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Good Advice

Sometimes you get to work with the good guys. It was my pleasure to have Rick Engel, a great sewing machine tech, over to take a look at a couple machines and to show off a few in my collection. It started out with the return of a Bernina 807 that had more problems than it was worth fixing and I coveted the case and foot control for an 807 that did work.

While visiting and listening to the Bernina 830 I just got (needing the foot control), I pulled out a New Home I have been struggling with. Why wouldn't the new gear stay in place? Rick made his suggestions, offered to take it if I wasn't interested in doing it myself, but I thought I'd give it a go. His eyes wandered to the antique Singers I had in the next room and he was very intrigued by a Singer 99 in the combination table, even taking photos:
Singer 99 in the Combination Table

Although he works on all models and types of sewing machines, his real favorites are the 19th century models: do you think this might be because he doesn't get to work on them all day long? As we discussed our favorites and why, he mentioned Kenmore's and although I adore my Kenmore's I've been more than a little disillusioned with a string of older 385's (made in Taiwan) that are either stuck in reverse or will not backstitch. They will do backwards and forward motion but not straight back for a reverse on a seam to tie it off. He said he loved those models because they were good machines and only needed oil and heat from a hair blower to get them moving again. What? This is a trick I perform all of the time but for some reason it had escaped me with these machines.

Rick left with a Pfaff Expressions 3.0 to see what he could find and I started to think about those Kenmore's. Last night I got around to actually opening them up to see if I could get them moving again with just some hot air and oil. Yup: it worked on two of the three! Here's the spot that was stuck:
Green arrow shows stuck area
The third Kenmore had a few more problems and back when this was first discovered, almost a year ago, we ordered two new parts that were thought to be faulty. Now I'm not so sure they actually do need to be replaced. Under the reverse button is a lever that needs to be engaged and although I at least got it to move and the button to actually work, it could not push down far enough to do more than stop the sewing machine from moving forward, similar to the "stop" button on newer machines that can simply stitch a few stitches in place to anchor a stitch. This is a little frustrating but at least two are working just fine now. As I was putting them all away and contemplating what I would do with the third machine I find a spring I had overlooked, one of the new ones ordered last year. Now where does this go? Looks like I'm going to be opening it back up again and trying to figure out if this is a part that will restore the life in the reverse button.

I worked quite a long time on the New Home and tried what Rick suggested but it has become clear I will be passing this one over to him next time I see him. At some point I have to give up, sometimes to contemplate a solution but this time to pass it over to someone who really knows. I'm looking forward to getting the Pfaff back, hoping it's good news, and passing the New Home over to Rick. Sometimes we get by with a little help from our friends.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Broken Dreams

The Sewing Machine Garage Sale was a great success but in the process of selling I also bought a few and was given a few sewing machines that "didn't work." Two machines came from one frustrated gentleman who said they just didn't work so I looked at the Riccar with him and we could easily see the broken gear. We both threw up our hands since he knew it was done for and I wasn't willing to replace a gear on a sewing machine that didn't have much resale value. My husband and I stripped it down to its essential parts that same night, counting it a win-win.

The second machine that didn't work was a Brother ES-2000, a beginners machine that is computerized.

Brother ES-2000
I didn't even look at it since we were busy but he said I should take it because it was going in the dumpsters if I didn't. I figured there was at least the carrying case and foot control that was usable so I pulled it into the house for a check-up at a later time. It did power up and seemed to stitch fine but I wondered if there was some hidden problem that I would need to discover before I could sell it. Remember the fiasco of the Singer 132Q, aka The Featherweight? It was a total disaster and I used it to make an entire garment! This time I thought I could find out without a big project to be committed to so I started out using the decorative stitches on the edge of the white satin hanger covers:
Note pink and green decorative stitches instead of lace edging

I was pleased with the ease of use and the end results was pleasing, too. My color choices were based on the silky embroidery thread I had on hand so don't judge me too harshly but I do deserve a call-out on making the stitches upside down on the pink stitched one. Oops. It still looks cute so I hope someone just likes it as it is. That success lead me to make an apron using the Brother ES-2000 and I have to say it turned out fine: good stitches, easy to use, no real issues.
Lots of bias tape for the edge
Granted, it's only sewing two layers of cotton, I think it would be fine as a beginning sewing machine for garment construction. I know it will stall out with anything heavy and probably doesn't like fleece either but if you are taking it to quilting class or doing light sewing, it should perform fine. I suspect it jammed up on something they really wanted to sew and if the Brother couldn't handle that it wasn't going to hang around long. Before he left, the gentleman bought a rather rugged sewing machine that will not balk at denim or fleece

Broken? No. A dream sewing machine? No. But there is a sewing machine for each person that wants to either learn to sew or needs to use one for their own purposes. I love to match sewing machines to people and could have saved this family some grief, and much money I suspect, if they had come to me first but, hey, not everyone thinks about buying vintage. Glad they are now happy with their "new" sewing machine and I will make someone else happy with a beginners Brother ES-2000.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bernina Weekend

Bernina Records book-ended my weekend and I couldn't be happier. The fantastic Bernina 530 in an excellent cabinet finally found a good home on Saturday morning:
Bernina 530 in her stellar cabinet
The new owner could have brought it home a week earlier but she got cold feet and had to ask more questions and negotiate a better price before she was ready to pick it up. That's okay because it's a fairly large purchase in price and size and I want everyone to be happy with their new machine. My surprise came when she said she had never sewn on a Bernina before: usually buyers know they want this type of sewing machine because they have one in their past. She is in for a treat!

On Sunday afternoon I had a very pretty drive around the lakes to pick up a Bernina Record 830:

Bernina Record 830
The seller did not have the power cord/foot control so wasn't sure it even worked but I had one from my Bernina Minimatic 807 that would fit. She not only worked, she purred: this is one nice sewing machine! Only equipped with a handful of bobbins, two feet and an adapter, she's not ready yet. But she did come with the red carrying case and the styrofoam packing to keep her safe and the extension table was on the inside cover. Condition? Not a nick or scratch on her, excellent cosmetic condition. There was quite a bit of packed in lint inside and the usual cleaning but no cracked gears.

Here's the selection of stitches she has at her disposal:
Twenty stitches plus straight and zig zag
The 530 I just sold had 13 stitches but, really, isn't that enough? Here's how the stitches look:
I ran through selected stitches and they are of superb quality. The bobbin tension was way off but that was an easy fix. Did someone else try this sewing machine and said "It doesn't work right" when all it took was a tiny bit of know how? When you pulled on the bobbin thread you could tell it was way too lose so a tiny screw driver and successive turns got it working again. Their loss, my gain. Happy, happy, happy!

I continued to work on the hangers covers, remembering I had lace collars I could use:

Hanger covers with a little Downton Abbey flair
I keep learning new ways of assembly to make it quicker and better, using a serger and sewing machine, but I still think there is room for improvement. My daughter Kelly thought I could make more of the white model as possible bridal shower gifts so two more are ready for the decorative edge stitching. I think that's a nice alternative to lace and I'm using my Viking 1100 for the ones above and the Brother ES-2000 for the next two white ones. Since someone at the garage sale gave me a Brother ES-2000 with a loud complaint of "It doesn't work!" I'm going to need to actually sew on it to see if it does have a glitch or if it was user error. So far, so good!

Yup, a Bernina weekend with some satisfying projects wedged in-between. All is well in sewing machine land.

Friday, October 9, 2015

It's Old and It's New

In an effort to get ready for the first craft fair of the season, only one month away, I've been thinking up ways to make my booth look fresh. Oh, I'll still make some new hot mitts, toaster covers, and tea cozies but along with replenishing my stock, I would like to add a few new items. This year I'll have aprons from men's shirts but I wanted to use some of the vintage fabric I've been collecting. My search on Pinterest for vintage linen had some great ideas and the covers for hangers seemed like a good choice. Just like so many of these little sewing projects, I enjoy putting together the fabric and trims to make a new item almost as much as the actual sewing. I got busy and made the following this week:
Hanger covers in mostly vintage fabrics
This hardly made a dent in my stash so now I'm going to add a few more for a child size hanger:
Child sized hangers, bottom is vintage dresser scarf
Using a serger and sewing machine I've got quite a production line going with serging the outer layer and lining, assembling and pressing, adding the trim with a regular sewing machine, and hand sewing the final bow with button. It always seemed like the outer layer was too large for the lining until I remembered I needed to use an even feed or walking foot. Why does this seem like such a pain? It is only a little bit wider than a regular zig zag foot but in tight places it seems huge. I keep tweaking my technique until I get this down pat but I think I should have three sewing machines set up: serger, sewing machine with a zig zag (for the opening where the hanger hook is inserted), and one with a walking foot for the bottom hem with lace. I do not have a set-up for three machines right now because all of the cabinets are in the garage but one of them is going to be returned to the basement so I can set up another portable.

Which one is coming in for sure? I love the Singer 99 in the combination table and it would give me a nice surface to set up another machine.
Singer 99 with combination table
Singer 99 ready to be removed

But maybe I should bring down one of the beautiful Singer 15's in their Queen Anne cabinets just because they are so nice looking.
Singer #40 table - Queen Anne
A fully loaded Kenmore would be useful, too, but I already have one where the sergers are now set up and used. It might come down to which one I can bring down the stairs by myself. So many choices; why do I want to sell them all? That's right: winter is coming and my car wants to get into the garage!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Serger Success!

Most of us with sergers know a fair amount of grief: threading, tension, switching back and forth between stitches, etc. For that reason, there are some of us who have dedicated sergers and I think I have just joined their ranks.

Looking for a serger that would make a coverstitch hem, I came upon a Pfaff 4872 that fit the bill:

Pfaff Coverlock 4872
It came without a manual and an assortment of parts that appeared not to belong to this machine. The free manuals were only in black and white but so much was color coded that I didn't make much progress. There is a very nice online video to demonstrate threading but things really didn't work too well until I managed to buy an original manual from someone parting out a kaput Pfaff 4874. Now I could see all of the color coding and was getting close but still...then I found out there were tiny thread guides at the back of the machine where thread needed to be engaged and then under the handle but remember to put the handle down when serging. Whew! It finally gave a decent stitch but what about the coveted coverstitch hem? Nope. I walked away. For several days. It might have been weeks.

Feeling like I needed to check in one more time (or maybe I was just feeling hopeful) I sat down to the Pfaff 4872 and tried one more time. It did it. It DID IT! IT DID IT! I threaded it up with the pink thread I needed to hem a shirt with, put in a sample of the knit, and it still worked. Jubulation! I sat down today and actually hemmed the shirt that I stenciled at my daughters, planning to wear it in only a month at a craft show:

It made a beautiful hem with 2 even rows of stitches on the top and the zig zag locking stitch on the underside. I even tackled the sleeve hems and without a freearm it was only a bit tricky. I am one happy girl.

On to the little Simplicity Easylock SL800:

I've replaced both knives and learned quite a bit about sergers by working on this one. After breaking the third retractable stitch finger I have vowed not to even try the other stitches because this little baby can make a rolled hem like no other:

I hope you can see the perfect edge on this tablecloth. It was circular and I can see there were problems while sewing the bias edge so I'll have to watch that but it's quite good. So here's my conclusion about all these sergers: I'll keep the Pfaff 4872 set up for coverhem, the Simplicity SL800 set up for rolled hems, and the Huskylock 1000L for everything else because it has proven to be the most convertible and reliable so far. All of these sergers have not even totaled the cost of one new serger and they do not take up a huge amount of space so I'm content to have my little herd of dedicated sergers. For now. There's always something lurking in the shadows calling my name "Karen, here's a machine that can..."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Grandma Elsie

In the aftermath of the Sewing Machine Garage Sale there has been a rekindling of sewing history in my family. Because I'm such a nut over these vintage and antique sewing machines, my family gets dragged into this from time to time and are good sports. There are even a few family members who are learning to love these old gals and Brenda is one of them, my second cousin from "up north." In case you think the Twin Cities of Minnesota isn't north enough, there's even more country up there where the summer is even shorter but the daylight is even longer.

After Brenda went back home she sent me some nice photos of the treadle sewing machine she inherited from Grandma. When she said Grandma I thought of her grandma, my aunt Alice, but she said, no, it was my grandma, Grandma Elsie, who was her great-grandma. When Grandma Elsie died in the 1980's, she still had her treadle sewing machine and it sat in the Humboldt, Iowa home for decades. When Elsie's daughters, who then owned the house, died, everything was finally cleaned out and somehow Brenda got the treadle sewing machine.

It's an attractive piece of furniture so it sat in her family room until she took an interest in vintage sewing machines and got to wondering what was in that treadle cabinet. I think there was a heavy television on it so she promised to take a look and I got a nice photo this week:

It's a Davis vibrating shuttle but I really can't tell anything else about this model but does look pretty good, don't you think? I sent the photos to my mom and sisters in hopes of stories about Grandma using the sewing machine and here's what I got:

From my mom:
I do not have any remembrances of this sewing machine. We lived with them for about a year before they moved into Humboldt and we stayed on the farm. If it could talk it would have lots of stories, lots of mending. I never remember her sewing but that has to be 70-75 years ago as we were married in 1946.

That's 69 years to be exact so it's no wonder my mom doesn't recall some of the more mundane tasks of life at the time! She does remember Brenda's grandma, Alice, sewing quite a bit and I know one of her daughters, Elaine, sewed all of their clothes since they were a family of petite women. Grandma Elsie's sons were the youngest in the family and had been in the war for the past several years, so the years of mending overalls had probably come to a close, much to her relief. But almost twenty years later my sister Sue and I visited this set of grandparents in Humboldt, Iowa and we do remember Grandma sewing with us. I shared my memory of that long ago summer day:

Remember doing hand sewing with Grandma? Grandpa made those little chairs that sat flat (Barbies legs didn't bend back then) and we made doll clothes with Grandma's help. I have a very distinct memory of standing in their basement laundry and Grandma showing me how to scoot my knot down to the end of my thread using the needle end. I still think of that.

That jogged my sisters memory a bit and Sue replied with this:

I do remember her doing hand sewing with us; she must have enjoyed that so much!

It had been a long time since she had little girls in her house but we were "Bud's girls" and would have tried their hardest to give us a happy visit. My memory of standing in her laundry room, probably waiting for the load to get done so she wouldn't have to keep walking up and down those steep stairs, is so vivid, I can almost see the sun coming in the small basement window well as we stood there and she moved that knot down with the needle. I thought it was the neatest trick and my grandma must have been brilliant. Maybe she was.
My Grandma Elsie with my dad, "Bud" as she called him
After all these years to see a photo of the treadle sewing machine she used is just wonderful. Thank you, Brenda, for giving it a good home and I know one day you will put a belt on it and pedal away. Wouldn't that make our grandmothers happy?