Friday, May 26, 2017

Big Sisters

I have two big sisters and one little sister so that makes me a middle-child. As we grow older together I love my sisters more and more, appreciating our differences and celebrating our milestones. There is a sewing machine that is purported to be the "big sister" and that has always intrigued me but sewing machines are in families, of sorts. There's the Berninas, that Swiss family that lives next door to the Elnas, also from Switzerland. The Pfaff's are down the street and they moved here from Germany and then there are the Vikings, those rather tall ones from Sweden. And, of course, the Necchi's are from Italy, home of great shoes and fast cars. Enough of the stereo types, looking at the above list makes me wonder what sewing machines were made in the United States: Singer is the only name I can come up with and those were from another age. But aren't they all? Most sewing machines are now made by a few big manufactures overseas, to the specifications of the brand, but no longer in all those countries of origin. Okay, off my soap box and onto big and little sister sewing machines.

The Singer 221, a.k.a. the Featherweight, is said to have a big sister, the Singer 301. They might be in the same family but sure are different in my book. Both have bodies made of aluminum so they are lightweight with the same slimline bobbin case. For all practical purposes, that's where the similarities end because the 301 is slant shank, has a built-in handle, can fit into a table with a cradle for easy release. Alright, they both come in black with flip up extension tables but the 301 has a long or short bed extensions whereas the 221 only has a long bed. I would say they are more like cousins but then I wasn't the one who nicknamed them big and little sister. So here's my find earlier this week:
Singer 301 in her found state: a dirty bird
As it happens with so many of these sales, the seller only knew enough to be dangerous. He found it in the basement of his house but couldn't find the power cord but turned the handwheel to see that it wasn't jammed. Someone has sent him a message telling him the bobbin case was pretty expensive so maybe he should be charging more. As always, I chuckled to myself and told him I would need to actually see the machine to determine if it was worth more. I brought along an extra power cord but by the time I got there he found the one it came with as well as the cradle to fit into a cabinet. He had done some more research and knew that black plate of the cradle indicated it came with a cabinet but there wasn't one in his basement so it was what it was. And it was pretty grimy. It did run, the cradle was a plus, and the found power cord kept me from bargaining, so we were both satisfied with the previously posted cost. She came home with me for a real spa treatment.

Because my elbow has flared up and I'm giving it a rest by keeping it in a brace, the cleaning process had to be done over several days with my right arm more engaged than usual and my left only as a helper. This did take a long time but here are the results:
Singer 301A after her spa day
There is some mottling on the bed so I suspect it might have been cleaned with window cleaner at some point but it was smooth with no nicks or dings. With a good cleaning on the inside with Triflow oil and then grease on the metal gears, she ran nice. Stitching was another story so I ended up taking the tension mechanism apart to clean between the disks. I forgot how it went back together and was determined I could do it without looking it up but it took me longer yet I did it! It stitched perfectly now, was clean inside and out, ready for a new home. It's my plan to put it in a trapezoid case I've been saving and keep the cradle for another machine and cabinet/table.

Back a few few posts I reported on my trials and successes of the newly fixed Designer 1 so I'll show you two of the samples from my practice:

Both were free designs and stitched on white fabric that looks cream in the photos. I didn't use stabilizer on the backs, just a firm setting inside the hoop. Each one had about three starts until I could do the above examples. I tried to add my name to the Sewing Center but it ended up being too large and wouldn't start in the spot it said it was starting. I got so frustrated that I went back to the original to see if I could at least do that one and I was fairly successful. On the Song of Solomon verse I ran out of bobbin thread and when I reloaded I didn't have it seated properly and it all came out in white thread from the bobbin. This is just part of the learning so that's okay. What am I going to do with these little gems? Probably put them on my sewing bulletin board for now as early samples to give me inspiration. Some days I need it!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

32 and Counting

What is it about presser feet that makes us want more? Maybe we like to collect things that "should" have come with our sewing machine. Maybe we like the sense of accomplishment in learning a new skill in using the specialized feet to make a job easier. Or maybe we just like a whole box of shiny things. Here's a new box of 32 snap-on presser feet that I've been working with:
32 snap on presser foot set
I really like the box they came in with the foam cutouts to hold them when not in use. But there was a flaw in how they put this all together: the sheet with the labels, all of the identification info, is on the outside of the box where it shows what is inside but once you open the top...which one is which? So, clever me, I made a scan of the page, shrunk it to fit inside the cover so when you open the lid you can identify the name of each foot:
Box cover

Inside of box lid: see the "before" in the first photo
Some names are really helpful, such as blind hem foot: it makes a blind hem. Straight stitch foot is for making straight stitches. But what is a cording foot for? How about a double welting foot? I figured I could work through these babies over the coming months until I went back to the quilt group in September where I've been asked to talk about presser feet and what you can do with the specialized ones. But then I took this set to work to show a friend and somehow I ended up buying another set for the sewing machine in our new "maker space." This set was just a bit different with a molded plastic insert, not the foam in my set. I knew this was going to take some work to get this tool ready for use my those who are less familiar with sewing machines so here's what I did:
Presser foot set with individual labels
Each foot got a label nearest to its spot in the set and a tiny photo of each piece underneath so you can match them up. At least it's an effort to keep things organized but how are they going to know how to use them? I proceeded to watch video clips in how to use each and every foot in this set, putting them in a chart. Not all of the names matched up, such as the lace insertion foot is also known as the picot foot.

Now you are probably asking how you can get your hands on this chart, too, so here's what I can do for you. Here is a link to this chart that you can view and download yourself:

Presser Foot Chart for 32 low shank snap on feet set.

Let me know if this doesn't open for you but I think I've set up the permissions correctly. If the links to the videos become extinct, let me know about that, too, so I can find a new one. I tried to find clips that were the most helpful with the least amount of advertising but I'm sure there are better ones if you only keep looking. Or maybe this will inspire you to make your own chart on how to use the feet on your sewing machine. Oh, the places you'll go, according to a popular Dr. Seuss book. Who knows...

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Now She's Done It

For almost a year I had a broken Viking Designer 1 in my possession. I bought it at a neighborhood garage sale knowing it needed a new touch screen and that it was an expensive repair but I also knew the D1 was a machine to go after. In my quest to clean up my sewing room, I finally took the machine to a certified repair center where they kept it for a few weeks. When I got it back I was relieved to see that the D1 was going to live up to its reputation: a wonderful stitcher with a nice variety of stitches and functions: needle up/down, thread snip (new to me), built-in needle threader, and a host of features I've only started to discover. This model also came fully equipped with the embroidery unit and was I going to have fun with that!
Husqvarna Viking Designer 1 with embroidery unit attached
If I could only get it working. Correction: it worked but I didn't know how to get the designs to load. As part of a Yahoo group for VikingD1's, I read up on what I needed to have but I had a whole big box of manuals, boxes with CD's for upgrades, cables, dongles, more boxes with cords: what was what? Since I'm not the original owner, I'm not going to be able to update anything and figured I would have to circumvent the whole Viking software route but that wasn't a big loss since it did not come with any of the floppy disks with designs, not even one. They are pretty pricey to buy so maybe that was a good thing. What I could do was download SewWhat-Pro, a program that I could try for 30 days before I bought it. This handy tool would enable me to download designs, edit, and send to a 3.5" floppy disk to be read by the D1.

You read that right: floppy disks! I not only didn't have any floppy disks anymore but I didn't even have a computer with a floppy drive. Amazon to the rescue, I ordered a disk drive and floppies, something I never thought I'd see again. But when I went to put all of this together I couldn't get it to work. I finally took the disk drive and box of floppies to work and had our tech guru, Gene, walk me through the steps and we found out one of the disks was bad. He told me I should format them in the program I was using, SewWhat-Pro, so that was my first clue. The SWP manual was 85 pages of steps and I didn't even know what I was looking for so I finally wrote out what I had, what I tried, and where I wanted to go and posted it to the Yahoo group and they helped me solve it. About four women came forward with steps and suggestions until I finally got to the right place in the manual (p.47) where the steps were all laid out. It worked! Here's my first design:
Motif halfway done
The thread broke once and it stopped and waited for me to rethread. Here's the next time I stopped it:
Almost done...
and the final piece, now complete:
and complete!
This was a free design that I thought might be something I would actually like but, since I'm pretty new at machine embroidery, I had no idea how long this would take. An hour! But it only used one color of thread and I had a spool of rayon I figured would turn out nice. The fabric is from a stack of napkins, or maybe hankies, in various colors that I've had floating around and now I'll actually put them to use as I experiment with design and color. A big thank you goes out to Virginia who wrote out the steps from memory so I could get started and then offered to walk me through the steps over the phone. Now that's a helping community!

Will this be my next hobby? Maybe a diversion? I'm hoping it will be another facet in my sewing machine adventures where I can add a bit of embellishment where it would really be an asset. I remember when I started out with sergers "just to see what they are like" and that opened a whole new world of speed sewing and professional finishing. This might also do the same thing for me but I have a hunch the Designer 1 is going to replace the Viking #1+ as my main sewing machine. Oh, I can be so fickle!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Industrial Strength Singers

Ever since I saw a Singer 31-15 as I wrote about in Oh, Brother! last winter, I've been looking for one. I got close a couple times but I don't want to mess around with a heavy duty motor, just a treadle like Henry's would be nice. Imagine my surprise when I get a text from Ellie asking if she should keep a Singer treadle that was dropped off at her house. It looked pretty rough but then I took a look at the treadle irons and noticed the bottom pedal was off to the left. I looked again and could see a rod hanging down just off center. Now it started to fit together so I text back asking Ellie to humor me and check the model number that was on the front. You got it: it was a Singer 31-15. I won't say my heart stood still but I quickly text back that this was one to keep and could I pretty please be the one to work on it, for free? How could she say no? It arrived within a couple hours and was set up in my garage. Over the next few days I cleaned this dirty baby and got it reunited with the irons in the garage:
Singer 31-15 all cleaned up
It was a joy to figure out what was different to make this an industrial sewing machine and it's mainly just bigger. It does take special needles that are the same as one of the sergers I have, DBx1, so I was glad I didn't have to wait for an order to arrive. Bobbin case and bobbins are typical class 15's and I started out using regular polyester thread. It dawned on me that with the size 18 needle maybe I should be using heavier thread so I got out some heavy thread from my stash of serger cones. Winding the bobbin was not too successful but it was purely user error and will take more practice. The leather belt was broken so I used my trusty plastic tubing:
Bobbin winder in front and thread stand at the back with clear tubing in place of a leather belt
I did have to shorten it once but think it will do better with leather and I'll have to send for one since it's about six inches longer than the used ones I had accumulated. Just for practice and testing it was a fine start. Now for the pressure foot lift with the knee lever:
Knee lever right of center
The Bernina's 830's are about the first of the models that seem to have that feature but that was long after little beauty was made. It's fun to give that lever a little push and up goes the foot, keeping your hand free. At first the lever didn't engage so I tipped her back to see what was up with the positioning of the lever. I tried it several ways and then just gave up on it. While sewing this afternoon I gave the lever a nudge and, wow, the presser foot lifted! It worked! I don't know what I did but at least I got it positioned right somewhere in all of that finagling. Prepared with the size 18 needle and heavy thread, I tested her out on six layers of denim with no hesitation:
That's six layer of denim under that needle
I did struggle with the feed dogs moving the fabric along but think there was too much pressure on the presser foot as well as it is not an industrial presser foot. In the meantime I have a zigzag foot on it and it's doing much better. I even made a little video for you:

It's been fun to work on this sewing machine but I know I do not have the room nor a good use for it so it was nice while it lasted. It's absolutely perfect for Ellie to take to Haiti where electricity is not a mainstay of their lives but gainful employment is. Thanks, Ellie, for letting me practice on this one.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


After a long winter of working indoors, the weather has turned warm enough for my woodworking associate to produce some wood boxes for my sewing machines. What would I need wood boxes for? Since so many of the machines I find have no base or it is beyond repair, I want/need to have something to hold them. Sometimes I can do a decent repair job with glue and nails but other times they just need to be tossed:

Wizard base broken in shipment
Through Craigslist Ashley comes to my rescue with her posting about doing woodworking projects. She has some nice photos so I get in touch and when she can get out in her garage again she makes up these gems:
Two sizes in two styles
As requested, she made some out of oak and some out of poplar, both very sturdy woods that will stand up to wear and tear. The corners are rounded and very smooth, have corner wedges to support a base, small indents on the short sides for a handhold (a finger grip?), a cutout for electric cords, and a wood bottom, too. There are two styles: just big enough for the machine to sit on and some with   storage compartment on the side to hold accessories or an electric foot control.
Plain base in front, base with side compartment in back
And then there are two sizes: Singer 99 small base and larger size for all of the Singer 15's, 201's, and 15 type machines and others like the Brother Select-o-Matic that I'm in love with (sorry, not pictured yet):
Singer 99 in front with small size box, Singer 15-91 behind it with the larger size
I haven't done anything but  admire them but will probably stain a few and even paint at least one in black but most of them will be left unadorned for the buyer to finish as they would like. Now I can list a few more sewing machines that were just waiting around for a nice wood box to support them. Not everyone wants a table and with boxes that are decades old and broken this was a necessity but necessary or not, they are just beautiful! Ashley did a very nice job but good work doesn't come cheap. Could I learn to do something like this one day? I sure hope so because there's a woodworking class that is locally taught and I hope to get signed up next winter. It might take a long time to get up to this skill level but it would be a great goal for me.

In the meantime, I'm going to be calling on Ashley!

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Two Steves

I have a cute little aqua Sewmor for sale right now that has gotten some nice attention but, so far, no sale. I get these texts and emails "Is it still available?" and, of course, it is, because I'm usually deleting an ad as the buyer is backing down the driveway. Then I get an email from Steve who, surprise-surprise, wants to use it for heavy vinyl. I write back suggesting he bring what he intends to sew with him to try it out and he agrees it's a good idea. We go back and forth for ten messages trying to get a visit set up...and he drops out of the conversation. Poor little Sewmor is still waiting to find its forever home:
 At the same time I get a series of questions from a different Steve about a Singer 201. Now, I like an informed buyer because they know what to look for and what they want. Besides, I'm not trying to pull a fast one by trying to dump a poor machine off on anyone. Alright, there are a few sewing machines that I'm glad to see walk out the door but I have warned many buyers that what they are purchasing is not a great machine but it can do the job and a great machine is going to cost about four times as much. You get what you pay for!

Steve's conversation goes like this:
I’ll take it. Has the grease been changed and new brushes installed in the motor? 
Are the wicks new or original 50 years old in the machine?
What type of motor is on the machine?
And drive mechanism?

I answer each question truthfully but start to think this guy knows as much as I do and his questions are pretty specific. Not bad questions but if you need to know all of this about a 60 year old machine, you probably have another agenda in mind. Then I get this response:
Good Answer…. Now wires to field coil tend to get brittle, crack and need replacement have you done so?

And now I get a little steamed up, thinking he is questioning my ability to restore a sewing machine but go to bed and try to figure out how to answer this one. The next morning I write back that since he knows quite a bit about motors maybe he should buy the Singer 15-91 that's being offered in the area for only $30 and he could take it apart and get it all cleaned up with the satisfaction in having done the job himself. 

His final reply: 
OK I will no offense your machine is at a good price most listed on Craigslist need work you are the exception.
Nice to converse with someone that actually knows there stuff.

And with that goodbye I can see that he has wasted my time with many questions and no intent to buy this Singer 201:
Singer 201
She is also waiting for her forever home. But that's okay because a great sewing machine like this one will find a home and it's worth waiting for.

I'm really into my big clean-up, trying to sell down my sewing machines so I can actually work in my sewing room. One machine at a time, they are leaving the house and I'm trying very, very hard not to buy any more but this is quite difficult to do. Discipline. Patience (with myself when I backslide). Vision: I have a vision of a cleaner room and that drives me much of the time. Cleaner room equals new carpet! I have a vision alright!

Next up will be a conversation about a Pfaff that finally came home ... but that's another post. Stay tuned!