Saturday, January 17, 2015

VS2 Resoration: Veneer

The continuing saga of the complete restoration of a Singer VS2.  See the previous post for more details.

And a warning:  if you don't like taxidermy, don't read this post.  What does taxidermy have to do with veneer?  Nothing, but there is plenty of taxidermy coming up for your enjoyment.  My personal favorite is the coyote.


The veneer on the top of the cabinet was discolored, split in places and missing in others.

I did strip off the original finish first (using Citra Strip) to see if it was salvageable.  The grain on the old wood just cannot be matched today.

But I decided that although I could fix it up, it was too far gone to ever look terrific.

I had carefully checked with owners Sadie and Patricia before I began to find out if they wanted a conservation job (fixed but showing the wear and use patterns) or a restoration (fixed up to look as good as possible).  They wanted it pretty!  The original wood was never going to look pretty again, so I consulted my friend Myra and her husband Dexter, who have successfully replaced the veneer on old treadle cabinets before.  They advised me on what to get and where to get it.

So I took a piece of the bonnet top to The Hardwood Store in nearby Gibsonville NC.  You can order from them online but because I don't know much about wood I wanted to consult them in person.  The store clerk confirmed that it was mahogany.  Most of the treadles I have restored have been oak, but this one is clearly much older and it didn't look like oak to me.  I ordered a 2' x 8' roll of peel and stick mahogany veneer and had it shipped to me.  It arrived THE NEXT DAY.  Impressive.  The roll is enough for two treadles with bits left over.

I had never done any veneer work before so I worked out a barter with Dexter where he would both do the work and (even more importantly) teach me how to do it.  In return he got my late husband's Sennheiser cordless headphones.

Before taking it over to Dexter I fixed the loose veneer on the bottom by gluing and clamping.  There were several areas that needed it, the photo only shows one of them.  Elmer's wood glue does the trick.

BTW, when you are gluing veneer down, clamps are an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY.  Just weighting things down with heavy things is NOT going to do it.  My mission in life seems to be to make as many mistakes as possible and this was one of them--my first restoration was a family treadle and the reglued veneer on that one has ripples in it from not using clamps on it.

I filled in the missing area of veneer on the bottom with wood filler.  The photo shows a jar of wood putty which I discovered is NOT the thing to use.  It never hardened.  I think it is just for tiny holes like old nail holes.

DON'T use wood putty!

I had to scrape it all out and clean it all off before replacing it with wood filler.  That dried nicely and I was able to sand it smooth.  The whole point of repairing the bottom of the cabinet, which no one will ever see, is to get it smooth so that the person using the machine will not get their clothes snagged on a rough surface underneath.

Notice that some of the holes go all of the way through at the same width and some of them don't.

I also popped all the hardware out of the top so that the veneer could be applied.  Then I took it over to Dexter and he prepared it for the re-veneering.  (No photos of this part.)  He carefully sanded off all of the old glue and got the surface smooth.   Then he sealed it with polyurethane varnish.  He says that you have to put enough coats on so that there are no longer any dull places showing.  If it is not completely sealed, the veneer will not adhere properly.  It took three coats of the poly.

We worked in Dexter's spacious man-cave, and we had plenty of supervision.  These are only a few of the supervisors.  I will show you more of them as we move along.

We talked about the fact that some of the holes are smaller on the back then they are on the top.  I offered to make a paper template of the entire top.  Dexter said to wait and see if he could get all of the veneer off in one piece, in which case we could use it as the template.  I never dreamed that this would actually work.  I have removed veneer before, and it was a highly destructive process!  But in this case the veneer was pretty loose all the way around and he got all of it off by sliding a putty knife in between the veneer and the wood beneath. Only one tiny piece broke off.  Pretty neat, huh?


The major crack in the veneer went through to the wood below.  I asked if we should fill it in with wood filler, but he said no.  If the filler expanded later it would push up on the veneer.

He laid the old veneer on the new veneer and traced around it with a pencil, and allowing for the missing pieces that had cracked off on the edges.

Then it is a fairly simple matter to cut the veneer with ordinary household scissors.  Cut OUTSIDE of the pencil line.  You want it a smidge too large because you will sand it down to fit properly soon.  He held it in place while Myra cut it.

The peel and stick process is also easy, but it IS necessary to be precise, and it is a two-person job.  Dexter first peeled back about one inch of one corner.  He stuck this in place and then made sure that it was lined up properly.  At this stage it is easy to make corrections.  When he was confident that it was aligned correctly Myra peeled about a hands-breadth at a time, and then he smoothed it down firmly with his hands.  

Peel,  smooth, peel, smooth, until it is completely applied.

Dexter then trimmed off the excess with a carpet knife with a new blade in it.  He tried a few inches in both directions before deciding how to tackle it.  Even though the long edges ran with the grain of the wood, he said that it will obviously be easier to cut going in one direction than in the other direction.

Hold the blade at an angle because the edge should be beveled.

The coyote that did NOT get to eat the chihuahuas.

DEXTER'S SECRET WEAPON.  Do you recognize the object below?

If you said "Callus remover for your heels", ding ding ding, you are correct!  He finds a metal file to be too abrasive--it tears up the edge of the veneer.  He also likes the callus remover because it is plastic around the edges and will not damage the edges of the wood below the veneer.

Use the callus remover on the first pass to remove the roughest spots.  Follow with a sanding with 100 grit sandpaper.  Then a final sanding with 220 grit to make it all smooth.  He used a back and forth motion perpendicular to the edge, like shining shoes.  Does anyone shine shoes anymore?

another supervisor

He used an exacto knife to punch a little hole though from the back in the places that needed to be cut out.  You do this in case the marked holes on the top are not in exactly the right place.

From the top side, he cut from the punched holes to the outside of the openings in several places, then carved around the circles.  You can see in the photo below that he was right to be cautious about the placement of those pencilled circles.

Finish up by sanding the edges of the openings.

He was careful to be sure the grain lines matched as he placed the veneer on the extension leaf.  Then it was the same peel and stick process, followed by sanding the edges.

A final light sanding of the entire top removed the remaining pencil marks and prepared it for staining.  All it needs before that is a light wipe-down with mineral spirits.

Eh, voila!  Perfection!

Wonder why all the photos of Myra and Dexter do not show their faces?  Because they requested it that way.

And even more supervisors.  And I did not even show you all of them.

Next post will cover staining and re-assembly.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

VS2 Restoration: The Early Months

1891 Singer VS2      Before

That is not dirt, folks, that is rusted out metal.

and after

In this series of posts we will explore the complete restoration of a Singer VS2.  I have planned for a long time to write up a fairly complete documentation of a project like this, and was just waiting for the right machine to come along.  Today's post shows the "before" pictures and discusses the restoration of the cast iron treadle.  The rest is coming soon, I promise.

This is what I decided to do, based on what the owners of the machine wanted me to do.  It is not the right way, the only way, or the best way.  I'm not promoting any particular products or techniques, just sharing my results with you.

Background:  My daughter has fabulous neighbors (Herman and Sadie) who have done a lot for her.  I have been very thankful to know that she has such great and supportive people living next door to her, and had been looking for a meaningful way to say "thanks".   Somehow baking a loaf of bread just was not enough.

Then Sadie's sister Patricia retired and moved in with them and brought with her their grandmother's treadle.  Aha!  I volunteered to restore it for them.  Patricia wants to sew with it.  The absolutely perfect project.

Assuming that some of Sadie's friends and relations will read this, let me make one thing absolutely clear up front:  this is what I do for FUN.  You may be tempted to think:  Oh My Gosh, what a horrible lot of work!  But it is only work if you don't like doing it.  For me this is FUN.  The longer it takes, the more time I spend having FUN.

The machine looked pretty bad.  The irons had rust and corrosion.

 The veneer on the cabinet was peeling up and had missing spots.

One drawer was missing.  The other drawer was present, but completely unglued and the bottom was split.

The bonnet had also come apart.

The ornate drawer pull was corroded.  And the top of the drawer had a missing corner.

The base of the head was rusted and corroded, and some of the bed decals were gone.  Literally gone, because they had gone with the paint when the paint flaked off with the rust.

The chrome plated metal parts had rust and corrosion, which also means that some of the chrome plating was gone.

On the upside was the most important fact of all:  their grandmother had sewed on it regularly and kept the important working bits maintained (simply meaning that she brushed the lint out and kept it oiled).  How do I know this?  Because in spite of all that obvious wear and tear, both the irons and the head were moving absolutely freely.

And that is the truth and beauty of these old machines.  Take just the slightest bit of care of them, and they will last for centuries.  Literally, centuries.  We kid ourselves by thinking that civilization inevitably advances.  What are we creating now that will endure for centuries?  I can't think of anything.  Not anything positive anyway.  Pollution?  Species extinction?

THE IRONS:  Cleaning the irons

There was 130 years of dirt on these irons.  My guess is that it had been kept in the kitchen a good portion of that time.  I have seen machines with this furry coating of dirt before.

Think of the dirt in such as case as tree rings.  Decades upon decades of accumulated dirt.  You will never get it off all at once, no matter how strong the cleaner you use.  Well, maybe sandblasting would do it.

I removed one of the legs at the beginning, which left the machine still standing but also gave me much better cleaning access to the flywheel and all of its workings.  By the time I finished I had taken both legs off of it.  They were each held on with two large bolts and came off fairly easily.

legs off, propped up on a metal table

I sprayed it with Awesome from the dollar store, recommended by Myra.  Working on one section at a time:  sprayed it on then immediately scrubbed it with a thing like a brass toothbrush.  Gave it another spritz and wiped it off with a paper towel.  It literally came off black at first.  And this was really black, a coal black, darker than I have seen before.  Made me wonder if a coal stove was in the kitchen.  My great-grandmother grumbled every time she did any baking in her electric stove.  She said it never baked as well as her old coal stove had done.  Sadie and Patricia later confirmed that their grandmother also had a coal stove.  I love antique sewing machine investigations.

Repeated the Awesome/scrub/wipe three or four times (many more times for the joints), each time getting less.  But it was still coming off brown on the fourth wipe.

And eh, voila!  The logos on the sides still have some of their original gold paint.
there are some traces of the original gold paint but much of this is rust

And this is just phase one of the cleaning.  Removing the bulk of the grime.

The 80% principle

At each phase of the cleaning, the goal is to remove 80% of the dirt that is there.  Then move on to the next phase.

For phase two, I got out a hand-held steamer.  Chose a small section of the cast iron at a time, ran the steam over it, and then wiped it off with a paper towel.  Did this twice.  We're down to a light brown stain on the paper towels by now.

can you see the steam coming out?

After the furry coat of dirt has been removed, the irons are revealed.  About 50% of the paint is gone, and there is some rust on the bare iron.  There are spots where the original casting was bad (just guessing) creating jagged spots.  But the good news is that what I originally thought was corrosion was just peeling paint.  There are only a few tiny spots of corrosion.

Phase three was the Dremel tool.  Wire brush attachments removed obviously flaking paint.  I don't need to take it all off because the new paint will cover up lots of imperfections.  But the paint that is left needs to be holding on and not ready to jump off!

The logos on the sides got more attention.  A diamond tipped tiny cone shaped bit cleaned out the details.  I have painted these before and the crisper the logos the better the final paint job will be.

The pitman is now revealed to be made of wood, a feature only found on older Singers.  The pitman is the rod connecting the pedal to the flywheel.  Later pitmans were made of cast iron.

Doing all of this is tremendously satisfying.  The dirtier it is, the more fun it is to reveal the bones of the machine beneath.

Phase four:  Denatured alcohol and steel wool
After all this cleaning, the irons were still slightly tacky with a remaining film of grease, but the final scrub down with denatured alcohol and steel wool (twice) got it clean enough.  The goal is to have a clean surface that the new paint will adhere to.

I did this over four days right after Hurricane Arthur had passed by and left us some fairly cool, dry weather.  And although all of the restoration is more fun if you can do it outside, this is the only part that ABSOLUTELY has to be done outside.  The dirt that drips down from the cleaning products, and the dirt that flies around from the scrubbing is something that you don't want in your house.

Painting the irons

My favorite product for painting treadle irons (well, OK, the only one I have ever used) is Hammered Rustoleum paint in black.  I have a can that is more than ten years old but was only opened a year or two ago.  Hoarding, anyone?  The color is more of a dark graphite gray than black, and I think this slightly softer color is more attractive with an antique machine than a strong black would be.

Several people have asked why I don't use the same Hammered Rustoleum in a spray can.  I like painting, and I like the total control I get with a paintbrush.  If you sprayed you would have to tape off all the joints where metal moves against metal.  With a paintbrush I just carefully avoid them.  It's just a personal preference.  I'm willing to believe that spraying IS easier and faster, but I like using the paintbrush.

To touch up the gold logos I use a Sharpie gold metallic PAINT pen.  Not the regular Sharpie metallic marker.  I tried several different types of gold paint on an earlier treadle restoration and this one was the best and quite easy to use.

If you mess up, and I certainly did my share, just paint over the mistake and try again.

When Sadie and Patricia originally turned the machine over to me, I asked them what level of restoration they wanted.  They told me they wanted it pretty, as pretty as I could make it.  Over the next several posts I will show you how I leaned to replace veneer, and how I overcame my fear of wood stain.  I will reveal to you just how I obtained a set of Singer VS2 reproduction decals MONTHS before they came on the market.  And I will continue the ongoing love affair with Hammered Rustoleum paint.

I also need to get back over to their house to take many more "after" photos.  In my rush to finish it up so that I could deliver it on Christmas Eve I forgot to take pictures of the finished machine in its cabinet, on its treadle base.  Made my self-created deadline, but only have a few photos taken in their front hall.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Links to videos for the Singer VS2

This post is written for my friends Sadie and Patricia, whose grandmother's Singer VS2 I restored.  Everyone else is welcome to listen in, of course.  Many of these attachments work with lots of other machines too.

Winding the bobbin and loading the shuttle: by Lizzie Lenard.  She demonstrates this on a machine that has a rectangular bed rather than a fiddle base (and a hand crank rather than a treadle) but otherwise this machine is mechanically the same as yours.

Threading the machine:  by Lizzie Lenard.  Shown on the same rectangular bed machine.

Original attachments that came in the "puzzle box"

Here is a link to the manual for the attachments in the puzzle box.  (Printed and in your notebook, but please note that your box has a slightly different collection of attachments.)

Singer No. 12 Ruffler:  by FiddleyBits.  She shows how to do "puffing" (looks like gathering), ruffling (a series of tiny tucks) and shirring, using the shirring plate next to the ruffler in the puzzle box.  Shirring looks like puffing, but you can do many parallel rows of it.  I have not tested this ruffler, but I have used other rufflers so if you try it and it does not work properly, just give me a call and I will take a look at it for you (Sadie and Patricia).

Singer Underbraider:  by Lizzie Lenard.  This is shown on a different type of machine, but it will explain what an underbraider is and generally how one works.  I have never tried this myself.

Binder:  by FiddleyBits.  Binders Part 1 shows how to assemble it from the items in the puzzle box.  She also shows several other models of binders, but fortunately for you she shows the puzzle box binder that you have first, so you can stop watching the video after you see yours, and proceed to:
Binders Part 2 which shows you how to use a binder.  Again, she shows the puzzle box binder first and then moves on to show other models.

Hemmers:  Once you have watched Binders Part 1 you will know how to attach the any of the hemmers to your machine.  This video shows a very modern sewing machine, but hemmers still work the same way they did 130 years ago.  Your puzzle box has five different sizes of hemmers.  Hemmers are among my very favorite attachments.

Tucker:  by FiddleyBits.  The tucker she shows is slightly different than yours but I could not find a video of the one in your puzzle box.  Your tucker attaches to the presser foot bar rather than the bed but would work the same way.  This is another attachment I have never tried.

Quilting Foot and Guide:  by Xander Byrne.  He shows it on a different type of machine, but the foot is identical.  This allows you to create evenly spaced lines of stitching.  You will also use the quilting foot without the guide when you use the underbraider.  Xander is British, so the translation for "wadding" is "batting" in American!

Additional attachments

Edge Stitcher foot:  by Lizzie Lenard.  An amazingly handy device for connecting two edges RIGHT along the edges, or for attaching lace or other trims RIGHT along the edge.  There are samples included in the bag with your edge stitcher.

Cording/Zipper feet (two, one for each side).  I could not find a video for these.  I have included samples in the bag with the feet.  These allow you to stitch very close to a bulky edge such as you would have with piping or a zipper.

A final note to Sadie and Patricia:  Your Singer VS2 sewing machine has a standard low shank (where the presser feet attach to the bar) and theoretically any low shank presser foot would work.  However, several attachments I tried did NOT work.  I think it is the configuration of the feed dogs that prevented the fabric from feeding through with some of those other attachments, but that is just a guess.  If there is something you want for your machine, please call me before rushing to JoAnn's or Walmart to buy it.  I probably have it, and we could test mine on your machine first to see if it actually works.

And a note to my faithful readers:  YES, photos of the restoration of this Singer VS2 are coming soon!  I wanted to have this list of links up  by the time I deliver the machine to them on Christmas Eve, but I want Sadie and Patricia to be the first to see the amazing transformation of their grandmother's machine.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Stupendous Stitching, a Craftsy course

Got a reminder from reader Dre in PA that I "teased" you on this in my last post and then went radio silent for over a month.  Mostly what I have been doing in that time is working on some studio upgrades, and I am preparing a LONG post on that.  But in the meantime...

I have taken several Craftsy classes and really enjoy them.  The only one where I have actually finished the project is Stupendous Stitching with Carol Ann Waugh.  You begin with a piece of stabilized fabric, add couching and stitching and eventually quilt it.  Well, I haven't REALLY finished it because I haven't quilted it yet.  The class project recommended framing it, but mine will become a giant tote bag.  Some day.

this is probably the most accurate color representation in this blog post.

Back in January of 2010 I first experimented with snow dyeing, with mixed results.  When I first saw the results on this piece, I said to myself "what the heck can I EVER do with that?"  It is interesting.  Garish.  So when I was looking for a piece that needed to be totally altered by massive amounts of stitching, this was the obvious choice.

Most of you know that I am a vintage sewing machine person, but modern machines DO have their place in my heart.  I really love decorative stitches, and my modern Janome does dozens of them, and in a maximum 7 mm width.  It also does the type of stitches where the machine goes back and forth to create more complex patterns than the vintage cam machines.

When I first bought the machine I made a sewing machine cover that also functions as a stitch encyclopedia.  The embroidered panel is a souvenir that BF Amber brought me from China.

I buy tons of tapes, yarns, threads, ribbons, trims, etc. at thrift shops and hoard them.  I have accumulated a HUGE hoard of stuff.  This gives me lots of choices when project time rolls around.  I probably end up spending about the same amount as I would if I went out and bought new stuff for each project, BUT I get MUCH more interesting color combinations.

When you buy new stuff you are at the mercy of the color police.  There is a vast conspiracy by the Color Marketing Group to determine what colors you will buy each year:  in clothing, in cars, in wall paint, in fabric, and in ribbons and trims.  I am not making this up.  So when you buy only new stuff, you end up with a project that is flat, boring, and looks like it was made in a factory somewhere.  Just my opinion.  No one would EVER think that this project was made in a factory somewhere, lol.

The project began with couching, in which you apply yarn, ribbon or trim to the piece by stitching it down.  Then I spent many, many deliriously happy hours listening to music and adding decorative stitching to the piece.  I pretty much dropped everything else in my life for a week and a half and just did this.

This was all about process rather than end product and I did not worry about anything.  I used a much larger piece of fabric than the class project recommended.  This made it difficult to feed the fabric through the machine in a smooth and even way, and resulted in glitches and distortions in the stitches.  In the end, however, the sheer amount of stitching distracts the eye from the errors.  That's my story and I am sticking with it.

My mother-in-law named the piece "Magma", which I think is very apt.  She showed it to her friends.  I begged her to stress that this was an experimental piece in which I was practicing some techniques.  I doubt if she did because she reported their comments to me.  They said the kind of things that polite Southerners do say when they can't think of WHAT to say.

This made me laugh.  In a good way.  Hey, I know what a weird piece this is, and I am aware of all of its flaws.  But I love it.  And I don't expect anyone else to love it, or like it, or even want to spend more than two minutes in the same room with it.

One of my favorite moments in quilting came after I had won second place for "most creative" for another experimental piece done for a challenge at my quilt guild.  We submitted them anonymously.  As I sat back down after accepting the ribbon my friend Jo said "I knew that was yours."  I asked her how she knew.  "You are the only person here who is THAT far outside the box."

Oh, yeah!