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.


  1. What a great story, wonderful machines, lovely photos. Just reading this gave me bubbles of happiness! Good for you!

  2. the machines are gorgeous and i agree with you that they're perfectly capable and will be sewing beautifully when modern machines have rotted away to dust. I have my own herd of vintage beauties that I'm cutting my sewing machine mechanic teeth upon, so to speak. That said, I'm going to a quilting convention in Paducah, KY later this month and plan to buy a brand new computerized machine. Why? The woman who fostered my female dog is also a quilter and Rox spent many a happy hour as a wee pup snuggled up to the edge of the quilts and her feet while she sewed. I tried to discourage it but she sneaks under the table while I'm distracted and the next thing I know I hear a sigh and this heavy head descends onto my foot. she now weighs 80 pounds so it's really heavy! It was annoying until she caught me at a really bad moment and it became very dangerous. I was trying to thread the needle. Her head came down on the foot pedal and I top stitched along the outside of the middle joint of my thumb and nicked a tendon. My reaction to my machine seemingly going insane and eating my hand was to shove it away from me, permanently damaging the machine and causing it to sew through the plastic darning foot I had on it. I was more sickened by the sight of the presser foot all the way on the left side of and behind the needle than I was by my thumb. A relative had been trying to sway me to modern machines (they're soooo versatile...) for years, and since during my recovery I couldn't lift my machines (even the treadle was a pain to lift into position) I let her loan me her very modern machine. It has adequate stitch formation, it's quiet enough, but what really sold me on buying a modern machine is that it has stop/start. I packed away the foot pedal on the first day and my Rox can pillow her head on my feet to her hearts desire. Not really, she has been banned from under the sewing tables and my sewing area was rearranged to try and prevent her from getting under there again, but now that my trusty all-metal-even-the-camstack kenmore is a donor machine i need another zigzagger, and my daughter likes to use the few decorative stitches the kenmore had to embroider on ribbons to embellish her jeans and will actually use all of those fancy stitches and heck, i have a use for one and a hole in my sewing room that it will fill nicely. I fell in love with the start/stop, thread cutter and needle up/down, and it will be nice to have options for applique beyond top stitching and satin stitch. Yeah I could sew it by hand but my thumb starts to object after half an hour or so.

    Too long? Didn't read? I love my vintage machines, I love my dog, I still cry over the remains of my beautiful, reliable, never ever had a problem kenmore (no parts available as I'm still in my shrine phase), I'm buying a sewing computer with a good selection of bells and whistles because I want one and I think my daughter and I will enjoy using it. Also, my thumb hurts. :D

  3. Love the photos and stories, thanks for sharing! Love the parlor cabinet.

  4. OH, my dream parlor model. My folks had one back in the early 1960's--don't remember any history of it, never was used to sew on, but it was a bedside table in my childhood bedroom. Only difference was that ours had a short spindle railing around the back of the top.

  5. What a great cabinet! Even the Chinese machine is neat, especially for $10.

  6. Thanks for the eye candy! I have not seen many Minnesota machines "in the wild". Great parlor cabinet!!


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