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!)
I love the atomic age design elements.
a stitch guide that cannot be lost. genius.
a built in threading chart!
needle plate with built in guides.
the distinctive slanted needlebar that gives the machine its name.
singer 401a – manual
singer 401a – schematic
singer-401-service-manual from Sewing Dude blog
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.)
Being 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.
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!
Today, this came, in all its musty, dusty, crusty glory.
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.
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.
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.
This 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.