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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Herd: Singer 15s and clones

The Singer model 15 was produced for a long span of time and in many variations, including some made for industrial uses.  Japanese copies (15 clones) are even more plentiful.  I can't even scratch the surface of this topic, but I can show you my herd.

Disclaimer:  There are charts for looking up Singer serial numbers, and other charts which describe the characteristics of the models.  I'm no expert, but I can Google with the best of them.  So take my dates and model number on the Singer 15-30 as my best guess based on information found online.


1904 Singer 15-30, waiting to be restored.  No round stitch length plate.

I love the sphinx decals, which Singer also used on the 127 (and maybe others?).  Someday I will clean it up, take the motor off and pop it in the treadle.  It's easy to swap machines in and out and I like trying out the different models. 

1953 Singer 15-91
Singer 15's are easily identified by the tensioner on the left and the round stitch lever plate on the pillar.   I was excited to find this 15-91 because it gets a lot of good press on the boards.  The fact that it is gear driven rather than belt driven is acclaimed as a plus.  It is easy to drop the feed dogs on any model 15, but you do have to reach underneath and loosen a large screw to do it.  Dora has described how to do this on her blog.

On most vintage sewing machines the motors are interchangeable, but the 15-91 has a "potted" motor and is stuck on (see 15-125 photo below).  I've just never bonded with this one.  It could be that the almost 60-year-old motor may need some maintenance.  But I think it is because I easily fall in love with naked 15's--stripped of their motors.  Spin the handwheel on a clean and oiled naked 15 clone and it keeps on spinning and the needle keeps on going up and down.  Can't do that with a potted motor, and machines with enclosed motors always feel sluggish to me.

Not all 15's are gear driven.  Some have the belt driven motor on the back (and thus could be stripped naked), but I don't have one to show you.


1956 Singer 15-125.  Color is off here, photo below is better
Same machine in a new suit of clothes.  By this time factories in Japan were churning out copies of the Singer 15 in pretty colors and with some other improvements.  Singer tried to keep up.

Potted motor
I haven't bonded with this one either, but it is probably the potted motor.  I know I will feel better about them if I ever decide to take on motor evaluation, maintenance and repair.  So far cleaning, oiling, and tinkering keeps me happy enough.

a real improvement:  a marked throat plate.  You can order similar ones for 15s and clones from Jenny at Sew-Classic.

Japanese copies of the Singer 15 are collectively known as "15 clones".



The Royal shown above is a classic 15 clone.  It's a line for line copy of the Singer 15.


The beauty of the design details on these machines just blows me away.


I wrote recently about free motion quilting with these machines.  When I have one of these machines on my quilting frame I'm running it at very high speed, and the thread tended to pop out of the thread guide, which sent it flying out of the tensioner with disastrous results.  This ONLY happens on the frame, but if you have had a similar problem there is a very simple solution:  a metal washer.


Loosen the faceplate screw just a bit and slide the washer into position,  then tighten the faceplate screw (shown circled in red).





No way can the thread pop out of this guide.  Cheap, easy, and it does not change the machine in any way.  Of course you will have to take an additional microsecond to push the thread through the round hole.

Super easy, right?  Then why did it take me a full WEEK to figure this out?  I wandered around the house looking for things that could be glued in place.  I figured that glue would never hold.  One last peek in the parts box and it dawned on me.







 I've got another one of the black clones living on the quilting frame now.  I auditioned 4 different machines but in the end came back to the first one.  Once I had the washer thread guide figured out, it works beautifully.


Notice I said that the machine works beautifully, not the operator.  Take a close look and you can see how truly bad my FMQ is.  I'm working on it, and getting better.  By the way, this quilt is a secret, so don't tell anybody about it, shhhhh.




I paid $10 for this Admiral Star.  I had gone to see a machine listed on CraigsList, and when I got there the guy had two machines and was desperate to get rid of them.  I was not, repeat not, in the market for another black 15 clone.   I got a good price on the machine I did want, but only by "bundling" this 15 clone in the deal.  Do you watch "American Pickers"?  That's where I learned the term "bundling".  They ignore sewing machines, but sometimes you can spot them as they dig through somebody's attic or outbuilding.


The Japanese also made some improvements to the basic 15 model.  Beautiful colors, for instance.

Post WWII, Modernage 250.  I believe it was made by Toyota.  My go-to piecing machine.

This apple green and white machine is another line for line copy of the Singer 15, but can you spot an additional feature?

It has a feed dog drop knob on the top of the bed.  That's it right below the "250".


Photos don't do justice to the Remington 30's yummy pearlescent green.



I really do try not to buy more 15 clones, but for $10 how could I walk away? 


The feed dog drop linkage is vulnerable to being gummed up with decades of dried up sewing machine oil, but should respond to more oil, heat from a blow dryer, and some patient prodding.  Just peer under the machine below the knob--it's easy to see that the leg bone is connected to the knee bone, so to speak.  In fact, this is one of my favorite things about bringing vintage machines back to life:  peering underneath or inside and seeing how things are connected and how they work.  And then persuading them to work.



This is my favorite 15 upgrade:  a bobbin cover that flips up (rather than sliding to the left).




The access is great and it doesn't slide or fall off.




If you've got a favorite 15 that does not have the hinged bobbin cover, keep your eyes open for a thrift shop machine that does.   No guarantees, but I have performed some successful transplants.


Here's an improvement that seems fairly pointless:  The stitch length lever mechanism works the same way, but instead of numbers lined up vertically on the face, there's a tiny window that reveals a number printed on the moving plate beneath.


Pink Elgin 15 clone
This machine is much more beautiful than my photographic skill (or lack thereof) can convey.  In fact it is TOO beautiful.  It is so beautiful that I don't want to sew on it for fear of messing it up.  I much prefer an almost-beautiful machine like the pearly green Remington above.  It has a couple of nice deep scratches on the back of the arm and I'm not afraid to use it.


The decals are just about perfect and the gloss is glossy!

And at the opposite end of the spectrum:


I was recently given this one as a gift.  You see it here in "attic fresh" condition.  The key question is always:  does it turn?  If it does, it can almost certainly be brought back to life (this one does).  Even if it doesn't, there is still hope.  Oil + heat + patience will work wonders on frozen machines.  Motor/controller units can be swapped out interchangeably among all the clones--among just about any external motor machine of any kind, in fact.  Or you can ditch the motor entirely and pop it in a treadle or put a handcrank on it.   So one day this may join the herd as another of those smooth-as-silk 15 clones.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

REWARD: Round up this horse fabric and name your reward

Imagine my astonishment to find this fabric representing Neolithic cave paintings of horses in a bag of scraps from the thrift shop.

I'VE GOT TO HAVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   
AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!   WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

A search of equilter turned up nothing even remotely similar.

A search of eBay turned up 655 cotton horse fabrics, and also none like this. 

Now, I am not a horsey girl.  I grew up middle class in the suburbs, and was not in the income level to have regular riding lessons, nor did I have access to any farms or ranches.  My only brief experience with horses was the three days I spent at Camp Luella May in 1961 when I was 11.  The parents DID pay extra for riding lessons.  I pictured myself galloping across the open plains, wind blowing through my hair.  Never mind that there are no open plains in southwestern Ohio.  The reality was three excruciatingly boring half-hours plodding around a ring with the other girls and horses.  After three days I had to be sent home with three separate illnesses (none horse related).  So much for the freedom of the open plains--I didn't even make it to the supervised trail ride at the end of the week.

Not only am I not a horsey girl, I pretty much loathe and detest most horsey fabrics.  You know the ones.  So having to look through 655 of them on eBay was torment.  But I did it because I HAVE TO HAVE THIS FABRIC.

Not a horsey girl--but I AM an enthusiast of the Stone Age.  See previous post about my Perfect Paleolithic Pants.  Not only that, but both of the DDs are going to want something made from this also.  I have one measly scrap, 9" x 18".

So, if you can tell me anything about it--who made it, when, where you got it, were there coordinating fabrics or other color ways, etc.  I would love to know.  If you have some you want to sell, even better.  If you have at least two yards of it I would even be willing to trade for a sewing machine (caveat:  you pay the postage!).

Because, did I mention I HAVE TO HAVE IT?