Why Sewing Machine Addiction?

Sewing machine addiction is a helluva drug. So far in my life, I’ve been prone to obsessive interests that come and go and almost always involve hoarding and organizing materials as part of the pleasure of the obsession. Sewing machines are no exception. In fact, they’re one of the strongest experience I’ve had with any hobby since my childhood dinosaur phase and young adult survivalist kick that had me, among other things, living in a tent in the yard for a month. Lolz.

I’ve lost count of the actual number, which is blurry anyway because some of my sewing machine projects involve a machine or two that’s pretty much bound to be just a parts machine. I have a few vintage Husqvarnas that don’t run that might end up Frankenstein/Steampunked into some new creature eventually.

young frankensteinBut I really need to stop hoarding, and also to maybe Etsy off some of my least favorite machines to clear out some room. There are *at least* 15 sewing machines crammed in my litle 12″x12″ office (whose closet bottom is the angled ceiling of the staircase, so no storage space there, either) along with two cabinets, a table and chair, coffee table, and two workbenches. Tight and womblike and disheveled is usually what I go for in a workspace, but it’s too much.

And yet I can’t seem to keep from drooling over other machines I’d love to have. Because it isn’t just about the utility. Each machine represents so many things to me: a mechanical puzzlebox to put into working order, a beautiful tool to learn to use, an antique with its own unique history, and a piece of design that speaks volumes about the aesthetic of its time.

If someone dropped a top of the line contemporary Pfaff on my doorstep, I don’t think I’d use it. I don’t find it inspiring. It’s a tool that has all these features and computerized functions, but it’s not a piece of industrial art. It hasn’t got the history and the charm of wear. It doesn’t make me dream about the previous owners and previous designs it might have created toward the enrichment of the lives of its owners. It’s plastic, without a personality. Give me a pin-rashed, silvered decal-ed old Singer handcrank any day so I can marvel at the simple elegance of the mechanics and turn the well-worn wood of the handle and more deeply enjoy the tactile nature of the experience. Give me the spaceship knobs and funktastic designs of the late 50s and early 60s and let me consider the way the space race changed everything, even sewing, as I stitch away. And I also kind of feel like it builds character to learn to sew a proper buttonhole without the one push button function, but I’m a Luddite like that.

That being said, it’s a pretty shitty would-be-minimalist who is scouring ebay daily for old 50s Kenmores. It has to stop somewhere. So I think I need to start collecting images instead, see if I can put together a design timeline for machines, enjoy pondering the visuals rather than possessing the actual machine. I also need to keep focused on how I really want to spend my time: making, crafting things, not just owning them. All of these machines work better with regular oiling and use, so I need to pick my favorites and rotate them, instead of having machines that sit unused.

Because if I collect many more, my family is going to commit me.

Husqvarna 51E

My obsession with vintage Husqvarnas is in full swing. It started with the one I recently posted about, which I got from Goodwill for $25, with a running motor and a turning handwheel but broken belt. It seems like once I get the belt issue fixed, it should actually work. (I re-measured the old broken one and found it to be closer to 19 3/4″ rather than the 19 1/4″ belt I have been fighting with. That half inch makes all the difference in the world. I think on my first measure I didn’t stretch it far enough because I didn’t want to touch all the goo all over it. Yuck.)

BeingĀ  a hoarder obsessive (not even joking), I also find it virtually impossible to pass up a $20 sewing machine even though my “office” is full of almost too many of said machines to move in. One day, I will start an Etsy shop. But not today. So Goodwill has provided me with multiple Husqvarnas in various states ranging from completely frozen to partially frozen to filthy and seemingly hopeless. In addition to the 19 with the belt problem, I have a 1030 (frozen handwheel/main shaft) and a 6020 with a frozen stitch selector and a broken stitch selector knob from someone trying to force it. I also bought another mystery one from ebay which looked to be in good condition, save for the missing speed control/power cord.

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What some internet scouring and the super-helpful Yahoo vintage Husqvarna group tells me is that it’s a Husqvarna Viking 51E. Which is basically just a flatbed version of the Husqvarna 21 (which some argue was the best vintage Husqvarna model). It’s nearly impossible to find anyone talking about the model online, so it will be interesting to try! It has a three prong power cord, which doesn’t look like anything I currently have except maybe the Slantomatic cord, which is the wrong shape. I’ll have to see it in person before I try to find a replacement. Regardless, I love the green finish and the styling. My guess is that it, too, will need a new belt, but looking at the external setup and the lack of a reduction gear involved, my guess is that it will be easy peasy to throw a standard stretch v-belt on there. Also, with the way that everything is aligned and that exposed handwheel, if I could rig that up in a treadle table I bet I could even treadle with it!

Husqvarna 19e Belt Replacement

My Husqvarna is a 19e, which is a sleek, classic-car-shiny piece of vintage goodness. It runs, but when I received it the v-belt was broken. I took the broken belt out and measured it and bought a 19 1/4″ lug belt to replace it. I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong or if I measured wrong and the belt just doesn’t fit or what, but I can’t get the damn thing back in the machine. The compact cast iron body of the machine is visually appealing but difficult to open up and access. To really get in there I had to remove the base which has the motor and wiring still awkwardly connected to the body, remove the handwheel and remove the reduction gear thing-y. I had cut the original belt off to measure, and as usual, regret not carefully photographically documenting the position of everything first. The technical manual helps, but it has line drawings that aren’t especially clear on the position of small parts and springs and where exactly everything should be.

imageHere’s what my actual reduction gear looks like:

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My machine is filthy; I keep tinkering at it with alcohol and q tips or Mrs. Meyers basil scented cleaner on the parts that aren’t really moving and potentially damaged by the moisture. (Too many chemically fumes makes me dislike the process.) There are some parts on that reduction gear that were tricky to replace when I tried to put the (too short?) lug belt on and reassemble.  Trying to get it on was a truly awful time suck, since the belt has to go over the handwheel and loop over the reduction gear. But to get it on the reduction gear you have to get past the large outer gear on the reduction assembly (in the photo above it’s the gear to the farthest left). I tried doing this first and putting it on the handwheel last but it’s just not possible with the angles and the tension on the belt. It was an incredibly awkward process compared to a Singer, where you usually just loosen the motor mount bolt and create a little slack, loop the belt where it needs to go, and put everything back in place.

I was also not super impressed by some of the components of this gear setup. While the machine is solid and seems like it’s well built, the case that goes over the motor and the smaller belt is plastic and is, of course, cracked where the screws go. It probably won’t ever be all that secure when I put it back on. The reduction gear itself is not exactly solid feeling. It’s plastic of some kind and probably would be one of the first things to go to crap on the machine. There is a little plastic bracket that fits inside a part mounts the reduction gear to the rest of the body–that’s cracked too. It fell out during disassembly and I had no idea where it went originally, but it fits inside that mount and over a two pronged metal piece. Seems like a less-than-efficient design. There is a spring and a metal arm toward the bottom of the assembly that I’m not sure exactly what position to return to when I’m finished either, but we’ll see.

So the Husqvarna and I are at a standstill until the 15″-21″ stretch belt I ordered arrives. I read good things about the lug belt, but I think I’ve put about 4 hours into it so far and I just don’t know how the improved traction is worth all that. If/when I get a belt successfully installed on this, I’ll definitely post a step by step since the 19e seems really difficult to find any specific information on.

Husqvarna Service Manual

It irritates me immensely when people try to charge money for manuals that they didn’t even scan that they just happened to find, freely available on the internet. It’s a jerkwad way to make a buck. I bought a frozen up Husqvarna 1030, I guess mostly because I’m a masochist, and some website had a service manual for the 6000 series (with instructions for earlier models as well) for sale that I almost spent $10 bucks on. Happily, I happened to find the exact same manual FOR FREE on archive.org. It’s available here in a variety of formats to download. Pdf version below. May you have better luck on your Vikings than I’m currently having–previous owners have broken the knobs from trying to force frozen parts, parts won’t free up even with the wd40/hair dryer treatment, goobered up motor areas that have my hands and everything in a 6ft radius all sooted up. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

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Free Necchi Manual Links

I hate it when people charge money for sewing machine manuals. Vintage sewing machine fanatics seem to give so freely of their knowledge and experience on the web that selling manual scans seems gross somehow. So…more of this as I find it! If this is helpful to you, please leave a comment and feel free to tell me all about your beloved Necchis. It is so very good to talk about obsessive interests with friendlies.

99 Ideas for Creative Sewing (1956) Came with Necchi Supernovas. Download it from this page (bless you, original poster. Bless you!) http://www.newtreadlersvillage.com/NecchiSupernova.html

Necchi Lelia 513 Manual, found on Tammy’s Craft Emporium, which is a delightful blog of all things vintage sewing. May Crom bless Tammy too for posting this to her blog: http://tammyscraftemporium.blogspot.com/2010/09/necchi-lelia-513-instruction-manual.html

And all of the following come from the person who created the http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/ page. We have similar views on how sewing machine manuals should be out there for all to enjoy and cuss over our repairs as one happy collective well armed with information, and typically I wouldn’t direct link, but s/he wants the info spread to anyone who needs it. I love the way s/he thinks. That page has:

Necchi BU Nova Manual: http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/bu_nova_manual_foreword_1.pdf , http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/necchi_bu_nova_manual.pdf

Necchi BU Nova Instructions: http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/necchibunovainstructions.pdf

Necchi BU Mira Manual: http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/bu_mira_manual_foreword.pdf, http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/necchi_b-u_mira_part_1.pdf, http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/necchi_b-u_mira_part_2.pdf

Necchi WonderWheel information: http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/necchi-matic_wonder_wheel.pdf

Necchi Service Manual (which made me almost incontinent with joy when I downloaded it!): http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/necchi_service_manual_bu-bf_nova-mira.pdf

Necchi Model List: http://freenecchisewingmachinefiles.weebly.com/uploads/1/8/7/3/18731174/necchi_model_list.pdf

Necchi BU restoration.

Today, this came, in all its musty, dusty, crusty glory.

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A Necchi BU in who-knows-what-kind-of-condition, via Ebay. Oh, Ebay, you minx. I was given no promises that it ran; I was warned it “could use a new cord,” which in Ebay sewing machine sales speak usually means certain death if you plug in the current one. I knew what I was getting into. I welcomed it, even, because there is a weird brain buzzy joy I get from taking something that is a mess and watching my tinkering transform it into something smoothly functioning. It’s a compulsion now.

So I pulled it out of the box and surveyed the damage. There was so much crud inside of it that I didn’t even try to run it until I cleaned out everything I could reach with makeup brushes and old toothbrushes. I oiled the BEJEEZUS out of it. The handwheel/balance wheel turned very freely but did not move the needle up and down except a tiny bit at random so I thought something important was broken that was out of my league to fix. But I’m stubborn, and a little demented, so I oiled it and oiled it and it improved slightly but was still impossible to run. It was still too bound up.

My kitty supervised.

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Then, with maniacal abandon, decide to bust out the WD40. I removed everything electrical, which for this model, meant unscrewing three screws (motor mount and light/back access panel screws). Having read that some people submerge frozen up machine heads in kerosene to loosen them up, I went hog wild with the WD40 (though I got smart and put a puppy pad beneath the machine to save myself a big mess). To my wonderment, it worked!

So a ton of WD40 and about a quarter of a bottle of sewing machine oil later, I have a functional Necchi BU! I also replaced a bobbin tire and the v-belt, which I feel like I should get a Boyscout badge for doing successfully.

Behold, this glorious wedding of form and function. Bask in the glorious design lines.

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Necchi Love

I have a new sewing machine in my life, which I’ve only just oiled and begun to learn. It’s a Necchi Esperia that my grandma found at a resale shop and hurried me in to see. As if either of us actually thought I’d get out of there empty handed! My grandma has quite the eye–she just surprised me with a Pfaff 130 a few weeks ago. She’s amazing. She’s also the person who taught me how to sew my first wild drunken looking seam on her Touch and Sew. She has a way of being able to thread vintage machines by feel when I’ve been staring at the thread diagram for five minutes and still can’t get it right. Did I mention she’s amazing?

I was trying to limit my obsessing to slant shank Singers, but after the Pfaff and the Necchi, it’s all over. I want every metal bodied Necchi I see. The 50s design period of sewing machines (and patterns and just about every other damn thing in manufacture) seem to be my favorite design era of all the major sewing manufacturers. What can I say? I’m a mid century modern girl.

I had no idea Sophia Loren was the Necchi spokesmodel for a time, either, but somehow, it makes me want to shove my A-cups in a pushup bra and little black dress and sew it up in proper glam fashion.

So the Esperia is a straight stitch only machine. It’s a simple bodied, olive colored machine, and so far it seems to be in really good condition. It was in a cabinet and seems to have been cared for well. I read that the Necchis, due to the tight fit of the well designed, quiet running parts, need more oil than many other machines. Fine by me. The smell of sewing machine oil gives me a deep seated sensory satisfaction that borders on perverse. I had to shake my head and laugh at the manual–it is a snapshot of the cultural prejudices of the time. It congratulates the Madam on her recent purchase and advises her not to use olive oil on her new machine (!) because it gums up the parts. I can imagine that line being spoken condescendingly by some sleazy salesman on Mad Men.

It seems that finding supplementary material for this particular machine, or any Necchi, for that matter, is more difficult than information on some of the Singers I’ve been dragging home. But I found a link that has a few manuals and other ephemera here. (Bless you, sir or madam, for sharing!) There are free pdfs of a BU Mira and BU Nova manual, as well as a service manual.

esperiaThis isn’t mine (borrowed from an ebay listing) but looks like the very same model. Mine came with Greist parts and a buttonholer, which is a bit confusing. I would assume they’re not original, but who knows–I’ve seen listings for Greist accessories labeled Necchi/Elna Sewing Circle, so maybe there was some collaborating I’m not aware of.