Tag Archives: Vintage 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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To infinity and beyond!

Today, my Dad dropped off a slightly bittersweet present: the sewing machine that belonged to his mother. My grandma* (who gave me these quilts and also this fabric) is moving from her small senior’s apartment to an even smaller room in a care home, where there will be people around a little more continuously. I’m sad for her, (especially giving up her machine) but hopeful that she’ll be well taken care of.

The Cabinet

The Cabinet

I hadn’t really thought much about her machine. The last time I snooped it, I think I was nine or ten, and I remember being unimpressed. Obviously my tastes are a little more refined these days, because now I find it quite charming in that mid-century way.

Buzz Lightyear, eat your heart out.

Buzz Lightyear, eat your heart out.

I once claimed my other grandma’s machine looked like a rocket ship. Well, this one is DEFINITELY going to the moon. Actually, the comparison between the two machines is kinda fascinating, since as far as I can tell they were both purchased within a year or two of each other in the early sixties. My maternal grandma—okay, I give up, I’m going to call her Grandma South—‘s machine is a Japanese-made Singer 15 clone, a sturdy old-fashioned straight-stitcher dressed up with a nice coat of paint and some cute decals. Kinda like a horse and buggy sporting racing fins. My paternal grandma (henceforth, Grandma North)’s machine, on the other hand, is full of newfangled gadgetness.

We Are New Technology

We Are New Technology

It starts with this proud patent label. This is not your Grandma’s sewing machine, Grandma. Er.

Mysterious Dial.

Mysterious Dial. The wrong settings probably bring on planetary destruction.

But seriously. Aside from the zig-zag, it has what looks like a plate for cams on the top (I have no cams, but my Dad thinks there’s another box of odds ‘n ends that are sewing-machine related still back at his house, so I shall live in hope for another day or two). And a very mysterious dial. I hope there’s a manual in there, too. Although I can ask Grandma, if push comes to shove.

Drop in bobbin.

Drop in bobbin.

And it has a drop in bobbin. I had no idea these went back to the early sixties—I feel kinda like an archaeologist who unsealed the Pharaoh’s tomb only to find Pharaoh buried with his iPhone.

Remove, Darn, and Stitch

Remove, Darn, and Stitch

I have not actually tried any sewing with it yet, although I presume it’s in working order—it’s been a while since Grandma made a quilt, but I imagine she’s mended the odd thing. Speaking of which, I had assumed this lever dropped the feed dogs, since it says “darn” in the middle position (machine darning being like free-motion quilting, usually done with the feed-dogs dropped). Well, it doesn’t. What it does is lift the needle-plate. If you move the lever all the way to the left, it pops the needle plate right out. Crazy, no? I’m presuming this is one of those aforementioned “patents” that didn’t catch on like wildfire… but maybe I’m naive. Anyone else ever seen a machine that “dropped” the feed dogs by raising the needle plate?

Grandma's Pantry

Grandma’s Pantry

In addition to the machine, I was handed two large boxes from Grandma’s kitchen. Mostly food, dried pantry stuff, which is nice enough, although I have no idea what I’m going to do with three bags of shredded coconut. Unless I find Grandma’s recipe for Coconut Mountains**, which were one of the highlights of the Christmas season of my childhood, but that seems a lot like work, and baking would take away from my sewing time. Anyway, much of the stuff we can use, and eventually use up—but it included the contents of the spice cabinet, a random array of little bottles, some of which are older than I am, although I’m going to assume that the contents have been consumed and replaced many times over the years. Anyway, I find them adorable in their slightly gungy glory. I have no idea what I’ll do with most of them, however.

*I grew up calling both my grandmothers “Grandma.”  This makes it a little awkward in the context of the blog, since it’s not immediately obvious that I’m not talking about my maternal grandmother, whose machines I’ve already scoped out here. My kids are much luckier, having a Momo and a Gigi and a Nanny (sometimes referred to as Kokum).

**A search for “Coconut Mountains” only turned up this recipe. These look nothing like the things my Grandma made (I’m not convinced hers were even baked) but I suppose the idea is similar. Grandma’s always had the tips dipped in chocolate “snow”

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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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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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