Sewing Machines: Slantomatic 401

I’ve been trying to rotate some of my favorite machines recently. I love my Necchi machines so much that I could sew on them forever and never feel like I was missing out on anything (is there such a thing as sewing machine monogamy?) but variety is the spice of life, they say. Also I want to use the others enough to keep them well maintained and to break some of the older ones back in to optimal performance. So I’m revisiting some of my Singer machines.

I currently have two Slantomatic 401s. One of them came to me perfectly tuned, oiled, adjusted. It was the first vintage sewing machines I purchased for myself when I began sewing regularly and the Walmart plastic Brother sewing machine just wasn’t working for me anymore. The first time I sewed with it, I was in love. Compared to the rickety, inconsistent stitch quality of the bargain basement Brother, with its dismal white lump design and utter lack of aesthetic appeal, it was heavenly. The stitches are gorgeous and the feed is so consistent that I can turn my work and sew perfectly over the stitches that came before. *swoon*

It converted me to a vintage machine enthusiast forever. It’s gear driven, which gives it a feeling of solidity and precision like nothing I’d sewn on before. Internally it’s all metal, save for one part–there is a very large, crucial gear on the handwheel that is actually textolite, a very durable plastic material. Unlike many of the plastic and nylon materials Singer used over the years, it doesn’t seem prone to breaking, thankfully. (For more info, see Old Sewing Gear’s great blog here.) It has zig zag, a blind hem stitch, and three step zig zag stitch built in, as well as a ton of other decorative stitch possibilities. The needle position is adjustable and the needle plate has measurements engraved in it, which is really helpful with seam allowances.

I bought another in awful shape as a clean up project. It was caked in weird greasy gunk externally, which was impossible to get off without alcohol soaked q tips. It was varnished up internally as well, which alcohol works well to clean up–it evaporates quickly enough that it isn’t as much of a problem near wiring as something like WD40 would be (which the jury seems out on using to loosen stuck sewing machines anyway). The camstack and gears that allow for the decorative stitching were bound up as well–I had to use a hair dryer multiple times to allow the warming and cooling of the metal to expand and contract the parts enough to work the oil in and loosen up everything. Now it sticks a bit from time to time, but overall it’s working wonderfully.

So that’s my current go to machine for my foray into sewing with jersey. With a ballpoint needle, it works incredibly well for this purpose. I thought I’d share some photos of mine and some of the technical information I’ve found over the years. (Apologies to the original source of the schematic–although the manual can be found on the Singer website, I’m no longer sure where the schematic is from. And the service manual was made available by Donald of Sewing Dude – his post here. His blog is very informative and very, very funny!)

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singer-401-service-manual from Sewing Dude blog

 

Weekend Project: Treadle Tune Up!

I have crafter ADD.

I am still working on the perfectly fitted yet moveable bodice/sleeve–I’m on attempt #6 in the last three weeks, I believe, and have used up all of my muslin hoard in various attempts, but will be launching into the next iteration tomorrow. I let myself do one attempt every 2-3 days lest the frustration reach throw-a-sewing-machine point. I think I’ve almost got it, though 🙂

As a respite from said frustration, and because I always visit my grandparents on the weekend, and because my grandparents aid and abet my showing machine addiction by sending me sewing machine porn pictures during their flea market outings AND allowing me to stash my overflow in their basement, I decided to finish rebelting my Singer treadle! Months ago, my grandpa and I went on an hours-long drive to pick up this Craigslist find in a very cantankerous ex-hippy older man’s basement. He became much friendlier when I made it obvious I was not out to haggle and did not want to dismantle the machine and sell it as a foo-foo shabby chic table. Nothing against shabby chic, but seeing whitewashed cast iron hurts my little bitter heart. Apparently his too. He said he had bought it decades ago and an ex girlfriend used to sew on it during the 70s, but he had never gotten around to refinishing it as he’d hoped. It was dusty and had some staining and damage to the wood surface, and the machine is varnished and the decals have some serious wear. But that’s part of its appeal. There’s an aesthetic ideal called wabi sabi in Japan that I think of with old machines and antiques–beauty in imperfection, beauty in the natural cycle of decay with time, wear from use. I’ll spare you that rant, mostly, but it’s a fascinating subject. For example:

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So anyway, my treadle. It needed a belt, and a TON of oil, and some serious scrubbing and loosening of varnished parts. Replacing a treadle belt isn’t hard, exactly–you just buy a precut length of leather belting, or measure it with a string over its path through all the turns of the flywheel and balance wheel, and then you trim it to the point that it’s got enough tension against the wheels to turn the machine, but not too tight. According to the interwebz, a slightly loose belt works better, and some people even recommend violin bow rosin to help with the grip. (This and much more wisdom on treadle tips and tricks here.) It took some fiddling to get the length just right, and my grandpa used a very small drill bit to drill a hole on either end of the belt. The edges need to be trimmed so that the two ends of the belt butt up to one another, and then you crimp the staple that usually comes with the belting shut securely by squishing it just right with a pair of pliers. Grandpa has mad skills in this department. Tricky but nothing compared to the storm of swear words that I unleash on a vintage Husqvarna. I love the simplicity of these old machines so much. There is a very Zen pleasure that comes from playing around with them–and in the treadling action itself. It takes some getting used to, since the wheel will move in either direction when you initially start to pedal and it will break your thread if it moves away from you (for a Singer treadle–White and some other models move the opposite direction, though). But using a slight turn of the handwheel with my right hand to convince it to move the right direction really helps. So does using my hand to bring the wheel to a complete stop. I’m sure it gets easier with time and practice.

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All cleaned up, cast iron cleaned with a rag and sewing machine oil, etc.

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Sphinx decals. So cool! Evidently the discovery of King Tut’s tomb led to Egyptomania in fashion during the 20s.

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My grandpa shared a big chunk of the mancave for my machinery. I think he enjoys it, too.  The treadle to the right is table only, and was a gift from some friends who wanted it to go to a nice new obsessive’s home. It was missing the front drawer and the wooden pitman rod connecting the flywheel on the base to the treadle pedal part had been broken. So after months of scouring online, I found replacements for both. Evidently the pitman rods were made in metal as well as wood–I wish there were a contemporary source for these, although I suspect someone with woodworking skills would have no problem making a new wooden one. Alas, I do not.  My grandpa repainted the legs as he remembers them from his childhood. He did a wonderful job on them!

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The woman who it originally belonged to apparently loved that distinctive 70s green that the drawers are painted in. I don’t, and I hope to use some Citristrip one day to remove it. My partner jokes that one day I’m going to get us haunted by messing with the wrong antique. Let’s hope it’s not by refurbishing this one.

And also…I’ve been working on the pattern for this!

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It’s from a fashion magazine during the 1880s that came with a huge pattern insert. The pattern pieces are all printed on top of one another, so I have my work cut out for me. It’s quite a tangle. But–once I get my sloper perfected; fingers crossed for try #6–I’m looking forward to attempting it!

Anyone else have any treadle experiences? I’d love to hear about them!

Sewing Machine Addiction: Improved Eldredge Rotary B

Amid the frustrations of work today, I decided to do a little sewing machine tinkering to get my zen mindfulness on. There’s something about brushing out the dust, oiling and waxing these old things that mellows me out. Industrial chemical fumes perhaps? I really should buy myself a facemask one of these days.

My project for the day was this ebay find, which of course came with a beautiful wood base that was utterly demolished in transit because people seem to forget that antique wood is fragile and sewing machines are heavy and the postal service is not big on delicate handling of the bajillions of packages it throws around each day. However, it’s still an awesome machine.

The Improved Eldredge Rotary B. (This is before I cleaned it.)

eldredgerotarybbefore It takes unusual 20×1 needles, of course, being of the era (30s?) when every sewing machine company sold needles for their machines. The needle is similar to the modern 15×1 system, though, in that it’s flattened on one side. (If I *really* wanted to, I could probably put a standard needle in but not push it all the way up into place and make it work, though it wouldn’t be as stable as it should.)

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It has a friction drive motor, which isn’t all that unusual (some other machines like Whites and mid-century Elnas have these too) but it’s actually built or snugly wedged into the body rather than mounted on it. So far I can’t see any way to remove it. It also has the unusual Chicago post electrical set up. The foot pedal and sketchy cord that go with it were also demolished during shipping, not that I’d have trusted them anyway. But that will be a scary rewiring job, if I try it at all, because I’m very newb at electrical systems and the Chicago ones aren’t polarized and I don’t yet know what that means for rewiring a machine. (And this machine wasn’t intended as a workhorse so I don’t have to have it running to enjoy it, exactly; I bought it because of the art deco styling and its idiosyncracies.)

It was so, so, so dirty.

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But it cleans up nicely!

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The threading is unique. I have another older Eldredge and both have more steps than most to thread them, but once threaded correctly the stitch was very nice and even, especially since I was turning the machine by hand. The stitches have an interesting antiqued look because of the dirty, probably 60+ year old thread in the bobbin and the tarnish on the presser foot. There’s something about that patina of age I like–I’m not as intrigued by machines that look new as I am by machines that have a history to them. (Same thing with faces, oddly enough–the older I get the more bored I become with straightforward beauty. It seems so blank, so simplistic; I enjoy looking at faces with more of a story told in them. Interesting how one’s ideals about beauty and aesthetic appeal change over time.)

This blog post (here) links to a complete manual (bless you, Anne Graham, for posting it because I’d have never threaded it otherwise.) And it also links to a source for needles, bobbins and bobbin cases (here), which is incredibly helpful for machines this old and scarce.

So for a clean and oil job, I’m pretty happy, but there is still some tightness I’d like to work out, and this plug/wiring system is a problem to puzzle over too…

Current Projects: Sewing Dickeys and Tinkering on the Necchi Esperia

So far I’ve sewn up one dickey that I really like. It needs buttons and buttonholes and some pressing, but here’s the work in progress:

photo 1It’s draped on the newly re-stuffed and covered-in-pinnable-jersey dressform my grandma and I made out of duct tape. Not perfect, but a good start. I wanted a high, cut on funnel-neck style collar so that I can press the edges down for that tuxedo look. Like this:

photo 2I love, love, love the color. I was surprised that it wasn’t pure hell to sew, either–it’s a cheap-ish stretch satin and the only ones I’ve worked with seemed to fray quite a bit, but this is holding up pretty well in the time between cutting and edge finishing.

photo 3Next time I sew this I’ll use lighter interfacing, because with a facing and the interfacing, it ends up a bit wonky around the neck when it’s worn beneath something. Behind it is the machine I’ve been using–it’s a Necchi Esperia from 1957 or so. I love the minimal design and the pastel. It was a Goodwill purchase–the motor was shooting sparks, so I got it for a song. I’ve seen that before, actually; if you’re lucky, it’s one of two simple things: carbon brushes that need replaced, or just dirt. these old machines are just a bit dusty in the motor and if you disengage the handwheel and run it at high speed for a few minutes and maybe add a bit of lubricant to the designated holes in the motor, it fixes it right up and runs much better. That was the case here, but it still isn’t quite right. I’m not sure if the timing is a bit off, but even after about 20 solid hours of sewing it still isn’t quite as smooth as it should be for a Necchi. (I haven’t learned how to work on timing yet, but I will soon thanks to the Ray White sewing machine repair class! :D)

photo 4There’s something I love about the simplicity of a straight stitch sewing machine. So much less to go haywire in the mechanics. And it seems like working with wovens about 90% of the stitching I have to do is a plain old straight stitch. This one is extremely crotchity about backstitching, though, and I haven’t ever noticed the same thing in another straight stitch only machine–if I switch to a reverse stitch from any position other than the lowest needle position, it’s pretty much guaranteed that my bottom thread is going to bind up and turn into a thread nest I have to pull out. It may be that all sewing machines do this and I’ve just been oblivious about the reason for the bind ups, but I don’t think so. Maybe a timing thing? We’ll see.

In my usual trying-to-do-five-million-things-at-once way, I’ve been at work on a black taffeta blazer, binding with chiffon seam binding as I go (my usual raggedy overcast inner seams are a pet peeve at the moment), doing the Burda University digital pattern drafting course, AND living out some of my early childhood library career fantasies by digitizing some of my old sewing books. So many things I want to do and make and try and read and, alas, so little time. #digitalageproblems

Sewing Machine Problems: Bernina Favorit Edition

Despair, today thy name is Bernina. *sob*

My 740 has a cracked vertical gear. It was fine just days ago. Totally fine. I have no idea how it broke since I’ve hardly used this machine, but I noticed it today turning over the balance wheel by hand. It’s a slight catch, like when thread is beginning to jam or there’s some issue with a bobbin. It took me a few minutes to realize that the vertical gear in the Bernina was cracked completely through. There’s a gap in the teeth, and when the teeth of the other gear get misaligned because of it, that’s when there feels like there’s a catch in the machine.

On the plus side, I might be able to fix it. Eventually. I’m signed up for Ray White’s super legendary awesomeness SEWING MACHINE REPAIR CLASS next month. I had no idea the White Sewing Center is but a two hour drive from my humble abode so I will be revisiting my former life as a commuting student and driving back and forth for the three glorious 8 hour days with fellow obsessives. I am beyond excited about it. I only signed up for the basic class, which likely will not cover the mad drama and heartbreak of taking apart a machine to replace a gear, but it will definitely teach me enough about the interconnected systems of the machine to be able to adjust the timing and any other things I might mess up in the process. I don’t want to undertake this repair till after the class, but when I do, I will be documenting it extensively (because abandon all hope, ye who attempt to dismantle any part of a sewing machine without photographic help retracing your steps) and will share my progress.

I was considering selling the 740 in order to make room in the collection for a machine I *thought* was too good to be true–a Bernina 540 in exquisite shape complete with table and a dazzling array of vintage accessories. “Sews great.” they said. “Should be in a sewing machine museum,” they said. Should be in the ever growing museum of stupid mistakes I’ve made re: sewing machine purchases. When I received it, it was frozen. A few hours and some TriFlow and some BlueCreeper and some Singer lubricant and a whole lot of f-bombs later and it sort of turns, but something is still so bound that the entire machine sort of heaves forward at a certain point in the rotation of the handwheel. The motor turns but only while emitting a banshee-like screech and of course it doesn’t actually engage the machine because the belt is completely disintegrated and I don’t have a replacement that fits it. The seller was super nice and most likely shipped it at a loss, so I feel almost bad for him–I don’t think I was deliberately misled but think the seller doesn’t sew and doesn’t know the first thing about it. Like that the machine actually needs to turn. *sob*

Since there’s jack crap on the internet as far as in depth information on the favorit, I took some photos of the 540 as I tried to nurse the ol’ girl back to functionality:

A view from above. The silver toothed gears are the decorative stitch cams; my lever is frozen at the moment so even if the machine ran, not usable. Visible close to them is the dirty looking white-ish gear–it’s one of three or so that is nylon/silicon/some kind of mystery crap sixties plastic prone to breaking. I do love that the oil points are clearly marked in red.

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Another top view. Under the main shaft is the vertical gear (I think), another plastic gear. This is what cracked in my 740. It’s interesting that the needle position selector in this one is a wider pin and moves very freely; this is bound up on some of my other Berninas and not TriFlow nor BlueCreeper nor sailor names has pried it loose yet.

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Oh, look, my cracked hand wheel. No one knows how to pack sewing machines except sewing machine obsessives. It’s sad. I’m not even mad about it, because luckily there is a metal core like a common metal stop motion knob which will keep it functional even if all the plastic crumbles away. Behold the disintegrating belt. It feels like a cloth covered elastic hair tie, which is interesting and a bit different than the other belts I’ve seen on machines of the era..

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Front view. Cosmetically, she ain’t bad. I like the avocado green, though, because I’m stylistically perverse like that.

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Interesting details that differ significantly from the Records and other Berninas I’ve seen. No buttonholer lever, but a toothed setup instead.

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The decorative stitches it can do. Theoretically.

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The back view, where the dust is a bit more obvious. It has a three pin connector power cord/speed control pedal. I have a flatbed Husqvarna and a Pfaff 130 that use this same somewhat uncommon setup. It took me forever to find a cord that would fit this shape.

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Underside. The machine looked pretty clean so I was surprised to find it so bound up, but it was dry as a bone and so dusty. The Favorit models I’ve seen all have these covers on the underside obscuring the gears. I’m not sure if it’s because the Favorit hook system is supposed to be faster and more heavy duty than other Berninas and they felt a need to have an extra protective layer over them, or if these are more like oil pans, or what exactly. But the black cover houses the hook gears which are metal on metal and need lubricant.

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I removed the stop motion knob and the balance wheel and oiled the main shaft here. The clutch washer and stop motion knob work just like a typical Singer’s.

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Here’s the hook gear.

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Here’s the third nylon/plastic gear with its cover removed.

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The middle cover removed. Not a gear, but grooved metal parts that move against each other. Not sure why this cover is held on with a spring, either.

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So ends the tour. We’ll see what the BlueCreeper does overnight. The Necchi facebook folks turned me on to the wonders of this penetrating lubricant. I wouldn’t use it for oiling a sewing machine but it’s great at breaking loose stuck parts–apparently it’s used heavily in the logging industry to loosen rusted screws and a billion other things. I have been very impressed by its ability to un-stick what TriFlow couldn’t on another machine. It seems to need a few hours to really get in to all the cracks, so we’ll see how it works tomorrow.

Today was not a good day for hoarding.

The Mystery Hand Crank

So the old girl arrived intact, miraculously, and with some oil in the lock and some careful maneuvering (and the highly technical piece of equipment, the butter knife) I was able to get the cover off without damaging anything. It was unlocking fine, but had been kind of jammed at a weird angle at some point, and just needed a teensy tiny bit of force in the right direction.

I felt like I was opening Tutankhamen’s tomb as I opened it up and found everything pretty much intact under a thin layer of dust. The decals are in gorgeous shape.

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But no name or badge! It says “Charles Barker, 21 Bridge St, Banbury. Cutler and Cycle Maker.” on a small plate in the front, but I am willing to bet this is just the shop that sold these rather the the manufacturing party. There is a faint “A” visible with some wings or something around it, but it looks as if there may be more letters that were there originally. I thought maybe it was a Pfaff with a post WW1 paint job, but the bobbin winder and stitch lever don’t seem to be right for that. The case looks very much like a Pfaff or Gritzner of the era, but small details seem to conflict with that hypothesis. It’s a puzzling combination of typical German details–white porcelain handle, fine inlay in the the wooden case, stitch length lever that allows for reverse and  is labeled R/V (“vorwarts” is forward in German) instead of R/F–and a Singer or maybe Vesta style bobbin winding assembly. The hand crank mechanism is also different than the Singer style I’m familiar with, and seems actually better engineered.

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IMG_16911I can’t quite figure it out. It does turn, but despite its pristine appearance, internally it’s a gunked up godawful mess. It looks like someone lubricated it liberally with carriage axle grease or something.

IMG_16931 IMG_16941IMG_16991   IMG_16961IMG_16951I’ve been obsessively chipping away at it all weekend. It’s surprisingly smooth after a good oiling, but there is a catch when cranking at slow speeds at the point at which the needle is at its highest. If cranking quickly, the momentum takes it around with no problem. But the slower one cranks, the more noticeable it is. I think it’s probably gunked up old oil somewhere I can’t reach, but I’m hesitant to try it much until I can eliminate that catch.

Also: want to see what 80-100ish years of not cleaning the lint out of feed dogs looks like?

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A hard, solid mass of fibers matted and gooed up into something I had to scoop out with a screwdriver. I’m still working on cleaning, of course, but this is what it looks like with some of the barnacles removed:

IMG_17081It’s funny, but this piece will probably be mostly just for display. When the decals look this nice I’m hesitant to actually use a machine. I prefer them well worn and broken in so that when I drop something and ding the surface or something I don’t feel like I’ve damaged a piece of industrial art so much as I’ve just made a tool more my own. I have another Singer 28 hand crank that has a lot of wear and faded decals and so far I prefer it because it feels less precious and more of this world than a history display. But I’m weird that way. I had similar feelings when buying a hand cranked coffee grinder recently. (I’m subconsciously preparing for the gridless zombie apocalypse.) I saw a lot of pristine ones online but went for a broken in, beat up one with a cracked base and some rust issues because I can steel wool off the rust, reseason the cast iron, and use it without feeling like I’m wearing down an antique. I like the idea of rescuing something from a scrap heap better.

Mystery Sewing Machine ID

I’ve spent most of my night trying to identify a machine. I was fascinated by it because although it was labeled as a Singer the people listing it couldn’t get the wooden case off. In the pictures they posted, only what appears to be a white hand crank handle and a low bobbin winder are visible.

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Fascinating, yes? I can’t find any Singer models with white or porcelain hand crank handles in that style. For awhile I thought it might be a Frister Rossman hand crank, since those often have the white handle and the fancy inlay in the case visible in this photo:

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Those decals don’t look like anything I could find, either. The case is unlike any Singer cases I could find, though it definitely resembles a Frister Rossman. Here is the machine in question:

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And below are some examples of Frister Rossman machines with similar cases:

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But unlike the Frister Rossmans, it has a low bobbin winder that seems to have the heart shaped cam mechanism similar to a Singer. The Frister Rossmans I’ve seen have a different design that lacks that rounded shape. I’ve seen Jones wooden cases that look similar, and Vestas sometimes use the cam on the bobbin winder.

I even tried using the key to identify the machine, but so far, no luck. Singers don’t typically have the teeth on the key as this one does. Treadleon discusses this (here) and explains that usually the older European sewing machines are the ones that do. Another site with replacement keys (here) has a similar one that is described as fitting most Vestas, Frister Rossmans and transverse shuttle machines. I know very little about transverse shuttle machines except that they take a needle that’s no longer manufactured (12×1) which is a pain.

So after about five hours of Google sleuthing, I’m still stumped. Excited to see what it is.

How Not to Ship a Sewing Machine

brando sadThis is my face today. I finally received a vintage industrial Necchi machine. A glorious 835-461. This is it’s state prior to shipping:

necchi1After being shipped from California to Missouri (for which the seller asked for more money for after the listing was over, which is peevish, though I have done this before when it seemed legit and I was happy with the packing they did) THIS is what I received:

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3Broken stitch length selector knob, snapped off thread guide and completely busted metal thread-guide-y-mystery piece. I can’t even find info on this model, let alone replacements for those parts. I am NOT happy.

This is why you don’t ship 48lb vintage sewing machines in a single cardboard box surrounded by crumbled newspaper and a single layer of small bubblewrap.

What a f*cking waste.

For the record, the absolute best sewing machine packing job I have ever seen in my life was done by the ebay seller volksbug (here). He bubble wrapped every individual part possible, plastic wrapped everything securely in place, wrapped the machine itself securely in multiple layers of bubble wrap and foam, wrapped the speed control separately and secured it in place, put manuals and extras in bags and bubble wrapped and secured those, and placed all of this in a cardboard box so that it fit snugly and any empty space was filled with packing material. Then he placed this box within a larger cardboard box and filled the 3″ between the boxes with some kind of foam that hardens into firm but somewhat spongey consistency that absorbs shock perfectly during transit.

If only more sellers wrapped their wares so well. I’ve had packing peanuts jammed so far into the innards of machines I may never be able to get them out, many thread uptake levers broken off, thread tension loops broken or flattened, bobbin tire assemblies snapped in two, wooden cases and locks demolished from packing the machine locked in its case.

It’s a particular kind of heartbreak when it’s a rare antique that you just know you’ll never be able to fix or replace, but it’s more than that–it’s the loss of a piece of fine industrial craftsmanship from the world.

Excuse me while I go faceplant into some ice cream or something and mourn.

Christmas Sewing: Kimonos and Spock Shirts and Raglan Blouses, Oh My

I have three days, a 20 yard bolt of black stretchy chiffon, three shades of teal/navy blue jersey and black jersey, and a dream. I somehow think that I’m going to be able to finish four kimono tops and one raglan Spock style tee–and work a normal schedule!–over the next three days.

It isn’t going to happen. Thank you, Sephora, for backup girlie gifts.

But it will be fun to try.

I drafted my own pattern for the Spock shirt. My sister is a big fan, and she’s of the Zachary Quinto Spock era, so this is my guide:

trek-movie-spockLooks like a raglan tee with an almost sports-jersey texture, some kind of satin stitching or shinier bias tape at the seams which I’m pretending does not exist for my sewing purposes, and a black high collar that extends above the v-neckline. I tried sewing my son a version of this for practice, but he refuses to wear it. And I didn’t even get a chance to draw the eyebrows on him first.

And then there’s the kimono top I settled on (instead of a caftan, which may be a bit too far into hippie land for the mass appeal I’m going for). McCall’s 4304 “2 Hour Top,” which I have sewn before and which took me significantly longer than 2 hours, but in the almost-year that has passed since my first attempt, let’s hope I’ve gained some speed. I want to modify it slightly, as the drawstring is a bit too high to flatter the apple body shapes with no discernible waistline that run in my family. I also might shorten and bell the sleeves slightly, and add a bit of length in a slight A-line to make the shape a bit more flattering.

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My plan of attack is vaguely industrial-sewing inspired (more on this in the future, as I find it fascinating in a best-practices efficiency kind of way):

  • cut all my pieces at once with a rotary cutter for precision
  • wind many bobbins ahead of time
  • sew the garments assembly line style. Do seam one on all four at the same time, seam two on all four, etc, to avoid confusion and having to figure out how to do each step all over again for each individual garment
  • French seams for side seams to avoid having to finish edges later and for neatness, especially on this fabric

I’m sewing it on my Kenmore 158.12111, which I am more and more happy with the more I use it. It has a dual belt system, which makes it slower than some, but incredibly precise. I can stop pushing the pedal and the needle stops within a stitch and it becomes really easy to time it perfectly after a little practice. It’s a little loud and little shaky, but I think that’s in part because it needs more use after sitting for years and in part due to the smaller base of a freearm giving it less balance. I’m very impressed by its strength and the regularity of its stitches–so far, it hasn’t given me any trouble at all. This is supposed to be part of the appeal of the Husqvarna models with the reduction gear, but the Kenmore has the advantage of being made of metal, being designed with room and smart access panels to get in there and oil and repair, and of using common bobbins and bobbin cases. To be fair, I haven’t really had the chance to enjoy a fully functional Husqvarna, but if the reduction gear is the key advantage, I’ll take a Kenmore any day for the sturdiness and simplicity.

Needless to say my collection of Husqvarnas is still nonfunctional. (I have four: the 19e I replaced a solid 19 3/4″ belt with a 20″ lug belt after days of struggle to attain much less than satisfactory results; a 1030 that is frozen completely solid and became a candidate for a very enjoyable Bacchanalian dissection and which I used as a source for a donor belt which was a big fail; a 6000 series with a broken camstack and a broken reduction gear which I’m going to try to replace with the gear from the 1030; and a 51e flatbed which appears to be in great shape except it has no cord and the plug is a weird type that I can’t find a replacement for. *shakes fist*)

AND I almost forgot! I finished my raglan blouse in a woven to my satisfaction and shall be sporting it in all its pastel pink glory for the festivities. I’ll have to post a picture when I’m not so dark-circle-tired-eyed and Sunday grosstastic.

Sewing Machines and Manuals: Vintage Bernina 740

favoritSo I know I said the thing about the not hoarding any more machines. Sigh. But then I saw a machine like this, a Bernina 740 favorit, on ebay for super cheap listed by someone who seemed very grandmothery and knowledgeable and loving to her machines and could not, for the life of me, resist buying such a rare and well cared for piece. (image source) I realllly shouldn’t be spending more money on something I don’t need (I can hear the lifepartner now: ANOTHER sewing machine??!?) but I look at these as something like investments, in that I can love them and use them and learn with them but pass them on to other hands if I choose to some day and they probably will still be worth something after my heavy usage. Vintage sewing machines certainly don’t seem to be devaluing, especially high end models; reading sewing blogs from 5 years ago discussing the pricing makes this pretty obvious. And if I can actually apply skills I’ve taught myself to repair them, so much the better for the potential return on my “investments,” should it ever be possible to pry one from my clutches.

Berninas are held in high esteem by people all over the interwebz, but I’ve never tried one. I was drooling over a few Record 530, 630 and 730 models for a few months, but the Husqvarnas I’ve been trying vainly to fix really turned me off on anything with plastic innards and tight, enclosed motor free arm body styles. The beautiful thing about the Favorit models is that they are a) flatbed, meaning I can access the lower mechanical parts easily for cleaning and oiling, and b) at least some of them have an externally mounted motor, making for easier belt replacements if needed and even motor replacement if it came to that. The ebay description claimed an all metal construction, so I’m hoping that’s correct, as at least the 730 Record models have plastic parts (cam gear, etc) that do eventually wear out. c) It’s 60slicious. That cream and avocado color scheme. That font. Those curving lines. Why are contemporary sewing machine designs so inattentive to sheer visual pleasure?? This is fun to look at.

Another beautiful thing? Evidently these are possible to rig up to huge industrial motors. Like so:

westauctions bernina(image source)

I have seen 740 Favorit and 730 Industrie models, but am not sure what the difference is in the construction. The motors for the industrie ones are enormous and mounted below the machine, and I’m not sure how the sizes compare. But I will enjoy investigating!

740-11 industrie(image source)

So of course I had to seek out a manual, and was happy to find that Bernina has a page devoted to out of print manuals. (bernina manuals) The translation is clumsy, but it’s kind of part of the charm. The manual for the 740 is (here).

The ol’ girl should be arriving around Christmas time, which means I’ll be enjoying this new baby over some spiked eggnog. Can’t wait!