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!)

singer 401a – manual

singer 401a – schematic

singer-401-service-manual from Sewing Dude blog

 

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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.)

chicagopostplug

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.

bobbincasebobbin holymessbatman
spoolpindirty

But it cleans up nicely!

spoolpin needlethreadguide decal afterstitches

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…