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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

No paint along post this week

Sorry folks.  Family stuff is happening, and not the fun holiday kind of family stuff.  Although hopefully there will be a bit of that too.

The next post is all planned and half written, so it will happen soon.  ish.

We will be talking about shining up the metal bits and will explore different techniques for dealing with everything from dried up oil to something very badly rusted.

The machine I am working on for the paint along is already in good shape.  But my friend Janet turned up earlier this week with a lovely gift for me.

A classic vintage toy machine, hand crank or electric.  Janet said she wanted me to have something to work on that does not weigh 40 pounds while my knee is healing!  I love it.

The paint job is in good shape and it is turning. There is no pedal or controller, but I don't see any place to plug one in.

There is some very light rust on the hand wheel.

and more serious rust on the needleplate.

I'll be polishing this up as part of the paint along project, so you should be seeing it again soon.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  And if sauerkraut is a traditional part of your holiday menu, I definitely want to hear about it.  I can't imagine a turkey dinner without it, but I rarely meet anyone down here in the South that shares this passion.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Paint Along. 3. Cleaning the Surface

Just joining us?  Welcome, and you can catch up here.

Let me remind everyone that there is no one correct way to do things.  Let me also advise you to ignore any previous advice you have read here or elsewhere about cleaning the exterior surface of the machine.

It isn't that other advice is wrong.  It's that most advice focuses on how not to ruin the decals.  Almost anything will ruin decals.   A product that you successfully used on one machine will destroy the decals on the next machine.  AMHIK.

Good news here--we don't give a darn about existing decals.  We are going to destroy them anyhow as we prepare the machine for painting.  So use anything you like and destroy away.

I am going to show you the products I use and describe how I use them but feel free to try anything you have sitting at the back of your cleaning products shelf.  Tell us in the comments how it worked.  Or better yet, send photos!

The goal is to remove every trace of dirt and oil from the surface so that later on the paint won't fall off.  This is an important step and you do need to get it right, but is just about as far from rocket science as anything we will do in the whole project.

We will follow up the cleaning in this post with light sanding in the next post.  So why not just sand the dirt off, you ask?  Lots of reasons.   Grease would get stuck in the grit of the sandpaper and just get smeared around.  It's just easier to get the grease and oil off first. And we won't be sanding down to bare metal.

The machine I chose for this project was clean as a whistle when I acquired it from the raffle table at the NC TOGA. Thanks, Maria (who donated it).  So I am going to show you pictures of a dirty machine.

I have written about this before, so with no apologies I am just re-posting that earlier information.

SURFACE CLEANING  with Tuff Stuff or the cleaner of your choice

My favorite product for (relatively) easy deep cleaning is Tuff Stuff, labelled as a multi purpose foam cleaner.  You spray it on, it foams up, the foam turns brown as it dissolves the dirt.  I do this in a large shallow metal pan and the dissolved dirty cleaner runs down into the bottom of the pan.  As the foam starts to dissolve I give it a light scrub with an old toothbrush and then wipe dirt off.  Spray again and repeat.  And again.  And again.  Etc.  

You may also find 0000 steel wool to be useful in removing the layers of dirt.

Remember, it took about a hundred years to accumulate this dirt, so don't be surprised by how long it takes to remove it.  

You will know when you are finished when a) the foam no longer turns brown and b)  the machine no longer feels sticky with grease.  

I also spray this into the workings of the machine as far as it (and the toothbrush) will go. 


In my experience alcohol (either denatured from the hardware store or rubbing from the drug store) does a fabulous job of removing dried up oil.  I use a toothbrush and scrub away with the alcohol on all the unpainted metal moving parts. Remove the access covers and the nose plate and scrub out all the innards you can reach.

Of course this only removes the visible varnish at the surface, but some of it will run down into the joints and melt away the old oil in there too.  For this reason it is VITAL that after EVERY cleaning session you completely re-oil the machine.  Even with this precaution you may find (as I did on one machine) that the next time you work on it, it will not turn.  Not to worry, at least you know what happened.  More oil and the heat from a blow dryer (repeat, repeat).  And when you finally get it clean you will know that it as clean as it can be without totally disassembling it.

So there it is.  Hope you don't feel that I am "cheating" by reporting my previous advice, but I didn't have anything new to add.

We are getting closer every week to applying the actual paint, but there are still a few more things to do first.  The cleaning process described here may turn out to be the most time consuming part of the whole process, so get scrubbing!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Paint Along. 2. Removing Bits and Pieces

I've created a post titled Paint Along.  How It Works.  Check it out for details of how the paint along will operate.  I plan to update it as I think of things.  It will be useful for anyone joining us as we go along, so I will link back to it in each post.

PLEASE NOTE that the feedburner "follow by email" gadget is back at the top of the page now.  I had deleted it after some people told me it was not working for them, but I can't find a better alternative.  If you were following by email before, please add your email AGAIN.  Sorry for the inconvenience, and even sorrier for the people I have now lost and may not see again.  Web site building is not my thing.  Vintage sewing machines are my thing.

On to the sewing machines

You do know that 80% to 90% of any paint job is the preparation, right?  I know that some of you are eager to dive in (I am too) but I am going to limit each post to one topic because I think that it will make the most useful tutorial that way.

So today we will be removing all the removables from the machine.  This will make the machine and its parts easier to clean, and will create a much more professional looking paint job when you are finished.

You will need basic tools.  I am working on the assumption that if you have the guts to paint a machine, you already know how to do basic maintenance on them and you have a basic set of tools.  If am wrong about this, let me know in the comments section below.

I have invested in some good tools, and believe me good tools ARE an investment.  But two of my favorite items were in the under $10 price range.

The red handle holds screwdriver bits, and it holds the super cheap bits just as well as it holds the very expensive bits.  It gives you leverage and extra torque.  The screwdriver with right angle ends allows you to get into tight spaces.

By the way, below you will hear me blithely say "remove the screw".  If you have not done this before, you might be surprised to discover that this can be the hardest part of the whole project.  Oil and the heat from a blow dryer may help, and you may have to repeat this for a while.  I'm not going to dwell on this here, but feel free to report progress/frustration/murderous rage in the comments section.

Before you begin make sure you have a place to store the bits and pieces that will be coming off.

I prefer a clear plastic box so that I don't forget what is inside.  And I ALWAYS label it--at least I do now, because I have learned this the hard way

I've been working on machines for a long time now, and feel confident that I will be able to figure out what screws go where when I put it back together.  So I throw all the small screws and pieces into a pill bottle.  If you are not this foolish confident you may wish to put each screw into a separate bottle and label it.  Or you can get tiny ziploc bags at a craft store and label those.

Update:  A Facebook poster suggests taping the small screws to a strip of paper, on which you can label where the screw goes.

I'm working on a very simple Singer 99, and your machines may have other features.  I hope you will share photos with all of us so that we can see how to tackle those features.

The first thing to tell you is

What Not To Remove:  Stitch Length Knob and Singer Logo

I have been told that the stitch length lever is a bear to re-assemble, and having peered inside the pillar I find this easy to believe.  And the logo would also be difficult to reinstall and does not need to come off.

Face Plate

Two screws hold this in place

Remove the bottom screw

Loosen the top screw and the plate slides off.  I do remove this screw too because I will be painting the front of this opening.

Presser Foot, Needle and Needle Holder

Take the needle out.  You really did not need to be told that, did you?

If you loosen up this screw enough the needle holder will also come off.  (Other models may have an additional screw.)  It won't really be in the way while you are painting, but I like to get all of the metal bits clean and shiny.  To me that is an important part of the paint job.  We will cover metal-shining in a future post.

Pressure Regulator

I remove the presser foot pressure regulator.  These are often really glued in with old dried up sewing machine oil.  Taking them out and cleaning them (and their screw threads inside the machine) means that your machine will function properly when you put it back together.

You can see that this needs to be cleaned and the machine will be happier for it.

Update:  Eleanor had trouble removing the pressure regulator and ended up using pliers and a piece of rubberized grippy cloth.  If you also need to use pliers follow her method and use something to protect the regulator because you don't want the pliers to damage the screw threads.

photo by Eleanor

photo by Eleanor

Bobbin slide cover(s)

On the Singer 99 you have to slide the bobbin cover towards the needle area to get it off the springs that hold it in place.

Needle plate

The right angle screwdriver is helpful in getting these screws loose.

Once they are loose, a short stubby screwdriver is easier to use to remove them completely.

class 66 bobbin system

All naked now.

Update: Eleanor's Husqvarna uses a class 15 bobbin system

photo by Eleanor

Access port cover(s)

The little Singer 99 does not have access port covers--those metal covers which remove easily so that you can oil the innards of the machine.  If your machine has them, take them off.  And send in photos!

Clutch knob and hand wheel

These are removable on Singers and many other machines.  You can paint the machine and wheel without removing it, but it is a heck of a lot easier if it comes off (and it gives you the chance to clean behind it, which will improve performance.

HOWEVER the first machine I painted was a Domestic fiddlebase and I never did figure out how to get the hand wheel off.  If you have something other than a Singer and the wheel is not coming off PLEASE CHECK with someone who knows about that brand.  I have read that there are brands where it is a very bad idea to even think about taking it off.  Most vintage sewing machine brands have excellent Yahoo groups/bulletin boards.

First, remove the small screw from the clutch knob.  On this machine I was able to leave the screw securely in the clutch knob, meaning that I did not have to drop it into the pill bottle of miscellaneous screws.

There is a washer behind the clutch knob, and that comes off too.  (not shown in photo)

This photo shows the hand wheel completely off and leaning up against the machine.

Bobbin winder

There are many different configurations of bobbin winders.  This is the one for the Singer 99.

I first looked at removing it while it was on the machine but that did not work.  I could not get the screwdriver lined up with the screw.  Photo below.

I revisited the bobbin winder once the clutch knob and hand wheel were off.  Next step will be to remove the hand wheel guard/bobbin winder.

There is a screw on the top of the hand wheel guard.  The next photo will show the screwdriver sitting on top of it.

Wheel guard off.  Flip it over the to back side and you can see the ends of the two screws that are holding the bobbin winder on it (above and to the sides of the "99" that I wrote with silver marker).

Right side up.  Next step is to remove the screws that hold the bobbin winder on.

Voila, bobbin winder and wheel guard separated.

Spool pin (if removable)

Some of them screw in, and therefore can be screwed out.  Some of them get whacked in with a hammer.  Sometimes you can wiggle these out again.  It is easier to paint the top of the machine if the spool pin is not in the way.  You can decide for yourself whether it is worth it or not to attempt to remove it.  Whatever you do, don't break it off.


This machine did not have a light, and although a light can be added to the back of a Singer 99, I do not plan to do so.  Lights on the back of machines are pretty worthless IMHO.  I prefer the flexible IKEA Janso lamp which puts a bright light exactly where you need it.  (Any volunteers to try painting one of these too?  I have been contemplating it.)

If your machine has a light, I recommend removing it for cleaning and painting, but not disassembling the whole thing.  Some of the Singer lights have the reputation of being bears to reassemble.


Many people are terrified of tensioners.  You should overcome this fear because of the terrific sense of empowerment it will give you, and because many machines will perform much better with a little maintenance on the tensioner.

However I am not qualified to act as your therapist, so if you are really, truly, too scared to touch it, you don't have to.  We can paint around it later.

Update:  Eleanor reports that she is relatively experienced with this type of cleaning and was not afraid to remove the tensioner on her Husqvarna which definitely needs to be cleaned.

photo by Eleanor

They really aren't that hard.  Just take photos as you take each piece off and lay them out in a line and then take a photo of that.  Reassemble in the opposite order.

I chose to stop here and not remove the spring.  It will be easy to paint around, and I know it is aligned correctly.

And now I have a stripped down machine all ready for cleaning.

Your machines will be different and we all want to see pictures of them, especially pictures of features not found on the Singer 99 shown here.  Send them in and I will either add them to this post or (if there are LOTS of them, whoo hoo!) create an additional post featuring them.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Paint Along. How It Works.

The goal for the paint along is to create a complete tutorial through a series of blog posts.

Post 1:  Cleaning Supplies, and tips for choosing paint
Post 2:  Removing Bits and Pieces
Post 3: Cleaning the Surface

You can join in at any time, right up to the time that I finish my own machine and write the last blog post on the topic.  You can join in at your own level of comfort:

  • as someone who is just reading the posts as we go along
  • as a reader who is working on her own machine as we go along 
  • as a PARTICIPANT who reports (by email or blog comment) on her own experiences as we go along
  • as a CONTRIBUTOR who not only reports, but sends in photos (by email) of her own work as we go along
My email address is

I will go back and edit earlier posts as participants and contributors send in comments and photos.  For example, if we are in week 8 and you send in a photo of the supplies you assembled for week 1's post, I will add your photo to the week 1 post.  This way all of the relevant information for each step will stay together, and whenever you join in your contributions will be valuable to the whole project.

A photo credit will appear under each photo submitted by contributors.  I will use your first name only (photo by Susan) unless you request something else such as your full name, or "anonymous"

If you have been a regular participant or contributor and you are not finished at the time I write the last blog post on my own machine, you can still send in your own comments and photos and I will continue to go back and add them to the earlier posts.

The blog used to have boxes at the top with information about how to "follow" the blog and be informed by email whenever a new post was created.  Folks told me that these were not working and I deleted them.  After searching for a better way to do this, I added the feedburner "follow by email" back again.  This almost certainly means that you will need to put your email address in again if you wish to follow me by email.  And if feedburner is not working for you, I am truly sorry but it is well outside my skill set to know how to fix it.

I recently added Google+ as a way to follow the blog.  Let me know how this work out.  You can also follow the blog through Blogger, but you are in control of adding this to your own reading list (I can't add you).

I reserve the right to change my mind about how all of this will work at any time.  For example, if 300 people start sending in photos every week I won't be able to cope!  So far, no danger of that.

My own goal is to break the process down into a series of steps and put up one blog post per week.

Rules of the Road

Please do not criticize the choices anyone makes about what they do with their own machine.  

Please (please PLEASE) do not post any advice unless it is something that you know FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE.  

There is bogus advice floating around about sewing machines that keeps getting repeated over and over again.  There are a couple of long running wars over such advice, one about needles and another one about a modification that you can or cannot make to a certain model of Singer.  

On this blog I do sometimes pass along information from sources I personally trust but I always make clear the difference between that and something I have experimented with myself.  For this paint along to be useful, we need to stick to what we personally have discovered for ourselves.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Paint Along. 1. Cleaning Supplies, And Tips For Choosing Paint

Wow, I have been overwhelmed by the response to the idea of a paint along.  I was really just looking for a couple of playmates to keep me on track and motivated while I am stuck at home with the slowly healing replacement knee.  I'm thrilled at the number of people who are interested in joining in.

To participate, you can leave comments on each blog post.  I would really like to show pictures of your work as we go along, which you can send to me by email.  If you send them, I will assume that I have your permission to post them.  I will identify them by your first name, nickname, or online identity (you can tell me what you prefer).  I never use last names.

I'll be painting this one, even though it looks pretty good as is.

Before we begin to assemble the first supplies, please read this DISCLAIMER!
I am not an expert at anything.  Having a blog only means that I have a know how to post photos and type.

Usually I am making things up as I go along.  In this case, however, I have already painted a grand total of THREE sewing machines.  Which does not make me an expert.  And I cannot guarantee what has worked for me will work for you.

So don't blame me if it all goes horribly, tragically wrong.  Just saying.

Therefore the best machine to choose for this project is one where your attitude towards it is "What have I got to lose?"  Not a valuable Featherweight, or a precious family heirloom.  Not for your first attempt anyway.  I did paint a precious family heirloom for my third machine though, and by then was confident enough that I would get a good result.

Update:  Eleanor will be painting a Husqvarna.  She reports "The machine has a type of crinkle finish and there is dirt embedded that no amount of scrubbing could remove."

photo by Eleanor

A pitted, rusty, chipped surface  with the clear coat flaking off is fine--the textured hammered finish SHOULD hide it all (and has worked for me in the past but see disclaimer above).  The machine ought to be in good operating condition though, because once you paint and decorate it you WILL be in love with it and want to use it.

What I would NOT recommend is a post WWII Japanese machine with a tough-as-nails clear coat.  I have no idea if the paint we will be using would adhere to that.  But maybe it would.  Proceed at your own risk.

Still interested?  OK, let's get some supplies together.

Machine, drip pan and rag
Drip Pan
This is a messy project and I like to have something underneath to catch the drips, especially important during the cleaning phase.  I use an aluminum food service pan ($1 at the thrift store).  Myra uses a rubber tray meant to hold muddy shoes.  I have also recycled a broken plastic laundry basket by cutting off the top part (the bottom was not broken).  Whatever you use needs to be big enough to hold you sewing machine, and have sides high enough to hold drippy yucky smelly goo, but not so high that you can't reach the sides of the machine.  Let us know what you come up with in the comments section, or send me a photo by email.

Update:  This kitty litter pan is just the right size.

photo by Eleanor

Rags.  Lots and lots of rags.

Used toothbrush.

Wire brush OR wire scrubby.

Tuff Stuff
This is my favorite product for cleaning the surface of the machine but it WILL damage decals.  Since we will be painting the machine, that won't matter.  In the next post we will start cleaning and talk about how the Tuff Stuff works.  Feel free to use any product that will remove sticky oily dirt.

Alcohol, denatured from the hardware store OR rubbing from the drug store.

Rubber gloves to protect your hands from the cleaning products and the gunk they will remove.

Steel wool, to scrub off the gunk.

Pipe cleaners, the bristly kind for cleaning pipes NOT the kind for making crafts.  If you can't find them don't worry about it.


Sandpaper.  The goal will be to lightly sand the entire surface to remove anything loose or flaking, and to create a slightly rough surface so that the paint will adhere better.  Any medium to fine grit should work.

Rustoleum wax and tar remover.  This will be the very last step of the cleaning process, and should remove the remnants from the cleaning and sanding processes.

In next week's post we will start cleaning and I will go into detail about the products and how to use them.  My guess is that 99% of you could proceed just fine without this advice, but the goal here is to create a comprehensive tutorial that will answer just about any question that could be asked.

Here's one important tip for those of you who will jump ahead and start cleaning now:  OIL THE MACHINE AFTER EACH AND EVERY CLEANING SESSION.  This might seem silly because we are trying to get rid of all the excess oil, right?  But the cleaning products might run down into places where you don't want them, and the best protection for your machine is to keep it oiled and moving freely.

Paint Color Advice

It will be a while before we start painting, but I know some of you are already choosing colors.  Here's what you need to know right now.

First you need to think about the decals.  I will provide guidance for print-your own decals, which will be on a transparent film.  Therefore the paint you choose should be a lighter color than the design on the decals.  I have not tried colored decals yet (I do plan on it for this project), so this advice falls into the "I am making this up as I go along" category.  If you have used colored decals please report your results in the comments section AND send photos to my email address.

I will recommend that you use black decals against the pretty paint color that you choose.  Reasons for this will be covered later.  If you go with colored decals, however, it will be even more important that the body color is fairly light.  I think.

There is no way to create gold or silver decals on a home printer.  There are some beautiful ones available on eBay, and I have used them with good results.  There are also colored decals available but I have not tried them yet.  Gold or silver will show up beautifully against a darker color of paint.

I am aiming for one blog post per week, which will be too slow for some people and too fast for others.  Kind of like school was.

The more photos, the merrier.  Send in pictures of the machines you plan to paint, the cleaning products and tools that you prefer, or even your giant pile of cleaning rags.  Can't wait to see them!