Tag Archives: antique sewing machines

Wrestling with a New Family

New Family Sewing

New Family Sewing

(Which is a provocative title for a post about a sewing machine.)

Today, I got to play with the Singer New Family/Model 12 at the Marr Residence. I’ve poked at it a couple of times before, but today I finally had needles, courtesy of The Treadle Lady.

 

A proper 12x1 needle

A proper 12×1 needle

Just for reference, the needle in the middle is the proper needle for a Model 12. The needle on the right is the one that was in the machine. Yikes. Shorter and with a much fatter base (with a flat shank, when the proper needle has a round shank), it was also about as broad as a tree trunk, and as sharp.

Needless to say, it was a much happier machine with the proper needle in. The horrific skipped stitches vanished pretty much almost immediately.

Ze Singer

Ze Singer

Several other issues did not. The biggest one is the tension. Model 12s have the stupidest most primitive shuttle I’ve ever seen. The bobbin thread tension is controlled by poking the thread through a variable number of holes. Unfortunately, even the least number of hole-threading manageable seems to be too many, as the tension appears to be too high for the needle thread. Teeny little loops of thread on the underside. The situation did not improve significantly when I discovered that there was ANOTHER hole on the shuttle, forward of the other three, which was clogged completely with crud. I’m also having trouble winding the bobbin smoothly, so I don’t think that helps, either.

I’m not quite sure how to adjust the top tension, either—although perhaps I need to take the front off the head and see if it can be adjusted from the inside. That scares me, though, because a bunch of stuff is connected to the part that comes off and it shifts alarmingly when you take it off.

The belt is slipping. I shortened it a bit, but it’s still slipping, so I guess more shortening is in order. This, too, is scary.

On the other hand, it actually sews.

On the other hand, it actually sews.

Possibly related to the slipping belt, but I find the machine hard to treadle smoothly. It tends to klonk and reverse itself after a few treadles, especially as I try to go faster. There doesn’t quite seem to be the kind of easy rocking motion I am used to in other treadles (not that I am a particularly adept treadler, either). I’m not sure if this is just a feature of the more primitive mechanism, or if there’s anything actually wrong. At least it’s not squealing every motion anymore. I have oiled the snot out of it.

And, possibly worst, I can’t find a serial number to date it! It should, apparently, be on the bed at the base of the pillar. Probably right under all that red paint. /sigh.

On the up side, this machine probably hasn’t actually been used in my lifetime, and is almost certainly well over a century old (the Model 12s were produced from the 1860s to 1902). The stitch will be gorgeous if I can just get that damned tension right. I mean, even if I can’t, it’ll be awesome to have it usable for little demos, but wouldn’t it be grand to actually sew, oh, I dunno, my drawers on it?

BUT IT SEWS!

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Spelunking for treadles

Box

Pardon me while I continue my informal catalogue of All The Things. Where “The Things” are elderly and antique sewing machines belonging to, well, everyone I know. Over Christmas we had the opportunity to visit my grandma, who is nearly ninety, on the old family farm. I fear I pestered her more or less continuously about sewing-related subjects… But she seemed fairly happy to tell me about sewing her own wedding dress and her mother making patterns from scratch. And then, of course, there are the machines.

The Machine

Exhibit A is the “new” machine. Meaning, the new electric machine my Grandma got for herself, probably in the very early sixties. It’s a lovely teal (!) straight-stitch Domestic, manufactured by White. Doesn’t it look like a rocket ship? It reminds me very much of the Piedmont, although it is a bit more futuristic, and probably (?) a year or five newer. The functionality is identical.

Buttonholers, attachments, and odds ‘n ends, oh my!

It took some digging around, but we eventually located the pedal and the attachments, including a nice set of hemmers and a Greist buttonholer (no eyelet template. /sigh). I gave it a bit of oil and changed the needle.

The needle that was in the machine.

Have you ever seen a needle that dull? I stitched a sample hem (to show my Grandma how the hemmer feet, which she never used, work) and a buttonhole just because. I would’ve liked to give it more of a workout, but the only “mending” lying around was some old coveralls that really, if I were to start patching, would end up more patch than original cloth. So I didn’t.

To infinity and beyond!

Cute machine, though. I would totally take it into space with me.

Stocking-mending kit. Not, actually, a matchbook.

My fave bit of paraphernalia was what I initially took to be a matchbook, tucked in the old sewing case (which belonged to my great, or possibly great great, grandma). Turns out it was for mending stockings—the stuff on the “matchheads” is some kind of water-soluble glue to stop runs, and then there is silk thread for darning the runs after, or something.

Then there is the treadle situation. There was, I was assured, a treadle on the farm. Granny (this would be my Grandma’s mother-in-law) had one, which Grandma used before she got the electric above. After Granny and her husband died, my Grandma and family moved into the “Big House” and the treadle was relegated to storage in the little house.

The Little House

The little house was built by my grandfather when he married my grandmother, and as far as I can tell was only occupied during the fifties. When my great-grandmother (Granny) and great grandfather died, in the early sixties, the younger generations moved into the big house, and the little house has been mostly abandoned ever since, although I do recall some half-hearted renovations now and then during my own childhood.

So, it took some considerable effort to get to view this mysterious treadle. First of all, it’s the middle of winter. There’s a foot and a half of snow on the ground. Just getting to the little house required some serious snow-slogging and a modest amount of shoveling. Then came the real spelunking, clambering through and around the array of… objects… which have come to occupy the little house, by the light of the flashlight plus the dim sunlight filtering through the ragged curtains.

Boxes and tins were moved, a mattress was dodged, and at last, just barely, we beheld the treadle.

Look familiar?

A Singer.

Actually, a Singer more or less identical to this one belonging to my Stylish sister-in-law.

Actually, a Singer completely identical to my SIL’s. Right down to the JA serial number that marks it as being manufactured in 1924.

1924 Sphinx-decal Singer

I’m not sure whether to laugh or headdesk. I didn’t get to dig around to see if it had manuals or attachments or anything—we’ll give that a shot in the summer. It does still move, and will probably be just fine with a bit of oil, but again, not something I’m going to attempt at this time of year.

But at least it’s a known quantity.

Now I’m just wondering what happened to Grandma’s mother’s machine. It was an Eaton’s machine, Grandma assures me. Maybe her surviving sister has it…

You may now return to your regularly-schedules sewing blogs. Where, y’know, actual sewing is happening. I have so many plans and so little time… >_<

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A treadly weekend

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Ehm. I got a bit excited. The girls and I went to visit my mom again this past weekend, and I spent most of the afternoon upstairs playing with my treadle. Not the Singer (which belongs to Stylish), but the one my wonderful enabler mother bought me for my birthday.*

I gotta say, I can see how this treadle-collecting thing can become a problem. My mom’s boyfriend was mentioning one he saw in a pawnshop recently that had a cupboard-type cabinet, and I had to stomp very, very hard on the WANT. Bad want. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done. The electric machines were bad enough…

Anyway, I spent most of the afternoon ignoring my family and messing around with kerosene and oil and rags and an old toothbrush, and at the end of it all, when I should have been taking my kids home in time to have baths before bed, I threaded it all up and tried actually sewing with it.

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I didn’t have the almost-the-right-manual or any of the threading diagrams I’d managed to collect, so I was actually pretty astonished when I was 1) able to thread the bobbin into the shuttle, 2) put the shuttle in place, and 3) able to (half-assedly) thread the machine. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so triumphant about a sewing machine as when I spun the wheel the first time and was able to bring up the bobbin thread. Except possibly a few minutes later when I put the presser foot down and actually (by dint of careful handwheeling) sewed the first few stitches.

All is not perfectly well. I still haven’t gotten the faceplate off to clean in behind it. The tension is balanced but high (It’s also allegedly self-adjusting. I’m scared). The top thread tends to break, probably because there’s some sharpish bits in the threading (cheap, elderly thread doesn’t help). The needle is really, really big. They don’t use standard needles. There are about half a dozen in the attachments box that came with the machine, ranging from sturdy to harpoonlike. According to the NSMCO Yahoo group, you can usually use regular needles and just not push them all the way up… we’ll see. I made another “staple” to mend the broken belt, out of wire. It’s not quite as sturdy as the original staple, but it doesn’t seem to give the machine any problems. I used one of the already-wound bobbins, so I haven’t tried to wind my own yet. I am really, really lucky that this machine had bobbins and shuttle and needles with it, because I think I’d have a really, really hard time finding replacements. Note to self: always check if a machine runs, has bobbins, bobbin case, and needles. Well, if it’s not some weird old treadle you can probably skip the needles part.

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I am still not very good at treadling. I’m terrified I’m not going to get it “all the way over” (if you’ve ever treadled you know what I mean, and if you haven’t, well, if you ever try you will) and make the machine go backwards and then the Elder Treadling Gods will smite me.

So the other week I tried to get my Crafty sister-in-law’s old 70s kenmore zig-zagger running and couldn’t seem to get the needle position/threading right or something. It was pulling the kind of “I don’t want to make stitches” crap my Featherweight did when I had the needle in wrong way around, except that I tried every combination of needle direction and threading that I could think of. So anyway, the fact that I could get this old thing actually threaded and stitching kind of made my weekend. Yay me. 🙂

Now if only I could get the gunk cleaned off the outside.

In enabling news, Stylish bought herself seven patterns at the Simplicity $1.99 sale today. And I really will sew for myself one of these days…

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Sphinxology

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I was going to come up with some clever riddle about sewing machines, but then I decided I’d rather just get this post out.

This is the treadle machine belonging to my husband’s family. As with a lot of heirlooms, it’s a bit tricky to say who it actually belongs to, but it currently resides with my Stylish sister-in-law, serving as a table for her Janome, which I’m happy to report is sewing just fine the vast majority of the time.

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The machine is a Singer, I think a 127, with handsome if slightly worn Sphinx decals. It
was last used by Papa, Stylish and my husband’s great-grandfather, who, I am told, used it to stitch harness and tarps and other manly things. Before that, Nana (my husband’s grandmother) says it belonged to her mother, Papa’s wife, although I don’t get the impression she was a serious seamstress (Papa outlived her by a good forty years, hence the horizontal transfer of “ownership”). Nana seems to think it was likely a wedding present, as its manufacture date, 1924, is pretty close to the time of Papa and Kokum’s marriage. (For those hoping to date your own Singer machine, you can look up the serial number either on the Singer website or the ISMACS one.

The machine lives in a rather plain but sturdy six (seven?) drawer cabinet. The cabinet is a bit beaten up, with veneer lifting on the top and the odd splash of pain over the surface. While the drawers contained many treasures, including plenty of thread, vintage zippers, and what I think is the never-used rolled-hem plate to my serger, it did not contain any accessories or feet for the Singer.

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The single most obvious problem, when I first opened up the machine, was that it was missing a presser foot. It’s amazing how sad and deformed it seems, just lacking that one little detail. However, my sadness was swiftly relieved when I realized it took just a basic low-shank foot—much easier to find than a replacement for one of those top-clamping types.

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On first opening, the machine moved (YAY! I don’t think I quite have the chops to tackle a truly seized machine.), but various bits (like the slide cover plates that hide the shuttle and the stitch-length screw) were seized. Although the running was pretty rough at the beginning, once I had dribbled oil in all the oil holes and on everything else I could see that moved, top and bottom, it was running just fine, except that I still couldn’t get the slide plates open to get at the shuttle. It was at this point that my principles went out the window and I grabbed the WD-40. Internet Opinions are split on the evils of WD-40 for restoring old sewing machines, but the most measured ones I found seemed to be that it’s OK for a solvent as long as you remember it’s not a good long-term lubricant. So I’ve mostly tried to wipe it off once I got the bit working, and added sewing machine oil. Perfect? Probably not, but also not the first time I’ve angered the Sewing Gods (it seems to me that the Great Elder Treadling Gods may be more wrathful than the Younger Electric Sewing Gods, but I’m just going to hope that lack of worship for the last few decades has diminished their power to smite me.)

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Anyway, injudicious application of WD-40 and judicious application of a mallet and wood dowel (AKA unsharpened pencil crayon) eventually got all the bits off that should come off (needle plate and the front and back slide plates). Unfortunately, the slide plates are really, really tight even after being wiped down; I tried to scrape along the grooves they fit into and clean out any gunk, and I oiled them, and I’m still afraid to put the front slide plate back in lest I end up unable to get it out without pulling out the hammer again. While things like the needle plate and the front plate on the left of the machine only really need to come off for cleaning (and there was really not that much crud behind either), the slide plates are how you get at the shuttle, which holds the bobbin, so really needs to be readily accessible. I’m not sure what to do about that—there’s no rust and doesn’t seem to be much gunk. For those of you as new to treadles as I am, this machine (like my Eaton’s Seamstress, actually) has what’s called a vibrating shuttle. Rather than a short, fat bobbin and casing that goes around like a wheel (OK, I know that’s a simplification), this is a long, thin bobbin and casing that goes back and forth. I’m assuming the rotary version is an improvement, although these vibrating shuttle models were still being made as late as the 50s.

Anyway, after waiting three days to get at the shuttle, of course, I discovered that there was no bobbin within the shuttle at all. Curses! Now, this was not as simple as swapping in a foot from one of my other machines.

Fortunately, a quick nose around Sew Classic revealed a stock of new VS bobbins for Singer models including 127. Woot woot! This is the upside of old Singer machines—you can actually find the bits for them. So, as we speak, this order is hopefully winging its way towards us… and then I get to find out if I can actually make it sew or not. I’ve been watching youtube videos on treadling and how to wind vibrating shuttle bobbins… so here’s hoping. 🙂

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