Friday, 14 January 2011

My vintage sewing machines

I've been collecting old ladies from Scotland for the past few months .. want to meet them?

This is Wilma.  She and I actually met 22 years ago  .. You can read more about Wilma HERE.

This is Sabrina (the stitch witch).  A Singer 201k - made in Scotland in 1953 - a special year denoted by the blue ring around her tradmark plate.  Here she is sitting on Wilma's treadle table.  She is now my main sewing machine and I LOVE HER!  I use her for corsetry because she will sew through ANYTHING and any thickness, without so much as a growl or groan. She's amazing!

Kylie is a small Singer at 3/4 size, she has a more 'traditional' look being a bit older than Sabrina at 60 years.  She also has the original black bakelite motor and light.  She is for dressmaking.

Sabrina and Kylie have matching 'luggage' - you can see the size difference between them.

Sabrina's case is on the right, Kylie's smaller case on the left

Smallest of the old ladies is Gertie - the most valuable despite her small size,  and born in 1954. Compact and bijoux are the words for my little Singer 221K Featherweight.  She came with handwritten notes by her previous owner.  

Then there's "Molly", newest addition to the House of Marmalade and not quite as old as Wilma but she fits in here nicely.  Being a 1938 Singer 15K (family friendly model),   she lives downstairs with us and blends in perfectly with our 1933 house!

Molly has the most beautiful face plate out of all the ladies, and she's the 'quiet one'. and very inconspicuous - folding into a flat table when not working, a bonus because I can sew by treadle power, quietly, in front of the fire, while Mr M and Jimmy watch TV.  What bliss!  I plan to make 'non clothes' with Molly - curtains, blinds, quilts, that sort of thing .. also, Molly will be teaching me how to use .....

... the impressive array of accessories that my ladies brought with them, 

complete with instructions thank goodness ..

click to enlarge

Being old girls, they all need regular 'medication', oiling of joints, that sort of thing but they are hardy birds who get on with the job with  no complaints in a very straightforward way - none of them do fancy stitches (just as well I never use fancy stitches)!  

Here are some 'notes' of my own on the benefits of sewing with vintage machines..
  • The 201K is reputed to be the 'best sewing machine ever made'.  It's true!  The mechanism is 'industrial' and they will sew through many many layers with perfect stitches every time.  I have found that the same is true of the 99 - it's just a smaller machine.
  • The operation of a vintage Singer is smooth, so smooth!  These machines were built to last and easy to maintain.  They need cleaning and oiling regularly to keep them purring but they work hard and deliver fantastic results.
  • Vintage sewing machines don't need electric to work!  OK .. you may have to convert back to manual operation, but most of them started off as hand crank or treadle machines.   Treadle and hand crank machines are not only eco-friendly (recycled, use no electric), they are eerily silent!
  • Vintage machines are just a pleasure to use.  Even though all of my girls only sew one type of stitch - straight - and some don't even reverse, I would still use any one of them over my modern Janome which is just clunky and clumsy in comparison.
  • Vintage machines smell nice - mechanical and oily but in a nice way .. a way that reminds you of your grandma's house, and also that they come from a time past when quality and longevity were the order of the day.  The smell reminds me of all the stories in the machine, the beautiful things they have sewn in the past, who sewed on them, what did they sew?
  • Vintage machines and all their attachments are beautiful and sometimes surreal but more than that, they are fun!!  Mr Marmalade says that it must be like motorbikes - the difference between a 'super bike' and a Harley ..  Beauty over youth and reliability (except Harley's aren't reliable and Singers are, but I know what he means)..
  • These excellent machines are cheap as chips!  Infact, they are not worth any money despite what you might see on ebay.  Singer turned out millions and millions of these  machines in their day and so they are always easy to get hold of (and very rarely 'rare' or 'collectable').  Your local sewing machine repair man will be able to pick them up for virtually nothing - they are regularly shipped off to Africa and other third world countries by the truck load -  and so the price you pay if you buy one from a specialist, is the price of the time, work and maintenance they have put into the machine.  Prices can therefore vary depending on where you get one, from £0 - £100+
  • If you do acquire a vintage machine of any sort,  do have it serviced before even thinking about turning the wheel (or at the very least give it a good old oiling) Otherwise it may seize up before you get more than 10 stitches out of it.  Also old electrics on these models can be very dodgy!
  • Once up and running, you get much more machine for your money than the modern equivalent which costs many hundreds of pounds! Ask a sewing machine mechanic, they would sell you a 201 over any modern straight stitch machine without even thinking twice about it.
  • Almost all parts of vintage machines are available to buy - even parts for really really old machines.  It is therefore possible that any machine in any condition can be restored to nearly it's former glory by replacing parts as long as the mechanics are sound which they probably are!
  • Men like vintage machines - they have the same appreciation for the engineering of a good vintage (or industrial) machine, as they do for a car!  Vintage machines can bring the mechanic out of even the  most reluctant husband/other half!

I have a compulsion to name my machines and refer to them in person ... It doesn't happen with any other machinery .. as soon as one comes to me, a name pops into my head.  It's  bit strange .. Or is it me that is strange?   I have not felt the same compulsion towards either of my Janome machines.

Here are some very useful online resources on how to care for and operate vintage sewing machines and their accessories:

Singer Serial Numbers - every vintage Singer has a serial number which is recorded here.  You can find out where and when your machine was made and which model it is.  You can also find instruction books for every Singer model ever made - some of them are free downloads.

RaindropKites - Odd name for a site dedicated to the care and maintenance of old sewing machines, but there we have it .. VERY handy UK based site for information on parts, and care of your vintage machine.

TreadleOn - Another site handy for info on how to overhaul your old (manual) sewing machine.  This has more technical info and is US based.

Offspring - is a British blog with some very very handy information, tutorials and reviews on old Singer accessories.

The Sewing Forum - UK based sewing forum with special area dedicated to vintage machines.  LOTS of info and discussion here.  Ask and ye shall be told!

ID Singer Machines - Got an old Singer and don't know what model it is?  Look here.  Fabulous site with lots of pictures,  which will tell you all about your machine.

Sewing Machine Shoppe - Very expensive, US based machine and parts online shop, but excellent resource if you have unidentified parts!  I'd look on e-bay first if you want to buy any of them though.

Male Pattern Boldness - Peter also has a vintage machine obsession, and I just noticed that he's been making Western Style shirts too! 

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