Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Machine for Clinton

Long time readers may remember that I occasionally use this blog to communicate with one person.  This is one of those times.  I'm working on a sweet little 3/4 size pale iris Kenmore hand crank conversion for 5 year old Nellie.  You will see it when it is finished.  Her brother now also wants a sewing machine.

Have Clinton take a look at these two machines and see if either one appeals to him.  I can do any color he wants of course, but it would take longer.

These are pictures of machines I have converted to hand crank in the past.  I have these models on hand right now.

The black one might say "Singer" rather than "Spartan" but it is basically the same machine.

I'm partial to the green one but it is mechanically the same as the black one above.

I would add his name to whichever one he wants.

Let me know what he thinks!


Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Radical Approach to (Sewing Machine) Beauty

For the umpteenth time, let me remind you of what I am NOT, and that is any kind of an expert.  I like to bring sewing machines back to life.  I experiment.  I report the results here, including failures. I really don't care what the "rules" are.

1894 Singer Model 28, after the restoration.  Note the unusual black handwheel.

On to talking about sewing machines.

Nothing much has been happening in the studio or workshop this year as family matters seized me by the scruff of the neck and shook me about for several months.  Things are all calmed down now and I came back from the NC TOGA re-inspired to work on machines.  

First up on the workbench was a Singer 28 original hand crank meant as a birthday present for my friend Becky.  Her birthday was in February so I am just a bit overdue.  She is not a sewing person yet but thinks she might like to become one.  I gave her a choice of machines available and discussed the pros and cons.  She made her decision based on the aesthetics of her new apartment.  She wants something that will look nice if left sitting out.

Part of the fun is the detective work involved in figuring out the life story of the machine.  There is something about this one that has me stumped though.  More of that below.

 The bed decals are in pretty good shape (some wear, a bit of silvering) while the decals on the arm are quite scuffed.  This is easily explainable if someone had one of those dreadful pin catchers wrapped around the arm.

The clear coat is worn and cracked and crazed.  I've read that the cracking can be from dramatic temperature swings, perhaps from being stored in an attic or outbuilding.  Some of the paint has chipped away, particularly along the edges.  All of this is quite usual.  But the really puzzling bit is that the paint is completely worn away (not chipped, just worn away) in places.  So the decals are remarkably good but an inch away are small patches of bare metal.  I can't think of any explanation for that.

the gunk inside the head was even worse than this but it is hard to get a photo of a black interior

The inside workings of the machine had just about the thickest layer of gunky old sewing machine oil I have ever seen, along with the usual thick wodges of lint.  It cleaned up easily--not quickly, but easily, and the machine is spinning freely now.

The slide plates and other metal bits were slightly rusted and corroded.  Dremel wire  brushes to the rescue.  It took quite a bit to get down through the corrosion to bright metal and I am pretty sure that I ended up removing all of the original chrome or nickel plating.  This leaves what I assume is steel that might be subject to further rust and corrosion, but more about that later.

nice and shiny now!

And wouldn't you know it, the day AFTER I did all of this I read a post on TreadleOn about using aluminum foil to clean rust off of these parts.  The original article is from Roberts Cycle and is well worth a read because it explains why this works and how to do it.

The base of the bentwood case was coming apart, so it got clamped and glued back together.  

The bentwood top was structurally sound, just dirty.  I wiped it down with a barely damp microfiber cloth which works well to remove loose dirt.  Next wipe was with 0000 steel wool and Howard's Restor-A-Finish.  Final wipe down with Howard's Feed-N-Wax.  And now it looks like this:

After all the degunking and surface cleaning I had a machine that looked like it had the mange.  With nice bright decals, go figure.  Big chips in the paint, clear coat cracked and crazed and hazy in patches.  With other patches denuded of paint entirely.

I first tried just wiping it down with sewing machine oil (wipe on, polish off), which left it nice and glossy and not bad looking but within a week the dust accumulation quite spoiled the effect.

Time for a radical rethink of the whole thing.  Becky wants something that looks good.  She is not a sewing machine purist who would be upset by any particular treatment.  

So.  I filled in the big chips with a black Sharpie paint marker (not the same thing as a regular Sharpie).  I ignored the bare patches because the metal underneath is a dark color that blends in reasonably well.  I very carefully sanded down the worst of the crazing with 400 grit sandpaper (but not over the decals)


Gasp.  Sacrilege!

Normally I scorn poly and would not have it anywhere near a vintage or antique piece.  But I did use it on a new piece of 3/4 inch plywood that tops a cutting table in the studio and I had some left over.

And now it is all shiny and looks quite nice.  Not perfect, but who is after 121 years?  Becky was thrilled with it.

Would I use the wipe on poly again?  Only in very special circumstances like this, but maybe I am being too conservative.  The good news is that the decals are now protected from further wear, and the poly is also protecting the bare metal from rust.  The bad news is that no further work can be done on the surface.  In the case of this machine I think it looks just about as good as possible.  But I am constitutionally averse to doing something irreversible.

Astute readers will note that the bobbin winder is missing.  I put it back on before Becky took the machine home.

OK, OK, I am overthinking this.  The machine looks good and sews well.  Becky is thrilled.  End of analysis!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cleaning a VS shuttle

Think your VS shuttle is broken?  Maybe it is just gunked up.  It is super easy to clean them.  I have never met one that did not need to be cleaned, btw.

dirty, crusty, slightly rusty shuttle

(Shown is a Singer VS shuttle.  The VS shuttles for the VSII, 27, 28, 127 and 128 are all similar.  There are earlier ones that may also be similar but these are the models I have had my hands on.  I have also cleaned shuttles from other brands and they were also similar).

shuttle cleaning kit
What you need:

  • a dirty shuttle
  • a very tiny screwdriver.  these were original equipment with your vintage sewing machine so you may have one.
  • a magnetic parts bowl (optional, but if you lose the tiny screw you are, well, screwed)
  • cotton swabs
  • alcohol (either rubbing alcohol from the drug store or denatured alcohol from the hardware store
  • 400 grit sandpaper
  • a small flashlight (or the flashlight on your phone)

The shuttle only has three parts:  the shuttle, the tiny screw, and the spring on the top.  Use the screwdriver to remove the screw.  Do this inside the magnetic parts bowl if you don't want to lose the screw.

Remove the screw.

And the spring lifts up and off. Two tiny tabs fit into two tiny slots at the top of the shuttle.  These will be shown in more detail below when we put it back together.

Here we have the two dirty, gunky and rough-ish parts.

Normally I would drop these into a pill bottle containing alcohol and let them soak overnight. Alcohol does a great job at dissolving old dried up sewing machine oil.  But today was a "do it quick and take pictures for the blog" day.

The screwdriver points to the main area of gunk build up.  

The gunk forms a pad of lint similar to that you find underneath the bobbin area of many sewing machines, or packed into the feed dogs.

I used both the cotton swabs dipped in alcohol and the tiny screwdriver to remove the gunk.

Use small pieces of the 400 grit sandpaper to remove rust and corrosion from the outside of the shuttle and from both sides of the spring.  400 grit is very fine.

The surface should feel very smooth to the touch when you are finished.  It is not necessary to sand it down until it is bright and shiny, just smooth.

Update:  Cindy Peters wrote to tell me:  "New springs are available for Singer shuttles and may work on others. A bit expensive at $8 but still cheaper than a whole new shuttle!!"

Cindy Peters, Stitches in Time
914 No High Street, Lake City, MN 55041

Roll up a piece of sandpaper to clean the inside of the shuttle.  A flashlight will show you what is going on in there.  This was the most time consuming part because I had to keep looking to see what remained to be done.

Smashing down the lower end of the paper will sand the bottom of tubular inside of the shuttle.

Also sand the groove that the thread goes through.  then turn the sandpaper and sand the other side of the groove.

This particular shuttle still looks funky but it is now nice and smooth.  Time to reassemble it.

The two tabs fit into the two tiny slots.

With the tabs in the slots, the spring will lie flat against the shuttle.

Replace the screw.

The screw also allows you to adjust the bobbin tension.

Fiddle with the shuttle tension until it feels just right:  not too loose, not too tight.  This is not rocket science.

Follow your owners manual or find a good YouTube video if you need help loading the shuttle.  I always think a certain amount of magic is involved.

This particular shuttle works beautifully now in the Singer 28 that you will probably see in the next blog post.

Do you regularly clean any shuttles that come your way?  Do you have any additional tips for us?