Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Smackdown: Singer 66 vs. Elna Grasshopper

Here's another entry from our special correspondent Anne Graham:
Smackdown Round One
I began this process with great interest as I too have several strait
stitch sewing machines.  One was already up and going on a project so
it will be the first competitor.  It is the making of this project
that I will be testing them out on and showing in pictures.  it is
just squares sewn together so not complicated but as I sew for others
as well, I like a very simple thing to relax with for myself.

There are a few machines that fit the bill as far as strait stitchers
but are not included.  This includes hand cranks, a sideways sewing
Wheeler Wilson, 3 treadles and a Wilcox Gibbs chain stitch.  I am
trying to keep it simple!

The ones that are in the challenge are:
Round One:  Singer 66 Treadle vs Elna #1 Grasshopper
Round Two:  Singer Spartan vs Singer 15-91
Round Three: Singer 201 vs Pfaff 131.

Singer 66 Treadle

Made in 1941 and sits in a strait leg treadle cabinet of bird's eye maple.
This machine is one that has tremendous sentimental value to me as it was a gift from my late husband.  I can't help but think of him while I use it, he was so excited when he brought it in the house.
Sometimes it is something like this memory or simple the "cool" factor
that makes a machine seem to work better.

About the sewing:  Excellent stitch quality and is the easiest of all
my treadles.  It has one feature that the others do not - a back tack.
 Back tacking on a treadle is a little odd.  Treadling forwards and seeing the needle going back just takes some getting used to but is really a time saver.  The bobbin is easy, threading is simple and generally not fussy.

The reason I started with this is not related to stitch quality but may be another consideration.  It is a very quiet machine.  Because it is not electric I can move it into a good spot in the living room and sew while a movie is on.  Very handy.

Cons: I have never done free motion quilting with this so am not sure how it would do.

Elna #1 
The Grasshopper

This one is a machine I use for simple quick projects as it can be brought out and set up quick.  It weighs 11
pounds and takes up little space.  It also takes low shank attachments so I can use fun things on it like walking foot, 1/4" foot and a zig zagger.  It has a LOT of the cool factor.  It is just fun to use.

Sewing Tests:  Stitch quality is good.  Threading is easy, bobbin placement is fast and hold tension well.  There is a problem with it though, as it was operating very slowly.  That is not usually how it is so I need to check her out.

Cons: Not a lot of power and this too has never been used for free motion quilting.  It requires a darning plate.

Winner - The Singer 66.

Closing comments from DragonPoodle, aka Cheryl:
Wow, a Singer 66 treadle that back tacks!  and a I long for a Grasshopper..... 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Guest Blogger Sneaks A Viking 2000 Into The Smackdown

 Today's post is from guest blogger Anne Graham, aka yarndiva.
Apparently she has tried to send other posts in but this is the first one that came through.  So hopefully we will be hearing more from Anne soon.

Anne writes:
Just a quick progress entry to your strait stitch smack down.  I bought for
$15.00 a Viking Husqvarna 2000 at a rummage sale.  It was made in 1964.  Of
course I immediately had to try it out!  Because my current non work project
is my yellow squares quilt, I slipped it in to the competition briefly.  It
is a strait stitch only but that is only because it broken, a cracked cam
stack.  This is a very common, if not 100 percent guaranteed problem with
6000 series Vikings of which this model is the first.  With a repair, it has
the capacity to do zig zag and other deco stitches so it does not qualify to
compete, but still, here it is.

This brings up a topic common to older machine aficionados: is it worth
repair?  I needed to try this one out for a while to be sure.  The part
alone costs $50.  It also had stuck feed dogs.  This might be why it was in
the rummage pile so long.  No one could get it to sew.  I was able to fix
that and lubricate the machine thoroughly.  With much testing, I have
decided to let myself bond with it - it is a great machine.  Sews great,
very precise and takes low shank attachments.  Easy to thread and the foot
control is the most well designed of all my machines.  Very sensitive so it
allows more control while sewing complex items.  The stitch quality is not
to par with the 15-91 or even the treadle 66 but it is still very good.
That is usually the case with zig zag machines.  I digress....

Back to the strait stitchers.  Singer 201 is next.

Anne Graham
Snowy Sierras

Cheryl (aka DragonPoodle) writes:
Its all about love with these old machines, isn't it?  Your Viking looks lovely and maybe you will get lucky and find the cam stack for a decent price someday. I love the free arm. 

"Is it worth repair?"  Now there is a question with no answer.  Here in my area I can get a terrific vintage machine at just about any time for under $50, usually for WAY under, although Vikings don't pop up too often.  So, do you repair, or just wait for another, even better one to come along?  Or both?  lol

Sunday, March 13, 2011

We Interrupt This Smackdown To Announce The Discovery Of The Holy Grail

That would be my own particular Holy Grail, not the one that the Knights of Camelot were searching for.
A Singer 127 with the beautiful "Sphinx" decals.  $35 on Craigslist, already cleaned up, oiled and lubed.  and it sews an absolutely beautiful stitch.

I removed the blue 1950'S era motor (not original to the machine) and controller and added a hand wheel.  The blue motor just looked silly on it, and I wanted to use it to participate in a people-powered quilt block exchange.  I also removed the bobbin winder, which was not working.  I've got a working bobbin winder on my 128, and removing the bobbin winder reveals....
as you can see the decals are not in flawless condition, but they are in terrific shape.  They are a bit more worn on the bed as one would expect, but still darn fine...
I've been trying to figure out a natural way to work the word "shrubbery" into this post but so far have failed.

so there you go.  enjoy the eye candy and bring me a shrubbery!

ni, ni

Friday, March 11, 2011

Smackdown Test #4: Feet and Stitches


The Gauge Foot

This foot did not work on any of the four straight-stitch sewing sewing machines being tested in this smackdown.  The presser foot screw interfered with the gauge.  There is an indentation on the side of the gauge foot that looks as if it was meant for a smaller screw.  All of my presser foot screws are the same size, however, so I had no way to test this theory.

I adore presser feet and attachments, and plenty of them come my way and in my price range.  I may not see well enough to follow a cross-stitch chart anymore, but I can still spot a green Singer box across a crowded thrift store.  This is a cute foot and a keeper.  Perhaps it will be bait for some mysterious small presser foot screw.

Flat 1/4" Foot

This is an absolutely flat foot which is 1/4" wide on the right hand side.  Quilters mostly use a 1/4" seam.  The foot obviously has other uses (all those markings!) but I have never bothered to learn what they are.  So many presser feet, so little time.

As far as I remember this is just a cheapo generic snap-on low shank foot.

This foot worked fine on all of the machines.

1/4" Foot with Guide

This snap-on foot came with my Janome Memory Craft 4900, but other companies also make/sell them.  The right hand side is 1/4" with a vertical guide at the edge. I prefer this foot to the plain flat foot because it's easy to keep the fabric shoved against the guide.  This takes less skill than keeping the edge of the fabric aligned with the flat foot.

This foot worked on the Dressmaker 132, the ModernAge 250, and the Singer 15-91
and did not work on the Singer 99.  On the 99 it would take 3-4 stitches and then make a bobbin thread nest. 

Straight Stitch Walking Foot
This foot sat straight and aligned with the feed dogs on two of the four machines, and on the other two it sat at a slight angle and therefore didn't line up exactly with one of the feed dogs.  If it mattered to me I would check back with Jenny about it, but since I knew I was going to keep it I didn't bother.  (Sigh)  So many presser feet... 

It worked just fine on the Singer 15-91 and the ModernAge 250, a line-for-line 15 clone.  It didn't sit as straight on the Singer 99 and the Dressmaker 132.


I tried each foot on each machine, and stitched together five blocks per foot.  I wanted to check the quality of stitches from one machine to the next, and the accuracy of my seam widths from one foot to the next.

There was minor variability from block to block but not so much foot to foot and none at all machine to machine.  The walking foot did produce the best results overall on the two machines that it fit.  BUT

Here's the real story:
  • All of the machines made a nice stitch, once I played around with both the thread tension and the bobbin tension and got them set correctly for my thread and fabric.  Since all I will be doing with these machines is piecing two layers of 100% cotton, they are now set for life.
  • The accuracy of the seam depends almost entirely on how much the machine operator is paying attention to what she is doing.  Skill is more important than the toys in this case.  

The moral of the story:  Toys are fun.  Fun is good.  Have fun, but don't expect it to make you a better seamstress.  or seamster.  (I'm boycotting the trendy word "sewist".)

and the answer to this question: 
What two statements are guaranteed to make a sewing machine bulletin board burst into flames? 
The word "leather" is sort of, but not entirely, a clue to one of them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Smackdown Test #3: Magnetic Lights

If you are over the age of 50, you probably already know that you need more illumination on your work than you used to need. One of the great things about vintage machines is that you can attach magnetic lights to them.

The oval light in the photo will fit in the curve where the needle arm meets the top of the machine.  It was originally on a headband and came from Harbor Freight.  I'll call this one the head lamp.

The cylindrical light has two small magnets on it.  The top magnet is on a ring that spins around, which gives some flexibility in positioning it.  I'll call this one the flashlight.  I don't remember where I bought it.


Both lights do attach to the 99.  The flashlight lower edge rests on the face plate lower attachment screw, which gives it some security (not as likely to slide down during sewing).  It touches the thread guide but does not interfere with the thread path.  You do have to move it to the side to thread or re-thread the machine


The head lamp works fine in the curve of the machine.  The face plate is aluminum, however, and the magnetic flashlight will not attach to it.

SINGER 15-91

The head lamp works fine.
The flashlight is a bit trickier because the tension discs and thread path are on the face plate.  The bottom of the flashlight will rest against the top of the thread guide.  On this quick trial it seems not to interfere with the thread path, but I will have to check this out in a longer sewing session.


 The head lamp works fine.  The face plate on this machine is also aluminum, so the flashlight does not attach to it.

No deal breakers here.  On every machine the head lamp adds a nice bit of very targeted light right at the needle area.  On the Singers you have the option of another flashlight.  The more light the better.

I use rechargeable batteries in them.  They both take 3 AAAs.  One charge lasts through a sewing session (2-3 hours), then I recharge them before the next session.

I haven't included the treadle (Singer 66) or handcrank (Singer 128) machines in this smackdown because I am not considering thinning them from the herd.  These are the machines that REALLY benefit from the magnetic lights because there are no electric lights on them.

I've finished the stitching trials so that post is coming soon.  I really mean it this time!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Smackdown Test #2: The Cabinets

I have five cabinets under consideration.  I need one or two for the winning smackdown machines, whatever they turn out to be.  One needs to be a nice looking cabinet to keep in the living room, and one for the studio.  Looks don't matter in the downstairs studio.  The junk studio materials are so visually overwhelming that the furniture virtually disappears.  The studio machine could even be a portable.

Singer 99K Cabinet
Looks are not the only consideration.  I use the straight stitch machine for quilt piecing marathons.  The winning machine will have to be housed in a cabinet that seats me comfortably.

Later on I'll be exploring which machines and cabinets, if any, are interchangeable. There is nothing to think about with the little 3/4 size Singer 99:  it fits its cabinet and its cabinet fits it and neither will play well with others.

I'm new to the whole vintage sewing machine thing, so if it ever sounds like I know what I am talking about, guess again. Another purpose of the smackdown is to get to know my machines better and think about things like the differences in needle plates and cabinets.

Dressmaker 132 cabinet
Currently housing the Dressmaker 132 is the smallest cabinet.  The knee opening is too narrow and I sit canted half sideways with one leg under the machine and one stretched out to the side.  An ergonomic nightmare.  Another deal breaker: it has no drawer at all.  These are the reasons I hate it.

Dressmaker, well used
It just can't be that easy, though.  Here's why I love it:  The wood is beautiful even if the finish could be improved upon, and the patina of wear on the inside speaks volumes about its life.  I was told that it had belonged to a lady who made her living sewing and doing alterations. 

SINGER QUEEN ANNE CABINET No. 40 (or similar to a No. 40)
Queen Anne style cabinet
Singer cabinets have their own names and style numbers and I have run into them from time to time but couldn't find a complete pictorial list.  The ISMACS site lists a No. 40 Queen Anne sold with 15-91's, but the photo is not identical to mine.  The style of this one does not appeal to me, but the nice wide knee opening makes it very comfortable.  The center drawer is adequate for my straight stitching needs.  I like the split top, which gives some extra room on the right for scissors and other necessaries.


This cabinet currently houses a Singer 306 in the early stages of recovery from a life of hard use and abuse that included overdosing on the sewing machine oil.  I'm considering soaking the sewing machine in kerosene but wonder what one does with a leftover bucket of used kerosene at the end of the project.  Do you know?

And although I would rather have this cabinet in the living room just on looks alone, it does have one drawback.  There is a bar across the bottom at foot level and this prevents the controller (aka foot pedal) from sliding back to a comfortable position.  I could solve this by installing a knee lever if the internal clearances will allow for it.

I love the 1940's feel of this cabinet and the little sewing chair.  There's a resonance there that sings to me.  I was born in the late 40's and although my mom's taste ran to Danish modern and my grandmother's ran to the mid-Victorian, the picture books of my early childhood were filled with drawings of furniture just like this.  And it has truly awesome drawers. 

The chair was a Habitat find, love at first sight all the way across the room--it was that 40's resonance again.  $15, some Restor-A-Finish, a scrap of fortuitously perfect upholstery material from my stash and a staple gun created  one of the most satisfying quickie projects ever.

BTW, none of the cabinets looked this good when I bought them.  Howard's Restor-A-Finish is the answer.  Great stuff.


This is a late entrant in the smackdown.  I had 15 minutes of free time on Friday and happened to be near my hometown thrift shop and stopped in on a whim.  I had been there just a couple of days earlier,  and this was not there then.  I peeked inside the cabinet and there was a lovely shiny 401 (my current 401 is not so pretty).  Also included was the manual and a complete box of attachments.  It was marked "Clean Me Up And Take Me Home for $25" although both the cabinet and the machine were nice and clean.  The next day was half-price day so I set my alarm and got there at opening time and bagged it all for $12.50.

This cabinet has two good features to make up for its cheap construction and ugliness:  The drawers and the top opening.  This configuration will be useful in the downstairs studio where I don't have the space to open out a cabinet top.  An inset piece pops out of the top and then the machine can be pulled up.  A third plus is actually the horrible color.  My basement studio needs light colored objects in it to keep it bright.

Blecchhh:  plywood and particle board

Apparently the rot set in at Singer earlier for the cabinets than for the machines.   The serial number on the 401 that was inside the cabinet dates the machine to 1956.  The earlier cabinets are solid wood.  This one is particle board and plywood covered in formica.  Ugh.  It is also that horrible "blond" color that my Mom loved in her Danish modern.  At least the formica kept its color, though, while my Mom's dining room set turned a couple of different shades of orange over the decades.

One of the DDs calls what I do "geek quilting", and so in the spirit of geek quilting I am including here the spreadsheet on which I recorded the dimensions of the cabinets.  Perhaps it will be useful to someone else.  Keep in mind that except for the ones labeled Queen Anne and No. 65, the name of the machine is not really the name of the cabinet. 

Singer 99 Dressmaker Queen Anne Singer No. 65 Singer 401
HEIGHT 30 30.5 31 30 30
DEPTH 16 16.75 17 16.5 16.75
TYPE OF TOP one leaf one leaf split leaves split leaves panel removes
WIDTH CLOSED 23 22 26.5 29 36
WIDTH OPEN 46 44 53 58 NR
MACHINE OPENING, WIDTH 12 14.5               16.5              16.5 16.5
KNEE OPENING 19.5 17.5 22.5 18 22
DRAWERS center none center 3 2
KNEE LEVER no no yes no yes

The knee levers are hooked up to those button controllers, which connect to power cords, some of which are interchangeable.  After I decide which 2 machines I want to keep I will consider which cabinets will house them.

The straight stitch walking foot is here.  I'll be playing around with pressure foot pressures and the walking foot and decide which machines make the best stitches.