Thursday, March 30, 2017

Playing Catch-Up

It has been a wild winter that didn't seem to exist for me because all of a sudden we are into spring. This should be much cause for rejoicing but I find myself lethargic and in the need of motivation. This blog is a source of motivation: what will I write about next? Nothing to write about? Make something happen! But I have just come home from another week away, this time at a conference for my real job, and coupled with my extended stay in Florida to care for my mom, there has been precious little time for my sewing machine adventures. Besides, my biggest fan, my mom, is no longer here to cheer me on and I realize that has taken a bit of the shine from my writing endeavors. But you are my fans and I thank you for all your kind words and encouragement to keep going, even when it feels like some of the light has gone out.

Even while I'm gone, sewing machines are being sold: Loretta came last night to get the second Elna 1010 for a sewing class that is offered for a special education class she works with. There are two sewing machines and one is used just to learn to stitch straight on paper. Their second sewing machine was used to actually make a bag but it was unreliable so she came for the Elna 1010, a great sewing machine for this purpose.
Elna 1010
There are a couple appointments over the weekend to take a look at the beginner sewing machines (yes, you have to come to my house to actually try them out, not just exchange machine and money in a parking lot) and a Singer 201-2 that has already been paid for but needs to be picked up. Checking my Craigslist ads I see I only have two active ads so I better get going and list some more before spring is really upon us and no one wants to stay indoors and sew. I can't blame them.

Next up will be Joyce's sewing machine, a nice Kenmore 158-12121. It's a very basic but sturdy sewing machine but does tend to look pretty plain:
Kenmore 158-1212

and then there's sewing machines from long ago that have been overlooked, such as an Elna Super:
Elna SU (she's super)

and a Damascus Electric that has a very prolonged set of repairs (over two years?):

Damascus Electric

and Elgin Rotary in a table:
Elgin Rotary

a blue Sewmor that is way heavier than she should be (but what a gal!):

and that weird Western Electric that I don't like personally:
Western Electric

and one I really like, a Brother 4001 that can be used without a knee or foot control:

Brother 4001

And, finally, a classic Singer 15-91 in an excellent table:

Singer 15-91
I have photos for most of them, just need to spend the time writing up all of the particulars. Just going over my database and looking for sewing machines to post has been motivating for me. So I thank you, my readers, for getting me out of my doldrums and back on the saddle again, so-to-speak. Time's a wasting!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What Are Friends For?

Sometimes I feel sorry for some of my sewing machines. They get listed and no one wants them. Or they get listed and I find they are hugely popular...but no one shows up to actually try them out or purchase. Such was the ordeal of the Brother ES-2000. It's a pretty nice sewing machine and in the category of starter or beginner with a bit more to it. I liked the sound of it and the quality of the stitches so I posted it locally and got about six calls for it. No one showed up. Each time someone called they wouldn't follow through or changed their time again and again until, finally, Corina actually showed up. I hoped my text back and forth didn't sound too surly but I feared this poor, but nice, sewing machine would start to get a complex. Corina showed up to try it out:
Brother ES-2000
She liked it just fine, glad it seemed pretty simple yet still had a print manual to fill in any of the gaps. As she was leaving I handed her my business card and she remarked "If you have any more like this..." and I told her you-bet-I-did. She called a friend of hers and we pulled up my current ad for beginners sewing machines. With five to choose from I suggested the best one, a Brother XL-3100:
Brother XL-3100
Corina looked it over and got a five minute lesson in the basics: threading, stitch selection, stitch length and width, and backstitch. There was no manual but one should be easily purchased online yet I can't do that with the low price I offer. She was pretty sure her friend would like this one so she bought it with the assurance her friend would pay her back. I added a new box of class 15 bobbins and a package of new needles for both and she was on her way.

Now this is a good friend! It's been 24 hours and I haven't heard from either woman so I'm thinking they are happily learning how to use their new sewing machines. I welcome calls, though, and would give a free lesson in sewing to just get them started but Corina and I agreed that you can learn most anything via YouTube and that just might be the answer they needed. To Corina and her girl friend: happy sewing days to you!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Let's Begin At The Beginning

Beginner's sewing machines is a bit of a misnomer: why would a beginner want a sewing machine that was "less than" any other sewing machine for a person who sews? There are several reasons why you might not want a "serious" sewing machine:
  • Just trying out a new hobby: why spend much money on something you are only going to dabble in? If you like sewing you can always buy a better sewing machine later.
  • Money is tight and you think you can save money by mending your clothes or making new ones cheaper.
  • Your child/grandchild has expressed an interest in sewing but what if they don't stick with it? Better to buy a beginner's sewing machine.
  • Money is still tight and you can only afford a beginner's sewing machine , just under $100.
Of course, I'm going to refute these ideas but, not to insult my readers, I'll just sum this up quickly. Poor equipment is just that: poor. No one would stay with a new hobby when they struggle to get the equipment to work or it produces poor results. Poor results? You might think to yourself "I must not be very good at it." Yet maybe your equipment isn't very good. Many, many people have used rather crappy sewing machines for years and wondered why their garments do not turn out too well. Of course you will get better with practice but poor equipment can only take you so far.

Enter your choices in beginning to sew:

Brother XL-3750

Brother JX-2517
Brother XL-3100

Brother XL-5130

Most people go with a Brother sewing machine or Singer because they are cheap and easy to find: they are in Walmart, Costco, even Aldi (I kid you not, I almost took a photo).  But these won't last for long and do not give you a good, even stitch. If you happen to jam the machine from sewing over a pin or trying to hem jeans, it can throw the timing off and/or break gears. Let me suggest some alternatives.
Montgomery Wards UHT J1947

Signature UHT J278
Buy vintage! Only the strong survive so the poor sewing machines have all gone to landfills and the better ones are ready for you to try out. I have been pleasantly surprised at some brands that have attached their name to some pretty nice sewing machines: Signature (Montgomery Wards), J.C. Penney's, and Kenmore (Sears), where none of them are actually made by the company that sells them. Even some big names have made more-affordable lines like Bernette by Bernina, and Elnita by Elna. Here are some I've used and thought were pretty nice:
Bernette 330

Elna 1010
J.C. Penney's Stretch Stitch
They usually sell for less than $100 and are made well. For beginning sewing I usually recommend straight, zigzag, and stretch stitches, with a 4-step buttonhole maker. This will take you quite far before you find the need to expand into a "better" sewing machine. What constitutes a better machine? It's not always about money but about performance. If you have never tried a classic Elna, Necchi, Pfaff, Singer or Bernina you are in for a treat. Each one performs differently and speaks to you (or not). If you go into dealerships they basically have the new models and only for a few of the different lines. Where can you try out all the different brands? Why, at my house, of course! I don't have all of my models out all of the time either but if you come to one of my sewing machine garage sales...then you are in for a treat.

I know, I know, I've said I won't do another one and I'm not even looking at anything in a cabinet, but next fall might be a different story. It's a bit like a siren's call but I hope I don't get dashed onto the rocks!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Hit and a Miss

This is the tale of two sewing machines and goes to show that it is not always clear which ones are keepers and which ones are losers. My friend Ellie, who sends sewing machines to Haiti, brought over a Singer Scholastic 717 to see if it could be sent off. She heard it had plastic gears and didn't want to bother with anything that might not hold up.
Singer Scholastic 717, oh so '60's
Sure enough, when I looked inside I found four plastic gears for the hook and feed dogs but they all appeared to be in excellent shape. Removing the top cover showed a big plastic gear under the top one pictured below that I couldn't see very well. There were other plastic parts that were oddly placed such as part of the take-up arm and on the main shaft:
Under the lid of the Singer 717
Why? After removing the bent needle and running it a bit, everything sounded normal, at least normal for this model that tends to grind. It does have the geared hand wheel and is very similar to the Singer 400 series, a real favorite of mine. As I cleaned out lint and old grease, it started to run slower. I could not figure out what was causing the slowing down. The foot control had something rattling around in it but that didn't seem to be the problem. I loosened the clutch to see how the motor would run when there was no load: it spun freely and strong. Then I noticed a light coating of cream colored shredding: shredding of plastic? That would be a reason for it to be slowing down but where was that shredding coming from? I bet when I started this machine up the hidden gear worked at first and then started to break down, causing it to spit parts out and kept the machine from running. It's not going to Haiti with all of those plastic gears anyway but I just wanted to find out what happened.

The next day I found a sorta sad sewing machine at Savers, a J.C. Penney model 7102. I say it was sad because the plastic parts that were exposed to daylight were yellowed while the metal part was still cream. It appeared to be very lightly used with all by two of the snap-on presser feet in the front storage compartment and very little lint inside. It cleaned up nicely and started to run smoothly once it was oiled.
J.C. Penney model 7102 storage compartment up front
There was about eight inches of thread wound around the take up levers/arm next to the needle bar so that could be why someone gave it up, thinking it was having problems.  The thread /spool holder on the back of the machine was positioned in such a way that the built in handle for the sewing machine would fold down and catch one of the plastic pins and it was nearly broken off. I checked my parts and found the exact same configuration, just a thicker pin so it was traded out:
New spool pins in place
All cleaned up and threaded, it sewed a great stitch, including stretch stitches and a four-step buttonhole stitch. This is one nice sewing machine even if it does have plastic gears inside. It runs smoothly and is probably twenty years younger than the Singer 717, something to pay attention to. There could easily be only thirty years of wear on the J.C. Penny's sewing machine and fifty plus years on the Singer. That's just something to keep in mind.
J.C. Penney 7102
Out of these two sewing machines, one a classic Singer but with many flaws and the other sold under  other names of department stores, it's a bit of a switch to find the no-name runs better at this point in time than the Singer. When new, the Singer models were quite nice and more modern that the earlier 400 series that introduced  the slant needle, built in cams and removable cams for decorative stitches, plus the gear to gear smoothness and strength like the earlier 15-91 and 201-2. Yet, over time, the switch to plastic was the big downfall and the Singer name has never been the same. For my time and money, I'll take the J.C. Penney's, thank you very much.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Making Up For Lost Time

While away from home, my business continued of buying, restoring, and reselling vintage sewing machines. Through an auction I managed to buy an Elna Air Electronic model 62 and even though it was a local buy and I usually pick up my  winnings, this time I had it mailed for a mere $10. It arrived and I got to take a look at it yesterday while resting up:
Elna 68 cleaned up
It came without a power cord or foot control but I was pretty sure I had them at home. It was dirty, taking several steps to get the layers of dirt off but it does run. This sewing machine is a real classic and desirable: Ray White says Elna really got it right when they designed this model.

Emails and text continued while I was gone and I promised to get back to each one. That meant I ended up with three appointments on my first day home while recovering from a midnight flight arrival. Remember that I average selling one sewing machine per week so I had some catching up to do. First on the list was the Free Westinghouse Rotary, such a nice sewing machine but one of the downfalls is the specially sized needles it requires.
Free Westinghouse in custom wood base
Linda arrives and, wouldn't you know it, pulls out a lightweight leather collar that she needs to sew multiple layers. Oh oh, this is not the machine she needs. We try several adjustments and it skips stitches when going over the tough spots. I'm not surprised so we have an honest talk about what she needs this sewing machine to actually accomplish and what other sewing machines she has at home. Linda really does have great experience in sewing, even has a Singer 15-91, but she's thinking she's going to send it to her sister. She agrees to take a trial run with a Singer 201, one of my all-time favorites. Of course, it sails right through the layers, the stitches are even and beautiful, with top and bottom stitches. Success! She's sure this is the one but has to run more errands and will be back later this evening. No problem. I go take a nap.
Singer 201: decals gone from the bed (a little too much cleaning?)
Next up is Mickie who loves Kenmore sewing machines and has spied the Kenmore 385-1960, a lovely electronic model that preforms well. In less than 5 minutes she knows it's the one she wants so this is one of the quickest sales and the fastest one today. She teaches 4H sewing and despises the plastic wonders the students try to use, knowing a Kenmore is going to perform much better and is sturdier to boot.  As she goes out the door with my business card she promises to tell her friends about my little business and I hope she does!
Kenmore 385-1960
Hillary is up next, looking at one of the higher end sewing machines of my small group of modern sewing machines. A long-time fan of the Viking Husqvarna 6000 series, hers is sorta underwater. It's a long story, but an upstairs bathroom leak found its way into her sewing machine that has now rusted inside. Although she is sick about it she is moving on and the Viking Husqvarna Platinum 730 is just the sewing machine to easily forget your past troubles. It's a real beauty that performs well for a computerized model and she is a bit dazzled by it, asking why anyone would give it up. There's usually only a couple of choices: bought a newer model or giving up on sewing.  It was the first choice with the Platinum 730, nothing wrong with the seller or the model. Hillary went home very happy.
Viking Husqvqarna Platinum 730
The day wasn't over because Linda was coming back for the Singer 201. She thought a table might be nice since she was used to a knee control so I found one in the garage from my fall sale and got it all set up minus the bracket that holds the foot control up into the cabinet. That's right, it's the same foot control that slides into a large metal bracket. Once in place, all you have to do in push the knee control to engage the button on the new-mounted foot control. It's not magic but it is pretty slick! We end up waiting all evening for Linda and when she comes she's distraught because her phone isn't working and she got sorta lost in our neighborhood. That's alright, she is finally here, pays for the Singer 201, but needs to think about the table: she will be back.

At the end of the day I get to continue to work on the Elna 68, freeing up the stuck places until I can get it to sew as I know an Elna's can. I finally practice stitch with built in stitches and some cams from another model:
Elna 68 stitch sample: cam stitches on left, built in stitches on right
I can see it's going to be a whirlwind month with much catching up to do but you know how I love this hobby-turned-business: it's almost never any work and fun to play!

Friday, March 3, 2017


I'm still in Florida, taking care of my mom who had a very brief bout with pancreatic cancer, dying only three weeks after hearing the diagnosis. We had one good week together where we had some fun together and some tears, and her calling out our names in threes "Karen, Karen, Karen!" or "Girls, girls, girls..." On her last day she had a sponge bath and got arranged comfortably in bed, quietly taking her last breathe while we were each off doing something else. It was a quiet moment to say goodbye to this world.

In taking care of her household belongings, we have found some interesting things I hope my readers would also like to hear about. While she had sold her sewing machine to a friend of mine for her daughter decades ago (I think it was a Singer Fashion Mate), she still did some mending and had a long ride with counted cross stitch projects. We did find a sewing drawer where she had spools of thread, ribbons, snaps, and all those kinds of things for minor repairs. And she had buttons, lots and lots of buttons:
Buttons, buttons, buttons!

At first it was a jar of tiny zippered plastic bags with spare buttons that come with some clothing. I opened up each bag and put the buttons in a smaller jar, keeping those little bags for other items.

Buttons from recent clothing purchases
Then we found more jars of buttons, and finally THE jar of vintage buttons. Actually, it was a box that had been covered with Contact paper but I recognized it immediately from my childhood. Wow, I knew these were dating from the 1940's so I gladly put them in a safer place.
Vintage buttons

Then my husband found a tiny tube that contained three needles. Rolled up inside was a note from when I gave it to her over thirty years ago:
Thi note was kept since 1986?

One time when we were talking about gifts she told me this little tube was such a simple thing and something she loved very dearly, saying you just never know what is going to tickle your fancy. Apparently, this one did:
Wood tube painted to hold current project needles
It just goes to show you that you never know what is going to be valuable: sometimes it's a jar of old buttons, sometimes it a wooden tube painted with flowers to hold your sewing needles. It's about making memories along the way, loving those you hold dear, and letting them go while keeping your memories alive with buttons and needle holders.