Tag Archives: Sewing Machines

Veni, Vidi, Vici*

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I win.

This machine, an elderly Kenmore belonging to my Crafty sister-in-law, has been my nemesis for a while. OK, about two weeks. Crafty assured me that last time it was used (some years ago, admittedly) it ran just fine. Well, it ran—stiffly, as one might imagine—but it would not form a stitch for me to save my life. I messed with the needle orientation, the threading, the tension. Nothing seemed to work. It was like the bobbin thread was being pulled up at the wrong time to make a stitch. Crafty was, not, as you might expect, thrilled at the prospect of a $100 tune-up for a machine in that “old enough to be crusty but not old enough to be cool and vintage” age bracket.

A week or two ago, as I may have mentioned, Crafty and I found ourselves at loose ends in the mall whilst Crafty’s daughter (my fifteen-year-old niece) got her hair done. Neither of us are really mall people, so once we’d exhausted the one small bookstore, we were pretty bored. And it was Remembrance Day Sunday, so nothing but the mall was open. (A pity since there’s three or four little fabric and sewing-related shops within a few blocks radius of the downtown mall) But we did manage to find the tiny remnant of a sewing section in Sears (home, of course, of Kenmore,) and Crafty took the opportunity to pick up a few more bobbins, sewing machine oil, and, most importantly, needles. Well, finally tonight we had a chance to sit down and see if any of those things were the deciding factor. We applied oil (liberally. Stupid oil bottles with the cut-off tip that it’s almost impossible to cut off small enough.) We changed out the needle. I wound a new bobbin, and threaded her up just exactly like my Featherweight.

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And she sewed. She even (since I thought Crafty might enjoy that sort of thing) stitched free-motion with the feed dogs dropped.

BAHAHAHAHA! TAKE THAT, SEWING DEMONS! In the name of all the sewing gods, I banish you! BAHAHAHAHA!

stupid needle.

… now if only I can get the bloody Piedmont re-wired…

*Also, am I the only one who learnt all my Roman history from reading Asterix and Obelix comic books?

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Enablers Everywhere

Everywhere, I tell you. No sooner had I walked in to my mom’s this past weekend for our near-weekly dinner, then what did I espy, but a cream-and-teal, alligator-texture, sewing machine case. Oh, Mother.

What’s inside?

Well, it turns out the culprit this time is less my mother than my mother’s boyfriend. This does not actually make it any better, but the machine is going to continue to live at their house. With my Improved Seamstress treadle and the Army Machine and my mom’s Pfaff 360 and Featherweight. Which is not as pretty as my Featherweight, but has all its attachments. Yes, that’s five machines (only one of which isn’t a straight stitch), in the house of two people who “don’t sew.”

Piedmont

When I opened the case, my eyes were greeted by this gorgeous teal “Piedmont” machine. So pretty, very clean, in lovely condition. Apparently it has been languishing at my mom’s boyfriend’s favourite pawnshop for some time now, and finally he couldn’t bear to leave it there any longer. Thank you, MBF. Except. No attachments. Boo. I like attachments. (Also, I realized when I wanted to hem something last weekend, all the hemmer attachments that are wider than a rolled hem are at my mom’s. That’s like, three different sets. All there. None at my MIL’s or Stylish’s house. Which are the ones close at hand.)

Wiring. Eek.

And, even worse than the lack of attachments, the belt is missing and the wiring needs some serious work. The belt is not hard to replace (Sew Classic, for example) but I’m a bit freaked about the wiring. The wiring to the wall and the pedal actually appears to have been replaced previously—it’s much newer, undamaged, and the plug types are more modern-looking. But the wiring running from the weird plug-thing in the case to both the motor and the light is totally shot. Beyond scary. On the up-side, my mom has re-wired stuff before, and my father-in-law knows his way around a motor, probably blindfolded, and has promised me he has my back.

Cleaning. Not that it needed much.

The machine is marked “Piedmont”, which internet scuttlebutt suggests was a badge of the Hudson’s Bay Company (another Great Canadian Department Store) for generic Japanese-made machines of the post-war period. (“Badge” is old-sewing-machine-collectorese for a brand name put on a machine for sale by a particular vendor. Like “Improved Seamstress” was the badge Eaton’s Department Store put on machines manufactured by the National Sewing Machine Company. OK, maybe that’s self evident, but it took me a bit to work it out.) It does look to be a clone of a Singer 15 something, though, not that I know anything about Singers.

I’m reasonably comfortable asserting that it was manufactured somewhere between 1945 and 1960 (the 60s machines start looking modern. Less firmly, I’m thinking probably towards the later part of the fifties, since the colour and plastic knob for the feed drop are a bit “newer” but the style of the overall machine is still very old school. The serial # is C788793, although the consensus on the Yahoo Japanese sewing machine group and other places about these machines seems to be: “You’ll never find out who exactly made it, it’s somewhere in Japan and sometime after WWII. And NO, it wasn’t made by Singer.” There was a helpful generic manual, though, that should do the trick.

Bobbin case

Aside from the wiring (as if that’s not the hugest aside in the world), it’s in lovely shape. The decals are pretty much unworn, there’s scarcely a scratch in the finish. It moved very, very stiffly when I first touched it, but after oiling every spot I could think of, plus a couple of hours to sit while we ate dinner, it was moving nice and freely. It had one bobbin in the bobbin case and two more in the bottom, but on inspection the one in the case itself was not quite the right size. I wound one of the other ones on my mom’s Pfaff (also not the right size, but it worked for bobbin-winding, anyway) and by dint of laborious hand-wheeling got a perfectly lovely, balanced stitch. The only thing I wasn’t able to do (aside from wriggle my nose to make the wiring magically repair itself) was to get the needle plate off; one of the screws came out perfectly, but the other is stuck. I gooped a lot of oil on it and will try again next time. I brushed as much lint off from underneath as I could, and it doesn’t seem to have any problems moving, but I’d still like to be able to clean out under there.  And the stitch-length lever has this little adjuster knob beside it that sets the maximum length you can move the lever to in either direction.

Which is to say, all in all it’s an adorable little machine, assuming the whole wiring thing can be remedied. Because, y’know, I needed another straight stitch vintage sewing machine.

But, I mean, c’mon. TEAL.

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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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All Machines All the Time (Part 2)

Domestic. Army.

(I promise more sewing posts, fewer machine posts, in the future!)

The Domestic Special—AKA the Army Machine

In breaking news, she sews! Yay! And my gawd, what a beautiful stitch it is, too. Nothing like the wannabe zig-zag of the White*. And fast. The only limit to the power is that the motor turns a rubber wheel which turns the flywheel, and this rubber wheel is old and hard and a bit worn down, so sometimes you need to give the flywheel a nudge to get it started. Presumably it’s possible to replace the little rubber wheel at some point. (Incidentally, the belt on my Featherweight slips similarly, so it should be adjusted or possibly replaced as well. Someday when I’m a little more secure about this vintage machine thing ;).)

Fortunately, she uses a standard needle, that goes in sideways, exactly the same as my Featherweight.

Except that the Featherweight threads right to left, and this one threads left to right. Which was a bit of a WTF moment, but we got past it.

In terms of functionality, it’s similar to the Featherweight. There’s a lever for the stitch-length/reverse, just like on the Featherweight (this one’s very stiff, though. I need to figure out if it’s possible to oil it.) The tension/threading apparatus is quite different, though—it has a lever, too, and there’s no disc to wrap it around. I figured it out, though! The system of threading is fairly sketchy—there’s a lot of places the thread is kinda left to do its own thing, and it rubs against the case of the machine in a number of places. On the other hand, the up-and-down-arm-part (the manual calls this the take-up) has a hole with a covered slot you can kind of floss the thread into, rather than just a plain hole like most vintage machines (of my acquaintance, which is admittedly limited). (My new Janome has kind of a slot in this as well, but the way the slot opens occasionally the thread slips out of it which can be a pain in the butt.)

I want to thank both Peter and Claire for suggestions of manuals and comparable machines. I actually tracked down a teensy bit of information about Domestic sewing machines here, and they have three different manuals. This is the one closest to my machine, although I think it’s a slightly newer (or perhaps just more expensive) version than mine as it has a tension dial rather than lever, and a slightly more advanced-looking stitch length mechanism. There’s no date on the manual, but the font looks sort of 50s to me (I know, so precise). I’m guessing late 40s or 50s for this machine—I’d be surprised if it was as late as 60s (but then, they were still making Featherweights through the 60s). Vintage aficionados care to weigh in?

Also, just because I’m obsessive that way, here’s more photos (in no particular order) of the various feet and attachments than you can shake a stick at. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Fortunately, most of these are covered in the manual…

*Toodling around on the yahoo wefixit group led me to this post about sewing machine stitch formation, which basically advocates stitch acceptance. I still think something’s up with the White, though, as the stitch is WAY more zig-looking than my other machines, even with the straight-stitch needle plate in place. That being said, it does a mean zigzag, so I’m not really complaining.

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All Machines All The Time!!! (Part 1)

Are you bored yet?

All shined up

Sorry to witter on (I LOVE that word, it’s not part of my native vocabularly but I am totally stealing it) about my new/old machines. I’ll get back to the actual, y’know, making stuff pretty soon.

With its very own bobbin case!

I swung by Sewing World a day or two after I brought the White home, and they did indeed have the kind of bobbin case I needed. For the low, low price of $14. Yup, half again what I paid for the bloody machine, and two to three times the online prices (although those would’ve had shipping added on. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions!). But it was in my paws instantly (as opposed to some random time in the next month) and supports my local sewing stores, yadda yadda. The manual is available for a download for another $10, which I may get around to shelling out at some point.

Anyway, with bobbin in hand I sat down to give her a basic clean. I’m no JillyBe with the full sewing-machine spa, although I wish I was. I just pulled the machine off her base, took toothbrush and kleenex and cleaned out the dust, broken needle bits, pins, and chunk of waistband elastic that were inhabiting it. Then I set to de-fuzzing all the bits of machinery I could easily reach. There was a moderate amount of lint, but not terrifyingly so (I’m sure my Janome was worse off when I took her in for her tune-up last summer). I oiled the moving bits—the previous owner(s) seems to have been fairly heavy on the oil, so there’s a fair bit of sticky residue, but that’s probably better than the alternative, right? More fuzz came out when I swapped the needle-plates to try out the straight-stitch, so I now feel like I have a pretty well-cleaned, well-oiled machine. That and a bit of judicious adjustment of the bobbin tension, and the stitches have improved to the point where the straight and plain zig-zags are almost as good as my Janome’s, although the straight stitch still has a bit of zig or twist to it or something, even using the straight-stitch plate. This is why people love their straight-stitch machines, folks.

Stitches and zigzags and buttonholes, oh my!

While playing with the various fancy stitches and figuring out how to do a 4-step buttonhole (not so hard as I’d feared, especially on plain cotton 😉 ), I determined that the main issue she has is that the reverse stitches aren’t the same length as the forward stitches. The reverse (left) leg of the buttonhole is a long, loose zig-zag if I let the feed dogs do as they will, while the forward leg makes a perfect satin-stitch. (My Janome has a similar issue, although not this extreme) In a buttonhole you can compensate for that by man-handling your fabric, but it also affects the neatness of the fancy stitches. I’m not sure if this is something a tune-up would fix (I’m not super keen to give my $10 machine a $100 tune-up…) or if it’s just something I have to live with. Further sleuthing around the sewing-machine-repair sites/groups may be in order.

The feet that came with her are fairly basic—straight stitch, narrow hemmer, standard zig-zagger, wide-toed zig-zagger. There is this adjustable zipper foot with quilting guide (I’m as confused as you)

zipper foot with quilting guide

And this teensy little guy. I thought it was some kind of quilting foot, but the plastic bit on the bottom is textured and makes it really hard for fabric to move underneath it, so I’m kinda at a loss about how it should work.

Weird little foot

bottom of weird little foot

So that’s where she stands, folks. I’m going to be trying my hand at (ulp) applique again fairly shortly here, and I think I’ll use this machine as the zig-zags seem a little nicer than my Janome’s.

I'm scared. Are you?

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Yup, I officially have a problem

Look what followed me home...

Hello, my name is Tanit-Isis, and I have a thrift-store sewing machine problem. I made it one whole week without buying a machine.

The evil masterminds at Value Village had this out to tempt me. What really put it over the top is the little box of accessories—hemmers! binders! RUFFLERS! not shown in the picture because it was in my hot little hands waiting to be pawed through. Also, it has its bobbin-case and everything in place.

Wish me luck. The motor runs and things go up and down, but I’m not convinced I can even thread this one. I’ve found threading diagrams for older Domestic models but none exactly like this.

Tyo has dubbed it the “Army Sewing Machine,” and despite giving me well-deserved crap when I showed it to her, spent the rest of the evening opening it up and cleaning it out. Perhaps I can train her to be my very own personal sewing machine mechanic?

I got a new bobbin case for the White, as well. I’ll give an update on her pretty soon.

This has to stop. Now.

Unless a nearly-new, fully-functional serger or coverstitch shows up, anyway…

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