Sunday, April 19, 2015

In and Out: Recent VSM comings and goings

Life has reached a tipping point.  The sheer quantity of cabinets has threatened to overwhelm my house and some of them MUST and WILL go, even if I have to take them to a thrift shop.  My problem is that I want things to be used, and I know they will languish for months in the thrift shop--because I see the same old cabinets in the same old places all the time.

The number of machines coming in to the house is exceeding the number of machines leaving (this is totally normal btw) but NOT because I am buying them.  It is because my quilt guild buddies are donating them to me.  When they are the good kind, the all metal vintage beauties from the Golden Age of Sewing Machines, I do try to convince them to keep them.  No luck there yet though.  Many of my guild friends do like their Featherweights or would gladly take a Featherweight off of me (I have no spares though) but for some reason the idea of forty pounds of cast iron just does not appeal to them.

I have had some luck in the cabinet reduction plan.  FIF Maureen (Formerly Imaginary Friend, meaning that I met her online before meeting her in person) bought a Singer 185 hand crank for her daughter-in-law, and I told her I would knock $10 off the price if she also took a cabinet.  The 185 is a 3/4 size machine, and cabinets for them are not easy to find, but they are apparently not easy to sell either.   I know, I tried.

Singer 185 with spoked wheel and hand crank painted Krylon celery green

Pancha brought over a lovely pale iris Kenmore she bought from me a couple of years ago that was behaving badly.  It was an easy fix and I managed to persuade her to take home a nice BIG desk style cabinet.  Kenmores only fit in Kenmore cabinets.  This cabinet had arrived with an 1803.  FIF Linda bought the 1803 but didn't want the cabinet, so it had been taking up valuable real estate here.

not sure if this is a photo of Pancha's actual machine, but it IS this color

FIF Barbara bought a Singer parlor treadle and an absolutely lovely pink 15-clone to go in it.  She plans to switch back and forth between treadling it (her) and using the motor (her mother).  It is a lovely shade of pink too, not that is-it-pink-or-is-it-beige shade so common to pink machines of that era.

a gleaming, glossy surface
I forgot to take pictures of it in the parlor cabinet, but I will correct that on our next sewing machine play date.  And here's a secret, just for you (shhhhh):  this machine would NEVER have been offered on CraigsList or any other sale venue.  It was just too special.  It waited here until the right person showed up and I felt inspired to offer it.

a classic 15-clone
The parlor cabinet had originally housed a Singer 127 with not-too-bad Sphinx decals, and Barbara came back recently to pick that one up too.  She plans to convert it to a hand crank.

needs a front slide plate, as so many of them do.

Non-sewing friend Becky took home another desk-style cabinet to use as an actual desk in her new apartment.  She is putting a piece of poster board on the top and had a piece of glass cut to go over that.  I'm sure she will do something crafty with the blank canvas provided by the poster board.

Becky has only recently joined the ranks of enablers.  She called me a couple of months ago from a nearby charity shop.  The conversation went like this:

B:  Hi, I am at the Goodwill and there is a sewing machine here.  The label says something like "burreena"
Me:  Bernina?
B:  Yes.
Me:  Buy it.
B:  But I haven't told you how much it is.
Me:  Doesn't matter, buy it.
B:  But I haven't told you anything about it.
Me:  Doesn't matter, buy it.
B:  It's in a red case.
B:  It's $15.
Me:  OMG, buy it NOW!

Needless to say, she bought it.  And she told me that four other shoppers tried to persuade her to give it up as she was on her way to the front of the store.  Turns out it is a Bernina 807, which appears to be the budget version of the much-sought-after Bernina 830.  Lovely machine, now the go-to workhorse of the studio.

Bernina 807

A solid vintage workhorse WITH a free arm is a dandy thing.  And I just happened to have exactly the right table for that free arm.  The free arm differs in length and width from manufacturer to manufacturer (and possibly from model to model) so just any old table might not work.

Table folded down, so that you have access to the bobbin.

Table folded up, to provide a large working surface

And speaking of 830's, I had one that I just could not get to turn freely.  Functionally it worked perfectly, it was just sluggish.  I tried everything I could think of for weeks and finally gave up in disgust.  FIF Marianne was over here to pick up another much-sought after machine, an all-aluminum 3/4 size Bel Air Bantam.  She bought the 830 also and I was very happy, because I could only have sold it to someone who thoroughly understood the problem and was willing to try to deal with it.  She says she knows a good OSMG (old sewing machine guy).

Bel Air Bantam

So those (and the 99 mentioned below) have gone out the door in the last months.  Coming in the door (in addition to the Bernina):

A Singer 66 Red Eye, back clamper, from guild buddy Janet.  She bought the whole treadle but just wanted the base.  I have tried (repeatedly) to convert her to treadling, so far unsuccessfully.  Told her this could be her big moment, as the 66 is a lovely treadler (well, all the really old machines are lovely treadlers, aren't they?)  No dice, so I got the Red Eye.  Cleaned up a treat, and I used it as a demo machine at our guild's recent annual quilt show.

Guild buddy Linda enjoys the treadle experience

I stripped down a Singer straight leg treadle, made of tubular steel rather than cast iron and therefore more light weight.  This is my travelling treadle and I can pop any compatible machine into it.

Me at the Red Eye, taking a break from talking to everyone about their grandmothers' machines
If you have a treadler in your quilt guild, why not help her transport a treadle to your next public event?  Everybody, and I do mean everybody, will enjoy telling her about their grandmothers' treadles.  Its a great way to get the crowd to interact with your guild members.

A hand crank is another great crowd pleaser at public events, particularly for children.  I took a Singer Spartan to another public event at a local mall.  The kids got to choose a 5" square with a picture on it and sew it to a plain blue 5" square.  These will eventually go into a quilt for the UNC Children's Cancer Hospital (one of our guild charities).

Mr. Sunshine with a Singer Spartan hand crank,
I'm very careful not to show photos of children unless I know the parents and have their permission, so I persuaded Mr. Sunshine to pose with the hand crank.  Eleven children participated throughout the day and the squares you see in the photo were all sewn by kids.

Another new arrival in the studio:
A Morse 3/4 size vibrating shuttle machine (long bobbins).  I guess you could call this a Singer 128-clone.   I had never seen one before spying this exact machine on the site.  I didn't bid on it, but guild buddy Jo showed up with it a short while later--her daughter had bought it!  It needed a motor and I helped her get it up and running.  The long bobbin system was no fun for them, however, so she brought it back and gave it to me.  In return I gave her a Singer 99, same size but with a drop-in bobbin much more familiar to modern sewing people.

Morse 3/4 size vibrating (long) shuttle machine

And a heads up about the Morse:  the standard reproduction hand crank will NOT work with it.  The critical distance between the motor (and hand crank) mount and the handwheel is incorrect.  This is the same reason that you cannot convert a Singer 306 or 319 to hand crank.  I know, I have tried.

Nothing wrong with the long bobbin vibrating shuttle system btw, it is just a different system to learn and I totally sympathize with anyone who does not want to bother with it.  In fact it is superior in one significant way.  It is so open underneath that there is almost nowhere for lint to accumulate--most of it just falls away underneath.  Closed bobbin systems have to be cleaned much more regularly and carefully to keep them working properly.

Guild buddy Cynthia brought two machines to me at our last guild meeting.  Her church had a sewing group once upon a time, long disbanded, and these two machines were languishing in a closet and needed to go away.  They were more modern machines and I have not checked them out yet.   But I never turn away any sewing machines.  If they are working I will eventually find a home for them.  If I can't fix them they can be organ donors for other machines.

The main reason I never turn away a machine:  people keep bringing you MORE and some of them are gems.  Cynthia called me a couple of weeks later to tell me about a machine a friend of hers was throwing away.  The only thing she knew about it was that it was a Singer.  She and her husband even hauled it all the way to me (I belong to a small friendly guild in another county rather than the mega-guild in my own territory).  Imagine my delight to discover a real gem:  a Singer 237.

don't let the boring looks fool you

The 237 is nothing special to look at.  But (and please correct me if I am wrong) it is the only all-metal-innards (well, almost, read on) Singer zigzagger than can be treadled and that takes common needles and bobbins.  I used to run across these all the time, and at one time had 4 or 5 of them.  Sold two of them as treadles.  Once they were all sold they quit turning up in the thrift shops and it has been a couple of years since I have acquired one.

There is one teeny tiny plastic piece (tension stud gear) down in the innards of the tensioner on a 237 and when it goes bad you have to replace the tensioner.  It is a cheap ($12 or less) and easy fix.  Supposedly you can just replace that tension stud gear with a similar part if you do some modification on it but every time I have needed one it has been sold out.

The best selling vintage machines in my little world are the simple zigzaggers.  Many people are intimidated by the multi-stitch machines.  The zigzaggers almost explain themselves:  one dial (or lever) for stitch length, one for stitch width.  Does not get much easier than that.

The very, very best simple machines for home sewing (in my opinion) have one additional feature:  the blind hem stitch.  This is a miraculous stitch that makes a blind hem (duh) and the secret lies in how you fold the hem and feed it into the machine.  Back in the day (decades ago) I had tried and failed a couple of times to figure this out.  I only mastered it when a friend showed me how.

So an absolute favorite machine of mine is the Singer 223, a post war Japanese Singer, which has a lever for stitch length and a dial for stitch width

and a little lever to switch back and forth between the simple zigzag and the blind hem stitch

The photos above are of the 223 in my permanent collection.  I recently found another one at a thrift shop but it still has plenty of grime on it and is not very photogenic at the moment.

BTW, Singer made another model with zz + blind hem, the 457.  It look suspiciously like a 237 but don't be fooled.  It has nylon gears, which were great for the first 40 or 50 years but are on the verge of death by now.  So avoid that one.  Sorry I don't have a photo of my own, but a Google image search will show it to you.

I never got around to holding my annual CraigsList Christmas sale in 2014, but I will be offering sewing machines for sale at this years NC TOGA.  More about that later.  And if you are anywhere near Hillsborough NC and in need of a sewing machine cabinet, give me a call.  Free to a good home...


  1. I just loved this post. I started acquiring vintage machines over 3 years ago. I now know what I like to sew on best. For piecing, I love the Singer 301 best. I have 3 LBOWs. One is always out, one travels, and one is in reserve. I love the 401s for zig zag. I have an old 15 treadle (parlor cabinet) used for scrap made fabric, a 237 in a treadle stand, a cherry 15-91, an older rescue 15-91, and a very nice 15-90. I use 15s for sewing on bindings, making purses and other heavier sewing. I have a Spartan handcrank and one not. A 99 that was rescued and a 3/4 size Kenmore 1040 and a Featherweight from Christmas for travel. My goal was to teach others how to sew quilts and gift them with one of the 3/4 ones. I haven't found any takers. I would love to pass these on, but don't want to ship due to the amount of prep and worry attached. I now have a hand guidedNolting longarm for quilting that I am still pretty pathetic on.
    I wish I could find people who would lovingly use them as I have restored and rescued them from the scrap dealers. I just love your blog today. Wish we could sit and have a cup of coffee together and talk.

  2. So much good info in this post for a green onion. I started collecting just this past year. However I was gifted a 1954 15-91 Singer about 8 years ago that was mint and I fell in love with it. My only other machine was a Viking 980 which I had purchased new in mid to later 1980's and it still works like a charm and I have always enjoyed the Viking because the tension and stitching has always been perfect and my two previous ones gave me fits in that department. Back to the 15-91. I was amazed at how fast it stitched compared to the Viking so naturally it won me over for all the straight stitching I did.

    A year or so ago I inquired as to changing the 15-91 into a treadle and found out it was possible but way too much trouble. Last Sept I went to Lake City, MN TOGA and came home with a Singer 28 handcrank.
    A week later I found a 237 Singer and it came home with me. I planned to make it into a treadle but haven't done so as of yet. I love stitching with it. Then this past winter I came home with a 1891 VS2 Singer complete with cabinet and irons. Cabinet not the best but irons were in great shape. Sadly it didn't have a shuttle or bobbins or anything with it. However it wasn't frozen and everything worked freely. Decals not in great shape but for being that age I think it's perfect. A young man had picked it up and was so surprised when I said I was going to make it work again. I located a shuttle and bobbin and a couple months ago put it back together after cleaning everything up. It worked and stitches were good. There wasn't much thread on the bobbin and when it ran out I looked inside the bobbin and could see dust in the bottom. Took that out and also cleaned some out from underneath the spring on the shuttle. Thought to myself that now it would be perfect. Not so. it hasn't stitched good since that day. I haven't had time to really dedicate a couple hours to working on it any more but have been doing some thinking along the lines of what I should try next. Neither me nor the lady I purchased the shuttle from were certain it was the correct one. May start looking for another and see where that takes me.

    Didn't mean to ramble on and on but I so enjoyed both your post. BTW, what does LBOW stand for?

    1. Light Brown, Oyster White- the color combination.

  3. I wish people would give me free sewing machines! LOL

  4. Well….. I’m wanting a trapezoid cabinet for my 301. But I’m pretty sure you don’t have one to give away! :-)

  5. Love your Bernina transcript. I was echoing each of your responses!

  6. I guess yeah don't ship, do you?

  7. I love the style of the Bel Air Bantam, it's just beautiful. It is one of my favorite machines, as if I played favorites.


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