Monday, April 28, 2014

Two Unusual Treadleable Singer Zigzaggers

(all the model numbers slung around in the discussion below are Singers)

Singer 177C

I don't usually bother with freecycle sewing machines, because there are no pictures and usually the model is not mentioned.  But this time the ad mentioned a Touch N Swear with accessories, and I need slant shank accessories for a 301 I am preparing for sale.  Ad said she had two machines, both broken.

So the woman dragged the useless plastic crap (with a nice Singer box of accessories, and a buttonholer) out of her car and I thanked her and put it all in my truck.

Then she pulled out the usual beat up vintage case that obviously weighed 40 pounds out and was astounded when I got all excited about it.  I was even more excited when we opened it up and discovered a Singer 177C.  First one I ever saw, and I had heard of it for the first time only a couple of weeks before.

The 177 was made in Brazil between 1972 and 1975.  It is an all metal* zigzagger, in a dark beige pebble finish.  It has a small metal motor controller of what I think of as the "gas pedal" style.  I'm sure there's a technical term for it.  It's my favorite Singer controller type--easy to use and NOT plastic.

*it's all metal as we usually mean all metal, meaning all metal gears.  The bobbin shuttle gate is plastic, just like a 237.  I've never had any trouble with this part with the half a dozen 237s that have gone through my hands.

It is obviously meant to be an economy model
  • no light
  • feed dogs do not drop
  • they did not bother to paint the motor to match--it's black
  • I'm very motor-ignorant (more later) but the motor strikes me as a bit wimpy in use

It was dry as a bone, linted up under the needle plate and in the bobbin area, and very sluggish as a result.  After a cleaning and oiling it purrs like a kitten.

A kitten, or maybe a nice domestic cat.  Definitely not a tiger.

Came with a manual in great condition, too. Lovely stitches, including a very nice satin stitch.

More details about the 177
  • class 15 bobbin
  • takes regular needles
  • low shank
  • tensioner on the nose, like a 15

It will take a reproduction hand crank and spoked wheel--I did test this.  Treadlers take note:  It can be treadled.  There aren't a lot of zigzag Singers that can be treadled.

Here's what might have led to the previous owner's diagnosis of "it's broken".  The bobbin loads in the same direction as a 221 or 301, which I think of as "backwards" to the normal way a 15 bobbin loads into the bobbin case.  It threads from right to left, also like the 221 or 301.  If you did either one of these wrong it would indeed not work.

I love it.  In the world of beiges, this is an attractive shade.  It's styling is simple and sleek.  It does a great job of the two most important stitches--straight and zigzag.  This is the perfect type of machine for a beginning sewing person--simple and easy to use and almost bulletproof.  Its the type of machine that always sells well.

I liked it so much that I bid on, and got, another one from  This one has a very squeaky motor, and sadly I STILL have not learned to "do" motors.  Someday.  Really.  However since it is treadle-able that should not be a problem.  Remove motor.  Store it in the big pile of removed motors that some day I will practice motor maintenance on.

I've gotten pickier about the machines that I buy because I really don't want to keep a house full of sewing machines, but I do still enjoy rehabilitating them.  This means that they MUST be sale-able or donate-able.  And if I don't believe in the machine, then I don't want to sell it and I certainly don't want to donate it.  I will have no problem giving the 177 a recommendation for regular household sewing.  Looking for something to repair boat sails with?  Maybe not this one.


Singer 223

Another recent super find was a Japanese Singer 223.  I've got one in the permanent collection and in January I found one more.  I sold it within two weeks, pretty much right after I finished cleaning it.

feed dog drop

This is my ideal of a sewing machine for a beginning garment sewing person.  Or an experienced garment sewing person.  Or any sewing person.  Why, you ask? Because it is

  • one of those all metal built-like-a-tank machines
  • class 15 bobbin system
  • feed dog drop
  • zigzag
AND the real killer feature
  • blind hem stitch

Here are the instructions for operating the blind hem stitch:  Off.  On.  See photo.

Of course, the whole trick is in folding the hem that you are stitching, but I'm sure there are sewing bloggers out there or on youtube if you need to know.  It's a nifty trick.

The zigzag width dial controls the width of the blind stitch also.

This is why these machines are easy to sell:  they are easy to use.  Stitch width, stitch length, and in this case an on/off switch for the blind hem.

Unless you are into decorative stitching, the only three stitches you really need or will use (in my undoubtedly arrogant opinion) is the straight stitch, the zigzag, and the blind hem stitch.  Tell me if I'm wrong.  But then tell me the percentage of time you use the whatever else stitch and why you use it.  Cause maybe I am missing something here.

My beloved 316G, Brunhilde, bit the dust in the middle of a project.  It's the motor, which moves my need to learn basic motor stuff WAY up the list.  I didn't have to think for a second about what would temporarily replace it in the studio.  I reached for my 223. 

A year and a half ago I took the trusty 223 (for the blind hem stitch) over to the DDs house.  We made lined window panels for her entire house.  It was a great mother/daughter project.  And the 223 had no problem sewing through multiple layers of heavy materials.  It feels like a powerful machine.  

We took over her entire living room and temporarily transformed it into a sewing studio.  I took over the steam press, the 223, my largest cutting mat, a standing light fixture, and all the other little things like scissors,  thread, etc.  DDA is not usually a sewing person.

But she temporarily became one, as she used great grandma's Singer 66 treadle to hem the panel linings.  It's the first machine I restored, and I was thrilled when she wanted it for her house.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Linda's 3/4 National Treadle

In the last post I regretted the lack of photos of this machine.  I visited my formerly-imaginary-friend Linda (now a real one, I hope I can claim!) and had so much fun that I forgot to take enough pictures.  But she came to the rescue and sent me bunches of pictures of this interesting cabinet.

The "Before" Photos

Fascinating design, but when I saw it, it was fairly rugged looking

Linda thinks the side compartments look like saddle bags.  You will see the covers to these compartments in the "after" photos.

Amazingly the top did NOT have the usual plant pot water rings.

photo enhanced to show the way the finish had left the building.  did not look quite this bad in person

The "After" Photos

I have said it before, and I will say it again:  Howard's Restor-A-Finish is a miracle worker.  I think Linda agrees.  Especially after I told her I thought there was too much damage to this finish for Howard's to do the job.  I just love being wrong.  No, that's not a snarky comment, I really DO love being wrong.  It's pretty much the only way I learn things.

So take a look and see if you agree about the Howard's.  She also did some sanding, and my only concern now is that the Howard's might not be enough protection for the wood.  What do you think about this?  Inquiring minds want to know.

It is not easy to see, so use your imagination for this next bit.  Each of the saddle bags has a lid that follows the slope of the compartment.  But on top of each saddle bad lid is a handle (next to the yellow star in the photo) that is parallel to the top of the machine, so that when the machine is open, the machine cover rests on the saddle bag lid.  I just love interesting designs.

Oh My Gosh this is a beautiful machine

I tried to enlarge and photo enhance the bed decal, which looks better in person.  She has named him "Griff" after this griffin.

I always love a nice ruler on the front, don't you?  She was worried that the Howard's might take this off, but she was careful and it survived.

 Eh, voila, the finished product.

Way to go, Linda!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sewing Machine Play Dates and Imaginary Friends

What do you call people whom you only know online?  I call them my imaginary friends.  This worried the DDs at first, but they are smart young women and catch on quickly.

I have had a few play dates recently with fellow onions Linda and Myra.  "Onions" is an affectionate term for treadleonians.  Linda was an imaginary friend before I drove down to meet her and her four incredibly awesome daughters.  I have known Myra for a couple of decades, long before she became an onion.

Here's Linda sewing on her National 3/4 size treadle.   And I really, really thought I had taken more pictures of it.  Cause I KNOW you want to see it.  She's working on the cabinet with Howard's now.  Hopefully there will be pictures later.

It was turning very freely, but the stitches were jamming up.  The problem and fix were simple: the feed dogs were set much too high.  At their highest they should be as high as the thickness of a dime.  A strong flashlight is all you need to follow them down from above to find the one screw that is holding them in place.  Loosen it, slide them to where you want them, and tighten it back down.  Five minutes to find the flashlight, 30 seconds to find the screw and find out that it is frozen in place, five minutes with the blow dryer to loosen the dried up oil.  Another minute, minute-and-a-half tops to re-set it.

Chinese sewing machine of the type known as a 15-clone

So:  Linda's husband was walking down a street in Afghanistan and saw a guy in a shop sitting on the floor, sewing with a hand crank sewing machine.  Husband inquired about where to get one, and the guy sold him one.  Brand new.  For $10.  And what did your significant other bring YOU from their last trip?

The machine is gorgeous in person, and although the base is kind of sketchy she will keep them together for obvious reasons.  It's the $10 for a brand new machine that boggles the mind.  Made in China, of course, but even the Chinese can't be producing cast iron sewing machines for $10 these days.  This could, of course, be the Chinese version of foreign aid.  If so, they are way smarter than we are.  No surprises there.


Myra scored a very nice Minnesota and had the fun of the detective work of trying to figure out what it was.  Apparently it is the earliest version of the Model A, made by Davis and designated by Davis as a Model E.  Or something like that.

It lives in a nice cabinet, but these photos were taken while we were working on it at my house.  Which explains the mess.

Notice the unnatural gleam on the bottom front of the pillar?  All of these pictures have been altered in PhotoScape (a free program).  I keep hitting the various auto-fix type buttons until the feature I am trying to show is as visible as possible).

As if this wasn't enough Minnesota awesomeness, a few weeks later Myra spotted an even prettier one on CraigsList, back in her hometown (a couple of hours from here).  This one was in a parlor cabinet.

Disclaimer:  I lightened these photos to show details.  the actual color of the cabinet is a rich and darker brown.  if I left it that color you would not see the beauty of the carvings, or the interesting interior details.

Myra has been haunting CraigsList and other local sales sites since coming down with an incurable case of VSMAD (Vintage Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder).  She keeps asking me "do you think this one is worth what they are asking?"  to which my answer is always "it is worth whatever you are willing to pay".  There is no Blue Book value for old sewing machines.  On this one, however, my answer was "if you don't go get it, I will!"

Probably the best question to ask yourself when contemplating a sewing machine (at least for all you fellow VSMAD sufferers) is this:  how much will I regret it later if I don't get it now?

It is clearly labelled as a Model A.

The decals are beautiful, as you can see.  Not perfect, but still gorgeous.

And I love, love, love the cabinets that automatically raise and lower the machine head.  It's no fun for an old lady to haul 40 pounds of cast iron up and down.  My Davis NVF has this feature and it is my go-to treadle.

More details of the beautiful parlor cabinet:

The cabinet interior looks terrific too.  This is "after" and Myra and her husband are good with the wood stuff.  All I have done to my parlor cabinet is knock the spider webs out of it.

Notice the two drawers inside.  There really are two, but one was out when the photo was taken.  Yellow star shows its location.

This drawer is part of the outer cabinet door.  It swings out.  Why is this unbearably cute?  I love seeing unusual features.

I was going to tell you all the things we did to these two Minnesotas, but I have waited way too long to write up this blog post and memory fog has set in.  Here's what's remember-able through the mist:

We put belts on them.  The first one got my favorite plastic tubing, and the parlor cabinet one got the more traditional leather.

Many needles of several sizes came with one of them, so she is probably set for life on needles.

They take the same shuttle, bobbin, and needle.  One of the shuttles was corroded.  I took it apart (one extremely tiny screw), cleaned it, and used emery paper to polish out the corrosion.  In my experience at least half of the long shuttles need this type of maintenance and it is super quick and easy to do.

And we tinkered, but I don't remember what we did.  Then a week later she had a problem with one of them, but before we could get back together she figured it out for herself.  Just one more step along the path of VSMAD.

They are both sewing beautifully.  If only all those other people realized that these machines are not a quaint oddity, not just a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but living, functioning EXCELLENT machines that can sew rings around any modern machine.  As long as all you want to do is straight stitch.  All you need for quilting....just saying.

Oh well, I should really be happy that the vast majority of modern sewing people like modern sewing machines.  Because IF THEY ONLY KNEW what they were missing, the prices would go way up.  Like Featherweights.  Or beyond.