Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Riders On The Storm

Sometimes I think we must be crazy. Last night we were a bit crazy as we tried to out ride a storm coming in. Why would we be out in a vehicle with a shelf cloud looming to the west and large drops of rain started to fall? To pick up a sewing machine, of course.

It all started with a mid-afternoon appointment that was long-awaited as Anna got in touch with me much earlier in the week to come on Sunday afternoon. She came to pick up the Viking 21, a real beauty in a unique cabinet that only had one owner that I wrote about in Generosity of Strangers. She was getting a gem and she knew it having done her research before she got in touch with me and continuing during her time to wait it out. It was fun to meet Anna and her dad, to demonstrate the machine, and show how it all fit back together.

After they left I finally had time to check local ads "just to see what was out there" and I spied a nice Singer 66 with decent decals, case, spoked wheel, and close to home. Cool. The owner sent me some more information and we tried to set up a mutual time for me to pick it up. We were doing all of this while I had garden vegetables roasting in the oven and I couldn't leave until they came out but that storm was rolling in. What's a body to do? We said we could be there in 40 minutes, 20 minutes for the veggies to finish and 20 minutes of driving time. Yes, we drove like the wind but hardly had any rain on the road and when we turned around and headed back home there had been rainfall, just not on us. We pulled it off! So what did I come home with? Here she is:
Singer 66 with lotus decals
A thorough cleaning was needed and she had a musty odor, but it was noted the wiring needed to be replaced but I had hopes of using her as a hand crank model. First a cleaning and here's what I found:
Box base with moldy yuck.
No wonder there was a musty smell! What is that? There were pieces of it in the needle bar area, too but I got it all out. A wipe down with Lily White Sewing Machine Oil (no need to waste the good stuff on mere cleaning) helped with the musty odor, too, but it was going to take some airing out to get her sweet smelling again.

Let's take a look at the wiring. The cord coming out of the motor, not original since this one has a spoked hand wheel so was probably a treadle originally, was quite good and the light cord was also good. Then I took a look at the motor block, the part screwed into the carrying case base that have outlets for the light and motor as well as cords to the foot control and the wall outlet. One end was badly frayed as it connected to the outlet screwed into the box base. Taking a look at the foot control shows it also had a bit of surgery so I removed it and found a decent substitute. This all looked much safer so I plugged it in and turned on the light: we had a glow! It needed a new belt and I had to laugh as I saw the one it was sporting was a common blue rubberband. It seemed to work so I might have to keep that in mind some time. Clean, safe, and ready to sew with a new needle....and she sounded terrible. I checked the feed dogs and cleaned out a layer of packed down lint and still she sounded too loud. I poked around in the bobbin area, added a bit more oil, and found another glob of lint but I couldn't pull it up and it simply fell through. I started her up again and now she sounded happy, or at least the beginning of happy.

How about those stitches? Not so hot either and she's from 1906 so does not have numbers on the tension dial. This takes much experimentation before the thread stops breaking and now I think the bobbin is a big part of the problem. I pull on the bobbin thread and notice it pulls out in jerks, not smoothly, so I take a look at how it is wound: very unevenly! I rewind the thread onto an empty bobbin so it is a decently wound bobbin but now it's way too tight as I pull on the thread inserted into the drop-in bobbin case. I reverse the way I have inserted it (you don't expect me to remember which direction it is supposed to go, do you?) and it seems even worse.It takes quite a bit of turning to get the bobbin tension screw to loosen up but I finally get it at a setting so the upper thread tension also works well. We have a stitch! A decent stitch! It is now sounding quiet, cleaned up, and stitching well so I can call it a day.
1906 Singer 66 all spiffed up
What about making it into a hand cranked sewing machine? Much to my disappointment, when I check to see how to attach the hand crank I see there is no motor boss, that threaded hole under the hand wheel where either a bracket for a motor or hand crank can be screwed into.
There is a hole but not for a screw to hold a motor or hand crank!
 Oh, that's right, this machine dates to 1906, before motorized sewing machines so there was no provision for a motor. This is a disappointment but it does work well and the case is pretty decent so there are many positives to outweigh this one negative. It's a back clamp foot style and I have more than one set of attachments and that is nice, too.  I hope to find a good home for her, even if she is around 110 years old. When you pass 80 years old you get to tell everyone how old you are and even get to brag about it. I'm bragging for this lovely Singer 66 with the lotus decals. Sew on!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Parts Machines

It's always a judgement call when deciding if you should invest more into something or surrender it to just parts. I'm in such a conundrum now over a Singer 401A, an excellent sewing machine but with too many missing parts to make it profitable. A new foot control and power cord will come to about $35-40, a new bobbin slide plate another $10, a presser foot tension screw:
Singer 401A waiting for a decision
There are a few pluses, though, such as the base plate and decent rubber feet:
Underneath with a nice cover plate
And, of course, it's a Singer 401, one of the really good models Singer made with all metal gear drive so there is very little that can go wrong if it is cleaned and used regularly. Yet, here's my issue: I already have a Singer 401A that needs a set of cords and bobbin slide plate. It also could use the base plate that is on the one pictured above. How to decide? Condition: the one above has a compromised finish right behind the needle plate with the finish chipped.
Bad bubble of paint
 This doesn't look good and fabric might even catch in this uneven finish. So here's the breakdown:
  • Original Singer 401A: needs new bobbin cover slide plate, power cord and foot control, spool pins.
  • New Singer 401A: needs pressure screw for foot, bobbin cover slide plate, power cord and foot control.
I'm afraid that bubble in the paint, because it's nearly unfixable, is the deciding factor. I spent almost three hours stripping down this model but I ended up with a motor and light with switches, hook and bobbin case, feed dogs, one gear, front plates and dials, tension mechanism, hand wheel with gear, and a whole lot of screws. Taking a look at the machine I'm going to save, I noticed it did not need that bottom plate but it could use those rubber feet. The left nose (swinging door that covers the needle bar) was scratched so I switched those parts, and I put new spool pins in and a bobbin slide plate.
Singer 401A on left is a keeper but on right is a carcass of a 401
It still needs that foot control and power cord and I might have to break down and buy them but a decent Singer 401A is an excellent sewing machine. I should have a box of accessories that includes the basic cams but I do not have a carrying case, a minor flaw as not everyone even wants a case. Maybe I should make a dust cover out of Singer fabric? That would be a nice and an unusual touch! Now I remember I even have a buttonhole attachment for this model, another plus.

At the end of the day I think I'm still ahead of the game except for the three hours it took to strip the machine down. Maybe I'm a bit slow but I was looking to see how it all fit together and that's part of the education I'm getting when I do things like this. Oh no, does this mean I'm a life-long learner?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TOGA Redeux

After waiting a whole year to have another River Rats TOGA, it has come and gone in a flash. I saved up a few sewing machines that had problems to see if I could get a satisfactory solution, brought a hand-crank sewing machine that I didn't get sewing last year back again, picked out items to bring to the raffle, and connected with friends ahead of time to see if they were going. All of this orchestration over the summer and then it finally was the day to drive down about 90 minutes to Lake City for my second River Rats TOGA. Old friends, new friends, so many treadle and hand-cranked sewing machines and nary a white plastic wonder in the place: it was heaven!

My first project was to get my hand-crank German made machine to work:
German hand-crank
It is a transverse shuttle model, very similar to a Singer 12, but I suspected its failure to sew was user error. Sure enough, I didn't know how to thread the boat-type shuttle and several people helped me since mine was just a tad different. I also needed a different needle but there were none any for sale at the time so I was encouraged to just set the needle lower to see if I could get it to work. Success! Now I will have to work on cleaning it up and figuring out how to fix the chipping paint on the bed. It's oh so smooth when it cranks so I'm happy for now.

The raffle was a hoot with only a few items up for individual raffle and most of it was "all in the pot" with everyone called just getting the pick of what was on the tables. There were many sewing machines, lots of fabric bundles, and a great deal of miscellaneous. My picks were bundles of fabric:
My raffle fabrics
some bags with books that are questionable (no more cross stitch!), but almost at the very end was a lonely Singer sewing machine that was meant just for me:
Singer 15-91 in green (it really is green!)
She's fairly green but this photo doesn't do her justice. What's so special about this one? It's a potted motor 15-91 and I don't think anyone recognized it as the beloved gear to gear sewing machine:
Singer 15-91: see the potted motor sticking out on the back?
What a gem! The power cord is missing and the wiring was disconnected but everything was there to put it back into shape. This is going to be one great machine once it's back together ...and it's green! After I sat down with it, Bill looked over and said "Do you know what you have there?" and I said "You bet I do!" and he confirmed that I had one of the best models and a rare green to boot.

Everyone had to clear the place out of their winnings so it could get set up for the turkey dinner to follow. Here's a few of the raffle winnings going out to their vehicles:
Part of the haul going out to trailers and hatchbacks
Before he said grace, pastor Dave brought out the stole he was presented with last year to show it off again and Cindy presented him with a huge collection of new pot holders for the church kitchen. I was proud of my contribution that I wrote about in a previous post, Free, as in Free-Motion.
Cindy Peters with Pastor Dave and his quilt square stole
At the end of this satisfying day we went home without the rain that was predicted, happy with our raffle winnings, new friends made, plenty of stories for future posts, and a little white Singer 221, the Featherweight. That's right, I have a white Featherweight! She is beyond cute so I'll have to tell you all about her next time so stay tuned to the adventures of Sewing Machine Mavin!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Free as in Free-Motion

We are having another busy weekend with continued home repairs during this mild weather but I have managed to spend some evening hours sewing and getting ready for the River Rat TOGA in Lake City. Cindy put out a request for new pot holders for the church kitchen and you would think I could whip them out in record time since I sell quilted pot holders but not so. I wanted to bring standard sized pot holders that anyone could grab and use for the oven and to set something hot on. My hot mitts are great but can cause some people to pause and ask how-do-these-work? While I was contemplating this I was also getting ready for another session with the quilt group in Cambridge, Friends First Quilters. I combined those activities by demonstrating free-motion sewing with making pot holders for a fruitful demonstration.

Friends First Quilters are a great group of women who love to quilt and set aside one Saturday morning each month to sew. They also have guest speakers and I've been privileged to talk to them about vintage sewing machines, sewing machine attachments, and specialty feet. This time I focused on free-motion sewing, bias tape binders, and circle stitchers. The free motion was the most fun and everyone who wanted to try it out could step up to the machine and give it a try. So many times we don't try things out because we don't have all of the equipment and don't know how to get started. I cut all of that out by having it all ready to go. What did we practice on? A pot holder, of course:
Free motion practice on a quilting sandwich
We started out on two layers of cotton but once they tried it we quickly graduated to something closer to the thickness you would use on a typical quilt.This one was two layers of cotton batting with an Insulbright layer between. It wasn't too bad for a first try, so I brought it home and added bias tape and made up another one:
Pot holders quilted with a free-motion technique
Next up was a circular stitcher I wrote about in Going in Circles. I finally got my flower stitcher and it has been fun to play around with:
Flower stitcher attachment with sample circles/flowers
I'm still practicing with this one and have to admit I need to read the instructions more carefully. We also looked at my set of 32 presser feet and tried out the bias tape binder and concluded it worked best when your edges were all neatly cut. I had a great time and even had a book give away for The Sewing Machine Accessory Bible, a great book with good instructions on how to use the various sewing machine attachments.

Just as the title says but it's not THE holy book
Now which sewing machine did I bring to try out all of these items? Why, a Kenmore, of course. One of my new ones, the Kenmore 158-1320, came to me running great and it's such a good basic machine:
Kenmore 158-1320
All of the attachments worked fine, taking into consideration user error (my error), and it was a standard low shank machine. It doesn't have a wide variety of stitches:
Kenmore 158-1320 stitch dial
but all of the basic utility stitches plus one stretch stitch. I really like these old Kenmore's and knew it would be reliable, too. It is also nice to demonstrate n a non-fancy sewing machine so there is no excuse for demoing on a high end model that can do everything but wash your dishes. There's more to tell about my trip to Cambridge but I'll save that for next time when I show you the Singer 401A and what's happening with it and if I decide to make it a parts machine or not. But that's for another day...

Thursday, September 7, 2017


With my last big buying spree in Windfall, I am working to bring many of them inside to avoid any problems with garage storage. It's getting cool at night and sewing machines need to be kept at a stable temperature so they are making their way inside. The first one I looked at is the Signature URR-988C:
Signature URR-988C
a nice looking machine that has been dropped. That's right, it was dropped or hit with enough force the presser foot tension knob was bent and broke off the housing. This housing is part of the cast framework of the sewing machine so it cannot be replaced, only repaired.
Presser foot tension knob
Broken part circled on left: see the cracks?
 Why go to all of the fuss for one machine? I took a good look at it and noticed there was a large flat disk on the top of it, the changeable cam for decorative stitches, and thought it looked familiar. Looking through my sets of cams I found this:
Complete set of accessories and cams for Signature URR-988
I found this set of accessories at a resale shop sometime in the past three years and picked it up, hoping I could use it one day. Today is that day! Except I need to get this broken piece fixed. I showed it to Roland who gave me a great suggestion to have the piece drilled for screws to keep it in place (I have a new knob already) so I will need to find a machinist who can and will do this for me. So for now the Signature URR-988C is waiting.

Next up is the New Home 108, a more modern sewing machine with a built in carrying handle and a nice variety of stitches. It just needed to be cleaned up and oiled, already stitching just fine. Just to do due diligence I took off the bottom covers and found something brown and dry flaking off the bottom covers. It hadn't dripped down the sides because there were no streaks, it wasn't oily or sticky, just a thin brown sheet of something that came off in flakes. Very weird but easily cleaned off and she's a great beginner's sewing machine now.
New Home 108
The tension was perfect and stitch quality was good:
Front of stitch sample

Bobbin side of stitch sample
There was a four step buttonhole that wasn't great but did make an adequate buttonhole, nothing fancy but slightly uneven. Maybe I should have looked in the manual that came with the machine to see if I should be using a special presser foot but for my first try it wasn't too bad. Yup, a nice beginner's sewing machine that I will sell with that in mind.

Wish I could have added the Kenmore I've been practicing free motion on but that's going to have to wait until next time so stay tuned for further reviews of the machines that came in a Windfall!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Treasure Chest

Keeping everything organized so you can find what you need when you need it is one of the pillars of time management. I don't know what the other pillars are since I just made that up but doesn't it sound logical? In my quest to stay organized, I've had various bins, shelves, and systems but each one has failed to hold enough and a few of them collapsed under the stress I've put on them. I started to look for more serious systems and found those mechanics tool chests to be about right for my needs. Then I checked on quality and price and had to take a step back. I couldn't afford Snap-On systems that resell at thousands of dollars:
Snap-on rolling cart
because I still needed one of the top compartments, too, for a full combination set. They also come in blue and black but couldn't get excited about them. I considered Ironton
Ironton tool chest
thinking I might be able to use a coupon and get a better price so this was my new hope. I checked out my local Craigslist but they were all either beat up or over a thousand dollars and then I found someone who was selling his Grizzly mechanics cabinet:
Now we were talking business! He had outgrown his ten year old cabinet so was selling at half price, still a good deal even with wear and tear on it. I got myself over to his shop where his wife and I got it into my Jeep. Even with all of the drawers out it was heavy but we managed to get it down into the basement and into place:
Grizzly rolling cabinet base with tool chest on top
Isn't it beautiful? I vacuumed it out and cleaned with a wood furniture cleaner and found few bumps and bruises. Even though it's only 26" wide it is tall but it took quite a while for me to figure out if everything was going to fit:
Grizzly cabinet stocked with my tools and supplies
Of course, not everything was going to get into this baby so a few executive decisions were made and I called it a day. Wow, oh wow: this was going to work! It's about 18 inches deep so takes up less space than the wire rack bins I had in that space and it actually looks more spacious now. I'm pretty happy with my purchase: fits in designated space, stores almost all supplies, more than functional it actually looks good.

Sometimes it's about the sewing machines and sometimes it's all about the items that keep this business going. Next up with be a post about those sewing machines I bought from Erin and what I'm doing with them (it's all good so far!). In the meantime, keep sewing and keep organized.