Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cedar Grove Quilt Show

My personal favorite from the show

Eno Presbyterian Church hosted the show

beautiful downtown Cedar Grove
It was a perfect spring day in North Carolina and Heather, baby Gryphon and I went to the annual show of the Cedar Grove Quilters.

Yes, I should have taken notes and then labelled all of these quilts with the maker's names, but I didn't.  Thought about it ahead of time, but decided to go as a quilter rather than a blogger.  Even though I knew I would blog about it.

There were a lot of quilts with the bright, vibrant colors that I love so much.

If I had to sum up why I am a quilter in one word it would be:
Love them all, and quilting gives me a reason to play with some of them.

If I were permitted one additional word it would be:

 color, color, color

Heather, Gryphon, and a fabulous double wedding ring quilt.  Color!

You know how it is at small quilt shows:  You can't always get a good angle for photography.  

The show was very nicely staged, with lots of fresh flowers and potted plants.  Some of them may have done double duty at the morning service in the church.

 There were quilts there in pastels and subdued taupe-y tones, and although they were very nice those colors just don't ring my chimes.  But black and white always does, and black and white with a pop of red is even better!

Hope you enjoyed the show.  The quilts were even better in person!  The munchies were quite munchable, too.  Thank you, Cedar Grove Quilters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to convert a Singer 99 to a hand crank

With comments about its cousins, the Spartan 192 and the cute green 185

So here's the story.  I tried something that didn't work the way I expected it to.  Various bloggers and board members offered advice, but not all of the advice meshed together. At about the same time blogger Rain challenged those of us who restore vintage sewing machines to write more about the processes, hence the post about the treadle irons and this one.  I decided to investigate the whole hand-crank-conversion process and record what I discovered.  
Since I am a relative newbie to this hobby (3 years) I feel a bit of a fraud telling others how-to-do-it.  Am I just reinventing the wheel?  On the other hand, a newbie has a newbie's perspective, composed of part stupidity and part curiosity.

My approach will be to tell you what I have personally done to machines that I have had right in front of me. The 99 was produced over decades and some features changed over time so your mileage may differ. 
Singer 99

Singer 185

Singer 192, Spartan

Many vintage sewing machines can be converted to hand cranks, but the 99 and its cousins are ideal for conversion.  The small size makes it both appealing and more useable for children, whose reach is smaller than an adult’s.  It’s relatively lighter weight (30 pounds instead of 40 for a full size machine) makes it a bit more portable, at least if you have decent upper body strength.  You can take it out to your patio in fine weather, or take it along in your camper or motor home. 

Why hand crank?
You are in complete control of the speed—no runaway takeoffs from the foot pedal (more properly called the motor controller).  It's nice to have a people powered machine around, and if you have one with terrifying looking wiring, this is a good way to solve that problem.

Where to get the spoked wheel and hand crank?  See the links to Sew-Classic or Stitches in Time on the left hand side of this page.

Look for the yellow push pin icon in the photos below--they show you the part of the machine being discussed.

Remove the light.
The light fixture is bolted on to a bracket which is bolted on to the machine.  You have to take it off the bracket first.  The photo shows the bolt partially loosened so that you can see where it is.
The light fixture is wired to the motor.  Just lay it to one side for the next step.
If you need to clean the machine, remove the bracket from the machine.  If not, leave it on there.

Remove the motor.
One bolt is holding it on.  Look on the pillar on the right hand side of the machine.  Remove this bolt.  This one is silver colored, some are black. This one has a hexagonal shape, some are round.  If they have a hex shape to them, a wrench makes this job much easier.  If round, you are stuck with using a screwdriver.  If stuck, apply sewing machine oil and heat with a blow dryer until it loosens.
As the motor shifts, you will be able to remove the belt from the motor.  Slide it off past the bobbin winder. 

Tip:  put the motor bolt back in its hole so that you don’t misplace it. 

You are finished with the motor-controller-light assembly now, so put it away somewhere.  You can always reverse this process and reinstall it later if you want to.

Remove the hand wheel
Loosen the clutch screw.


Remove the clutch knob.


Remove the clutch washer.


Remove the hand wheel.

Before you install the hand crank, you have to replace or alter your original hand wheel to get a hand wheel that will fit the hand crank.

Option A:   Replace the original hand wheel with a spoked hand wheel

But before we do that, we have to pause for a moment to discuss how the 99, the 185 and the 192 Spartan differ in the relationship between a spoked wheel and the bobbin winder.

The 192 Spartan

The bobbin winder on the Spartan is a simple design.  It moves on a pivot point and does not latch into place.  You rotate it up into position until it comes into contact with the hand wheel.  It plays nicely with BOTH the spoked hand wheel and the notched hand wheel (discussed below). 

The 185
With the 185, you have to remove the hand wheel cover and bobbin winder in order to used a spoked hand wheel.

The bobbin winder mechanism  inside the hand wheel cover prevents the spoked wheel from making its rotation, so the machine will not operate.  Remove the two screws on either side of the hand wheel shaft and it comes right off. 

The 99

Once the spoked wheel is in place you will discover that the bobbin winder in the down or engaged position does not reach the spoked hand wheel, therefore it won’t turn.  There is no real reason to remove it, but at the same time there is no real reason to leave it on here either.  It is a simple matter to remove it, there is one screw on the top holding it in place.   

I think it looks cuter with the non-functional bobbin winder removed. 

If your bobbin winder is gone, what do you do if you need to wind a bobbin?
  • ·         Wind it on another class 66 bobbin machine
  • ·         Buy a Sidewinder (separate bobbin winder, available online, at Joanns and Walmart)
  • ·         Buy a package of pre-wound class 66 bobbins
Now, back to installing that spoked wheel...

Put a drop of sewing machine oil on the inner opening of the spoked hand wheel and smoosh it around in there.

Slide the hand wheel on to the hand wheel shaft.

Replace the clutch washer (bunny ears UP or towards you).

Put a drop of oil on the threads of the clutch knob screw.  Screwing it in will distribute the oil around, no need to smoosh.


Replace the clutch knob.  It helps to tilt the machine up so that gravity holds the clutch washer in place.

Replace the clutch knob screw.

TEST:   Spin the hand wheel and make sure that the needle is going up and down.


The hand crank has a hinged finger on it.  Flip this to the up postion (towards the handle of the hand crank).


Take the motor bolt back out (if you have been storing it in place) and use it to attach the hand crank to the machine.  

Tighten it most of the way and while it is still a bit loose, flip the finger down into one of the spaces between the spokes.   

Tighten it the rest of the way.


There are two oil holes on the hand crank.  Put a drop of oil in each one.

Everybody complains about the poor quality of these reproduction handcranks, but they seem to be the only game in town.  They are guaranteed to be the clunkiest part of your sewing machine.

Option 2:  Notched Hand wheel
don't do it this way
It’s possible to use the original hand wheel with a hand crank if you cut a notch in the wheel for the finger of the hand crank.  The advantage to doing this is that the bobbin winder will function.

Step One:  Remove the hand wheel as described above
Step Two:  Find someone to cut a notch in the hand wheel.

Metal work is beyond me.  Fortunately for me, student Heather’s husband Augustin is a welder, so we worked out a barter that included cutting notches in a bunch of hand wheels.  Neither Augustin nor I had the slightest idea what we were doing, so we ended up with the “Grand Canyon” of notches that you will see in the photos.  TreadleOn board members tell me that the notch only has to go through the rim of the hand wheel.

The problem that now has to be solved is that the finger of the hand crank is not long enough to fit securely into the notch in your hand wheel.  Even if you cut the notch correctly.  It slips out of the notch when you try to sew with it. So you will need to add a rigid collar around the hand crank finger to extend it.  It has to be the right size to fit on the finger and fit into the notch. It has to be flexible enough to be forced onto the finger but rigid enough to hold the finger in place in the notch.  There probably are many products that would do this, and here is one of them.

Step Three: 

Cut a 1/2” section of “Orbit (brand name) 1/2” riser flex pipe, designed to “connect additional sprinkler head to existing sprinkler lines”.  I found it at Home Depot, or, to be more accurate, a nice Home Depot lady found it for me. 

If you have another recommendation on a product that works for this, please leave a comment below and tell us the specifics and where you found it.

Remove the black rubber-band-material sleeve from the hand wheel finger.  Throw it away.

I used a bolt cutter to cut the 1/2" piece of pipe because a bolt cutter was what I had.  It created a smooth edge and had the additional benefit of pre-mooshing the edge of the pipe into the correct shape for forcing it on to the hand wheel finger.  I tapped it down into place with a small hammer.

Replace the hand wheel as described above.  Attach the hand crank with its new piece of pipe extender as described above.  The pipe extender should extend out to the end of the notch but not beyond.  If it sticks out too far it can interfere with the bobbin winder.
You now have a working hand crank sewing machine WITH a bobbin winder.  This works with the 99, the 185 and the 192.

I hope this post will be helpful to someone.  It's really easy if you know how (except for that notch-cutting part).  

Now to passing along Rain's challenge to other vintage sewing machine bloggers:  what have you mastered that you could share with the rest of us? 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stupendous Students and Their Fabulous Projects. And a Story.

Heather and I are still bartering:  massages for sewing lessons.  I am the best paid sewing teacher in the world, no doubt about it.

I taught college and university students for 40 years, and health care front-line supervisors for about five years.  This is hands down the best teaching experience I have had.  It's not because after all that time I perfected my skills, either.  It's because the student wants to learn.  Heather takes ideas and runs with them.  She sees things in the studio unrelated to the lessons of the day and goes home and figures out how to do them on her own.

Heather wanted to combine the characteristics of two different baby slings, and together we figured it out.  The cool retro fabric of the sling is from a recycled curtain.  We finished this in one session.

The patchwork bag was completely her own creation.  There are quilts in various stages scattered around the studio and Heather has quilters in her lineage.  But we have not done any piecing or quilting together.   You can imagine how excited I was to see this! 

Next she pieced the quilt top on her own (still no quilting lessons).  She brought the top to the studio and we discussed batting and I described the binding process and offered to show her how to do it.  No need, she went home and finished it by herself.  Here's what she said about it on Facebook:
"MY FIRST QUILT IS FINISHED! Henceforth, it shall be known as THE finest quilt in all the land."

Heather and Raven got familiar with the treadle with a string piecing project.  I cut and starched some 6" squares and suggested the strong black and white giraffe print for the center line.  They string pieced outward from that:  one block per student per week, for a total of two blocks each.  That was all it took and they were ready to take the treadle home.

We briefly played with arranging the blocks in different ways to make patterns and the to-sash or not-to-sash question.   She went home and made a lined tote bag with the string blocks.  Now, we did not cover lining tote bags in the tote bag lesson.  Raven's tote bag was made from upholstery fabric with a rubbery lining specifically because it would not need to be lined.  I was going for speed with that first project for Raven.  So Heather figured all of that out on her own too.

My second-favorite teaching experience is totally different yet exactly the same.  The setting:  a nursing home in a fairly tough neighborhood in Baltimore, Md. in the early 1980's.  Back in the day, nursing assistants did not have to have any training or certification.  It was a job that a hard working woman with no educational background could do.  The best of them got promoted to being a shift supervisor, and it was my job to teach them the basics of supervision and management.  I was a 30-something woman with a graduate degree and no actual experience of management or supervision.  Gloria was a 50-something tank of a woman with 30 years of experience in nursing homes.  I arrived for Day 2 of our course and as I stepped out of my car there was Gloria steamrolling her way down the parking lot towards me with a gleam in her eye.  I was terrified of her.  When she said "I want to talk to you about what you said last week" I almost peed my panties.  I figured she had seen right through me and my total lack of experience. 

But no.  She wanted me to know that she tried a technique I recommended (praise employees in public, offer criticism in private) and was astonished at how well it was working.  She had experienced the "light bulb" moment and was seeing her role towards her employees in a new way.  She was transformed as a supervisor.  This is one of my favorite memories out of my entire lifetime.  And again, it wasn't my skill or remarkable knowledge, because I had neither.  It really wasn't about me at all.  I had basic information that she needed, and she knew she needed it. Anybody could have given it to her.

Believe me, although I taught some excellent college and university students in 40 years, none of them could hold a candle to Gloria as a student.  Or to Heather.

Finished skirt modeled over her clothes
Heather's daughter Raven has been a joy in the studio also.  She used a vintage ruffler to apply the ruffle to this skirt.  How many of you vintage sewing machine buffs have ever used YOUR rufflers?

She made a skirt with elastic in the waist, very cute.  I love her choice of fabrics.

also makes a funny hat

And she made more bears.

A lot more bears.  They were destined for a children's craft fair.

Heather was very wise and knew from the beginning that Raven would need her own sewing machine.  Raven made these bears on her Singer 99 hand crank, a straight stitch machine.  At home Heather treadles a Singer 237, a cast iron beast of a zig-zagger.  In my studio she sews on a 237 hand crank.

The 237 always surprises me when I pick it up because although it is styled like the other machines named "Fashion Mate", it weighs much, much more.  The others have significant amounts of plastic, are lighter, and should be considered disposable (they may be working well now, but don't hold your breath).  The 237 is one of the all-metal treasures. It is one of the few all-metal zig-zaggers that can be easily converted to people-power, takes easily available needles and bobbins, and the one that around here is most often spotted in the wild.

I've paid $10 to $20 for my 237's.  This price/value relationship definitively proves that either
a)  all of us vintage machine collectors are brilliant economic strategists who will be able to retire to a private island once the world wakes up to the relative value of one of these to, say, a modern Bernina, or
b)  there IS no relationship between price and value.

photos by Cheryl Warren and Heather James, used with permission.