Category Archives: Vintage Singer sewing machines

A new computer and two tons of manure

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That’s why I still haven’t got round to taking the snaps to illustrate the post about bobbin winders which at least two of our regular readers are waiting for me to write.

The new puter came on Thursday.  We were out most of Friday on the bus to the hospital and back for a routine 10-minute scan which turned out to be a disappointment, in that I thought it might be fun to see my innards on the screen but in the event I had to agree with both Elsie and Tracy The Ultrasound Queen that it was actually dead boring.

As soon as we got back, I set to sorting out the puter, and this morning I finally got the email working properly all by myself, which is something that’s never happened before.  What is totally beyond me though is finding the right driver for the laser printer and installing it, so it looks like I’m in for a costly phone call to Canon support tomorrow, which is a real PITA.  Oh, and I can’t find my Photoshop CS5 disc either, although I’ve managed to find the serial number!  Such is life when you get a new puter …

We’ve also been busy spreading the two tons of manure which Elsie got for her birthday around the big allotment, which was quite an undertaking in view of the fact that the paths between the plots are pretty much underwater and consequently very squidgy and slippery.  In case you ever need to know, 2 tons of well-rotted farmyard manure is something over 50 big wheelbarrow loads.

But anyhow, at least you now know why it’ll be a few more days before we finally get to bobbin winders and the adjustment thereof!

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How to clean a vintage sewing machine – some thoughts on that

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Picture of Singer "Lotus" 66K in treadle base

Q.  “What’s the best way to clean a vintage sewing machine?”

A.  “Carefully.”

We get asked that question quite often, and the simple fact of the matter is that “carefully” really is the best answer!  However, I usually feel obliged to expand upon that a bit, so in the hope that this post will henceforth save me saying the same thing over and over to different people, here goes with a few thoughts.

As with most things, there’s a lot of stuff on the internets about how to clean an old machine, but soon after you start wading your way through it all, two things become apparent.  One of them’s obvious and the other’s maybe not.  The obvious one is that most of the folk explaining how to do the deed are in the US of A, and the other’s that we don’t normally know how many machines their method has worked on.

So, Mavis Fenderbender in Chevrolet KY uploads a wobbly video to You Tube showing at great length how she transformed an old wreck she got at the yard sale last week – and we immediately have two problems.  One is that the product which Mavis used for stripping off the grot of ages is “King Krudbusta”, a tin of which she picked up from a bargain bin in Walmart maybe 10 years ago now.  And the other is that Mavis is keeping quiet about how she managed to take all the decals and some of the paint off the last machine she tried restoring.

A couple of years ago, I kept seeing on the interweb that a certain aerosol cleaner intended for car upholstery was the thing for cleaning up old sewing machines.  All you needed to do was spray it on, let it soak in, then wipe it off with a soft cloth.  It was of course made in the USA, and it took me a long time to track down a UK source.  But I got there in the end, and one day set to with a spray can of it and a really filthy 66K which I’d stripped for spares.  Sprayed the magic stuff on, let it soak, wiped it off and sure enough off came most if not all of the filth.

We were so impressed I immediately used it on a potentially very pretty but at the time disgusting 28K which stank like an ashtray.  On went the spray, we let it soak, wiped it off and oh look – the lovely gold decals are now silver …

That prompted several months of experimenting with different lotions and potions in an attempt to find out what worked reliably and what didn’t, the outcome of which can be summarised thus:-

1  What works on one old sewing machine may or may not work on the next one.  I once soaked a 99K in paraffin (kerosene) overnight with no ill effect whatsoever, but the next time I tried it, it took most of the clear coat off an apparently identical 99K of about the same age.  I still haven’t worked that one out.

2  The usual advice to test whatever you’re thinking of using on an inconspicuous part of the machine first takes no account of the fact that the finish in that inconspicuous area might well react differently to that on the rest of the machine.

3  We know that at least where most old Singers are concerned, there’s a clear coat over the decals and the black enamel.  Personally, I suspect that the type of clear coat used changed over the years, but even if it didn’t, I’m convinced that nowadays the way it will react to any particular solvent or cleaning agent is unpredictable.  And once that clear coat goes, the decals’ days are surely numbered.

4  As far as we’re concerned, the only totally safe cleaning process involves household soap and warm water on a soft cloth in small areas at a time, immediately followed by a “rinse” with a different cloth dampened in warm water before moving on to the next area, then after drying, a polish with a little sewing machine oil on another soft cloth.

5  Whatever you use and however you go about cleaning a vintage Singer, do it good light and keep a careful eye on the area you’ve just worked on.  If you notice any change in the appearance of the surface other than it looks cleaner, stop what you’re doing and work out what’s going on.

6  The general rule of cleaning is if in doubt – don’t!

The chromed parts are easy.  To bring back as much life as possible to them, we always use Solvol Autosol, which is available in the UK at Halfords and most places that sell car polish and suchlike.  And that illustrates the other problem – our many overseas readers are now wondering what their local equivalent of Solvol Autosol is!  Alas, I have no idea, but it’s a very mildly abrasive metal polish which is typically used for polishing the aluminium castings of vintage motorcycle engines.

Finally, just to put what I’ve said above into perspective, I do sometimes wonder why so many people seem to be obsessed with returning a vintage sewing machine to near-enough “as new” condition.  If that’s your thing, fair enough and the best of luck to you in your endeavours.  But it would seem wrong to us if a machine that’s 50 or 100 years old didn’t have its “fingerprint” of cosmetic wear and tear and the usual minor dinks and scratches.

A total restoration would freak us out.  We’d be scared to use it!

Edited to add – when it comes to the woodwork of cases and cabinets, again we don’t aim for perfection.  Any lifted veneer is carefully glued back down, rough edges are lightly sanded, and after that it’s just whatever whatever the wood needs to minimise any significant scratches and scrapes.  We tend to favour Rustins Scratch Cover in the appropriate colour (they do a light and a medium/dark and yes, you can mix them), and Elsie also likes Rustins Finish Reviver now she’s got the hang of using it!

How to fit a handcrank to an early Singer 27K treadle

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Here’s a picture of the drive end of Elsie’s old faithful 27K, which was made in 1900 and still resides in the ornate drawing room cabinet* in which it left the shop 112 years ago.

Now, if you’re really into the old Singer stuff, I bet you got as far as “made in 1900” in that sentence and immediately said to yourself “Ahah!  So it hasn’t got a boss for a handcrank!”.  And if you did, I bow down before your awesome knowledge of such arcane stuff.

If you didn’t, and you’re not entirely sure what a “boss” is in this context anyhow, look closely at the right-hand side of the column of this particular 27K, and hopefully you’ll be able to see that there isn’t the usual sticky-outy bit to which a hand crank or indeed a motor can be fitted.  That’s the “boss”, or rather it would be if this machine had one.  Later 27K’s do have one, but only a real vintage Singer geek could tell you when they changed from bossless to bossed.  The best I can do is say that in 1900 at least some 27K’s didn’t have a boss but by 1903 they all did.

So, should you wish to fit a hand-crank to one of these fine old treadle machines, how might that be done when there is no apprarent means of attaching one?  In theory it’s easy – all you need is Hand Attachment 81712, as shown below together with a bobbin winder assembly which wanted to be in the picture too …

Once you have your Hand Attachment 81712 to hand, as it were, it’s simply a case of undoing one screw and removing the belt guard from your early 27K, then fitting the handcrank by clamping its mounting bracket round the collar onto which the belt guard was originally fixed.  It’s a job which requires nothing more than one ordinary screwdriver and five minutes of your time.

The problem is of course that you first need to acquire your Part No. 81712.   Which was only made for the very early 27K.  And then apparently not in any great quantity.  So they’re a bit thin on the ground.   I’ve no idea how many of them Singer actually made, but I do know that the Hand Attachment had been officially declared obsolete by 1906, so it’s perhaps not surprising that 105 years later, most folk have never heard of it.  Certainly this is the only one that Elsie and I have ever actually laid hands on.

Given its rarity, it’s got to be a symptom of something or other that having completely forgotten we had this one, I found it yesterday under a pile of stuff alongside the dead printer which I’d finally decided to take down to the dump recycling centre.  Be that as it may, given that Elsie’s 27K in the drawing room cabinet is in its original state and it’s such a delight to treadle, there’s actually more chance of me mastering the art of knitting than there is of us ever needing to use this particular bit of kit, therefore one complete Hand Attachment 81712 is now listed on our Bits ‘n’ Bobs page!

So now somebody, somewhere is wondering “OK, that takes care of a handcrank, but how do you fit a motor?”.  The answer to that is “with great difficulty”, which as far as I’m concerned is just as well because I really can’t imagine why anybody might want to vandalise a very early 27K by motorising it …

And … just as I was about to publish this post, an email came in from Lulu alerting me to a listing on Ebay UK of a rather unusual treadle machine …

I was interested to see that the drawer pulls on this one are different to those on Elsie’s early drawing room cabinet, and that the mat on the treadle plate is a different design too.  The real surprise though is the 28K.  I’ve never seen a 3/4-size machine of any flavour in a drawing-room cabinet before.   It’s obvious from the other pictures in the listing for this one that it’s a DIY job and an old one at that, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work just fine.  And I love the way the handcrank’s still on it …

* If you’re in the US of A,  for “drawing room cabinet” read “parlor cabinet”.
Edited 2nd October to add – thanks to Linda and Heather, I now know that Singer did indeed supply the 28K in a Drawing Room Cabinet!

Vintage Singer tension stuff

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Following on from the two recent epistles concerning the top tension on a 201 …

First off, a little tip for those of you who are new to the ways of vintage Singers.  In order for the top tension adjustment to work properly, the two discs between which your thread passes on its way to the needle need to be able to “squeeze” it between them just like Mr.Singer intended.  They can’t do that if there’s rust on the inside faces, and neither can they do that if there’s a buildup of fluff, lint or the grot of ages in there.

Assuming that the mating faces of the two top tension discs are clean and if not shiny, at least smooth, the only other requirement is that your thread actually passes beween them properly.   And the way to ensure that it does just that is get into the habit of always raising your presser foot before threading your machine!  When you raise it, the tension releasing pin releases the spring pressure holding your tension discs together, so that when you pass the thread round between them, it can end up in the right place – which it’s unlikely to do if the discs are pressed together.

The other matter arising is that a couple of people have asked if there’s a definitive way of setting up the check spring tension when you have absolutely no idea at all what it should feel like.  As far as I know, there isn’t really, so in the absence of any other machine handy to compare one with, the best suggestion I have is …

1   Start with some tension on the check spring, but not much at all.

2  Thread your machine as normal, set the stitch length to midway between shortest and longest, and start sewing some ordinary medium weight material

3  Adjust your top tension to get the best stitch possible

4  Turn the balance wheel by hand and do a few stitches really slowly

5  On the down stroke of the take-up lever, watch the thread between the eye of the take-up lever and the check spring

6  That thread should stay under enough tension to keep it straight until just after the needle enters the fabric

If it does, all is well.  If it doesn’t, you need more check spring tension.  And if in doubt, more is better than less.

And finally, if, for whatever reason, you’re beset by tension troubles, beware of one method of checking for correct tension which seems to be all over the internets.  You may read that the proper way is to take a small square of medium-weight fabric, fold it, stitch diagonally across it, remove the piece from the machine, hold each end of the line of stitching and pull evenly until a thread breaks.

Allegedly one of three things will happen.  If your top tension’s tighter than the bottom, the top thread will break first.  If bottom’s tighter than top, the bottom thread will break first.  Or if both threads break together, your top and bottom tension are balanced (but not necessarily correct).  If nothing happens, both tensions are supposed to be balanced but too loose.

What nobody ever seems to point out is that unless you’re using identical thread top and bottom and those threads are cotton, this venerable test is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

(Elsie’s just pointed out that I really ought to do a post about how to set up the bottom tension if that’s gone way out.  Or you took the spring off the bobbin carrier and you rather wish you hadn’t …)

Singer 201K top tension – part two

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In the previous post on this subject, we looked at how to set up the 201 top tension adjustment.  This time we’ll look at how the other half of the top tension assembly fits together, and see how to adjust both the check spring tension and the position of its stop.

Because it’s the putting back together which gives most folk grief rather than the taking apart, we’ll start with all the components of the top tension assembly removed from the machine.  We’ll go through this on a Mk2, but it’s just the same on a MK1, and don’t worry if reading this explanation scrolls your nerd. It makes more sense when you have the bits and bobs right there in front of you.  Honest.

OK, let’s go!

Here’s a red arrow pointing to the (unscrewed) grub screw by means of which the whole top tension assembly is locked into the machine …

and here’s the tension stud with, in the foreground, the tension releasing pin.  The tension releasing pin lives inside the tension stud and it’s important, because without it, your top tension won’t release when you raise your presser foot and you will be sorely vexed.

In theory, you fit the tension stud by pushing it into the hole in the machine body as far as it will go, making sure that the end of the slot up the middle of it is horizontal, then tightening up that grubscrew to which the arrow’s pointing in the top picture.  That should leave 2mm or thereabouts of the splined part of the stud (the cog-wheely bit) proud of the metal surrounding it.

In reality, it often takes a careful tap with a hammer to make sure that the stud’s properly seated, but don’t hit it unless you’ve first screwed onto it the thumb nut (by means of which you normally adjust your tension) so that it’s level with the end.  That’ll prevent any damage to the threaded part of the tension stud.  It’s probably best to play safe and use a wooden or leather mallet, or hold a bit of wood against the end of the stud then tap (not whack) that with your hammer.

Don’t forget to tighten that grubscrew when you’re sure it’s in right, and note that if you don’t have the slot in the stud horizontal, the datum marking on your tension indicator won’t be at top centre like it should be when you replace it.

Now take off the thumb nut if you put it on, insert your tension releasing pin, and then fit the shiny wossname round the whole works as shown below.  The proper name for the shiny wossname is the Slack Thread Regulator And Tension Thread Guide, but whatever you like to call it, fit it for now with its fixing screw central in the slot.  Incidentally, your tension pin will go in further than the one in the photo above.

We can now move on to the fun part …

In the picture above we have, from the left, what is properly called the Thread Guard Spring but is commonly called the check spring, then the Thread Guard and then the two tension discs.

Before we go any further, though, check out that little hooky bit which is bent in on the coil of the check spring, for it is that little hooky bit which is the key to understanding both how the check spring works, and how it all goes back together.

OK, so we put the two tension discs together with their flattened faces facing each other, and sit them on top of the thread guard like in the picture above.

Now carefully slide the check spring over your little metal sandwich …

so that we end up with it all looking like this, although it doesn’t matter for now where the loop in the spring is positioned relative to that metal finger (which is another way of saying that when I took this picture, my brain wasn’t paying attention).  What matters is that the flattened sides of the two discs are together, and the big coil of the check spring is on the same side of the discs as the sticky-uppy finger.

So.  There’s the stud in place with its slot horizontal, the pin inside it, and your wossname fitted round it, ready for the rest of the gubbins to go on.  But first …

Just so you can see how this business with the check spring actually works, we’re now going to fit it together with an invisible thread guard and tension discs.  Slide the spring over the tension stud with the loop in it hanging down, ideally between 5 and 6 o’clock, and wiggle it until the little hooky bit inside the coil drops into and slides along one of the grooves in the cog-wheely bit.

Push it in as far as it’ll go, then swing the loop of the spring up to rest on the sticky-outy bit of the shiny wossname as shown above.

The little hooky bit on the inside of the spring is now held in what is likely to be the right groove on the stud (because you fitted the spring with the loop hanging down), so the amount of tension that the spring’s under when you rotate it that quarter turn clockwise onto its rest will probably be about right. But if it isn’t, how do you alter it?  Easy – slide it out and put it back with the little hooky bit in the next groove to the left for more tension, or next to the right for less tension.

Now let’s do this for real.  First of all, check that your presser foot is down and your tension releasing pin is still in place.  Then check that your little sub-assembly looks like this …

and slide the whole lot over the stud, holding the bits together and with the spring dangling down.  The fun bit is then jiggling it all so that the loop of the spring stays hanging down, the finger of the thread guard locates in the hole in the body of the machine, and the little hooky bit on the spring slides along one of the grooves in the stud.

And the last thing to do is swing the loop up …

so that it rests on top of that little stop.

Before you go any further, just check that if you press the thread guard in towards the machine and lift the end of the loop of the spring up a bit, it’s under noticeable tension and it springs back against the stop when you release it.  From here on in, assembly of the remaining parts of the top tension is simply a matter of following the sequence detailed in Part One except we then need to set the position of the Slack Thread Regulator And Tension Thread Guide a.k.a. the shiny wossname.

We fitted that with the fixing screw central in the slot, but we now need to see if it needs adjusting.  There seem to be three schools of thought here.  The first says its position doesn’t really matter so screw central in the slot is OK.  The second says that you slacken the fixing screw, rotate the wossname until the loop of the check spring emerges from behind the tension dial at 9 o’clock, then tighten the screw.

I subscribe to the third opinion, which is that the position of the wossname is correct when the check spring just contacts its stop as the point of a correctly-fitted standard needle is about to pierce a piece of medium-weight fabric held in place as it normally is by the presser foot.

But now, I hear you ask “how much tension should there be on the check spring?”.   Alas, unless you have another machine handy to compare it with, the only sensible answer I can think of is “about as much as there is if you put it together as described above, but if in doubt, more is usually better than less”.

Finally, I ought to point out that at least one respected guide to vintage Singers says to fit a particular 201 tension part that way but in the above I say to fit it this way.  All I know is that this way is what works for me, every time.

Singer 201K top tension – part one

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We keep getting emails along the lines of “What’s wrong with my 201 that I have to have the top tension on 9 to get a reliable stitch?”, so this is an attempt to explain a bit about how this type of top tension adjuster works, and why the number you have it set on isn’t actually as important as many people believe.

As I’m sure you know,  the general idea is that en route ‘twixt spool and needle, the thread passes between two discs which are held together by a spring, and they should keep it under just enough tension to produce the perfect stitch.  However, on most of the older domestic Singers, there’s no scale on the tension adjuster, and that makes trying to repeat a previous tension adjustment a bit of a lottery unless you’ve had years of practice with a particular machine

Now on this and later types of Singer top tension, there is a scale, and while to most people this is a great convenience, to some it’s a source of anxiety.  That’s because their machine sews best with the top tension on 9 or maybe even on 2, and they discover that everybody else seems to have theirs on 5.

So what’s all that about then?  Well, in theory, if your bottom tension is correctly set, you should indeed find that more often than not, you get a perfect stitch with the top tension set at or close to 5.   In practice, though, the fun starts when somebody has previously dismantled the top tension and then reassembled it without setting it up properly.  In that case, it’s very easy to end up with a unit which shows 8 or 9 on the scale when the amount of tension it’s actually applying is the equivalent of 4 or 5.  Confused?  Don’t be.  If we take the thing apart and put it back together, you’ll see how the problem arises – and how to sort it out if it has.

OK, we have here a 201K which happens to be a Mk2 but what the machine is makes no odds.  All we’re interested in is the tension assembly.  Seeing as how this is actually one of Elsie’s own machines, it’s hardly surprising that in normal use she usually has it set at or close to 5.

As you’ll be aware if you have one of these, you can only unscrew the (tension regulating) thumb nut so far.  When you want to take it off, as we do now, you have to unscrew it as far as you can, then push the dial with the numbers on (the tension index flange) away from the nut …

If you keep it pushed in (the end of a screwdriver might help if you’re worried about your nails), you can then unscrew the thumb nut all the way, take it off …

and then remove the dial.  We can now see how there’s a pin on the back of the thumb nut which engages in one of a series of holes in the front of the dial …

It’s that which is the key to setting up these tension assemblies.  But just so you can see what’s what, we’ll continue stripping it as far as the discs themselves.  Behind the numbered dial is a peculiar little washer thingy with a hooky bit on it …

and behind that’s the spring …

Next comes the bit with the + and – on it, which is called the tension indicator …

and that’s as far as we’re going this time.

On the face of it, reassembly is simply the reverse of that sequence, but note that

a)  when you replace the spring, the first (smallest) coil of it should be below the slot in the threaded stud (like in the picture) and

b) when you replace that funny little washer thingy, the hooky bit on it goes at the top, point facing away from the machine.

Where people go wrong is when they replace the numbered dial.  It’s a bit of a faff the first time you do it, but it does get easier with practice.  Here’s how to do it properly, but first a word of warning.  If you have a tendency to have problems with nuts and bolts and threads, have a practice session putting the thumb screw back onto the tension stud before you go any further.  I doubt it’s easy to cross-thread it, but obviously take care.  Once you’ve got the feel for that start putting it all back together but …

1  Check that you have the + and – marks on the indicator at the top, the spring on right way round, and the little hooky bit facing you

2 Put the numbered dial back in place so that the ‘2’ is at the top, lined up with the datum mark between the + and the –

3 Push it inwards towards the machine, hold it there, and carefully thread the thumb screw back onto the stud.   Screw it in until that little peg which sticks out the back of the thumb nut tries to poke into one of the holes in the numbered dial.

4 Release the pressure on the numbered dial and jiggle it about until the little peg pops into one of those holes.

5 Now turn the thumb nut/dial all the way anti-clockwise and see what number is lined up with the datum mark on the indicator.  If it stops on ‘0’, you’re laughing.  If it doesn’t, turn it back to ‘2’, press the dial in again, and turn the thumb nut so that the peg drops into a different hole in the dial.  Now see if the dial stops at ‘0’.

6 When it does, check to see if you actually have zero tension with the dial on 0.  To do this, thread the machine as normal up to the point at which your thread’s through the take up lever, then lower your presser foot.  Set the tension to ‘1’, and pull on the thread which is through the take up lever.  You should just be able to feel some tension, but not a lot.

7 Now set the tension back to ‘0’ and pull again on the thread.  There should now be no tension in the thread.  If that’s the case, turn the thumb screw all the way clockwise and see what number is on the dial.  It should be ‘9’.

8 In the real world, it’s often a case of arriving at a compromise whereby when the tension’s backed off as far as it’ll go, the dial’s close to ‘0’ and there’s no tension on the thread, and when it’s screwed in as far as it’ll go, the dial’s close to ‘9’ and there’s a lot of tension.

9  Just get it as good as you can.  To fine-tune it, simply push in the numbered dial and turn the thumb nut clockwise for more actual tension at that particular position of the numbered dial, and anti-clock for less.

And from all that, it follows that if your machine sews a perfect stitch with the tension set nowhere near 5, all you need do to put things back to rights is push in the numbered dial, then without moving the thumb nut, rotate the dial so that ‘5’ is opposite the datum.  That way you maintain the actual setting for your best stitch, but it’s now ‘5’ on the dial – just like everybody else reckons theirs is!

How To Sew Successfully

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I was reminded the other day of some great advice contained in The Singer Sewing Book of the early 1950’s.  So, for those of you who haven’t quite got it together yet, pay attention now as Mary Brooks Picken explains, in her characteristic style, how to sew successfully …

Prepare yourself mentally for sewing … Approach the job with enthusiasm.  You must want to make something lovely, to have the fun of putting pieces of fabric together, to make a garment, to handle the fabric with appreciation, to watch the beauty of the article grow as a result of your planning and effort.

Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically.  Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.  Never try to sew with the sink full of dishes or beds unmade.  When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so that your mind is free to enjoy your sewing.

When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible.  Go through a beauty ritual of orderliness.  Have on a clean dress … Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on with care.  Looking attractive is a very important part of sewing, because if you are making something for yourself, you will try it on at intervals in front of your mirror, and you can hope for better results when you look your best.

Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine where you can pick it up and dust your fingers at intervals.  This not only absorbs the moisture on your fingers. but helps keep your work clean.

Again, sewing must be approached with the idea that you are going to enjoy it, and if you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband come home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should.

Make an appointment with yourself to sew, just as you would with your hairdresser, or with a neighbour to go shopping.  If your intimates enjoy sewing, invite them to come and sew with you from 2 to 5 on a Wednesday, or perhaps for an evening each week.  Do not spend your time planning refreshments, but insist that each bring sewing to do.

All jolly good stuff for sure, and there’s plenty more where that came from.  Strange though that with this being the 1950’s, Mrs Pickens mentions the bag of French chalk but omits to caution against dropping ones fag cigarette ash on the work.  But doesn’t it all conjure up a wonderful picture of times gone by, when women (or at least middle-class American women) might find themselves invited round to a neighbour’s for three hours of sewing – with no coffee or cake provided?

Maybe they took their own.  Whatever, lest our militant feminist reader be all of a froth at the idea that one might be fearful of ones husband coming home and finding one not neatly put together, here’s a little reminder that things were a bit different in the 1950’s …

And for what it’s worth, there’s another one here!

Ebay and vintage Singer sewing machines

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We got an email today from a lady who’s after a 201K, and in it she said “I just lost a bidding war on eBay for a lovely singer 201k, it sold for £300!  I think that’s a bit much, and I have seen on your website that you sell them for a much better price.”

We thought that £300 was a bit much too, so we took a look at the relevant listing and were immediately impressed by the presentation of it.  The seller had obviously spent a lot of time and effort cleaning and polishing the machine, then more time and effort taking some very good pictures of it, then still more time crafting the listing.  There was even a video of the machine in action.  All things considered, it was a wonderful example of how to sell a sewing machine on Ebay – although I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen that very same listing before.  Maybe a previous sale fell through?  But whatever, it looked like a nice machine and it seemed to run well enough.

Now, if you go to the “Machines” page of our blog and scroll down to the 201 at the bottom that we we sold earlier this year and which was actually in even better cosmetic condition than this £300 Ebay one, you’ll see that ours cost half as much.  And for her £145 spent with us, the buyer also got all those original bits and bobs.

So where is this leading?  To some thoughts about buying vintage Singers on Ebay, that’s where, because we keep getting asked about it.  But before we go any further, let me just make it clear that I have no problem at all with people selling vintage machines on Ebay at silly prices if people are daft enough to pay those prices.   The fact that that particular 201 went for £300 shows only that when two people enter into a bidding war for an item that’s been made to look as appealing as possible, the end result is often a very expensive purchase indeed.  (The end result is often the buyer backing out of the sale too, but that’s another matter – as is the fact that there might have been more than two people bidding against each other for the £300 one, but you can’t tell because the seller set the auction up to keep bidders’ identities private.)

Be that all as it may, if you’re careful and if you’re lucky, it is still possible to pick up a nice enough vintage Singer at a realistic price on Ebay.  The trick is to be very careful and not to get carried away.   Here’s a few pointers based on our admittedly limited experience …

1.  Beware of anybody describing an ordinary vintage Singer (eg a 15, 66, 99 or 201) as a “semi-industrial” and/or “heavy duty” machine.  Either they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re assuming that you don’t.

2.  Do your homework.  The ideal situation is for you to know more about the particular model that’s on offer than the person selling it does.  Hopefully this blog will help you with that.

3.  Ask specific questions about the machine you’re thinking of bidding on and beware of vague answers.

4.  Beware of anybody selling an electric without the mains lead and/or foot controller.  That’s the standard way of getting rid of a machine with a dodgy motor (“I don’t have the foot pedal so I can’t try it, but the needle goes up and down when you turn the wheel”).

5.  If the machine’s obviously missing a part but the seller says that’s not a problem because it’s readily available at little cost, ask yourself why they haven’t bought one and fitted it themselves in order to get a better price.  The classic example of this is the 27/28/127/128 with the missing slide plate.  Nice ones are hard to come by and they are not cheap.

6.  If you’re considering bidding on an electric, what are you going to do if you win it and then discover that it needs completely rewiring before it’s safe to use?  A PAT label on an electric sewing machine offered by a private seller is, in itself, no guarantee of anything.

7.  Realise that nearly every sewing machine sold on Ebay will need work to get it sewing at its best.

8.  Be aware that vintage sewing machines are not easy things to clean if they’re really filthy, and that many of them stink.  So do some of the cases.

9.  Remember that a seller’s feedback score of 100% does not necessarily mean that every customer of theirs has been happy with their purchase.

10.  If you bid on a sewing machine which you can’t collect in person, you need to be lucky.  That’s because most people haven’t a clue how to pack to sewing machine for delivery by courier or Parcelfarce.

And that explains the picture at the top of this post, which shows one of our 201’s being packed for delivery by UPS last year.  The next stage after that was to pad it out with more bubble wrap so that when the lid’s on, nothing can possibly move about inside the case.  Once the lid’s on, the whole thing’s plastic bagged, then taped all round in two or three places, then it goes into a tailor-made twin-wall carton with about 2″ of packing on all 6 sides.  The carton’s then taped and tied up with polypropylene twine, and roughly two hours after we started packing it, it’s finally ready for the dude in the brown van.

You can’t reasonably expect your run-of-the-mill Ebay seller to do something similar, and believe me some of them have no idea at all.  No sensible person would put the machine in its case, wrap a bin liner round that and tie a parcel label on the handle before consigning it to Parcelfarce but unfortunately not every person is sensible …

The Singer 66K and the Singer 99K – how to tell them apart

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The Singer 99K is the baby sister of the Singer 66K.  Or to put it another way, the 66K is the full-size machine, and as such it fits into any vintage Singer domestic treadle base.  A 99K doesn’t, and that’s why if you ever see a treadle 99, it’s a DIY job.

The bed of a 66K is just over 14.5 inches long.  The bed of a 99K is a couple of inches shorter, and getting on for half and inch less front -to-back.  So a 66 will fit into any ordinary “full-size” base and case, even those horrible all plastic ones sold in the late 70’s/early 80’s to “up-date” the classic portables.  A 99 will only fit in either the base it was sold in, or that 99-specific Singer table called the Cadet Cabinet.

Most of the mechanicals are the same on both machines, and in practice when you switch from a 66 to a 99 there’s only two differences.  You lose maybe 2 inches throat space (or what some Americans bizarrely call “harp”), and you save about 6lb in weight, which is definitely noticeable when you cart one about.

Pictured there is a 99K in front of a 66K less its needle plate and slide plate, and as you can see, the difference isn’t exactly obvious.  This of course makes it interesting when a machine’s listed on Ebay, say, by somebody who doesn’t know, or professes not to know, what model it is, and all you have to go on is the usual side-on view of the machine.

OK then, can you tell which is which?

The answer is that the top one’s the 66K, and if you don’t have a picture to compare it with, the easiest way to tell is to look at the gold Singer badge.  On a 66K, the top of the badge is level with what is properly called the stitch regulating thumb screw.  On a 99K, the badge is well below it.

And you’d be surprised how many people don’t know that …

Gosh, it’s the first of May already

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Hooray! Hooray!

’tis the first of May. 

Outdoor sex

begins today.

Or so the young people of this fair land were wont to sing in days of yore.  Allegedly.  Come to think of it, that’s exactly the kind of ditty a Morris side would sing as a prelude to a dance.  Not that I have a penchant for Morris dancing, you understand.  Oh no.  Not me.  But if I did have, it wouldn’t be for hankie-wavers like the chaps in that picture.   And certainly not for rapper sides or cloggers either.

Be that as it may, or indeed as it May, today marks not only the start of the Morris dancing season, but also a few changes around here.

One is that the “Bits ‘n’ Bobs” page has gone, and in its place we now have both an “Accessories” page and a “Parts” page.  “Accessories” has on it most of the stuff that used to be on “Bits ‘n’ Bobs”, and “Parts” is pretty much what you’d expect.  Or rather it soon will be, because at present it’s in a state of flux whilst I sort it out.  Do check it out from time to time, especially if you’re after a widget, a wossname, or even perhaps a doohickey.

Those of you who keep an eye on the “Singers for sale” page will no doubt have noticed that there’s been nothing new on there for several weeks now.  Funnily enough I’d noticed that too, and the reason is simple – we’ve had nothing new to list.  In the last month we’ve found new homes for a 99 and for three 201’s which sold before I had chance to list them, and that’s just about cleared us out of machines for sale, except for a few 99 hand-cranks still in the pipeline.  For that and several other reasons, we’re now shifting the emphasis away from machines and concentrating instead on accessories and parts for them.

One of those several other reasons is The Motor Car, which, if all goes well, we’ll finally be getting rid of this summer.  Experience taught us long ago that very few people can be relied upon to pack a sewing machine properly for delivery by Parcelfarce or courier, so if you want to buy in sewing machines, you need a car.  But when you don’t need one for anything else, it makes no sense at all to keep it.

More about being carless in due course, but for now, you may sleep easy in your bed knowing that what we lose by not having machines to sell we gain by having parts as well as accessories.  Business as usual, really – just a bit different.

As for Morris dancing … one of the very sad things about it is that when a halfway-decent side does turn out somewhere, nowadays most people don’t watch them dancing.  Instead, they stand around aimlessly taking rubbish pictures of it with their phones.  Furthermore, it seems to be inevitable that any video of Morris dancing that’s posted online will be so badly shot that it’s positively painful to watch, which is a shame.  This one’s actually better than most, so try to ignore the dodgy camerawork and be amazed by the real skill of a Border side from Sheffield called Boggart’s Breakfast as they dance The Impossible Dance.  You’ll see why it’s called that …