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

 

Advertisements

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…

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!

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 Service Manual

It irritates me immensely when people try to charge money for manuals that they didn’t write or 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.

HusquvarnaViking6000SeriesServiceManual

The first step toward recovery is

Admitting you have an addiction. A sewing machine addiction. Complete and utter obsession.

My office could fuel a fashion house.

*searches ebay again*

I fell in love after using a 301 Singer which moved along smooth as silk and made hardly any sound at all. After sewing for six months on a plastic contemporary Brother, there’s just no comparison. So now any vintage Singer under $100 I see represents a writhing, beckoning temptation. The Slant-o-matics were the top of the line (401, 501) and so of course I’ve added those to my hoard. But now the other models with external motors and belt driven mechanisms are becoming interesting too. Not quite as perfect, but I find myself wanting all of them I can get my hands on to explore the idiosyncracies of each.

Current obsession: 300 series. The differences between the 348, the 337/338 and the 327/328. Add to the temptation that they’re various shades of retro gorgeous robin egg blue and seafoam green and it’s just, ugh.

Did I mention the atomic design and the curves and the space program influence visible in the rocket like detailing? How can I resist this:

 

328 k

 

327 k

The top, brownish one is a 328k, designed with similar touches to the Singer 500 series Rocketeer. The bottom little minx is the 327k with similar style lines but a glorious color scheme that might just crack me before her ebay time runs out. (Color and smell are a big deal to me, since the whole sewing experience is motivated for me by the enjoyment of the feels and sounds as much as they are the vague promise of having something wearable in the end. That doesn’t always work out for me because of fitting challenges > my skill level, so it’s good that I enjoy the journey.) Nevermind that I have 9ish floating around my house currently and haven’t sewn anything since getting sidetracked by the sweet, sweet tactile enjoyment of cleaning them out and oiling them. 

I might be addicted to the smell of sewing oil too.