How a Sewing Machine Works – Take 2


Last September, I posted a link to a YouTube video we’d come across which we thought was wonderful entertainment.  And we still do.  It’s called How a Sewing Machine Works, and the link to it’s in this post.

Twelve months on, Cathy’s just sent us a link to another YouTube video about how a sewing machine works.  This one’s called The Secret of the Sewing Machine, or rather it would be if it wasn’t in German, which it is, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s really informative even if you don’t understand a word of the narration.

Incidentally, the machine used for the close-ups has a vertical bobbin like the Singer 15 and the Featherweight do, so the large-scale demo’s done in the vertical plane too.  If the bobbin in your machine’s horizontal, the only difference with yours is that there’s a 90° bend in the thread path.  The principle’s exactly the same as shown in this video.

Elsie’s just reminded me that I haven’t updated those of you who might be interested in This Year’s Harvest.  The short story is that some crops didn’t happen at all, and everything else is three weeks or so late.  The potato crop was down by 75%, and the rhubarb was practically tasteless until we finally got ten days or so of sunshine, at which point it decided to start tasting like it should.  Our pear crop was poor, and there were no damsons at all either on our own tree or the big one in town which usually provides most of our huge stash of damson jam.

Our Morello cherry decided not to bother this year, for the first time ever.  Even the poor old walnut tree on the way out of town is totally walnutless.  Not only that, but it’s got some disease or other.  It’s not a happy tree.  Our own apple crop isn’t far short of normal, but the big old tree up the lane from which we reckon to get all the apples we ever need for dried apple rings, chutney and numerous apple crumbles did nothing at all.

It’s not all bad, though.  Blackcurrants and blueberries did well enough as did all the beans, and although it’s late, the sweetcorn’s not doing so bad considering it’s hardly had any sunshine on it.  We’ll be alright for sauerkraut this winter once the special cabbages are finally ready, but the big success story of the year turned out to be … cucumbers.  154 of them.

There’s a lot of pickled cucumber and cucumber relish in the store cupbord now …

Singer zigzag attachments and a 99K on a bike


“I’m just off down to the dump with the remains of a 99.  Won’t be long” says I to Elsie, who came wandering up the garden path so we could go through the ritual “Have you got your phone, keys, hankie, wallet, teeth …” routine.  But this time, she pointed out that whereas it’s perfectly normal for us to take a dead sewing machine to the dump recycling centre on the back of a bike, it’s not exactly a mainstream activity, so maybe this should be immortalised on the blog, whereupon she went and got the camera.

So now you know what that picture’s about.  Anyhow, if carrying a vintage Singer on the back of a bike is a bit unusual, I guess that taking two of them to the dump in a trailer behind a bike is really peculiar, so we’ll try and remember to take a snap or two next time I do just that.

Moving on now to Singer zigzaggers, and specifically the big black ones, I listed a 161102 for sale on our Bits ‘n’ Bobs page yesterday for which we had a buyer within 4 hours, but we hope to have another good one ready next week.

Mention of the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page prompts me to explain that we’ve changed it back from “Accessories” on account of I changed it from “Bits ‘n’ Bobs” to “Accessories” when I added the “Parts” page a few months ago, but as I never got round to getting the parts page off the ground, it’s gone now and we’re back as we were.  Keeping it simple is always good.

Talking of bikes, and seeing as how it’s a Friday, here’s something a little different …

Have a good weekend, folks.

Instructions for Ruby Buttonholer and Vanguard Buttonholer


I only found out today that if the fates deal you either a Ruby or a Vanguard buttonholer with no instructions, the interweb is not a lot of help to you, so in an effort to rectify that situation, here we go with a crash course …

The common Ruby Buttonholer (the “Type R-B”) might be a different colour to the Vanguard Buttonholer, and it may or may not have an extra adjustment on it, but they’re essentially the same thing so the following instructions apply to both.  Note that your Ruby might have with it a chromed steel queerthing about 2″ long which has TA(103) stamped on it, but don’t lose any sleep over that.  It’s just an alternative means of attachment which was provided for fitting a Ruby to an industrial sewing machine.  Quite why the guys in Japan imagined anybody might ever want to do that is way beyond me, but they did.

Buttonhole attachments for straight stitch machines all work by feeding the material relative to the needle in such a way that a zigzag stitch is formed in the pattern of a buttonhole.  The needle stays put and goes straight up and down same as ever, but the fabric under it goes pretty much all ways at once.  To use these things, you need either to drop your feed dogs or cover them up, so your buttonholer should come with a chromed steel cover plate and the fixing screw for it.  If it didn’t and your machine won’t let you drop the feed, any cover plate which fits should work, as long as the needle will centralise in the hole and the plate will stay in place.

OK, on to the device itself.  The red knob on the top of it is what you turn in order to make it do its thing when it’s not on the machine.  Turn the red knob clockwise and the moving parts will cycle through the full range of movements used to produce a buttonhole.  Turn it anti-clockwise and all that will happen is that it will eventually come off, but helpfully, an arrow is provided for those who have never been good with clock and anti-clock.  It might have been more helpful still to make the head of that arrow far more obvious than it is, but apparently we should always be grateful for small mercies.

With most of the Ruby/Vanguard buttonholers, you can set three variables – stitch length, buttonhole width and buttonhole length – but sometimes you can set four.  Gosh.  How exciting is that?  I don’t know, but let’s look at each adjustment in turn …

The stitch length lever can be set to any position between “W” and “N”, and that setting determines how many zigs and zags per inch.  All the way to the “W” gives you a really ziggy-zaggy stitch, all the way to the “N” gives you more of a satin stitch, and no, the logic of using “W” and “N” for those markings is not obvious to me either.

The “buttonhole width” lever clicks into one of three positions, and as you might have guessed, it determines the overall width of your buttonhole.  “1” is the narrowest.

If you’re still in any doubt about what manner of gizmo it is that you’re playing with, that will now become obvious as we come to the setting of the length of your buttonhole.  For this you need both a screwdriver and a sense of humour.  See the screw that’s visible through the slot in the casing?  Yep, that’s your length adjustment, and it’s only really accessible when the planets are in the right conjunction.

OK, that’s not strictly true, but in order for your screwdriver to have any hope of turning that screw, you need to turn the red knob clockwise until the screw’s positioned itself more or less central under the slot in the cover.  Only then can you slacken it off, move it along the slot in the metalwork and re-tighten it.  If you hold the buttonholer with the slot towards you, you move the screw to the right of its slot for longer buttonholes, to the left for shorter ones.  In theory the middle of the slot gives you a buttonhole getting on for 3/4″ long, or around 18mm-ish on a good day.

So you now know what the three adjustments are, but not how you actually drive the thing.  Obviously we need to fit it to the machine, but first we need to either drop the feed or cover it.  If you have a thread cutter fitted, we then need to swing that round to roughly where the one in the picture below is, so as to ensure that it’s not going to interfere with the drive to the buttonholer.  Only then do we fit the buttonholer itself …

Now, the first time you try this, it will be fun.  I reckon you’re better off getting the hang of fitting it without a needle in the machine, but the general idea is that you end up with the slot in the end of the arm of the buttonholer over the collar into which your needle clamp screw goes, and the device itself fastened securely to your presser bar by means of the thumbscrew used for your normal presser foot.

If you’ve got it right, the body of the buttonholer should be square on to the bed of the machine, and just about level when the presser bar is raised.  When you cautiously turn the balance wheel towards you, you should see the needle clamp moving the arm up and down, and that in turn causing the buttonholer to strut its stuff.

Assuming all seems to be well, it’s then time to re-fit the needle if you removed it, and thread the machine as usual.  Before you start mass-producing buttonholes, though, try to contain your excitement long enough to turn the red knob until the needle is at one end of the buttonholer.  Makes no odds which end and it’s not strictly speaking essential, but it’s good for the soul. Then off you go.

Note that you’ll probably have to faff with your top tension a bit and maybe even your presser foot pressure.  And it’s usual to go round the buttonhole twice.  Maybe even three times …

And here’s the fourth adjustment, which may or may not be present on yours.  If it is, it enables you to vary the bight i.e. the width of the actual zigzag stitch which the buttonholer produces.  This time the “W” and the “N” make sense even to me, because they stand for “wide” and “narrow”.  The range of adjustment isn’t huge, but it doesn’t really need to be.

And that’s about it!  Neither the Ruby nor the Vanguard is as good as the 86662/86718, but once you get used to their peculiarities and their limitations, they do in fact make quite a decent buttonhole – certainly one that’s better than the auto ones on many modern machines.

One final thought, which actually applies to any buttonholer really, and also for that matter to zigzag attachments .  If you tend to “drive” the fabric as you’re sewing even though you know you shouldn’t, do try and train yourself to stop doing that!  Let the attachment do the feeding 🙂

Vintage Singer “Stitch Patterns” and Swiss zigzagger cams – cont’d


Elsie ‘s been rummaging about in The Sewing Room again and has discovered some spare red cams for the big black zigzaggers.  Funnily enough, I had a rush of blood to the head and a bit of a tidy up of my desk yesterday, and I found a few more of them lurking down the side of the printer, so I’ve added them all to the “Accessories” page.  So, if you need any red “Stitch Patterns” to complete either the standard set or the same-as-the-white-ones set (Set No.2, part no. 161008), drop us an email and we’ll gladly see what we can do for you.

That set of 10 cams for the Swiss zigzagger with the snail shell (160991) is probably for sale too, but frankly we’re still trying to decide what we want to do with it.  We normally just see if we can remember what an item cost us, then add a modest profit to cover our time doing whatever it took to get it ready for sale, but sometimes the figure we come up with does leave us wondering.

This set of Swiss cams is a good example of where our difficulty lies.  Given that anything which supplements my state pension is most welcome, common sense says we should do the obvious and put it on Ebay.  The problem is, though, that Elsie and I don’t see the blog and the sales we make through it as a money-maker (which is probably as well, because it certainly isn’t), so if we put it on Ebay, one of our readers will probably miss out.  And we’d be happier if that didn’t happen.

So what to do?  Who knows, but while we’re still prevaricating, if you fancy a perfect set of nice shiny cams for your Swiss zigzagger, you could do a lot worse than make us an offer for this one.

Anyhow … talking of Ebay and Swiss zigzaggers, we’re much obliged to Alice for drawing our attention to three that sold recently on Ebay UK.    The first of those was a 160991 with a full set of 10 cams, a less-than-perfect snail shell, no instruction book and an 86663 feed cover plate (complete with clearly visible rust) instead of the correct one.

The second was a 160990 with its instruction book and the correct set of 5 cams, but its box was broken and it too had an 86663 cover plate, albeit one seemingly without the rust.  Lest you be wondering, the significance of the 86663 is that it’s the really common cover plate that was supplied with buttonholers like the 86662, and although it’ll work OK with the zigzagger, it won’t fit in its box!   Only the correct one will.  That’s why the Swiss zigzagger cover plate is unique to it.

The third example was what looked to be a very nice 160991 complete with good snail shell and all its cams.  This one didn’t have its instruction book, but it did have the right cover plate.

Now, what I found most interesting about those three Ebay listings was firstly that a seller’s happy to sell, and buyers are willing to buy, a Swiss zigzagger with a cover plate which won’t go in the box.  Next, neither Elsie nor I could confidently have said which of those three would go for the lowest and for the highest price.

And we certainly wouldn’t have predicted that they would sell for £100, £114 and £137.93 respectively …

Vintage Singer Zigzagger cams or “Stitch Patterns”


Why “Stitch Patterns” I have no idea, but that’s what the cams for the big black zigzagger are called.  The cams for the Swiss Zigzagger, however, are called “cams”, and if you’re wondering where this is leading, all is about to be revealed …

So we have here a picture of the Stitch Pattern set 161008 which I listed on our “Accessories” page yesterday, and it is of course for the Singer Automatic Zigzagger a.k.a. Big Black Zigzagger.  That Big Black Zigzagger can be a model 160985, or it can be a 161102, or indeed a 161157, but they’re the same dog with different spots so it makes no difference here.  As long as it’s big, it’s black, it says “SINGER” on it in gold and it’s a zigzagger, it’ll take those Stitch Patterns.  And hereinafter “Stitch Patterns” will be “cams” because just I can’t be doing with the “Stitch Patterns” all the time.

Now, if you have your very own Big Black Zigzagger, you may well be thinking “Yep, mine came with one of those red cams in it and the other three were in the box”, and you might wonder what was the point of those same cams also being available as a boxed set.  Well, they weren’t.  These red cams are different from your red cams, because your red cams are the red red cams and these red cams are the red white cams.

Confused?  I was too at one time, but it’s actually easy enough to get your head round if you take it slowly.  In the beginning, to coin a phrase, was the Big Black Zigzagger, and it was sold with four red cams.  Those cams are numbered on the back 161000, 161001, 161002 and 161003 and they make stitches called zigzag, blind, domino and arrowhead respectively.

If you turn to page 20 of your Singer Automatic Zigzagger instruction book, you will see that “Additional stitch patterns may be purchased”.  Gosh.  I wonder just how exciting that prospect was in 1955.  Whatever, those additional cams are numbered 161004, 161005, 161006 and 161007, they make stitches called scallop, multiple, walls of Troy, and icicle respectively, they are also red and the part number for the set of four is 161008.  That’s it in the picture.

I don’t know what’s with the “walls of Troy” either, but I do know that the confusion starts with this set, because the cams in it are painted the same red as the four which came with the zigzagger.  No doubt it made sense at the time to have eight different cams all the same colour, but before long Singer decided to introduce first one then two further additional cam sets, and obviously a total of sixteen different red cams would hardly be user-friendly, even if the term had been invented by then.

So what did Singer do?  They did about the only thing they could do, really.  They got some different paint.  The next cam set on the market, which if you start counting from the the standard set was the third, is called Set No. 3.  It’s part number 161076, the cams are numbered 161067 to 161070, and those cams are blue.

The next set to be introduced is called Set No. 4, the part number for it is 161077, the cams are numbered 161071 to 161074 and they are yellow.  So including the standard four cams, that gives us two different red sets, a blue set and a yellow set.

Wait for it …

They then changed the colour of the first additional set from red to white, and called that Set No. 2.  But they didn’t change the numbers on the underside of the cams, and neither did they revise the accompanying leaflet!  This explains why Elsie’s Set No. 2, which I have in front of me as I type, has a red cam on the front of the leaflet, and contains four white cams which are identical to, and numbered the same as, the four red cams in the set in the above picture.

Fascinating though this may be, you’re no doubt eager to learn now the relevance of it to those of us into vintage Singers, so here you go.  If you’re a completist, you need Set 161008 as well as the blue, yellow and white sets because Set 2 is the one referred to in the zigzagger instruction book.  But if you just fancy an extra cam set for the fun of it, that red white set is (or at least ought to be) cheaper than the white white set.

More about red cams as well as yellow ones and about those for the Swiss zigzagger too in another post, but while I’m on the subject of Set No.2, if you know for sure what its part number is, we’d love to hear from you because neither the box nor the leaflet tells us!

Edited to add – Thanks to Heather, we now know that Singer didn’t change the part number when they changed the colour of the red white set.  The white white set is 161008 as well!

Vintage Singer tension stuff


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 …)

Carlessness ‘n’ stuff




Now we have

No car

Yep, it’s gone.   We have finally achieved a state of carlessness.  No more car insurance.  Car tax* .  Depreciation.  MOT tests.  Repair bills.  Servicing.  Tyres.  Wiper blades.  And all the rest.

No more washing the thing, vacuuming the inside, checking the tyre pressures, checking the oil and the coolant, de-icing it on a winter’s morning.  No more getting stuck in traffic.  Road works.  Speed cameras.  Finding a parking space.

No more £6.30 a gallon for diesel.

And that’s just off the top of my head.  From now on we walk, we get on our bikes, get on a bus, get on a train or phone for a taxi.

Or we stay at home.

* For the benefit of our overseas readership I’d better explain that in the UK, car owners pay a car tax based on engine size and C02 emissions.  For most ordinary cars it’s £100-150 a year, and its proper name is vehicle excise duty.  Some people call it “road tax”, particularly when they’re shouting at cyclists, who they think have no right to be on the roads because cyclists don’t pay “road tax”. 

This amuses many of the cyclists who are shouted at, because apart from anything else, there is no such thing as “road tax”.  True, at one time, Brit motorists bought an annual Road Fund Licence which did indeed go towards paying for roads, but that was abolished in 1937, since which time road building and maintenance in the UK has been financed from general taxation.

Anyhow … I had a look at the stats for this blog last night and was amazed to see that we’re now getting a consistent 400+ page views a day, with visitors from literally all over the planet.  What surprised me even more is that we now have 201 followers, so by way of celebration of that, here’s a great rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown” …

Have a good weekend, folks 🙂

Singer 201K top tension – part two


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 zigzagger cams, the everlasting washing-up brush, and other stuff


Late last year, it finally dawned on me that we were buying a new washing-up brush every 4-5 weeks.

At one time, their short lifespan wasn’t particularly a problem, because we used to buy the blue 5-for-not-very-much-at-all ones from Ikea whenever we resigned ourselves to going in the place.  But then, oh happy day, it dawned on us that now we didn’t need anything else from Ikea, ever.  So we stopped going there.  Sure, we miss out on the entertainment provided by the young couples arguing over whether to get the FYRKANTIGS or the DAGSTORPS, and the mothers freaking out in the checkout queue because their objectionable child needs to go to the toilet now, but actually life’s still pretty good without Ikea.

However, it started really getting to me that every month or so, “wupbrush” appeared on the shopping-list blackboard in the kitchen so next time I went shopping I spent 70p or so on another one.  There had to be an alternative.

And there is!  It is the Lakeland Professional Washing-up Brush, which comes in a pack of two for £5.99.  These things seem to be indestructible.  The one pictured just now on the draining board has been used every single day for the last 9 months, during which time I’d have spent something like £4 on vastly inferior supermarket brushes,  it is still as good as new – and we do the dishes in seriously hot water in this house!  So if you’re in the UK, I really do commend this product to you, especially if, like us, you delight in frugality.

Amazing what you read about on here, isn’t it?

Anyhow, Singer zigzagger cams.  Elsie’s found some zigzagger cams which we didn’t realise we had, so we need to have a good old sort out of what’s what and I need to take some pictures so we can get them on the “Parts” page.  Meanwhile, if you’re short of any cams for your Swiss Zigzagger, let us know what you’re after and we’ll see what we can do.  I know that apart from anything else, we have one complete cased set of 10 as supplied with the snail-shell version (160991).

We also have some spare cams (or what Singer called “stitch patterns”) for the big black zigzaggers, including one or two from 161008 sets i.e. those early red versions of the white cams.  Again, let us know if you’re after any.

Moving on, it seems that Elsie and I are now closer to achieving a state of carlessness (as opposed to carelessness), about which there’s bound to be more in due course, and before much longer I’ll be coming out of the closet and revealing an interest in some vintage Singers which don’t have a single gold decal anywhere on them.  Gosh.

But right now, I need to set to and write Part Two of what’s in danger of turning into Everything You Ever Needed To Know About Singer 201K Tension But Were Afraid To Ask, so I’ll get the kettle on.  I need another coffee, and Elsie’s about due back from her first brambling expedition of the year.  She’s bound to be in need of a camomile tea …

Singer 201K top tension – part one


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!