Friday, April 29, 2011

Spring TOBE and the people powered machines

The Treadle On folks hold several block exchanges a year.  TOBE = Treadle On Block Exchange.  The blocks must be pieced on a people powered machine such as treadle or a hand crank.  The spring exchange this year was a simple rail fence and I decided to join in.

Somehow I always manage to fall into projects that take on a life of their own.  I had never been in a block exchange before, and originally I was just going to make a minimum number to see how it worked.  Honestly.

A year ago when SMAD (Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder) first struck, I didn't take the DH's grandma's Singer 66 out of the treadle to clean it because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to put it back together properly.  Those two tiny screws are no big deal to me now.   After making the first set of TOBE blocks I began swapping machines in and out of the treadle like mad.  I tried the hand crank on everything in sight.  I learned a lot along the way and finally bonded with the little Singer 99.

Singer 128 hand crank conversion.  Too small to fit in the treadle.
Singer 99K hand crank conversion, also too small to fit in the treadle.  I hated this machine when it had a motor (I think the motor needs some serious work), but as a hand crank it is lovely.  I have since performed a motorectomy and  bought it its very own spoked wheel and hand crank.   Next I will try it with leather.  Leather workers love this model with the hand crank.
Singer 127, The Sphinx.  Lovely as a hand crank or treadle.  Just lovely in general.  Sigh....

Singer 309K two-toned, acquired while I was working on the TOBE blocks.  I also have another, MUCH uglier 306W.  Both of these worked fine in the treadle with the spoked wheel from the Singer 66 (or any other spoked wheel AFAIK).  This was great news because I have plans to paint the ugly 306 and put it in a treadle.  Neither one of these worked with the hand crank, however.  There just was not enough clearance for the wheel to turn.  I have seen 306 hand crank conversions, but to do it you have to drill a hole in the solid hand wheel.

I ended up sending the maximum number of blocks for the exchange: 60.  I received the blocks from the other participants and they are lovely.  Because everyone has their name and town on them, I don't think I should share them here, but I will share some of the ones that I made.  Enjoy!

This was the first block exchange I have ever done and it was fun.  The purpose of Treadle On is to encourage the use of (rather than merely the collecting of) people powered machines.  It's a very friendly group and there are some novice quilters there who got into sewing through owning the machines, rather than the other way around.  The most intimidating part of the whole thing was all that PENMANSHIP.  Never my strong suit when I was young, it is a nightmare with a hand with a couple of old-lady-type-frozen-up-finger-joints.  But I surprised myself and surpassed my very minimal expectations.  I think they were all legible.

I also learned why you can't treadle or hand crank a Singer 15-91.  Of course it is obvious once you know, but seeing is worth way more than a written explanation.  In short it's gear driven rather than belt driven.  Taking off the hand wheel and peering into the gears was a revelation for me and now I "get" it and understand that machine much better.   I took the opportunity to pick out the 50 years old lube and re-lubed it, too.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Smackdown: Singer 201 vs. Pfaff 131, from Anne Graham

Here's another contribution from guest blogger Anne Graham.  
You too could be a guest blogger.  Write about your vintage sewing machines and send pictures.  It really is just that easy!  You KNOW you have a lot to say about your machines, why not share?

Anne writes:

I have finally gotten to the final test of the series.  This one
included two known favorites of mine, the Singer 201 and the Pfaff
131.  Both machines were made approximately the same time and for the
same purpose.  The countries are different and the condition they came
to me are also different.  Each one was a freebie.

The Pfaff 131 was a gift from someone who had in turn received it from an elderly neighbor.  She was, like her machine, from Germany.  She was also known to be a fine seamstress.  I know this to be quite true as the machine was in immaculate shape when I got it.  The tools were missing but the bobbins were neatly stored according to color and weight carefully in a front drawer.  It needed new external wires from age and a new belt but that was all.  I promised to give this a good home and did.

The Singer 201 was along for the ride when I bought the cabinet it came in.  It was inoperable and very very dirty.  Because of the fine reputation this model has I took it and spent some serious time in cleaning.  I bought some parts to replace worn and missing ones.  All the while I wondered if I had truly lost my mind.  It was so enjoyable.  I do not know why I am compelled to do this.  After a while I did get it to turn and eventually run nicely.  There is more work to be done but it is up to the test.

I am now at a point in the sewing of my project where quilting is all that is left.  Each machine needs to be able to use a walking foot or feed the fabric and batting through evenly.  Each machine will have to
be able to use clear nylon quilting thread easily.

Singer 201 Pro's:  She took to the walking foot like it was made special for this machine.  It is not the special strait stitch kind either, just a common Alphasew model.  It pulled the fabric through and stitched with no tangles underneath or pulling off center.  No problem with clear thread and held tension in bobbin too.   The light placement is nice - in front of the machine.  I prefer this to the back.   It is fairly quiet considering the strength it has.  On a side note, Because it is in a case I can take it's powerful sewing ability wherever I want.  It just needs a luggage carrier.

Cons:  The machine's motor still needs some work so it is a little slow.  It will improve with more work.  This machine is a biggie, so to use it in a case means you have to raise your arms to sew with it.
The height is inconvenient when on a table and if you are doing quilting it is a lot of time in that position.

Pfaff 131 Pro's:  This baby is smooth.  It is beautiful, powerful and fast, fast, fast.  The manual it says it is a lightweight high speed machine for corset and shirt production. It may have been intended to be a home machine only.  One thing for sure, it is not lightweight in the literal sense.  It is so heavy I could not use it in a case, it had to go in a cabinet.   It sews perfectly with the quilting thread.  I like that I can open the cabinet and let the quilt lay flat while working on it.  That helps me a novice quilter by keeping it all
smooth and not bunched up.  It is a low shank like the Singer 201 and also takes a walking foot nicely.

Cons:  I have no idea why, but the Pfaff has the dumbest bobbin access of any machine.  Unless I am doing it wrong, you have to tilt the machine up each time you change a bobbin.  There is an access plate for the bobbin area but I can not get my hand down there far enough to replace one.  It's hook is vertical just like the 201, by the way.

Very very close in this segment.  They are almost exactly alike but...........the winner is the Pfaff 131.

Cheryl at DragonPoodle comments:
Anne wonders if she has lost her mind.  Many of us wonder the same thing.  Why is it so satisfying to work on these machines?  There are a million reasons, what are yours?  I love bringing them back to life by revealing their beauty and restoring them to operating condition.  But it goes much deeper than that, doesn't it?

and about that Pfaff bobbin set up.  The Singer 306 is the same, you have to tilt the machine back to change the bobbin.  You get used to it---unless you treadle it.  Then it is a real pain because you have to release the belt to do it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

King Tut and Geek Quilting

Saturday morning was gray and gloomy but the BF and I slipped away to my new favorite thrift shop, which seems to be the motherlode for all things sewing.  It is, in fact, so good that for once I am unwilling to share the information!  Regular readers of this blog will know that I almost always provide links to any place that I shop.  This one I am hoarding all to myself--and the thousands of other people I see in there.  If you live in the NC Triangle region and really, really want to know, email me and I will probably come across with the info.  I will accept bribes, such as the names of YOUR favorite local thrift shops.

I came home with even MORE fabric, despite having recently taken the pledge to stop buying fabric "unless it really rings my chimes".  As a pledge that has proved to be pretty worthless because there are lots of fabrics that ring my chimes.  This week it included fabric with people playing beach volleyball.  How could I possibly leave that behind?

And then there were the giant blue polka dots.  I can never resist polka dots of any size.

Finally, the piece de resistance:  A lovely white damask fabric from Dakar, Senegal, printed with purple stripes of King Tut. 

Purple!  Stripes!  King Tut!  From Senegal! 

Any quilt I make with King Tut should be pieced on The Sphinx, I think.

I should mention that thrift shop prices for cotton yardage are in the 50 cents to 1 dollar per yard range around here.

A bag of vintage presser feet caught my attention, as well as another box of Greist attachments (I already have a couple).  The Greist box included a tucker, which had previously eluded me.  And the bag had vintage left and right zipper feet (and an extra right foot as well).  It was the zipper feet that pushed me over the edge to spend the $2 on the bag.  Not because I want to use them (I prefer the infinitely adjustable cheapo generic one) but because they are just adorable.

The threatening skies turned to rain, so I spent much of the rest of Saturday updating my studio spreadsheet.  You all keep records of every foot and attachment you own in a spreadsheet, don't you?   This is one of the reasons why one of the DDs calls what I do "geek quilting".

When the vintage sewing machine bug bit me I needed a way to keep track of the sewing attachments and accessories, hence the spreadsheet.  I had it more or less organized and could sort by manufacturer, name of attachment, shank size, etc. but it had too much stuff on one page.  So I created a new page each just for cams, machines, and buttonholers and the like, leaving the presser feet and other accessories on the original page.

I used to be a management analyst for the Defense Department, and although that job only lasted two years (me and the Army were NOT a good fit) in many way the job was a perfect one for me.  I just LOVE to organize things.  Give me a closet to clean out and I am happy as a clam.

downstairs parts cabinet

So I started thinking about how to store the feet and attachments that I want to use in "Studio North" aka the living room.  The main studio is the former downstairs family room.  Downstairs I have a parts cabinet with one type of foot per little drawer.  Anything that lives upstairs has to look like it belongs in a living room.   Plastic parts cabinets do not qualify.

I pulled a small side table with three little drawers from another room and into it went the parts box for the Singer 306 and its bobbin box, and ditto for the 15-91.  I weeded everything out of the recently acquired Greist box except for the parts that fit on the attachment post (the hemmers, edge stitcher and binder).

The problem with keeping all these parts in their original boxes is that they are jumbled up in there and hard to see.  So because I already had everything listed in the spreadsheet, I was able to make sliding paper covers for the boxes with the contents itemized.  Geek quilting at its finest.

The Singer boxes are pretty fragile.  I doubt if Singer gave much thought to making cardboard boxes that would last 70 to 100 years!  I opened them, slid the top under the bottom and then slid the paper cover over all.  This minimizes the wear and tear on the fragile boxes.

99% of the sewing I do in Studio North is just straight piecing on the Singer 15-91, and I use the gauge foot for small pieces or the walking foot for long seams.  But during the next power failure it is nice to know that I can pop the Singer 306 into the treadle and sew any darn thing I want with any fancy presser foot.  I won't, but I sure do like knowing that I could!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Smackdown: Clash of the Pinkers

I recently bid (but not high enough) on a vintage Singer pinker, the kind that stands on a table.  You turn a crank and feed the fabric through the pinker. I've seen one in the wild recently at a thrift shop I visit, but thanks to eBay they want $85 for it and they have it locked up in a glass case. 

Fortunately I was outbid early in the auction and decided it was time to investigate the unused pinkers I already own.  Two are vintage thift shop finds, one I purchased within the last 10 years but don't remember ever using.  All three appear to be in mint condition.

The Florian Pinker
This is the mutant offspring of a pizza cutter and a pair of scissors.  I say "pizza cutter" because this contraption predates rotary cutters.  It works like scissors, and like scissors you have to keep moving it along the fabric.  Unlike scissors, this thing keeps its grip on the fabric as you move it along.

The blade is very sharp and it makes a nice cut.  It takes a bit of effort and coordination to push the mechanism up, down and along.  It's an unusual motion, but if you ever learned to roller skate you could probably master this.  My hand tired pretty quickly.

On the back of the box, faintly in pencil, the previous owner noted the store, town and date when she bought it--in 1946. 


Stellar Pinking Shears

These are just a normal pair of pinking shears, albeit in a cute vintage box.  Both the box and scissors are in lovely shape and the scissors are nice and sharp.  They are heavy and clunky to operate, even after a drop of sewing machine oil at the hinge point.


Mundial Sewlite Pinking Shears
These modern pinking shears are longer than the vintage ones, but lighter in weight.  Nice and sharp.  I had no problem cutting across two widths of fabric.  Hands down the winner.

The purpose of this exercise
Most of the fabric I buy comes from various thrift shops, but wherever the fabric comes from it gets washed in hot water and put in a hot dryer.  "Know the worst right away" is my motto (along with "kill the lurking insects right away" and "wash out the formaldehyde right away').  Raw edges ravel in the wash, so currently I serge the cut ends of yardage prior to washing.  I thought that pinking the edges might be faster than getting the serger out.  Although the REAL story is that I got to lusting over that vintage Singer pinker but could never bring myself to spend the bucks to get one.

Clash of the Pinkers:  Results
For one or two pieces of fabric, pinking just might be the answer.  But even with the light weight Mundials I think my hands would get tired if I were pinking more than two pieces of fabric.  Your (non-arthritic) Mileage May Differ.

So, am I going to get rid of the vintage pinkers now that I have discovered that (at  least in this one narrow instance) modern is better?  No way!  The vintage ones are just so cute.  And you have to love a mutant pizza cutter that looks like a whale.
Besides, it is three years older than I am and it is still sharp.  Wish I could say the same for myself!

Do you have an unusual vintage pinker?  Send me a photo and I'll share it here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Blogger Pits a Spartan against a 15-91.

No blogging in quite a while now.  It's that darn Life acting up again.  Oh, well.  
Fortunately we have another posting from our special correspondent Anne Graham.
Anne writes:

Here is the second part of the challenge.  I thought this would be an
easy one but was a closer round than I expected.
The machines:
Singer Spartan vs the Singer 15-91

Both Singer machines this time.  One is a very low end model and the
other a mid range one.

Singer Spartan: 
 Made in 1960, this a small and very simple machine.
It does weigh what feels like a ton.  Not a feather weight....

Sewing:  It does sew very well.  I use this when I want a simple non fussy machine either for me or for a new seamstress to borrow.  It is hard to mess it up.

The stitches were great.  The threading, tension
and bobbin all are easy.   It takes all low shank attachments so the
1/4" foot works great on this.
Cons:  It is loud and rattles in it's case.  The machine definitely
outlasted it and a replacement is not possible.  The bed is small so
for larger quilts it would not be be practical

Singer 15-91 
This was made in 1949 and sits in a case.
Sewing:  It does an excellent job with stitch quality.  It has a smooth solid feel making sewing with it a pleasure.  It is quiet to operate.  The free motion work is excellent though I did not test it this time, know this to be true from other projects.  It takes a quilting foot and walking foot attachments making the job easier too.

Cons:  It is a fussy machine.  I forget between sessions that it likes
thread on the spool pin just so and the bobbin set just right.  It
like new needles and to be oiled each time.  That said, these are
small things and if done, it works like a charm.  I just get annoyed
with poor performance until I recall these things and do them.

Winner:  Singer 15-91

Cheryl at DragonPoodle concludes:
I've got a 15-91 that I'll be reviewing soon.  I wish mine was born in 1949 though, like Anne's.  Then we would be the same age (me and the 15-91, not me and Anne).