Sunday, January 6, 2013

Photographing a Singer 301, black longbed

Well, okay, there is another motive for this blog post.  I promised someone some photos of this machine, and the easiest way for me to do that is to throw them on the blog.  But I got a new camera for Christmas so I will be talking about photography.  And it has been a long time since the last blog post and I am feeling chatty.  Welcome back, hope your holidays were fabulous.

Singer 301, black, longbed

Black sewing machines have to be the toughest to photograph. 

I've taken more than one photography-for-absolute-beginners course over the last 40 years, to no noticeable effect.  I have learned a few things though.

Rule #1:  Take skillions of photos and throw most of them away.

I took about 10 photos of the front of this machine, and none of them were much good.  I do like the shadow effect on this one though.

I especially want to show the surface of this machine, which has some issues, before someone drives an hour to see it.  This was a well used and well maintained machine.  The paint still has some gloss, but also has patina.

Rule #2:  Crop.
I think of my photographs as information rather than as art.  No one would think of my photos as art!  Ruthlessly crop that photo right down to the relevant information.

worn clear coat, but not rough to the touch (or the fabric)

You may have to look closely, but this is an amazing photograph.  If only I knew how I achieved it. 

It shows the areas of the bed where the clear coat has worn away, as well as the worn decals in the front.  I think it looks better than this is real life, but my purpose here, the information I needed to convey, was the condition of that clear coat.
Rule #3:  The auto-fix buttons are your friends.
I use PhotoScape, a free image processing program similar to Photoshop.  Or, to be more accurate, similar to Photoshop Express.  There are tons of image processing programs out there.  Your digital camera undoubtedly came with one.  They all include auto-fix features.  The ones I use in PhotoScape are auto level, auto contrast, and backlight.  I click each one on and then off again if it doesn't help.

And now you know everything I know about photography.  And as I fully expected, getting a better camera did not make me a better photographer.  At least Santa did not go all out (the DH and I always pick out our own presents.  One of the great thing about being married for decades is that you work all that stuff out).  It's a step up from the least expensive 14 megapixel one.  But it looks (to my uneducated eye) like the $900 ones.  It's the same shape anyhow.  I feel all empowered by it.  My last camera was a tiny flat one.  Are you convinced by now that I am not a person whose advice about photography should be taken seriously? 

Getting back to the most important things in life, sewing machines and their accessories:  this one comes with lots of lovely toys.

That familiar green Singer attachments box, with a better-than-usual assortment of vintage presser feet.
Back row, left to right:  binder, adjustable hemmer, edge stitcher, ruffler.  Front row:  seam guide, narrow hemmer, shirring foot, adjustable zipper foot.

Automatic zig-zagger with seven cams.

The zig-zagger, the original 4 cams, and 3 out of 4 of an additional set.
The general rap on the boards about automatic zig-zaggers is that they are an amusing toy, but that if you want to zig-zag you should buy a zig-zag sewing machine.  I have road-tested two of these zig-zaggers in the last week and I was pleasantly surprised by the quite decent quality of the zig-zag stitch and the scallop.  You can use the scallop as a blind hem stitch.  Zig-zag and blind hem are the two most useful extra construction stitches you can have, and this attachment transforms the straight-stitch 301. 

It works in much the same way as the buttonholer:  arm up over the needlebar screw, attaches just like any presser foot.  The motion of the needle up and down makes it go.  It moves the fabric back and forth, again in the same way as the buttonholer.  Unlike the buttonholer (feed dogs down), you leave the feed dogs up, which means that you can control the stitch density with the stitch length lever on the sewing machine.  You can also control stitch width with a setting on the side of the attachment--yet another similarity with the buttonholer.

Functional stitches (zig-zag, blind hem):  just fine.  Decorative stitches, not so much.  But I ran these up in a hurry.

And speaking of putting the feed dogs up and down, this is ridiculously easy on a 301.  It's really easy to change the bobbins, too, which is good because they are not very big--same size as the Featherweight bobbins.

Flip the bed extension up and you have access to the bobbin.  Turn the knob to the right to raise or lower the feed dogs.
And speaking of buttonholers:  The Pink Jetson

A slant shank Singer buttonholer, affectionately nicknamed the Pink Jetson for obvious reasons.  Obvious to anyone of ripe and mature years anyway.

There is a Green Jetson also---that one is for low shank machines.

Most of the cam buttonholers are mechanically identical, and most of them, of most brands, were made by Greist.  You do need to have the right shank style.

Five cams make five different sizes of buttonhole
If you have never used a Greist buttonholer you probably hate making buttonholes.  If you have used a buttonholer like this and did not enjoy it, next time use stabilizer--not interfacing, stabilizer.  With a firm foundation these make lovely buttonholes in the twinkle of an eye.

It's original case, funky vintage charm.

Sturdy case, handle and latches seem secure.  The rule of thumb about vintage cases (never, ever trust them as carrying cases) probably does not apply in this case.  First of all, this is a seriously sturdy suitcase-type case.  Mostly though its because the 301 is aluminum (16 pounds) rather than the cast iron of other vintage machines (40 pounds).
Entirely functional, but certainly not in mint condition

I always glance over the suitcases in thrift shops, hoping to spot this trapezoidal shape.  No luck so far.

There is a bracket inside for the motor controller.  It's identical to the brackets in Singer cabinets.

I think the bracket in the upper right is for an oil can.  If you know, drop a line below.

The machine fits neatly into the case.  Note the wooden piece bottom right that holds it in place.  It won't slide around in there.

The space above that wooden brace is just right for the attachments box.  And since it does not have an oil can, the zigzagger fits in there also.

This machine, the case and all the goodies except the buttonholer (I added that) had one previous owner.  I bought it from her daughter, and I don't really consider myself an owner.  I'm just the spa treatment before it moves on to a new owner. 

The daughter told me that this machine was her mom's pride and joy and that she took good care of it.  It has obviously been well used (see the bed wear) but was also obviously well maintained--very clean inside.  It had been sitting unused for decades, but it has now been cleaned, oiled and lubed and turns very smoothly and makes the beautiful stitch that this model is known for.

I love all of the all-metal vintage and antique sewing machines that pass through my hands. I want them all to go to good homes, but really what I want is for each person to have the sewing machine that is the perfect machine for her or him.

The 301 is very popular among vintage-sewing-machine-loving quilters for its beautiful straight stitch and its portability.  Just a few pounds more than that adorable but oh-too-trendy half size machine but the 301 has a full size bed.  So this machine would be perfect for a quilter looking for complete functionality and lots of original vintage goodies but who does not care about cosmetic perfection.  And who wants to be on the cutting edge of vintage:  301 aficionados claim that this is the next big thing.  If only they had that cuteness factor...


  1. Keep looking . I have lucked into a black & a mocha by seeing the case.

  2. Keep looking . I have lucked into a black & a mocha by seeing the case.

  3. Thanks for your great post! I love it that you were feeling chatty and acted like the papparazzi for this black 301 longbed with your new camera. I love your sense of humor. Keep on posting!!

  4. I posted your link to the facebook page for vintage sewing machines. They are an active group!!

    1. thanks! I'm almost sorry to hear about a facebook page for vintage sewing machines, lol--it's all I can do to keep up with the bulletin boards I subscribe to!

  5. I share your frustration with photographing those good ol' black sewing machines. Another help is good lighting - not flash. I have two inexpensive extension-type desk lamps that I position strategically. By changing the direction of the light source I get the light I need without the light reflection on the black surface. Having a light-colored backdrop helps, too. When I'm really photographing seriously, (like for eBay ads or historical documentation), I use a 3-fold foam core posterboard (like kids use for science fair projects) with a light blue piece of fabric draped over it.

    My mocha 301 has not been in use for a couple of years. One of my goals for 2013 is to get it back in regular service. First I have to clean off all the projects that have taken up residence on the 301's cut-out card table! Happy New Year!

    1. I have been experimenting with lighting and will keep trying!

  6. they DO have a cuteness factor! They look like sweet little locomotives!

    1. Cuteness is in the eye of the beholder. Have you seen the flamingo-pink 301 repaint that someone has been trying to sell on eBay? I haven't looked recently, but I know it was up there for months.

  7. What a great machine. I foolishly didn't snap up a 301 a few years ago, when I had the chance. I was new at vintage machines then. I've been kicking myself ever since. The one I missed out on was mocha. I like the black better. One of these days.....

    1. I have an LBOW in the studio that is my go-to piecing machine. The speed on a 301 is awesome. The black longbed is considered the most desirable, but personally I like sewing on a lighter colored machine.

  8. The 301 is an irresistible machine.
    I agree with Angie no flash! Also no fluorescents, todays cameras are very capable at standard lighting, so shoot with a room full of low light.

    1. Low light I can do. Almost every light bulb in the house is compact fluorescent. I had no idea that this was an issue, thanks!

  9. Hi, Cheryl, I stumbled upon your blog when searching for information about vintage sewing machines & cabinets, which have caught my interest lately, and find your blogs quite interesting & informative. I have been immersed in reading the individual posts for several days now. I am curious to know how you learned so much in such a short time (a few years is a short time to me).

    I am delighted to see your blogpost today. This is the exact machine I learned to sew on, except my mom's was mocha, I now know...I just called it tan until LCP's post earlier. She got it brand-new when I was ten. One reason she was so impressed with it was because the salesman showed her it could sew through matchsticks, I remember her telling me. She passed away 30 yr. ago & my brother confiscated her machine, but I had long before taken the attachments in the green box & the buttonholer in the pink oval-shaped box. He died unexpectedly in 2012 & my dad (89), (he had never married, so had no other kin), is still going through all his stuff...I told him the only thing I would like is my mom's sewing machine...& I described the case, exactly as you have pictured here. So good to know my memory is not off yet anyway. I will have to print this & send it to him. May help him locate it. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Karen Pankonin

    1. Matchsticks! That's hilarious--we ALL need machines that will sew through matchsticks.

      Thanks for your kind comments about the blog. How did I learn so much in a short time? A: I'm retired. B: I'm obsessed.

      I do hope that you get your mother's sewing machine. Most of the old ones only need a good cleaning and oiling to come back to life.

  10. Apologies to all who wrote and never got a reply from me! For some reason yahoo has quit telling me about your posts--mostly. I got notifications about 3 of these posts, but not the others! One of the many reasons I hate yahoo, but having created this blog linked to a yahoo email, I'm stuck with it.

    I'll be trying out the photography tips, although almost every light in my house has been swapped out to compact fluourescent by now.

    and oh, yes, she drove an hour, bought this machine and we are both very happy.

  11. Don't worry about the fluorescents! I photograph stuff for Etsy all the time with fluorescent lights (two offset clamp-on lamps with 13 watt bulbs) with no problem. The key, with my camera, is not to let it choose the white balance itself; instead, I set it on the white balance preset that looks best to me (which the camera claims is for incandescent bulbs...)


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