Monday, February 25, 2013

A Visit To The Metal Scrap Yard

just a quick update

DD Em is down from her mountain town and helped me haul 5 dead cast iron sewing machines to the metal scrap yard today.  I had previously stripped them of everything useful to me.  They were all well and truly dead.  Do I sound defensive?  (Yes)  Am I feeling guilty?  (No, not really)

We had a good time wending our way through Durham's industrial district.  The actual place was on a gravel road off of another gravel road.  Pretty far back in there.

Wish I had pictures, but this was the most security-conscious place I have been outside an airport.  Our license plate number was recorded.  My driver's license was recorded and checked against a database.  THEN they scanned my index fingerprint.  Never had that happen before.

So, no pics, but you can check out their website:  Always Buying Scrap.  There is even a video.

It was very, very cool.  We spotted the corner where they were obviously hoarding things too good to be melted down (cool old metal 1950s chairs, large spoked wheels, and what looked like some kind of giant grinder.  Rick of American Restoration would have loved it).

The three different guys we talked to were all great--friendly and helpful.  They butted each machine up against a tubular magnet about 3 feet tall and 4 inches in diameter.  I could have told them they were iron!   Then they put them on a platform scale all together.  Printed out a ticket.  I took the ticket into a little booth (again very secure) and slid it into a slot.  And my astonishing payout emerged from the ATM.

So what were my ill-gotten gains for wanton sewing machine destruction, you ask?

Twelve dollars.  Not apiece, $12 for all five.

We had spotted a diner on the way in, so we went there and blew the whole thing on brunch.  Actually, it wasn't enough to cover brunch for two at Joe's Diner

And if it weren't for looking up the link for YOUR benefit, dear readers, I would never have discovered that Joe's Diner is not just a corner diner in the heart of Durham's industrial district.  It is also a magnet for celebrities.  Here's a partial list of the photos of happy Joe's customers:
Spike Lee
MC Hammer
Katie Couric
Matt Lauer
Earth, Wind, AND Fire.  Yes, all of them
Charles Barkley

for some reason they did not ask to take our pictures while we were there.  perhaps they did not know who we were!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Yet Another Electric Treadle

Walked into my favorite charity shop a couple of weeks ago, and lo and behold, another version of the electric treadle.

Looks like vintage sewing machine Mecca, doesn't it?  Many of the ones back there are crap machines that have been there for YEARS.  Thrift shops don't have to freshen up their stock!  There are some gems here though.

You may remember that the one I bought had both a full treadle set-up (foot pedal, flywheel, pitman) and a motor controller that could be attached to the pitman.  The logical conclusion is that it began life as a treadle and was later converted to use an electric motor.  And then unconverted back to a treadle.

This one is different.  There is no flywheel.  There is no evidence that a flywheel was ever there.  So, yeah, I know I should not be calling it a treadle.  But except for that missing flywheel, it looks just like a straight leg treadle.

So what is this, some rare early transitional form?  Inquiring minds need to know.

The one I bought had frayed and broken wiring, and the pitman was not connected to the controller.  Now I have a nice photo if I ever want to refurbish mine. 

One of the many things that keep me hooked on this hobby:  There are many different things to look at, think about, learn.  Fascinating, relatively meaningless things.  None of it has to be taken seriously.  The fate of the world, the country, the state, the family are NOT AFFECTED in any way.  It's very soothing.  

Just another (potentially) pretty Red Eye.  I don't have one since the family treadle went to live at DD A's.  And I have always been partial to this particular cabinet style.  But I didn't buy it.  Not yet, anyway.

And now a word about blog comments.  Yahoo sometimes tells me when you post comments, and sometimes it does not.  I do like to respond, so I often have to do it here rather than by email.  You have the option to "subscribe by email" to the comments section on each blog post if you want to read my response to you.  And the comments by readers can be the best part of the post!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

HMTATM? Davis New Vertical Feed

...continuing to explore the question "How Many Treadles Are Too Many?"  In the last post I justified my latest (and cheapest) purchase, now living in the studio as a student treadle easily converted back and forth from people power to electric power.

I joined treadleon shortly after being bitten by the vintage sewing machine bug.  Started hearing about all kinds of machines I never knew existed.  As soon as I discovered that there was a machine named
Davis, I knew I had to have one.  My maiden name was Davis.  The more I read about them the better they sounded.

Every morning with my coffee I read the digests from various sewing machine bulletin boards, and look at CraigsList sewing machines both near and far in North Carolina.  Ah, retirement.  I spotted a Davis in a town far away.  The listing was up for months, then disappeared.  Six months later the same photos showed up in a CL ad in a town nearby.  The people had moved and brought it into my orbit.  The luck of the Davises, no doubt. 

It had the worst finish of any machine head I have worked on---like sandpaper, and it would have been impossible to sew on.  The wood cabinet was in similar shape.  My usual policy is to do the least I can, but this time I stripped the finish off the cabinet with denatured alcohol, then put a tung oil finish on.  I know NOTHING about wood and woodworking, but ignorance has never stopped me.  Tung oil is super easy and looks age-appropriate in my opinion. The finish on the wood is now smooth as glass.

Now it looks terrific, better than this photo. 

This is now my go-to treadle, and I love it for many reasons.  First, it is just more comfortable than the Singer treadles.  I haven't taken any measurements or tried to figure out why, and it would not matter to any one else if I had.  Certain brands of shoes fit me, other brands the same size just don't.  I think you have to try on machines the same way you try on shoes.

Next, you don't have to haul the machine up and down.  It has a chain system and opening the lid raises the machine automatically.  Closing the lid lowers it.  I really, really love this feature.  Easy peasy, or facile facile if you speak French.  You learn the most interesting things on sewing machine bulletin boards.

It has an amusing drawer lined with a VERY thick felt.  The bottom lifts out, allowing you to hide something beneath it.

I assume this drawer is meant to protect the attachments, and it came with a bunch.  I love having them, fondling them, and reading about them.  But all I do on this machine is piece quilt blocks.  No attachments necessary.

All of these things are terrific, but none of them are unique.  Here's what makes a Davis vertical feed special---why, it's the vertical feed.

Look closely at the photo for the feed dogs.  Look again.  Still don't see them?  That's because there are none.

The needle hole is a slot rather than a hole.  Can you see it right under the presser foot?   The needle plate can be turned around for different weights of thread, so the slot you can easily see on the right hand side of  the needle plate is also a needle slot.  The needle descends at the front of the slot, pierces the fabric, the needle slides to the back of the slot and then rises and goes back to the front.

Better than a walking foot.  WAY better.  Treadling quilters love these machines.  It is just not possible for layers to shift.  You still have to prepare carefully and baste, and basting is not my thing, so I haven't tried it for quilting yet.  Next baby quilt, though.  I do love it for piecing. 

Bobbin winder engaged.  Fold it up to disengage.

I took the many of the photos before this belt was installed:  3/16" clear plastic tubing, connected with a little plastic connector.  The advantage of this is that it won't stretch over time the way that leather will.  It's cheaper and quieter than the coil spring belt.

This tubing is also available in black, which would be great, but it will take me a bit longer use up the 30 feet of the clear that I bought.  McMaster Carr has tubing in several more colors also.  Do you fancy red, green, or yellow?

As always, there is no advertising on this site.  If I tell you about a product, it is only to help you find something that I know from experience will work.  For all I know there are thousands of places to buy this.  I have heard that aquarium tubing works.

The finish on the head of the machine was sandpaper rough.  It looked like the varnish had hundreds of tiny bubbles that had burst, leaving jagged edges.  I had to attack the finish more vigorously than I usually do, at least on the bed.

Cleaning the gunk began to reveal the decals, although going too far begins to strip off the colored layer of the decals, revealing the silver beneath.

I made a radical decision on the back of the machine--I deliberately stripped it down to the silver.  It was even gunkier back here than on the front.  I just wanted to be able to see the letters and the designs.  I don't regret it.

And if you feel the need to tell me how I have sinned, send all comments to
Cheryl Warren
c/o Michael Garibaldi
Babylon 5
Epsilon Eridani

best I could do on the front

The decals on the machine look much worse in person than they do in the photographs.  The remaining gunk obscuring the decals is still dimensional--it has thickness.  It's ugly.  It's horrible.  If you saw it you would NOT blame me for stripping the back!  At least I think you wouldn't.

And although I do dearly love a beautiful machine and would swap this head out for a prettier one in a heartbeat, in the end what REALLY matters is how well it sews.  And, like most of my vintage and antique sewing machines, it sews very sweetly.  It is a pleasure to sit at this machine.

It has an interesting bed decal that reads "Made in US America".  Doug from the Davis board suggested that the number of stars on the flag would be a clue to its age, but they are just too worn away to count.

The luck of the Davises held all the way through, btw.  I did not know this before I bought it, but apparently this model (the NEW vertical feed) is the only one that takes regular sewing machine needles, rather than some obscure and hard to find vintage needle. 

Here's the thing about a nice friendly treadle, one that works well and fits your body:  it's just fun to sew on.  Not really much different from other smoothly working vintage machines, once you find the rhythm of the treadle.

Buy a treadle (or revive your grannie's with some oil and a nice new belt) and you, too, can joke about being ready for the fall of civilization.

(and, in honor of my Baltimore roots)
How 'bout them asteroids, hon?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

HMTATM?* The Electric Treadle

*How Many Treadles Are Too Many?

I sold my Singer 7-drawer gingerbread-y treadle with a Singer 237 in it, and the recipient wanted sewing lessons--on a treadle.  So the same day I delivered it, I went out and bought another treadle.  It was on CraigsList in the Big City, but was actually here in my little town, population 5,000, two blocks from my house.  It was filthy, and the veneer was not peeling, it was entirely de-laminating.  But for $25 it was perfect for down in the studio, where "eclectic" is probably the kindest thing that can be said about the decor.

The great thing about items that are in truly horrible condition is that you never have to worry about messing them up.  I took a scraper to the veneer and removed as much as possible, and in largish chunks whenever possible. This got about 75% of it off.  A very damp old linen dish towel and a hot iron allowed even more veneer to be scraped off and then a final steam or two took off much of the old glue.  All of this was really fun.  Destructo.

Sadly, no before or during photos.  One can do, or one can photograph and do at half-speed.  Or less.

Then I spent a couple of days gluing and clamping the remaining layers back together.  Then light sanding, then several coats of tung oil.

The wood underneath the top two layers of veneer looks quite nice on display, don't you think?

I removed the veneer from the front edge, where it was in the worst shape, but left it on the inside of the lid, where the fabric will be sliding across.

Singer 237 in its new home

This machine is going to serve the needs of more than one student:  two students who are treadling Singer 237s at home, and another student who bought an electric Japanese zig-zagger from me.  The 237 has a great reputation as both an electric machine and as a treadle.  I need one that is both.

New student Heidi.  Welcome!

The problem solver here is coil spring steel belting, available from McMaster Carr.  It's more expensive than the other treadle belt alternatives (to be discussed in future posts).  But it's stretchy, so it is perfect for this use, where I will be taking the treadle belt on and off of the hand wheel. If you want to do this yourself, its the 5/16" diameter carbon steel belt.  It comes in 10 foot lengths, which is enough for one Singer treadle but not enough for two.  You have to also buy the connectors which screw inside the two open ends of the belt--it's the smaller coil shown below. 

I cut it with giant bolt cutters because giant bolt cutters are the tool I have.  No idea what you should really use.

The coil spring belt is also good if you are treadling a Singer 306, 316, or 319.  They have to be tilted back in order to change the bobbin.  With a spring belt you do not also have to release the belt. 

Returning student Heather treadles a 237 at home also.

Heather's shoes have toes. Just had to show you!

treadle mode with motor belt removed

I took some of the extra belting and also made a motor belt.  I can switch this machine back and forth from electricity to people power in less than a minute.  Considerably less--a few seconds is all it takes.  And an electric light on a treadle is always a nice touch.

motor mode with treadle belt dropped down.  yes, the metal motor belt is noisy.

I know nothing about motors.  Some day I will learn.  Not today.  I have heard that the stretchy rubber motor belts are bad for motors, but I don't know why.  So maybe this is bad also.  But since it is used at most for a fraction of an hour a week, I'm not too worried about it.  This machine is strictly for student use.  I do my own treadling upstairs in "Studio North", aka the living room.

Since students are coming every week, I plan to leave the machine up, not tucked away in the cabinet.  The studio is also the guest room, and this treadle is also the bedside table, so the only time I will put the machine away is when someone is planning to sleep in that bed.  So the machine needs a cover.  And in an amazing twist of fate I spotted this magazine rack across the room at a charity shop and was immediately drawn to it.  At first I did not know why.  Can you read upside down?

By the time I got this close I knew what it was and scooped it up.  Two other women openly lusted after it and told me so before I got to the check out. A little reverse carpentry, and voila:  returned to its original function, albeit in a less elegant setting.

So, a real pastiche, an ancient and decrepit Singer straight leg treadle stripped of much of its veneer and glued back together, holding a Singer 237 zigzagger with dual motor and treadle capability, crowned with an absolutely gorgeous New Home coffin top from an even earlier era.

I call this the electric treadle, and this is not its first incarnation as an electric treadle.  It came with a treadle-pedal-as-motor-controller conversion box.  Back in the day you could add a motor to your treadle sewing machine.  Unscrew the pitman from the flywheel and screw it into the motor controller.  The treadle pedal will then control the motor on the sewing machine and make it go.  And the only reason I know this is that one of the folks over at treadleon sent me a copy of the instructions for attaching all of this.  Thanks, Jimmie!

side view of motor controller, the box to the right of the flywheel

All of the wiring was horrifying, of course, and I have no intention of trying to use this.  And although the machine had a motor and the motor was connected to this controller, the pitman was still connected to the flywheel, meaning that it was functioning as a treadle when I bought it.  Just another vintage sewing machine mystery. 

It was my husband's grandmother's treadle that set off the addiction.  I had always wanted one.....ONE.  I never imagined any reason why I would want or need more than one.  Silly me.  In future weeks I will describe my other treadles and the reasons why I love them and have to keep them. 

How many do YOU have?  Are they enough or do you want more?  Do you think you have too many? many treadles are too many?