Category Archives: Attachments & Accessories

The Needle-Art Embroidery Guide


No, we’d never heard of it either.  But then Elsie found a pristine Needle-Art Embroidery Guide tucked away with some other stuff we bought in a while ago, which made last Tuesday far more exciting than it would otherwise have been.  Fortunately the instructions were still with it …

Alas, neither mercerised crotcheting soutache nor baby rick-rack are things we keep conveniently to hand around here (and now that thanks to Google we know what they are, that’s the way it’s likely to stay), so were were really scratching to find something to try out this little doohickey with.  In the end, the best we could manage was the remains of a ball of secondhand black wool left over from Elsie’s last rugmaking spree.

And lo – the thing works!  It really does.  Stays in place on the standard presser foot no problem, and you get a lovely line of stitching straight down the middle of your braid or whatever.  In the picture below, Elsie’s slid it off the presser foot while still threaded so you get a better idea of how ingenious it is ..

The only other thing I can tell you about the Needle-Art Embroidery Guide is that stamped on it is 93742 USA.  And for what it’s worth, here’s a glimpse of it in action with the black wool on Elsie’s treadle 201K earlier on this cold, dull and wet English summer’s morn …

Don’t bother getting the popcorn ready for that – the run time’s only 10 seconds, mainly because the demonstrator needed to get back to her multi-tasking in the kitchen, which this morning involved bottling the second lot of elderflower champagne whilst making yet another batch of rhubarb and elderflower jam.

Now, given that we’d never heard of the Needle-Art Embroidery Guide before and Google still hasn’t, can anybody date its introduction for us?  And who is or was Jeanne Sherman of PO Box 1, Tahoma CA?  Did she make anything else?  Enquiring minds need to know …

Vintage Singer Automatic Zigzagger 160985


I just put this US-made black zigzagger up for sale on the Accessories page together with a couple of spare cams, and that’s reminded me to post this commercial for it from 1956 …


Note how the zigzagger’s first of all demonstrated on a Model 15 but at 2.20 it changes to a Featherweight (before it changes again to a Slant-o-Matic).  I wonder if even back then they kept getting FW-owners asking if it was too big to go on their machine, as they still do nowadays?

Whatever, that’s how Singer set about convincing the women of America that their lives could hardly be complete without this new toy, although quite what he with the accent is all about at the end, I can’t imagine …

Vintage Singer UK brochure featuring her with the frock – part two


OK, here’s the rest of that wonderful Singer brochure featuring Ann Droid and her stripey frock, and thanks to Alison we now know that this was almost certainly published in 1951.  Our copy’s somewhat faded in places 60 years on, which is why these scans aren’t all that brilliant …

“Do you prefer cabinetwork of contemporary design?” indeed!  As far as we’re concerned, the best thing about these Cabinets, which we always thought were Tables, is the fact that the legs are readily detachable.  That’s a real boon when the machine you just brought home is in one of these things and you can’t quite bring yourself to take the table down to the dump recycling centre once you’ve taken the head out of it, so the only place left for it is in the attic alongside the other two.

Having said that, Elsie’s determined to get one of them down from the roof soon and take it with us next time we do a boot sale – unless of course by publishing this post I manage to whip up a demand for them that we’ll be pleased to meet.  Which I very much doubt, but I live in hope.

Be that as it may, we’ve now got to the middle of the brochure, and because of the way the centre pages are laid out as a double page spread, it just doesn’t work scanned as two separate pages.  I’ve had to link to it here so off you go now for a squint at that.

As you can see there, we’ve moved onto treadle machines, and the choice of head is simple – would Madam prefer a 15 or a 201?  According to the printed text, the choice of base was equally straightforward – pick one of three variants of the “modern” (i.e. wooden legs) treadle base – 3-drawer, 2-drawer or 1-drawer.

So far so good.  However, the notes added by the salesman (with his fountain pen, of course) muddy the waters somewhat.  Judging by his sketch, he seems to have been offering a 7-drawer with wooden legs, to which his note “NEW £46” seems to refer, and that’s interesting because neither Elsie nor I can recall ever seeing such a thing.  He’s also made a note of a “drop head with iron stand” at £20, which must surely have been old stock because the printed text actually states that the iron legs “have been superceded” by the wooden ones.

His note at the bottom right-hand says “Dressmakers model table top with cover £15”, and I’m not sure what to make of that because “Dressmaker” in this context was usually Singer staff talk for a 201.  Even more puzzling, the top right-hand note says “modern style folding head with 7 drawers £28”, which would seem to relate to that base with the four extra drawers drawn in.  But if it does, what’s with that “NEW £46” above it?

If anybody can shed any light on those notes and/or the pricing, do please let us know, but before we leave the treadles I’ll just clear up one thing.  There was never a 99 treadle.  If you do see one, it’s not kosher.  It’s a DIY job.

OK … now we come to another double page spread, but this one does work as two halves …

Interesting that one of these “full size machines” is the 99K, which is of course a three-quarter size machine!  And how about the claim that they “can be easily carried from room to room”?  A hand-cranked 99 in its case weighs 14.5kg (32lb) and an electric 201’s heavier still at 20.5kg (45lb), which strikes me as a fair old weight for anyone to easily carry from room to room.

And look, there’s that “Brown Mission” again!  If that’s not a daft name for the colour of a wood finish, I don’t know what is.  And was the suitcase-type case really available in grey leather cloth?   If it was, did it look as uninspiring as it sounds?

Whatever, note that the text on the page above says “Normally, these machines are all-electric, fitted with the famous Singer electric motor, Singerlight and Foot Control”, yet the 201 illustrated is a knee-lever machine!

Personally I’m convinced that this brochure is 1951, but here’s your proof that it’s definitely pre-1954.  If it was any later, Stripey would be wanting to show you her new 222, not the 221 shown here.  And at this point I’d better explain for those of you who aren’t Featherweight Fans (or even Pheatherweight Phans) that a Featherweight is either a 221 or a 222.

The 221 was introduced in the mid-1930’s, and Singer eventually made over 1,000,000 of the things.  Then in 1954 they brought out the 222, which is just a 221 with a free-arm and feed dog drop, but they only made 100,000 or so of those, which is presumably why they’re sometimes advertised as “rare”.

Incidentally, many of its devotees think the 222 was the first domestic machine with a free-arm, but they are wrong.  The Elna Grasshopper was the first, by a good 10 years.  But I digress.

I just love the suggestion that a 221 is “easily carried wherever you go – from room to room – on a long trip – or just for an afternoon’s sewing at a friend’s house.”  An afternoon’s sewing at a friend’s house?  Who is the woman kidding?  Or is that code for “so easy to cart about with you to show off to your friends and make them really jealous”?  Whatever, Featherweights are undoubtedly cute and they certainly have a huge following with quilters in the States, but for our money they’re over-rated.  There.  I said it.

Lovely use of Proper English there, and interesting to think that 60 years ago that wouldn’t have been thought in the least patronising.  Or boring.  Back then, Singer were still on top of their game.  They were the absolute masters at marketing domestic sewing machines, and there’s not the slightest hint anywhere in this brochure of the rot which was soon to set in

Oh look – she’s doing that sincere expression again, bless her.

Now, there’s a couple of matters arising from those pictures of the six attachments that were supplied with new machines in 1951 (or thereabouts).  One is that, surprisingly, by this time the ruffler was not one of the standard attachments.  And the other is the quilter.  I really do wish they’d called it what it is i.e. a quilting guide.  So many people seem to think that “the quilter” is some awesome attachment which does something really clever, when all it actually does is allow you, within certain limits, to sew parallel to and at a fixed distance from the last line of stitching in your quilt.

And finally we turn to the outside back cover …

with its cutaway of Mission Control.  Which raises an interesting question – when did Singer shops in the UK finally stop offering the dressmaking courses, and for that matter the finishing service?  If you happen to know, we’d love to hear from you.

Going off at a tangent now, when I first saw Stripey’s frock it immediately reminded me of a silly idea that Kodak UK came up with in the mid-1960’s. They thought it would be fun (or whatever) to have the women who worked in the shops which shifted the most Kodak films wearing very loud blue and white stripey frocks with a yellow Kodak badge on the left breast during the summer film-buying season.

At the time, my mother was one of those women, and I have this vivid recollection of her coming home from work one day with this large brown paper parcel in the wicker basket on the front of her bike.  She was not happy.  It was very nice of Kodak to give her two cloth badges, a pattern and more than enough material for two dresses, but if nothing else, when did they suppose she was going to find the time to make them?

If I remember rightly, she eventually got a neighbour to knock one up, tried it on, decided she wasn’t going to look like a deckchair for Kodak or anyone else, and that was the end of that …

The Singer Automatic Zigzagger and its cam sets


Wow.  I finally got it together to take these pictures!  Somebody asked ages ago about the extra sets of cams (or as Singer called them, “stitch patterns”) for the big black zigzagger, and I’ve been meaning to do this post ever since.

And now it’s happened, because I’ve just listed a blue set for sale on the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page and I needed to get the camera out for that.

The zigzagger pictured above is actually Elsie’s own 161157, but it could just as easily be a 161102 or even a 160985.  They’re the same dog with different spots, and few of us are blessed with the ability to tell them apart without reading the number on the actuating arm.

Set 1 is the 4 red cams which came with the attachment.  Set 2 is white, 3 is blue, 4 is yellow, and the part numbers for both the sets and the individual cams depend on whether they’re the earlier heavy ones or the later lighter ones made of so-called pot metal.

Elsie’s volunteered to run off stitch samples with all 16 cams, so I’ll photograph those and do a post on them in due course.

If that hasn’t happened by the middle of May, can somebody give us a poke please?

The Jetson case … and Elsie’s nettle beer


Somebody asked me the other day what a “Jetson buttonholer” is or was, and I said I’d do a post about it.  So here we go.

That green thing is what is commonly referred to as the Jetson case – so called after the green spaceship in “The Jetsons”,  an early 1960’s American television cartoon.  In it is contained the Singer Buttonholer489510, its four alternative templates, the fixing screw and the feed dog cover plate (hiding under the buttonholer itself) …

There’s also a sort of muddy dark pink version of that case, in which should be found the Buttonholer489500, which is identical except it’s for slant-shank machines.  And the answer to the question “if the buttonholers are identical, how do you tell them apart?” is that in the absence of a part number on it, the straight-shank one says “STRAIGHT” on top of the metal near where it fits onto your presser bar, and the slanty one says “SLANT”.

Note that those templates are metal, and that they’re exactly the same as those for the Buttonholer 160506 (the nice black one in the dark green textured plastic case).  However, you only got your Buttonholer 489510 in that Space Age case if you bought it in the States!  Here in the UK, we got the cheapo packaging …

We also got plastic templates instead of the metal ones …

So.  Which would you have preferred?

Thought so.

Anyhow, that’s the Jetson thing done, and it’s reminded me to point out that I put some more goodies on the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page yesterday.  They’re mixed in with some of the stuff that’s been there a while (including a Buttonholer 489510), so do scroll down and have a nosey.

On the home front, things are hotting up now even if the weather isn’t.  The rhubarb’s all coming along nicely, the greenhouse is crammed full of green things all a-growing, Elsie hoed the spuds up in the garden for the first time yesterday, and she picked the first radishes of the year.  We seem to be about a week away from the start of the home-grown lettuce, although everything’s a few weeks behind last year.  We bottled our first rhubarb on April 15th last year, but it’s going to be a good fortnight or so before that happens this year.

One thing that has already happened though is The Brewing Of The Nettle Beer …

Doesn’t that look scrummy?  Actually I don’t think so either, but Elsie does.  That’s the first gallon (less half a pint taken for quality control purposes), sitting quietly in a bucket in the bathroom yesterday, and seeing as how you’re now bound to be seized with a sudden urge to make some yourself, here’s the secret recipe …

Fill a supermarket carrier bag with young nettle tops, take them home and wash them.  Chuck them in your preserving pan or similar and add enough water to cover, taken from one gallon.  If you fancy spicing it up a little, add a tablespoon or so of chopped root ginger.  Maybe even a pinch of Cayenne pepper too, although Elsie makes it without either.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.  It will smell foul (no it doesn’t, it smells like spinach -E) and it will look disgusting.

Remove from heat, fish out nettles, add juice of 2 lemons, a tablespoon or so of cream of tartar and 1lb brown sugar and stir well until dissolved.

Add the remainder of your gallon of water.

When cooled to body temperature, add about half a teaspoon of beer yeast and stir.  If you don’t have beer yeast, use wine yeast instead.  If all you have is ordinary baker’s yeast, try that and let us know how it works.

Now, if you’re into home brewing, pour into a fermenting bin and carry on like you do for proper beer.  If you’re not, pour into clean PET bottles and leave for 5 days before sampling.

The pressure will build up sooner than you might think, so be sure to keep an eye on the bottles.  If they start bulging, let a bit of the pressure off 2-3 times a day if needed, but don’t overdo it or you’ll lose the fizz.

We’ve never yet had a bottle burst or blow the cap off, but we always let it do its thing in a bucket in the bathroom and throw an old towel over just in case …

And now … vintage Singer sewing books for sale!


Gosh, I finally got it together to sort out a few spare copies of these wonderful Singer USA books and get them listed on the “Bits ‘n’ Bobs” page. They’re originals, they date from the 1930’s, and as far as I know they were never sold in the UK.  All three are fascinating reading – and if you’re at all into antique/retro dressmaking, they’re right up your street!

“Sort Cuts To Home Sewing” starts with a worthy foreword by the Singer Sewing Machine Company, who were obviously not big on paragraphing.  But no matter, because we then dive straight into it with the ubiquitous Mary Brooks Picken and her quaint way of wording things e.g. “Ever since I was a very little girl I have loved to sew myself”.  The mind boggles, but whatever toots your flute …

She may have been a strange child, but in later life Mary BP certainly knew her stuff.  There’s oodles of invaluable information on caring for your Singer, including stitch formation and tension, oiling, common causes of machine troubles and so forth, as well as how to sort out your bobbin thread guide by the application of a pair of pliers!  And after that, there’s everything (and I do mean everything) you need to become an expert user of the binder, the foot hemmer, the adjustable hemmer, the tucker and the ruffler, with plenty of excellent illustrations.

“How To Make Children’s Clothes” is perhaps more of a nostalgia thing, unless of course you’re into making costumes for Amateur Dramatics.  Having said that, though, it’s full of practical hints and tips which apply just as much now as they did 80 years ago – even if you don’t have an urgent need right now to rustle up a bloomer frock for a four year old.  Difficult to put down once you start looking through it, this is may well be an invaluable little book for fashion students.

“How To Make Dresses” is absolutely essential if you’re a student of fashion.  You have to have it!  You need it too if you’re a theatre costumier, or for that matter if you just have a thing about 30’s style.  Good stuff on seams, using and altering patterns, assembling and finishing dresses, hemming and so forth, including period gems like the bit on “Clothes’ Becomingness”.  Remember ladies, “a dress can rarely be smart that is not first becoming”.

Be that as it may, these three little books are now listed for sale individually, but we do also have a set of four (the above three plus “How To Make Draperies”) which are in remarkably good condition.   Quite frankly we’re as yet undecided whether to let them go, but if you’re interested in the set, you could do worse than send us an email …

Buttonholers, zigaggers, foot controllers and a Lotus treadle


Just in case you rarely venture onto the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page, here’s a quick update so you know what you’re missing.

Seeing as how in the last week we’ve sent a Singer USA 160985 zigzagger (that’s the big black one with the four red cams) to Birmingham, one of the big Ruby buttonholers to Canada and a Singer 160506 buttonholer to Germany, we’ve been toiling by night even as by day to replace them with more goodies for your consideration.

I’ve just listed a good Singer 161157 zigzagger, which is the third and final version of the one which started out as the 160985, another big Ruby in very fine condition, and another one of Elsie’s favourite buttonholer, the 160506.

There’s also a nice Singer 485910 buttonholer which is perhaps more common in the US than it is over here, a particularly good example of a Precision Built Button Holer B-3 in a nice tin (and unusually, this one’s complete with all its bits), as well as a bit of a rarity called the Zick Zack Kuli Rändelapparat.

Rounding off the new listings is the standard vintage Singer button-type foot controller.  Hoorah! I finally remembered to mention that we can usually do you a nice one of these at a sensible price, and maybe even offer a choice of black or brown.  Actually, now I come to think of it, maybe I ought to do a post about them on the home page  before long?

On the Singers for Sale page we’ve added this gorgeous 1920 Lotus 66K treadle, which Elsie was all for keeping because it’s a lot prettier than the 1909 one in her harmonium (or, if you prefer, her later drawing room cabinet) …

Picture of 1920 Singer Lotus decal 66K treadle

In the end though, and unusually for us, common sense has prevailed.  The Lotus which is in Elsie’s harmonium’s been in it for 102 years now so it really ought to stay here, and there’s no way that Elsie’s going to part with her favourite cabinet.  Besides, as far as we can tell, this Lotus has always been in this base, so they ought to stay together too.  And besides again, Elsie finally admitted the other night that perhaps (just perhaps) I was right after all, and we really do not have the space for her to add yet another machine to her collection.

I did intend to update you with the latest developments on the bicycle front but that needs pictures, which will have to wait until the snow and ice has gone from the lane.  So more on our bikes anon …

The Ruby Buttonholer and the Vanguard Buttonholer


This post was going to be titled “The Ruby Buttonholer and the Vanguard Buttonholer and how to tell them apart”, but in fact there’s only one way to tell them apart.  You see what it says on the box.  If you haven’t got the box or the instructions, you’re basically stuffed.  Oh yes …

Picture of two Ruby buttonholers and a Vanguard buttonholer

From the left we have here the big Ruby buttonholer, the Ruby Buttonholer Type RB, and the Vanguard Buttonholer.  The big Ruby’s the odd one  out, so if we ignore that and concentrate on the other two, what differences do we see?

The first difference is body colour, but that’s actually no help at all if you’re trying to tell them apart, because we’ve seen both of them in all kinds of blue-grey and grey-grey, as well as one or other of them in a sort of buttermilk/pale cream.  I have a feeling we’ve also seen a black one, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

The other visible difference between those two is that little doohickey sticking out towards the front of the Vanguard, to which this red arrow is pointing …

Detail shot of Vanguard Buttonholer

That’s a setting screw which varies the width of the stitch from narrow to wide, and it’s not to be confused with the control which varies the width of the buttonhole.  Buttonhole width is the one which you can see on the side of the body with the 1-2-3 markings.

But alas, the presence of that stitch width wotsit does not mean it’s a Vanguard!  Nope, there are Vanguards with and without that, and the same goes for the Ruby.

It really is the case that if you haven’t got the box or the instructions, you can’t tell them apart, because they are indeed one and the same thing.

So, if you see a Vanguard Buttonholer for sale, it’ll look like either of those two with the plastic body but it may be a different colour, and it may or may not have variable stitch width.

If you see a Ruby Buttonholer for sale, it could be that contraption on the left in the team photo, but it’s more likely to be the plastic-bodied one.

If you see a Ruby Buttonholer Type RB for sale, it’s definitely the plastic-bodied one.  It may or may not have variable stitch width, and it may or may not have with it Part Number 17, which is the means by which a Ruby RB can allegedly be fitted to an industrial machine – as if anyone would want to do that.

We have nice examples of all three for sale on the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page, where you’ll also find snaps showing the boxes and instructions.

Vintage buttonholers


We were in a bit of a silly mood earlier today, and at one point Elsie said “Why don’t you do a team photo of the buttonholers?”.  I couldn’t think of any reason why not, so here you go …

Picture of 12 Vintage buttonholers for Singer sewing machines

Top row left to right is a Green’s from the land of the Vegemite sandwich, Precision (the one that comes in the maroon tin), Greist, Greist Rotary, Singer 489500 (the one which is usually seen in the green “Jetson” case), and the bigger of the two Ruby buttonholers.

Bottom row left to right is a Y.S.Star buttonholer, the common or garden Ruby type RB, Singer 86718 (the red plastic case one), Famous Buttonhole Maker, Singer 86662 (the usual one in the card box) and a Singer USA 160506 (the dark green plastic case one).

I know we have examples of most of these for sale, even if I haven’t got round to putting them on the “Bits ‘n’ Bobs” page yet, and I’ve just now realised that we missed out the Vanguard one from this picture.  No biggie though – a Vanguard’s just a Ruby RB with a different coloured shell.

Hmmm … I guess we need to do the same for zigzaggers next.

The studio, buttonholers, a 201K, the harmonium. And logs.


picture of Singer 201K23 in beige/brown

Detail picture of Singer 201K23

Detail photo of Singer 201K23

Detail of Singer 201K23 stitch length regulator

Well, I finally finished the bathroom cupboard and between us we got it painted (magnolia – we’re not very adventurous where decorating’s concerned).  No sooner had the paint dried than I set up the studio i.e. put the board over the bath, spread out the white hotel tablecloth on it, plonked a sewing machine on top and started snapping away.

And when I came to open the files in Photoshop, I discovered that oh poo the new magnolia-coloured “wall” was now producing a colour cast.  Long story short, the studio has now moved into our bedroom.  The board and tablecloth which sat on the bath now sit on top of The Harmonium, as the later Singer drawing-room cabinet is referred to (‘cos we think it looks like one when the machine’s down and the top’s over), and as long as I time the picture-taking to avoid the direct sun which comes in around noon at this time of year, I have better light now as well as more room to move.

Anyhow, these ‘ere snaps fresh from the new studio are of a really nice 201K23 which we’ve now added to the “Singers for Sale” page, and I’m not saying anything more about this machine now lest I be inclined to go off on one about the way 201’s are hyped up on Ebay.  Having said that, though, I can’t help wondering how come an identical machine to this one seemingly in similar cosmetic condition but with a scruffy case lid has this very evening sold on Ebay for £170!

Whatever, we finally realised over the New Year that we do indeed have a surfeit of buttonholers (you can say that again -E), so I’ve just added a Singer 160506 (the one in the green plastic case) with extra templates, and before much longer I’ll be adding still more to the “Bits ‘n’ bobs” page.

There’s another Swiss zigzagger listed now too, by the way, and I must say you’d be hard pushed to find a better one either here or in the States.

Finally, having for the last two months been burning a load of timber we scrounged from a building site, last week we managed to clear enough space in one of our log sheds for a couple of loads of proper logs from our friendly neighbourhood log lady, and we finished stacking those this afternnon.

In case you ever need to know, I can now tell you with some authority that an average pickup load of mixed hardwood logs cut at 10″ and split consists of about 330 logs, which when stacked one row deep along a wall amounts to 33 square feet of logs, or a stacked volume of 0.7 cubic metre.  And round our neck of the woods, that’s very close to 25p a log, which I guess seems expensive – until you weigh up the advantages of heating by woodburning stove …