Sewing Machine Problems: Bernina Favorit Edition

Despair, today thy name is Bernina. *sob*

My 740 has a cracked vertical gear. It was fine just days ago. Totally fine. I have no idea how it broke since I’ve hardly used this machine, but I noticed it today turning over the balance wheel by hand. It’s a slight catch, like when thread is beginning to jam or there’s some issue with a bobbin. It took me a few minutes to realize that the vertical gear in the Bernina was cracked completely through. There’s a gap in the teeth, and when the teeth of the other gear get misaligned because of it, that’s when there feels like there’s a catch in the machine.

On the plus side, I might be able to fix it. Eventually. I’m signed up for Ray White’s super legendary awesomeness SEWING MACHINE REPAIR CLASS next month. I had no idea the White Sewing Center is but a two hour drive from my humble abode so I will be revisiting my former life as a commuting student and driving back and forth for the three glorious 8 hour days with fellow obsessives. I am beyond excited about it. I only signed up for the basic class, which likely will not cover the mad drama and heartbreak of taking apart a machine to replace a gear, but it will definitely teach me enough about the interconnected systems of the machine to be able to adjust the timing and any other things I might mess up in the process. I don’t want to undertake this repair till after the class, but when I do, I will be documenting it extensively (because abandon all hope, ye who attempt to dismantle any part of a sewing machine without photographic help retracing your steps) and will share my progress.

I was considering selling the 740 in order to make room in the collection for a machine I *thought* was too good to be true–a Bernina 540 in exquisite shape complete with table and a dazzling array of vintage accessories. “Sews great.” they said. “Should be in a sewing machine museum,” they said. Should be in the ever growing museum of stupid mistakes I’ve made re: sewing machine purchases. When I received it, it was frozen. A few hours and some TriFlow and some BlueCreeper and some Singer lubricant and a whole lot of f-bombs later and it sort of turns, but something is still so bound that the entire machine sort of heaves forward at a certain point in the rotation of the handwheel. The motor turns but only while emitting a banshee-like screech and of course it doesn’t actually engage the machine because the belt is completely disintegrated and I don’t have a replacement that fits it. The seller was super nice and most likely shipped it at a loss, so I feel almost bad for him–I don’t think I was deliberately misled but think the seller doesn’t sew and doesn’t know the first thing about it. Like that the machine actually needs to turn. *sob*

Since there’s jack crap on the internet as far as in depth information on the favorit, I took some photos of the 540 as I tried to nurse the ol’ girl back to functionality:

A view from above. The silver toothed gears are the decorative stitch cams; my lever is frozen at the moment so even if the machine ran, not usable. Visible close to them is the dirty looking white-ish gear–it’s one of three or so that is nylon/silicon/some kind of mystery crap sixties plastic prone to breaking. I do love that the oil points are clearly marked in red.

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Another top view. Under the main shaft is the vertical gear (I think), another plastic gear. This is what cracked in my 740. It’s interesting that the needle position selector in this one is a wider pin and moves very freely; this is bound up on some of my other Berninas and not TriFlow nor BlueCreeper nor sailor names has pried it loose yet.

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Oh, look, my cracked hand wheel. No one knows how to pack sewing machines except sewing machine obsessives. It’s sad. I’m not even mad about it, because luckily there is a metal core like a common metal stop motion knob which will keep it functional even if all the plastic crumbles away. Behold the disintegrating belt. It feels like a cloth covered elastic hair tie, which is interesting and a bit different than the other belts I’ve seen on machines of the era..

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Front view. Cosmetically, she ain’t bad. I like the avocado green, though, because I’m stylistically perverse like that.

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Interesting details that differ significantly from the Records and other Berninas I’ve seen. No buttonholer lever, but a toothed setup instead.

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The decorative stitches it can do. Theoretically.

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The back view, where the dust is a bit more obvious. It has a three pin connector power cord/speed control pedal. I have a flatbed Husqvarna and a Pfaff 130 that use this same somewhat uncommon setup. It took me forever to find a cord that would fit this shape.

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Underside. The machine looked pretty clean so I was surprised to find it so bound up, but it was dry as a bone and so dusty. The Favorit models I’ve seen all have these covers on the underside obscuring the gears. I’m not sure if it’s because the Favorit hook system is supposed to be faster and more heavy duty than other Berninas and they felt a need to have an extra protective layer over them, or if these are more like oil pans, or what exactly. But the black cover houses the hook gears which are metal on metal and need lubricant.

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I removed the stop motion knob and the balance wheel and oiled the main shaft here. The clutch washer and stop motion knob work just like a typical Singer’s.

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Here’s the hook gear.

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Here’s the third nylon/plastic gear with its cover removed.

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The middle cover removed. Not a gear, but grooved metal parts that move against each other. Not sure why this cover is held on with a spring, either.

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So ends the tour. We’ll see what the BlueCreeper does overnight. The Necchi facebook folks turned me on to the wonders of this penetrating lubricant. I wouldn’t use it for oiling a sewing machine but it’s great at breaking loose stuck parts–apparently it’s used heavily in the logging industry to loosen rusted screws and a billion other things. I have been very impressed by its ability to un-stick what TriFlow couldn’t on another machine. It seems to need a few hours to really get in to all the cracks, so we’ll see how it works tomorrow.

Today was not a good day for hoarding.

The Mystery Hand Crank

So the old girl arrived intact, miraculously, and with some oil in the lock and some careful maneuvering (and the highly technical piece of equipment, the butter knife) I was able to get the cover off without damaging anything. It was unlocking fine, but had been kind of jammed at a weird angle at some point, and just needed a teensy tiny bit of force in the right direction.

I felt like I was opening Tutankhamen’s tomb as I opened it up and found everything pretty much intact under a thin layer of dust. The decals are in gorgeous shape.

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But no name or badge! It says “Charles Barker, 21 Bridge St, Banbury. Cutler and Cycle Maker.” on a small plate in the front, but I am willing to bet this is just the shop that sold these rather the the manufacturing party. There is a faint “A” visible with some wings or something around it, but it looks as if there may be more letters that were there originally. I thought maybe it was a Pfaff with a post WW1 paint job, but the bobbin winder and stitch lever don’t seem to be right for that. The case looks very much like a Pfaff or Gritzner of the era, but small details seem to conflict with that hypothesis. It’s a puzzling combination of typical German details–white porcelain handle, fine inlay in the the wooden case, stitch length lever that allows for reverse and  is labeled R/V (“vorwarts” is forward in German) instead of R/F–and a Singer or maybe Vesta style bobbin winding assembly. The hand crank mechanism is also different than the Singer style I’m familiar with, and seems actually better engineered.

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IMG_16911I can’t quite figure it out. It does turn, but despite its pristine appearance, internally it’s a gunked up godawful mess. It looks like someone lubricated it liberally with carriage axle grease or something.

IMG_16931 IMG_16941IMG_16991   IMG_16961IMG_16951I’ve been obsessively chipping away at it all weekend. It’s surprisingly smooth after a good oiling, but there is a catch when cranking at slow speeds at the point at which the needle is at its highest. If cranking quickly, the momentum takes it around with no problem. But the slower one cranks, the more noticeable it is. I think it’s probably gunked up old oil somewhere I can’t reach, but I’m hesitant to try it much until I can eliminate that catch.

Also: want to see what 80-100ish years of not cleaning the lint out of feed dogs looks like?

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A hard, solid mass of fibers matted and gooed up into something I had to scoop out with a screwdriver. I’m still working on cleaning, of course, but this is what it looks like with some of the barnacles removed:

IMG_17081It’s funny, but this piece will probably be mostly just for display. When the decals look this nice I’m hesitant to actually use a machine. I prefer them well worn and broken in so that when I drop something and ding the surface or something I don’t feel like I’ve damaged a piece of industrial art so much as I’ve just made a tool more my own. I have another Singer 28 hand crank that has a lot of wear and faded decals and so far I prefer it because it feels less precious and more of this world than a history display. But I’m weird that way. I had similar feelings when buying a hand cranked coffee grinder recently. (I’m subconsciously preparing for the gridless zombie apocalypse.) I saw a lot of pristine ones online but went for a broken in, beat up one with a cracked base and some rust issues because I can steel wool off the rust, reseason the cast iron, and use it without feeling like I’m wearing down an antique. I like the idea of rescuing something from a scrap heap better.

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:

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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!

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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.