Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Restoring a Vintage Sewing Machine.

Have you ever looked at an old vintage sewing machine which is perhaps a bit rusty and thought "ooh I'd love that, if I had time to clean it up" - imagining that it might take a team of magic pixies and a whole year's worth of elbow grease to do..?

Well .. Here's how you can do it without the pixies and only a weekend's worth of low grade elbow grease.  With just a few household 'substances' you can have a very old, very beautiful machine working as well as it was the day it left the factory.  So without further ado, heres is

Mrs Marmalade's definitive guide to Vintage Sewing Machine Maintenance and Restoration!

You've all met Wilma before .. she's 120 years old and has for the last 22 years, lived in my loft.  She was in a bad state when I rescued her from Oxfam but deteriorated a little more over the years.  I thought her sewing days were over.

Poor Wilma has a yellowed bed and rusty parts but she is still young inside, all her bits work as they should.  After surfing around a few sites looking for info about machine maintenance, I figured I could try to restore Wilma.

The 'traditional' method seems to be by soaking the entire machine in Kerosene and then scrubbing and rubbing the thing clean and then lots of polishing preferably with a Dremel.

Well I don't have a Dremel, and Mr Marmalade won't have Kerosene anywhere near the place - it is ridiculously dangerous - much more flammable than petrol, it stinks, it is messy ..yuk yuk..

So instead of Kerosene, this is what I used - I bet you have the same stuff in your cupboards:

Here we have, a can of coke (most important), car polish, metal polish, dusters, wire wool and, not pictured, a toothbrush, some Barkeepers Friend and a camera.

First of all make sure you take plenty of 'before' shots, both distant and close up - you really wont believe your eyes and you wont remember how 'bad' she was before.

Keep taking pictures as you  dismantle your machine, lots of pictures, make labels of all your bits, and take pictures of said bits, on the labels.

If there are multiple parts which fit together, take a picture of the thing before you dismantle it, take pictures as you dismantle it, and take a picture of the parts in the order they should be put back when dismantled - you can never take too many pictures.

If your metal bits are rusty, take most of the rust off by rubbing the part with some grade 00 wire wool - dry.  It will come off quite easily.  If the rust is stubborn, add a bit of WD40.   If there are screws that you can't undo, use WD40 to loosen them.

I couldn't get this part off so I just polished it up with wire wool and Peek
Take off the face plate and the back plate and clean the insides as well as possible with a duster/toothbrush/dry paint brush/air can - don't get the insides wet.  If there is alot of gunk in there, use WD40 to loosen and clean it.

Don't forget the underside - give it a good old clean with a dry cloth and some WD40 if necessary.  The most important thing is to never get the insides wet with water as this will cause rust in unreachable places.

When you were little did you ever do the coke and penny experiment?  Put a dirty penny in coke over night and the next morning it is shiny and new?

A similar principle applies to your metal sewing machine parts - when they are as de-rusted as possible, soak them in the coke overnight.  Do not soak painted parts in coke! Only metal.    *Please note, only soak your metal parts if all there is no chrome present!!  Obviously Wilma started off life with chromed parts but after 120 years there is no chrome left so these parts are back to the bare metal.

While they are soaking you can get on with the body.  I scrubbed Wilma on the outside with washing up liquid and a toothbrush, and rinsed her with a damp cloth - this wont get all the dirt off but it will shift most of it.  If you have really really stubborn dirt, use a 'bug remover' for cars - available in car part shops or Halfords.  If you are in doubt about what you use to clean the body, test a little area first, at best, you may silver the decals, and at worst you may rub them off or dissolve them!  Car cleaning products are generally 'kind' to sewing machines.  You may end up with patches on the machine which look a little brown - don't worry about them.

When you have washed and dried the body, and have dusted and de-gunked the insides, give the machine a liberal dose of sewing machine oil on all the moving parts and turn the wheel so that the oil gets in all the nooks and crannies.  Oil some more.

On the outside, you can polish the body using T-cut, this will do four things 1. remove deeply ground in grime which can't be budged by soap alone,  2) restore the blackness in the colour,  3) give a lovely shine and 4) ...

Even if by chance you have accidentally scratched your paintwork with wire wool, T-cut will make them good.  It's like a miracle!!

these have just been removed from the coke .. as you can see they still look dirty, but the dirt is really loose now and scrubs off easily
The next day, when your metal parts have soaked in coke, take them out one by one and deal with them by scrubbing again with wire wool to remove the now loose dirt, then apply a little Barkeepers friend.   This finishes off the job of the coke, removes really awkward stains and adds a little bit of shine.  Rinse whilst still 'polishing' with the wire wool under running water.

Dry the parts and polish with Peek or Brasso (I prefer Peek).  The metal polish buffs up the metal but also adds a protective coating which will give the metal parts a new lease of life and protect them from immediate rust attack.

You might discover some hidden gems ...

Reassemble your sewing machine bit by bit as you polish your metal parts.  This is where your photos will come in handy - even though it hasn't been long since you dismantled, you will be surprised at how quickly you might forget which screw goes where!

When done,  stand back and admire your work!

There are many more pictures over at my Flickr Stream right HERE.

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