Tag Archives: Vintage Sewing Machines

Concordance/Discordance

That Damn Treadle

Y’know how when forensic specialists are matching finger-prints (or dental records), and they go through the whorls (and fillings) and things looking for points of concordance and discordance between the different images? No? Obviously you should’ve paid more attention in your Forensic Anthropology classes… Well, this  is what’ I’ve been doing.

I know all y’all are just as obsessed as I am about my new treadle. 😉 No? Well, I imagine I’ll have an actual sewing post up one of these days. I still haven’t actually had the chance to work on the treadle; my Mom unexpectedly got a full-time contract (YAY, MOM!) and then Thanksgiving happened, which involved four turkeys, four days, and absolutely no energy for anything but digesting. In the meantime, I spent some quality time hunting down old Eaton’s catalogues, of which there is a surprising abundance on teh marvelous internets. Thank you, internets. Also, Library and Archives Canada and Archive.org. You rock my world. Anyway, I think I have located my machine!

I think I’ll pause here to allow you to imagine the scene as my perplexed family got to witness the peculiar dance of the exultant researcher.

My machine appears to match a model shown in the 1915/16 Winter catalogue through the 1917 spring/summer catalogue (but not in the 1917/18 winter catalogue). Woot! I’m not sure about before 1915 as there’s a gap in the archives before that until 1908, at which point the models are distinctly different.

ZOMG there it is! Also, source.

Yes, that appears to be my machine.

Points of concordance:

  • Cabinet. Oh yes, this took some hunting. I had started off looking in 20s catalogues because I thought the plain, almost masculine style of the woodwork looked newer, although most twenties machines seem to have more art-nouveau kind of decals. But it’s really distinctive both in its plain-ness, the six drawers, and the shape of the bits on either side of the drawers.
  • The machine. Even though the catalogue copy describes this machine as the “Seamstress”, if you click on the illustration to see the full-size image, the machine says “Improved Seamstress”. Every detail of the tension, threading, stitch-length screw, and even decals are pretty much spot on, allowing for a small amount of artistic licence (and a LOT of crud and wear on my machine…)

Compare.

Points of discordance:

Ok, really there’s only the foot pedal, which is distinctly different, and, frankly, doesn’t look like any of the Eaton’s foot-pedals I’ve looked at in the last few days. Which is a lot. It makes me wonder if that part might’ve been replaced, or if it just happened to be a different factory lot from the illustration.

Oh, yeah, along the edge of the board on the illustration, just in front of the sewing machine, you can see a series of regular ticks. It’s actually a measuring-tape decaled onto the surface of the wood. It’s pretty beaten up on my machine, but parts of it are still visible.

Oh, and I finished the Kwik Sew underwear. I’ll tell you all about it next time… 😉

EDIT: A bit more digging turned up a Fall/Winter 1913/14 catalogue, which has a six-drawer model that is different from mine. So that’s an upper age limit. One interesting detail: most of the machines in the 1913/14 catalogue have a foot pedal identical to the one on my machine (but different from the one in the later catalogues). So maybe my machine is an earlier version of its model, fitted with the older pedal style—or maybe it was just some variant from the factory. Anyway, at this point there’s only three catalogues “missing”, Spring/Summer 1914, Fall/Winter 1914/15, and Spring/Summer 1915. And, frankly, a date to within a year or two seems like pretty good accuracy considering a few days ago I wasn’t even positive about decade. So I’m still pretty satisfied, although of course there’s one or two more avenues I could pursue…

EDIT #2: I found the serial number, underneath the slide plate of the shuttle compartment. 2330993. Not sure if there’s anywhere I can look this up to get a date or location of manufacture, but that’s what it is. There’s also a faint letter “A” above it on the left.

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A match made in hell

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Remember those doodads I posted about last week? My research suggested they would fit a machine produced by the National Sewing Machine Company. My mother’s research uncovered two such machines in our immediate area, one in the collection of a local mini-museum my mom’s involved with, and another at a local thrift store.

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The latter came home (or at least to my Mom’s house) as my belated birthday present.

It’s an “Improved Seamstress”, which was the house brand of the old Canadian Department store, Eaton’s, manufactured by National.

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The exterior isn’t in great shape, but it runs, albeit in desperate need of a can or three of oil. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down anything resembling a manual for it, and I haven’t the faintest clue how to wind and insert the shuttle, never mind thread it. Hopefully it’s a sufficiently generic model that I’ll be able to figure it out.

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Perusal of my mother’s reproduction Eaton’s catalogues (what, your mother doesn’t have those?) suggests that it’s maybe younger than the 1901 catalogue but older than the 1921 catalogue, and that the “Improved Seamstress” was a bit less expensive than the actual “Seamstress”.

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It has a set of Greist attachments, similar in style to my mom’s doodads, but not quite so well-built (or perhaps that’s just ridiculously over engineered), but lacking the ruffler, though I think one was there originally. It has the shuttle and four bobbins, and an assortment of distinctly non-standard needles.

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Doodads

The Army Machine

I recently had the opportunity to show off my Army Machine (aka the Domestic Special) to my mother. This is kind of like putting together chocolate and peanut butter. My mom may not exactly get my sewing obsession (though she enables it just fine), but antiques of any kind are her bag, baby. She’s the first person (other than possibly Tyo) I’ve gotten to show that machine to who I don’t suspect is secretly thinking “And you bought this why?”

A mysterious little box.

And then she pulled out a little antique tin box she bought years and years and years (and years ago), mostly because she thought it was exquisite. I have vague memories of it kicking around when I was a kid, and maybe even of opening it from time to time, but the contents not ever making much sense.

Contents.

Well, this time they make sense.

Lots and lots of sense.

It’s a complete, exquisite set of sewing-machine attachments, for a machine with a top-clamping presser foot.

Like my Domestic.

Tragically (or perhaps inevitably) the feet don’t quite fit—the height is right but the distance between the clamp and the needle isn’t, and while you can fudge by not inserting them all the way, I’m not sure they’d be stable enough to actually sew with. I’ll probably try at some point, because I’m crazy like that, but I didn’t today.

Have you ever seen such an insane selection of rolled hem feet? I wonder what that big ball in the middle of each is like to hem around.

Ruffler foot.

This is the ruffler. It’s simpler than the others I’ve seen—there’s no control for gathering on alternate stitches, so it only does ruffling, not pleats. I initially thought it might be broken, it’s so stripped down, but some wiggling and adjustment of the main screw (which controls how much of the fabric is shoved forward) and it works, although it’s badly in need of oiling and de-rusting before it goes anywhere near an actual garment.

Tucker foot

I think this is the tucker foot. I think this based on a repro antique Sears catalogue my mom has that figures a variety of sewing machine attachments, including a similar-looking “tucker foot”, but I really haven’t got a clue how it works. And my Handbook of Sewing Machine Attachments is in a box somewhere.

All the pieces bear a stamp: Pat. Oct. 13 96.

Since I’m pretty sure they don’t date to 1996, that would presumably be 1896. A bit older than even my mom thought the box was, frankly.

Random bits

There are a couple of other random bits in the bottom, bobbins for two different machines (one I think an old shuttle treadle), a plate that would have attached to the bed of the sewing machine for lapping seams and positioning lace and ribbons and the like, and that long thin thing that I have no idea at all about.

Although I didn’t recognize the name on the box, Eldredge Manufacturing Company, out of Illinois, one second’s worth of googling turned up this article about the Eldredge/National Sewing Machine company. Which, yes, was based in Belvidere, Illinois, in the period around 1896. And here’s an ad, albeit of rather older vintage, for the company’s machines. And the shuttle bobbin looks like it could well be for an Eldredge machine as well. I do kinda love the ISMACS site.

The machine might have looked something like this… (source)

Also, my messings and musings provoked my mother to comment that at this point I know rather more about sewing-machine attachments than she does. After I’d picked my jaw up off the floor, I had to demand what she was talking about—after all, it was her machine’s ruffler-foot that first got me started on this whole attachments obsession business.

Pfaff Ruffler Foot

People, apparently in the thirty-odd years my mom’s machine belonged to her before I pulled out the scariest foot in the attachment box and set about figuring out a) if it was a ruffler, and b) if I could figure out how it worked (the answer, by the way, was yes to both), my mom never knew what that foot was, never mind how you made it go. I had always assumed that if my bull-headed fumbling didn’t yield results, I would just ask her. I feel kind of like one of those Enlightenment mathematicians who assumed the calculus they were inventing had all been known to the ancient Greeks… Only I just got to talk with Pythagoras and he was all “WTF are you talking about, dude?”

Or, y’know, not. But anyway. Fun. I love it when something I didn’t know how to place before suddenly makes sense…

Now if only I could sew with them…

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Ra to the rescue!

Ok, so if Osiris is my husband, Ra would be his father, right? Damn, now I gotta go check my Egyptian mythology. I was always more into Sumerian, personally. Ereshkigal FTW.

ANYWAY.

Kids at the zoo

My brother-in-law, crafty sister-in-law, their fourteen-year-old daughter, and my father in law, pulled one on us (this time) and showed up Thursday night unanounced to visit for easter (they live a good 7-hr drive away). Since one of Osiris’s favourite things in the world is to do the same thing to them, I can’t complain about this, despite the fact that I try very hard to keep my in-laws from seeing my house in its natural state (I probably needn’t bother, I think after this long they’ve figured out I’m not Martha Stewart). So we had a great, busy, albeit largely sewing-free Easter weekend, complete with creek-visiting, baseball, Bass Pro shop, zoo, Value Village, and snow.

Yes, snow. I don’t want to talk about it.

Moving on.

The White, which was not sewing.

Possibly best of all, my father-in-law—let’s go with Ra—is a machine guy (Well, technically he’s a retired auto mechanic, so something like a sewing machine is probably beneath him, but I batted my eyelashes), so I got him to look at my poor, no-zoom-go White.

He turned the fly wheel, and all of a sudden it worked fine again. This is, unfortunately for my pride, typical of the little mechanical problems I’ve brought to his attention over the years.

However, he explained to me that the source of the problem was apparently not within the foot pedal, but within the electric motor itself. And then proceeded to pull the works apart, show me the offending bit (a copper thingy that spins between two little brushes). We polished that up as there was some black gunk going on that might be interfering with the connection and put everything back together.. and still every once in a while it mysteriously won’t go, but a little twitch to the wheel gets it started again. And now I know that little bit more about the insides of my sewing machine. Unfortunately I was a little too wrapped up in remembering which teeny-weeny screw went where that I didn’t think to take pictures, and I’m not desperate enough to pull it apart again on my own just for photos.

There has been a little slip progress. I can’t go into specifics quite yet, but here’s a wee smidge of eye candy:

Teaser

And, since I haven’t much more to show, further zoo photos:

Syo, with plants.

She seemed considerably more enthralled with the plants than the animals.

Lemurs.

Notice how my photos are all of the green inside bits? SO DONE with winter…

Ok, here’s what outside really looks like right now.

ZOMG it's a giant kangaroo!

Hope you all had a great long weekend, and got to spend some time with family, if that’s your thing!

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My mother is many things…

Not least of which is an enabler.

"New" Pfaff 360

Thank you, Mom. Merry Christmas.

This is a Pfaff 360. Some time in the 60s, it was a top of the line embroidery machine—that little colourful wheel thingy gives you the settings for the various stitches. My mom bought hers in the early 70s, second-hand, for about $250; this is still what a lot of them go for, from some quick googling. It’s the machine I learned on,  and measure every other machine against.

When I saw the case with the ribbon tied to the handle, I nearly had a heart attack, and had to open it up right away and check the attachments to make sure it wasn’t her machine. Fortunately, no. This is the machine a friend of my mom’s has been sitting on, but not actually using, for a while now.

This one has had a bit of a rougher life than my mom’s, I think. It’s a bit dinged up and the automatic threader is missing (not that I even knew it had one before Mom mentioned it.) The tension is giving me a bit of grief, although I think it’s just a little sticky and probably needs cleaning. I already messed around with some free motion satin-stitch embroidery and it sucked considerably less than I thought it would.

Every sewing machine feels a little different to “drive”, y’know? Some are zippy and light, some are sluggish, some are powerful. The Pfaff 360 isn’t as fast as my new Janome (or, for that matter, the old Army Machine, which when it’s going, goes like crazy), but it’s solid, powerful, and can chew through anything you can fit under the presser foot. And most importantly, it feels right.

The accessory box isn’t as extensive as my mom’s, (and in fact is missing some key pieces, like a zipper foot) but it does have a few that were missing from my collection—there’s a funny little keel that fits over the regular zigzag foot to work as a stitch-in-the-ditch foot and a buttonhole-measuring foot that had me thoroughly puzzled until Mom told me what it was. And it’s another low-shank machine, so the bits should be interchangeable with everyone else except the Army Machine.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I’m thoroughly overflowing with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, so I’m off to bed. Have a great night!

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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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