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

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.