Tag Archives: treadle sewing machines

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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