Category Archives: sewing machines

Breaking up is hard to do…

This is The Elna Supermatic.  For it’s time, it was an absolute revolution.  It used cams to make fancy stitches.  The folded up silver bit is the knee lever, instead of a foot pedal.

This was the Transforma.  The short of cash woman would buy this straight stitch model, and then save her pennies. When she was ready, she took her machine in and they added the cam mechanism. At that point, it became a Supermatic.

These were the first vintage machines I bought.  They have a friction drive mechanism that can go bad, and the repair is simple.  Actually, I have repaired both of them.  But, like an idiot, I forgot to use them in the last few years, and so the drive wheel has gone flat again.  I’m taking it as a sign.  I have (gasp) too many machines.  These are for sale, along with another Supermatic, as a herd.  I miss them already!  So green, so cute! So Swiss made.  I have to not think about it too much, or I’ll buy them from myself!  ( I wonder if I would give myself a good deal?)

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Singer 66 before and After

Remember this?

It is now this.  I am quite pleased with myself.  The box was painted with red acrylic paint that I thinned with water.  The details were done with paint markers.  I have to paint stuff I built, because my carpentry skills…well, lets just say they are still under development.  You know the saying: A little putty and a little paint, makes a carpenter what she ain’t.  Instead of the more usual storage area to the right, under the crank, I chose to make a bed extension to the left.  I think I will add some brass handles on the sides, to make it easier to carry.

Even through there are wobbles and goofs, the overall effect is pretty.  Reminds me of a painted caravan from one of Kaffe Fassets books. Below is a detail of the machine’s decals that served as the inspiration for the design.  (NB:I would not do this type of decoration on an original base or box.  It that case, I think it is more timeless to restore it to it’s intended appearance.  But if I build it, I get to play however I want.  The people at my future estate sale can talk about me all they want!)

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Poor, rescued orphan machine

UPDATE! This machine has found a home! This is a treadle machine that came from a house that looked like an episode of hoarders.  The lady’s family was doing a not entirely congenial clearing out of her house, as it had become a bit of a fire code violation

Anyway, it was on the pickup truck ready for the dump when she called me.  I think that I had bought a sewing machine from her last year, so it was kind of random.  I live one exit from the dump, so her dad pulled up, said, “want it or not? I have to get three more loads in today” I took it.  She cried.  I also offered to find homes for any other sewing things, but NOT for fabric. I didn’t take before pictures, but I should have.  The irons were rusted and frozen, and the veneer was splintered and peeling.

You can see that I just took the top layer of veneer off the center section- too far gone and too much missing.  I stained it to match the remaining veneer.  It’s important to finish cleaning up the remaining veneer before you chose a stain color.  This didn’t lighten up as much as I wanted, but it did lighten considerably.  If I had stained before cleaning, it would not match.
Below you see the machine itself.  I had what is called “pin rash” from someone wrapping a rag around the machine to use as a pin cushion.  I put a rust treatment on it that turns the metal black, and than waxed the machine with caranuba wax.  There is a resin cleaner called, I think TR3 that can be used on old machines.  However, my experience with it has been mixed.  It seem to me if the machine is in really rough shape and the lacquer is gone, the poly resin removes the decals.  This machine was pretty far gone, a lot of rust, and visibly peeling  lacquer, and so I used oil to clean with, then rust treatment to darken the bare metal, and then wax.

It is sitting in our pantry/coat closet and I DO NOT have room for it.  I just bought a belt for it from Cindy at her ebay store, Stitches in Time.  I’m certain it will sew well, as it has loosened up nicely. Then I have to find a home for it.  I already have a nice Singer 66 with these decals (called red eye informally), and I have enough treadles!  So, if any one in Northern CA would like it for the cost of the parts I’ve used, and you want it  let me know! I think it would be a fun machine for a home schooling family or a kid or a first treadle, or someone who just wanted a people powered machine!

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Tips for winding a VS bobbin

VS stands for vibrating shuttle.  This is the type of sewing machine that has a long bobbin.  An essential part of the mechanism is the silver, bullet shapped shuttle.  It hold the bobbin, and tensions the bobbin thread.  In the past, shuttles were sold anywhere that sewing supplies were.  When a machine started behaving baddly, skipping stitches or such, a new shuttle was bought for a nominal sum and the machine ran like new again.

The old Singers were designed to be maintained by the household that owned them.  All the oiling points were clearly marked in the instructions, the shuttle  was replaceable, and the machines could run forever. I wonder if the move for women’s rights was not in some small part helped along by the widespread use of the sewing machine.

The machine came with screwdrivers and an oil can- things I think most women didn’t normally use.  The directions in the manuals, when a hand is shown holding a part, that hand is clearly a woman’s.  It was, I think the first machine that was run by and maintained by women.  It must have been very empowering.

ANyway, back to sewing.  Many people struggle with winding the long narrow bobbins used in a VS machine.  The top photo shows a bit of blue painters tape.  That tape is holding the end of the thread.  I do this because it is hard to start the bobbin winding.  Painters tape leaves no sticky behind. You will note that the thread guide is in the center of the bobbin.  That’s where I like to start it, so I treadle the machine until the thread guide is in that position.

After the thread has wound around a few times, I stop treadling grasp the bobbin overhand, like the picture, and ease the tape out of  place it was sandwiched. I just tip it slightly to the right, letting the edge of the bobbin keep the spring for closing all the way. The end of the thread generally stays attache to the tape.  As soon as I have the tape thread end out, I lower the bobbin back into the winder.  I cut the end as close to the bobbin as I can, and continue winding.  This winder does not stop when it is full- you have to keep an eye on it.  I have less trouble with the sewing if the bobbin is not completely full.
I don’t know if this is anything like the correct way, but it works for me and thought it might be helpful to someone else.

Before and After

Here is a Singer 66, made in 1915, before I cleaned it with Goop hand cleaner (pumice free version), Maas metal polish, and sewing machine oil.  Sewing machine oil does not damage decals, so the Goop was the first wave, then finishing up with oil.  I use little scraps of cotton quilt batting to clean with.

Here it is, after.  This of course, is the opposite side, but I assure you the filth was spread uniformly.  There was also a wee fossilized mouse in the pillar of the machine.

Here is my Little Plastic Bricks quilt, before.

Here it is after.  It really needed a fourth column of blocks, but I had just re- folded everything and was loathe to start cutting again.  Strips were 2.5 inches, chopped into bricks, sewn back together and then that long strip sewn to itself.  I used the mechanical randomizer, AKA the clothes dryer, to mix the bricks after they were cut.  Thanks to John G. for that term!

Below is a close up with the little prairie points I added because it seemed dull over there.  Have to wait a while to quilt it- I’m broke and I need batting, so that slows things down. Maybe next month.

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Sew, What did I Buy?

I saw this treadle table on crag’s list a few weeks ago. They wanted some real money for it. In the back ground were several other tables, that I was more interested in. So I called the guy, and it turned out that the others had been sold (sniff) but he wanted this one gone. I said something along the lines of “well, if you’ll take $20 and deliver it to the town I live in, I’ll buy it” I figured that would end it. He did it, and so I bought it. Question is, what is it?

I actually had to hose it off, it was so filthy. Then I wiped it down with mineral spirits, wire brushed the metal, wiped that with mineral spirits, and hit the whole thing up with some wax. I use a shoe polish brush for buffing the iron work after waxing. On first glance, I thought the top was warped. But when I looked closer, there had been a piece glued on that was ripped off. Looks like hide glue, so I should be able to get it off by wetting the glue ( hide glue is water soluble, which is why it is used in making musical instruments. Things can be taken apart non destructively for repair.) The holes for the treadle belt are there, I’m guessing the two grooves perpendicular to the front edge secured the dust cover/ coffin top of the machine. The cut out is really small, though.

Nice little detail on the iron work. Here’s the after shot. You can see how tiny the flywheel is, and that the original wooden pit man rod is still there. Little drawer in front, too. Notice how the treadle is off center to the left. This assured that the machine operator sat directly in front of the needle, and was early ergonomics, preventing a twist in the back while working.

I’m not sure where it will even fit in the house. O suppose I could sit the hand crank on top of it, but something will have to go to make room for it. I’d rather find a home for it with someone who has an orphan machine head that it goes with.

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White Rotary

This is a really lovely machine.  It is almost noiseless. I bought it from the grandson of the original owner. My husband was lovely about it, too.  We had to drive quite a ways, and he was very placido about the whole thing.  I did get rid of two cabinets, and now I need to off load three other machines to keep all my promises to him about the collection size. 

It had spent time- maybe forty years- in a dry but hot garage.  I played it safe and cleaned only with sewing machine oil.  This is before cleaning.  As you can see from the first picture, it cleaned up fairly well.

Here is the mission oak cabinet with the machine up.  The bottom of the legs open.  The fronts are doors.  Each drawer and door has it’s own little lock.  I will be looking for a key!

Here it is, closed.  I wire brushed the treadle, but haven’t done anything else to it.  hidden from view at the bottom of the legs are little recesses castors. The only damage is that one drawer.

Here’s the name on the front- all still there!  So lucky!  The next picture shows the machine, looking down on it as I am lowering it into the cabinet.  Singer machines lower from the hinges on the back side, away from the operator.  This one lowers from the front side.  Although, there are still hinges in the back, to tilt the machine up and oil underneath and clear thread snarls at the bobbin. See the inlaid ruler, on the front?


I have put a treadle belt on it, and it runs really smooth and quiet.  It took a few (hundred) tries to get the treadle belt on.  First I made a mistake punching the hole- it went off center and tore the edge of the leather belt.  Then, I unwittingly (witlessly) threaded the belt in the incorrect path, so it looked as though it were many inches too short.  i was puzzled by this, because I measured against the old, broken belt, but I thought maybe a piece was missing.  I dorked around for a while, trying to figure out how I was going to lengthen the belt I had already cut.  I settled for using silk thread to sew the cut belt back together.  Silk has a pretty high tensile strength, so I hoped it would last until i could order a new belt and have it arrive.After putting the staple in, again, to connect the ends of the belt, i found that the belt was getting caught in the flywheel.  I lay on the floor, turning the flywheel by hand, until I realized that the belt was going through the wrong path. I threaded it correctly and discovered…that the belt had been cut to the right length, and so I needed to cut off my silk thread repair.  Then it worked just fine.  At the length I had originally cut it, a full hour before.I’ll try sewing on it tomorrow.  Tonight, it might make my head explode.