Category Archives: Portable sewing machines

Singer rubber mat

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Picture of Singer rubber mat for domestic sewing machine

Elsie found a couple of Singer rubber mats hiding in The Sewing Room this morning, so I’ve added them to the goodies on the Accessories page.  One of these is just the thing to protect the finish on your William Morris table when you get the portable out …

How we pack a sewing machine for courier delivery

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It’s a shame I didn’t think to take a few snaps of a machine we bought off Ebay last year from a bloke in Scotland.  The seller assured me that he knew how to pack it, and what’s more had loads of bubble wrap, so it should get here safely and I needn’t worry.  But of course it didn’t.  The short story is that he’d wrapped a few bits of bubble wrap round the column and the arm, popped it into the suitcase-type case, wrapped that with one thickness of bubbles then basically just wrapped a carton round it.  And he was a bit mean with the parcel tape too.

The nett result was a split wooden base and some nasty dinks in the finish of the machine itself.  The split base was down to the parcel having ended up on its back in transit, which caused the head to pull the retaining catch out and try parting itself from the base on the side away from the hinges.  And the dinks were caused by the metal tray which held the tin of attachments against the top of the case being pulled out on impact, leaving a heavy metal box free to rattle about against the machine.  Writing “fragile” in small lower case letters with a blue biro in a couple of places on the brown cardboard outer had obviously not helped at all …

Here’s how we do it, but first off a statement of the obvious.  Old sewing machines are heavy.  They are in fact very heavy indeed.  A 28 or a 99 in a suitcase-case type weighs 15kg.  A MkI 201 in the same type of case weighs 21kg.  And if you’ve never picked one up so you’re struggling to imagine how heavy 21kg might be, think bag of cement.  Or bag of coal.  Anyhow, they’re heavy.  But alas, heavy doesn’t mean they can’t be damaged in transit …

Picture of sewing machine being packed for sending by courier

Here we see the start of the process.  That’s a 201K MkI in that case and as you can see, Elsie’s started wrapping everything above the machine bed in bubble wrap and recycled plastic foam packing sheet.  The bed is tied down to the wooden base with those heavy-duty black nylon cable ties, tightened down onto thick card packing so they don’t dig into and mark the woodwork.

Picture of a vintage sewing machine being packed for parcel carrier

At the stage shown above, all the space behind the upper part of the machine is packed out tight with whatever we have available, be it secondhand bubblewrap, plastic foam, bits of expanded polystyrene sheet or even crumpled up brown paper.  Anything, in fact, except polystyrene packing beans, which are no use whatsoever for this application.

That orange on the right is the foot pedal and wiring, padded out then wrapped in several layers of packing tissue until it fits snugly between the column and the side of the case.  Having got that in, we then lay the case on its back and check carefully that the machine doesn’t try to settle down if we push on it. If it does, we stuff more packing behind it until it doesn’t.

Picture of vintage sewing machine being packed

And that’s about as much packing as we could get in before the bit which is a real faff.  Once we get to this stage, Elsie spends ages trying the lid on, taking it off, putting a bit more packing in, trying the lid again and so on, until we’re as sure as we can be that nothing’s likely to move inside the case unless it hits the ground at a bad angle when dropped from a considerable height.

Once the lid’s on, we can’t rely on the catches to keep it shut, so the case is tied shut with polypropylene binder twine going both ways round it.  We then wrap the whole thing up with several layers of bubble wrap, a process which involves an enormous roll of bubble wrap and both of us on hands and knees on the kitchen floor.  It must be quite entertaining to watch.

After that comes a carton, and this is where the expanded polystyrene beans come into their own.  The case sits in the carton on a couple of inches of beans, then the space all round and on top of the case is packed tight with beans before I get to play with the parcel tape gun.  After that comes the addressing, and, for what little good it does, the ritual “FRAGILE” and “THIS WAY UP” marking in upper case with a fat felt tip marker.

We’re not done yet, though.  The last step is to get more binder twine and tie up the outer carton both ways, before crafting two thick twine hand holds on top of it.  And before you start thinking how considerate it is of us to do that for the greater comfort of the poor blokes who will be handling this great weight, let me tell you it’s no such thing.  It’s just another thing we can do to increase the odds on the carton remaining right way up for at least most of its time in transit.

So that’s how we do it.  And having just written this post, we’ve now sold a machine which is going down to Cornwall by courier on Monday, so I’ll try and remember to take some snaps of that one being packed from start to finish …

The original carton!

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Picture of vintage Singer sewing machine carton

Yes, it’s that kitchen tablecloth of ours again – but look what’s on it this time!  One day in 1949, a brand new 201 portable left the Singer shop in Bristol in that carton.  Yesterday, 62 years later, that same machine came home with us, still in the same carton …

Singer knee lever sewing machines

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Typical!  We’ve had a knee-lever Singer 99K lurking in a corner of Elsie’s sewing room for ages, and today we sold it.  And no sooner had I closed the front door behind the proud purchaser than I realised I hadn’t taken any pictures of it set up ready to sew or of the inner workings!  So here’s a brief explanation of the knee-lever controller, minus some snaps which really would have been a big help.  But I’m sure we’ll manage somehow.

OK, check out that page from the 1930 US Singer catalogue, which shows a knee-lever 99K all plugged into that cute wall light fitting and rarin’ to go.  Now take a squint at this picture, which is of the 99 we sold today, sitting quietly on our kitchen table with its awesome 1960’s plastic tablecloth which stops sewing machine oil soaking into the wood  …

Picture of Singer 99K sewing machine

Notice how it looks much like any other early 99K – until you spot that hole to the right of the base.  That’s the magic hole into which you insert the Knee Lever, which is the black metal queerthing hanging in the back of the case …

Picture of Singer sewing machine case with knee lever

The down-pointy end of that is the one which plugs into the hole in the front of the case, and t’other end is the go-faster bit.

OK so far?  How it’s used is simplicty itself.  Place the machine on your table close to the front edge of it, plug the usual old Singer plug into the socket under the balance wheel, then insert the knee-lever into that hole on the front.  It only goes in one way and there’s a bit of a knack to it, but once you realise exactly how it fits, you’re laughing.  You then switch the power on at the wall socket (‘cos nowadays we don’t run sewing machines off a light fitting) and prepare to do some serious sewing.

It’s at this point that you wonder why on earth the lever doesn’t hang more or less straight down, as you might expect it to.  It actually hangs at about 7 o’clock, and that seems all wrong – until you realise that Singer in their wisdom wanted you to sit more to the left than you perhaps normally would, so you move your chair accordingly.  Et voilà, the lever falls conveniently against your right knee (or lower thigh, depending) and off you go.  A gentle right-wards pressure speeds the motor up nice and progressively, and when you return your leg to its resting position, the motor slows and stops.

How it works is simple.  Inside the compartment on the right of the base, under a slightly different black steel lid to the usual one in that this one has a screw holding it shut, is the mechanism of the speed controller.  It’s pretty much the same as is in the usual floor pedal.  When you insert the knee-lever into the magic hole, it connects via an ingenious linkage to the actual speed controller thingy, which doesn’t care in the slightest whether its innards are moved by a lever or by a button on a box on the floor.

So now you know how it all works, you’re wondering why.  As in, what’s the point?  Well, for a start, if you’re not blessed with two feet which work pretty much normally, and especially if you’re in a wheelchair, the knee-lever is brilliant.  You don’t have a foot pedal kicking about on the floor with a wire running from it up to the machine, and there’s only one wire coming out the plug under the balance wheel.  And after that, I’m struggling …

I have no idea when Singer dropped the knee-lever variant, but it was certainly after 1951 because the 99 in that snap is a Centenary model.  Nor am I sure for which models it was available, but I do know that I’ve seen a knee-lever 66, a 99 and a 201.

Elsie’s not a big fan of knee-levers, and as far as I’m concerned they’re just an interesting variation on the normal.  From my point of view, though, they have two drawbacks. One is that they’re a pig to re-wire because of the way the wiring’s crowded in on the machine (and in view of their age, most of them need re-wiring).  The other’s that although the actual conversion to foot pedal control is straightforward enough, you’re left with that hole in the front of the base and you need a new lid for the side compartment.

I think that’s it.  If it isn’t, do leave me a comment!

Vintage Singer sewing machines for sale

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Just by way of an update for you, I’ve added another Model 99 portable to the “Singers for sale” page today.  This one’s a late type electric portable, so if you’re after a Singer 99 we can now offer you a choice of hand-crank or electric!  Also on the same page is a gorgeous hand-crank Singer 66 portable, complete with original bentwood case in very nice condition indeed.

There’s at least one more Singer Model 99 in the pipeline to add to our stock of vintage hand-crank sewing machines for sale, and in case you’re wondering, the rather laboured wording of this post is intended to appeal to the great god Google …

Our new baby

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If you pick up a heavy portable sewing machine by the handle on top of the case, sooner or later the inevitable will happen – as it did to a poor bloke in Croydon recently when he lifted his lady wife’s Singer 99 off the kitchen worktop and turned towards the kitchen door with it.  Alas, no sooner was the machine clear of the worktop than the case parted company from the base, and the 99 hit the deck.  And cast-iron Singers don’t bounce too well, especially when dropped onto expensive Italian floor tiles, which in turn don’t take kindly to having sewing machines dropped on them …

And so it was that when I returned home the other day, Elsie was expecting me to come in with a bit of a wreck of a 99 to add to the spares pile.  What she wasn’t expecting was a rather nice 221 Featherweight as well, which frankly I hadn’t been expecting to buy on account of them usually going for silly prices.  A lot of people seem to think that because a pretty 222 with all its bits and bobs usually goes for £300 or more on Ebay, the 221 should be expensive too because after all a 222 is only a 221 with a free-arm base.

What the dreamers don’t seem to realise is that the Ebay price of the 222 is driven by the demand for good ones in the US of A, where it’s a huge cult thing with Cindy and Jolene and Mary-Lou and all the other quilter ladies because the 222 was never sold there when new.  The 221 was, though, which explains why there isn’t a similar demand for them.  Quite the reverse, in fact – you often see optimists in the States offering 221’s on Ebay UK at prices which are decidedly high even before you add the £50 or more it’d cost to Fedex one from Asscrack, Alabama to Scunthorpe, Lincs.

Anyhow, I managed to find a nice enough one at a realistic price, so I bought it because (a) we didn’t have one and (b) I thought Elsie might like it.  Which she does.  I took it out the case, put it on the kitchen table and there was an “Ooooooh, look at that” followed by a “That’s nice” .  Then a pause.  Then “That one’s mine” …

Here’s a couple of pictures of our new baby with one of her bigger sisters …

Picture of Singer 221 Featherweight with Singer 99

Picture of drive end of Singer 99 alongside Singer 221