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…

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

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.)

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.

51eback51e

 

 

 

 

 

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!