Thursday, December 14, 2017

Starry Starry Bed

Kenmore 158.441, 1958 or 1959

So I told Jenn I would give her a sewing machine as a graduation present (she is now Dr. Jenn).  Yes, she does actually WANT a sewing machine.  The day has not yet arrived when I give sewing machines as presents unasked.

I always have around 100 sewing machines sitting around, but the category in most demand is always the simple zigzag machines.  They do 99% of everything 99% of the sewing people want to do 99% of the time.  And I do have a few available.  So the logical thing to do is to take this opportunity to thin the herd and give Jenn one of those.

But then I saw an aqua Kenmore "challenge" model in a local thrift store.  Aqua!  How could I resist?  Model 158.441.  Class 15 bobbin, high shank, left homing needle.

Got it home, oiled it, tested it, replaced the bobbin case, sewed wonderfully.  Great.  Took the motor off so that I could clean the machine thoroughly.  Lots of dirt comes off.  So far so good.  But as I put the motor back on I notice teeny tiny cracks in the insulation on the wires.

I poke it with my finger

. . . . . . . . .

flakes of insulation fall off

so much for that motor.

For at least five years at around this time of year, when thinking of what the New Year will bring, I think "I will learn about motors and wiring".  Hasn't happened yet.

I do have boxes of motors, however, and they are even separated into boxes of working motors and boxes of motors with bad wiring.  And in the box of good motors there was the PERFECT motor.

And when I say perfect, I mean perfect.  The color match is, what's the right word?  Oh yes.  Perfect.

Way better than the original Kenmore motor, which was a sickly shade of green and not aqua AT ALL.

And the bonus is that I have a lovely lavender Kenmore, acquired from Linda in a trade, which was missing that three-hole Kenmore power cord.  And now I have one for it.  Nifty.  And the sickly green Kenmore motor can go in the box of bad-wiring-motors.

But the bed is badly chipped. All the chips are right of the needle, meaning the flight path of the fabric to the left of the needle would be a smooth glide.  But it wasn't very attractive as a gift item.

Folks, I spent a couple of weeks mulling this over at odd moments.  The chips extended up the pillar but the vast majority were on the bed.  I didn't want to sand down and paint the whole darn thing.  I have lots and lots of little bottles of automotive touch up paint, model paint, and fingernail polish.  But it is not as easy as just matching the color.  You also have to match the pearliness and opalescence of the paint.  Or not.  I knew from painful experience that any touch up would be glaringly obvious.  You can only really get away with black on black. YMMV of course and you may be much more skilled than me.  If so, chime in in the comments section below.

A close look at the chips shows that the majority are not the result of external blows, but are the result of bubbles forming as the bond between paint and bed gives it up.  If this process has started already it will continue.  And I will tell whoever takes it home.  But I don't know how long the process will take.

I used a dental pick to pop a couple of unbroken bubbles and to chip away at all the loose edges of all the chips.  You could probably use an old sewing machine needle for this but the dental pick has a nice handle.

I dragged out all those little bottles of paint (DOZENS of them.  Have I ever mentioned hoarding?  Or did the 100 machines make that obvious? Or the box of non functioning motors?) and dug out all the aquas.  After testing and mixing I settled on the closest fingernail polish.  And the touch ups ARE glaringly obvious.  As I knew they would be. But there was a PLAN.

color close, but did not even try to mix a match. 

Because when I dug out the little bottles I found a bottle of clear nail polish with tiny iridescent stars suspended in it.  And I thought I could scatter a hundred stars or so around and disguise the painted chips, which would then theoretically blend into the background.  And then put a thick clear coat of lacquer over the whole bed to make that nice slick surface for pushing cloth across.

Might work.  Might not.

You've got to be willing to take some chances in life.  And, btw, although I don't talk about $$$ here, the machine was a thrift store price to start with, had sat on the floor for long enough to get marked down to half price, and I got it on double discount day.  So not much of a financial risk.

* * * * * * * * * *

Before I tell  you how it turned out, what if Jenn does not want a machine with sparkly stars on it?  Glad you asked.  I figured from the very beginning that a) it might look horrible when finished or b) Jenn might find the sparkly stars just a bit silly.  Personally, I think the world needs as much silliness as it can get.  But Jenn might not.  And when she comes over there will be 4 or 5 machines out for her to choose from.  Including that pink Necchi Nora that I wrote about recently.

I still thought about it being for Jenn as I worked on it.  And for me, this is vital:  A project is 10 times as much fun if I am doing it FOR someone.  Sometimes that person is me.  Sometimes I know for sure that the person will want it (Nellie's pink machine).  And sometimes it is merely a possibility, like with this one.  Doesn't matter to me.  Won't bother me a bit if Jenn chooses a totally different machine.  What I want most is for Jenn to get the machine that is right for HER.

When I am getting a machine ready to sell on CraigsList I'm aware of the replacement cost of every additional item that I include in the price.  I want it to look good and function perfectly but I am less willing to spend 20 hours making this happen than I was a few years ago.

When I am working on a machine with someone in mind, none of that matters.  I take my time and get all the little details right. I pick through all the great vintage presser feet and goodies and accessories I have accumulated at thrift shops over the years and pick out the very best stuff to go with that particular machine.  Completely different mind set.  Tremendous fun.

* * * * * * * * * *

Without further fanfare, here is Aqua Ken, as I have been thinking of him as I worked on him.  And yes, he did always seem quite masculine to me, even after he was be-glittered with sparkly stars.  Make of that what you will.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.  And now I am going to follow my usual practice and not only tell you how I did it but also analyze the heck out of it and tell you every little thing that is not 100% perfect.

People misunderstand this and think that I am running myself down.  Nope.  Really, nope.  This is just a fun hobby.  I don't take it, or myself, very seriously.

What I DO take seriously, very, very seriously, is giving you information that is as accurate as possible, and that means pointing out what can, did, or might possibly go wrong.  I experiment.  Believe me, lots of things can go wrong.  (Occasionally making for funny blog posts btw).

I dipped the nail polish brush into the starry nail polish, and each time a few stars came up.  I used a toothpick to transfer the stars one by one onto the already painted chips on the bed.  The nail polish sticking to each tiny star was all the glue needed.  No way to take photos of this definitely two-handed procedure!

After I had enough stars on there, I started applying this lacquer, a modern product not the original kind.  My goal was to seal and coat the stars so that they would be totally embedded in the lacquer and the surface would be totally smooth and flat.

The first coat of lacquer sealed the stars but left the surface very bumpy.

That was the goal.  Didn't work out quite that way.  Those tiny stars were thick enough to resist the efforts to encase them in lacquer.  I ended up with 5 coats of the stuff, and the last two coats were globbed on as thickly as I could.  (Not the recommended technique, btw.)

At that point I decided to settle for the fact that even though the surface was not level, it was smooth and glossy with no pointy star bits sticking out any more.  It was impossible to get a picture of the rippling surface it has now.  You can see and feel the ripples but it is glossy and slick.  And slick is really all that matters.

The photos also don't show how cute the effect is.  The photo below comes closest.  Because the stars are iridescent they twinkle at you as your head moves.

As with most chipped sewing machines, the front edge of the bed was chipped the most.  There is a whole constellation of tightly packed stars there.  And round about coat #3 of the lacquer I figured out that the lacquer was NEVER going to cover them, so I blobbed on clear nail polish in layers until they weren't scratchy.

The effect is decidedly three dimensional.  And I do question how well it will hold up.  Of course, if it chips off a quick trip to the dollar store for some cheap fingernail polish would fix it right up.

The lacquer was applied to the bed only but that does mean that where the bed meets the pillar gets coated.

The yellowing at the junction of pillar and bed is NOT dirt.  There was dirt there when I bought it, of course, but this is what it looks like after cleaning.  The original clear coat has yellowed.  I don't know why, perhaps it really is dirt, just so deeply embedded that cleaning won't touch it.  And now it is encased in lacquer.  Just so you know.  I have run into this several times before.

can you see the knee lever hanging down?

So, far from perfect but still quite charming.  I installed it in a Singer cabinet (model name unknown to me).  This particular cabinet is wider than most and that means that if you use the knee lever it is MUCH more comfortable (because the lever takes up several inches of knee space).  If you prefer the controller (aka foot pedal) on the floor you might have enough room in a narrower cabinet.  FYI.

Once I had it in the cabinet I tested it again.  And the zigzag jammed and the whole thing froze.  Whoops.

When I cleaned and oiled it originally it was not obvious to me how to get the top and nose plate off.  So I didn't, just oiled it through the holes.  Now on closer look it WAS obvious that two of the oiling holes were also slotted for a screwdriver.  With those out and the presser foot control unscrewed and removed, the top and nose plate come off in one piece.  And then I could lube the gears inside.

RED ALERT:  One of the gears is NOT metal.  It's brown and I don't know enough to have any idea what it is.  But it is not metal.  I assume this means it will not last another 70 years.  But who knows?  It looks perfect now, no chipping or wear.

The lube and more comprehensive oiling inside fixed the problem and it is back to sewing beautifully now.  The thing to do though is let it sit for a couple of weeks and check it again to see if it jams, is frozen or even sluggish.  Or if it is really fixed and ready to go to a good home.

* * * * * * * * * *
Aqua Ken's accessories

I found FOUR sewing chairs at a thrift store recently.  Two are from the 70's, but this one (and its identical twin) look more like 1950's to me.  The wood matches Ken's cabinet, right down to the small areas where the finish has flaked off.  It's a remarkably sturdy chair.

I recovered the seats.  And I need to finish stapling down the edges as is obvious below.

A sewing chair, if you did not know, is a chair with a seat that removes or flips up, with storage underneath.  As I accumulated accessories I tossed them in there. I don't go crazy with the presser feet when preparing a machine for a person who does not sew passionately.  Just the zigzag foot on the machine and a zipper foot.  That's all that most people use anyway.

That's the original motor controller (aka foot pedal) in lovely matching aqua, btw.  I swapped it out for a Singer button controller, which works with the knee lever.  If Jenn (or whoever gets it) wants the machine but NOT the cabinet, I will restore the original matching controller.  This process takes about a minute and is within YOUR skill set.  If you can use a screwdriver, that it.

Let me know if anyone out there wants a tutorial on motor controller swapping.


2017 was a rotten year for me health-wise and it is going out with another semi-crisis.  No CraigsList sales of sewing machines for yet another year.  I really don't care at this point.  And lest you are all concerned about me and my health, don't be.  No matter how annoying or debilitating this year has been, nothing life threatening is happening to me. Unlike many others in my age cohort. I usually don't mention these things at all.  But every once in a while I like to get real just in case there is someone else out there dealing with this kind of stuff. 

May I recommend creating your own blog?  It is really cool to have all these imaginary friends to share your passions with.  It lessens the sense of isolation if you are stuck at home with lousy health.  It's free and super easy.  OK, there IS a learning curve to anything, but really it is easy.  And fun.  And in my case I have made several real-world friends who found my blog and discovered that they live nearby.  Little Hillsborough NC, let me know if you are nearby too.

If you start your own blog, be sure to let me know and I will "follow" you.


  1. I like the stars. Cute! I've taken a few machines out of cabinets with knee controllers, but, haven't converted them to foot controllers. A knee controller would drive me nuts (and I'd be stitching when I didn't mean to). Hope the health stuff gets better. No fun not being at least reasonably healthy.

  2. Oh, you are just so much darn fun! You had me laughing. Stars? Really? How cool they turned out- everyone will want one! I am so sorry about your health. So thrilled you keep doing such cool stuff. Mine turned around for the better this year- I got rid of two decades of chronic migraines! Despite all the aging stuff and gained weight, I am so thrilled not to be mowed down by migraines 6- 9 times a month.
    I just love your sewing machine exploits. Mine are quite tame. I just cleaned and got running a 1950 Singer 66. It was very dirty and slow, but shined up so wonderful and ran strong. A friend rescued it, paid for all the part, and took it back!

  3. I really enjoy reading your blog although I am not as brave as you about taking machines apart, especially the electrical stuff. I only have a small collection compared to yours....eleven working machines and one 66 parts machine. You are so right about blogging. I love to take pictures and write about what I do and then look back to past years and enjoy the memories. It keeps me sane and my health is keeping me at home these days, too.

    1. Deborah,
      Thanks for your comments on the blog. I hope things go well for you and I am following your blog now. I couldn't reply to you individually because your blogger settings are set to "no reply".

  4. I try not to talk about health issues, because it's too much like what boring old ladies do. And I'm actually doing better since I started working with a naturopath and dropped my pulmonologist. Mostly, I want to retire and have time to mess around with my machines and do other things. I'm at (with another blog at

  5. Great idea on the stars! I have a couple machines that I need to touch up. I doubt I will resort to the stars solution, but that may be an option in the future if one is a basket case paint-wise.

    I made the mistake of giving one of my machines to my daughter's best friend as an unasked for house-warming gift. She is very "crafty" but does not sew. I was expecting my daughter who lived 3 blocks from her In Raleigh to teach her how to sew. Both girls got into "baby mode" and then my daughter and family decided to move to Winston-Salem near us in High Point. A really nice Kenmore basic zz + blind hem 148.1207 now sits forlornly in her craft room. I won't make that mistake again.


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