Thursday, December 29, 2011

Learning About and Using Vintage Machines

I was asked how [and why] I learned about vintage sewing machines.  I tried to blog that but it was just way too long.  So here's a condensed version.

I first discovered Singer Featherweights while teaching in the S.E. United States (Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama).  I'd seen just one on the Today Show back in the 1970's in a segment on setting in sleeves--I can't even imagine a morning news show covering such a topic these days!  I didn't see one until someone brought one to my classes in the 1980's. A friend paid $15 for one at a yard sale, had it serviced, and mailed it to me in the late 1980's. Despite the fact that it was merely packed loose, surrounded by polystyrene peanuts, it arrived safely.  We  joked that the heavy coating of nicotine held it together. (Seriously, anyone shipping a machine needs to learn to do so correctly--layers of bubble wrap, double boxing, and more.)

Since during my childhood the piece of equipment I used most often was this, I decided I could learn to maintain a sewing machine.

As it turned out, the Featherweight was designed to be maintained by its owner, as were many sewing machines in those days.

A couple of years ago, after months of searching, I purchased a 1919 (Redhead) Singer 66 treadle.
 I did quite a bit of piecing on it--although the upper tensions was very "fiddly"--I'm not sure I ever quilted on it since the 66 bobbins are much smaller than class 15 bobbins.

The next acquisition was this 99, the "little sister" to the 66.  I converted it to hand crank, and take it with me when I'm piecing where electrical outlets are at a premium.  It too has "fiddly" tension.
 The photo below compares "1/2 size" Featherweight to the full size 66.  (The 99 is considered 3/4 size.)
 A few months later I was able to get my full size Singer 15-88.  I'd wanted that one because of the large capacity of the bobbins, great for quilting. 
 Somewhere along the way my dear friend gave me a Singer 15-91, thinking I could convert it to treadle.  Since it has a "potted motor," which means the motor directly drives the gears, it was wiser to leave it as an electric and use it with its motor; it's great for heavier duty sewing, although I have pieced and quilted on it both at home and when I'm somewhere too inconvenient to take a treadle.

Then last summer, after thinking about it for several months, a Treadle-On member sold me an extra Necchi so I could use it for things like buttonholes (haven't tried that yet), blind hems, etc. as well as quiltmaking.  I dearly love this machine, as well as the fact that it fits in both my treadle tables.

People interested in sewing on old machines should feel confident that there is plenty of on-line help available.  There are a few antique and vintage machines that challenge their owners to find the correct needles, but with a little (or a lot) of oil and a new belt, most vintage and antique machines can challenge any of the new ones on the market since they were built of metal and intended to be around for several generations of sewists.  In fact, today I heard of a costumer in Santa Fe who just purchased a Necchi because a car can be purchased for less than many of the heavily advertised sewing machines.

I'm very grateful to the very helpful members on the sewing lists I belong to who have helped me get my machines working and who are available if I have surprise problems with them.  Almost every brand of vintage and antique sewing machine has a group of supporters who share information and help each other with their machines.  While I don't think I have any working machines that are true antiques (over 100 years old), I'm on lists with people who regularly use theirs.

In my own quilting arena, I'm trying to finish up some more quilts; that list in my sidebar is the smallest it's been at year's end in a long time!

The quilt below, Flight Lessons, is only 24" square and has been waiting for binding for several years.  I'm happy to say it's finally complete.  I used the Necchi and variegated thread to give the binding an attractive finish--I knew it wouldn't get done if I had to hand stitch it!
This little quilt later became  a donation to raise money for my church's African mission project.  (The mission used the funds to buy their first truck to haul produce to market--as well as other things, I'm sure.)

Happy quiltmaking.....


Pokey said...

Wow, it all started with a tv spot, huh? You are right, that wouldn't make the news today! I should look around the internet I suppose. I paid for a class offered from the man I bought my featherweight from (I think you and I wrote emails about it), and then ended up not getting to be here for the class. I do not have anyone else to approach for the education. Thank you for the share, Dora!

lw said...

I started sewing using a 1919 Domestic treadle. I used to handwork buttonholes. I made my first quilt on it (long gone now, but it had a lot of different weight fabrics in it and didn't wash well.)

I love vintage sewing machines, and I have eight vintage Singers (my favorite is the 301.) Please let us know what you think of the Necchi after you use it for a while.

Hillbilly Tonya said...

I have had several tell me to get a vintage machine for my denim sewing. This was a really nice post, thank you for sharing.

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

I love my vintage machines, but, I don't use them often enough. I need to finish converting some of my heads to hand cranks and get boxes for them to sit in. I've only used one of my treadles, the Singer 15 from 1896. I need to mess with the tension on the Singer 27 from 1889. I don't know how old the other treadle is (Free). My only up and working hand crank so far is the Singer Spartan 1949. She's been used a lot recently. My go to machine is still my Janome from 2004 that my hubby bought me. I love the stitches she has.

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