Friday, August 1, 2014

Introducing: RIVER SONG!!!

After a long time and much indecision and waffling, I have finally finished the sparkly blue repaint and decal job on the Singer 27.  Her name is River Song.  Dr. Who fans will get it.

Singer Model 27, circa 1900
You have seen it here before:  getting the paint stripped off of it, and getting the sparkly blue paint job

A shout out to Christy H for suggesting the name "River Song" for this machine.  I met Christy on a private Facebook group.   I had been racking my brain for a blue-related name.    Thanks, Christy, "River Song" is the perfect name!

Now I am here to tell you what I did with the decals and why, what worked and what didn't and why, what I would do again, and what I would do differently the next time.

My first painting and decalling project was Shield Maiden, and I deliberately created black decals because I knew that adding color would complicate the process.  This time I planned to make my own color decals.

Folks, it just did not work out.  I spent an estimated 50 hours (I'm not kidding) searching for and messing with possible images for decals.  In the end, I just could not get images that would look good against the sparkly BRIGHT blue.  At the 50 hour mark it stopped being fun and became agonizing drudgery and I quit.  After all, this is a hobby and it is supposed to be fun.

This doesn't mean that I have given up on the color decals.  I do have a plan, involving silver hammered Rustoleum and another Domestic high arm fiddlebase and I will tell you all about it later.  Probably much later.

So there we were, the sparkly blue 27 and me, thinking about our future.  It was too pretty just to abandon.  It needed decals, just not color decals.  I could have done black again, and that would have worked, but I had already done that and I wanted to explore something else.

So I bought a set of decals from Keeler Sales on eBay.  They have a variety of decals for a variety of sewing machines, many Singer models and some other manufacturers' models also.  I bought the flat gold gingerbread style for the Singer 27 and 127.  $55 with shipping.  They do decals in color also, but they don't look like convincing duplicates of the original decals to me.  But I have not seen them in person so I don't really know.  The gingerbread or Tiffany style decals are very ornate and I thought the flat gold would look good against the bright blue.  And it does!

I used Keeler decals once before, to replace flat gold decals on the bed of a Singer 301, and I liked them.

Myra (another treadle fanatic frequently mentioned here) and my friend Becky (crafting person but not yet sewing person) came over to watch the decal application.  I discussed the process of applying waterslide decals in some detail here when I decalled Shield Maiden, so take a look if you want the DIY details.

I have a Singer 115 with Tiffany/gingerbread decals and we got that out for a side-by-side comparison to see where the decals go.  FIRST MISTAKE.  The 115 is fatter and has a shorter harp width than the 27.  Not the same shape.  And Keeler has a nice photo of the 27 with Tiffany decals.  I should have used their photo as a guide.

Decal #1:  Back of the arm
We began in the back of the machine on the theory that my technique would improve as I went along and any mistakes were more likely to happen first.  We looked at the 115, found the same decal on one of the two Keeler sheets, and cut and applied one decal at a time.  SECOND MISTAKE.  What I should have done, and I actually thought about this ahead of time and decided not to be so obsessive, was scan and print the Keeler decals, cut them all out, and figure out where each one would go on the machine before even beginning.  Although looking at the Keeler photo would probably have been enough to prevent the problems:

On the 115, the decal wraps around the spool pin

Placement Mistake #1:  Spool pin and oil holes

The oil hole placement is a bit different on the 115.  In retrospect it is glaringly obvious that these two decals should have straddled the spool pin and oil hole on the longer 27.  But on the 115 one of the decals sits right over the spool pin, so that's where I put it.

Looks stupid, does it not?

Placement Mistake #2:  Front and back of the nose.

I did the back first and just chose the wrong decal.  When I got around to the front, the other nose decal did not fit.  I trimmed off some of the outer detail and made it fit.

Placement Mistake #3:  Pillar decals

The pillar decals on the 115 sat all the way at the bottom of the pillar.  I thought they would look better if I moved them up 1/4".  Myra was skeptical.

I should have listened to her, because by the time I got around to the front of the pillar I found that this resulted in a small part of the decal being underneath the bobbin winder attachment point.

None of the placement problems bother me, btw.  The spool pin will be covered by a felt or a spool pin doily.  The other mistakes just don't look that bad.  And Myra, who has a trashed out 27 of her own and plans to paint it fire engine red, says that this was just a trial run for HER machine!

the length of the bed edge decals made them quite tricky

Up to this point all went fairly easily.  The arm and bed decals were MUCH more challenging because they are so much larger.  It is more difficult to get them into the correct position, and more difficult to slide them into a slightly new position once they are on.  There are many more wrinkles and bubbles that have to be finessed out.  It all did work out, just with more time and trouble.  When I do my own decals on the next machine I will remember this, and do smaller decals, or decals that will go together in pieces with each unit smaller.

see the wrinkles?

There was one problem with the front arm decal that I anticipated, because I had the same problem on Shield Maiden.  You cannot expect a flat decal to go smoothly over a convex surface.  I attempted to solve the problem in advance by cutting tiny snips into the outer edges of the circular design on the pillar end of the arm. (Just like clipping the edge on a curved seam in sewing.)  It worked, but only partially.  If I had cut further down into the decal it would have worked better.  I chose areas where breaks in the design would not be too obvious.  But because I did not cut far enough in, I still got a couple of wrinkles that just could not be smoothed out.

Placement Problem (not a mistake of mine):  Bed decals

The bed decals are in four parts:  the left end past the slide plates, the front, the back, and the center of the bed.  I put the left end on first, and I am glad I did.  I really think that the decal itself is just a trifle too long for the machine.  The only possible placement was to begin exactly at the front edge of the bed and run to the back edge.  This looks OK.  But when I tried to line the front and back decals up with the left edge decals, I ended up with a portion of the design dripping over the edge of the bed.  Moving them back would have removed the drip,  but then the design elements would have been mis-aligned.  I went with the drip.

The biggest problem with the decals, and this DOES bother me, is the fact that the decals themselves are apparent against the sparkly blue paint.  You can see the edges of the decals.  They look like they have very tiny air bubbles underneath them--because they do.  This was obvious while I was applying them, and no matter how much pressure I put against the edges of them, the problem persisted.  They also appear to be raised above the paint finish--because they are.

OK, so it's not THAT obvious.  But it bothers me.

I know that this is NOT a problem with the decals themselves.  This did not happen on Shield Maiden, where they just melted into the paint job and are invisible, except for one spot where there is a tiny air bubble that I missed.  It is not apparent on the black Singer 301 either.  Both the Keeler decals and my DIY decals worked just fine on other machines.  So what happened here?

It's the finely grained texture of the sparkliness of the paint.  To go to an extreme, imagine applying decals over coarse sandpaper.  No matter how hard you worked, the decals would still be sitting above the surface of the paper itself, and there would always be some tiny pockets of air around the grains of sand.  The grains of sparkliness are much tinier than sandpaper, but the effect is the same.

Sigh.  I do love this paint, but I will never use it again on any machine with decals.  I might use it on a vintage (as opposed to antique) machine with badges and dials and no decals, but I haven't been planning to paint any machines of that type.  It really is pretty, but the extreme sparkliness really only shows up in direct sunlight.  It is still pretty indoors, but loses much of its drama.

Update:  In the comments section below "Dre in PA" asks about the clear coat process which I discussed in an earlier DIY decal post.  On thinking over her comment it does (NOW) seem pretty obvious to me that clear coating BEFORE applying the decals over the sparkly textured paint probably would have solved this problem.

The bobbin winder is a tricky son of a gun to paint, so I decided not to.  I stripped off the black paint and then wire brushed the cast iron portions to a gleam.  Then I used clear nail polish to seal and protect those parts only (not the chrome plated parts).  Seemed like a good idea, and easy to apply with the little brush.  Because the chrome is completely gone from the nearby handwheel, the silver-ish steel and iron colors match.

Notice that the badge is being held on by only one little pin.  One of them fit into its hole and I tapped it back in with a small hammer.  That worked.  On the other side, the hole is not as deep and the pin would not go in.  I'm still thinking about what to do about this.  Probably just cut that pin shorter and then whack it in.

Access cover before any restoration

This machine came to me in pretty bad shape.  The decals were mostly gone.  The paint was worn and chipped.  The metal parts were missing chrome, some were slightly rusty, and some were slightly corroded.  400 grit sandpaper took off the light rust.  The dremel rotary tool and some wire brushes helped a lot.

However, the round access port cover on the back still looked pretty bad.  Black showed inside the corrosion and no amount of polishing or wire brushing removed it.  Time for more experiments.

Although I have never liked the look of painted metal parts, this needed serious help.  I used a fine tip silver Sharpie PAINT pen (not a marker) to cover the inside or lower level of the design.  It took a couple of coats.  The fine tip allowed me to keep the paint on the lower level.  Then I used a silver Sharpie MARKER to go over the corroded areas of the raised portions of the design, and wiped this off with a paper towel immediately.  The point of this was to get silver down into the black corrosion pits but leave the raised design with whatever was left of the original chrome plating.  The silver paint and the silver marker were slightly different colors of silver and this worked well.  I'm really happy with the results.

I have discussed in detail every problem that arose, every flaw that I can see.  This is so that when YOU paint a machine you will know some of the pitfalls, have realistic expectations, and get your best possible results.  Don't think for a moment that these problems mean that I'm unhappy with the machine.  I think it is gorgeous.

Everyone keeps asking me what I am going to do with it.  How the heck should I know?  The whole point was to experiment and play, and I chose my most cosmetically horrible machine to do it on.  This particular machine has no motor boss, so I can't put a hand crank or a motor on it.  It can only be treadled.  I have a surplus of treadles.  Would I sell it?  Maybe in a year or so.  Maybe sooner.  Best offer over $500 takes it, and I will throw in a Singer parlor cabinet.  Mwahahahaha.


  1. Ooh, it's true. You only can see the mistakes if you made them, and since I didn't make them, this looks perfect to me!
    As for the name "All of time and space. You watch us run"


    1. perfect first reply to the comments section of this post. thanks so much!

  2. I think it is gorgeous and cannot see any flaws, despite your detailed explanation of them. I have a very beat up 115. I am inspired to repaint it. As soon as the house is done.

  3. You certainly have a very detail oriented mind both to work on this methodically and document it. I don't think I could ever paint a sewing machine another color, it is just me. You did a wonderful painstaking job!

  4. She is breathtaking! Even though you see all the mistakes, they really aren't glaring and the overall finished product is wonderful. Thanks for sharing all the info about your process!

  5. Cheryl,
    She looks awesome.
    I see in some of the process photos that parts are still masked off while you are applying the decals. Did you finish up with a clear coat? If not, why not? I'd be interested to know the thought behind the decision. Seems like clear coat would "fill" some of the granular gaps.
    The retouch on the access port is a genius decision- off to the craft store!

    1. Yes, I did clear coat. I had published all of the DIY details about applying decals in a previous post and didn't want to repeat myself here. All of the close up photos are "after" the clear coat.

  6. I will probably never paint an old machine or even find one to do it to, but want to let you know how pretty it is and that I enjoyed reading each and every step you took! Beautiful job!!!

  7. Whatever its flaws as you see them, it looks perfect in the photos. Sorry the decals were so expensive and still had to be fiddled with so much--but this machine is a beauty now! (I'm hoping she will sew as well as she looks!)

  8. This is truly amazing. Whorish even, like a tricked out movie star. Your work is just fantastic.

  9. Great job. I have one or two machines that could really use this help (not much decals left, and silvered, and missing large amounts of paint on the machine). Stripping and repainting one myself scares me.

  10. She is absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous and I love the name! Perfect.

  11. I have begun removing my old sewing machines from the closets and have even bought two non-working machines, and I don't even have a clue how to get them working. It is a disease. My new non-working Kenmore 158.1303 (1969 = 1971) must have been in humid surroundings since the paint appears to have some rusty breakthrough. The bobbin case is missing and the moving parts don't move. I guess all races are worth running, but I like to win in the end. Do you know if this machine has any "gem" like qualities that make it worth the effort and money? It is really a plain-Jane in looks.
    P.S. I love the name of your gathering in N.C. Do you know of one in Tennessee or Arkansas?

    1. Sandra
      I hope you see this. I could not answer by email since your settings for blogspot are "no reply". People do report that they repair rusted machines. Personally, I do not bother with machines if the working bits are rusted. There are just too many inexpensive machines that are un-rusted for me to want to invest the additional time. Check for a current listing of events and their locations. Good luck with your sewing machine addiction. There is no known cure!

    2. I am one of those strange people who accept the challange of the rusted machine. Every one I have taken on works like new. The biggest problem is if the rust has weakened the parts. that matter. If it hasent, you are good to go. Not even that hard !

  12. Your blue sparkly looks great! I had the same experience with regular metallic paint - the decals don't lay down properly - it bothered me so much, I stripped that machine and re-painted it with a non-metallic paint. (I wasn't happy with the color and I'm a bit anal!) I also read about a "decal set" product that you brush onto the decals and it makes them melt into the paint - I purchased the testors brand at Michael's - it didn't work at all! Did a little more research and there is another brand that is reported to work well, can't remember the name of it but if you google you will see it talked about on hobby sites (model airplanes, cars etc) I will try it on my next paint job this fall. The decals are OK on a regular non-metallic paint but the edges still show, regardless of how many coats of clear coat I apply!

  13. I am not sure if you will see this so late in the game but here goes. Thank you for boldly going where I have been terrified to go. I have a cabinet full of inexpensive (all I can afford) Singers. I have been buying them for years and wanted to repaint them but did not know what I wanted. They all work, they just have chips and very little decal left. One of the scariest things I have ever seen (other than the time that snake crawled up my sewing room wall next to my computer) was that naked head sitting there waiting for paint. You did a beautiful job. I love the name. And if she sews then, mission accomplished.


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